5 tips on how to live and work with the French

The French are not as complicated as you think

Share Button

The French are not as complicated as you think, especially if someone helps you understand them! As a bicultural coach in Paris who has lived as a French expat in the US, I’ve experienced firsthand how daunting life-changing situations can be and how important it is to understand the world you’re stepping into. Don’t like being scolded in public? Eager to make a French acquaintance? Feel as if you are second-guessing the intentions of your French colleague? I found as an expat, born and raised in France, that I was somewhat “exotic” when I moved to the US.

Relationships would tend to get lost in a flow of questions about where I came from and how and why I got there that it sometimes became difficult to fit in as one of the group. As you try harder, the challenge is to keep from losing yourself! Your differences are assets and strengths once you understand the other culture and know how to communicate. It’s like finding the right frequency on a radio or the right pitch to sing a song with a band — that, I tell you as a musician. So communicating intelligently is key.

You can develop meaningful professional and personal relationships with the French; it’s all part of the challenging and exciting adventure of being an expat… and being yourself! Here are a few tips to help you learn how to live and work more easily with the French.

1. Emotions
The French are not usually as emotional as one thinks, at least not openly. Our education via family and the school system is cartésienne, meaning rational and analytical, and rather strict. However, our heritage as a Latin country makes some of us a bit hot-headed and proud of our culture to the point of being intellectually intolerant. On some subjects, one can react with an emotional fit which, like a storm, will not last very long and will be quickly forgotten. The French culture is knitted with interesting oppositions: clear and lucid reason with strong sensitivity, education, and sophistication with an irrational nature, open-mindedness with surges of pride. And all the nuances in between!

2. Action
Our education has programmed us to think using an analytical approach – whereas the Anglophones use a systemic approach – which is fairly rigid. It looks at every angle, thinks of all possible scenarios, and focuses on potential problems. French culture does not look kindly upon failure, hence our decision-making is quite long, filled with precautions and anxiety. For Anglophones, especially Americans using the “try and fail system”, where the experience of failure is positive, it looks completely counter-productive!

3. Love
The French are open when it comes to relationships. Few people get married, especially in a church, which is why they invented the PACS in 1999, providing the advantages of marriage without the commitment. People often have several relationships in a lifetime, separation and recomposed families are common. They usually maintain a good relationship with their exes. Culturally, you are entitled to a fulfilling, happy romantic life, and mediocrity in love is not an option.

4. Friendship
Friendship is for life! A French friend is sincere, close, truthful, loyal but hard to get. It takes time to get to know people, they are shy at first, tend to be secretive and restricted to the friends they already have, hence the difficulties expats encounter making French friends.

5. Behavior in public
I have countless times heard tourists talk about public transportation as depressing: everyone looks serious, avoiding eye contact and being silent, and non-French people will extrapolate we are unhappy, even snobbish. It is actually rarely true. The French are quite shy and reserved and will not look at other people because it is impolite. Also, they usually speak in a low voice to respect others. But if you ask for it, they will go out of their way to help you! Keeping in mind these cultural differences will help smooth the way at work as well as in life.

I have worked with several expats in a large French bank and the most common problem is respecting a strong hierarchy while seeing little action after countless meetings where no decision seems to be made. Managers are still kind of “old school” and will not appreciate if you do not respect their decision (or non-decision!). However, if you are persistent, yet diplomatic, and continue presenting your arguments and points of view without undermining their way of doing things, you’ll be appreciated for your fresh perspective.

In addition, you’ll earn the trust of your boss who will then give you more freedom and delegate more responsibilities to you. The boss is often quite lonely and if you can persuade her/him that you are on their side, and not after their job, you will become powerful allies. You shouldn’t have to second guess your new French relationships. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help to understand how to live and work in France to get the best from your life abroad.


This article was submitted through our online submission form, if you would like to share an article you can submit it here 

Rotating Ads

Place your ad here

Going out

Who the hell is Sugar Sammy? – That moment your wife tells you you’re going to see a French-speaking comedy in Paris

GOING OUT
Anglophones in Paris are fortunate to be able to enjoy a thriving English-speaking comedy scene, with regular stand-up nights across the city. Personally, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing most of these and have even [...]

Community News

COMMUNITY NEWS

360€ for 50 Hours Tuition!!! The Newest French Language School in Paris offers the most accessible rates

French language classes at Centre Zenith in the 20th arrondissement began on October 18th 2018. Founded by Sourav Choudhury, Centre Zenith brings experienced and native French speakers to the classroom where courses are explained with […]

Random Stories

Cover features

Just for Fun

interviews

Health

Family

Living

LIFE

Grumpy in Paris – 5 ways to beat the upcoming ‘winter blues’

Living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world has its many perks. A wealth of galleries, museums, delicious food, beautiful walks and a melodic language under no matter what context. But all pros have their cons and one of the lesser points of Paris these days is the ‘rentrée effect’ where people have come back from their holidays, said goodbye to summer and are now waiting for winter (even though we’ve only just hit autumn). Here are some ways to beat those winter blues and enjoy the colder season ahead … […]

Education

EDUCATION

INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS & RESEARCHERS: GET ANSWERS TO THEIR QUESTIONS AND PAPERWORK IN ONE SINGLE PLACE! WELCOME DESK PARIS 2018

FOR THE 16TH CONSECUTIVE YEAR, THE CITÉ INTERNATIONALE UNIVERSITAIRE DE PARIS HAS SET UP A MULTI-SERVICE WELCOME AREA FOR FOREIGN STUDENTS AND RESEARCHERS, FROM THE END OF AUGUST THROUGH NOVEMBER, WITH THE SUPPORT OF THE CITY […]

COMMUNITY NEWS

Non-Profit – The Paris Institute for Critical Thinking begin university quality courses in English

Paris is hard to beat for its cultural and intellectual vibrancy. But the city’s English-speaking inhabitants – whether from France or abroad — do not have many opportunities to employ the language in sophisticated intellectual […]

Use our IG hashtag #expatriatesmagazine - We print our favourites

Something is wrong.
Instagram token error.

Random Listing

About Isabelle Risacher 1 Article
Raised in the Paris suburbs, my father’s naval career took us to Tahiti and back to the South of France. While studying at the Sorbonne, holidays were spent in Moscow where my father was a diplomat. The moves gave me a taste for traveling and adapting to different environments. My career path groomed me to become a bicultural coach. First, in New England as the brand manager for Benetton, then in San Francisco, where I created a novelty French Laundry-Café featuring performance art. Back in France, I spent 2 years at Disney in Communications, then as a consultant in a Web Agency. I created my own company in 2005, to accompany expats with their transition. In 2017, I became an ICF trained professional coach.