Last week an article from Slate caught my eye about cultural differences between Americans and the French that just might explain a few things..
You can do it !
In the U.S. it’s true (admit it!) that we’re raised with a certain American dreamish “you can do it” attitude. Not everyone is raised the same way and there are certainly circumstances in which children are discouraged, but growing up in the U.S. has definitely made me appreciate our spirit that is willing to try. Why else would someone have thought it was a good idea to try and reach the Pacific Coast? Or build a giant highway system just in case of a Cold War. But I digress..
Online, this translates as a certain spirit of encouragement that you can see in blog comments. Comments are typically “yeah! great post!” or “thanks for your input”. Even if someone disagrees with the author, it seems illogical to go to someone’s blog specifically to criticize them. Constructive criticism. It’s a beauty. However…
Does American opptimism go too far sometimes?
At other times it seems as though no ome would DARE disagree with a well-known, appreciated blogger. …to the point that comments can sometimes seem overbearingly fake. Can you imagine, though, reading a comment on Jeremiah Owyang’s blog:
“wow, Jeremiah, you have way too many typos. I can’t believe you’re allowed a blog.”
(Disclosure : I personally very much Jeremiah’s blog and have never seen a typo. And if I had–WHO CARES?)
However, this can sometimes go too far. There is a term for what we call, well, butt kissers in French : the “bisounours”. They exist and they’re definitely not appreciated. Not.
In fact it was pointed out to me that ever since the French Revolution, part of the French spirit takes pleasure in debating an issue, pointing out the other side, and reveling in disagreement.
So — French pessimism (or French realism?)
Contrary to an occasionally suffocating American bubbliness, the French are known for being, well, frank. If they don’t agree with something or think that something has been done ot made poorly, you can bet you’ll hear about it from someone (and sometimes not in the nicest terms).
— But where does this leave the French web? The web is full of characters that have built their success om trying new ideas.
In France, if it’s new, it’s most likely to fail.
Hence, If you must fear being attacked for an action that perhaps isn’t the best or most perfect way of doing something, how can you possibly imagine launching a never-before-tested project and/or investing in it?
There are innovative people in France
Don’t get me wrong, if there weren’t innovative people in France, there wouldn’t be as many start-ups as there are or as many French people going to the US to start their businesses or work in the Silicon Valley. Did you know, for example, that the iPhone touch screen was invented by a French person?
Can criticism just go too far? possibly killing innovation?
To this I have to say, unfortunately…..maybe.
Recently (yesterday!) My Little Paris, a successful newsletter (some still do exist!), launched a “Twitter School”. My Little Paris is a daily mailing aimed at Parisian women (but appropriate for men and foreigners) that sends a daily “it thing” to do or try in Paris. A guide for everything and anything off the beaten path, it’s a go-to guide for many of us.
Twitter — it has to be said — is still off the beaten path for many a Parisian, and the site’s founders, Fanny and Amandine, invited me and a friend to be the first to take part in their Twitter School, sharing our favorite tips and tricks as well as stories to explain what you can get out of Twitter.
The “class” is aimed at people in their thirties that have never used Twitter but would like to start. For many people I’ve met that have never used it before, it can be cryptic..
Sounds like a fun idea, right?
Here’s the catch :
1) I was misinformed that the class would be 15€ per person (to rent the hall where it will be held)
2) For people ON Twitter, it’s as if you were teaching people how to breathe
We agreed to do this for free! Just for the enjoyment of meeting new people, sharing, and learning in return. Even though social media comes as easily as reaching into my pocket and pulling out my phone to many of us, for some people it isn’t so easy to understand.
Why bash those people that would try to learn?
And why bash those that would try to help them?
AND even if we were charging 15€ per person for a class, where is the problem? It’s called a free market.
the moral of the story?
I now truly understand why entrepreneurial spirits would be hesitant to launch a new idea in France.
If it hasn’t been tested or tried before, or it seems like someone might be making money, an idea is attacked before it is even understood.
Rather than supporting others that would set an idea in motion and see your “ompetitors” as an opportunity to improve yourself and your own business, the spirit seems to be to go on strike against anyone that would establish a profitable business or be innovative or creative…
I can also understand why there ARE start-ups in France
There are also people on the flip side, supporting and helping, at all costs. Two of my former roommates (both French) are launching their own businesses in Paris. La Cantine hosts a number of start-up events and welcomes entrepreneurs into their open space. Entrepreneurs and tech spirits from all around France push the boundaries and launch new ideas…
Like Axelle pointed out, Paris will never be Silicon Valley, but so what? We have our own thing going on here. And it’s pretty interesting.
What do you think?
Do Americans sometimes go too far in their optimism?
Do the French sometimes go too far in their criticism?
UPDATE : I had missed it when I wrote this but Roxanne wrote about this as well – – definitely give it a look
(Do you have no idea what I’m talking about? 😉 )