Will work for food, er, ticket resto

I’ve lived with a Googler.

So I know – just like the rest of us, as it’s not exactly a secret – that working at Google comes with a lot of free goodies: discounts on tons of services (ZipCar, AT&T internet, etc), that lovely SF-Mountain View charter bus service, on-campus lectures, dry cleaning, babysitting, you name it.

Oh, and of course, the food.

The best way to spot a Googler is by their fridge, since they never have anything in it (other than NakedJuice and the occasional Google take-out box).

But is everyone in Silicon Valley just working for food?

The NY Times published an article in December about the opening of Facebook’s fancy new kitchen – despite the recent Valley relapse on dining establishments – as a continuation of the 1950’s tradition started by HP to breed company loyalty and acquire talent. Thus working at a high-profile tech company comes with a fat paycheck, label and belly – the “Facebook 15″‘ is apparently what the kids are calling it.

Obviously, not every Silicon Valley company does this – even if they can afford to (the NYT article points fingers @ Lucasfilm, Autodesk, Apple and Cisco, in particular).

Now, in France “company loyalty” isn’t exactly synonymous with “food”.

There are maybe a million theories, articles and books on why the French are thin and the Americans are fat. Well – and by all means correct me if I am wrong – but maybe this has something to do with it.  The French may enjoy their food but I don’t exactly see French companies having in-house fancy foie gras competitions. But maybe do-no-evil Google will change that.

Vive le Ticket Resto?

In France, the absence of a (less grandiose) cafeteria means the Ticket Restaurant system, which is like a meal coupon provided by French employers that is only valid for the purchase of food (ideally prepared food or restaurant food). The employer pays a portion of the “Ticket Resto” (usually a minimum of 50%) and the employee pays the other portion. Ticket amounts usually venture around €10.

Why not just opt out for cash?

The Ticket Resto is not exactly man’s best friend. While many restaurants and grocery stores accept them, not every place will reimburse you if you don’t spend the full amount of your ticket. A lot of restaurants will also put a cap on the total number of tickets you can use to pay (2 in most cases), to keep customers from saving them up only to penny pinch on a fancy meal. But if you prefer to opt out for cash, tough luck.

Then again, Ticket Resto money is fortunately exempt from all taxes. The idea behind this is that food money should be non taxable. That equals happy employer and happy employee. Plus no receipts for TurboTax.

Ticket Resto’s website also provides a simulation on how much employers and employees save with different schemes and different numbers of employees. Here’s the link in French.  

No,”Ticket restaurant” is not French for “disloyal employee”.

People are always bitching about the downsides of the French labor laws, as if every entrepreneur was only out to fire the people s/he hired. Now, this may sound outrageous but the majority of French employees are probably keepers (valid you have some kind of recruitment process in place). Thus, no local companies are competing on who can dish-out more to run a Benihanas and an A-list tech company simultaneously, just to keep their top French engineers from going to work down the street.

So, is Mark Zuckerberg making you fat?

Maybe. He may be serving you organic chicken on recycled plates but that doesn’t mean Michael Pollan doesn’t have anything to say about this. Although Pollan was an invited speaker at the Google campus so maybe he is picking his battles.

And if he’s not making you fat, he might be making you lazy. After all, too much of a good thing may very well put our beloved Facebookers into a post-déjeuner food coma. Loyalty at the cost of efficiency?

PS: In France, people on the street beg for cash, cigarettes – and ticket restos.

As they’re only valid for food (no alcohol), you don’t need to think twice before helping someone out.

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A Letter to Silicon Valley

Dear Silicon Valley,

I’m writing you this letter because I too believe that you are a magical land of business opportunity that is different from the rest. But that doesn’t mean you’re perfect. I’m sure that you think the French are always striking, that they only work 12 hours a week and that they’re on vacation 40% of the year. Still, while you may not exactly understand their un-workaholic ways, please consider stealing the following French business ideas – as they appear to be doing quite well.

Love always,

TechBaguette

1. SOS Medecins. Remember Michael Moore’s Sicko? He may’ve portrayed France as a bit of a Utopia but SOS Medecins is kind of a dream come true for anyone who is a proud survivor of the American medical system. Take my word for it – they’ll send a doctor to your house within 20 minutes of your call, even on a Saturday night. For anyone without insurance, the most the visit will cost is €80, including all medical tests. What’s not to like about that? Combine this with some kind of midnight prescription delivery service and I think you’ve got a winner (think Webvan.com-goes-medical).

2. Trams, metros, TGVs. I know the cable car is pretty and quite frankly, I’m not suggesting that it go. But we can all admit that it’s not the fastest and most practical means of transporation the city has to offer. The BART isn’t exactly any better and the Caltrain makes me cry; San Francisco to Palo Alto in 40 minutes and we call that a “bullet train”? And don’t get me started on the 18th-Century ticketing system you’ve got going on. I can pay my parking tickets online but not my train or bus pass renewals? Oh – and let’s not forget that these tickets you have to offer are all made of paper. Yikes. Lucky for you, I’m going to ignore Vélib (the bike rental system) since San Francisco has a few more hills than Paris – but I’m pretty sure Google has a similar system on their campus in Mountain View.

3. Freebox. Translation: Internet, a fixed telephone line and TV all for €30/month. An amazing deal regardless of the USD-EUR exchange rate. Wait, isn’t that about the same price as Peek?