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Cleaning Up After the Bureaucracy

A French web entrepreneur is no longer limited to powerful computers. Think washing machines.

February 4, 2000

A French web entrepreneur is no longer limited to powerful computers. Think washing machines.

Americans tend to forget that the word "entrepreneur" — a very sexy term in these boom times — is of French origin. But most Americans would readily guess that the word "bureaucracy" has French roots. Nevertheless, it is just more evidence of the dialectic nature of the French soul, which oscillates between l'entrepreneur and la bureaucracie, that these words come from the French.

These days, however, one would expect the French to be working hard to play up their entrepreneurial side to attract much-needed foreign capital. And yet, as if to encourage the stereotype of meddlesome French bureaucracy, the government has put into effect a law that requires firms with 20 or more employees to limit their workers to just 35 hours a week on the job.

Not wanting to bear the burden of ever more regulation, one Paris-based business owner showed true entrepreneurial flair in getting around the new law. His web design firm already faced a shortage of qualified programming talent, and the imposition of a shorter workweek would only worsen matters.

But since most of his employees are still in their early and mid-twenties, many of them live in tiny efficiency apartments in the city. These apartments offer few or no amenities, and their occupants almost always have to trudge out to a laundromat to clean their clothes. To harness this time his employees were squandering, the entrepreneur had a bank of washing machines and dryers installed in one of the companies vacant offices.

Now, his employees can come in on Saturdays and, if need be, even Sundays — officially to do their laundry. Laundry being such a boring chore, however, there is nothing to stop them from starting in on their programming projects — you know, just to lessen to tedium.