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Offering to pay a rush rate: A faux pas?

by Catherine Jan on June 14, 2012

I needed some repairs done in my home in France, and the workers I wanted to hire were not available until September.

Good help is hard to find ;)

So I studied the estimate again. It was for €300. After a couple of days, I called the company back.

I explained how genuinely urgent this job was and added,

Madame, can I pay you a surcharge for a rush job, and then can you send someone here within two weeks?

On ne fonctionne pas comme ça !

«On ne fonctionne pas comme ça ! »

She was A P P A L L E D .

« On ne fonctionne pas comme ça ! »

My translation:

That is not how we operate!

Paying a rush surcharge seemed perfectly normal to me

As a translator, I have occasionally given two different quotes for the same project: Price A for delivery on Tuesday and Price B for delivery on Friday.

So while the surcharge was natural to me, it seemed to have caused offence.

A French thing or a home repair thing?

In Canada and probably in the States, you can sometimes pay extra for government services when you have a special request. In North America, we can get personalized license plates for an extra fee, whereas in France, that would never work.

In Ontario, you can pay a 30 CAD surcharge to get your birth certificate in 2 days instead of 2 weeks. France would certainly turn up its nose at that.

Imagine someone butting in line just because they’re willing to pay a bit extra.


Do you think the woman in home repairs was in shock because

  1. she has never heard of charging a rush rate before?
  2. rush rates are undemocratic, unfair, elitist?
  3. she thought I was trying to bribe her into doing something unethical/corrupt/fraudulent?
  4. this is France?
  5. this is home repairs?
  6. other

Please advise.

And for a more practical post on rush rates, try Some thoughts on rush charges.




Zoe June 14, 2012 at 20:04

In addition to charging my own rush rates, I’ve definitely paid them for a variety of government services (thinking mainly of consular fees for visas and passport renewal). I’m not sure how to categorize them, but it really does seem like rush rates rarely apply outside the realm of government documents, translation, graphic design, etc. Something about suggesting the extra money, rather than agreeing to pay a published surcharge, could come across like offering a bribe. I know that’s not at all what you meant, but I can see how it might sound to her like, “If I padded your pockets a bit, couldn’t we speed this along and solve our problem?”

Catherine Jan June 14, 2012 at 21:29

Right, she could have thought I was going to send her cash! Meanwhile, I would have been happy to be billed extra for someone’s overtime.

Jill June 14, 2012 at 20:18

I think it’s probably because it is a home repair job. The good ones are always booked up solid. I wish I would have been able to pay a rush surcharge to get the garage roof on my uncle’s house fixed. It took the roofers three months to get it done (a one-day job, BTW) and by the time they did it we had so much moisture in there that the entire garage bloomed in mold. My brother-in-law had to go in there with a haz mat suit and spend two days applying mold remover solvents. A rush surcharge would have been awesome.

Catherine Jan June 14, 2012 at 20:40

3 months! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. They told me that this half-day job could be scheduled for September 7.

Frédéric Demers June 14, 2012 at 20:55

Hi Catherine

A most eye-opening experience, to say the least. While not every North American business offers a rush rate, I can’t imagine a business person being offended, or shocked at least, by such an idea. My feeling is therefore that this is largely, if not solely, culture-based, although I have very little in terms of empirical data to back this up.

Interestingly enough (to me), one of the very first advices I received from the professional translator who gave me my first chance was to have two sets of rates: one for ‘standard’ delivery and another one for ‘rush’ delivery. Otherwise, he said, those who don’t know better will come up to you with insane requests involving lengthy texts and very tight deadlines.

Catherine Jan June 14, 2012 at 21:22

Yes, it could be a cultural thing about not letting money buy you preferential treatment.

Look at President Hollande, who has been successfully branded as “normal”:

Nathalie FC June 14, 2012 at 23:38

Hi Catherine,
The way I see it, there’s a slight difference between our rush rate and theirs in the sense that we translators have a rush rate when we are supposed to work more hours than normal to keep up with the translation work. However, I think the woman was appalled because for her it was kind of a preferential treatment, maybe even a sort of bribe to get you high up on the waiting list.
With no doubt, there was an intercultural issue ;-)

Catherine Jan June 15, 2012 at 07:15

Thanks, Nathalie. It’s nice to get the point of view from someone who is from France (I think Frédéric is from Canada). I guess I’ll have to stop my bribing ways.

