When I check into work in the morning (virtually), I might be greeted with a simple “Bonjour.” This is not too different than what we are used too in the US. It’s simple. It’s quick. It’s to the point. However, as I respond, I must word things differently. As an intern, it is important that I address my superiors with “Monsieur/Madame” and then their full name, unless I have been explicitly given permission to do otherwise. It does not require much additional effort, but it can be easy to forget if you are not used it. I also must be mindful of the pronouns I use to refer to them. In French class, I am used to using “tu” to refer to my classmates. This is a translation of “you,” but it is informal. In this business setting, I must use “vous” instead. This might seem like a small thing, but it does affect the way that I conjugate my verbs in all my sentences in French. It is not always the case. Some coworkers prefer that I address the informally, so I must keep track of each person’s preferences and adjust accordingly. This is one way in which cultural differences have been a part of my experience at Finance Innovation.
Another interesting custom that French people have is that they love to debate. I noticed this the time I had the chance to attend the weekly company-wide meeting (this usually occurs before my shift starts). People would constantly talk back and forth about the best way to do things, much more than you often see in America. In France, the ability to debate is seen as a sign of intellect. The ability to debate means that you know how to form cohesive thoughts based on logic. Supposedly, debating politics is commonplace is office settings, although I have had limited opportunities to see this play out. I have to say that I would like to get involved in these debates. I was a mock trial attorney back in my high school days, so it is something I love tapping into. However, due the nature of my work, which is mostly independent, I am afraid that I will likely miss out.
I do find that many of the expectations I had about French culture have not been apparent at Finance Innovation. In my research and internship preparation meetings, I had learned that French people do not give much positive feedback. Supposedly, this is because it is always expected that work is of the highest standard so it will only be remarked if it is anything less. However, this could not be further from the truth! My coworkers give me positive feedback all the time, including the CEO. They even highlight specific things about my work that they like. This is rather motivating for me, and I also find it important to know what I should keep doing to satisfy their expectations.
I have also found that the cultures are a lot less normal than I expected. I had the impression, again from my research, that France is all about elegance. To that end, I went to my first meeting in full suit and proudly displayed it through my webcam. This was unfortunately not the right move, as nobody else was dressed up. My boss laughed it off and told me that I do not have to wear a tie next time. So now I know. I do not really mind on this issue either way, but it is unfortunate that I misjudged that one time. But you know what they say, “better to be overdressed than underdressed.”
As for more of a forward-looking perspective, today something unfortunate happened, and I wonder how it will affect the culture of the firm in upcoming days. The French national team, champions of the world, lost in an upset to Switzerland. After going up 3-1 in the second half, it looked like Les Bleus had sealed the game, but the Swiss were able to mount an epic comeback and defeat them in a penalty shootout. Knowing about French culture, it is very apparent how much the performance of Les Bleus affects the emotional state of the country. I will keep that in mind as I speak to my coworkers in the upcoming days. My national team (Venezuela) got eliminated from a competition just yesterday as well, so I can somewhat sympathize, although we were nowhere close to favorites, so the level of expectations was different.