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Eureka: My experience with French corporate culture
by Joseph Gatt
2018-06-11 07:55:36
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Here's a list, in no particular order, of observations I made in the French corporate world.

-The absent directors and CEOs. In French companies, directors and CEOs tend to have separate entrances, separate elevators, separate cafeterias, separate meeting rooms, seperate libraries and follow a whole different track leading to their office. So if you're the average worker, you probably won't bump into them. Their phone numbers, including office numbers, and those of their secretaries tend to be private. Their email adresses also tend to be private. At best, you might get a hold of their fax number, but that also might be private. So if you want to rant, can't send an email ranting to the CEO or directors.

frcorp0001_400-The creepy boss. As you've noticed from the CEOs, being a people's person just isn't in French blood. Supervisors tend to be assigned supervisor positions because they attended elite schools and nothing else. It's not what they know, it's what school they went to. So if you have a smart boss good for you, if your boss went to an elite school but is a moron, you'll be stuck with him. French supervisors tend to have anger management problems, tend to be meticulous and notice every mistake. Don't be late to work, proofread your spelling, make sure you double check all the facts. When you hand in your work to your boss, it has to be perfect, not near perfection.

-Can I ask you a question? Before the French ask an important question, they often make sure their question will be answered by asking if they can ask a question first. In the corporate world, your questions might or might not be answered. The French are not very comfortable with sharing information, as they tend to think other people are competing with them for promotions.

-The open space disaster. In the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, or even Germany for that matter, open space was a good idea. In the US in the past, workers tended to lock themselves up in their office and tended to form cliques within the workplace, but with open space they tended to share more work-related information and just chat more, and information flowed a lot better. When the French thought open space would have the same effect, a lot of the French workers put high walls in their cubicle or even yelled as soon as someone was invading their personal space. Toilet breaks became a source of gossip and so did fashion trends and what drink one has. As for all that work-related communication, it just didn't happen.

-Think ten times before you send an email. Americans tend to be spontaneous with email and write what's on their mind. The French tend to write emails collectively, and emails will go through so many layers of fact-checking and thinking that they will often be ambiguous. I once sent my boss an email and he yelled at me “I'm not your online boss! Don't ever send me an email again!”

-Walking in the dark. In the US, we tend to offer new employees orientation and tell them what to expect on the job and how to perform. The French tend to have no orientation, and you will be assigned at your desk on the first day. Nor will you be briefed on the projects or company philosophy. You will often go to work in the morning not knowing what will happen during the day, perhaps not even having a clue.

-It's not what you know, it's what school you went to. Don't ever try to impress the French with information or knowledge you might have, languages you might speak or connections you might have. Doesn't matter if you have all the connections, speak all the languages and know almost everything about the market. That guy who went to the elite schools, he will be the one taking the decisions.

-Be careful what you wear. Paris is often said to be the world capital of fashion, and your colleagues will look at what brand of shoes you're wearing, what brand of suit you're wearing and will notice whether it has been recently dry cleaned or not. And they're not even gay. Watch the stains, watch the wrinkles, and make sure you polish your shoes every morning. Hair cuts and shaving is also an art.

-Meetings are scripted. If there's a company meeting, you won't just be invited to talk or give your opinion. The supervisors will talk, the rest will listen. And the supervisors will decide for you.

-You can be friends with your colleagues, but that will remain a secret. If you meet colleagues outside office hours, they will invite you by whispering to your ear, will make sure you meet far, far away from anyone related to the company, and will act the next day like you two never met.

-35 hours and 5 weeks paid vacation, if you're the supervisor that is. You have to ask permission to your supervisor before you leave, and ever since this open space thing people tend to compete for who will leave last and act like they're showered with work when they're really reading online newspapers or playing solitaire on their computers, maybe even gambling online. 5 weeks paid vacation tend to be in the summer, and you have to wait for your supervisor to hint to you that you can take your vacation before you take it.

-Company dinners, events, parties, lectures, training, that's so American. I once saw an American company based in Paris throw a Christmas party dinner at the company. The French directors just didn't show up. Those French workers who could book a business trip on that date did so deliberatlely so they could skip the Christmas dinner. Others who stayed dragged their feet to the event and stood awkwardly waiting for someone to talk to them at the party. When the music played and the Americans started dancing, only the crazy French ones followed through and danced, mostly those French who are the descendents of different ethnicities, mainly African of Middle Eastern.

-For lunch, you're on your own. The French just disappear during the lunch hour without telling anyone where they are headed. They tend to eat at restaurants far away from the company, or in some cases pick a spot where they can quietly eat their lunch from a lunch box they hide in their bag. A glass of wine or a beer is common for lunch.

-Your French workers are here to stay. The French will rarely resign from the company, and will endure the thoughest of situations. They just tend to build shells and stop talking to co-workers when they're in trouble, and wait for the storm to pass.

-Pay day! The day people stop talking to each other altogether. In the US on pay day we tend to organize some kind of dinner or have a few drinks to celebrate our paycheck. Or we'll have that unusually expensive lunch to celerate the good day. The French will tend to build a shell on that day, to make sure people don't try to borrow money from them.

-Paper, phone calls, printers, photocopiers and in some cases even electricity is counted. The French have a peculiar system. Your photocopies are counted and you tend to be allowed 3,000 or so photocopies a year. Same goes for printing, you can print 500 color pages or so a year and 3,000 black and white pages or so a year in most cases. Your phone call minutes are also counted, so is the paper you use. In some cases even pens are counted, or how much electricity your office uses. Every penny counts. 

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