Book Review: French and Americans: The Other Shore

A few years ago I gave a talk to a bunch of French CEOs visiting the Silicon Valley to learn about U.S. management practices and theories. If I recall they were visiting with big execs from Nike, Home Depot, and others. They probably had dead time to fill so they stopped by our office downtown and, with the help of their leader and translator Pascal Baudry, I spoke for an hour or two. It was fun — anytime there’s a translator you feel really important.

My friend Pascal recently sent me his book French and Americans: The Other Shore in preparation for my visit to France this summer (I’m going to his speech at Insead Business School and then hanging out at his castle in Loire Valley). It’s a great read for someone who doesn’t know a lot about one of the cultures to compare and contrast the French and American ways of doing things. Pascal is a French-born and naturalized American (he’s been living here for 20 years) so it’s a fair look. I came out of it feeling really good about the American Way and not so good about the French Way, especially for businesspeople.

For example, a big point Pascal makes is implicit vs. explicit. He characterizes French culture as implicit — the discrepancy between what is stated and what is meant is a big part of French discourse and indeed a sign of sophistication. The context of words is more important than the words themselves. The preferred American rhetorical style (and culture in general) is more explicit — subtlety is not the American way.

I recommend French and Americans if you are looking for an entry-level primer written by a guy trained in psychology and swimming in both cultures and business environments. Thanks for sending this Pascal!

3 comments on “Book Review: French and Americans: The Other Shore
  • I agree with you in the professional sense that explict communication is vastly preferable to implicit communication, but I fear the lack of subtlety in America encourages laziness and ignorance of speech. For example I kno a girl who is a close friend of mine but infuriates me often because she refuses to acknowledge body language, tone, anything other then the words used is meaningless to her. She often complains about being misunderstood by her peers and elders. That’s an extreme example but seems to be indicative of the youth at large. As communication leads away from face to face and telephone communication and more towards email, Im, text messaging, myspace, and other limited communication tools we see a loss of the finer points of communication. I wonder if that concerns you about our generation or if you have a different take then I do?

Leave a Reply to carolee Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *