You would be forgiven for thinking that this little phrase in France – travail au noir – refers to what the French are forced to do whenever the power generation workers go on strike, but it is in fact the vernacular for – Travail dissimulé – or ‘dissimulated work’. Which basically means working illegally, usually for cash and paying no taxes.

Of course no one in France would admit to doing as much, but my personal experience is that just about everyone who can do it – does. Cleaners, handymen, teachers, painters, drivers, hairdressers – you name it, if you hand over cash they’ll give you an extra big smile – because the likelihood that they’re going to give any of it to the state, as they should, is a million to one.

There have been efforts made to eradicate the cash practices which are estimated to cost the country some 14 € bn in lost revenue.  For example, being able to offset 50% of all childcare related expenditure against tax is intended as a way to get families to insist on legitimate paperwork.  However, those childcare providers are likely to prefer taking home 50% less, but in cash, in order to avoid having the state take away a fat proportion of their meagre earnings, or indeed even be aware that they are working.

The fact is – the paperwork and social contribution burdens are so frightening to the average Frenchman that cash practices are unlikely to disappear any time soon, even with the arrival of the Auto-entrepreneur statute and cheques de travail systems that are designed to persuade people that it really isn’t that difficult to go legit.

The penalties for undeclared earnings are of course hefty – so anyone who is caught by a ‘control’ procedure runs the risk of prosecution – though this doesn’t seem to discourage many, as the benefits are believed to be worth the risk.

Which leads me to wonder some days whether I’m not just a wee bit too honest to become a true French businessman?