Upon arrival in Paris, I had some preconceptions about how the French operate, especially in a business setting. In all the discussions I’ve had in my French courses and with international program advisors, I was under the impression that the French operate in a hierarchical, less collaborative manner than Americans are used to. The work environment takes on a more formal atmosphere and there are many unwritten rules about appropriate office conduct (like in any work environment). However, my experience in at Balibart could not be farther from my expectations.
In a small, creative start-up in a building that holds over 40 similarly new businesses, there is a higher level of collaboration and openness that you don’t normally see in the United States, and even France for that matter. I work with six other young people around a large table, each person with their own laptop and respective space to get their work done.
I am very much accustomed to the American academic and work environment which is very structured, and though collaborative, there are clear boundaries and expectations. I know who to go to when I have a problem at work or an issue with a concept and I know what how my role fits into any organization I belong to. I am accustomed to professional boundaries between myself and my superiors – I know I can approach my employers for their insight or to make a suggestion, though I might not approach the interaction in the same demeanor I would with a peer or coworker.
And so, to my surprise, my coworkers and bosses were only 6-7 years older than me, enforcing no office dress code, demonstrating no overarching hierarchy, and cultivating a work environment that felt like a group of old friends. I was told that the French would be more formal than what I experience in the states, though this is most open and informal work environment I’ve ever encountered.