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FRENCH BUREAUCRACY

The times to avoid when calling a French office

If you're calling a French office, particularly if you have a complicated request and need the person on the end of the phone to help you, there are some times best avoided.

The times to avoid when calling a French office
Pick your time to phone a French office. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

Lunchtime

The traditional French lunch break is between 12 and 2pm, so you might find that phones go unanswered during this period.

Exactly how strictly this is observed really depends on where you are – in the big cities, especially Paris, it’s increasingly common for workers to take shorter breaks or just work straight through and sometimes your French colleagues might even schedule a meeting during this time.

In smaller towns or rural areas, however, plenty of shops and offices still observe the traditional 12-2 break and in families it’s not uncommon for children to come home from school to have a proper lunch cooked by their parents at home.

So avoid lunchtime.

In fact if you have a complicated request it’s better not to call after 11.45am – the person will just want to get you off the phone so they can go to lunch – or before 2.10pm – no-one likes being called the second they are back at their desks.

On the plus side, most offices and shops stay open until 6 or 7pm.

August 

During the month of August most French people are at the beach so you can pretty much forget about getting anything done. Try emailing during this period and you’re likely to get a bounce-back saying something like ‘I’m on holiday, contact me in September’.

Likewise many shops shut down for several weeks in the summer while their staff take a well-earned break.

Wise people therefore schedule admin tasks for the autumn.

READ ALSO The 8 signs that August has arrived in France

Public holidays

France has 11 public holidays a year (except if you’re in Alsace-Lorraine in which case there are 13) and naturally offices close on these dates.

Some are obvious like Christmas, but there are several slightly more obscure ones like the Christian festival of Assumption (it’s in August) or the day that World War II ended in Europe (May) that can catch you out. It’s best to keep the public holiday calendar to hand at all times.  

READ ALSO The 2022 French holiday calendar

The day before or after a public holiday 

This is not because the employee is likely to be nursing a hangover, it’s due to the fine French tradition of faire le pont.

French public holidays are celebrated on the actual date, which means they are on a different day of the week. And if the holiday happens to fall on either a Tuesday or a Thursday, French employees like to faire le pont (do the bridge) and use a single day of their holiday leave to create a four-day weekend. This can mean that offices are lightly staffed on the days surrounding a public holiday.

READ ALSO Faire le pont: The best thing about French public holidays

February, Easter, November, Christmas

It’s not as pronounced as the August break, but naturally French parents like to take time off during the school holidays.

And remember that half-term/mid-term holidays in French schools last for two weeks, not one.

Walk-ins

Lest this all sound overly negative about French work culture (and to be clear, we’re all for the French protecting their work-life balance, which is a major reason why people move here) there are also some advantages to the French system, namely that most public administration services have offices that you can visit on a walk-in basis.

Anyone who has ever entered the labyrinth of misery that is the phone system for the UK’s tax office HMRC will be delighted to know that in France, if you have a question about tax, you can just walk in to your local tax office and ask the employee to help/explain the system to you. In many offices they’re actually pretty friendly and helpful. 

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FRANCE EXPLAINED

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