My next meeting is with an Italian company. Here while logic is still important, the strength of the personal relationship has more of an impact. This can be paradoxical. “Hey, we’ve only met a few times but now we’re friends!” Italians are naturally great at networking to a degree that puts Americans to shame. Much like some languages have multiple tones, Italian networking is the difference between Mandarin Chinese and American English.
After a day of meetings I have dinner downtown by the Notre Dame cathedral on the Seine River. The church is striking, with sharp, angular grey stone contrasting with shadows and soot to create a beautiful architectural canvas. Javier, Mario and Ángela meet me at the restaurant. They are from the Los Cameros cheese company in Los Nogales, Spain. This is in the famous La Rioja wine region. Their facility is right next to the Ebo river that winds through their Pyrenee mountain valley.
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.
Los Cameros (which I used to mispronounce as Los Camarón or shrimp company) makes beautiful natural rind, mixed milk cheeses. And Javier is a very well respected Spanish affineur. Sadly Spain doesn’t have the same level of cheese worship as France. French affineurs are designated as priceless cultural landmarks (M.O.F.s). Spanish affineurs in comparison live in obscurity. Ironically a chef with one restaurant can become a household name, but an affineur whose cheeses are in the top 50 restaurants is unknown.
Javier recently became single and mentions how hard it is to date in a small Spanish village of 6,000 people. I jokingly ask how many eligible women there are, and he very seriously replies “25”. There is a neighboring town with a population of 25,000 people. When asked for this town’s Tinder potential, Javier without even checking his cell replies “42.”
Again most of last night’s sleep was punctured by ambulance sirens. The next morning I nod hello to the ladies of the night that in St. Denis work early morning senior citizen hours. I get to the R.E.R. train on time and luckily get a seat. Someone a few seats away suddenly vomits everywhere. I sprint to the neighboring train car, narrowly missing the closing doors. For the next 40 minutes I stand. This is still a huge improvement over life in the neighboring compartment. Through the tiny door separating the train cars, I see into an aquarium of people that have been doused with human mustard gas.
Today is the busiest day of the S.I.A.L. and my meetings go quickly. At 5.30 p.m., I head towards the Seafrigo exhibition booth to meet a friend named Eric (who is also the owner). Seafrigo is a 1 billion dollar company that has been built from very humble beginnings by Eric Barbier. Today this French Normandy freight forwarder specializes in international air and sea shipments as well as fresh, chilled and frozen warehousing. To me this is slightly less impressive than successfully running a business in France. A Swedish friend of mine employed by Nestlé told me that, unofficially, there are only three countries in the world where Nestlé will not open new factories – North Korea, Cuba and France.
Entering the booth, several of Eric’s staff who know me by sight ask if they can help me. When I say no and why, there is a surprised “oh.” Eric shows up a few minutes later, reviews a few things with his employees, and we walk out to the parking lot. A large Arab gentleman with smoky skin is waiting besides a non-descript limo. His name is Bashir, and I later learn that his family works for Eric in a variety of roles.We head towards downtown Paris.