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Mr. John Brown, an American executive arrives at his office just before 8:00 am. At 1:00 pm, he has scheduled a business lunch with another American corporate executive and they return to their respective offices before 2:15 pm. That afternoon at 3:00 pm in Mr. Brown’s company, an executive meeting is being held. Mr. Brown takes advantage of this three quarters of an hour to review the issues that need to be discussed and problems that need to be solved. By 3:00 pm, everyone is seated around the table ready to begin the meeting.
Everything runs smoothly; all the problems and issues are dealt with and by 4:00 pm everyone returns to their offices to finish up the days work and go home. Mr. Brown is always on time and all communications are short and to the point leaving no room for negotiation or interpretation. Mr. Brown expects his staff to come to him with any concerns so that he may personally address them. It is a team effort that makes this company successful and everyone is expected to act as such. French Behavior in the Workplace Across the ocean, his French counterpart, Mme.
Fournier, arrives to her office around 10:00 am. She has a brief chat with her secretary before settling in to her office. As she looks over the days’ agenda, she notices that she was double-booked this afternoon. Her secretary forgot to take note of the previously scheduled executive meeting and booked an appointment with a marketing representative, both at 3:00 pm. Mme. Fournier brings the matter up with her secretary who insists it is not her fault and denies ever having been informed of the executive meeting.
Finally, however, she offers to call and change the second appointment for a more convenient time. Mme. Fournier has a lunch scheduled with a colleague at 1:00 pm this day. The lunch runs long and she picks up her pace to make it back to the office by 3:30 pm for the executive meeting. Though she is a half-hour late, the meeting is just about to get underway. Two general topics frame the meeting: new marketing tactics and product development. Some ideas are discussed at length in a free-flow conversation style. By 6:30 pm, the meeting is closed and Mme.
Fournier goes back to her office to finish the day’s work. Finally, at 8:00 pm, Mme. Fournier locks the office door and heads home. Mme. Fournier falls into line with her country’s quarkochronici time management habits. Sure, work gets done but it gets done according to some calendar in the sky that the French keep a secret. Deadlines are flexible, blame is shameful, and personal pride is high. Individual liberty takes a higher precedence than teamwork. The high-context French are harder to pin down than the low-context Americans.
From Monoculture to Globalization American cultural norms encourage a sort of blindness in regards to sex, race, or culture. But, in refusing to recognize the differences that exist, we risk reducing the other, the foreigner, to a projection of ourselves. ii Before 1980, the problems of, and field of, intercultural management were largely ignored. In part due to the points in the above paragraph and in part due to the monoculture of such a large, economically dominant country, American (Anglophone) business literature rarely addressed the topic.
The idea that the world is a global village constituting a unique market where economic transactions can meet political or technical barriers but not cultural barriers has not heldiii. Following the trend toward globalization, intercultural management could no longer be ignored. It is today generally recognized that the presence of multiple cultures in one workplace poses some unique problems. Let us now look at the way in which national culture affects behavior at work in both the United States and in France. The American Dream et l’Art de Vivre.
In this paper, I will compare and contrast how national culture affects behavior at work in both the United States and France. I will use examples from my own experience as points of reference and points of validation. First, I will look at the Unites States and see how the idea of the American Dream influences national culture and behavior at work. With France, I will do the same with the French concepts of liberte and of l’art de vivre. We must dig deep to see if all of the stereotypes really exist. USA – The American Dream.
If anyone works hard enough, they too can be rich. Every child learns this at an early age. The harder you work, the richer you are, and the more you can buy. Electronics, cars, a house or several houses, and any other knick, knack, or gadget for your pleasure. Show up to work on time and buy into this American Dream. Addressed in the opening anecdote featuring Mr. John Brown, were many of the American corporate stereotypical behaviors according to business textbooks. I have a few years of experience working for American companies. Everything worked by the clock.
Our 30-minute lunches (or 1 hour lunches depending on the company) were off the clock and our 10-minute (or 15-minute) breaks, allowed for every 3 hours of work, were closely monitored. Granted I was less than 20 years old, I was always left with the impression that they did not think we could tell time. If you don’t give your employees this standard dignity of acknowledging their competency with the minute hand, all the ‘team spirit’ one might try to invoke will only ignite laughter. The hierarchy at the large department store I was working in for several of my teenage years was rather typical of an American business.
I had a department manager above me, then there was a floor manager, the store manager, the district manager, the regional manager, and up. My problems were always handled at the departmental level. I would go directly to my manager and she would take care of any of my concerns in her low-context, everything is ok, way. My experience in the store meetings was minimal. I was low on the pole and received the mass pep rally for productivity increase type meetings. Other main points of the meetings including shortage, procedural changes, and holiday promotions were made in a straightforward and itemized fashion.
