Through Paris on the back of a moto taxi – this is a great one, and it really puts me back in the mood to get back to Paris
From the book Zen and the Art of Moto Taxi Survival:
When I stepped out into the blinding glare of a Roissy morning, little did I know I’d feel like a different person, by the time I got to my hotel. I was a senior web manager with one of Europe’s top technology companies, overseeing a team of 20+ associates, running projects that spanned the enterprise in 25 countries on 5 continents worldwide. When I wasn’t on conference calls with Japan, China, Korea, or Singapore, I was coordinating marketing activities with colleagues throughout Europe, Latin America, and ANZ. I was on-call pretty much 24/7, my days often started around 4:30 a.m., and the action could keep coming till around 10:00 p.m. A 40-hour work week was a nice thought, usually reserved for lulls when my European colleagues were on vacation for the month of August. That dreary spring day was nowhere near August, and there was work to be done.
I’d flown to Charles de Gaulle International Airport on the red-eye, hoping to get a jump on my meeting schedule before my American colleagues arrived the next day. This was my third business trip of the year, and it was barely March. It was also my second trip to the Paris area in less than a month. And another was in the early planning stages.
You might think this was a great thing. Who wouldn’t love going to Paris – let alone three times a year?
Well, I, for one.
Looking back, it seems odd that I would feel the way I did. After working for a global corporation based in Paris, France, for four years, I’ve been stateside since March, 2014. How time flies. And how different my life is now, compared to then.
When I tell my current coworkers about my last job — when I tell current coworkers about my last job, actually — they almost always tell me how envious they are of my past opportunity. The chance to travel, the chance to spend time in Paris… What could be wrong with that?
See, here’s the thing — traveling to Paris for fun and pleasure is a very different experience than traveling there for business. You’re not there to enjoy the cuisine and take long, langorous walks by the Seine. You’re going there for work. And when you’re working in an environment where people normally fly around the world as a matter of course, it doesn’t actually seem like that big a deal. Everybody does it. A lot. It’s just part of your life. It’s just part of your regular day. Talking to people all over the planet and flying to and from to visit them, is just what you do for your work.
Looking back, the contrast between my “grounded” life now, and my life in a global corporate environment seems like night and day. They really are two different things, and “going global” doesn’t come naturally to everyone. I’m one of those people who really took to it. I lived in Europe for several years, back in the late 1980s (before the Berlin Wall came down and East and West reunified throughout Europe), and I’ve been back and forth across the Atlantic a number of times, since then. I actually grew up in a very global village — literally. We had one stoplight in town, just down the block from the little grocery store, but because there was an international agency headquartered there, you could walk down the street and encounter people from anywhere and everywhere in the world.
So, “doing the global thing” came naturally to me.
However, having to haul myself all over creation in back-to-back trips, left something to be desired.
I discuss this a lot more in the book.
A lovely young French lady tells us (in French – so I can’t understand her) about moto taxis.
Good shots of motorcycles splitting lanes and cruising through traffic.
… than America. After all, the populations are very similar, with a fair amount of diversity overlaying a Western Caucasian “base”. We have a lot in common, France and the United States, and we’ve been fighting on the same sides in a number of conflicts. Heck, the USA even inherited conflicts from France — I’m thinking of Viet Nam. Not always to our advantage… but there you have it.
In any case, when we travel abroad, especially to Western European countries, we Americans can lose sight of the considerable differences between our countries and cultures. We may not even be aware they exist. A lot of us go to Paris for vacation — passing through or staying a while — and plenty of American college students spend at least some time in la France.
But traveling for pleasure and business are two different things. And when you’re doing business — as a full-fledged adult — in a commercial context, the separation between the two countries can become quite pronounced.
In the years that I worked for a company based near Paris, the differences were a source of constant bafflement and frustration for both sides. A lot of what Americans did, didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to the French. And vice versa, for sure. The odd thing was, there was no concerted effort on the part of Management to help anyone overcome the blocks. I’m quite sure it impacted the bottom line, but there was an almost carefree indifference about the cultural divides between France and the USA.
As though it were simply our jobs to deal with it.
As though “it” (being the divide) didn’t exist at all.
Looking back, it seems odd. Or maybe it was A French Thing, where you pay no attention to the seething chaos around you, and simply go on your merry way as though all is well. I certainly saw plenty of that in the lower ranks. Perhaps it reached northwards up the ladder as well.
In any case, we were left to our own devices to figure things out, sort out how to deal with one another — or not. Some of us did it better than others.
Some of us just picked up and left.
Others hung in there and toughed it out.
Bottom line is, France and the USA are really quite different – especially when it comes to corporate culture. And when you’re an American working for a French company, be aware. And beware. There’s potholes on that thar race track to greatness.
