Understanding the French lifestyle

The French lifestyle
Updated 2019-08-15 09:46

Many of the countries of the world which are famed for their quality of life are to be found in Europe. However, few manage to reconcile joie de vivre with strong economics, innovation and opportunities for the highly skilled in the way France does. Burdened with clichés and approximations, France has long been considered by foreign observers as a country where lunches last two hours, drowned in copious amounts of wine, followed by a 5 pm departure from the office.

While this is not necessarily true, strong labour laws, generous holidays, a refined culture and a centuries-long history means it is no surprise that the French lifestyle is lauded as one of the most attractive in the world.

A country constantly reinventing itself

Located at the crossroads between Northern and Southern Europe, France is a multicultural country, blending Nordic rigour and the warmth of the Southern countries. Despite what you might have read or heard, France is an immensely welcoming country. The French are curious, well-travelled and educated to the highest standards. In a country where philosophy is compulsory, you will find yourself in a country whose people continuously question and seek to reinvent themselves. Yes, there is maybe the occasional rude bartender in Paris, but go beyond the clichés and the facades and let yourself be enthralled by a profoundly unique country. If you find Paris to be inhospitable, start your integration process by heading to one of France's smaller towns or villages. Despite everything you might have heard, the French are patient, polite and respectful, especially towards expatriates.

One aspect of France which cannot be overstated is that the French are very attached to their traditions and culture. But why wouldn't they be? After all, France is the country behind Champagne, whose capital's sidewalks can be confused with catwalks, and whose national gastronomy fascinates the world over.

Working, the humane way

While clichés abound about the French and their inclinations towards work, many are surprised to learn that France is one of the most productive nations on the planet. But efficient work does not mean eternal work: since the institution of the 35-hour week, the French have witnessed a drastic improvement in their working conditions. The French are entitled to five weeks of annual leave and a system called Récupération du Temps de Travail (RTT) which was created for those working more than the legal work duration of 35 hours. As a result, many employees end up with ten extra days off per year.

While the standards of excellence expected at work in France are very high, the French are able to combine quality of work with quality of life. For instance, the French never hesitate to take a 10 minute morning break to have a coffee at the bar next to their office. Sometimes, entire teams are likely to have lunch together. In general, the work environment and culture is more laid-back than in Anglo-Saxon countries. As an example, most French companies either need to have canteens at the disposal of their employees for lunch or alternatively need to provide them with meal coupons (called Ticket Restaurants). Eating a sandwich at one's desk is a rarity.

Religion in France

France is a secular nation but has longstanding Catholic traditions. The country is very tolerant and respectful of other religions and communities. France is very diverse and is home to a vast community of Jews and Muslims. The separation of religion from the state is a widely respected concept, even though there have been repeated cases of abuse in recent years. However, it is still possible to enrol your children in private Catholic, Judaic or Muslim schools that you can find in most major cities. You will also find churches, synagogues and mosques in most cities. In some areas, you can even find temples and pagodas, which is a testament to the diversity of the country.

French gastronomy and wine

France is inseparable from fine gastronomy and great wines. The country has a longstanding tradition of producing some of the world's best chefs and is home to a great collection of traditional dishes. When in France, do allow yourself the luxury of Michelin-starred restaurants every now and again, but rest assured that quality does not necessarily mean overpriced bills. An average restaurant in France will most probably serve excellent food. This is particularly true of cities famed for their excellent cuisines, such as Lyon, Bordeaux and Paris. Contrary to popular belief, the French do not eat a huge amount of frogs' legs, but there are plenty of other classics to try out as well as these (and snails!) Try dishes such as Aligot, Raclette and Magret de Canard - to name just a few - and indulge in a gastronomic exploration of France, coupled with one of the fine wines produced in the country's famed estates.

History and culture in France

As a historically rich country, France has much to offer, especially through its magnificent architecture, museums, chateaux and monuments. However, France is not stuck in the past. It has a buzzing modern art scene, perhaps best epitomized by the pyramid of the Louvre and the Pompidou Museum in Paris. When travelling by bus or Metro, do not be surprised to see most travellers with a book in their hands. Indeed, the French read a lot, and the country's writers are extremely prolific.

Regions in France

As at the 1st of January 2016, France consists of a total of 18 regions - reduced from 27. Each of these regions has its unique characteristics. Find more information in the 'Useful links' listed below.

Education in France

The French education system comprises three main levels: school (pre-primary and primary), college and high school. Education is compulsory for all children from 6 years until a minimum of 16 years. Note that primary and secondary education is free of charge and secular. At the tertiary level, France boasts some of the world's finest institutions. This includes icons such as the Ecole Polytechnique and Ecole Normale Supérieure. To study in France, one does not necessarily need to speak French, as many institutions of higher learning offer courses exclusively in English.

Good to know:

Higher education is often cheaper in France than in many other countries. This explains why the country attracts international students in large numbers every year.

Useful links:

Studying in France
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