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The culture shocks about working in France you need to overcome

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.

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

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?

LA BISE

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.

MEETING MANIA

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.”

ARGUING THE TOSS

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.”

THE FORMALITY

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

DON'T BLAME ME

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.”

TEMPORARY MADNESS

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.”

HIERARCHY 

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.

GROUP LUNCHES

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.

OLD BOYS' NETWORK: 

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.”

VIVE LA REVOLUTION:

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.”

WORKING HOURS

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.

CIGARETTES AND COFFEE 

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.”

PLIGHT OF THE INTERN

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.”

DON'T AGREE?

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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For members

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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