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.
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).
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.