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The culture shocks about working in France you need to overcome

The Local France
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The culture shocks about working in France you need to overcome
Photo: AFP

French working culture is the source of many a moan among expats in France. Our readers tell us exactly what aspect of working in France drives them a little mad.


Expats living in France have been known to utter the odd expletive or two when discussing French working culture over a pint in a pub.

For many foreigners one of the hardest aspects of settling in France is getting used to the working culture. Because many things work slightly differently to what we might be accustomed to.

So we asked out readers what drives them mad most about working in France. Here are the results. Do any strike a chord?

Or do we just moan too much?


The French love their greeting kisses we all know that, and have been known to pass through the whole office giving la bise to all their colleagues.

But for one worker at a media company in Paris, who wanted to remain anonymous out of fear of her pecking colleagues, believes there is a time and a place for it and work is certainly not the place. “I do not want someone with coffee breath giving me the 'bisous' first thing every freakin' morning thank you very much. Just a 'hi' will do just fine,” she said.


Most workers curse meetings but in France they love them and they tend to go on for hours or at least until the coffee has run out, without anything being sorted out, says reader Mike. “I worked for a Franco-American company for several years. When the French led the editorial meetings, they could take up to an hour or more, and little was resolved at the end of them. When the Americans headed the meetings, they were never more than 20 minutes."


Being Latin, the French love a good fiery discussion in public, but for Katherine, a former worker at an NGO in Paris, having a shouting match at work is just not cricket. “In the UK if there is a disagreement between colleagues you generally go into a separate office but in France they do it in front of everyone! And the rows are not just 'work disagreements' they are full on slanging matches in front of the entire office with loads of swearing. Mental.”


For The Local France,the one bone of contention we have is the need to write formally, when requesting something, which we have to do a lot.

"When I write a letter I just want to write Bonjour, say what I want then cordialement," says The Local's Ben McPartland. "None of this Je vous prie d'avoir and veuillez recevoir, Monsieur/Madame, nos salutations distingués". 

"The formal language is a nightmare, although I guess I could just learn it...."

READ ALSO: Why writing in French doesn't have to be a nightmare

Dos and don'ts to help you cope with writing in French


What drives reader Emily Montes round the twist is the blame culture she says exists in French work places. “When something goes wrong they don’t look for a solution they just look to blame someone. The French do not want to be the person who has made the mistake, so the easiest way to avoid that is to blame someone else.”


Being given endless CDDs (temporary contracts) is like being stuck in a revolving door. You're not quite in, but you're not out either. For Kwame, who works in Paris, it's maddening. “The CDD system can be infuriating. Getting several last minute extensions and the fact I had to be employed by an external recruitment agency in order to continue working in the same post just sums it up.”


Respecting the hierarchy is a big part of French working culture, especially in big companies, but for Local reader Dave from the UK, not being able to go anywhere near your boss's boss without consulting your boss first is an absolute pain.


The French love their lunches and eating at their desks is still considered weird. So too is eating on your own. Now none of that sounds bad at all. In fact it sounds far entirely sensible and positive. Yet it's a frequent issue raised by expats we have spoken to. Some talk of hiding while the French go to lunch in big groups while others have a little more confidence to politely decline.

So what's wrong with us? "There's nothing wrong with grabbing a sandwich and sitting on my own. I work with these people all day long, the last thing I want to do is eat with them for an hour," one Irish expat in Paris told us.


Numerous readers brought this issue up when asked to name their biggest grumble about working in France, including Gavin, who worked in a bank in Paris. “Often how well you do depends on what school or university you went to or who your parents know,” he said. That was backed up by author Stephen Clarke. “People end up in these great jobs for no reason which is why workers don’t respect authority.”


Which leads into another maddening aspect of French working culture, noted by Clarke. One of the author's most painful memories of working for a French magazine was the lack of respect for his authority shown by his employees. “I used to set deadlines early because my workers were always late, but they just ignored them and when I tried to be authoritarian, they just ignored me too. They have a complete disregard and disrespect for authority.”


Another common complaint are the working hours that see office workers in France generally start later and finish later. Dolly Parton's famous lyric "Workin' 9 till 5" would have to be changed to "10 till 7" if it was to be remade in France. 

It seems many Anglo workers would rather start earlier, have a shorter lunch and get out of the office as soon as possible, rather than hang around till it's dark. Expat parents who have to leave their kids at school until after 6pm certainly find this an issue.


If you’re not a heavy smoker and don’t drink coffee then you could well end up friendless in the French workplace, warns Local reader Jonathan, a British lawyer who used to work at a Paris-based firm. “Every 40 odd minutes a colleague asks you if you want a coffee and will look down on you if you refuse. And coffee is en principe accompanied by a cigarette – the two go hand in hand.”


While it is widely accepted in French working culture that internships – known as “stages” in France, are vital for getting your foot in the door, they aren’t always so popular with expats. “They basically just allow employers to rip people off by paying them a lower salary and exploiting student labour,” says Local reader Jonathan. “After the stage most companies don’t recruit you – they just get new stagiaires.”


Just for balance the links below shows why despite our moans, most of us are extremely grateful to be working in France.

In defense of French working culture

Ten reasons why France is a great place to work

The benefits and perks of working in France

This article is an updated version of an article that was first published on The Local in 2013.

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


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