-’And how long have you been working in France, Ms Keeren ?’ Used to this question I answered it as precisely as I could. ’18 years and 7 months, Madame and Iworked for different companies’. After a vague ’bonjour’, Madame Dufour, who was the head of the language department of UL, a school in the suburbs of Paris, had got straight to the point. No small talk like in Anglo-saxon cultures, a waste of time in France. – ’Ok ok, but what brings you today to apply for a job in English teaching at my Institute ? The lady I was facing made me think of one of my high school teachers who had made our whole class suffer. —’ I have always wanted to be a teacher, it’s sort of going back to my first love’, Itried. The atmosphere in the small meeting room became more and more oppressive, and I ended up wondering what I was doing there. Except that I wanted the job. After an export career of almost 18 years, I wanted a change, so crucial in my Dutch life, but making the hair stand on end, in France. —’ I don’t understand why I should hire you ? No teaching experience and sorry to say, but do you see yourself at your age, teaching evening classes here ?’ I hated her the moment she said those horrible words. I was only 44 and my English was much better than that of most of the teachers I had met. I was taking a risk when I answered that having a foot in her school, if only for some evening classes, would be an opportunity for me. —’ You will have to explain that’, she was visibly loosing her temper so I hastened to add – ’Of course I’m more interested in your regular classes and | feel that the day one of your teachers will resign, you may give theirjob to me.’ For the first time a vague smile passed over her face. ’If you say so, you’re not afraid to express yourself, are you ?’ I didn’t know what to expect from a lady that so obviously had trouble with her social contacts. It was not the first time I faced a senior executive only interested in power, but this lady hit the roof! I was really surprised, not to say stunned when with a smile, Madame Dufour told me eventually, that she was going to hire me. ’I expect you to start next week’.
I had been right to believe in what I hoped for : the job I was offered a few months later, was that of a regular teacher during the day!
In France it’s not usual to discuss anything other than topics relevant to the job and may be considered unprofessional. Due to a very high power distance, French senior executives in particular HR staff, don’t see themselves talking chit-chat with candidates, even less during a job interview. On the contrary, if you get hired, your boss and colleagues will soon become more personal.