When I first started working in France over 20 years ago now, many multinationals had their European headquarters based in Paris. In the mid-1980’s I witnessed a definite trend. These multinationals were relocating their European headquarters to other European countries outside of France. Even with the expense of relocation, these companies got out of France to save money.
It is expensive to have a company in France. The big companies knew that 20 years ago and things have not really changed. They actually got worse with the advent of the 35 hour work week.
So why did I start a very small company here in France a year and a half ago?
After spending last week sorting out errors made by the French administration, this is the question I’m asking myself today.
Small business owners do not have time to waste no matter where they live. We all work very long hours. So it is annoying when you have to drop everything to respond the representatives of the law who… well… made the mistake in the first place.
It is not politically correct here in France to complain about the errors made by the French administrative employees.
I’m not sure if it is politically correct to treat all company owners as money-hungry capitalists with distain… but it is common here in France and something I encounter frequently.
An Employee’s Society
This past week’s experience reminded me of a conversation I had with a French businessman of Arab descent who I met at the Paris Twestival earlier this year. Arabs have a different business outlook than French people. The conversation was interesting.
This gentleman said that “France is a country that promotes employees. Everything is set up to help and support the employees… to the detriment of the employers and business owners of all sizes”.
You do not need to live here long to see that business owners are not respected by the general French public. The French cultural hang-ups about being embarrassed of “making money” start to kick in. It is just not socially acceptable to acknowledge that you want to make money here in France.
The only way a business owner can get out of this embarrassing situation is to say that he wants to “create jobs”. This is noble… and sort of acceptable. But there is still a problem. You can still feel the undercurrents of distain towards people that want to make money.
I remember when I lived through my first train strikes in Paris. You would never hear anyone on the news complain about the trains being on strike for long periods of time. The people interviewed would put on smiles and state their support of the strikers.
In recent years, I have noticed a few tight-lipped acknowledgments on the evening news that small businesses were forced to close down as a direct result of the prolonged train strikes. But this was still within a general atmosphere of camaraderie supporting the strikers.
In Search Of Small Business Paradise
It is not easy for small businesses everywhere. In France there are additional cultural hurdles for the small business owners compared to those in other countries.
Listening to friends with similar small businesses in England and Canada, the grass definitely looks greener over there.
The problem is that I have already lived in England and Canada.
- England was a fantastic experience professionally. But I got tired of the extremely limited choice of fresh fruit and vegetables available in the grocery stores during the winter months. And I worked right next to the 2 expensive department stores on Oxford Street that sold imported fresh produce!
- Coming from the Bahamas, the Canadian winters are more than a bit too much for me.
France does have a wonderful lifestyle to offer. But it is much better to experience France as an employee, with its:
- 5 weeks vacation
- 35 hour work weeks
- Laws of all kinds to protect the employees
- Fantastic social security system with long paid maternity leaves financed through the employers
- Almost 2 years of unemployment benefits if you are laid off
The hassles of having a small business in France takes up so much time, that I sometimes wonder if that is the government’s strategy to combat unemployment: to incite all businesses, big and small, to hire someone to deal with them.
So here is my question to you…
Where Is The Best Country To Have A Small Business?
If I were to relocate my small business, where would you suggest I relocate?
Here are the particulars: My business is location-independent, so I do not need a thriving local economy. Internet and banking services are very important as I have international clients. And that’s it.
Please let me know where you would set up your small business and why.
Image by bestfor / richard via Flickr
Cindy King is a Cross-Cultural Marketer & International Sales Strategist based in France. She uses her dual background in sales & marketing to help businesses improve their international sales conversion and develop country-specific international sales guides. Connect with her on Twitter @CindyKing.