This blog focuses on a small niche in the language services market, namely the adaptation between French and English (and to some extent other language pairs) of technical journalism for clients who seek to influence a clearly definied readership. Typical projects include website localisation, press releases and technical articles designed to shape opinions rather than simply inform. My blog is also a repository for occasional items of interest to translators and linguists in general.
12 March 2013
Business à la française
In Business à la française, FT columnist Simon Kuper
reviews “Light at the End of the Tunnel: Practical Reflections on the French
and British in Business”, published by the French chamber of commerce in Great
Britain, describing it as “full of shrewd insights into both sides’ codes”.Simon Kuper then adds: My only question is
whether that’s much use. After 11 years in Paris, I reckon the main reason for
Franco-British incomprehension isn’t clashing codes. It’s different languages.
The guide’s insights into French business practices
• “Raising one’s voice or losing one’s temper may be seen
as a sign of leadership”
• The French “sometimes disagree for the sake of
discussion and to test conviction”
• They make “greater use of … body expression in
• Performance appraisals “start as a ‘one way’ process
subsequently evolving into an emotional dialogue”
• “Criticism can descend into personal observations”.
• French business people “will potentially view humour as
lack of seriousness”.
• Meanwhile, the French – like everyone else on earth –
are baffled when Britons say inscrutable things like, “I agree with you, up to
a point.” (Guide for foreigners: this means, “That’s insane!”) As a Dutchman I
know in a British company complains, it’s tiring being in a workplace where
nobody ever says what they mean.
• The greater Franco-British problem is language. Most
French business people under 50 can now speak Globish: the simplified, dull,
idiom-free version of English with a small vocabulary. It’s silly to expect
• It’s customary at this point to urge British schools to
start teaching French again. But that probably wouldn’t help. When dealing with
French people, only near-native French confers an advantage. Speaking mediocre
French is worse than useless. If mediocre French is all you have, it’s much
better to speak English, and force the French person to operate on your turf.
• Later ... just smile and say: “I agree with you, up to a