Time to get to work talking about… work!
While the French may be famous for their 35-hour work week, they do work on occasion.
Actually, a 2015 report even showed that the French were the seventh most productive people on Earth!
So it’ll certainly be helpful to learn to talk about jobs in French—and this guide will offer you all the vocab you need.
When talking about jobs and work, you’ll need quite a few different expressions and terms in your repertoire.
Not only will you need to be able to convey—and understand—the terms related to different career options, but you’ll also probably want to talk about what happened during your own work day.
All this and more (including a few cultural notes that will open your eyes to some elements of French job culture) await.
So au boulot (let’s get to work)!
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Au Boulot ! Become the Boss of Talking About Jobs in French
Talking About Your Job in French
The Basics of Your Career and Field
Before we even start talking about specific jobs, it’s important to introduce a few useful basics for talking about jobs in French.
The verb travailler means “to work.” It’s conjugated using regular first group conjugation.
It’s also the root for the noun un travail (a job) and le travail (work).
You may also want to use the words un poste to describe a specific job or placement:
Un poste vient de se libérer à la Poste. (A job just became available at the post office.)
You can use une carrière to talk about a career.
Aside from these terms, perhaps the most important phrase you’ll need is asking someone else what their job is:
- Qu’est-ce que vous faites dans la vie ? (Literally: “What do you do in life?”)
If you’re being asked the question, simply respond with “Je suis…” (I am) and then pick your job from the list below!
- Professeur — teacher
- Écrivain — writer
- Journaliste — journalist
- Comptable — accountant
- Artiste — artist
- Scientifique — scientist
- Médecin — doctor
- Chercheur — researcher
- Informaticien — IT professional
- Avocat — lawyer
- Vendeur — salesperson
- Commercial — sales rep
- Pilote — pilot
- Maçon — mason
- Architecte — architect
- Infirmier — nurse
- Serveur — waiter
While it’s generally true that French nouns are never without their articles, in this context, you can just say the noun, i.e., “Je suis professeur.”
Cultural note: Most job titles technically have a masculine and feminine form, for example, un professeur/une professeure.
However, in France, it’s fairly rare to feminize most job titles. A few exceptions are jobs that are traditionally associated with women, such as un maître/une maîtresse (schoolteacher) or un infirmier/une infirmière (nurse). A few others that are often feminized include un serveur/une serveuse (waiter/waitress) and un vendeur/une vendeuse (salesperson).
In Quebec, it’s much more common to feminize all job titles, e.g., a female professor will be known as une professeure.
(This is, of course, a generalization: Some female professionals in France prefer to use the feminized version of their job title.)
Talking About Job Types
Once you’ve gotten discussion of your career out of the way, you may want to talk more about your specific job. Here are just a few vocab words that can help you with that:
- Plein-temps — full-time
- Mi-temps — part-time
- Salarié — salaried employee
- Free-lance — freelancer
For example, you might say:
Je suis journaliste. Je travaille en free-lance pour le Monde. (I’m a journalist. I freelance for Le Monde.)
Je suis comptable. Je travaille à plein temps pour un cabinet médical. (I’m an accountant. I work full-time for a medical office.)
Je suis serveuse. Je travaille à mi-temps au Restaurant du Chef. (I’m a waitress. I work part-time at the Restaurant du Chef.)
If you’re working in France, you may also need a few extra words referring to different contract types. Because French workers are protected by a variety of laws from being unfairly fired, employers will often hire employees on a trial basis before converting them to a full-time contract.
This trial contract is called a contrat de durée determinée (contract of determined length), often abbreviated to CDD. A full-term contract is called a contrat de durée indéterminée (contract of undetermined length), abbreviated to CDI.
Other contract types may include un stage (an internship, which in France is usually a full-time position and is, by law, remunerated) or un apprenti (an apprentice).
Cultural note: Unlike in the U.S., talking about your job is not seen as good small talk in France; in fact, talking about work too early on in a relationship or friendship with new people is seen as rather gauche (and talking about salaries is verboten!). Be sure to bear this in mind if you’re meeting a French person for the first time.
