Magazine article Management Today

So What Gave Those Gallics Such Gall?

Magazine article Management Today

So What Gave Those Gallics Such Gall?

Article excerpt

The French are often criticised as arrogant, obstinate chauvinists. Richard D Lewis offers an explanation: look to their sense of history, love of logic and skilful use of language

The British visit France more than any other foreign country, they learn French more than any other language, they twin their towns with French ones, thousands of British and French children exchange homes every year, they play the French at nearly every sport invented, and have not had a decent war with them for over a century.

Yet the geographical, cultural and even linguistic closeness of the two countries has failed to produce real intimacy. In business, in particular, cross-cultural problems persist. The litany of British grievances is familiar: the French are obstinate, arrogant, and irrevocably chauvinistic; they don't like to speak foreign languages, especially English; they can't keep to an agenda; they talk too much at meetings; they are finicky; they prefer ideas to facts, and won't make decisions in a normal, straightforward manner.

The charge of arrogance is perhaps most easily handled. Both in politics and business, the French like to be independent, at times maverick, and frequently find themselves out on a limb at international meetings, isolated in their intransigence when all others have settled for compromise. They have a strong sense of history and tend to believe that they have set the norms for democracy, justice, government and legal systems, military strategy, philosophy, science, agriculture, 84 viniculture, haute cuisine and savoir-vivre in general. Other nations, they reason, vary from these norms and have a lot to learn.

The long and significant involvement of the French in European and world affairs also gives the French the conviction that their voice should be heard loud and clear in international forums. And though their political, military and economic strengths may no longer predominate, they see no diminution of their moral and didactic authority.

So how should one deal with the French? Should one 'gallicise' oneself to some degree and become more talkative, imaginative and intense? Or should one maintain stolid, honest manners at the risk of seeming wooden or failing to communicate? …

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