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Posted November 15, 2002
What a self-serving pack of lies this is. I'm always incensed by so much misinformation presented as unbiased fact. The authors claim to provide "an understanding of hidden and often unconscious cultural patterns." Within that lofty sounding agenda, the old stereotypes I've read countless times before get trotted out one more time in the guise of providing a useful intro to the French: rude, arrogant, unfriendly, smell bad, move slowly and are lazy, is either implicit or explicit throughout this book. If you said such things about blacks or women you'd be called racist or chauvinist. You certainly wouldn't get published. Speaking about the French, however, it seems anything goes -- as long as you have dubious statistics to back it up: "Researchers found that the French are the most resistant to deodorant -- only half of those surveyed use it". An edifying fact you can find by simply looking up "cleanliness -- personal" in the index. Even for these tunnel-vision authors, stereotypes are hard to maintain. While at one point in the book they critique the French for being too logical and reasonable -- Descartes don't you know (YAWN!) -- in another they caution American managers about French emotionality in business. Well, which is it? Rational or emotional? And everywhere there is either a thinly veiled pat on the back for an American way of being or, at one shocking point, downright cruelty toward the French. Try this handy tip to further your business relations: They counsel Americans to begin by speaking French with a French business person not out of deference for the fact that you are in their country, but to protect yourself from those vindictive French. "Avoiding the appearance of arrogance will forestall the French from striking back by speaking extremely rapid and slangy French just to make your life miserable. And, yes, there are French people who enjoy doing just that." So the American is absolved from actually being arrogant by expecting a foreigner to speak his or her language, while the French are condemned for speaking French the way they actually speak it. Rapid and slangy is the way most people speak their native tongue -- don't you? Why should a French person be expected to dumb things down to accommodate someone who doesn't have the courtesy or decency to meet them at least part of the way? It reminds me of the jogging suit-clad American woman on the Ile St. Louis in Paris last summer, who within earshot of a vast assembly of locals and tourists gathered at an outdoor cafe, loudly lambasted a couple of ice cream street vendors for not knowing the English word for vanilla, which is vanille in French, and pronounced "vanee". The woman couldn't have looked that up in a French phrase book? Can you imagine any French person going to New York city and verbally abusing a New Yorker for not knowing the French equivalent of something? Now who's arrogant? Read this book at your peril. Anything you find here will be misleading at best, deliberately self-serving at its worst. Clearly the authors wrote this book hoping to jack up their consulting practice by making Americans feel like they're okay, no matter how inappropriately they behave internationally. To hear the authors tell it, the French don't do much of anything right, either in their business or private lives, including spending lots of time with their families or raising and schooling their kids. Impartiality indeed! If the authors truly see this as a way of furthering business relations between the two countries, and you believe them, I fear not only for the future of your business but for your immortal soul. Was Sartre alluding to his encounter with these kinds of unbiased consultants when he wrote, "Hell is other people"? Sherwood Fleming (Lyon, France)
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Posted April 27, 2012
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