Undergraduate Blog / Career Development

The French Work Culture

Hi everyone! This is to update you that I am doing fine (although I’ve already got lost in the Paris’s Metro subway system at least twice) and my internship has been going really well so far. In fact, it’s been much better than I expected!

The thing I decided to write about in this post in the French work culture. Why? Because it struck me how much different it is from the one we are used to follow in the Anglo-Saxon states. I must admit that even though I had studied the French culture a lot before I came here, I never expected my idea of a workday to be utterly undermined as it happened here.

On my first day, as planned, I came to work at 9 in the morning. I was naturally expecting to follow a 9-to-5 kind of schedule with a short lunch break towards the middle of the day. As it quickly turned out, I could not have been more wrong than that. Indeed, my first day at the office started with… a 30-minute coffee break. One of my co-workers and currently a good friend, Isaac, asked me if I wanted a coffee before getting to work; of course, I couldn’t say ‘no.’ While enjoying the coffee, Isaac showed me around the office and we went out on the terrace to discuss the FIFA World Cup and a bunch of other topics. Our office is on the sixth floor and so it has a perfect view on Paris.

After the break, we came back to our desks. My boss was away on that day and so I was working on small administrative tasks I had been assigned before. At about 12:30, Isaac invited me for lunch. I naturally agreed and we left the office right away. To my surprise, we did not just have a sandwich and quick coffee; on the contrary, we really took our time to enjoy the meal. According to the French culture you should spend time celebrating all meals, including your lunch at work. To follow that tradition, we went to an Indian restaurant where we had a 3 course meal, preceded by an aperitif and followed by a glass of tea and cognac (all included in the amazing price of just €10). Before that it was just unthinkable for me to drink even a tiny portion of alcohol with lunch on a workday. In France, it is completely acceptable and considered a norm. Oh, and yes, after the lunch we obviously grabbed a coffee. In total, my lunch break took about two hours!

At last, we came back to the office. After a few more hours of work and another coffee break, I left for home at about 6pm. Et voilà, my first day was over. Quite peculiar and much different from what I was expecting. Many argue the French work culture is really inefficient – and yet, France has recently overtaken the UK and become the world’s fifth biggest economy. And, to be honest, I can’t say I do not enjoy the two-hour-long lunch breaks!