Exchange in Paris – Dive into the French Culture
Written by: Ella Muja & Emilia Parikka
Last autumn we participated in an exchange to Paris, France, where we studied under IPAG Business School’s Bachelor of Business Administration program. During the exchange, we enrolled in various courses, improved our French language skills, and had the opportunity to observe and immerse ourselves into French culture for over four months. The following essay will outline some of the key observations we made of French culture. Our overlying messages are 1. Apply for exchange no matter what 2. Step out of your comfort zone as much as possible and 3. There is a large difference between living in a foreign country temporarily and visiting as a tourist.
French working or business culture is both strict and balanced at the same time. The separation between personal and work life is incredibly valued in France and in some cases, the strictness comes from the immediate transition between personal time and work time. For instance, meetings should be scheduled well in advance, even up to two weeks in advance, to respect other employee’s time and schedules (Maguire 2022). During a meeting, French workers get straight to the point and follow the agenda precisely to ensure that all topics agreed upon in advance are covered. This means that topics such as personal life are rarely discussed as they are not on the agenda and can push into people’s privacy and create tension within a company’s structure or hierarchy. Based on the experience of working in Finland, Finns are punctual but do not have as strict of boundaries regarding discussion topics or hierarchies.
Building off the work-life balance topic, France has laws in place to ensure that employees distance themselves from their place of work enough. According to France’s Ministry of Labour, Employment, and Economic Inclusion, the maximum work week can consist of 35 hours and there must be a minimum of 11 hours between two work shifts/periods (2020). This means that French working days are shorter and have more time between when the previous shift ends and the next one starts. Which explains why most people don’t start their workdays until 9 or 10 o’clock in the morning.
In Paris the rush hour on the metro or on the main roads was between 9 and 10 in the morning, and the majority of classes at IPAG didn’t start until 10.30. It was interesting to hear the professors complain about how early the 8.20 class was, and it wasn’t unusual for the professor to arrive a bit late if the class was to begin around 8 am instead of 10 am. In turn, this caused the evening rush hour to happen closer to 18 or 19 in the evening instead of 16 or 17, which is typical in Finland.
In addition to laws about working hours and breaks, larger companies with over 50 employees are required to allow workers to disconnect from work technology after hours (Wisenberg Brin 2019). The law, Right to Disconnect, can protect workers from being penalized for not answering messages or calls or being unactive on digital platforms. This also ensures a work-life balance for employees so that work related tasks aren’t continued once at home. However, this law currently doesn’t have any specific measures on how it should be taken into practice, so it may be negotiated and discussed between the company and its employees.
French working culture is structured, mutually understood, and highly praised due to its ability to value workers’ time and prevent over-working or burnout in employees.
Rue Du Dragon, Street in Paris one of our campuses was located on.
In France, lunch is a sacred time. At most companies and even universities, there is at least a one-hour slot designated for lunch. Anything shorter than an hour, or what the U.S. calls a “working lunch” is very frowned upon in France. On most days of the week around midday, traditional corner restaurants are bustling with people on their lunch break. Lunch is an important way for employees to have time off during the day, relax, bond with colleagues, and enjoy a meal. There were many times when sitting in a restaurant for lunch, that you would overhear conversations about weekend plans, art, or current events happening at the next table, and it was definitely a group of coworkers on their lunch break. Discussing work-related things during lunch is considered rude as the break is meant to be a break, or time off from the office.
We believe this strict no business over lunch break –rule could be a good one to apply into the Proakatemia culture, as at least in our team, there has been moments of difficulty to relax on breaks as the discussion over work related matters continued onto breaks. If there was an overall culture such as the French one to keep us from diving into work conversations over our breaks, maybe we would have less burn-out as well. This rule is also interesting to look at from the perspective of Proakatemia becoming more multicultural every year.
