Lannion Travel Blog› entry 3 of 6 › view all entries
Becoming a part of the French workforce, even temporarily, was a real eye-opener for me. I had agreed to accompany Mark to his worksite to assist with any software translation problems or communication difficulties he may have had while there. I soon discovered that the work environment in a French office is radically different from any American workplace I had ever experienced, mainly due to the cultural differences.
An American tends to isolate himself in his cubicle all day. He rarely speaks to another human being, eats lunch at his desk (usually foraged junkfood from the row of vending machines in the breakroom) and doesn’t know the name of his colleague who works two desks away. Not so with those from the land of the two hour lunch!
I was quite impressed by what I observed as the more “personal” emphasis which occurs in the workplace in France. It’s not so much the job that is important but the person who is doing the job. The job, of course, will take care of itself, as long as the relationships within the office flow smoothly.
Every morning, as the employees arrive at the office, they greet one another with a handshake and “Bonjour”, “Ça va? “ Good morning” “How are you doing?” It doesn’t matter if you meet someone for the first time in the afternoon. You are still greeted in the same manner. If you are a good friend, then you must “faire la bise” or kiss the air to the side of each cheek. I only saw this take place between males and females or between two females, so I don’t know if there is any other protocol to follow on a nonprofessional level. To be honest, I don’t know how they keep track of all this. Is there a little alarm that goes off inside the French head that warns when someone has entered a room whose hand has not been shaken or whose cheek is still without a kiss? I do know that a fair amount of time can be taken up during the day by this ritual, especially since at the end of the workday it happens once again. This time, each person wishes the other a “Bonne soirée” or “Have a good evening” as the hand shaking begins once again in earnest.
I rather like this personalized attention that gives one a feeling of importance within the structure of the company. This cohesiveness runs over into the next area of my observation: The workplace lunch.
Although the businessmen and women at this particular office only take an hour for lunch, that is the only similarity that I have found between Anglo and Franco lunching habits. Usually around noon or shortly thereafter, computers shut down, office lights are turned off and everyone files out of the building en mass for the long walk to the café three or four blocks away. This is a loose estimate, except I know that we cross at least three “rond-points” , “roundabouts” or “traffic circles” (depending upon which part of the world you call home) on our way to the watering hole frequented by most of the people who work in this industrial area of town.
When you walk in the door, you reach for your tray, flatwear, water glass and chunk of French baguette before heading to the service area. Once there, you have a choice of three entrees (as we would say in America) with starch and/or vegetable, a wide variety of luscious desserts, a large platter of various cheeses and your choice of fruits or salads. I will have to say that “la belle cuisine” doesn’t quite live up to its reputation in the workers’ café. I have seen more combinations of less than appetizing meals here than I have seen in most cafeterias in the U.S.A.
Maybe it’s just me but I see nothing appealing about a plate full of lentils with a couple of wieners perched on top. One day, I had an overlarge portion of fatty ham chunks covered in pomme frites (french fries, to the uninitiated). I then topped it off the next day with a portion of what was called “calamar à l’Américain” I'm quite sure that I've never seen any dish like this served in America. The name tipped it off for me, otherwise I wouldn’t have known what was being served. Now, calamari is one of my favorite appetizers and usually when I see it on a menu it is offered fried, in rings, with a nice dipping sauce. This squid, sliced in thin pieces, was as rubbery as only a cafeteria could make it and was served with a sauce made of fish stock, white wine, tomato puree and various spices, all on a bed of rice. What, you may ask, possessed me to select something like this. All I can say is that I couldn't tolerate another piece of pork and unfortunately, I didn’t see the fried fish at the end of the line until it was too late.
What did amuse me however, was the presence of alcohol on offer as a workday refreshment. It wasn’t unusual and was perfectly acceptable to select a bottle of wine or cidre from the shelf, drink the whole bottle and then return to the office for another five hours of work. Generally though, a bottle was shared among several colleagues, so by the time you walked all the way back to the office you could count on being completely sober when you arrived.
Another nice touch is the consideration that is shown within the group for a fellow employee. On several occasions, when we had nearly finished our meal and were ready to leave, a straggler from the office would show up late at the table and then everyone in the group was obliged to sit and wait until the latecomer had finished his meal. No one is left out, everyone feels a part of the group. I sort of had thoughts of, “We are Borg”. “Resistance is futile” running through my head but nevermind…………
The afternoon coffee break is taken........ in the break room. I'm not sure if food and beverage are prohibited at one's desk, (in which case I was a flagrant offender) or whether it is just that camaraderie thing again but something seems to pull everyone to the same spot, at the same time, to stand around small bistro tables for one of those thimbles full of potent, French java. It's over in a flash and everyone disappears as quickly as they came.
Everyone appears to work until sometime after 6pm. I'm not really sure of the exact time since they all seem to be hard at work as we are walking out the door at 6:00pm. They just probably wait until we are gone and then break out another bottle of wine or two before the long ritual of hand shaking begins.............
* metro....boulot.....dodo the French way of commenting on the monotony of life....... travel.....work......sleep......