France: Less Work, More Time Off

How The French Get Months Off Without Taking A Pay Cut

Maier's bestseller, "Bonjour, Laziness," reveals her secrets on the art of pretending to work. The subtitle of the book is: "The art and necessity of doing the least possible in a corporation."

What is the art? "Because you have to be an actor," says Maier. "You're performing."

Did she have any idea when she wrote this book that it was going to be so popular with the French? "No," says Maier, laughing. "I'm very surprised."

Maier, who has a Ph.D. in psychoanalysis, isn't lazy. She's simply disillusioned with the French workplace, which she says values "busywork" and corporate politics over true productivity.

And her book has resonated beyond French borders. The rights have been sold to more than 20 countries, including the United States.

"Let's not forget that you wrote the book in your spare time because you're only working 20 hours a week," says Logan to Maier.

"Yes, it's true," says Maier. "It's true."

"So you must think Americans are insane?" asks Logan.

"No, because Americans, I think, believe more in future than French people. We, French people, right now we don't believe that the future will be better than now," says Maier. "We think that the future will be worse than now, so we don't have any reason to work."

Why?

"I don't know, maybe we are an old country. We're depressed," says Maier. "But the food is very good."

But that's exactly the kind of attitude that irks French entrepreneur Ari Zlotkin, president of Anne Fontaine, a successful French blouse company. "Working for me is what, is a very important value and is a good value," says Zlotkin, who manufactures in France, but has high-end boutiques across the globe, from New York to Tokyo. And there's no doubt in his mind which country's workers he prefers.

"In America, we don't lose time," says Zlotkin. "We don't lose time. In France, we lose a lot of time with, I mean, fixing social troubles. We lose a lot of time with things that are not related to the business we are doing."

Zlotkin also thinks that France's shorter work weeks and longer vacations are highly overrated.

"What about the argument that in France people have more leisure time, more time to enjoy themselves, the art of conversation, the long lunches?" asks Logan.

"I think it's a nice image. I'm not sure it's true," says Zlotkin. "What is sure is that statistically, since the 35 hours, people are staying longer in front of their TV."

"They're spending more time in front of the television?" asks Logan.

"Yeah, and also and, you know, also it's very nice to have more free time, but you must also have the money to be able to take advantage of this free time," says Zlotkin.

Ironically, some American companies, rather than being scared off by the lavish vacations and limited work weeks, are investing heavily in France. From Microsoft to Motorola, some 3,000 American companies have crossed the Atlantic, providing more than half a million French jobs.