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Five tips for surviving an internship in France

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Five tips for surviving an internship in France
Photo: Thomas Heylen/Flickr
09:58 CEST+02:00
Starting a new internship in France can be a daunting prospect, but here are some tips to surviving, writes Fatima Al-Kassab.
The internship in France is a rite of passage for the French, but also a great opportunity for foreigners. 
 
And with at least 10,000 internships currently on offer and unemployment high, now is as good a time as any to get your foot in the door. 
 
For those studying in France, many degrees actually require students to do a six month stage as part of their course, so if you too are planning on studying in France then an internship is something you may have to consider. 
 
Otherwise, languages students from outside France often have the choice of either studying or working as part of their compulsory year abroad.
 
Whatever your reasons for considering an internship, you need to know how to survive, so here are some inside tips.
 
Prepare yourself for the low pay
 
As of September 2015, the new minimum wage for interns in France is €554.40 a month. Whilst this doesn't seem like much – not least if you're having to pay rent – at least it's a bit of a hike from the former wage of €520.80.
 
French law states every intern must be paid if their internship lasts longer than two months, so make sure you know your rights.
 
But luckily for some interns, not all companies stick to the standard minimum wage, with several companies, especially in the banking and professional services sector, offering up to €2,000 per month to their stagiaires.
 
Companies such as the Boston Consulting Group were reportedly pay their interns €2,200 a month, according to Le Figaro newspaper. BNP Paribas, Ernst & Young and PwC also appeared on the list of the highest paying companies.
   
Still, whilst there are opportunities to land a better paying internship, it is worth remembering that most interns are paid the standard minimum wage. Keep in mind doing an internship in France is about the experience and not the pay. Enjoy the learning opportunities and remember that it will look great on your CV.
 
Photo: Images Money/Flickr
 
Don't be a stage slave
 
France has a big ‘stage' culture, with most companies offering plenty of internships. This means that they usually get some real work to do, and won't end up just making tea and coffee for everyone on the floor. 
    
However, don't let this mean you're overloaded with more work than you can handle. The law states that interns should not have to do the same amount of work as a full-time employee.
   
There have been reports in the French media, however, that some companies have relied entirely on interns to do most of the work, pushing full-time employees to leave.
 
New French laws specify that the maximum number of interns a company can take on must be 15 percent of their full-time staff or less. 
 
Don't let blunt bosses get you down 
 
French bosses can be particularly hard to please, and for the awkward non-French intern, their bluntness can sometimes be a harsh blow. Learn to accept that your boss and colleagues won't beat around the bush, and try to remember that usually it's constructive criticism.
 
Better still, embrace the quintessentially French bluntness and take it as an opportunity to get better at the job.
 
One intern from London told The Local that whilst he thought that by the end of his six month internship his boss may have come to be fond of his presence, he was shocked when she gave him a bag of sugar as his leaving gift.
 
Photo: VFS.com/Flickr
 
Don't be fazed by the French phone call
 
Having to answer the phone in French with little practice can sometimes be a traumatic experience.
 
Battling with understanding the unintelligible French mumble, figuring out all the buttons, remembering the names of everyone in the office - as well as the caller's - it can all get a bit much (and let's not even mention writing down those pesky French numbers).
 
One intern from Oxford told The Local that she found herself in such a panic when asked to take a call on her first day, that she forgot the caller's name only to find out he was a famous French writer represented by the literary agency she worked for. She had also forgotten to use the ‘vous' form when talking to him (more on this later). 
 
To avoid finding yourself in such a mess, make sure you watch how it's done before you brave it alone.
 
Familiarize yourself with the phones, prepare some helpful "French phone call phrases", and then just take a deep breath and do your thing. 
 
Photo: Alan Clark/Flickr
 
Master the ‘vous' and ‘tu' dilemma
 
And lastly, an old office classic. As if being the office newbie wasn't intimidating enough, being an intern in France means having to grapple with the stressful question of whether to address your colleagues using the "vous" or "tu" form.
 
Our advice: Just stick with "vous" until you're told otherwise.
 
You can only hope at one point you find yourself on "tu" terms with your coworkers, but don't push it. If it's a younger crowd, you can maybe take your chances with a "tu", but even still, it's especially important to always ‘vousvoie' your boss, unless they insist otherwise.
 
Don't stress too much about this at the start though; it should become second nature before long.
 
By Fatima Al-Kassab
 
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