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 include:
• “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 confrontational situations”
• Performance appraisals “start as a ‘one way’ process subsequently evolving into an emotional dialogue”
• “Criticism can descend into personal observations”.

More quotes:
• 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 more.
• 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 point.”


1 comment:

  1. I'm struck by the advice, "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." It's true that the educated French speakers of France (but not of other Francophone countries) are fastidious and look down their noses at people who speak French poorly. They're much less tolerant than English speakers, who will laugh inwardly at English as spoken by the French but express appreciation of the effort that's being made.

    Mind you, there's a flip side to it. It's the importance the French give to 'la parole'. You just have to listen on TV to the discursive fluency of their politicians and even of their children. When my wife and I look at Canadian French programmes, we deplore the difference.

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