3 Facts to know before doing business in France
If there is one thing I love about my native land, it’s the contrarian spirit that seeps through every endeavor, every conversation, every interaction. Are the French overly arrogant or self-critical? Romantic or self-serving? Outgoing or coy? Frighteningly sexual or mysteriously prude? This duality is often a source of great entertainment: I could be sneering through my Bordeaux at a huddle of shrieking American tourists one day, and share a Bud with them while trading yo’ mama jokes the next. The notes below offer a glimpse of this spirit, with the aim of facilitation a successful entrepreneurship journey through France and its capital.
1. Politics matters (a lot)
President Macron gave a grand explanation for France’s dichotomy during an interview with German news site Spiegel Online. It’s a long read, but worth it. Here’s a taste: “The French want to elect a king, but they would like to be able to overthrow him whenever they want. (…) The office of president is not a normal office — that is something one should understand when one occupies it. You have to be prepared to be disparaged, insulted and mocked — that is in the French nature”. The graph below may or may not be related.
Speaking of what is not normal but should be, below are the most interesting proposals currently being put forward to modernize the French labour market. Educate yourselves!
Firing costs: Employee severance payments will be limited to one-month wage per year of service and capped at 20 months (less than Germany).
Courts: The time period to bring employment tribunals for unfair dismissal will be shortened from two years to one year.
SME boost: Small businesses that employ fewer than 20 people will be able to strike deals with workers in the absence of a union representative.
Redundancies: Large businesses will be able to justify making redundancies if they face troubles in their French market.
Yet, a reform program for France cannot solely rely on the labour code. The problem of France is a stubbornly high rate of structural unemployment. Three parallel reforms should be done to address this:
The labor-market reforms must go further: 35 hours contracts are still in effect, the role of trade unions is too large for firms above 50 employees and nothing has been done to reduce the differences between civil servants (22% of the labor population) which cannot be fired and the private sector employees who can be fired.
Unlike Germany, France offers no hands-on training at the high school level, and French universities have no practical training at all, nor any link with enterprises. France should forget its brainy roots and embrace such programs. It will be a strong factor to reduce (youth) unemployment in France.
The third reform consists of reducing taxes on enterprises, which currently reduce profitability and raise the costs of employment. This would mean cutting public expenditure by increasing France’s fiscal deficit in 2018 and 2019, potentially boosting France’s economic growth by 1.9% per year over the next five years.
Solving unemployment might help solve another of France’s pressing issue, best exemplified by this conversation, as reported by Ben Judah: ““Who here feels French?” asks the instructor. “I’m not French because I’m not seen as French,” says Usama, a dark-skinned boy in a football shirt. “People don’t want to see me as French, because I’m not white, because I’m from a banlieue. They go: oh you’re an Arab, you’re not French. I was born here but I’m an immigrant to them””.
These are valid grievances, which play a role in potential radicalisation. The topic is also explored by The Atlantic in What Went Wrong With France’s Deradicalization Program?
Trying to make sense of this social uneasiness, a geographer has crafted a convincing narrative tying together France’s various problems — immigration tensions, inequality, deindustrialization, economic decline, ethnic conflict, and the rise of populist parties. Such an analysis had previously eluded the Parisian caste of philosophers, political scientists, literary journalists, government-funded researchers, and party ideologues.
And It’s not just immigration that makes the French question their identity. History too is a source of intense reflection. From The New York Review of Books : A Buffet of French History, and from Aeon: Les Anglos-Saxons.
2. Entrepreneurship is booming
The French tech rocket-ship is ready for take-off: early stage funding is at an all time high, there is a large, motivated and skilled talent pool, and institutions are (finally) turning into accelerators for the ecosystem. Now if we could only learn to scale internationally, we might just get some unicorns going.
Mmhm… where could one find a bilingual, internationally-minded growth hacker…
Oh, hi there! Call me.
Things are going so well that Parisian entrepreneurs are eager to pick a fight with Silicon Valley. “In France, Fadell has a mini-replica of Silicon Valley outside the Future Shape door. It’s a place where he can pick out younger versions of himself, give them money, and — in a sense — watch all the possible versions of his own life story unfold again and again”.
The real mini-replica of Silicon Valley in Paris is, of course, Silicon Sentier. Once home to part of the garment district, it is now home to a hive of innovation. Find out about this fine addition to the “Silicon world” here.
Over the years, I’ve gathered some great advice about tourism in Paris. And none of that Guardian/Huffington/Buzzfeed “top 10 free things to do in Paris” bullsh*t. I blame those tabloids for the Uggs-sporting, leggings-wearing, Tourette’s-having hordes regularly besieging my local café. But before the list of DOs, here’s MY list of DON’Ts.
Go to the Champs-Élysées — It’s just not worth it
Take your children with you — We have enough of them as it is
Drink like an Irishman — It’s Paris, not Spring-break in Cabo
Ask a Parisian for the way to the nearest Starbucks — Please
Go to Gare du Nord — Got your wallet? Not anymore, you don’t
Below are my favourite articles regarding the French capital:
In the words of Honoré de Balzac: “Paris is an ocean. Explore it, and you still won’t know its depth.”