Herminia June 15, 2012 at 00:33


I was shocked on the offer too and I’m Spanish. I’m a translator too and I get the “rush fee” but I don’t really think it would have worked in Spain either. I mean, she told you they weren’t available till September so it probably made no point for her trying to pay them more to have someone sent to your place before because she already told you there was no way. So it might be Mediterranian culture? Or maybe European, no idea. My guess is she related paying them more to make them come before means work would be done faster and therefore badly, at least in Spain, that sometimes comes hand by hand.

(My French ex-boyfriend says it might be 2+3
“te pago un extra y te arreglas para que uno de tus trabajadores en algún momento venga a hacerme el apaño”
que en Francia está MUY mal visto jugar con los horarios laborales
(translated) she took it like “I pay you an extra and you fix one of your workers to come here and do the job” in France is really ill seen making people work more hours that they are supposed to, and they can report you by law if you do)

Catherine Jan June 15, 2012 at 07:18

Thank you, Herminia, for another European point of view. This has been a real learning experience.

JM June 15, 2012 at 09:46

Hmm, it happened to me, three years ago when I decided to have the kitchen floor tiled. The Man, recommended by several people as one of the best, became annoyed and even angry when I offered to pay more to have it done a bit sooner instead of in three months’ time: “Who do you take me for?” I was told that he keeps his promises and no one, but no one jumps the line…

Catherine Jan June 18, 2012 at 13:47

So I’m not the only one who has gotten an annoyed and angry response!

patricia June 15, 2012 at 09:50

I’m not surprised they don’t operate like that, but I guess the lady shouldn’t have to be that offended. Maybe she thought you were trying to bribe her.

My sister had a lot of renovations going on into her new home in Montreal. The team working on it had to finish as much as they could before the next gig. Afterwards, my sister would’ve had to look for somebody else, or wait until they were free again. My guess is it’s cultural (as the other commenters explained well) and it’s human. I know urgent fees do exist in the translation world, but I personally choose not to work overtime, as I know the result would be affected. I prefer working well and making less money than scrapping the translation for an extra buck. But that’s me.

(Just wanted to point out that in France, you don’t have to pay for your birth certificate. I learned that when I had to send mine to the Sécurité Sociale. I didn’t understand why they absolutely needed the original: are you SURE a copy won’t do? Oui, madame, il nous faut l’original. Quebec has 6 different prices (6!) ranging from $29 to $66 for a birth certificate, and 6 prices ranging from $36 to $66 for a copy of an act. So yeah, giving it away isn’t natural.)

Catherine Jan June 18, 2012 at 13:49

Wow, 6 different prices!

Aldana Michelino June 15, 2012 at 13:33

I guess the problem here was what Herminia suggested. It’s a question of cultural values, let’s say. I’m from Argentina and here it is perfectly normal to pay extra for getting special services. Here, many people work on weekends or on holidays (though it is not the most common thing, it’s getting increasingly frequent), and the employers must pay their employees a double fee for working on those days which they’re supposed to be resting. I would say it’s mostly an issue of culture. To me, it’s perfectly normal to charge extra for working faster or for more hours than usual.

Catherine Jan June 18, 2012 at 13:53

Happy to hear from a South American.

Richard June 15, 2012 at 14:51

“In Ontario, you can pay a 30 CAD surcharge to get your birth certificate in 2 days instead of 2 weeks. France would certainly turn up its nose at that.”

As would every other European country. Express rates just don’t exist for official government-issued documents. Only North America could come up with the inequitable concept of the wealthier jumping to the front of the queue of all taxpaying citizens dealings with the state – oh, and the highly corrupt countries of the third world.

Catherine Jan June 18, 2012 at 13:45

Good observation about express rates and government-issued documents. A friend in France said that if you have some kind of emergency and need a passport quickly, you plead your case with emotion and may get it done faster—with no extra charge.

