Moving to France can be an exciting adventure for expats, but the French work culture is characterized by strict rules and social hierarchies, which can be overwhelming for newcomers.

Navigating a new work culture can be challenging, especially when it comes to understanding the expectations around communication, punctuality, and hierarchy.

In France, these three elements are crucial to creating positive relationships with your colleagues and advancing your career. However, by following a few simple tips, expats can adapt to the French work culture and thrive in their new workplace.

  1. Punctuality. While it may be a stereotype that French people are often fashionably late to social events, it’s important to remember that punctuality is highly valued in the workplace. Being late to a meeting is a sign of disrespect and can harm your professional reputation. To avoid being late, plan ahead and give yourself plenty of time to get to the office. If unexpected circumstances arise that may cause a delay, be sure to communicate with your colleagues and let them know the situation. One way to ensure you’re always on time is to plan ahead and anticipate any potential roadblocks. For example, if you’re taking the metro or any RATP-related services, check the schedules and allow extra time for any delays. If you’re driving, check traffic conditions and plan your route accordingly. It’s better to arrive early and wait for the meeting to start than to be rushing in at the last minute. Remember that being punctual is a sign of professionalism and shows that you value your colleagues’ time. It’s also important to note that in France, being on time doesn’t just mean arriving at the scheduled start time of a meeting. It means being there a few minutes early, ready to start on time. So, make sure to plan ahead and show up on time, every time.
  2. Communication. In addition to greetings, it’s also important to use polite language such as “s’il vous plaît” (please) and “merci” (thank you) in your communication. These small phrases can go a long way in showing your colleagues that you respect and appreciate them. When discussing your work, it’s important to be mindful of your tone and avoid sounding aggressive or confrontational. In France, disagreements are often expressed indirectly or through subtle hints, so it’s important to pay attention to non-verbal cues and use your intuition to read between the lines. By communicating politely and respectfully, you can build positive relationships with your colleagues and show that you value their input and ideas.
  3. Hierarchy. When it comes to navigating the French work culture, understanding the hierarchy is crucial. In France, there is a clear chain of command, and it’s important to show respect for those in higher positions. This means addressing your colleagues formally with the appropriate titles, such as “Monsieur” or “Madame.” For instance, during my first week in a French company, I was introduced to my colleagues by their full names, followed by their titles. I was surprised to hear my manager being called “Madame” instead of her first name, as it seemed rather formal. However, I quickly learned that addressing her by her first name would have been seen as disrespectful. Keep it formal, call people your colleagues by their last names, until they clearly want to establish some rapprochement and ask you to rather use their first names. It’s also important to pay attention to the level of formality in communication, both verbal and written. In French business emails, it’s common to use formal greetings and closing statements, such as “Bonjour Madame” or “Cordialement” (sincerely), even when communicating with colleagues you know well. Overall, when interacting with superiors in a French workplace, it’s best to err on the side of formality until you have established a comfortable rapport. Remember, showing respect and understanding the chain of command will go a long way in building positive relationships with your colleagues.
  1. Lunch Break. In France, the lunch break is sacred, and it’s common for colleagues to take an hour or more to enjoy a leisurely meal. Take advantage of this time to connect with your colleagues and build relationships. Avoid working through your lunch break or eating at your desk. Instead, take the time to enjoy a meal and engage in conversation with your colleagues. Taking a proper lunch break is not only a part of the French work culture but is also a law that employers must comply with. So, as an expat, it’s important to understand and respect the significance of taking a break during the day. Picture this: you’re sitting at your desk, munching on a sandwich jambon fromage while quickly typing away on your keyboard. Suddenly, a group of your colleagues come up to you and invite you to join them for lunch at a nearby cafe. You hesitantly look at your unfinished work and think, “Should I go or should I stay and finish my work?” In France, the answer would be clear: go to lunch! French workers prioritize their lunch breaks as a time to unwind, recharge, and socialize. And as an expat, it’s important to join in and take advantage of this opportunity to connect with your colleagues on a personal level. During lunch breaks, conversations can range from work-related topics to personal interests and hobbies. It’s a great chance to learn more about your colleagues outside of work and build lasting relationships. Plus, taking a break from work can actually boost productivity and reduce stress levels. So, make sure to step away from your desk and enjoy a proper meal during your lunch break. Whether it’s a sit-down meal at a restaurant or a picnic in the park, take the time to savor your food and connect with your colleagues. Your work will still be waiting for you when you get back, but the relationships you build during your lunch break can last a lifetime.
  1. Coffee Break. Ah, the coffee break aka “pause cigarette”– a cherished tradition in French work culture. Whether you’re a coffee or tea lover, taking a few minutes to step away from your work and connect with your colleagues can make a big difference in your day. During a typical workday, it’s common for colleagues to take a 10-15 minute coffee break in the morning and afternoon. Cigarette smokers usually about 5 minutes every two to three hours throughout the day. As an expat adjusting to French work culture, you might feel tempted to skip this break or work through it to stay productive. However, it’s important to remember that building relationships with your colleagues is just as important as completing your tasks. Use this time to strike up a conversation with your coworkers, get to know them better, and exchange ideas. Here’s an example: let’s say you work in a marketing agency, and during your coffee break, you strike up a conversation with one of your colleagues who works in social media. You share a few tips and tricks you’ve learned for creating engaging content, and your colleague shares some insights on the latest trends in social media. This exchange not only helps you build a relationship with your colleague but also expands your knowledge and skillset. And let’s not forget about the coffee itself – France is famous for its café culture, and taking the time to enjoy a quality cup of coffee or tea is a daily pleasure. So, embrace the coffee break as an essential part of your workday, and use it as an opportunity to connect with your colleagues and recharge for the tasks ahead.

Adjusting to the French work culture can be a challenging experience for expats.

However, by following these simple tips, you can navigate the cultural differences and succeed in your new workplace. Remember to be mindful of communication, punctuality, hierarchy, lunch breaks, and coffee breaks. With a little patience and effort, you can thrive in the French work culture and build meaningful relationships with your colleagues.

As you embark on your new journey, don’t forget to embrace the French culture and its unique way of life. The French take their work seriously, but they also know how to enjoy life. Bon courage et Bonne chance!