August vacation is taken seriously, at least in Paris. All locals abandon Paris during the month of August and typically use their paid annual leave time for a proper summer holiday. This means that most, if not all independent businesses have signs on their door that have the dates of their closure and when they plan to return. As this tradition is built into Parisian local’s habits, it is mutually understood that vacation happens in August, so that the rest of the summer any common errands that need to be taken care of can happen without struggles of business closures. In this way, vacations overlap with school summer holidays and business closures to prevent frustration or clashing of schedules.
Ella’s experience: I moved to Paris in the last two weeks of August and noticed immediately how hard it was to get settled in the apartment I was renting. All of the local businesses such as bakeries, flower shops, pharmacies, and shops had notes on their doors that said that they would not re-open until the last day of August or first day of September. This also meant that the first two weeks of my time in Paris I interacted with a lot of tourists who were on vacation in Paris instead of locals who lived in the area. Thankfully IKEA, the closest laundromat and nearby grocery store were open in August, so I was able to handle basic errands.
Coming back to the French culture around respecting the balance between work and free time, most of the cafés have a “no laptops” rule. This means that working in a cute French Café is nearly impossible and the French are not shy on letting you have it, if you pull out your computer at the wrong place. The only places we found suitable for laptops were Starbucks, and the cute little cafés were only for enjoying the moment. So, when visiting Paris, leave your laptop at the hotel, unless you tend to sit at a Starbucks to work, because it’s not happening anywhere else. C’est la vie mon ami!
For a country known so well for its champagne and wine, it was no surprise there was no “nonalcoholic” section at the wine stores or grocery stores. When wanting to have a party at a friend’s place and bring something other than coca cola, I found FreezMix drink with multiple different flavors to be a great choice found at almost every store, but better on the bigger ones. What was however a positive surprise was that many cafés and restaurants seemed to have a small list of mocktails ready. “Virgin Cocktails” or “Cocktails Sans Risque” are perfect for those who want to enjoy a few drinks with friends without the consequences. If there was nothing else, they’d always have Virgin Mojito on the list. At the clubs, however, this service was rather disappointing when it came to nonalcoholic drinks.
Emilia’s Experience: I went to one of the most famous and popular clubs in Paris Pachamama and was extremely disappointed, when the waitress barely even spoke to me as I was trying to request a mocktail from her. They even had a list of options, but she just shook her head on all the 3 options I showed. Eventually she just poured 2 different juices on a glass and stuck a straw to it and pushed the drink to me. Luckily in all the restaurants and cafés the service regarding nonalcoholic options was amazing.
Along with the rest of Paris and France in general, food and their cuisine is an integral part of their culture. As mentioned previously when describing the importance of lunch in relation to the workday, all meals are meant to offer a relaxing environment to discuss various topics unrelated to work. Traditional French cuisine utilizes ingredients found within France and seasonal produce is highly valued. Many restaurants change their menus each season to accommodate vegetables that are in season, which increases the flavor and quality of the meal being served.
A Netflix documentary called, “Chef’s Table France” explores the importance of seasonal and local produce with experienced Michelin level chefs. In one of the restaurants, the chef is aiming to create traditional French meals with entirely vegetarian ingredients. This challenge has been both praised and criticized, however, the value that food has in French culture is a strong message portrayed throughout the documentary series.
For French people, at least the most traditional ones, it seems that the activity of going out to eat is very common and often built into the weekly schedule without question. This also supports local restaurants and entrepreneurs as the habit of society allows for restaurants to remain open year-round and continuously develop their service. Whether eating a home-cooked meal or eating at a restaurant, French people see eating together not as a way to satisfy hunger or as a mandatory task, but as an experience and memory. It is a way for them to spend time with those that they value and enjoy a quality meal.
There is a huge stigma over French people as being rude and not speaking any English or denying they could. Most French people we encountered in Paris did speak English to some level and almost everyone where at least willing to try. As Paris is a huge tourist city, having 44 million tourists visit in the city in 2022, (The Brussles times, 2023) it may be why most business owners have learned English.
