Work, work, work!
Or as the French say “Métro, Boulot, Dodo.” This phrase perfectly encapsulates the idea of living the same old routine. Metro obviously refers to the subway, boulot (boo-low) is a slang word for work, and dodo is how children talk about sleep. In English, saying subway, work, sleep just somehow isn’t as poetic… but the notion still stand. Much like this phrase, there are many other differences between work life in France and the US.
In the US, Work = Identity; In France, Work = Job
Growing up in the US, people always asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In French, this phrase translates to “What do you want to do as a job when you grow up?” The usage of the verb ‘to be’ vs. the verb ‘to do’ is a pretty telling indicator of work identity in each country. Americans take immense pride in their positions and have a very hard time separating who they are from what they do. In France, things are very different. In fact, it’s actually considered inappropriate to ask someone about their profession straight away. This is because in France, work is viewed as a necessary part of your life, not indicative of who you are in your personal life. When you’re at work, you’re a worker, when you’re not working, you’re not. It’s that simple.
Time is Euros
Over/under on how many of you are eating a meal while reading this article? If you’re American, the odds are pretty good. Americans tend to skip lunch, eat at their desk, or inhale their food so they can get back to work. French people take long lunches because they place a high value on their time off (plus, they really, REALLY love food). It’s perfectly normal for French workers to take at least an hour for lunch. They leave their desk and they have a full meal, many times at a restaurant. In general, French people tend to take more time off. They consolidate their time in the office because they think of work as just, well… work.
The French also work less hours per week than Americans with a mandatory 35 hour limit on the workweek. Not only that, but in Paris, a normal work day (not including lunch) averages out to just six hours and 10 minutes a day. It’s also common for French people to take a full month off in the summer, whereas many Americans don’t receive any vacation time built into their schedule at all. Europeans are often shocked by how little Americans take off, or even want to take off!
French are Watermelon, Americans are Peaches
I remember my first day working in a French school very well; however, I don’t remember learning anything about my colleagues and their personal lives. There weren’t any pictures of their families on their desks, they didn’t tell me how many children they had, where they went on summer vacation… Nothing. French coworkers tend to be tougher nuts to crack, but once you get in there they’re soft and sweet, like a watermelon. French people are very formal at the beginning of a relationship. They keep others at a distance and sometimes won’t really talk to you until they feel comfortable. As the relationship progresses, they begin to open up and share about their lives and typically, once you’ve developed that level of closeness, you will likely maintain a relationship for the rest of your career. On the other hand, Americans are more like peaches; they’re soft and fuzzy on the outside, but eventually you hit a wall and it’s hard to get to the deep stuff. Americans smile, chat, and open up to just about anyone they meet, even if they hardly know them; however, at a certain point, they stop sharing and close themselves up. It can be hard to develop a deeper relationship past friendly, casual conversation in an American work environment. The downside to these differences often creates a stereotype that French people are standoffish and Americans are superficial.