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In defense of: French working culture
In defense of French working culture. Photo: Joshua Hoffman

In defense of: French working culture

Published on: 13 Sep 2013 17:00 CET

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Expats in France are often quick to complain about certain aspects of the working culture here, as seen in The Local’s gallery : Top Ten - What drives expats mad about working in France.

In it we looked at the top complaints from having to do “la bise” (kisses) when greeting colleagues, to the lack of respect French workers have for authority.

Here we ask Kara Ronin, who runs Executive Impressions in Lyon, and provides business etiquette training, to explain and defend the aspects of French working culture that our readers found so annoying.

1.       Kissing on the cheek or "La Bise" as it is known in France.

“I think there’s nothing wrong with this. Whether it's shaking hands with men or kissing women on the cheek, it’s a greeting. It all helps to make people feel like they are part of a team. You have to build bonds and in France, shaking hands and kissing is part of that.

2.       Long meetings, where nothing gets decided.

The advantage of these long meetings is that whoever is taking part should get to have their say and air their views. Again, it's part of team building and making staff feel part of that circle. If there are discussions that need to be had, then it is important everyone is there and every option is explored.

Meetings in France are not just about one person speaking and everyone listening, as they can be in Anglo countries.

3.       Having loud arguments in front of colleagues

The French are always very direct and say what needs to be said. Everyone has the right to their opinion and they are not afraid to offer it.

Bosses will expect workers to express their view and defend themselves. Everything is laid out on the table and the good thing about the French is they don’t take it personally.

Often a huge row is forgotten about half an hour later. If you are involved in a heated row then don’t take it personally - this is just how people communicate sometimes in France.

4.       Finger pointing – The blame culture in French work places

I suppose this could be related to all the discussions that take place in meetings, and so on. If a problem occurs, the individual in question doesn’t like to be blamed for something that was decided on as a group.

Yes, they blame each other first but then they will find a solution, once they have decided whose fault it is, although it may require another meeting or two.

5.       Temporary madness – Impossible to get a permanent contract

Well this is more about employment laws in France than anything else. I understand it’s frustrating, but if you've been offered a CDD (temporary contract), you just have to do a fantastic job and hope you can land that permanent position.

It's still pretty much up to the worker at the end of the day to make a good impression.

6.       Having to stick to the hierarchy

If you go above your boss to their manager, then they will obviously be offended. This is just the way it is France and you can’t change that.

It’s a culture of respecting your boss’s position. The one positive is that everyone knows their position and what their job is and what they can and can’t do.

7.       Old Boys Network – People getting jobs thanks to their connections

Well I really don’t think this is solely a French problem. This exists in every country so people shouldn’t complain. It’s almost inevitable.

8.       No respect for authority

I think this may link back to the hierarchical structure in French work places. People respect the hierarchy, so they expect a boss to do something and when they don’t, they lose respect for him or her.

If workers respect a boss, they will work for them and if they don’t then they often won’t. And again, there’s an element of everyone feeling as though they have the right to their opinion.

9.       Smoking and fag breaks

This can be positive as it allows workers a minute or two to clear their heads, have a chat with their colleagues and do something other than work.

It also helps them to form a bond with their co-workers. If people get annoyed because they don’t drink coffee or smoke then they should have a glass of water now and then.

Also, if people invite you for a coffee then it’s considered rude not to accept it. Just think of it as a way of getting to know your team and building a bit of atmosphere in the company.

When you get back to the office you will be more productive.

10.   Internship after internship

Internships shouldn't be seen as negative. They give people a chance to seize an opportunity.  It allows people to get experience and a reference that could lead to something much better.

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Ben McPartland(ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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