There are plenty of misconceptions about France’s infamous 35-hour workweek, which perhaps go uncorrected because they limit opportunities to make jokes about the French. As one French economist explained in 2014, the 35-hour standard isn't the law of the land, but “simply a threshold above which overtime or rest days start to kick in.”
For example, France’s white-collar employees typically work far above and well beyond that threshold and, unlike their masochistic American compatriots, they are compensated for it. Meanwhile, those workers whose hours are capped at 35, including many blue-collar workers, only constitute about one-third of the French workforce.
Nevertheless, the symbolic value of the work-life balance in France still has its passionate defenders. Tens of thousands of demonstrators in Paris and across the country protested Wednesday against a bill by the ruling Socialist Party that would alter the country’s labor laws, including the 35-hour arrangement that the Socialists themselves first introduced in 2000. At the time, the measure happened to result in a major drop in unemployment as jobs were shared more evenly. However, many credit that to an expanding French economy.