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Differences between French and British companies

By Amandine Lonjaret

Differences between French and British companies

Every year, more and more Britons leave their country  to set up in France and find a job there. For all of you who try their luck, working is a good way of learning French but also the French corporate culture quite different from the British one. To get familiar with it, here is a bunch of funny anecdotes and useful advice that will help you understand better the environment and get integrated while avoiding surprises.

Strike is a most French typical corporate practice. Most Britons having travelled to France will tell you they have ever found themselves caught in a transportation blockade due to a strike. French strikes had even a global exposure in 1998 when Air France pilots called for a strike that threatened the organization of the World Football Cup and caused the Minister of Transportation himself to take the floor.

For the Britons who go on strike a few times a year, it is always surprising to see repeated French strikes. But what is precisely ironical in the Franco-British disparity is that the French are less unionized but go a lot more on strikes than the Britons.

The C.E. is another typical element in the French corporate world. If you work in a French company, you will certainly be curious to know what a C.E. is. The French corporate committee (C.E) is an important organism you will not break away from, as it organizes all the professional or cultural events employees can take part in like congresses, forums, trips, visits, fairs… French employees are very attached to their committee and would never fail to give the well-known contribution to the C.E.
The Britons do not actually have something like a corporate committee (though C.Es have become more numerous in Great-Britain thanks to Europe’s assistance). The C.E.’s organization is rather based on trade unions. For the excursions employees can go on, the Britons tend more to organize themselves, without the help of any corporate committee.

This is not by chance that British people have not made strike their national sport. It is greatly because the way the Britons negotiate differs from the French’s style. In Great-Britain, meetings are rather seen like occasions to discuss and take decisions, whereas in France people prefer sharing ideas. Most of the time, in France these meetings have no impact on the leaders’ final decision. This attitude confuses more than a British executive who thinks he has reached an agreement, before realizing his French business partners took another decision. The French are not fond of business meetings, they are instead amateurs of business diners and prefer to talk having a good meal. Gastronomy and French wines are on the menu!

But why do the French prefer to talk business outside their companies? French executives relax away from their offices to ease off the tension accumulated at work.

Indeed, in France, higher you are placed in the hierarchy, more tensed is the atmosphere. This is totally the opposite in the U.K. where people are more relaxed. We understand better why when negotiating, the French may dislike the British humour, used precisely for relaxing in most serious moments. 

The French are more stressed, but spend on average less time than British people at their offices or workplaces in general. 
In France, you work 35 hours maximum per week, opposing the 37 hours maximum in Great-Britain. In principle, a French day’s work always starts at 9am and does not have a precise finishing time. The French give much importance to sticking to scheduled, whereas the Britons mind less about the time spent at work. Contrary to the French, they are more used to doing extra hours.

Schedules also differ from a branch to another like in administrative services. In Great-Britain, schedules are generally more extended and non-stop. In England, many administrative services stay open non from 9am to 7pm non stop. How surprised I was at seeing that some offices open during the traditional lunch break! French schedules are almost always interrupted by the lunch break. Most public administrative services (Universities, prefectures, town halls…) stick to the schedule 9-12am (or11.30am) and 2-4pm. If you work for private companies, you must expect to finish later in the evening (usually at 7pm). State-run or private: whatever company you chose, make sure you still have spare time for yourself!

The divide working time-spare time precisely important in France matters less in Great-Britain. The French see more or less often the “people from work” during their spare time, while English colleagues get together more after work. In the British corporate culture, playing golf or jogging with the boss is something commonplace. The French would never do it as they think there is nothing worse than making friend with the boss. I remember the story of an English man newly appointed CEO of a French company and who understood it at his expenses. Less than two weeks after integrating the company, he decides to organize a get-to-know-you welcoming drink at his place. But his employees, more or less familiar with this kind of meetings out of the office feel uncomfortable. The company head is stupefied when his right-hand takes him aside privately the day after to explain to him that French employees do not like to gather after work. He tries to make him understand that in France, the divide private-professional life is as sacred as the traditional baguette.

The boss or the French’s nightmare! It is incredible to see how different the relation employers-employees is different in France and in Great-Britain. In France, employees are considered to be rather subordinates than collaborators. The sense of authority is less burdensome in Great-Britain where executives are more approachable. When on a business trip in France, the traditional “Mr President” designation make them smile and they prefer to be called by their first name instead.

But corporate codes are not only a matter of positions, it is also a matter of attitude. The relation between men and women are not exactly the same in France and in Great-Britain. The French corporate culture is more Latin and traditional than in Anglo-Saxon companies. People are not afraid to show the gender distinction and make many jokes about it. The Britons avoid jesting about it, for fear that they get blamed of sexism. You would better to stay neutral!

Fashion also varies from Great-Britain to France. More used to a not too eccentric style from British women at work, the Anglo-Saxons sometimes are surprised by women’s fashion style in French companies. French women are feminine and are not afraid to show it. English women instead are less provoking and a little more classic and smart!

Whatever the surprise, you now will have no reason to say you did not know. If this has not been enough to satisfy your curiosity, do not hesitate to cross the Channel at the earliest occasion! You will come back home will plenty of anecdotes that will certainly make your friends laugh and maybe feel like joining you in France.



11/06/2018 - blschool2005 said :

ouais, ouais... Restant plutôt aux faits et les étiquettes entres les deux pays

03/11/2016 - pierre.degun said :

Votre définition de C.E. français est TOTALEMENT erronée. C'est principalement un organisme de défense des salariés et il est d'autre part doté d'une participation financière de l'employeur pour organiser des activités sociales et culturelles à destination des salariés et leur famille,(sans lien avec l'activité de l'entreprise).

