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Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I can't think of a better place to get into a deep philosophical conversation with a total stranger than in a bar.

There's a bar/restaurant just a few blocks from my apartment in the 15eme that I have been going to ever since I moved to Paris four years ago. It's the kind of place where I can walk in and shake hands or kiss all of the waiters and waitresses, as well as a couple of familiar customers who share the same enthusiasm about this locale's ambiance that I have. It's also the kind of place where I go for happy hour for one drink at 5:30 and end up staying there until 11pm or later. They have amazing food which makes it all the more difficult to pull myself away when I start to become hungry.

A couple of weeks ago, my girlfriend and I had just returned from the U.S. and decided to walk over and say hello to our friends. Within a couple of hours we were sitting at a table with two middle aged men that we had just met after they heard that we like good beer. One guy is a beer distributor and asked what beer we like. We name one and when we came back two weeks later, we see that the beer we named is now on tap, and according to the staff, thanks to our suggestion.

Back to that first evening, we decide to order food, and in the meanwhile, the other gentleman asks if I could review his song lyrics that are written in English, just to make sure that they are grammatically correct and do not sound ridiculous. We exchanged contact information, though I still haven't received those lyrics.

Somehow we got on to the subject of patriotism in France. Before I came to Paris, I had the impression that the French were very patriotic. My father told me that when he lived in France in the early 1960's that it didn't take much to stir up patriotic fervor amongst the French populace. One line of La Marseillaise could be enough instill pride in anyone with French blood. This was also during the presidency of Charles de Gaulle, perhaps the most popular public figure in France in the 20th century, so he might have helped this cause.

My girlfriend and I commented on how no one seems very patriotic here anymore. The two gentlemen agreed and added an interesting viewpoint, summed up as follows; "If you act patriotic these days, then people will think you support the extreme right, and no one in Paris wants to be mistaken for that." It's a valid argument, as many right wing politicians essay to arouse patriotism amongst their political constituents, much more so than any other political group here. So perhaps it is a reason why many here in Paris are reluctant to be thought of as patriotic for fear of being associated with these groups, such as Front National. This could certainly be part of why patriotism has declined here, but there has to be more to it.

On the 14th of July, we usually join the masses at the Champs de Mars to watch the fireworks by the Eiffel Tower and hang out with a few friends. In 2008, my girlfriend wore a French flag around her shoulders and put a couple of miniature French flags in her hair. She's proud to be French and she does not care if others are aware of it.

When I went to watch the festivities that year, I was surprised by how much my girlfriend stood out amongst more than 100,000 spectators. There were hardly any French colors or flags anywhere! As we walked into the crowd, a couple of adolescents taunted her. A few others whispered jokes about her. We enjoyed the evening anyway, but coming from a country where flags are displayed virtually everywhere, especially on our national holiday, I was surprised.

That it appears that not many young Parisians know the words to La Marseillaise is perhaps another indicator that national pride is declining in this city. I feel that most non-French students who have studied the French language for more than a couple of years have had to learn the lyrics to the French national anthem, and every now and then a few remember the lyrics. At times when I have hung out with both French friends and others from abroad, those French present are usually impressed that someone knows a few lines to their national anthem. I've heard quite a few of these French acquaintances say that they probably know less of the words themselves than those from abroad who study French. It doesn't seem to be terribly embarrassing to them, rather they just think it's funny that foreigners who have studied French probably know their national anthem better than them.

Paris might not be the best place to judge patriotism in France, as seemingly most Parisians don't really care about anything anyway. I know that many Frenchmen are indeed proud to call themselves French. Perhaps their displays of patriotism are exuded in other ways, or maybe it comes in a self satisfaction that while many want what they have, few can have the privilege to call themselves French.

If any one has some opinions on this subject, I would love to hear it. Has French patriotism decreased in recent years? If so, why?