We were on the clock and no time was wasted. We went back to work feeling good. Then there are some who decide the life of clocking in and out, of being told when to take a lunch, of following a rigid daily schedule is not for them. This does not mean that they do not believe in the American Dream or even that they do not work hard and/or want to buy 2 TVs, a VCR, and a DVD player. It means that somewhere, different factors may be at work in determining the quality of life. Maybe one extra freedom per day has more value than its monetary equivalent.
Though, of course, there need not always be a tradeoff between a job with more flexibility and autonomy and money, quite to the contrary in some cases. I have also had the pleasure of working in this type of environment. For many years, I was the general manager of a live music venue. Here, 15 minutes is no longer considered late. ‘Late’ was starting only about 30 minutes after your scheduled start time and was generally only acknowledged by the other person who could have and should have gone home 30 minutes earlier but who is now giving you the icy stare as you walk into the room.
As a manager in this sort of environment, perhaps I was lax, I would do nothing more than encourage timeliness during shift change out of respect for the other employee because inevitably the tides would turn and it would be the other staying late and watching the door to pounce on the tardy kid. When I continued on to manage another place of the same genre, the owner took the same approach to tardiness that I did. There were some cases where finally it was necessary to intervene; cases that were not regulating themselves but no grave actions were ever taken.
Our meetings were generally structured. One reason is that I have a terrible memory and another is that I did not want to waste anyone’s afternoon. I had some important issues that I would want to address and after these were addressed I was willing to stay and chat about anything as long as anybody wanted but those who needed or wanted to leave were free to go. Usually the afternoon was spent in discussion. We were a small group of about 15; thus, naturally we were quite close. There was a small-scale hierarchy. On less important matters, I encouraged self-regulation.
For example, if someone needed out of a shift, they should ask someone else to switch with them. I saw no reason for them to involve me in the process. For other matters that were a little more important, I usually had a bar manager under me to take care of most issues before they came up to me. However, anything involving financial decisions were always to be brought to me. The distinctions between 1. solve it yourself 2. take it to the bar manager 3. take it to Kristi were abundantly clear for most. If in doubt, I was always nearby.
The most that they would be risking was a roll of the eyes for a lack of initiative or a pat on the back for the avoidance of a catastrophe. However if I messed up in staff selection, I may have hired someone destined for American corporate life. There are people who cannot stand to show up to a job with too much structure and then there are those that need the structure. I preferred logic to structure, common sense to rules. France – la Liberte et l’Art de Vivre Here, even in the corporate sphere, personal relationships and quality of craftsmanship take more of an emphasis than material gains.
The idea is to enjoy more out of each day and appreciate what it is that you are doing now instead of always rushing and considering where it is that you will be in 10 minutes, 10 days, or 10 years. So, our French executive wakes up, drinks her coffee, reads the paper, talks with her family and then sets off for work. Maybe she will stop by the market for some fresh flowers or some chocolates before arriving. Lunch. Lunch in France can last for hours. Period. In the afternoon meeting, she wants to know her colleagues’ ideas about where a product is heading and air some problems or concerns that have surfaced.
There is no rigid format; the meeting is allowed to have a natural, free-flowing format. So after a long meeting, Mme. Fournier stays until around 8:00 pm gathering together the ideas discussed, formulating a structure corresponding to these ideas, and finishing up any unresolved business of the day. I have not had, nor do I know anyone that has had, experience with corporate France. Sanaa, my source for French employment information, works for a corporation in France but it is American owned and multi-cultured on the inside. The information that I receive does not contradict the stereotypes of American firms.
What do some of my sources have to say about French work habits? n France, the place of work must also be a social and convivial place. Personal exchanges on non-work related subjects are frequent, long hours devoted to meals permit it. iv *Normally, I arrive at 6:30, but at 5:00, I am tired. I had to change that because the French are never there in the morning. vIn France, people don’t put a lot of effort into preparing for meetings. vi In France, you sit down for two or three hours in a meeting and discuss. You don’t make a lot of decisions. vii.
In a general manner, for a Frenchman, to strictly respect a procedure is to not be free. *The French lie instead of admitting mistakes. viii What about the French entrepreneurs? Are the small businesses run like the big businesses? Are the same cultural work behaviors observable? We have all seen the family run shops close down for an hour to run an errand. We see the bakers and the butchers that take such pride in their work. My friend Sanaa worked at a local bar in Paris. The stories about dealing with her French boss makes all the stereotypes sound true: difficult, bossy, prideful and underhanded.
Life is a craft and the French do it well. Conclusion The formulation of national stereotypes can translate into questions of culture but also into games of power. Cultural diversity in the workplace can be a difficult challenge. The issue must not be avoided and labeled irrelevant and cultural groups must be careful not to assume that their way is the correct way. We all do the same thing differently.
We all have something to learn. i Platt. P51. ii Chevrier. P148. iii Chevrier. P147. iv Chevrier. P. 179. v Chevrier. P. 180. vi Chevrier. P. 180. vii Chevrier. P. 180. viii Platt. P. 84.