Hey! I just finished up my semester in France and am now back in Houston. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to have spent the past 4 months in Europe. It opened my eyes to new ideas and ways of life that at first seemed “weird” but soon became the norm.
Doing business in France differs from the way we do business in the states in several aspects. One of the biggest differences is the length of the workweek. France established a 35-hour workweek in 2000 for two reasons. First, to lower the unemployment rate by allowing job sharing, and second, to decrease the amount of time French citizens spend at work. This five-hour difference was definitely noticeable.
The French take longer lunch breaks. In fact, some stores will even close for a few hours in the middle of the day to give the owners/employees time to rest. On top of that, it was common for shops and even grocery stores to close early in the evening. The grocery store by my dorm closed at 8:30pm. In addition, most stores in Strasbourg were either closed all day Sunday or Monday. At first, this was difficult to get used to and sometimes frustrating, especially when we’d get home from traveling and not be able to get food at the store. But, this concept grew on me and I now see the benefits of this shorter workweek.
The French seemed much more relaxed than Americans. Sundays in Strasbourg were packed with families walking around town and spending time outdoors. People took full advantage of nice weather and filled the parks with picnicking or sunbathing. And almost everyone bikes or walks everywhere. It’s not uncommon for people to not own a car. Having to walk everywhere definitely slowed my pace down, and allowed me to appreciate the little things. I learned my way around much quicker and tried to spend most of the sunny days outside.
Another difference relating to business between France and the United States is the power distance. France has a high degree of power distance, meaning there’s a large hierarchal gap between people. Children are raised to be dependent on their parents which later shifts to dependency on teachers and then superiors. There’s an acceptable level of inequality within their society. Power is very centralized within businesses and the government. For example, in school, teachers and students have a very distant, unequal, formal relationship. Communication between the two should solely be about classroom content. Contrast to the US, where most teachers do not view themselves as superior, and some even become mentors to their students. In US companies, power is usually more distributed rather than centralized.
Overall, learning about the French culture helped me better appreciate our culture here in the US, but also showed me where we can improve. I don’t know if a shorter workweek would be a good solution, but I do think there’s a better way to balance work and personal life. The French lifestyle moves at a slower pace. Long meals along with quiet Sundays allows them to spend quality time with family and friends without feeling rushed. Often times, I get caught up in my responsibilities that I rarely push them aside to spend uninterrupted time with people I love. I think it’s important to take time off to appreciate what’s around us.
I wouldn’t trade these past four months for anything, I was able to learn so much through the people I met and the places we visited. This experience gave me memories that will last a lifetime!
Feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about study abroad in Strasbourg 🙂