February 4, 2014, by Guest blog

French football matches are actually much better

It has been strange since I’ve started working here, and I do miss all the friends I made at the business school, however working has allowed me to hang out with ‘THE REAL BORDELAIS’ instead of students, who are (let’s face it) all from Paris and its suburbs. It is a little like how everyone from Nottingham is from London….

Working is requiring a lot of adapting however. I used to be invited to all sorts of soirées and apéros (evening drinks/snacks) and find turning them down, because I have work, a little hard. What is even harder is that sometimes it is seen as rude to turn down an invitation.

This weekend, I was invited to my colleague’s birthday party at work. I’m not sure if I was invited as I overheard the conversations at lunch time or because she decided to reach out to me and invite me but once she invited me I was struck with all sorts of weird cultural questions.



The irony of this situation is that one of the tasks I am working on is translating some scenarios for an interactive game revolving around what to do in intercultural work experience situations, so I decided to act upon the game’s advice and go to the party. I was actually glad that I went in the end as everyone ended up admitting that they thought I wouldn’t come. The party was a strange experience and I found myself being just as shy as I am around them normally, and they had, in true Bordelais style, been drinking red wine since the afternoon and thus were pretty hammered. Anyway, I persevered and stayed and tried to introduce myself to people but it was difficult. What was very interesting to observe was the different cultures; my celebrating colleague is Italian and thus danced about with all the Italians, the French all sat smoking and drinking and the miscellaneous foreigners (or Anglophones) decided to head for the food and crack jokes.

The lunch break has also been a source of cultural contention. I have had several jobs and internships, where lunch is an afterthought in an 8, 9, 10 hour day.  I usually use lunch an opportunity to stretch my long legs and get some fresh air and then usually bring my lunch and huddle over my sandwich at my desk. As I have noted before the French are very timely people –they take their time and care over tasks (such as eating lunch) and they work to live (rather than the other way round). Thus they will spend their hour lunch break (usually not strictly adhered to) having a glass of wine and general chit chat. Whilst this is actually a lot better, I have found myself rather silent at these mammoth lunches – I am good at multitasking but it seems that the only two that seem to work together are eating and following the conversation, rather than contributing. When I’m not eating, I find myself still trying to follow the conversation wondering when is a good time to jump and add something of note. It’s always 2 or 3 minutes later when I think of something witty to say but by then the conversation has moved on. I’m sure my boss thinks I’m a mute.

This post has been a little negative, so I’m going to try and end on a bit of high note:

Football matches here are actually so much better. The culture here (and the fact that Bordeaux Girondins are terrible) is that football is for family rather than hooligans. Thus I was able to buy a very good seat for 12 EUROS to see Paris St Germain in the Coupe de France (equivalent of the FA Cup). Everyone was so so polite when queuing, even though the match had started and it was the police’s fault for the delay. Bordeaux lost but the fans still sang and cheered their heads off and everyone made sure that they weren’t blocking your view when they were standing.

presidentLastly, I met the Mayor of Bordeaux, Alain Juppé last week. I had a friend at KEDGE who asked me to attend a meeting but I didn’t realise just how important it was. Alain Juppé was the Prime Minister of France from 1995 to 1997 under Jacques Chirac and he was also Minister of Foreign Affairs (so in the cabinet) under Sarkozy (guess that first year politics module actually taught me something…) but it was very interesting to sit in that meeting and find out the real issues that the people of Bordeaux live with every day. I have painted a vision of the Bordelais as people who smoke and drink a lot of red wine, but the ambitions of Juppé are actually a lot more than this – and he was interested in why I had chosen to study and work here. It seems that the people of Bordeaux are ready to shake off a lot of the cultural stereotypes that come with being French, it may just be that I shake mine a little if I am successful in my new job.

Posted in Cultural challenges