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MY FRENCH CAREER

PARIS

‘Paris is where it all happens, suck it and see’

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.

'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

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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READER INSIGHTS

‘Painful’ – is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Following a survey that said Paris Charles de Gaulle airport was the best in Europe, we asked Local readers what they thought...

'Painful' - is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Recently, Paris Charles de Gaulle was voted the best airport in Europe by passengers.

The 2022 World Airport Awards, based on customer satisfaction surveys between September 2021 and May 2022, listed the best airport on the planet as Doha, while Paris’s main airport came in at number 6 – the highest entry for a European airport – one place above Munich. 

READ ALSO Paris Charles de Gaulle voted best airport in Europe by passengers

Given CDG’s long-standing reputation doesn’t quite match what the World Airport Awards survey said – in 2009 it was rated the second-worst airport in the world, while in 2011 US site CNN judged it “the most hated airport in the world” – we wondered how accurate the survey could be.

So we asked readers of The Local for their opinion on their experience of Europe’s ‘best’ airport. 

Contrary to the World Airport Awards study, users erred towards the negative about the airport. A total 30.8 percent of Local readers – who had travelled through the airport in recent months – thought it was ‘terrible’, while another 33.3 percent agreed that it was ‘not great’ and had ‘some problems’.

But in total 12.8 percent of those who responded to our survey thought the airport was ‘brilliant’, and another 23.1 percent thought it ‘fine’, with ‘no major problems’.

So what are the problems with it?

Signage 

One respondent asked a simple – and obvious – question: “Why are there so many terminal twos?”

Barney Lehrer added: “They should change the terminal number system.”

In fact, signage and directions – not to mention the sheer size of the place – were common complaints, as were onward travel options. 

Christine Charaudeau told us: “The signage is terrible. I’ve often followed signs that led to nowhere. Thankfully, I speak French and am familiar with the airport but for first time travellers … yikes!”

Edwin Walley added that it was, “impossible to get from point A to point B,”  as he described the logistics at the airport as the “worst in the world”.

And James Patterson had a piece of advice taken from another airport. “The signage could be better – they could take a cue from Heathrow in that regard.”

Anthony Schofield said: “Arriving by car/taxi is painful due to congestion and the walk from the skytrain to baggage claim seems interminable.”

Border control

Border control, too, was a cause for complaint. “The wait at the frontière is shameful,” Linda, who preferred to use just her first name, told us. “I waited one and a half hours standing, with a lot of old people.”

Sharon Dubble agreed. She wrote: “The wait time to navigate passport control and customs is abysmal!”

Deborah Mur, too, bemoaned the issue of, “the long, long wait to pass border control in Terminal E, especially at 6am after an overnight flight.”

Beth Van Hulst, meanwhile, pulled no punches with her estimation of border staff and the airport in general. “[It] takes forever to go through immigration, and staff deserve their grumpy reputation. Also, queuing is very unclear and people get blocked because the airport layout is not well designed.”

Jeff VanderWolk highlighted the, “inadequate staffing of immigration counters and security checkpoints”, while Karel Prinsloo had no time for the brusque attitudes among security and border personnel. “Officers at customs are so rude. I once confronted the commander about their terrible behaviour.  His response said it all: ‘We are not here to be nice’. Also the security personnel.”

Connections

One of the most-complained-about aspects is one that is not actually within the airport’s control – public transport connections.  

Mahesh Chaturvedula was just one of those to wonder about integrated travel systems in France, noting problems with the reliability of onward RER rail services, and access to the RER network from the terminal.

The airport is connected to the city via RER B, one of the capital’s notoriously slow and crowded suburban trains. Although there are plans to create a new high-speed service to the airport, this now won’t begin until after the 2024 Olympics.

Sekhar also called for, “more frequent trains from SNCF to different cities across France with respect to the international flight schedules.”

The good news

But it wasn’t all bad news for the airport, 35 percent of survey respondents said the airport had more positives than negatives, while a Twitter poll of local readers came out in favour of Charles de Gaulle.

Conceding that the airport is “too spread out”, Jim Lockard said it, “generally operates well; [and has] decent amenities for food and shopping”.

Declan Murphy was one of a number of respondents to praise the, “good services and hotels in terminals”, while Dean Millar – who last passed through Charles de Gaulle in October – said the, “signage is very good. [It is] easy to find my way around”.

He added: “Considering the size (very large) [of the airport] it is very well done.  So no complaints at all.”

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