Emilia’s Experience: I tried my best to speak French whenever it was possible, as that was the language I was looking to improve. All French people I talked to in French where very excited of me trying and really helped me with words unfamiliar to me before. In the beginning of my stay in Paris I had to request the service in French however as they automatically switched to English when noticing my struggles. Whenever I asked to be served in French however, they were happy to do so.
I also had the pleasure to spend time with one French student and her family. She was a big help when it came to me improving my French as she taught me words I did not know and corrected me when I said something wrong. Her mother was very excited to see me at her birthday party and everyone being French except me, I did get into a total bath of learning French. Everyone was very nice in trying to help me understand conversations happening around me and we even played some card games in French! Oh, la la!
When there came times that my brain simply was too tired to try in French or I simply did not have the vocabulary to do so, I only encountered 2 people that did not speak English at all. One of them apologized for it and the other was simply an overall rude person, the rude French stereotype that you see in movies or most tourists expect to meet. But spending 4 months in Paris and meeting 1 rude person in that entire time, does not really to me support the idea of French people being rude, especially with the language.
Both of us visited a small city called Rouen during our exchange and compared to Paris, it’s clear not so many people speak English outside the busy touristic capital. In destinations where tourists usually go to, such as Rouen Museum of Fine Arts or any other museum or tourist attraction, the people selling tickets did speak English well. Sometimes in restaurants, cafés or shops, there usually was that one person who others relied on to speak English to customers.
The spoken French is very different from the written one and this causes some miscommunication. The difficulty lays in the way a lot of words or even sentences are shortened for convenience in discussions. When we learn in school to say the whole word, French may end up saying just 1/3 of it.
Before the exchange, I studied French on and off for nine years, and during my time at TAMK I have used the option to take three French courses from the University side which have helped immensely and definitely helped me when preparing for the exchange. Without even the basics of spoken French, my exchange experience would have been completely different.
Simple phrases such as the ones listed below became a part of my daily routine. I used the traditional greetings to communicate with the grocery store employees, my sweet elderly neighbor, and bakery workers, which helped me blend into the locals and understand how much French people value the effort of a foreigner attempting their language.
Bonjour – Hello
Ça va? – How are you?
Merci – Thank you
S’il vous plaît – please
As Emilia mentioned above, Paris is a large tourist city and it is very common for at least someone in the café or restaurant to speak English, which does make it a lot easier. However, due to the mass number of tourists, workers and locals aren’t respected, and tourists may feel that they expect all locals to speak English to some extent, which may be where the stereotypical French rudeness originates from.
In my personal experience, greeting locals in French and at least letting them see you make an effort with their language immediately changes the attitude and atmosphere of the interaction. Even if it is hard to understand what a local may respond with and the conversation has to switch to English or some French/English mix, the local very often willingly does so. I was often praised for my pronunciation or ability to try to use the language when out with friends or even alone and ordering a coffee or croissant, which gave me the confidence to keep trying to use the language even if mistakes are made.
To conclude the section on culture, there is one last topic that truly characterizes Paris and France as a whole, which is art and history. The French are extremely proud of their accomplishments when it comes to art of all forms, such as cinema and painting. Paris specifically is home to a multitude of art museums showcasing historical works, the most popular ones being the Louvre, Musée D’Orsay, Centre Georges Pompidou and Musée de l’Orangerie.
Centuries ago, Paris was home to The Salon, an art exhibition which was organized by the Académie des Beaux-Arts during the 1700-1800’s. Its purpose was to display selected works and draw attention to fine art, however, it was a rather exclusive exhibition that was notorious for excluding Impressionists, who went on to create private and independent exhibitions to show their work (Greenwald 2019, 535). These Impressionists, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Camille Pissarro to name a few, displayed their work in the alternative exhibitions and gathered admirers who then wrote essays and articles, expanding the Impressionists’ influence further.