Carnet de trad June 15, 2012 at 15:11

I agree with Nathalie, I think she thought you wanted some kind of preferential treatment, or that you was trying to bribe her.
I’ve been living in Montreal for over 3 years now and it’s not always easy to get used to a different culture!

Catherine Jan June 18, 2012 at 13:52

Thanks, Anne-Sophie. Looks like we’ve gone in opposite directions: You’re the European in North America, and vice versa for me.

Patricia Lane June 16, 2012 at 19:39

Oh how I empathize. I waited nearly 2 years for my wonderful carpenter when I redid the kitchen.

I don’t think your gal perceived your “rush rate offer” as a bribe. To me, a few things were going on, deeply rooted in perceptions of the other and in values:
- A rejection of behavior from Anglo-Saxons/North Americans that is perceived/received as striving to wield power to get one’s way (read for ex Charles Kogan – Oldest Allies, Guarded Friends — thesis : France has not forgiven the US for its help in WWII > a debt too large to pay back leads to dependence and resentment). Your “power” was offering to pay more and expecting a positive response (thus exercising control on the contractor – as translators, the situation is reversed, we ask for a surcharge).
- The conflict between the “time is money” value and the “relationships take precedence” value, classic in FR-US negotiations.
- A rejection of privilege and a particular view about money (no details needed, the election campaigns offer a plethora of examples)
- A professional ethic: most home renovation companies are very small, they are booked up long ahead of time and, as translators sometime face, they can’t squeeze a small project in without wreaking havoc on others (and relationships with those clients) – with or without a rush fee.

So what can you do? I’ve found showing you are distraught, at a loss, counting on them to solve the problem (ie, they get to play the hero instead of feeling like they’ve been bought), having no where else to turn or no one else you’d want to turn to can be more effective. Didn’t work with my carpenter for the kitchen (big job, and he was over booked with other big jobs), but it did when my hot water heater in Paris conked out a week before Christmas a few years ago. The management company pressured the guy; the time line was reduced from a month to two weeks. But by the time I got off the phone with him, he’d promised to come replace it in two days. And he did….

Catherine Jan June 18, 2012 at 14:23

Thanks Patricia for articulating so well why this culture clash took place.

I especially liked your point about the concept that “time is money” (versus the importance of relationships) and the rejection of privilege.

As for your point about power and WWII and resentment, that never occurred to me. That’s something I’ll have to think about—over several months.

Patricia Lane June 22, 2012 at 09:07

It hadn’t crossed my mind either, Catherine. During my doctoral research (in the last century!), I had the pleasure of listening to Cogan give a talk at the Fondation Charles de Gaulle on US-FR relations – past and present. That was a “lightbulb” moment. I quickly plunged into his book. A keeper.

Meg June 25, 2012 at 16:36

Interesting reaction! To me, it seems normal that if you want to have a product or service delivered faster, you can suggest a rush rate. Why not?

Astrid Noubissi August 1, 2012 at 21:31

Well, from cultural experience (I am French, born and raised and now I live in the US),
so I would say that it is a compound of 1/ 2/ and 3/
1/ because rush rate may be rare in most traditional service industries, also customers may not suggest rush rate on their own (additional rates could encourage a habit of bargaining, negotiating, which is not really appropriate)
2/ France is used to being a socialist society where privileges and best treatment are not ok…
3/ If a business accepts rush rates the business owner could be looked at as if he could treat customers better according to what they can afford… very unethical…
A last one, summers in France, every thing is slower, business are closed or work less hours in the summers… contrary to American/Candian societies where the 24h/7days standards are dominant…US/CA customers can expect a lot more than French customers…
just my 2 cents ;0)

Annabelle Vergne September 22, 2012 at 20:41

Thank you for sharing this, it’s an interesting view on the importance of cultural awareness in business practices. I am French and have been living in the US for 9 years, and definitely I’d think mostly her reaction must have been due to her believing you were trying, at best to get preferential treatment, or worse, to bribe her.

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