If you had asked me what I thought about French work ethic when I first arrived in Toulouse, I would have given you a mouthful. Ok, let's be honest, I could still give you a mouthful - but I've come to expect and (almost) accept the fact that one cannot go through life without at least five coffee breaks a day, a 1.5 to 2 hour lunch and a good amount of procrastinating and French sighing in exasperation inbetween.
The French have mastered the art of being "débordé" all of the time. Ask them to turn in a report by lunch - ooooh non! Je suis débordé! (I'm overwhelmed - I'm up to my elbows - or as my Oxford mini-dictionary says, I'm "brimming over with" work!) In other words, their cups are full. As my mom would say, "Everyone has different sized cups." (This is not a reference to bra sizes or jock straps). Some people can deal with a mug-sized work load, some people a pint of beer-sized work load. But the French - their cups are smaller than the espresso shots they use for their daily café breaks.
Don't even attempt to call any form of French administration between the sacred hours of 12.00 and 14.00 - no one will answer the phone. Don't frustrate yourself further by calling after 16.30. You must aim for the hours of 09.00 to 12.00 and 14.00 to 16.00. That's it - don't yell, don't sigh, don't get snotty with them. You must understand that they are débordé and c'est la vie.
So now that you comprends the French très bien, you will understand that where I am not yet French myself and I still maintain my American work ethic - or shall we say anglophone work ethic, I am still annoyed when my hours or days off are disrespected. The offenders - the Brits. Now don't get me wrong - I have British friends who are the best! They use the loo, they say things like "Dost thou want a brew," and they punctuate their happiness with sentences like "That's brilliant!," which I secretly love about them. But they do NOT understand the sacred wonderfullness of the French bank holiday (or least the Brits who don't live here).
Today, Wednesday 11 November 2009 is a French bank holiday. It is the celebration of the end of WWI - and it is a day off in France. Now when my British clients requested a visit today I told them that locations may not be open due to the bank holiday and that they may wish to consider another day. But the location to be visited is a restaurant and restaurants are the exception to this little day off rule. And so, the Brits are coming with little regard for the fact that today is a bank holiday for me too. I would maybe be less irritated if they had said, "oh, but I guess that means you have the day off too right?" I would have told them how nice it was to consider that and then accepted to meet them anyways. But no, not even that.
So where I appreciate a good anglophone worker, I still have to say that I respect that the French work to live and not the other way around.