20/09/2015 - cookieka said :

Nice info. Of course we should not fall into stereotyping though.

05/05/2015 - vhibbs said :

And the French comments say it all: nit pick to the end!!!!

09/02/2015 - goswamipawan29 said :

The biggest difference is attidude: The English are a nation of shopkeepers with a great sense for enterprise and the realisation that a service industry is exactly that/ service with a smile. hi na pawan

11/01/2015 - nathalie.bundy said :

The biggest difference is attidude: The English are a nation of shopkeepers with a great sense for enterprise and the realisation that a service industry is exactly that/ service with a smile.
Maybe the french could try it (I am french!)

27/09/2012 - vanlef75 said :

Un peu déçue par l'article qui ne montre pas vraiment les différences du SYSTEME français et anglais - mais des comportements au bureau(de ce côté les Anglais se prennent moins le chou malgré les apparences (le fameux costard cravate)alors que les Français sont étonamment plus réservés, plus simples - dans un style tout-à-fait différent, on peut se demander qui a le plus (ou le moins) de classe). Bref... mais quid du système? That is the question !!

21/08/2012 - ebbouz said :

Je ne suis pas d'accord sur plusieurs points, tout d'abord, le temps de pause déjeuné est plus long en France, et c'est tant mieux ! l'hygiène de vie entre ces deux pays n'est pas comparable ! Concernant la tenue vestimentaire, je trouve l'argument léger, peu importe que l'on soit féminine, classique ou rock, c'est le résultat qui compte ! concernant l'ouverture des magasins, cette personne a du confondre avec l'Espagne, car c'est 2.00PM, et les boutiques ouvrent de plus en plus pendant le temps de midi. Bref tous ces détails sont purement culturels et ne peuvent etre jugés. Pour ma part, je travaille dans une entrerpise in UK. Je ai un peu adapté mes habittudes, mais le mix de ces deux cultures me correspond parfaitement !

29/03/2012 - alexandre656 said :

i'm glad to hear that French only work 35h ... that's only on paper, most work more than 40 and aren't paid for it either ...

Lot of points that are not really true, and it feel as though as the autor is well sided with the UK and just want to show the bad point in France ..

02/02/2012 - enapierala said :

Bonjour Mr Kempf, Ceci n’a sincerement rien à voir avec le sujet (par ailleurs intéressant…), mais je voudrais partager mon impression sur un certain événement d’actualité : l’éruption du volcan islandais. Phénomène géologique important, potentiellement riche en informations mais qui pourtant, n’est guère rapporté dans les médias que sous l’angle exclusif de la perturbation du traffic aérien.Connaissant votre attachement pour certaines valeurs gaïanes (pardonnez ce barbarisme), je me demande si ce sujet-là ne vaudrait pas un billet de votre part !Une simple idée, peut-être saugrenue…

19/10/2011 - char_royal said :

From personal experience, I found that the English are better at being effective, at achieving and making decisions. They are the kings and queens of organisation and project management. They communicate better. I don't share the opinion of the other poster who said they are lazy. They are a lot more efficient than the french (which also shows in their quick lunches!). And dirty? Really? I thought so of the french, the metro stank in the mornings and sometimes it was horrible to kiss people in the mornings!
The French on the other hand are more "convivial", as they say, and like being around people more. I found it frustrating though that they couldn't take ownership for their own responsibilities (they kept sending me to someone else to answer the question).

20/04/2011 - lhatcher said :

I agree, english workers are lazy, dirty. They eat at their place of work making the all shop stinking of food. I work in a bridal shop as a business consultant and it is a nightmare to change the british mentality. The owners are as bad as the staff. They have no sense of responsibility and everyone of them passes the buck to the next colleague. An attitude I did not find when I worked in France. Over there work was so seldom that workers were pulling together to make the business successful. They had a sense of pride and ownership to their job.

17/02/2010 - jcblah said :

the french have to look good to work. the english have realised that it's just a job, yet they want to be good at it and they work so that everybody is happy in the end. in France look out who can be trusted because they spy on you and repeat it all to the boss. it's like being back in school!

10/02/2010 - dimple16star said :

what is the similarities between french and british

04/10/2009 - patriciaconnell said :

The difference between French and English shops are aws follows:
1) There are more independent shops in France
2) Many shops close over lunch in France and don;t re-open until 3 or 4pm.
3) Shops are generally closed on Sunday afternoon and sometime even on Sunday morning. Many shops also close one other day during the week.
I am not going to get into are shop assistant more polite in France or in England but I will let you find that out for yourself.

04/10/2009 - dunno said :

whats the diffrence between french shops and english shops? im trying 2 find out i need help

30/11/2008 - lucy.collet said :

pas trop d'accord avec les opinions ci dessus, le systeme francais est merdique pour trouver du boulot, faut bac+10 ans pour un salaire miserable , no future
les anglais font des pots ou je bosse et pour n'importe quelle occasion ,et boosent dur et meme si j'adore les francaises le style anglais ne peut etre ignorer car on ecoute plus de musique anglosaxonne que la notre

16/10/2008 - sam said :

Les anglais ne font pas de pot (pot de depart, y compris depart en vacances, de paternite / maternite, galette des rois, etc) car ils ne mangent pas le midi, un sandwich a son poste de travail et le pub apres le boulot et voila

08/09/2008 - kathybayoud said :

a simple way to judge french way of life. French work more than english, are less lazy and concerning the fashion: that is not fashion, we are femine what english women are not and surely not smart! ha ha


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