Working in Paris: Making a career out of odd jobs

When many expats come over to Paris their major concern is getting a job, and hopefully a good one. But writer William Prendiville’s argues, that even in the midst of an economic crisis it’s possible to survive in Paris for many years thanks to odd jobs. And plenty of them.

Working in Paris: Making a career out of odd jobs
Odd jobs, the key to surviving in Paris. Photo: Moyan Brenn/Flickr

Canadian-born writer William Prendiville has lived in Paris for the last 16 years and over that time has probably had double that amount of jobs in various sectors from labouring and bar work to copy writing and teaching in universities.

Here he explains why foreigners who want to live in Paris can do so, they just have to be prepared to do anything:

Forget all the dire warnings of the collapsing French economy and the record levels of unemployment. Because those who just want to come and live in Paris can still survive and even thrive.

Indeed, they will come across opportunities they might never have had at home, that are perfect for giving them the chance to live a life in Paris.
A great many people who have come to Paris and remained have come for the city, and the jobs they have found have been a means to be able to stay.
They will just have to accept that some of these opportunities will be, for want of a better word, slightly odd.
Now “odd jobs” doesn’t necessarily mean bad jobs, though there are plenty of both in Paris.  
I’ve gone from putting clothes in a box in a factory outside the city, when I could barely count in French, to teaching Accountancy (in English) to college pupils.
I’ve also had plenty other jobs in between, some of them more odd than others.
I was once a “dancing waiter” at an American BBQ restaurant, and not a very good one either but years later, through a friend who once worked there with me, I found a job writing a quarterly magazine for a French company in the animal health industry on the category of “Large Animals”, basically cows and pigs as most would call it.
For many years after that, animal, then human health became something of a niche market for me. I eventually wrote ads about it, and met the corporate higher-ups of many a pharmaceutical company. It felt a long way from dancing around holding a plate of spare ribs above my head.
I’ve also had jobs teaching at several universities and colleges around town. While many friends at home with degrees on the semantic vacillations of Willa Carter or the sexual life of Oliver Goldsmith were desperate to find any teaching jobs they could, I was happily instructing university students on the shadowy questions around ethics in international business, and being handsomely paid for it, too.  
I’ve also done translations, been a security guard, a manual labourer as well as a tour guide. In fact, you name it, and I’ve probably done it at some point over the last 16 years.
That’s down to two things.
Firstly and most obviously the single greatest advantage that English-speaking foreigners in Paris have, in fact, is that employers are willing to take a risk on you that they might not take on their compatriots.
The world continues to need people who are able to communicate in English — Facebook is not called Livres des Visages for a reason – and, by virtue of having been born into a English-speaking community, you may be lucky enough to discover some hidden ability: to write, to sell, to edit, to translate, or to programme, that you never knew you had.
That English has become the new lingua franca helps to some extent, but it is not in itself a deal maker. You need first to find where those jobs are.
And that’s where the expat community comes in.
Paris is full of foreigners who have either given up better paid jobs for the better quality of life, or who have simply married into a culture that they will never perhaps call their own, or are simply lost souls who just seem to feel at home here.
That means there exists a small network who help each other get by, find jobs and, in many unexpected ways, even flourish.  
I don’t believe I would have found any of these jobs — in teaching, advertising, dancing or even writing – if I’d stayed at home in Canada.  
I found them because I was living in Paris, and wanted to stay in Paris.  For all the bad press France is getting far and wide, such opportunities are still here.  Like anywhere, it’s all about who you know and what you’re willing to do.
For some, that could be bar work; for others, writing about pigs.  It’s just a matter of being able to sniff them out.
William Prendiville is the author of “Love is Nothing but the Fruit of a Long Moment”: A Paris Memoir, among others.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


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.