“Staying late at the office” is one of those context sensitive phrases. First of all, it depends what the accepted hour for late is. Do you base lateness on the official working hours – which incidentally you should be able to find as they ought to be displayed somewhere in the office? Do you base lateness on the median hour of departure of your colleagues? Or are you on flexi-time, where such calculations take into account the number of hours you have spent in the office since you arrived?
According to Executive Planet, the American eye view of culture in France is that managers often stay late, until 7pm or later. I can confirm this is the case. Where I get burned is that I’m often the first manager in the office, and hence staying until 6pm is already late according to some of the calculation possibilities cited above. As the arrival of the baby approaches, I am being more and more reasonable about the time I spend after official hours (9am-6pm) at the office because I know I put the hours in. At least I’m not in a position where I’m staying in the office 24 hours a day. It does happen, and there are even people offering tips for you if you have no home to go to, or if you decide this is the only way that you’re going to get all that work done!
The rather more interesting point about “staying late at the office” is that it evokes, as I imagine was the case for you, a darker side of passion and cheating. Let that phrase play out in your subconscious. Might you need to confess such treacherous adventures? Even if they were only in your mind, and never physically consummated?
Forget French office culture, or watching the clock and counting that theoretical overtime that you’ll never get paid for. Maybe we should stop and think about euphemisms a little bit more. For indeed, as the article linked rightly states, we are no longer “fired” but “laid off”; we have “collateral damage” instead of “civilian casualties”. Governments now have “public relations” departments. From the same linked article the conclusion about the state of disbelief between many a public and their government :
…fostering good relations with the public appears to require telling it unpleasant truths in ways that appear to satisfy its need to know. Yes, this is very much like a dysfunctional marriage where nobody wants to admit that “staying late at the office” is actually a euphemism for “getting it on with the secretary”.