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French meetings: Eight things you need to know

A recent study found French managers spend on average 16 years of their lives holed up in meetings. So given that you could face such a lengthy period of your expat life in a French 'reunion' here's a guide on everything you need to know about meetings in France.

French meetings: Eight things you need to know
French meetings don't have to be endless and confusing. Photo: Mads Nissen/AFP

If you have been stuck in a meeting in France for so long that you considered digging an escape tunnel, there are a few things that you should know before you reach for the shovel.

Yes they tend to go on longer than an average French lunch break, yes every point seems to have to be discussed over and over again and then once more, and it may feel like everyone must have a say.

But there is no reason to stress about all this. You are simply experiencing one of the more acute differences in Anglo/French working culture. 

The good news is that you can take a few simple steps or to prepare yourself in order to avoid a meltdown or at least to stop you making unfortunate faux pas that may insult your colleagues or hosts.

The bad news of course is that you are still going to have to attend meetings in Fraace. 

We spoke to Franco-American business consultant James Dillon and Anoine Dorin a marketing manager at French online meeting consultants Perfony to put together a series of tips to help you know what to expect and how to get through a typical French meeting.

Dillon sums up the essence and importance of French meetings is one precise point. “The meetings can go on and on, especially if it's more of a traditional company,” he told The Local. “Time is important, but relationships are what really matter.”

1. ‘Get to the point’ is the ultimate cultural insult in a French meeting

The French may seem to spend an excessive amount of time in meetings introducing how a project started and its subsequent phases, but to them the explanation is crucial. They believe the background is essential to decision making. To rush through the details is to offend the speaker. “How can you discuss business when you don't know the context?” Dillon says. “You have just demonstrated the worst stereotype French people have about Americans.” 

2. It’s OK if everyone is late

The meeting is not going to start, or for that matter, end on time. So you should give yourself some scheduling flexibility. Trying to rush the meeting will mean skipping parts or short changing the participants, which could be seen as rude. Besides, the French don't like being in meetings forever either. In fact they have coined the term “reunionite”, which basically means “meeting-itis” to describe their dislike ofthe ritual  Antoine Dorin, marketing manager at online meeting management company Perfony, told The Local.

“I think you have the same thing in the United States. There are people in Silicon Valley that are trying to do away with them completely,” he said. “We just think the time could be used a little more wisely.”  

3. The preliminaries are important

 The French will take time before getting to business to talk about who is in charge of what and who is who. This is not wasted time. Pay attention to where the centres of power lie in order to avoid offending or embarrassing your French counterparts. It may seem obvious as looking at the arrows on a flow chart, but the true politics of a company are vastly more complex.

4. Beautiful concepts are valued

For French managers it’s more valued to come up with a beautiful, perfect concept in a meeting than a plan to make money. They may look to the Anglos, who have a reputation in France for asking tough questions, to dig into the practical questions. Your French counterparts may defer to you on these matters. 

Looking for a job in France? Consult The Local's job section here.

5. They like analysis, not action

At a typical meeting in France you will see a love of discussing a problem or question at great length on display. However, the French aren’t huge fans of deciding how to get their idea to the next step. “The verb ‘to do’ is not as important as the verb ‘to be,’” said Dillon. “It sounds funny, but it's true.”

6. Things are changing 

Some French computer engineers have adopted meetings where everyone stands, instead of sits, in an effort to keep the gatherings short. Also, younger folks are bringing their iPads and smart phones to meetings and may fire off emails during a lull in the action. Their older, more traditional colleagues see this as disrespectful and it is a source of friction, Dillon says.

7. English is a foreign language

A charming and intelligent Frenchman can go monosyllabic during a meeting in English. It is important to remember you may not be seeing all of a person because they are afraid they look ridiculous when speaking English. “I’ve seen people lose a job because of this issue,” Dillon said. “It's a real problem.” So make the effort to speak French or at least speak English clearly.

8. Not everyone will speak up

In more traditional or larger French companies people may be afraid to offer up their ideas during a meeting. Whether as a means to save face or not offend a superior or ally, some workers will simply clam up. It can be useful to network with people before or after meetings to get a broader perspective.

Can you tell our readers any more about what to expect in French meetings and how to survive them? Let us know in the comments section below. 

Do you really hate meetings? See our ten tips to be a successful freelancer in France

FIND A JOB: Browse thousands of English-language vacancies in France 

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WORKING IN FRANCE

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

Age

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

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. 

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