My semester abroad was very eye-opening to how the French conduct their daily lives. As a business major, it was shocking to see the difference in the work-life balance that the French had compared to Americans. In the United States, we are used to a very fast-paced environment where efficiency and money are the priority. From my observations, this is not the case in France. For instance, almost everything, including grocery stores, was closed on Sundays in Strasbourg. The locals took their Sundays very seriously as a day of rest, whereas for me and many people I know, Sundays are for meal prep, grocery store, and preparing for the week. I personally got used to having slow Sundays while I was in Strasbourg, and it is something that I became very satisfied with. Another example is the bank. I opened a French bank account, and the process took over 6 weeks from when I made an appointment to when I got my card working. That is a process that would have taken no longer than 3 business days in the United States. I then realized that the bank was closed on Mondays, and every day from 1-3 pm for lunch break! As a customer, that annoyed me because that was a convenient time for me to go. However, I admire how respectful corporations are of their workers’ time and work-life balance.
However, I also noticed that in France, customer service is not a priority for most businesses. Particularly in restaurants, waiters and waitresses became impatient very easily. The “customer is always right” culture is truly an American rule. Also, businesses would close whenever they pleased, even if their hours said otherwise. Some of this is due to the small-town culture that Strasbourg has, where there were many family-run businesses that could close when it was convenient for them. In my point of view, when I saw businesses randomly close for a couple of days I initially thought, “they’re losing money.” But when I got to meet the lady that ran the coffee shop next to my apartment, and learned that she was a single mother that had to take off work to be with her kid sometimes. Thus, I was reminded that businesses are run by people that have lives outside of work.
As far as my initial impressions of France, I was both right and wrong. My initial prediction was that the French are very proud. That is true to a certain extent, but being proud does not mean that they are not nice people. They simply want you to respect their culture, and adapt to it, and that is something that makes perfect sense to me. Something that really surprised me is that France is the second leading economy in the European Union. The reason this surprised me is that I noticed so much inefficiency in stores, banks, restaurants, that I would not expect from a leading economy. This proved to me, though, that a country does not have to be working all the time for it to have economic success. Work-life balance is something that I was constantly witnessing in France, and I hope to continue to make this a priority of my life when I begin working full-time.