If you are traveling to Paris and looking to see (and eat) what French people really eat, in addition to walking around some of Paris' best neighborhoods, take a look into my tours at

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Differences in Business Mentality

In 1987, Paul Kennedy, a historian at Yale University, wrote a book called "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers". Kennedy delves into the histories of past and current world powers, discussing how they came to be important, and how most eventually faded into history. Throughout this book, one sees a common theme: a nation gets powerful as a result of good decisions, a strong economy, and success in war. As a result of their success, many of these countries became over extended, had strewn their money and resources over far too large of an area, and eventually were the cause of their own demise.
One might wonder what this has to with the subjects that I normally discuss in my articles, but I'm getting there.
As I came across this theme in Kennedy's book, I came to realize that this type of rise and fall could be applied to other fields as well.
Let me give the example of someone opening a restaurant in the United States. With good promotion, products, and/or success, the workload will most likely increase. This is a good thing, to a point. It becomes tempting to continue to expand operations, hire more employees, and try to make more money. Since the restaurant one has is successful, why not open a second one? Why not use the extra capital to expand into a totally different direction or industry? Occasionally this works out, though oftentimes it does not. Companies can get too spread out and pay less attention to small details. This may lead to less personal attention to clients, more stress, and an increasingly unpleasant work life.
In France, French chain restaurants are a rarity in comparison to the seemingly endless amount of restaurant chains in the United States. Most restaurant owners in France are in charge of one sole restaurant, or in rare occasions, two or three. When posed with the question: "Your business is doing so well. Why don't you take advantage of it and open a second restaurant?" most would respond, "Why would I do that? I am already busy enough as it is."
By keeping operations relatively small, the French are able to focus on the quality of their products. Occasionally this will lead to high prices, especially if a vendor is offering a product with high demand. Many French culinary delicacies are able to pull this off.
In Julia Child's book, "My Life in France," American experts made suggestions for the French on how they could "increase productivity and profits" in their respective businesses. She suggests the following response to be what an average Frenchman might say:
"These notions of yours are all very fascinating, no doubt, but we have a nice little business here just as it is. Everybody has a decent living. Nobody has ulcers. I have time to work on my monograph about Balzac, and my foreman enjoys his espaliered pear trees. I think as a matter of fact, we do not wish to make these changes that you suggest."
To comfort those that work far more than necessary, some complain that the French are lazy and don't get much done. As a result of this misconception, the fact that France is one of the most productive countries in the world is a surprise to more than a few. A survey conducted by UBS, a banking and financial services group, found that French workers are on the job more than 300 hours less per year than the world average. When comparing GDP per capita and number of hours worked per year, it actually turns out that the French are more productive than the Americans (French: The Most Productive People in the World, Business Insider, August 20, 2009).
Another difference in mentality is what one wants to achieve by working a full time job. Does one work to buy nicer things, or does one work just enough so that they can have plentiful time off? The differences in vacation time between the United States and France are well known, and yes, the differences are as staggering as reported. The French have, on average, 5 to 6 weeks of vacation time per year. Americans have, on average, two. Furthermore, many choose not to take their full vacations, for they feel like they will appear lazy for taking more than a few days off a year. I know of many Americans who work constantly throughout their vacation, even though they are supposed to be off work. An American friend of mine was told that he would be reprimanded if he turned his work cell phone off, even at night while sleeping (I should add that he was supposedly on vacation). The puritanical work ethic has remained ingrained in our collective consciousness in the U.S., whether we are aware of it or not.
Meanwhile in France, no work related anything gets done while on vacation. Bosses even tell their employees not to work while on holiday (not that they needed the reminder). While on vacation, emails are left unanswered and phones calls are hardly acknowledged.
No one in France would think of giving up his or her vacation. A friend of mine who worked in Paris told me that in her office of 60 or 70 employees, only 2 of them were at work for the majority of the month of August. Not surprisingly, the ones that stayed were not French.
While some in the world would prefer to work to increase prestige, privilege, and productivity, others are content to work just enough to provide a comfortable living for themselves and/or their families, have ample time off from work to be with them, and have time to pursue other pleasurable activities. Who can say whether one way of viewing one's career is the right or wrong way, but given the choice, I personally would choose the latter.
If you are traveling to Paris and looking to see (and eat) what French people really eat, in addition to walking around some of Paris' best neighborhoods, take a look into my tours at

If you are on facebook, click like on my facebook page here. Thanks for reading!