Exploring cultures, countries and comfort zones
french or foe?
Ah, the French. Love them
or hate them—they leave
few of us indifferent.
To me, they often seem
pompous, arrogant, irrational or just plain insufferable. And I’m French.
But, you see, with just a few magic
words, you can absolutely wrap them
around your little finger. For you—the
enlightened foreigner—they will bend
rules, go out of their way and roll out
the red carpet. It’s actually a misconception that the French hate foreigners—they actually adore them, if said
foreigners play their cards right. I’m not
kidding: When in France, I will often
put on an American accent just to get
that special treatment.
But why should you care, anyway?
Because, while the rest of the world
feels like it’s sinking into depression,
the French are either oblivious, too
arrogant to think the downturn will
hurt them, or both. France’s national
symbol is a rooster “because it crows
even when standing in merde.” Despite
and other delights of
French culture, the
country as a whole is
quite rapidly. In fact,
the French are enthusiastic about speaking,
coaching and (gasp) self-improvement.
A shock, I know. And because the government sets aside a major education
budget for companies, the French have
a minimum training budget that they
cannot spend any other way. Euros,
So, how do you go about it? First,
you don’t have to completely un-Americanize your topic or approach; in fact,
this may be one of your greatest selling points. Do, however, have someone
who knows the business culture very
well—and for whom French is a native
language—help you determine how to
best pitch it there.
Second, find local partners who
can introduce you. France is an affiliation culture, where relationships trump
bottom-line thinking. At the very least,
play up your clients they may have
Third, realize that though France
may be changing, education still trumps
all. Where you’ve studied matters
more than what you can do; educa-
tion means more than the bottom line.
So, if you have academic qualifications,
toot your own horn.
Last, but not least,
learn the following
magic words when-
ever you approach
Madame, j’ai un prob-
m’aider?” (Excuse me, sir/madam, I
have a problem. Would you help me? )
No matter how badly you mangle these
words, you will warm their heart, and
they will take you under their wing.
The French are
and (gasp) self-
Olivia Fox is an expert on the topics of charisma, influence and persuasion.
She has spoken at Harvard, Yale, MIT and the United Nations. Her client list
ranges from Citigroup Global Banking to Deloitte & Touche. With both French
and American nationalities, Fox has lived and worked in seven countries and is
fluent in four-and-a-half languages (her Mandarin stinks). She can be reached