The hot topic in French news this week is a scathing, no-holds-barred letter from Maurice Taylor, Jr., the executive chairman of tire company Titan International, to France’s industry minister Arnaud Montebourg in response to their pleas to take over a Goodyear factory that’ll be closing in Amiens, France. Known as “the Grizz”, Taylor’s letter basically said that he was not going to save the factory (and approximately 1,000 French jobs) as he’s been there several times and all he’s ever seen were highly-paid French workers who have an hour of lunch, chat for three hours and end up working a mere three hours. Apparently, he had made a comment about this to the French union workers and they responded saying that was “the French way”. Ha!
I think my favorite section of Taylor’s letter that truly reflects the stereotype of the French mindset is the following:
“Sir, your letter states that you want Titan to start a discussion. How stupid do you think we are? Titan is the one with the money…”
Why do I like this line? Because it’s the French who want Titan to save the factory and all the jobs, yet they say they want Titan to start a discussion?? It’s that type of thinking that’s the fundamental problem. The French should be the ones who have not only started the discussion but started actually doing something about it.
I can provide several scenarios of the “lazy French worker” I’ve heard over this past year from both French and expat friends, but I’m not going to do that. What I am going to do is give you one example though, as I just can’t resist. A friend told me how their HR person hadn’t responded to numerous calls and emails about receiving some French lessons that her company was paying for. She literally had to resort to stalking this person so he could just sign off on these lessons the company had already approved. She quickly learned that he just doesn’t respond to emails or calls. What?? In what world does someone, particularly in HR, still have a job and not respond to emails or phone calls? In a French world, apparently. Well, I’m glad to say that after several months, she was finally able to corner him one day and got her damn lessons.
So are French people lazy or not? Obviously, I do not (repeat, do not!) think French people are lazy. In fact, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development consists of a group of 34 industrialized countries that includes the US, and the French work the fourth fewest hours of any OECD member but come in 7th when it comes to labor productivity. It’s not always about working longer; it’s about working smarter – and that is what the French do (when they work, that is).
Here’s a good article from The New York Times about the uproar in France surrounding the letter. And here’s the letter from Taylor in case you’d like to read it. It’s definitely not the most diplomatic…