Back in August, 1996, I started publishing on the web my adventures and thoughts about the the company I had created a few months earlier in Albi called I-Link, ‘Internet en Pays de Cocagne’.
I had thought, at the time, that starting a business in France, a tech business, and the very first Internet service/access provider in my part of France at that, was worth a chronicle. It was like a blog, but at the time, people wrote FAQs when they wanted to say something that hoped to be useful. So I called my articles the ISP-in-France FAQ.
I just reread it and thought, well, it had aged OK… considering that it’s ten years now and a LOT of stuff has happened in the meanwhile. And amazingly, it is so On Subject.
So for those of you who missed it the first time around, here it is, in appropriately placed installments, in Blogosphere 2006.
Part 1: Business Ã la Sauce FranÃ§aise
France is a kind, gentle country where people spend a lot of time thinking about what the right thing to do is. I know this sounds good, but it leads to at least two terrifying realities:
- crossing the street, which most of us mastered as five-year olds, remains a perilous activity for children of all ages (thoughtful drivers dissecting thorny social-political dilemmas from behind the wheel do not “see” pedestrians).
- if you’d rather be an entrepreneur than a municipal employee or letter carrier you are presumed guilty of the sins of usurpation, manipulation, and greed. For the good of all, you must be de-clawed.
Crossing the Street?
Easy: always cross at a marked intersection. Look both ways. When you think you can make it across, run like hell. Wear body armor.
This is the complex reflection of a venerable, sophisticated culture that has witnessed its own transformation into an important modern industrial society but has never really accepted the fact.
What do you mean, a venerable, sophisticated culture?
- In France profonde, Authenticity is an important concept. You cannot buy a McCamembert (yet). When something goes out the doors it will be â€œjust soâ€, but it will be carefully wrapped (vive la France!) in multiple layers of Chaos.
- Even when it doesnâ€™t work, itâ€™s lovely. No styrofoam peanuts allowed.
- French is the language of Love, Diplomacy, and Dining.
What do you mean, an important modern industrial society?
The french economy is the worldâ€™s
fourth fifth largest, behind the United States, Japan, and Germany and England; ahead of Italy, England, and Canada. Its balance of trade is consistently positive.
Violent crime is low. Literacy (and unemployment and taxes) is high. Despite the fact that frenchpersonnes smoke, drink, and eat a lot of cholesterol, they have a greater life expectancy than just about any western people. This is called the â€œFrench Paradoxâ€.
But why don’t they accept the fact?
This is more difficult. It was explained to me thusly, one evening over a second bottle of Domaine de Mazou, 1991:
â€œYour american capitalism is the jungle; the denizens must become strong and sleek to stay alive, it is each man for himself. You create a class of fabulously rich and another of fabulously poor. You enshrine freedom. But not equality.
â€œHere it is closer to the zoo. Everybody has their box, properly laid out; the predators are separated from their prey. We do not accept that people slip through the cracks simply because they have never wanted to learn how to read a balance sheet, or are too poor to hire a lawyer. We have chosen collectively to curtail [your type of] freedom as a way of maintaining equality.â€
So in the end, the entrepreneur is perceived as the creature trying to break out of the zoo in order to find his way back to the jungle. In a well-designed zoo, this can only occur by allowing rules to be broken.
Yes, like I was saying, in France, even when it doesnâ€™t work, itâ€™s lovely.