Sunday is a slow day since most buyers don’t work weekends. I get through my 14 meetings without issue. On the train ride back to the hotel, I catch a snippet of the following conversation between two young French guys in the Metro:
“Ouais. Mais je pense que je l’ai vraiment baisé!” Yeah. But I think that I really fucked him up!
“Oui, mais ça va.” Yes, but that’s ok.
A very French answer to pretty much any situation.
I wake up late the next day. Almost hourly throughout the night, ambulances drive by the hotel. My 2nd floor room is a scant few feet from the street. Turns out the Marais Grand Best Western is also on the infamous Rue St. Denis. I now realize this also means a brisk nighttime trade at the local hospital’s emergency room. Normally I’m a heavy sleeper, but this is really loud!
When I get to Gare du Nord station, the train platform is packed. A young gentleman in a bright red jacket walks by me yelling “This is not your train – Parc des Expositions”. I realize that he is wearing a device with a large speaker that talks in English for him. This was literally a more cost effective solution than teaching him five new words in English.
After five trains come and go, I am able to get a seat on an outbound R.E.R. It is a local. Great, today is getting better and better. I look at the French gentleman wearing a grey scarf seated in front of me. The white remnants of toothpaste decorate his unshaven lip. Nearby I hear music blasting out of someone’s headphones. Random text messages generate beeps and whistles from the human cattle packed around me. I look out the train window and see the Paris suburbs crawl by under a pale full moon in a bright blue sky.
As we get farther from the city center, there is less concrete and more greenery. The R.E.R. passes the same burnt out warehouse that I’ve seen for the last two S.I.A.L.s. Red and green vines decorate the side of its’ brick walls. Some grey and white graffiti peeks out from behind the leaves. When the train reaches the station Sevran Beaudottes, the R.E.R. suddenly goes below ground. This dark, subway-like station looks like a scene straight out of Clockwork Orange.
By the time we get to the S.I.A.L. we are above ground. However, again, I am still too early to enter the show unless I’m an exhibitor. I talk to an Italian coffee salesman waiting in line next to me. As luck would have it, his booth’s coffee machine is “in need of repair”. I am now a coffee machine repair man. Security lets me enter the show with the exhibitors and I walk around the meat pavilion.
To Do Business In Paris, Be A Chess Master
Confucius once said that the way you cut your meat reflects the way that you live. Business meetings with different cultures also reflect how each one conducts “business.” My first meeting is with a French company that makes Comté, a cow’s milk cheese from the Jura mountains. This is a new company, so I start off by asking questions that I already know the answers to (to gauge the accuracy of their replies). I inquire in French if they sell directly to any U.S.A. importers outside of their one designated American agent. “Non, no” is the answer. I pose the same question again, but include the name of the Seattle importer that they are also selling directly to. Without any chagrin, “Oui mais” (yes but) is the answer
Personalities vary, but in general the French view business talks in a linear fashion like chess. A feint or misdirection is not dishonest. It is a part of the game. French culture praises intellect above all else; so long as that foreign intellect is a perfect fit into what the French define as being worthy. That more often than not tends to be anything French.