Bordeaux: Things I’ve Learned About Work and Life in France

5  min read

The idea of living in a new society is enchanting. Picking up and leaving all your worries behind to start a new adventure is euphoric. That is what I wanted for my summer in France and it didn’t disappoint. It has been a fantastic dream, lived. However, there is one thing I’ve come to realize. You can live a good life no matter where you are. You just have to change your mentality. That is why I’ve decided to come home. As I’m ending this leg of my journey, here are some of my observations on working and living in France.

Finding a Job
Getting a job in France can be hard. Without getting into too much detail, France has a very high unemployment rate. With that said, one can only imagine how much harder it is for expats to get jobs in France. So, if you can latch on to a company that will send you abroad that is a great option. Otherwise, you might have to settle for other options, initially. I found that a lot of visitor services employed a high number of expats. As well as jobs dealing with young children and teaching English.

If you are bilingual with a fluency in French, then your options for getting more specialized work greatly increases.The only obstacle in your way is getting a visa. I’ve read articles detailing the process of obtaining an entrepreneurs visa in France, which seems a slightly faster process than obtaining other types of visas. The only caveat is that you have to show a portfolio of work and/or a certain income.

Work Culture
One of my favorite things about Bordeaux is how calm and at ease everyone is. Nothing feels so important that it can’t wait until tomorrow. Happiness, family, and well-being are the epicenter of life; everything slows down to give precedence to those things.

While that is refreshing and deep down a life I desire to live, I found it harder to stay focused. I didn’t feel the pulse of ambition or energetic heartbeat of determination flow through me. And from what I was told, in addition to what I experienced, France’s work culture in general is more relaxed. The standards of professionalism you are used to back home may not be the status quo here. This can be rough, but as I was told one evening, “People come to Europe for a better lifestyle, not work.” And the lifestyle really is nice.

Another sentiment that was echoed to me numerous times is that Europe is 10 years behind America. Basically, things hit America first and then trickle down to Europe. In essence, I could sense that. For instance, after talking to a few entrepreneurs, I learned it is not easy to come by opportunities if you don’t have a track record. Whereas in America you are likely to find someone willing to take a chance on you. As an entrepreneur, that is how many of us get our big break, by a leap of faith.

Additionally, if you are a businesswoman who seeks to earn competitive pay with men, like we are fighting for now in the US, then France may not be the best place for you. Men and women still have a disparity there and the feminist movement hasn’t ignited yet. Also, there is still a notion that a woman’s identity is tied to that of her husband. At a party one evening, I was talking to a French flight attendant whose husband is a pilot. She mentioned how hard it is to be recognized professionally for her own accomplishments and not be associated with those of her husband’s.

Career Transition
Lastly, career transition is a different process than in the US. To undergo a career change in France usually entails going back to school for more training and/or certifications. In the US, you can go from working in marketing one day to starting in finance the next. That is the ease and structure of our business society. At any point in time, you are free to start over.

I got asked quite a bit if I was able to make friends while in France. Yes, I was able to, so I decided to include a tip on this.

Making Friends
While in Bordeaux I went to a weekly language meetup to converse with locals. It was a great way to get a feel for the city, find cool hangouts, and meet people, expats included. So my takeaway for someone looking to make friends abroad is to make the effort to be active. Join a Facebook group and leave an intro message seeing if anyone would like to grab a drink or join a local interest group and look for events that people post. Whatever you decide, it is the effort that will pay off in the end.

It can be easy to meet people and make friends but that depends on your willingness to step outside of your comfort zone. There are plenty of websites other than Facebook to help facilitate this, you just need to look for them and get involved.