Chatting About Your Work Day
While it might be culturally questionable to chat too much about your career, everyone talks about their day at work, no matter where they’re from!
Here are just a few vocab words you might need to talk about your day in French:
- Le bureau — the office
- L’imprimante — the printer
- Une journée — a day
- Une réunion — a meeting
- Un client — a client
- Un rapport — a report
- Une facture — a bill
- Un devis — an estimate
- Une fiche de paie — a pay slip
- Une évaluation — an evaluation
- Embaucher — to hire
- Licencier — to fire
To give you a better idea, here’s a sample conversation you might have with a friend:
Marie: Comment s’est passé ta journée au travail ?
(How was your day at work?)
Jean: Ça va. J’ai eu une réunion très importante avec un client.
(It was fine. I had a very important meeting today with a client.)
Marie: Ça s’est bien passé ?
(Did it go well?)
Jean: Oui… sauf que l’imprimante a cessé de fonctionner au moment où je voulais imprimer le devis !
(Yes… except that the printer stopped working just as I was going to print the estimate!)
Marie: Quel dommage ! Qu’est-ce que tu as fait ?
(Oh no! What did you do?)
Jean: Heureusement, notre informaticien est mon ami. Il a résolu le problème très rapidement, et j’ai signé le client !
(Luckily, our IT guy is my friend. He fixed the problem quickly, and I signed the client!)
Marie: Félicitations ! Il faut que l’on fête ça !
(Congratulations! We need to celebrate!)
Anglicisms for Talking About Jobs in French
Of course, some words may seem more familiar to you than others. With more and more businesses becoming “Americanized,” don’t be surprised if people drop anglicisms into the conversation.
Here are just a few common ones:
- Une conf call — a conference call
- Une meeting — a meeting
- L’open-space — the open space
- Une deadline — a deadline
- L’IT (pronounced lie-tee) — IT
Cultural note: While traditionally, French office environments are fairly formal, this is changing quite a bit (as you can see with the introduction of anglicisms!).
This is also evident in a change in language register: Whereas in the past, you would always refer to your boss as le patron (the boss) or le PDG (the president and general director), nowadays, you might call them le boss or le chef.
The same issue exists with the word “job.”
Here are just a few ways that you can say it:
- Un emploi (formal/standard)
- Un travail (standard)
- Un boulot (familiar)
Le boulot is even one part of a common French expression, métro-boulot-dodo (subway-work-sleep), usually used to reference the boring nature of the daily routine.
You’ll see the same issue of formality with regards to the tu/vous conundrum that plagues every French learner: In the past, it would have always been appropriate to use vous in a work setting, but more and more companies are using tu to put everyone on equal footing.
Talking About Office Culture in France
When you chat about your day at the office, there are, of course, a few things that are common to nearly everyone, no matter where in the world you work. But when you talk about office culture in France, there are a few things that may seem odd to workers from other countries.
La Pause Café
La pause café (coffee break) is a bit like American water cooler talk. It’s a chance to meet up with your colleagues and chat about le weekend (your weekend), les prochaines vacances (your upcoming vacation) or anything else you like.
La Pause Déj
The lunch break, referred to as la pause déjeuner (or la pause déj, for short) is a lengthy affair. Depending on where you work in France, you’ll have between an hour and two hours off for lunch!
Culturally speaking, it’s poorly seen to eat at your desk. Instead, most French employees will go out for a bite (paid for in part by tickets restaurants, or lunch vouchers sold at a fraction of the face value by the company). Other French companies will have une cantine, or a cafeteria where you can buy your lunch and enjoy it on-site.
One of the most important things to remember about working in France is bonjour (hello). Unlike in other office settings, where you’ll generally get right down to work as soon as you arrive, saying “hello” to your colleagues is seen as an important part of your day.
Don’t forget this all-important gesture, whether you’re working in France or, for that matter, just greeting a French conversation buddy.
Work is a big part of all of our lives, so it’s no wonder we need the tools to talk about it.
Use the terms in this guide to practice with your conversation partners, and soon, you’ll be chatting about work like a professional!