"Why Productive People Can't Live in France"

I used to work for an international law firm based in
Paris. The level of efficiency and productivity was
amazing. Everyone got things done - especially in my department. Funnily enough, there were very few French people working in my department. Many other nationalites were represented, but French was not one them. It was perhaps the smoothest running office situation I have ever had the pleasure of working in.
If you asked someone to do something, they did it.
You could count on it.

I didn't realize how much I took that for granted
until I started working for a small French company.
This company is completely disorganized. There is one
stagiare who works part time who might as well not
even come in most days. She is the daughter of two fonctionnaires (which I discuss) below, and she has been raised to believe that she only needs to do the minimum required of her and that she can work as if she were a sort of robot. She does the tasks you ask of her, but she doesn't think about what she is doing. She doesn't connect the dots. When asked to complete a task, you have to waste time arguing with her. She will explain for five minutes why she shouldn't do what you just asked. In the end, it would have been easier just to do it myself. Now that's what I do most of the time. She "works" 20 hours a week and I pick up the slack working countless hours of overtime simply because I don't feel arguing with her and having to correct her poorly done work.

After living in this country for five years, I can
still take solace in the beauty of Paris and the
province, of the amazing wine and food, but I have
come to detest the general apathy of France's
citizens, their complete lack of resolve or ambition,
their unwillingness to take any personal
responsibility for anything and their Laziness. I
capitalize the "L" in Laziness because for the French,
Laziness is indoctrinated at a very young age. The
French often confuse Laziness with what they describe
as "enjoying life." They think they are "enjoying
life', but actually they are just plain Lazy. The
French think that the ambitious and efficient world
does not enjoy life because this world actually
accomplishes things. In fact one can be efficient and ambitious and still enjoy life, but for the French these two ideas seem not to be able to coexist.

One of the ways that Laziness has become the national
norm is because of the high prevelance of government
jobs. French "fonctionnaires" are in fact not very
functional at all. They have never heard of - or at
least do not comprehend the concept of - customer
service. They effectively block anything that you
might want to get accomlished with a "non, c'est
impossible." French fonctionnaires do not think
outside the box. They are not programmed to try and
solve problems or think critically. It is as if
their minds function on some sort of a loop. Like the
rest of the government, the minds of fonctionnaires
are full of red tape, and for a simple request, you
often have to ask in several different ways until you
find the way that bypasses the mental red tape, and
maybe then after you have expended twice as much time
and energy as necessary, you can get a positive
response. I'm not saying that they are stupid - just
that their minds cannot bypass all of the red tape.
Put simply, they do not think. And if they do, they
are probably only thinking of their 35 hour work week,
their 2-hour lunch break, or their five weeks of paid

Last week I went to France Telecom to figure out why
the new Livebox my office purchase was not working - specifically the installation CD. The man at the boutique explained to me that the installation CD was only intended for PCs not for Macs. To which I responded, "well, why isn't there a separate kit for Macs and PCs?" He said that they just have one kit for all computers. "OK," I said, "fine, but why don't you at least include something for Mac users so that we don't try to install a CD that is not even destined for our system!?" And he responded that he knows that Macs are not as easy as PCs, but he is not a technician and therefore he does not know how to help me.

This French fonctionnaire fable illustrates many
things. First, just apathy and, dare I say,
stupidity. How hard would it be to make a different
kit for Macs and PCs? How hard would it be to include
a brochure for Mac users indicating that the
installation CD is not necessary. I wasted an hour of
time for something that should have taken five
minutes. Second, there is the unwillingness to take
personal responsibility. Why couldn't the man have
been more helpful? Why couldn't he have called the
tehcnical support for me? Why wasn't there a
suggestion box? France Telecom is wasting tons of
money and time (theirs and ours) by not taking a
simple measure of including separate instructions for
Mac users.

This is not such a big deal but it is microcosmic
example of what happens probably millions of times a
day in countless government agencies all over France.
You cannot do anything in this country without running
into a brick wall. Usually this wall is made of people
- most of them fonctionnaires - whose first automatic
response to any query is "no". In the US, the UK and
many other countries that I have had dealings with,
the first response is usually either "yes" or "let's
see what we can do" or at the very least a "maybe".
Citizens of productive, efficient countries think.
They react. Things happen. In France, there is only
inertia. They fake working. They are there out of
some duty. At a time when physical, cultural and
economic walls and barriers are coming down all over
the world, why do the French keep their walls?

E.K, Paris