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English Copywriter in Paris: Freelancing in France

As promised (a little while ago now!), I’m dedicating a whole shiny post to writing about freelancing in France. Or, more precisely, what the French think about freelancers.

I’ve officially been a freelancer for about six months now.  Not yet a veteran, no longer a newbie. And, since starting out, I’ve encountered a whole range of reactions regarding this new professional status.

To freelance or not to freelance?

1.)    Oh la la! What about job security?

The French are very attached to their CDI (permanent work contracts). Once they’ve got one they hold on tight. This kind of contract pretty much guarantees a job for life, especially in the civil service. Unless you do something really stupid it’s hard to get sacked. Inefficiency or laziness alone are not enough. Turn up late? It’s par for the course.

If an employee dares to fire you, it’s straight to the worker-loving Pruds Hommes for a few months, if not years, worth of salary. Other CDI advantages include long (paid) holidays and health insurance.

So, when you tell a French person that you’ve thrown away this lifeline in favour of the doubt and insecurity of finding enough projects to make the ends meet understandably they don’t understand.

2.)    That’s nice (when are you getting a real job?)

The initial enthusiasm quickly melts away to leave behind an underlying note of disapproval. Freelancing equates to loafing around with a generous dose of idealism. For these people, the idea of working for yourself when you want is all very nice in theory yet unattainable. The freelancer lives in a dream world where anything is possible. Whilst in Anglo Saxon cultures this all-can-do attitude prevails, in France things are a little more conformist veering on the negative. Work within the system. Why mend what’s not broken? A job is a job. A job provides the money for long holidays and nice houses. The desire to distance myself from this stifling conformism is one of the main reasons I wanted to freelance. This attitude is particularly common among older people who often have more fixed ideas about the working world and job security (see above). Yet, even some of my friends revealed a rather dismissive attitude believing that my heroic endeavours would soon end with a hefty bump back to reality.

3.)    I’m so jealous

The flip side of the unspoken disapproval is overt envy. Many of my friends would love to do what I’m doing. They see the good stuff (flexible hours, potential lie-ins etc.) and forget the rest (demanding clients who don’t want to pay, not knowing if you’ll make enough money to pay the bills and working weekends, yes, Saturdays and Sundays are no longer sacred). Not only this, but they also like the idea of being their own boss, without asking whether they have the motivation to work when there’s no one standing behind them or the patience needed to manage demanding I-want-everything-right-now clients. The freelancer is idealised and cut away from the very real constraints of reality (reverse of aforementioned ‘back to reality’ effect).

Photo of a Freelancer working in a field

Attitudes are changing. The advantages of flexible hours, working from home and, from the employer’s point of view, avoiding the heavy costs associated with the beloved CDI are being to be understood. The three outlined attitudes are not mutually exclusive. A powerful mix of resistance to change, attachment to security and fear of the unknown means that freelancers remain a slightly marginalised minority in France.  But, the tide is slowly turning.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. rashi dit :

    Hi Victoria… I’m a copywriter from Delhi, India. My name is Rashi Gupta. I have more than four years of work experience. I wish to freelance for agencies in Paris. Can you guide me please?

  2. Cairinb dit :

    Dear Victoria,

    I am looking I get into copywriting yet I have never studied communications or creative writing. I have a BA in arts; history of art and Italian. I myself live in Paris but was hoping to go and get started in the industry in London. How have you found it in Paris as an English copywriter? Do you get much work or has it been a hard graft? I must admit that I admire your courage going out on your own, especially in Paris. It’s not exactly an easy city. I used to be a singer, very well paid as well. I also had intermittent de spectacle status whereby the government supported me financially. And I found it quite amusing reading what you wrote re: Parisian people’s reactions about your job. People here used to say that to me quite frequently ‘so what’s your real job?’

    Anyway, would you mind at all suggesting to me please a good introductory cours (in london if you know of any..eg. Short courses in copywriting/creative writing. Or else if you could suggest any other viable route/course of study to get into it, I would be most grateful. Furthermore, would there be any introductory book on the subject which you would recommend?

    If you are unable to help me, would you perhaps have another contact who could answer my query?

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Many thanks,
    Cairin Bohn.

    Envoyé de mon iPhone

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