By French business custom, the first meeting of the year was purely a getting-to-know-you affair, where little was accomplished other than learning your new team members’ names and personality quirks, letting them get to know yours, and mutually testing the political waters. The second trip of the year (usually in late February, early March) was when things actually started picking up speed, plans for the year were broached and debated, and tentative decisions started to form. And the third trip, customarily before March was up (and Corporate found out just how much the last two trips had cost them), was to reinforce your stated intentions, refresh memories on shared interests and promises made over dinners shared on your last visit, and to make sure people knew you were genuinely, deeply, unwaveringly serious about what you’d discussed, the last time you were there.
Then, around the end of March, the Accounting department would realize how much coin was flowing to the airlines, chain hotels, and restaurants in Paris, flaming red flags would go up, and all that travel would skid to a screeching halt. And for good reason. Travel to Paris got pricey – even on the most Spartan of trips. You wouldn’t think that staying at the company-mandated Holiday Inn… inhaling a quick complimentary hotel “breakfast” of espresso, chocolate croissants, and containers of cold cuts and fruit… lunching in the company cafeteria… with maybe a dinner or two out with colleagues… would cost all that much, but multiply that by all the Americans who were jockeying for position with colleagues in France, and it added up. Unfortunately, many of us weren’t placed high enough on the food chain to command a travel budget that included elaborate team-building dinners and accompanying entertainment, so we got the closest scrutiny. There was a fine line between expediency and perceived excess when traveling to France, and Accounts Payable only had eyes for what it considered excess.