My dinners with Pierre (et


My dinners with Pierre (et ses amis)

Last week in France, home of Bergson and Proust, I noted some differences between French and US notions of time.

  • The French have not only minutes, but also "small minutes." This appears to be a euphemism for "it's really going to be longer than that." Petit pops up in other contexts, e.g. "Do you want a whisky?" "Maybe a small one." Thus, a petit minute is to a minute as "just a sec" is to a second. Different.

  • For the most part, American meetings cut to the heart of the matter and Continental meetings start with social and philosophical foreplay. I suspect that the Americans assume the existance of "one best way" and see no need to open that bucket of worms when discussing business matters. The French are more philosophical and enjoy confirming the context before getting to the point. Also, the circular warm-up in France paves the way socially for deeper interaction -- if and when the point of the meeting is reached.

  • In one day-long session to formulate strategy, for the first couple of hours, I felt like I was in slo-mo. My Dinner with Andre. And yet after lunch, we reached more agreements in a shorter time than I've ever experienced in American sessions. The lengthy warm-up built the foundation for rapid agreement. Overall, the Continental approach was more time-efficient. And in addition, we had time left over to discuss nuances over a pleasant dinner at a local brasserie.

  • On the road, American drivers assume other drivers will obey the rules of the road. American highways are less ambiguous in defining what's proper and what's not. Driving in California, I can almost flip into auto-pilot, monitoring details with my peripheral vision and not paying much attention to the second-to-second interplay of the automobiles and trucks around me. In France, many streets were laid out for carriages and farm animals. Streets meet at oblique angles. Cars parked along residential streets leave but a single lane for traffic. When cars approach a chokepoint from opposite directions, it's not at all clear who has the right of way. Driving on auto-pilot in France would be suicidal. It's a much faster game, where one driver has to react to the moves of the others. I suspect French drivers have much quicker reflexes than their American counterparts because they have so much practice.


Posted by Jay Cross at July 10, 2002 08:29 AM | TrackBack
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