It looks like — knock wood — the snow has stopped falling in my neck of the woods, and if I were to take off for Paris, I wouldn’t be leaving people in a lurch, putting them in charge of moving snow.
I’m seriously considering a trip in May, when my schedule looks like it’s opening up a bit, and I’ll be on my own while my better half is away on a business trip.
Just a quick jaunt over — 4 or 5 days, tops. Just enough time to be there, walk around a bit, sit in a café and sip an espresso while reading a newspaper or book. Just enough time to simply be there.
That’s what I missed, going over to Paris on business — the ability to just be there. Everything was so frantic, so rushed. Everything was so damned important. No time to just sit and enjoy yourself — which was probably as much about me traveling with Americans, as it was about the conditions. My American colleagues didn’t seem to enjoy stopping to savor as much as one might. Sure, they’d go out for drinks after work, and they’d walk around and see the sights… but stopping to savor?
It’s tough to relax when you don’t speak the language, everything is foreign and unfamiliar, and you feel like you have to be on your guard. It’s easy to feel that way in Paris. So, the main focus was work — all about business. There are a million little rules you learn about business etiquette, cultural do’s and don’t’s, temperaments and inclinations… what will get you ahead, what will hold you back, what is politically positive and what is inadvisable. You’d think that doing business in France would be fairly straightforward as a Caucasian Westerner, but au contraire. It was anything but that.
It was what it was. And we all had to make the best of it. You learned as you went, and if you stuck around long enough, eventually you became acclimated — and got pretty Zen about it.
Traveling to Paris on business was a whole deal in itself — chock full of surprises and lessons, from the minute you got off the plane, to the moment you got back on to go home. You learned, or you sank. While jet lagged. And whilst trying to make a good impression with our Gallic professional hosts.
Not much time for stopping and savoring the delights of Paris, under those conditions.
But now, on my own steam and on my own time, with my own agenda and schedule, it could work. And I’ll have enough time up front to research moto taxis to take into the city. I may even get in touch with a former colleague who swore by them — and indirectly talked me into taking one, last year.
What a ride that was! And how much I learned. I have a feeling it will stand me in good stead, if I decide to go.
Yes, you can get around Paris without getting stuck in a traffic jam…
… that I landed in Paris and hopped on that moto taxi to my hotel.
It’s strange to think I used to go to Paris a lot, period.
But I did. And I have to say I’m glad I didn’t have to go this year.
Over the period of 2010-2014, I made annual “pilgrimages” to Paris for work. Politically, it was required, because company headquarters were in the Paris area, and it was important to be introduced to the “right people” — and be seen talking to those right people.
Now, sitting in my US home, surrounded by five feet of snow on the ground, it’s wild to think back about how usual it was, just to pick up and go. You got your marching orders from management, you looked at your calendar, you looked at the calendars of the people you were supposed to meet with… you made your reservations, arranged for coverage at home, and you flew to France and back. You just did it.
It was never easy — for plenty of reasons I describe in my book (don’t worry, I’ll describe them here on this blog, too, as the weeks and months go on). But you had to go… or you’d get lost in the shuffle of transatlantic office politics.
So I — and a lot of people I worked with — went. For a few days. For a week. Sometimes several weeks. Considering how slowly decisions got made, and how easy it was for plans to go off the rails if you weren’t watching closely, it would have made more sense, at times, to go for a few months. But if you’ve got a family to support, with kids in school or other domestic responsibilities, that’s not terribly feasible.
Unless you take everyone with you. It could be fun. Provided everyone is up for it.
In any case, that’s a rare phenomenon — especially in the States. I can’t think of many Americans who would gladly pull up roots, even for a few months, and go abroad. It sounds good on the surface, but when you get into the reality of things — the different language, the different customs, the scarcity of luxuries we take for granted here — it gets a lot less appealing.
In any case, it’s Monday morning, and I’ll be heading off to work in a little bit. My life is remarkably staid and steady, these days, the bad weather notwithstanding, and my regular routine is… well… regular. I have a much better commute now, than a 7-hour flight to France, and I’m living pretty much the same way that most folks around me do.
But a year ago, this time, that was not the case at all.
And it’s kind of cool to look back on it and remember (from a safe distance) just how out of the ordinary it was.
I’m very excited to announce, the book is now available!
If you’ve got a Kindle (or Kindle Reader, as I do on my tablet), you can get it at Amazon.com’s Kindle Store
I took a different route than most, opting to write the best book I could for publication, rather than rushing something to market with the intention of fixing problems later.
I typically don’t discuss my books when I’m writing them, so I’ve had to keep quiet… but no more. 🙂
More to come… but now it’s time to go outside and air myself out.
I love these kinds of videos on YouTube — very basic, simple, not a lot to them.
Minimalist… if you’re looking for a moto taxi company
If you need more room, and you don’t mind sitting in traffic, you can take this: