In defense of: French working culture

Whether it’s the kissing, the fag breaks or the painful meetings, aspects of French working culture can drive expats round the bend, as seen in The Local's recent top ten list. Here we ask an expert to talk us through the positives.

In defense of: French working culture
In defense of French working culture. Photo: Joshua Hoffman

Expats in France are often quick to complain about certain aspects of the working culture here, as seen in The Local’s gallery : Top Ten – What drives expats mad about working in France.

In it we looked at the top complaints from having to do “la bise” (kisses) when greeting colleagues, to the lack of respect French workers have for authority.

Here we ask Kara Ronin, who runs Executive Impressions in Lyon, and provides business etiquette training, to explain and defend the aspects of French working culture that our readers found so annoying.

1.       Kissing on the cheek or "La Bise" as it is known in France.

“I think there’s nothing wrong with this. Whether it's shaking hands with men or kissing women on the cheek, it’s a greeting. It all helps to make people feel like they are part of a team. You have to build bonds and in France, shaking hands and kissing is part of that.

2.       Long meetings, where nothing gets decided.

The advantage of these long meetings is that whoever is taking part should get to have their say and air their views. Again, it's part of team building and making staff feel part of that circle. If there are discussions that need to be had, then it is important everyone is there and every option is explored.

Meetings in France are not just about one person speaking and everyone listening, as they can be in Anglo countries.

3.       Having loud arguments in front of colleagues

The French are always very direct and say what needs to be said. Everyone has the right to their opinion and they are not afraid to offer it.

Bosses will expect workers to express their view and defend themselves. Everything is laid out on the table and the good thing about the French is they don’t take it personally.

Often a huge row is forgotten about half an hour later. If you are involved in a heated row then don’t take it personally – this is just how people communicate sometimes in France.

4.       Finger pointing – The blame culture in French work places

I suppose this could be related to all the discussions that take place in meetings, and so on. If a problem occurs, the individual in question doesn’t like to be blamed for something that was decided on as a group.

Yes, they blame each other first but then they will find a solution, once they have decided whose fault it is, although it may require another meeting or two.

5.       Temporary madness – Impossible to get a permanent contract

Well this is more about employment laws in France than anything else. I understand it’s frustrating, but if you've been offered a CDD (temporary contract), you just have to do a fantastic job and hope you can land that permanent position.

It's still pretty much up to the worker at the end of the day to make a good impression.

6.       Having to stick to the hierarchy

If you go above your boss to their manager, then they will obviously be offended. This is just the way it is France and you can’t change that.

It’s a culture of respecting your boss’s position. The one positive is that everyone knows their position and what their job is and what they can and can’t do.

7.       Old Boys Network – People getting jobs thanks to their connections

Well I really don’t think this is solely a French problem. This exists in every country so people shouldn’t complain. It’s almost inevitable.

8.       No respect for authority

I think this may link back to the hierarchical structure in French work places. People respect the hierarchy, so they expect a boss to do something and when they don’t, they lose respect for him or her.

If workers respect a boss, they will work for them and if they don’t then they often won’t. And again, there’s an element of everyone feeling as though they have the right to their opinion.

9.       Smoking and fag breaks

This can be positive as it allows workers a minute or two to clear their heads, have a chat with their colleagues and do something other than work.

It also helps them to form a bond with their co-workers. If people get annoyed because they don’t drink coffee or smoke then they should have a glass of water now and then.

Also, if people invite you for a coffee then it’s considered rude not to accept it. Just think of it as a way of getting to know your team and building a bit of atmosphere in the company.

When you get back to the office you will be more productive.

10.   Internship after internship

Internships shouldn't be seen as negative. They give people a chance to seize an opportunity.  It allows people to get experience and a reference that could lead to something much better.

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How to get a summer job in France

As the summer holidays approach in France, many employers are looking for seasonal workers - so if you're looking for a summer job, here's how to go about it.

How to get a summer job in France

There are thousands of employment offers in France – a simple internet search for jobs d’été came up with numerous jobs boards offering work in France, while the government-backed Centre d’Information et de Documentation pour la Jeunesse (CIDJ) offers advice and information on all aspects of life for young people in France, including finding seasonal work and summer placements.

Sectors including agriculture, hospitality and tourism are always recruiting in the summer, seeking fruit-pickers, holiday camp workers and serving/hotel staff.

But what are the rules for people seeking summer jobs?

READ ALSO Vendange: What you really sign up for when you agree to help with the French wine harvest


Children from the age of 16 (under certain circumstances, the age limit drops to 14) who are legally resident in France can work as long as they have written authorisation from their parents or legal guardians. A model authorisation letter is available here

Those under the age of 18 cannot undertake certain jobs for health and safety reasons.

In the following circumstances, children as young as 14 or 15 can work during school holidays.

  • The holidays must last at least 14 days;
  • The child must work no more than half the days of the holiday – so, if a vacation period is two weeks, they can work for no more than one of those weeks;
  • The child is given ‘light duties’ that offer no risk to their safety, health, or development;
  • From the age of 15 and if the child has completed their troisieme education, a minor can register for an apprenticeship. 


Salary is usually paid monthly and will have a payslip. For those aged 18 and over, pay will be at least equal to the minimum wage.

 For those aged 14 to 17, who have less than six months’ professional experience, the minimum allowed rate is 80 percent of the minimum wage. For those aged 17 to 18, the rate rises to a minimum of 90 percent of France’s minimum wage.

  • The minimum wage in France is currently €10.85 gross per hour (€1,645.58 gross per month based on a 35-hour week);
  • the employment contract is fixed-term and can take different forms (fixed-term contract, seasonal employment contract, temporary employment contract, etc);
  • Seasonal employees are subject to the same obligations as the other employees of the company and have access to the same benefits (canteens, breaks, etc.).

Under 18s have certain additional protections:

  • between the ages of 14 and 16, during school holidays, employees on any contract cannot work more than 35 hours per week nor more than 7 hours per day;
  • They cannot work at night;
  • Those aged 14 to under 16 working during their school holidays can only be assigned to work which is not likely to harm their safety, their health or development.

Right to work in France

If you’re a French citizen or hold permanent residency in France then you have the right to work, but for foreigners there are extra restrictions.

Anyone who holds the passport of a EU/EEA country or Switzerland, is free to work in France or to travel to France seeking work without needing a visa or work permit.

Most other people will need permission to work in France – even if it’s only for a short period or for casual work such as grape-picking. Depending on your country of origin you may need a visa – everything you need to know about that is here.

In addition to the visa, you may also need a work permit, which is the responsibility of the employer.  To employ anyone in France for less than 90 days, an employer must get a temporary work permit – before the prospective employee applies for a short stay visa. This permit is then sent to the embassy at which the employee is applying for a visa.

If you come from countries including the UK, USA and Canada you can spend up to 90 days in France without a visa – but you may still need a work (convention d’accueil) if you want to work while you are here.

READ ALSO Six official websites to know if you’re planning to work in France

Certain countries have specific ‘seasonal worker’ visas on offer, for certain sectors which allows – for example – Canadians to come to France and work the ski season. 

Cash-in-hand jobs

Certain sectors which have a lot of casual workers – for example seasonal fruit-picking – do have cash-in-hand jobs, known in France as marché noir (black market) or simply travail au black (working on the black, or working illegally). 

This is of course illegal and working this way carries risks – as well as the possibility of losing your job if labour inspectors turn up you are also in a vulnerable position. If your employer suddenly decides not to pay you, or make unexpected deductions from your wages, there is very little you can do about it since you won’t have any kind of work contract.