Working in Paris! (#1)  "Those lazy French" (American Pension Funds and our 35-hour a week law) (credit)  
 The French and work...    If you want to find a job by yourself
  • The French Paradox ! The French way of working is clearly different from the American one.

  • However, this might just be another French Paradox (remember : "How Do They Eat That Much And Remain Slim?" : answer in Tips on Food)

  • The French Paradox in Business is : "How Do They Manage To Be The Fifth or Sixth Economy In The World Given The Way They Work and Strike?" : see a list of French companies, world leaders in their field and see that they do not export only cheese to the USA (France is a major exporter and ranks # 4 or 5)!

  • Just think about it: whether they collect garbage or are firemen or teachers or even doctors, the French always take to the streets when they're unhappy. You'd think no one in this country is working but ironically France is one of the most productive countries in the world! This means that when people are on the job, they're really on it. The rest of the time, they're the streets.

  • The French do not see their job the same way Americans do (read more about it).

Do the French actually work?

  • The image of French work ethics is mediocre (this is an understatement....) : 35-hour work week law, constant strikes, 5 to 8 weeks vacation, early retirement etc... Only in France can you work so few hours/year compared with other countries (the difference between France and the USA is on average 330 hours/year). Read my personal opinion about the 35-hour week.

  • But the French have a vision of their relation with their employer which is very different from the American's : see more about it.


 It is not easy to find a job in France ; it's a dream for many but one which is hard to realize, especially when you think that you need official working papers and an employer who will give them to you, etc. :

  • Unemployment is high and employers try to cut costs

  • Paperwork is very complicated for the employer : each new employee (even for a short period of time) must be declared to many different organization, each of them managing one of the many social benefits (see the anatomy of a paycheck)

  • It is even harder for employees who are not citizens of the European Union

  • Job contracts : there are basically two sorts : CDD (Contrat à Durée Déterminée), in which you are hired for a certain time (for instance 6 months) and which can be renewed only once and CDI (Contrat à Durée Indéterminée), where there is no limit and it is rather difficult for the employer to end the contract ; CDI are, of course, especially difficult to find ; to work and be paid by the hour, a worker has to be registred as "travailleur indépendant" with an organization called URSSAF (and it does not make sense for a limited number of hours). More about contracts.

  • See my new section Job Offers

  • More to come.....

We suggest four books which address this question :

  • Geneviève BRAME, Chez vous en France- Living and Working in France, Paris, 1995
  • COUSINS, HALLMARK & PICKUP, Studying and Working in France- A Student Guide, Manchester University Press, ISBN 071904220-8
  • Frances GENDLIN, Living and Working in Paris, France, in the Culture Shock series, Kuperard Publ.
  • Carol PINEAU & al., Working in France, Franck, 1991, Paris
  • For more bibliography, click here
  • More to come...
  • Warning ! Working few hours does not mean working badly (the hourly productivity in France is one of the highest in the world) or working poorly (the quality of manpower is good and working well is prestigious : see " compagnonnage " or artcarft). In fact, implicitly, the French society has decided to work less, but well, to make less money but to be protected against the major life hazards.

  • The amazing success of a (mediocre) book " Bonjour paresse " ("Hello Laziness"), subtitled " About the art and the necessity of doing the strict minimum for your company " in September 2004 illustrates that for many French people : " the company can fire you any day, therefore you don't owe it anything " or, during the 2017 Presidential campaign, the Socialist candidate benoit Hamon declared (about his project of "an income for all, from the State") : "What one must understand is that a young person who wants to settle or create a family does not necessarily wish to work" (France-Inter radio, Jan.23, 2017).

  • Writes Ted Stanger, author of Sacrés Français ! : " France is the only country in the world where you can find a tennis partner on Friday afternoon. But the 35-hour week is your Iraq or your Vietnam and nobody here realizes that you are going to lose the economic war "

  • See a list of strengths and weaknesses of France.
  • Read about sick leaves in France.
  • Working with the French.... click here

 Some suggestions to find a job in Paris

  • Web resources :
  • FUSAC (free, bimonthly) contains many classified ads, indispensable if you are looking for a temporary job. From the U.S.A. France Contact P.O. Box 115, Cooper Station, New York, NY 10276 Tel (212) 2777-5553
  • The billboard at the American Church can be very useful
  • The International New York Times runs many ads : Tel. 33-(0)1 46 37 93 00
  • CIDJ (Centre d'Information et de Documentation Jeunesse) is a good source for temporary jobs for students (101 Quai Branly 75007 tel 01 44 49 12 00)
  • To identify US companies in France, you may contact the American Chamber of Commerce in France, 77 rue de Miromesnil 75008 Paris, tel. (0)1 56 43 45 67 or the Chambre de Commerce Franco-Américaine, 104 rue de Miromesnil 75008 Paris, tel (0)1 53 89 11 00.
  • More to come...
     Job-hunting in Paris
  • A working France does exist ! An important fact is that the situation is very different between people : those who work the most (people working for private companies, open to international competition, shopkeepers, middle-aged people, artcraft, ...) and who contibute to the economic ranking of the country and its world leaders

