Le travail c’est la santé

Henri-Salvador-Le-Travail-C-est-La-SanteIt occurred to me the other day that I will probably never retire. Quoi!? I can hear the cries of outrage echoing across France.

The French have a love-hate relationship with work. They spend a good part of their adult lives seeking it, and once they get it, spend the rest of their careers plotting how to retire early. They work very intensely for short bursts, then take long holidays to recover. What saves them is knowing it will all be done and dusted at 62.

Retirement with full benefits is a hard-earned right in France. I won’t go into how the system works here – c’est compliqué. Suffice it to say that like most pension plans, the whole thing will go bust unless the French agree to raise the retirement age. It’s been all over the news lately as the unions negotiate with the powers-that-be over incentives to get people to work for more years.

As I began working in France late in the game, I will likely never qualify for much of a pension. I am trying to max my retirement savings but, realistically, I am destined to become one of those very, very senior consultants.

And guess what? I’m fine with that. I happen to believe that work keeps you happy and healthy. It’s all about doing what you enjoy and getting that work-life balance thing right.

Working as a freelance writer has its ups and downs but at least it is not a physically challenging job like window washer, or as mind-numbingly boring as bean counter. Hopefully it will enable me to stay gainfully self-employed until they roll me away from my computer, hunched and decrepit as I hunt and peck for the keys with fading eyesight.

I had to put my writing career on hold when first we moved here. Back in those pre-social media days, there just wasn’t the demand in provincial France for English copywriting. Over the years I worked at different jobs: teaching English (which I loathed), as an independent translator (which helped my French enormously), translator-speaker at Euronews (I got to use my dulcet voice), executive assistant in the corporate world (I lied and said I’d be happy to serve coffee in between translating emails). Eventually I worked my way back into communications and am now happily building my freelance writing business.

Throughout my career, I’ve jumped back and forth between full-time and freelance work styles. There are benefits to both but at this stage of my life, the advantages of being able to work from home most days outweigh the attraction of daily interactions with a team and a month of paid vacation.

Henri Salvador figured out the secret of youth early in his career. Oddly enough, the bossa nova crooner came to fame in France with this silly song, a far cry from the relaxed, sensual tones of his later recordings.

Contrary to the song’s title, the lyrics parody those who work hard, and advocate a life of leisure activities like pétanque. Here they are if you’re interested:

Le travail c’est la santé
Rien faire c’est la conserver
Les prisonniers du boulot
N’font pas de vieux os.

Ces gens qui cour’nt au grand galop
En auto, métro ou vélo
Vont-ils voir un film rigolo ?
Mais non, ils vont à leur boulot

Le travail c’est la santé
Rien faire c’est la conserver
Les prisonniers du boulot
N’font pas de vieux os.

Ils boss’nt onze mois pour les vacances
Et sont crevés quand elles commencent
Un mois plus tard, ils sont costauds
Mais faut reprendre le boulot

Dire qu’il y a des gens en pagaille
Qui courent sans cesse après le travail
Moi le travail me court après
Il n’est pas près de m’rattraper.

Maint’nant dans le plus p’tit village
Les gens travaillent comme des sauvages
Pour se payer tout le confort
Quand ils l’ont, eh bien, ils sont morts.

Homm’s d’affaires et meneurs de foule
Travaill’nt à en perdre la boule
Et meur’nt d’une maladie d’cœur
C’est très rare chez les pétanqueurs !

How do you feel about retirement? Do you work to live or live to work?


  1. Multifarious meanderings · October 29, 2015

    I read this most with my head nodding vigorously – we appear to have followed a similar career path in France, although I didn’t get the exciting bits using my dulcet tones, and wasn’t an executive anything.
    It looks like my pension will be minimal or non-existant. Unless I become a blockbuster author between now and retirement, I’ll be working until my glasses are so thick that I keel over and knock myself out on the keyboard. Such is life 🙂
    I love that song, by the way – thanks for the morning jiggle in my kitchen!

    • Multifarious meanderings · October 29, 2015

      Post. not Most. Copyeditor without enough coffee in her system, check….

      • MELewis · October 29, 2015

        Ha, ha…perhaps am I the postess with the mostess? 😉
        As for careers, and retirement – small steps, eh? There may be a blockbuster in the stars. And in the meantime, glad the song made you jiggle!

  2. memoirsofahusk · October 29, 2015

    I’m too depressed to respond. Abandoned a successful business career. 15 years building a small academic journal that made little money but would be sold and pay at least something towards a non-retired (writing) retirement… oh wait, open access becomes the thing in UK academe and my subscriber base is worthless. So it’s blockbuster millions … with you on that Multifarious Meanderings! Maybe we’ll wish upon two lucky stars!

