How it all began…


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.

Groan. 

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.

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You wouldn’t think that France is all that different…


Everyone’s driving at top speed – who will cross the finish line first?

… 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.

Prohibitive, even.

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.

 

 

 

 

But I could go to Paris now, without too much concern


Paris_Night

Source: Wikipedia

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.

Winter’s here – let’s run away to Paris!


paris-weather-feb52015

Doesn’t it look nice? (Source: Weather.com – http://www.weather.com/weather/5day/l/FRXX0076:1:FR)

 

I used to have to travel to France for work on a regular basis. Usually in the beginning of the year, when organizational changes had been announced at Paris HQ, and I needed to get some “face time” with my new French colleagues.

I know… life is hard. “Having” to travel to France for work is a wonderful problem to have.

Unless it’s in the winter, when the weather starts to turn really bad at home.

Just look outside. If you’re in the northeastern U.S., like I am, things aren’t looking all that great. There’s friggin’ snow everywhere, with more on the way. Right now, it’s coming down in soggy little “blops” that won’t be much fun to clean up before I leave for work, later this morning. I hear snow plows driving by my house. It’s still dark outside. This doesn’t look promising.

Sign of the times – 2015
(Source: WBUR http://www.wbur.org/2015/02/02/boston-snow-stats)

I wouldn’t mind being in Paris, right about now. It’s 39 degrees (F)  and sunny. It seems is unfair that I’m stuck here in below-freezing temps. Within a few days, though, that will change on the other side of the Atlantic. It’s going to warm up even more, but it’s going to get cloudy. And while Paris can be quite beautiful even on the most overcast of days, cloudy skies are still cloudy.

No matter how attractive your destination, if the weather doesn’t cooperate, it’s not much fun. And if you’re going for work, rather than pleasure, it’s even less entertaining. You take the red-eye, show up jet-lagged and disoriented, and all the romance in the world is pretty much lost on you. The sights aren’t nearly as exotic, and even the most beautiful language starts to sound like gravel. Firing on two out of six cylinders after 7 hours in a flying tuna can, surrounded by all sorts of folks, doesn’t make for great sight-seeing or epicurean delight. Jet lag will suck the joy out of anything and everything – including Paris.

Plus, leaving your family at home to fend for themselves in multiple snowstorms and power outages… that’s not much fun. For those who make enough money to hire maintenance companies or plow guys to keep their property snow-and-ice-free, it’s one thing. And for those who have a bunch of family members who are ready, willing, and able to clean up, it’s not necessarily so terrible. But if you’re the one who normally cleans up after the latest storm, leaving the country on business can be stressful for everyone.

You can check in with your family upon arrival at CDG, only to learn that Mother Nature has dropped 24″ of white stuff on them… and for the rest of your trip, you hear all about what you’re missing. You put in 18-hour days, covering your duties on two continents, coordinating efforts across the Atlantic, eventually giving up on the idea of sleep until after you get home, walking through your days in a daze.

And when you return after nearly a week away, you come back to a driveway that’s been partially cleared and then frozen over (and possibly with another inch or two of snow on top of the hardened slush)… outside stairs that need to be aggressively salted… and a roof that hasn’t been properly raked. The icing on that cake is your cabin-feverish family members, who may or may not harbor resentments over your “working vacation” in Paris, and who may or may not absolutely love the souvenirs you brought back.

Of course, the proper cleanup must commence, the errands need to be done, the chores must be caught up with, and family ties need to be refreshed — while you’re trying to bounce back from the second round of jet lag… fighting off a cold you picked up on the flight back.

Winter’s here… and Paris has nice(r) weather…

Actually, it might make more sense to stay home.

Two or three old women came and asked…


Two or three old women came and asked him [Suzuki Shosan] about the essence of Buddhism.

The Master said: “I do not know anything that I can teach you.”

After a while he said suddenly: “You will die, you will die. Never forget the fact of dying…”

From : Death Was His Koan: The Samurai-Zen of Suzuki Shosan By Winston L. King (P.285)

It looks so harmless on a web page

… and in all honesty, that’s pretty much how I felt, one fine spring afternoon, on the back of a motorcycle flying down a highway near Paris.

What happened that day crystallized a whole lot that I’d observed about myself, doing business with the French, and the practical uses of Zen.

And the book is nearing completion . . . ready in early 2015.  So stay tuned.