Paris’ Free Lunch

One of the biggest issues during last week’s presidential election was unemployment, which has been hovering around 10% for quite some time in France. With corporate taxes at up to 75%, there’s a strong incentive not to start a business here. Or as the French tennis players and actor Gerard Depardieu have done, move to Monaco, Switzerland or Russia. More than a few expat couples told us they wanted to move to Paris but couldn’t figure out a way to make money here. So they ended up in Africa, Germany or England.

A Canadian girl I met who works for a computer software giant alongside her husband says the company pays for their Paris apartment and children’s private school in Passy, the most aristocratic neighbourhood, so they’ll stay.

Even though my current Visa doesn’t allow me to work here, I get a few job alerts from head hunters just out of curiosity. But the job offerings are dismal, entry level, and poorly payed. Because firing people is so hard to do in France there is rarely any movement at the top.

Self-employment is really a new thing here too; it was only recently recognized by the state. I am reminded of this every time I try to tell someone my email address, which is hosted by my website ( They will read it back to me as No, I say slowly, it is They repeat back This could go on for hours, as no one in France has their own personal website. Why would you? Your boss should pay for that, and also your five weeks of mandatory vacation, 35-hour work week, two-hour lunch breaks and all the public holidays, of which there are four this month alone.

There are other perks to having a corporate job in Paris, though, such as the free meals. If you work for a company with more than 50 employees, the company is obliged to build a canteen, or furnish daily “restaurant tickets” for the staff (a cost shared with the government). As such, there is a whole faux economy built up around these tickets, as groups of young people go out between 12 and 2 every day to buy their lunch “formule” with the tickets (a main dish and a dessert or a drink). These lunch specials are, coincidentally, 12 Euros – the exact amount of the meal tickets (and a major rip-off to those of us without the ticket). There are hundreds of tiny take-away spots around Paris that open only from 12-3 on weekdays just to furnish them. It’s become kind of a joke though. Wealthy people hoard their restaurant tickets all year then go out for a big flashy meal and spend them all at once in a huge stack. On our flight back from Saint-Tropez the other week the airline was even taking the tickets to pay for cocktails. There was recently a heist in Paris where several million Euros of restaurant tickets were stolen from a courier, hence there must be a black market for them already. The whole thing is totally unsustainable. Something tells me with the new centrist Emanuel Macron government, there will no longer be such a thing as a free lunch.