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France differs to the UK in many ways, and the business workplace is no exception to this general rule.
You might feel slightly off balance if, after you find a job in France, you continue to behave at work as you did in the UK. There are some subtle rules to the working life in France, which can be difficult to negotiate if you aren’t aware of their existence. Taking some simple steps to spot and overcome these little differences will lead to a far more positive experience of working in France.
First and most importantly: do your best to learn French. Many French people find it something of a snub if you do not speak their native language, and might treat you with less respect if you try to communicate with them in English. A few lessons at home, before you make final preparations for your move, will set you up well for facing the French work place. Once you are actually in the country, it should not be too difficult to add to your basic level of knowledge – while most people will understand English, they will far prefer to communicate in their mother tongue day to day so you are sure to pick up the language quickly!
Secondly, make sure you know what is expected of you – French employment laws are quite different to those in the UK and they can be quite strict. Your contract with your employers will be open-ended, unless you are providing maternity cover, or you are a seasonal worker. Once fully employed, you will be entitled to five weeks of holiday a year. Additional holiday time is granted for special events, such as the death of a family member, or an employee wedding.
Moreover, working in France only involves working a 35 hour week. Though there are now more flexible laws regarding this strict time limit, you should still be careful about working overtime – you will probably not be paid much in return. On the other hand bear in mind the amount of maternity leave available to working women, the excellent childcare facilities and the efforts to remove formal wage inequalities and you will see that working in France has many positive sides!
Thirdly, while you have a job in France, you should respect the typical rules and customs of the French workplace. Business etiquette involves addressing superiors formally and adopting a fairly conservative approach to business conduct. A more authoritarian style of leadership should be expected and respected; challenge it, and you are unlikely to succeed. The larger the company, the more probable it is that levels of hierarchy will be embedded into the culture. Socialising between these levels is rare, but not unheard of.
So if you decide to find a job in France, you are sure to find yourself fully submerged in la vie à la française. However France is not a place where you can consider working whilst ignoring the local culture. Absorb it and adapt to it. In this way, you’ll be able to all enjoy all the benefits that French working life has to offer!