Maîtres mots

  • Il y a longtemps que notre pays est beau mais rude.

       --Newspaper editor Olivier Séguret, 25 January 2012

    The USA are entirely the creation of the accursed race, the French.

       --Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), writing to Nancy Mitford, 22 May 1957

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French Freedom of Speech

Today the cheminots are:

  • "À nous de vous faire préférer le train!"
    "Voyager autrement"
    "Avec le SNCF, tout est possible"
      --Former ad slogans of the SNCF (French national trains), each in turn quickly dropped

Fun French words

  • ouistiti

    (literally: marmoset)
    Etymology: onomatopoeia from the sound a marmoset makes. Actual meaning: this is what you say in France when you want people to smile for the camera.

    Selon une étude réalisée par le fabricant d’appareils photo Nikon, le « ouistiti » utilisé en France au moment de se faire prendre en photo est le petit mot le plus efficace pour s’assurer un joli sourire.

Who's en colère today?

  • Private sector

    First strike in 43 years at an aeronautics company in Toulouse, Latécoère

    Public sector

    The SNCF (toujours eux), regional train employees in the Lyons area guaranteeing unpleasant travel from the 17th-21st December
    Also yet another strike by Sud-Rail, a particularly truculent SNCF union in the south of France, this time five days in January: 6,7, 21, 22 and 23. "We have no choice." Right.

    Marseilles trams on strike until February

Go back to school in Paris!

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« Paris: petits commerces versus Grandes Écoles | Main | The hopeful country »


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I found this post very interesting, as an American expat in France who has recently noticed and thought about this topic. I myself have had trouble finding a job here in the area where I have worked the last two years; as my university degree was in a different field, no one will touch my application. There is no reason for this, but in my opinion it does stem from France's negative culture.

In Anglophone countries hiring choices are based on a combination of one's degree, work experience, skills, and personality. I think there are two main reasons why the French don't ever hire in this "holistic" fashion. One, it would be considered a bit corrupt or inegalitarian. The "fair" way is to be extremely clear about the exact qualifications someone needs for the position, and not to base their choice on soft factors like someone's personality, which they cannot control.

But really the main reason is that the French are a fearful and negative people. Hiring in Anglophone countries seeks to find the most talented person for the position, and that may very well be someone whose education and experiences don't exactly line up for the role, but who has other skills and qualities that more than compensate. This approach implies more risk: the person may be technically unqualified, but on the other hand they may bring incredible value to the organization.

The French think more negatively, and are an extremely risk-averse culture. Thus, instead of looking for the person who may bring the most value, their hiring strategy revolves around settling on the least unqualified person--the one who is the least likely to rock the boat, cause any problems for the organization, or not know exactly what they are doing.

The easiest way to contrast the two mentalities, to me, is this: in the US (and other English-speaking countries) the worst thing is to let talent go wasted and unnoticed. In France, the worst thing is to give even a mildly incompetent person any sort of responsibilities.

As you can guess, I find the French mindset devastatingly limiting, to both employers and employees, and really quite depressing.

Another anecdote to add to yours: a student of mine, studying for a two-year degree in accounting, once told me that she is not really interested in accounting anymore and would prefer to go into early childcare. (She's 18, by the way, so to me it's pretty reasonable that she would change her mind.) But, she'd need to get another degree for that. Really, a babysitting degree? Tell me, why would someone need a degree for an entry-level job at a nursery?

So true. Here are another couple of examples of this kind of mentality!

A new French university degree in undertaking:

Hope you find a job soon, with a more flexible kind of employer!

I must say this fascinates me. I'm American. I work in HR... In America. I manage balancing the laws of several different states, cities, and federal laws and this actually sounds insane to me. I hear from older family members of mine anecdotally that "I'm too old to be hired" who are interested in changing careers. I always say no you aren't because EEOC protects you. Employers are very careful not to break rules. If someone's degree determined the rest of their life, I don't think we'd have sales people or a lot of the country's star talent. I mean a lot of computer programers may not even have gone to college... Some of the best sales people I know majored in unrelated fields to what they do and sell. A lot of the times we look for talent and personality because it fits the company's culture. Skills we can train. If someone's personality clashes though, it hurts the morale of the team, and ends up costing the company in the end.

In France, there is skepticism about people who claim expertise without a degree to back it up. Americans are more likely to accept someone as a "life coach," "career advisor," etc., without demanding something to back it up other than word of mouth from past clients. I am not convinced that the French, by insisting on a degree and/or a professional license, are successfully separating the phonies from people with real skills.

I totally agree. I'm French, but with an international background, grew up being trilingual Dutch, English and French. I have a Belgian/Flemish master degree, and a bachelor in naturopathic medicine. I live in Paris now. For most employers, I'm an enigma. Could not find a job in Communications, because my degree is foreign, despite being trilingual, and far from being stupid. If you're not inside of the box, they will not hire you for a decent job and salary. They are fundamentally rude and pretentious, narrow-minded and unflexible. And this is one of the reasons why this country is declining. I'm fed up and wish to move back to a more open-minded country. I feel like my talents are wasted. I also wanted to become a teacher, but it is so complicated, I would have to start everything again from scratch. And on the other hand, there is a serious lack of good language teachers here. I'm fed up with this depressing country.

I'm so sorry you're having such a hard time. I think you should persist, though. The young are less narrow-minded, so I hope this mindset will disappear eventually. But even among older people, I have found openminded people are not rare. You just have to persist. Good luck to you!

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Today's quotation

  • In Paris, the purest virtue is the object of the filthiest slander.

      –Honoré Balzac (1799-1850), in Scènes de la vie privée

    À Paris, la vertu la plus pure est l'objet des plus sales calomnies.

Le petit aperçu d'Ailleurs

  • Annual Geminids meteor shower (shooting stars!) coming this weekend, if it's not too cloudy out at night.

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