35 hour work week – time for gazing at the Seine – Christophe Hue
Many associate French working life with 35-hour weeks, strikes, long long lunch breaks and even longer holidays. This is certainly the image that I’d carefully conjured in my idealistic head before setting foot in France.
The big question: does reality live up to this delightful worker-friendly dream?
Well, I can confirm that the 35-hour week does exist (at least for a privileged minority), strikes do take place on a not-infrequent basis, lunch breaks remain sacred, and holidays are considered to be an untouchable national right (right up there alongside liberté, egalité, fraternité).
However, beneath the shiny and appealing veneer, day-to-day work has its fair share of up and downs.
This has to be one of the things I love most about France. Lunch breaks not only exist, they play a pivotal role in daily life (forget a hastily gobbled sandwich in front of the computer). Lunches are never skipped even with important deadlines looming. I’ve spent many pleasant hours with my colleagues nibbling sushi, wolfing down pizza and crunching crusty baguettes.
Plenty of time for lunch in France – Carin Olsson
The 35-hour week
This is indeed the daily lot of civil servants who enjoy privileged working conditions. However, for those in the private sector, days can start early and end well into the night. Some of these extra hours transform into extra holiday, but many more are lost en route. I’ve certainly never been forced to leave the office on the dot at 6!
Work! – Carin Olsson
Yes, French people do take to the street with remarkable ease and love nothing more than a noisy protest (manif for those in know). This whole striking business is above all the specialty of those working for the RATP – yes, the very people entrusted to manage the capital’s transport system like to create a little chaos every now and then. General attitudes are changing though. Gone are the glory days of Mai 68 when the entire population rallied whole-heartedly behind the oppressed workers. These days you’re more likely to hear Parisians grumbling about how to find childcare when the teachers go on strike or how to get to work when the metro system is paralyzed.
Holidays are a very serious matter. As a bare minimum, French people enjoy five lazy weeks of non-work each and every year. Add to this national holidays (Christmas, Easter, Bastille Day and so forth) and RTT (days off accumulated through overtime, see above) and you’re looking at a rather holiday-heavy year. Many Parisians leave the city for the month of August, heading south to the sun and sea. Incidentally, this is the perfect time to visit a less crowded, more chilled-out Paris.
I have loved making the most of the advantages of working in Paris (I’m not one to say to no to lots of holiday) and learning to appreciate the particularities (taking part in a protest is next on my to-do list). The work-life balance is very, well, balanced – thank goodness, otherwise there wouldn’t be time to try out all the amazing food, wine and exhibitions.
Month long vacations in France? C’est normal! – Pmorgan
- David Lebovitz starts his wish-list for Paris food trucks, the perfect lunch hour solution?
- Here are also some great tips on navigating the French workplace