  • And those who work the least :

    • in big public transport companies such as RATP, SNCF (more than 8 weeks vacation per year, work-week between 32 and 37 hours, retirement age between 50 to 60),
    • local administrations,
    • high school teachers (28,9 to 30,3 hours/week, 16 weeks vacation),
    • people under 25 or over 55 (among the lowest activity rates in the world for both categories of young and old workers).
  • Very few shops are open on Sundays. Why ? Because, as a general rule, the law forbids it and only the Prefet (i.e. the representative of the State) can waive it on a case by case basis. Why ? Because the French society believes that, if there was no regulation, the most powerful (i.e. the employer) would always win over the weakest (i.e. the employee) who would get no benefit at all (even paid overtime) out of this attack on his " art de vivre ". The unions fight valiantly against it : read a very interesting expression of their view about working on Sundays.

  • The pernicious effect of the 35-hour work week law (1998) was that it made it much more difficult for workers to get paid overtime (very constrained by the law) : many have to work on the black market to make ends meet. This is the main explanation of the electoral defeat of the left in 2002.

DID YOU KNOW THAT ....? If one of your grandparents was Irish, you can make a claim for Irish citizenship (and keep your US citizenship). As a citizen of the European Union, you can live and work wherever you want without any formality.


 In Paris Voice, free-lance journalist Rose Marie Burke gives 10 valuable tips about finding a job in Paris :

  • " pinpoint the hot sectors ", namely telecom, high tech, hotels, restaurants, secretarial and teaching
  • " wake up and smell the café ", it is a very competitive market
  • " work around the system " and look for firms that cater to expatriates
  • " target new subsidiaries " of U.S. firms
  • " become a known quantity " and start with a temporary contract
  • " redo that franglais CV " : your resumé (CV) must be palatable for the French
  • " forget the thank-you note " after the interview (but do not dress too casually)
  • " don't knock open doors " and join English-speaking organizations
  • " don't get stuck in a rut " and try different searching methods
  • " try temping ", it's easy (if you're a EU citizen)

For information about what you get (minimum) if you lose you job in Europe, see comparative figures. 

USEFUL TIPS.... Remember that American companies in France, very often, do not respect French laws : make sure you are treated the same way you would be with an equivalent French company (salary slip, payment to Social Security, pension, etc...)....

DID YOU KNOW THAT....? Now, all over Europe, the labor market is fully open (no working documents required as is the case for other nationalities) to other European nationals. Jobs which Americans could have filled before because of their English language skills are now being filled by British citizens. The Brexit will at least improve the situation for US nationals....

 If you are sent to France as an expat...    The anatomy of a French paycheck...

It is a waste to live in foreign countries and have the same kind of life everywhere !

  • See a few DOs and DONTs
  • See a list of fifty questions about living abroad (established by the State Department) with tentative answers for France
  • Working with the French is "different": less organization, less discipline, etc... : read the page about it.
  • Remember : taxes are high (for executives : more than 60% of salary vs. 40% in the USA) ! Check with a tax lawyer.
  • The most helpful French bank, focused on helping expats in France is probably : Banque Transatlantique RepOffice in the USA : 1819 H Street NW Suite 620 Washington DC 20006 Tel. 202/4329 19 09
  • Be ready for a shock when you go back home.
  • Read the page for Chinese or the page for Japanese visitors and expats.
  • Useful link : a search engine for people moving or living abroad.
  • If you need help for administrative tasks : Imagic2015 provides the best service for foreigners, guiding them through French administration processes in a smooth and serene manner (Administrative forms assistance, secretarial tasks, writing, …)

 France in a nutshell : understanding many aspects of the country by analyzing what's in a paycheck !

  • Case : a young professional, hired one year ago, first job, administrative position, annual salary 36 000 Euros ($ 45 000).
  • Employer : a successful investment bank
  • Working time : 162,5 hours/month (full time) if they work more than the mandatory 35 hours, employees (except for top management) can recuperate up to two or three additional weeks of vacation (in addition to 5).
  • Monthly Salary : $ 3 719
  • In fact, he/she will actually cash : $ 2 724
  • But he/she will cost his/her boss : $ 5 988

This is a French Mystery : to understand it, click here to see the detail of a real paycheck.

 Doing business in France...

 The 2005 issue of the World Bank report " Doing Business " infuriated the French (Les Echos, Sept.13, 2005).