The clashes between various art forms and artists over the years has exhibited a great passion and defense for art as a whole, and it can be seen in the paintings and sculptures displayed in many museums. Art is a way of visually understanding the historical period and emotions of the pieces, which is what draws so many tourists, artists, and professionals to the museums. Background details such as nature, technology, and clothing tell a lot about the time when the piece was created and can offer insight into the society and economy (Greenwald 2019, 533). For instance, Claude Monet’s infamous oil paintings of water lilies, which are displayed in museums around the world, are based on a pond outside of his studio in Giverny, France, which is a popular destination to visit and allows for people to understand the paintings better.
As the capital of luxury goods, Paris had multiple courses regarding this topic and even the one that we ‘rent titled “Luxury Goods”, usually used Luxury brands such as Chanel or Louis Vuitton as references. This felt very new and different from the studies being used to here in Finland. For fashion lovers, studying luxury in Paris is a dream come true. All the examples of the brands felt more real, when living in the environment those brands were established and just next to our school were stores like Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. The sense of luxury was everywhere, and you could see it.
The study style in Paris, was very similar to regular schools encountered in Finland before Proakatemia. There was a lot of teamwork involved, which reminded us of Proakatemia too. Most of the courses were based on in-class teaching, with lessons held by the teacher, and then involved multiple group projects, and presentations. We did enjoy the classes to some extent, but eventually the amount of group work got the best of us, as it was so difficult sometimes to organize the group work, get everyone involved and enjoy our stay in Paris and not get lost in schoolwork. Our mutual critique is, that when everything is based on group work, you only learn the parts you do for it, because there is no way a group of students would spend all their free time sharing their parts to each other in debt enough for it to matter.
The school seemed to have very strict rules at first, they were very adamant on no more than 3 absences per course, and they even talked about a strict dress code on the first day, which sounded like something ancient to us. After a few days, however, it was clear, everyone was allowed to dress in their own style, and no real restrictions were found regarding “dress code” other than, no hats inside. The absences were also not as strict as many of the Mexican students spent most of their exchange traveling and ended up missing a whole bunch of courses, which they said had no real effect on them passing the courses.
Luxury Brand Management Class in Autumn 2022.
According to The Brussles Times, the Eiffel Tower and Louvre remained the most popular visiting sites for tourists in 2022 and most people visiting something close by were visiting the palace of Versailles. (The Brussels Times, 2023) These tourist attractions are classic, and we do recommend you visit them when visiting Paris. A tip for visiting Versailles is to at least reserve 1 full day to explore the Palace and its surroundings. The palace and the two chateaus are all beautiful, full of history and then there are the huge gardens surrounding and connecting the three chateaus. These Gardens are what we recommend exploring, especially the Hameau de la Reine close to the Petite Trianon, which is breathtakingly beautiful, and one could just get lost in time there. A tip for students: European citizens aged 25 and under get free entrance on certain days. This applies also to all museums, (except some of the fashion-related ones).
For fashion lovers, we recommend a visit to La Galerie Dior, a Dior Museum dedicated to the beautiful designs and history of the house Dior. The ticket is not very expensive but should be booked in advance as during high season, the tickets are most likely sold out for days. The visit might take multiple hours, but it depends on how closely you want to examine the garments and do you stop to look at everything. A tip for fashion lovers is that Paris, as the capital of luxury goods, has often pop-up experiences around the city from luxury brands such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton or Yves Saint Laurent. It’s worth googling while visiting as many of these experiences may be even free of charge.
Grand Numero De Chanel – Pop Up Experience in Paris December 2022.
The best transportation in Paris is walking, as this way you get to see everything. The small streets and cute shops are worth passing by and this way you’ll never know what you may end up finding; your new favorite café, a great vintage store or some cool graffiti worth taking a picture of. When walking, you’ll also get a better sense of the city overall and how all places connect to one another, as when taking the metro, it kind of blurs your sense of direction.
When your feet get tired of all the walking or you just want to get quickly from one place to another, the metro is the best option. It’s fast, takes you everywhere and is easy to use once you get the hang of it. When it comes to metro transportation in Paris, everyone uses it. From businessmen to homeless people, you’ll see everyone using the metro system.
