Working Holidays in France: Work-Life Balance

Christine Merrill shares her tips on working holidays in France, the reality of finding a job and work-life balance.

View of the Promenade des Anglais, the mountains , the beach and its beautiful buildings in Nice Photo © Getty Images/ICHAUVEL

My commute was a five-minute walk through the narrow streets of Vieux Nice, past Le Boucher and Le Boulangerie, winding under brightly-colored shutters and sun-bleached laundry hung between buildings. My coworkers were a friendly mix: an Australian who never stopped smiling and cracking bawdy jokes, a Brit who left empty tea cups and wet Lipton tea bags in his wake, a German whose English and French were as good as any native speaker. My staff meals were never without a giant hunk of bread, and my after-work knock-off was usually a nice-sized glass of white wine.

While living in France for seven months, I waitressed and bartended at a gastronomic Irish pub in the heart of Old Nice in addition to working as an assistant in a French cooking school that catered to English-speaking tourists. My days off were spent suntanning on the local beaches or sipping rose with friends on sun-soaked terraces: all in all, it was the best work-life balance I’ve experienced thus far.

The Reality of Hiring Foreigners in France

If you want to actually work in France—like, a real job with benefits and responsibilities—be prepared for some red tape. The French are notorious for their red tape, and with a high unemployment rate, they’re not too keen on hiring foreigners. Your French needs to be near-perfect and you need to be willing to do a lot of paperwork and wait in a lot of lines. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Casual Employment

However, if you just wanted to earn some extra Euros while living in the world’s most visited country—for good reason—hospitality or tourism are great options for short-term, casual employment. It’s easiest in Paris or in the bigger cities along the French Riviera, like Nice or Cannes. Because of its yacht port popular with British boat owners, Antibes is another excellent option.

European Union Citizenship

Working in France can be a bit tricky if you don’t have European Union citizenship. As an American, I was able to get around the regulations with a student visa that enabled me to work part-time and the good luck to find bosses who were willing to pay me in cash. If you do have European Union citizenship, there are plenty of restaurants, bars and stores  in Nice and the rest of the French Riviera that cater to English-speaking tourists.

Learn How to Speak French

And if you don’t speak any French, your options will be sorely limited—although it’s not impossible. Most of the Irish pubs in Nice had a “token French person” on staff: in other words, the rest of the staff spoke English as their first language. Even if you aren’t fluent in French to begin with, your “service French” will likely improve dramatically.

Working Hours in France

The work week in France is 35 hours, and the standard paid vacation time is four weeks. Long lunches are accepted, and even encouraged. Work-life balance is less of a buzzword in France, and more of just how things are done.

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1 Comment

  • Marianne Heredge said

    It is very costly in France for the employer to hire, which makes it all the more difficult to find longer term work especially as a foreigner (and even as a French person).

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