French civil servant rapped over tell-all book

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A French civil servant who wrote a book portraying her colleagues as slackers who hold long meetings without ever coming to a decision risks being suspended from her job.

The 30-year-old woman, who goes by the pen name Zoe Shepard, has been dubbed the "Bridget Jones" of the French public service after she released "Absolument Debordee" (Absolutely Snowed Under) in March this year.

The subtitle of the book is "How to work 35 hours... in one month."

The writer worked for the Aquitaine regional authority in southwest France since 2007 after graduating from the well-known INET institute of regional administration.

In her book, she described how she managed to do in a few hours what her colleagues would do in a week and scoffed at the "magic words" she served up to the jury during the highly-selective interview process.

On Thursday, however a disciplinary committee of the Aquitaine regional council recommended that "Zoe Shepard" be suspended from her post for two years without pay.

"The words used were extremely offensive and they constitute an unprecedented lapse in terms of the duty to preserve confidentiality," said Bernard Boyer, the lawyer for the regional council.

The woman's lawyer, Delphine Krust, countered that her client had simply exercised "her right as a citizen to write a book that was intended to be satirical and caustic, unless of course, you have no sense of humour."

A final decision now rests with the regional council which has a month to rule on the suspension.

The writer told AFP that the book was a "cry of despair" after she realised that she "would never manage to do what I was hired to do" as an effective manager of regional affairs.

"One day, I was given a five-day assignment to change the font on a document. There were also the never-ending aimless meetings ... and the waste. That was really shocking," she said.

With more than five million employees, the civil service is by far the country's biggest employer and many young French aspire to a job as a state functionary.

Shepard recounted in her book that she was left disillusioned from day one on the job after spending eight years studying in many of France's best institutes.

She recounted that her boss had on the first day asked her to do a summary on the use of European Union funds by regional administrations and sounded apologetic when he insisted that it be ready in a week.

"You must be joking" she commented of the five-day deadline.

"An hour and half later, the printer was spitting out my notes and I was truly wondering how I landed here," she wrote.

"Now I know where I've touched down: It's an absurd world where people who do very little proclaim that they are 'snowed under' and where the 35-hour workweek should in fact be 35 hours in a month."

The daughter of a career civil servant, the writer told AFP that it was "the fact that you are not serving the public interest that mostly depressed me."

The book has sold some 10,000 copies over the past months.

© 2010 AFP

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