If we explore French culture through the lens of the 6-D Model©, we can get a good overview of the deep drivers of France’s culture relative to other world cultures.
This dimension deals with the fact that all individuals in societies are not equal – it expresses the attitude of the culture towards these inequalities amongst us. Power Distance is defined as the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.
With a score of 68, France scores fairly high on Power Distance. Children are raised to be emotionally dependent, to a degree, on their parents. This dependency will be transferred to teachers and later on to superiors. It is, therefore, a society in which a fair degree of inequality is accepted. Power is not only centralised in companies and government, but also geographically. Just look at the road grid in France; most highways lead to Paris.
Many comparative studies have shown that French companies have normally one or two hierarchical levels more than comparable companies in Germany and the UK. Superiors have privileges and are often inaccessible. CEO’s of big companies are called Mr. PDG, which is a more prestigious abbreviation than CEO, meaning President Director General. These PDGs have frequently attended the most prestigious universities called “grandes écoles”, big schools.
The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members. It has to do with whether people´s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “We”. In Individualist societies people are supposed to look after themselves and their direct family only. In Collectivist societies people belong to ‘in groups’ that take care of them in exchange for loyalty.
France, with a score of 71, is shown to be an individualist society. Parents make their children emotionally independent with regard to groups in which they belong. This means that one is only supposed to take care of oneself and one’s family.
The French combination of a high score on Power Distance and a high score on Individualism is rather unique. We only find the same combination in Belgium and, to some degree, in Spain and northern Italy.
This combination is not only unique, but it also creates a contradiction, so to speak. Only so to speak, because scores in the model don’t influence anything. They just give a structured reflection of reality. This combination manifests itself in France in the following ways:
It is claimed that one reason why the French are less obese than people in other EU-countries is that parents still have more sway over children than in other EU-countries. Whether this is true or not is not known by us. All the same, what is true is that the family has still more emotional glue than in other Individualist cultures. This is a reflection of the high score on Power Distance with its stronger respect for the elderly. Subordinates normally pay formal respect and show deference to their boss, but behind his/her back they may do the opposite of what they promised to do, as they may think that they know better, yet are not able to express so. Another reflection of high Power Distance contrary to formal obedience is the total rejection of those in power as there is no way to change by evolution but only by strikes, revolts and revolution. Employers and trade unions don’t really talk together as they look at each other as almost belonging to a separate species. The need to make a strong distinction between work and private life is even stronger in France than in the US, despite the fact that the US scores higher on Individualism. This is a reflection of the fact that employees more quickly feel put under pressure than in the US because of their emotional dependence on what the boss says and does. In cultures which score high on Power Distance and Collectivism, the “normal” combination, such dependence is welcomed. At least, if the power holders act as benevolent fathers. The French prefer to be dependent on the central government, an impersonal power centre which cannot so easily invade their private life. What is human, but more pronounced in France, is the need for strong leadership in times of crisis. In spite of that, when the crisis is resolved the president should make space for much weaker leadership. Many French have the need to become a “patron”, whether as mayor of a small village or as the chairman of the bridge club. Customer service is poor in the eyes of all those Anglo-Saxons who believe that the customer is king. Not so in France. The French are self-motivated to be the best in their trade. They, therefore, expect respect for what they do, after which they are very much willing to serve you well.
A high score (Masculine) on this dimension indicates that the society will be driven by competition, achievement and success, with success being defined by the winner / best in field – a value system that starts in school and continues throughout organisational life.
A low score (Feminine) on the dimension means that the dominant values in society are caring for others and quality of life. A Feminine society is one where quality of life is the sign of success and standing out from the crowd is not admirable. The fundamental issue here is what motivates people, wanting to be the best (Masculine) or liking what you do (Feminine).
With a score of 43, France has a somewhat Feminine culture. At face value this may be indicated by its famous welfare system (securité sociale), the 35-hour working week, five weeks of holidays per year and its focus on the quality of life. French culture in terms of the model has, however, another unique characteristic. The upper class scores Feminine while the working class scores Masculine. This characteristic has not been found in any other country. This difference may be reflected by the following:
Top managers earn on average less than one would expect given the high score on Power Distance. Married couples of high society could go public with a lover without negative consequences, at least certainly in the past. The scandal in the US about Clinton and Lewinsky has never been understood in France. In addition, “crime passionel”, i.e. crimes of passion, have always been sentenced very leniently in comparison to other murder trials.
This dimension, Uncertainty Avoidance, has to do with the way that a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? This ambiguity brings anxiety with it, and different cultures have learnt to deal with this anxiety in different ways. The extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these is reflected in the score on Uncertainty Avoidance.
At 86, French culture scores high on Uncertainty Avoidance. This is clearly evident in the following:
The French don’t like surprises. Structure and planning are required. Before meetings and negotiations they like to receive all necessary information. As a consequence, the French are good in developing complex technologies and systems in a stable environment, such as in the case of nuclear power plants, rapid trains and the aviation industry. There is also a need for emotional safety valves as a high score on Uncertainty Avoidance and the combination of high Power Distance and high Individualism strengthen each other, so to speak. The French, for example, are very talkative and “engueuler”, giving someone the sharp edge of one’s tongue happens often. There is a strong need for laws, rules and regulations to structure life. This, however, doesn’t mean that most Frenchmen will try to follow all these rules, the same as in other Latin countries. Given the high score on Power Distance, which means that power holders have privileges, power holders don’t necessarily feel obliged to follow all those rules which are meant to control the people in the street. At the same time, commonners try to relate to power holders so that they can also claim the exception to the rule.
Long Term Orientation
This dimension describes how every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and future, and societies prioritise these two existential goals differently. Normative societies. which score low on this dimension, for example, prefer to maintain time-honoured traditions and norms while viewing societal change with suspicion. Those with a culture which scores high, on the other hand, take a more pragmatic approach: they encourage thrift and efforts in modern education as a way to prepare for the future.
France scores high (63) in this dimension, making it pragmatic. In societies with a pragmatic orientation, people believe that truth depends very much on situation, context and time. They show an ability to adapt traditions easily to changed conditions, a strong propensity to save and invest, thriftiness, and perseverance in achieving results.
One challenge that confronts humanity, now and in the past, is the degree to which small children are socialised. Without socialisation we do not become “human”. This dimension is defined as the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses, based on the way they were raised. A tendency toward a relatively weak control over their impulses is called “Indulgence”, whereas a relatively strong control over their urges is called “Restraint”. Cultures can be described as Indulgent or Restrained.
France scores somewhat in the middle (48) where it concerns Indulgence versus Restraint. This, in combination with a high score on Uncertainty Avoidance, implies that the French are less relaxed and enjoy life less often than is commonly assumed. Indeed, France scores not all that high on the happiness indices.