'Paris is where it all happens, suck it and see'

Ben McPartland
Ben McPartland - [email protected]
'Paris is where it all happens, suck it and see'
The Apple store in Paris, which Nick Ord (left) was involved in managing the construction of. Apple store photo: Zoetnet/flickr

For this week's My French Career, Briton Nick Ord, who works in Paris, hands out a few helpful tips on how to get your foot in the door and how its important to accept French working culture, especially when it comes to the kissing.


Nick Ord, 43 knows a thing or two about finding work in France. He has worked in Paris on and off since around 2000. He currently plies his trade as a quantity surveyor at a British firm in the French capital, where he commutes to work each week from his home in the Charente region of western France. He lives there with his French wife and two children aged 15 and 12.

How did you end up in your current job?

Well I met a guy on the tenth green while I was playing golf in Charente, where I had been doing a few different jobs at the time. He told me his daughter worked for an international recruitment consultancy for quantity surveyors.

I started off back in the UK but then applied for a job in Paris for a US firm. They wanted an English speaker who knew the British system of working, rather than the French way, which is often just measuring stuff and then not really doing anything. I then changed jobs and now work for the British firm Gleeds.

What’s the best way for someone to get their foot in the door in Paris?

Having done both - going the traditional route of responding to adverts, as well as posting my CV online and sending it around - I would advise people not to wait for job adverts to come up. They should contact companies directly.

Put your CV out on the internet and get it to as many firms as possible. There are hundreds of international companies in Paris for all kinds of professions. People just need to find one that suits their experience and contact them.

Whether its law firms or banks, they will have a need for native English speakers who speak French. You just have to be prepared to move to the capital because, Paris is where it’s happening.

Is there a glass ceiling for foreigners working in France?

I can only speak for my own profession but getting in is clearly the hardest part, but once you are in then your qualifications and experience will be recognized.  It might not be like that in the media or legal sector however.

What about the F-factor? How important is French?

Well it didn't seem to cause me a problem. Most of my second interview for my current job was in French so I had to prove my language skills. I was pretty fluent back then so it wasn't a problem.

But you just have to throw yourself in at the deep-end.  I joined a local rugby club, which helped a lot. You just need to socialize, mix with the locals and not just stick to the ex-pat scene.

What is a quantity surveyor exactly?

We are concerned with all the financial and legal matters of big developments. Here in France we have been involved with developments at the University of Toulouse, the new Apple store in Opéra, as well as the adjacent W hotel in Paris.

What are some of the cultural differences in working with French people?

Well, one of the more general issues is that if you ask a question or make a request, the first answer always seems to be “no” here. Then you have to work from there to try and change it. They also work more in their set hierarchies or positions, whereas the Anglos are much more likely to work as a team.

Does the difference in working cultures cause problems?

At first, perhaps. We waste half an hour every morning and evening kissing each other to say hello and goodbye. There’s not a lot you can do but go along with it. It has been made clear to us that it would be considered blatantly rude if it’s not done. You have to try to fit in with the culture here. It’s a case of “suck it and see”.

How is it commuting to Paris from Charente?

I come every Monday, stay in Paris all week, and go home on a Friday, which involves taking a train and then a drive because I live in the middle of nowhere. It’s fine in the summer but it can be hard in the winter on an icy morning.

What do you miss about working back in the UK?

One thing I miss is the after-work drinks, and going out on a Thursday or Friday. But it’s probably too expensive to do that here anyway.



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