For people staying longer a weekly pass or even a monthly Navigo pass is worth it, as you end up using the metro more when staying longer. This way it’s also cheaper and you don’t have to worry about having one-way tickets left. The monthly Navigo pass costs 75,20 per month and can be bought at the station’s ticket counters. Worth mentioning is that the Navigo monthly takes you very far, it covers the entire Paris area, and is your free train ticket also to Disneyland, Versailles and to some other destinations outside of Paris itself. Another option is Navigo Easy pass, that costs 2€s to purchase and after that depending on the number of tickets you buy to it. A pack of 10 one-way tickets cost 14,90€ for Navigo Easy, which makes it cheaper than buying them separately.
Food and Cafés are an essential part of visiting Paris. There is something for everyone, but here is a short list of few of our favorite options, that you can try during your visit to Paris.
Bouillon Chartier is a traditional French restaurant where you can get that stake and fries, you’ve been craving for. This restaurant has multiple locations and thus easy because most likely you’ll end up close to one of them at some point during your stay. With only 20-25€s, you’ll have a great meal with wine included. Food 8/10, but price 10/10.
Libertino an Italian restaurant and one of the most popular once in Paris. Fully booked every night, so reservations should be made in advance and can be done through Google. With about 30€s you can have delicious pizza, dessert of your choice and a drink. They even have a menu for Virgin Cocktails also known to us as mocktails. This restaurant has its own feeling as they take you to a basement level room that feels like you’re no longer in Paris and the food 10/10.
Sam Chic is a Korean BBQ Restaurant that serves amazing food with an experience: it’s being cooked in front of you. This is a place that should be experienced with friends or family, as the fun part is taking multiple options from starters and main courses and then sharing it all, so you get to taste as many things as possible. For 4 people we recommend taking 3 starters and 2 barbeque options and 1-2 desserts. Try out some of the traditional Korean drinks like plumb tea or soju (the latter one is alcoholic option). The price for this kind of meal shared with 4 people would be around 30€s per person, depending on your choices and food is 10/10.
Carette has the best brunch in Paris. They have multiple locations, one near the Eiffel Tower, but, if possible, we recommend the one at 25 Pl. Des Vosges as it has a beautiful park view. Their scrambled egg is famous and for a good reason, this compared to their Chocolat Viennois, toast with jam and all other parts of the 30€ delicious experience of Carette Brunch. You get to make your brunch from different options to suit you best.
Saint Pearl is a very small café at 38 Rue des Saints-Pères. Their brunch varies between 15-20€s depending on what you decide to get. We recommend trying out their Pain Perdu – delicious French Toast, with syrup, fruits and vanilla ice cream. This is a perfect place for breakfast while walking around Paris. The closest metro station is Saint-Germain.
Villa Marquise is a cute pink decorated café on the 6th arrodisement. It’s totally #instagrammable and great for just having a drink or a quick bite, like sweet potato fries, with nachos and guacamole. They also have a selection of “Cocktails Sans Risque” also known as Moctails. With 11€s you’ll get a huge glass to drink, perfect for cooling down for a while before continuing to walk around.
Moctails at Villa Marquise in August 2022.
Montmartre is an area in Paris worth visiting if you like history and a great view. Take metro line 4 and walk the rest of the way to Sacre Cœur from the stop Château Rouge or line 2 will also take you to Anvers which is similar distance away. Enjoy the breathtaking view at the top, visit the church and have breakfast or brunch at The Hardware Société Café, which conveniently is right next to Sacre Cœur. Montmartre has high hills and a lot of walking, so put in your comfortable shoes and take some water with you, if you go during summertime to survive the heat. Montmartre has the famous Wall of Love, Moulin Rouge and La Maison Rose, a famous restaurant situated on a street also said to be the most beautiful in Paris called Rue de l’Abreuvoir.