    • MELewis · October 29, 2015

      Oh dear, hindsight is 20-20 as they say. Maybe there’s a way to monetize that subscriber base differently? If not, blockbuster it is. Here’s to 3 lucky stars! 🙂

  3. poshbirdy · October 29, 2015

    Great post once again. I will move on from the job I am doing now, but we will definitely need to find an income and an interest. I see retirement (if achieved early enough) as an opportunity to learn new skills and I don’t really mind being a bit ‘skint’ as long as I have enough to live on

    • MELewis · October 29, 2015

      Glad it spoke to you! Only hitch is ‘enough to live on’ seems to increase as we grow older. I don’t want to be a slave to success but I can’t live without certain, ahem, essentials like decent food and drink, holidays in the sun…. 😉

  4. George Lewis · October 29, 2015

    Balance is the key ,but difficult to find.Also ,watch out for inflation , it can hurt if you live long enough .

    • MELewis · October 29, 2015

      I get that – other than age, the numbers never seem to work in my favour!

  5. cheergerm · October 30, 2015

    Don’t worry, you will still be able to write and type when you hit ‘super old status’ as they will have embedded wireless chips in our heads that link directly to our computers. 😉

    • MELewis · October 30, 2015

      Hmmm…thought transfer? Not sure the world will be ready for the inner workings of this old brain. Nice thought though!

  6. davidprosser · October 30, 2015

    I did live to work until illness brought on an early retirement. Don’t know why I didn’t think of it years ago. It’s brilliant having the time to do the things you enjoy and go to the places you love without having to think about booking times off.There are always activities to keep you busy if that’s what you need.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • MELewis · October 30, 2015

      David, youu are the hardest working retired person I’ve encountered! Sorry it had to be imposed by health problems but the silver lining seems to be that you make the most of it – and share with others along the way. May your retirement be long and prosperous!

  7. coteetcampagne · October 30, 2015

    Good topic and very relevant to us right now.

    Will post shortly re Trev’s position- but mine is that I have to decide whether to continue to work the way I do now, which I could technically manage to do from France, to modify what I do to make it more “on-line” or to change directions entirely.
    I don’t have the luxury of the retirement option.

    What I would really like to do is live between France & UK, paint ( both pictures and furniture) write my blog, rescue beautiful old things and work on our house. If any of those made a decent living, I would consider myself blessed

    • MELewis · October 30, 2015

      Tough call. I understand your frustration – you should pursue your dreams and do what you love but we all have to make a living. One thing’s sure: you know what you really want. That is a huge advantage compared for many people who only know they’re vaguely unhappy in life. Perhaps you can find gainful employment while still finding time to paint and work on your house? Here’s hoping! xo

      • coteetcampagne · October 30, 2015

        Probably a case of doing what I do now but part time. Unless of course I become famous blogger.
        Other alternative is trading Trev for sugar daddy, but at my advanced age he would have to be at least an octogenarian

  8. A year in Périgord · October 30, 2015

    I work to live, definitely.

    That said, like you, as I work in communications and then insist on communicating with people in my free time, the lines between work and pleasure can be blurred sometimes…

    • MELewis · October 30, 2015

      So true! I write for a living, blog as a hobby and when I get any spare moments, work on my real writing projects! 😉 Glad to find a fellow addict.

  9. Osyth · October 31, 2015

    Our patissiere, Martine is hugely concerned that my husband does not understand that he MUST retire now (he is 62). She regularly lectures me and waves bits of paper to back her argument. He is deaf. So am I!

    • MELewis · October 31, 2015

      Thankfully they haven’t passed a law in France to make it illegal to work after the official age. You and your husband keep turning that deaf ear – life is too short!

  10. Food,Photography & France · November 1, 2015

    I’m very much with Henri…luckily for me, my career had very little to do with work as it’s what I love doing….and will continue to do until the end, having successfully avoided working all my life…except for the odd bit of concrete mixing 🙂

    • MELewis · November 1, 2015

      The line blurs between work and play when you do what you love. As for concrete mixing, I’ll leave that to the experts, merci!

  11. Kat · November 3, 2015

    I work to live, I guess. I’m 39 and starting to feel a little scared at the thought of working in the corporate world till 60 which is the retirement age in Malaysia. I’m coming at a crossroad (this is probably the 2nd crossroad in 3 years!) and trying to get a sense of what I really want to do for the next 20 years…

    • MELewis · November 3, 2015

      Sounds like you’re ahead of the game, Kat, if you’re already thinking in terms of the next 20 years. Good for you, and hope the next crossroads leads to a satisfying work-life decision!

  12. Chez @ Chez Moi · December 7, 2015

    I love how you describe the French love-hate relationship with work – I feel like I am looking in the mirror! Perhaps it’s not only my name that is continental! Having said that though, I am currently dabbling in a little consultancy on the side of my regular job. Who knows where it will go, but maybe, just maybe I can make a new career out of it.

  13. Pingback: Au boulot! – FranceSays

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