13 Differences between French and American Work Cultures

A close up of a coffee cup

If you’re about to start working in a France-based office or among French colleagues, get ready to experience some differences.

1. You will be the only one snacking throughout the day 

Instead of munching throughout the day, French people tend to stick to the larger meals of lunch and dinner. Petit déjeuner (breakfast) really is petit. At lunch, however, people go all out. They even buy dessert from the local boulange or the frozen food haven, Picard

2. In fact, free food in general isn’t really a thing 

Except for American companies with offices in Paris — places like Google — French offices rarely provide employees with free snacks. (After all, who’d eat them?) The free food comes in when an employee’s heading out. It’s customary for a parting employee to buy viennoiseries for the office on their last day. 

3. Espresso, however, is plentiful and people drink cups of it all day

In the French workplace, don’t be surprised if colleagues drink an espresso with every cigarette break up until when they leave for the day. 

4. You’ll be the only one taking your coffee with milk

Unless your office has a Nespresso machine, you won’t catch colleagues drinking café au lait very often. They prefer espresso or café allongé, so you’ll want to bring your own milk. 

5. You may be the only one with a reusable water bottle

Whereas S’well has taken off in the States, the reusable water bottle trend hasn’t quite landed in France. If colleagues do end up getting in a few sips of water between shots of espresso, they’re more apt to refill the plastic water bottle they bought at the supermarché a month ago than a reusable one. 

6. When lunch hour rolls around, you’ll likely be the only one to have packed a lunch

Since the French government mandates that companies with more than 25 employees provide them lunch in the form of an on-site cafeteria with subsidized meals or restaurant tickets, most employees buy lunch instead of packing one. 

7. Even if you’re quietly eating lunch at your desk, prepare for someone to call out, “Bon appetit!”

The French don’t take dégustation lightly. Even if you’re discretely eating cold leftovers, your French colleagues will make a point of coming up to you and wishing you a pleasurable eating experience. They’ll also throw in a side-eye since you’re eating at your desk in the first place instead of taking a real pause déj.

8. You’ll be one of the few to decorate your desk with photos from home 

Whereas the line between professional and personal can be rather blurry at workplaces in the U.S., in France, it remains more defined. French colleagues rarely personalize their desks with memorabilia. Sorry, you won’t steal glances of your colleagues’ furry family members. 

9. Work is for… working 

Whereas plenty of offices in the U.S. have gyms, yoga studios, softball teams, organized volunteering, it’s not common for colleagues to see each other in out-of-office contexts besides the occasional afterwork (a.k.a. happy hour). 

10. Prepare to do the bise with colleagues

To bise or not to bise, that is the question. Well, not really. The famous two-cheek kiss occurs between colleagues or clients who vibe well and who haven’t seen each other in a while, or for a weekend. Obviously you won’t do la bise with everyone in the office, but it’s strange that it occurs at all.

11. You will have to patiently await HR processes 

Don’t hold your breath waiting to receive the contract of a job offer or reimbursement for client dinner. They’ll arrive on their own time.

12. Although the #balancetonporc movement may have hit France, the workplace hasn’t fully internalized it. 

Colleagues, usually male, don’t simply make sexual innuendos at work, other people laugh at them. In general, French workplace culture is more tolerant of edgy (or offensive, in the eyes of some) humor that toes the line between appropriate and inappropriate than in the States.

13. Negative feedback comes at ya hard 

Forget the American compliment sandwich: the French are more direct when it comes to negative feedback. Don’t be surprised if a manager chastises an employee for a mistake in front of coworkers. C’est normal. 

Featured image: Stock Photos from topseller / Shutterstock

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