Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

As some of you may know, I eventually set up a small business in France when I was working in London. To cut a long story short, everything had to be done from London (which wasn’t always easy), and there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. I know that it looks completely counter-intuitive. Truth be told, I could have set the business up when I was living in France. Except that I didn’t. Why?

When you can’t see what’s right in front of you…

Well, it’s quite simple really: I didn’t see it as a business opportunity when I was living in my home country. It just hadn’t crossed my mind. I had been taught quantum physics and all sorts of complex scientific theories, and as a result, to me, a business had to be complicated. Something to do with sending rockets into space, for instance. Anything less would be, well, a waste. Meaningless. Not even worth considering, in fact.

To make matters even worse, our schools, from the infant classes through to university, penalise failure. Generating innovation and making changes challenge our usual ways of thinking, but we French have never rewarded being different and taking risks, which are two fundamental aspects of innovation. In our education system today there is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ culture where individual’s ambitions are crimped. It’s actually even worse: everyone must fit a certain mould. Everyone must be on the same median, on a pre-defined bell-curve. In France, everybody has to learn the same things and imbibe the same knowledge. However, at the end of the day each student has to find a way to differentiate him/herself. No wonder France is one of the most depressed nations!

We French badly need to nurture a culture of difference and risk-taking. It’s easier said than done. I had to move to London to understand that I had lived  in a country which, because of its history, had built up a culture of risk-aversion, or even of zero risk. Simply put, the French dream is to become a civil servant. Not to mention that there is an incredible number of insurance organisations (Have a look at a French payslip if you don’t believe me). In short, taking risks isn’t part of the French mindset. I also think that we French live in a society of fear: fear of a drop in social status, of being outside the system, of being different. The French model of success has very little appetite for risk. You must do what you are trained for, and comply. Risk is a dirty word. Failing is looked down upon.

I can’t help thinking that this idea of absolute security is a fantasy. After all, being alive is a risk. Falling in love is a risk. And don’t get me started on having kids: it’s probably the biggest bet of all. But hey, such is life: risky, and sometimes messy. And maybe we are never as free as when we fail (I am deep tonight!). On this note, I wish you a nice week-end!