My frustration while living in France is perfectly demonstrated in my experience taking the train line, RER C, which connected my town to Paris. When I arrived in Etampes in mid-September of last year, construction on RER C was just getting under way. Work on the line was supposed to be finished in early March, and after months of working around a limited train schedule to get in and out of Paris where I worked as a nanny on my off hours from teaching, I was greatly anticipating the termination of the project. I should have known better, though – a few days before the project was scheduled to finish, the train company announced it would take another two months to complete. “C’est la vie,” I was told by French friends who were equally sick of the construction work, but much calmer about the situation. “That’s life.”
So based off my collection of personal experiences, my natural assumption was that since the French complete their work meticulously (and somewhat leisurely) they are also much less productive. They HAD to be a lot less productive than those quick-moving, always on the run, constantly stressed out Americans back home. Upon some investigation into the actual data, though, I found out that this is not the case, according to statistics from the Organization from Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The chart below shows the annual hours worked per worker in several countries in contrast to their labor productivity (GDP per hour worked).
Although the US is not the most productive country in the world, this chart lists America as the most productive in order to compare other countries to our standards. The chart shows that even though the French work fewer hours than Americans, they are not drastically less productive. Germans, who Americans tend to regard as boasting an economy that everyone should aspire to have, actually worked less than the French and had slightly less productivity.
Apparently, the French do get things done.
Surprisingly, Spain and Italy, two countries that have been hit hard by the recession, work more hours than both France and Germany, although their productivity levels are significantly lower. Also astonishing is the low productivity of UK workers, who we stereotypically group as having a similar work ethic to Americans.
So, while the French do take their time while doing their work (a fact to which I can testify), they actually are producing just as much as we do. Stressed-out, over-worked, ever-running-around Americans actually aren’t getting much more done than some of our European counterparts. But how could this be? Read next week’s Travel Tales column to get my perspective!