“There’s no school tomorrow,” my six year old daughter told me the other day. “We’ve got a grève.” Grève, or strike, is one of the first words you learn when you move to France. It is right up there with dejuner and dossier. Striking is a national sport. There’s nothing the French love more than donning a T-shirt sprayed with paint and marching around the streets shouting. They seem to take it far more seriously than they do work.
If you move to France you will have to leave any notion of a work ethic behind. This is not a place to make a career or set up a business. They have a totally different attitude towards jobs in France. Jobs are not something you earn and need to work hard to keep. A job is for life, not just until you stop wanting to make an effort to keep it.
The French don’t only expect jobs for life; the expect jobs for life in which they are not expected to do anything. Just look at the French working week. Every Monday is practically a bank holiday. A lot of the shops are shut, as are most restaurants and the banks. Every Wednesday children are home from school (probably to get them used to the idea of not working more than the legal 35 hour week). Everyone knows nothing gets done on a Friday, so that leaves Tuesday and Thursday for work. It is no accident that national protests are almost always organised on a Tuesday, which leaves just one day for pootling about in the office.
It is no coincidence that any young French person with ambition knows there’s only one place to go to get a sensible job: London. Latest figures suggest up to 500,000 young French people are living and working there. Go to South Kensington nowadays and you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who speaks English. Even the waiters in the French restaurants are actually French. It’s so comforting to be served magret de canard by someone who can actually pronounce it.
So while our pensioners are moving to France, the French youth is moving to England. Soon there will be no one left in France except people on benefits and old Brits. At least they’ll have someone to play bridge with.
One of the reasons French people move across the Channel to work is that if you set up a business in France you will spend more time on administrative tasks than actually working. Some of the French like it this way, they enjoy nothing more than filling out a few hundred forms before lunch, but Brits find it frustrating.
One couple, Greg and Karen Charles who are originally from Cambridgeshire, are so fed up they’re moving to Spain. They bought a large property in the Mayenne just over two years ago. As the property had a shop front they decided to open an English grocery store. “First we talked to the mayor,” says Greg. “He said there would be no problems, that it all sounded great. It was a different story once we got here.”
Greg and Karen immediately found themselves inundated with forms, fees and requests for licences. Once they had paid all their social security contributions, pension payments and business charges it was impossible to make money.
“France is just not geared towards business,” says Greg. “It’s nigh-on impossible to make a decent living here legally. We did everything by the book and the system has done us no favours at all.” Greg thinks the Spanish have a more flexible attitude towards small start-ups. They plan to run a bar or a café there. “I think France is all very well if you’re retired but if you need to work you’d better make sure you have some serious money behind you to see you through the first few years before you start making any money.”