  • The top five countries to do business with are New Zealand, Singapore, USA, Canada, Norway while UK, Japan, Belgium and Germany (# 19) rank honourably
  • France ranks # 44 AFTER Namibia, Tonga, Saudi Arabia, Botswana and Jamaica to name a few ; Italy (# 70) and Greece (# 80) do even worse.
  • The ranking has improved since then but remains mediocre.
However, the attractiveness of Paris for international headquarters is very high and Paris is generally first or second (with London) : see the figures. The USA are the largest foreign investor in France (read the page on US corporations in France). The main reasons are :

  • High quality of infrastructures
  • Skilled manpower
  • Location at the center of Europe
  • Quality of life
  • The poor image given by strikes and demonstration does not seem to be a negative factor and, as declared by Christopher Coonen, CEO of PayPal "Our managers are perceptive enough not to believe everything they see on CNN...".

 French benefits : if you work in France, you are entitled (by law) to the following benefits :

  • Medecine du travail (labor medicine) : an annual visit to the company's doctor
  • your lunch partly paid by the employer : a cafeteria or lunch vouchers
  • 1% patronal : a priority-access to low-rent housing financed by a tax paid by the company
  • Comité d'entreprise (companies>50) : read more about it
  • More to come...
Be careful : many US firms in France do not follow French laws...
And now a question : you are a cleaning lady and your boss dies : what happens to you ? Click here for the answer.
USEFUL TIP .......Do you kow what a " cadre " is ? All the French use this concept which has no real equivalent outside France. Literally, it means " manager " : a cadre is someone who manages (" encadrer ") other workers or has the qualification to. Practically, being a cadre is a sign of social status (that you keep forever) . It indicates that you belong to the white-collar world, instead of the blue-collar one. For the employer, it is a specific category : the pension systems are different from " non-cadres", the participation rates in social programs too. In the elections for staff delegates in corporations ("Comité d'Entreprise", " délégués du personnel "), there are two electoral colleges (" cadre " and " non-cadre "), there is a specific labor union for " cadres " (Confédération générale des cadres), two boards of judges in labor courts (" conseils de prud'hommes "), etc If you are are a young job-seeker, the first question to ask is : "Shall I be a cadre ? ". For some positions and some qualifications, there is no doubt but for others it is wiser to ask before (because becoming a " cadre " is a major promotion). If you are not recruited as a " cadre ", you know the position is not considered a high one. Try at least to make it a well-paid clerical or blue collar job. .
  • The study does not take into account such important parameters as "organized crime" and "macro-economic policy" which, in my opinion, make doing business in Kingston a little more difficult than in Paris

  • It over-values "common law" as opposed to "civil law" : in other words it should be re-named "doing business the American way"

  • There is no doubt that the French legislation is invasive and that bureaucracy makes it more difficult to do business in France than in many other countries (see anatomy of a paycheck) but still......

  • This ranking is one of the many examples of the influence of the choice of criteria of a dominant culture on value judgements (see the ranking of universities).

  • See my unbalanced opinion in the editorial page on how to build a ranking so that a given countries comes out first....

  • Similar comments with the ranking of the World Economic Forum 2005 : France ranks # 30 in terms of competitiveness.

  • Read the page about American firms in France
  • More to come....

This page is under construction, please visit again my site later : I welcome comments and suggestions.

  DO YOU KNOW WHAT A " COMITE D'ENTREPRISE" (C.E.) IS .....? It is the employee's association, legally required for companies over 50 ; its members are elected among candidates proposed by the unions ; the C.E. manages the various benefits offered to the staff with a grant from the company ; all of them offer services such as tickets at reduced price for theaters, sport events etc.., summer camps for children, cheap trips and cruises, retirement homes, and sometimes more. At Electricité de France, the largest utility in the world (state-owned), the C.E. receives 1% of the electricity bills ; in 2004, it employed around 3,600 people ! If you work for a French company, check out what the C.E. has to offer : you'll be impressed ..... By law, employees can devote part of their (paid) time to the company's employees' bodies and associations in which they have been elected : "délégué syndical" (representative of an union : 30 hours/month for each of the 5 main national unions), "representative of an union in the Comité d'Entreprise" (CE : 20 hrs/month each), "other member of the Comité d'Entreprise" (CE : 20 hrs/month each), "délégué du personnel" (and their deputies : 15 hrs/month each), "members of the Comité d'Hygiène et de Sécurité" (CHSCT : 20 hrs/month each), etc. Both Comité d'Entreprise and CHSCT were merged by law in 2017 within the policy of simplification of labor laws.
To related pages : anatomy of a paycheck (#2), doing business in France, history of American firms in France, education, life in France, etc...

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming events, testimonials, etc..)

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Together or separately, Harriet and Philippe speak about Intercultural Differences : click here for information.