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February 3

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Mary Ann Zipagang asked me about workers in France. "I have read ... that the typical European office worker has more vacation time and sick leave and that the work pace is not as demanding or hectic as the typical American office worker's. What is their workday like? Do they get more breaks? What are their work ethics in general?"

Recently, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported that in 2004 French people worked 24% fewer hours than in 1970; Americans worked 20% more. It's also worth noting that one in four workers in France is employed by the government.

Beyond observing that lots of merchants don't work on Monday mornings and close up shop for several hours at lunchtime, I can't speak to the particulars of the working life in France. But to my eye, it doesn't look bad.

My best French friend, who owned his own company before retiring, told me French workers like to do as little as possible. As soon as the bell rings, they're up. The attitude, he says, is this: The company doesn't do much for me, so I won't do much for it.

This was confirmed by a French bestseller published last year called "Bonjour, Paresse" (or "Hello, Sloth"). Its subtitle roughly translates to: "On the Art and Necessity of Doing as Little as Possible at Work." The book by Corinne Maier, an economist with the state-run electricity company, offers useful rules for workers, such as, "Never accept a position of responsibility.... You'll only have to work more in exchange for ... peanuts."

One wonders how France carries on. But it does.

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