If you had to name a country that likes to think about work more than doing it, then France would have to be top of the list.
The nation is built on refined ideology, rather than toil.
Grisly Soviet republics were the kind where heavy-handed labourers were glorified, but the Gallic version celebrates sloth.
This traditionally means a 35-hour week, the whole of August off and – bon appétit! – a very long lunch every day, ideally with everyone else in your office except the boss, so that you can all plan your next strike over the cheese course.
Accordingly, the great philosophical conundrum posed by visitors to the land of Descartes, Montesquieu and Voltaire is invariably: “How on earth does anything get done?”
The question – if not the answer – came into sharp focus during the lockdowns when people had even more downtime than usual.
Losing will to work
The pensive settled down in their comfiest armchair – or Louis XIV chaise longue even – and considered that, yes, they really were losing the will to work.
This is the conclusion of a new study, by Ifop and Fondation Jean Jaurès, which demonstrates that the laziness bug that has always lurked across France has turned into a full-blown national epidemic.
In terms of hard polling numbers, this manifests itself as just 24% of the country describing work as ‘very important’ in their lives.
This compares to a frankly exhausting figure of 60% back in 1990.
In the words of high-profile Greens MP Sandrine Rousseau, the French have earned “the right to idleness”.
So, what has changed, apart from people spending unlimited hours lounging about in pyjamas watching daytime TV while pretending to WFH (work from home)?
That the French translate WFH into télétravail might give us a clue.
If it sounds like a mocking reference to Star Trek – still one of the most bingeable boxsets for those without any chores to be getting on with – then it shows what the French think of all the jargon that has entered the workplace in recent years.
The truth is that they are sick of all the buzzwords that have been imported from America and Britain – collectively known as the dreaded ‘Anglo-Saxon’ countries – and which reflect drastic changes in old working practices.
Read more: Comment: Why French institutions must stop their daft use of franglais
Terms that further encapsulate the horror of the new order include ‘sandwich-at-your-desk’ and ‘giving 110%’.
They represent attacks on treasured Gallic rights that relatively new technology has made impossible to defend.
We all take social media for granted nowadays, but before around 2010 many did not touch it, and there were very few ways of telling what workers were up to in their spare time.
You don’t have to go back much earlier – let’s say 1995 – for a time when email and even mobile phones were only used by a minority.
This meant you could literally disappear for huge chunks of the day without any kind of monitoring whatsoever.
The basics all used to get done – shops opened, businesses did fine, public services were available to all, just as they are today.
The difference was that nobody was able to impose obsessive Anglo-Saxon work mania through never-ending communication.
Now the clear line of demarcation between work and leisure has disappeared completely, and joie de vivre is the main casualty.
Work has become a way of life, rather than a part of life, and everybody is meant to be chasing results and profits 24/7, like they do in London and New York.
As the global economy and ever faster and more intrusive tech threaten Gallic culture even more, it is little surprise that so many French people have had enough of it all and want to spend their precious time doing something a lot less productive.
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