During my time living and studying in France I got to learn a side of French life that I wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to if I were merely passing through. It made me reflect on our own practises at home and the norms I’m used to living in North America. Here are a few things I picked up about living in France and the things I think we could learn from the French when it comes to work, education, and living life.
Laicite (secularism). Walking into a French school, you’ll be hard-pressed to single out Catholics, Muslims, Jews or other religions. Displaying crosses, hijabs or stars are prohibited because the French believe religion has no place in the school system and instead should be a place where everyone is treated fairly and equally. This isn’t the case in other schools like Canada or the US.
Free education. Free education in France really does mean free. University students pay a measly government-fixed rate of €500 euros a year in tuition (I paid $5,000). Only 2% of students take out loans so student debt is virtually non-existent (my debt: $30,000). And just because it’s cheap or free doesn’t mean low quality. The French still get some of the best education around that includes grueling tests that start early in high school, mandatory internships, and hands-on apprenticeships. And no debt.
In North America, anyone can get a college education if you have the money to pay for it.
Student jobs. A typical summer job or apprenticeship is making wine in a winery (faire les vendages), baking bread in a boulangerie or making pastries in a pâtisserie. They realize the importance of preserving their traditions and they also graduate with real work experience. (I was a waitress).
Four-day school week. French parents have long-argued their kids are over-fatigued by Thursday and that they need a break from classes mid-week. Because of this, Wednesday in France is traditionally a non-academic day for students to play sports or join activities. In France there is a real emphasis on quality education not quantity.
Productivity. The French work only 35 hours a week which has created a misconception that they’re lazy, unproductive, and don’t like to work. Not so. French people believe in balance and that over-worked employees are fatigued and inefficient. It’s about working smarter not harder. Canada and the US is the epitome of a 7-day constant labour economy.
Le congé (days off). No matter how much the company is paying for their corporate BlackBerry, French people don’t check work emails on the weekend and especially not during their vacation time. My roommate says employees can claim mental stress illness and depression if they are forced to check messages outside office hours so for that reason employers never ask workers to log on.
La pause (break). The French take their breaks very seriously. La pause is a strictly-practised one hour or so lunch break to spend socializing with colleagues and friends. In France, no one ever eats at their desk!
Le repos (the rest). Everything shuts down between the hours of 12 to 2 p.m. each day for le repos (rest). Sundays, and especially Mondays, are days to spend relaxing with family so forget about shopping or running errands when you should be resting.
Meals. Eating is not a routine. It’s a social activity meant to be shared with good company. During my time in Rouen, my roommates and I always waited to have dinner together no matter how late our schedules ran. We also never rushed through aperro and the main course was always a lengthy one with good wine, local cheese, long conversation, and dessert.
Time. French people know and appreciate the value of time over money. They take at least 5 weeks of vacation each year to spend with family, friends, and to simply enjoy life. It’s truly a work-to-live culture not live-to-work. My French roommate said it best when she compared the American dream vs the French dream:
The French dream is not about being rich in money but wealthy in life
Raising kids. French parents go to great lengths not to spoil their kids. If babies cry they’re left to self-soothe and kids only get one snack a day. Four o’clock is traditionally legoûteror snack time for French kids when they are getting out of school but it’s not a bag of potato chips, candy or Coke. More like a little Nutella spread on bread, and not so much that it spoils their appetite for dinner. If they’re hungry before dinner they’re taught to wait until everyone can eat at the dinner table together. I like this article on French vs American parenting and why French children don’t throw food.
La grève. The French love to protest. About everything. It’s ingrained both in their constitution and blood. Since the French Revolution, they have been one of the biggest proponents for liberalism and free speech. So when the French faire la grève they feel like it’s their duty to do so, and they do it with good reason – to improve social conditions for the good of everyone. They are not a passive people and don’t give into government policy easily.
When I was in France the pharmacies closed down to protest the government’s plan to sell prescription drugs in supermarkets.
Do you agree we could learn a thing or two from the French?