Archive for October, 2011

You Lost! (No Apologies Necessary)

9 October 2011 Leave a comment

The other day I was buying my frozen foods at the local Picard.  This store is a true gem of French commerce.  They specialize in nothing but frozen foods.  See my previous post How Painful It Is to Shop on what it is really all about.  At first I was very skeptical about this place due to my American roots.  I always felt that frozen foods in the American supermarket were literally . . . crap.  They were routinely tasteless and unsatisfying.  So my shopping habits never really included the frozen aisle except maybe for some ice cream.  In France, such is not the case.  My colleagues at work encouraged me to check my local Picard stating that they even use their products to serve to house guests – its that good.

My point on this blog is not to be an advertisement but to share my recent experience at the Picard.  Like many French stores, they are trying out American marketing gimmicks to get you to come back.  Right now Picard is having a promotion that if you buy something you get a free scratch-off ticket to win a prize.  La di da.  We all know the routine.  You take the card home and then scratch it off with a coin hoping you get a cute little prize making you feel good.  As if the store is soooooo nice for giving the gift that you will come back and be a faithful customer.  Well maybe the phrase consumer addict might be more appropriate.  In any case, I returned home and put my new purchases in the freezer.  Immediately I got out a coin and began scratching feverishly at the card to acknowledge my cadeaux (gift).  In big letters, one word stared at me.  Perdu! (Lost!) For a second I thought the words were actually laughing at me to rub in the fact I lost.  I thought “Well I am never going back there again.” What a let down after trying to develop a relationship with a frozen Chinese dinner.  Then I snapped out of my entrapment.  Why am I being so sensitive?  It is just a marketing gimmick.  It was also an American in Paris moment.  I don’t have French skin.  The same gimmick in the States would have said Please try again!  Words of encouragement.  Words that wouldn’t be deemed as offensive or inconsiderate.  Even though the French know how to be formal their constant pleases and thank yous, they are definitely more honest and direct.  In the States we care more about niceties and how one feels then accepting a reality.  I lost.  I can’t change that reality.  Accept it.

Did This Man Win or Lose?

Did This Man Win or Lose?

Another variation of this dichotomy is new employee orientation at work.  I read that French companies don’t have them (or a very small one).  At Amadeus we didn’t really have a formal orientation except a few hours with our Human Resources representative.  She covered the basics about our work contract, pay cycles and insurance.  We didn’t get anything in reference to dress code or even who is Amadeus?  The attitude is that we are adults and you are smart enough to figure things out.  The French are not about hand-holding.  They feel it would be rude to treat you like a baby and show you every little thing about the company.  You want to know something?  Then ask a question – the right question.

I reflect back on the new employee orientation at my previous job in Philadelphia.  We actually hired a consultant from . . . you guessed it . . . Walt Disney to redo our orientation.  He came up with a fun-filled, feel-good, one-day session.  There were games, videos and lots of animation in the PowerPoint slides.  Even a group picture taken at the end of the day.  A true sensory experience whose goal is to make sure you came out with a smile.  After having worked in a European setting for well over a year, I can tell that my current colleagues would not have made through lunch.  They would have left to go look for another job.  Why?  Their reaction more than likely would have been “Don’t treat me like a child, just tell me what I need to know.”  In other words, let’s not sugar-coat reality.

This difference in approaching reality even starts out young in schools.  French parents get nervous when their children’s backpacks are lighter than the weight of the kid.  Homework and more homework is their mantra.  American parents won’t hesitate to go to the teacher to tell them they are assigning too much homework.  I read a brilliant metaphor between French parents and American parents when they drop off their kids at school.  The American parent will say ‘have fun!‘ whereas the French parent will say ‘work hard.

I am not the only one who has observed this difference.  My good friend Clara has pointed out similar examples in her blog Pardon My French!  (sorry, it is mostly in French)  She witnessed during her brief time in the States how kids at an award ceremony all received something (no one was loosing) and the American obsession with the superlative in describing everything.  [How many times have you walked out of movie theater and the first thing said is “Wasn’t that a great movie?” instead just acknowledging that it was just an okay movie?  Think about it.]

Even in the banal responses among friends you catch the subtleties.  You invite your American friends to a drink after work and not too common you hear “sounds great!  let’s do it!”  Then you turn to your French friends and receive a straight forward “pourquoi pas?” (why not?)  Notice the usage of the negative in the French response.

So where do I fit in? For those of you who know me well, this post may show my slight advantage.  My ex-colleagues told me more than once that there were unsatisfying moments in our professional relationship.  A major change would occur in one of our work projects and they would come and tell me.  I would listen and then simply say “okay“.  My colleagues were disappointed because they wanted an emotional reaction to the change.  They wanted a “That’s ridiculous!” or a “That’s awesome!” or a “No way, that is so much more work!“.    Another example was when I answered the phone.  If it was a close colleague identified on my caller ID, I would answer with a simple “yes?”  Why?  Because I knew they had a question for me and didn’t feel the need to go through the niceties of “Hello.  How are you today?”  Graciously I have always worked with intelligent people who accepted me for who I am.  No apologies necessary. 😉  I gave my ex-colleagues plenty of memories triggering smiles and laughter over their cup of French pressed coffee.  😀

Yet in my new sugar-free reality, I may have actually gagné (won).