If you’re into Cabaret shows, or want to experience something new, sparkly and beautiful, Crazy Horse & Moulin Rouge are two of the most famous Cabaret shows in Paris. Moulin Rouge is known all around the world and with its 130 years of history, has earned its place as the cabaret show. This magical show can be found at Montmartre at 82 Bd de Clichy, 75018 Paris. This show is full of sparkle, beautiful dancers and is the place if you want to see French Cancan dance. (World in Paris, 2022) A more sensual cabaret experience is Crazy Horse, founded in 1951, this establishment was the heart of loosening of morals in 1960s. (Come to Paris, n.d.) This elegant, yet sensual experience is guaranteed to be fun for those who want to enjoy beauty and art in a riskier way.
There is a somewhat battle between these two places of which one is better, and honestly, we can’t choose either. If you want the traditional Parisian Cabaret and lots of sparkle, choose Moulin Rouge, but if you want to see something very original and rather enjoy sensual excitement, choose Crazy Horse. Neither of these shows come cheap and should be booked well in advance as they are sold out every night. The sooner you book them the cheaper the tickets, but the starting price is still around 115-133€s per ticket.
Something not so usual both of us did, was getting a tattoo (or two) during our stay in Paris. Our recommendation for taking a tattoo is Tattoo13 on 36 rue Réamur 75003 Paris. The place was very clean, the service was possible to get in English as many of the artists were foreigners themselves. The quality of the tattoos was amazing and getting a time was fairly easy as they have many artists. Booking a time was possible through their Instagram page @tattoo13paris and they were able to give an estimation for the cost. Getting a tattoo is and maybe should never be cheap, but it was more expensive in Paris than anywhere we’ve seen in Finland. A small tattoo could easily cost 250€s, whereas in Finland you’d get that for a 100€s in a good place.
All these tips, and many more, we were able to gather because we lived in Paris for 4 months. When you visit for a weekend, it does not feel the same as when staying longer and truly intergrading into the French culture, learning all the routes to everywhere and being even able to help some tourists later, as you seem so familiar with the place you are in.
We hope our essay was able to open the French culture to those unfamiliar with it. We’ll be very happy if you end up visiting Paris or going to exchange there and use our tips to make your stay easier. As mentioned in the beginning, we both 100% recommend exchange experience to everyone during their studies, it truly is a once in a lifetime kind of experience. Paris was a dream destination for the both of us and we did improve our knowledge in Luxury Fashion, brushed up our French language and got amazing memories to be shared for decades.
Chef’s Table: France. 2016. Creator: David Gelb. Production: Netlfix, Boardwalk Pictures, Supper Club, FINCH, Itaca Films. Production Countries: United States.
Come to Paris, n.d. History of Crazy Horse. Read 23.04.2023. https://www.cometoparis.com/secrets-and-stories-of-paris/history-of-crazy-horse-s970
Greenwald, D. S. 2019. Modernization and rural imagery at the Paris Salon: an interdisciplinary approach to the economic history of art. The Economic History Review, 72 (2), 531-567. https://doi.org/10.1111/ehr.12695
Maguire, A. 2022. 13 Interesting Things You Should Know About Frenhc Business Culture. Read 21.04.2023. https://www.thepolyglotgroup.com/blog/things-you-should-know-about-french-business-culture/
Ministère du Travail, du Plein Emploi et de l’Instertion. 2020. Posted worker’s rights: Working Time. Read 21.04.2023. https://travail-emploi.gouv.fr/droit-du-travail/detachement-des-salaries-posting-of-employees/posting-of-employees/article/posted-workers-rights-377922
The Brussels Times, 2023. Paris remains most-visited cit in the world with 44 million visitors in 2022. Read 23.04.2023. https://www.brusselstimes.com/417329/paris-remains-most-visited-city-in-the-world-with-44-million-tourists-in-2022
Wisenberg Brin, D. 2019. France and Spain: Right to Disconnect Spreads. Read 21.04.2023. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/global-france-spain-right-to-disconnect.aspx
World in Paris, 2022. What Nobody Told You About the Moulin Rouge, Paris. Read 21.04.2023. https://worldinparis.com/facts-about-the-moulin-rouge-paris