Artisans sweat for France's "Best Worker" prize

Wed May 7, 2014 10:24am EDT
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By Alexandria Sage

PARIS (Reuters) - In a country known for a statutory 35-hour work week and a generous work-life balance, the "Best Worker of France" contest may seem an anomaly.

But for the nearly 3,000 French hopefuls currently competing for the prestigious prize bestowed every four years, the coveted medal with its tricolor ribbon is a symbol of artisanal excellence, creativity and typically Gallic professional pride.

Bakers, chefs, glass-blowers, welders, landscape artists, lingerie makers, even designers of dental prostheses and dog groomers can become "One of the Best Workers of France," a professional diploma now in its 90th year.

Qualifying tests began late in 2013 and continue in coming months, with a new batch of "Best Workers" to be honored next February out of an original pool of 2,689 candidates.

On Tuesday, 473 hopefuls in the gastronomy category - whose president is acclaimed chef Alain Ducasse - gathered at catering schools in Paris for a written exam and practical test. Such are the sensitivities about winning and losing that organizers asked that all contestants remain anonymous in the competition phase.

"I've dreamed about this for a long time," said a restaurant owner from eastern France's Haute Savoie region on his third try for the award. "I'm doing it for my own personal satisfaction."

Organizers and former winners say the prize rewards years of hard work, sacrifice, and a rejection of the more relaxed work ethic that has grown in France throughout the 20th century and culminated in 2000's law enshrining a 35-hour work week.

"It requires a big personal investment. You don't get to be "Best Worker of France" in kicking back, that's for sure," said Alain Bariller, secretary general of the competition.   Continued...

An employee works on an accordion at the Maugein factory in Tulle, in the Correze region central France, March 22, 2014.  REUTERS/Regis Duvignau