Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

You British are so nice. Seriously, how can you guys be always so kind? You will have to tell me what your secret is. I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. What am I talking about? Well, let me explain: I happen to be a non-exec for a local bank in France, and we had a board meeting the other day. After 45 minutes, one of the other participants said that he needed the loo, and never came back. I was shocked. Nobody looked surprised, except me. What had happened?

I did what I had to do: I took the issue to Twitter and asked for advice. What did we do before social media existed? I wonder…In no particular order and without having to move, I was told that:


  1. It could be a medical emergency and that I should look for him;
  2. I had to check each cubicle in case he got stuck in one of them. Some even had stories about a colleague who fell in the toilet, and so on, and so forth…;
  3. I should mind my own business (excuse me, but I find such a behaviour rather rude), And what if everybody was behaving the same way? Would it benefit the business? I don’t think so…;
  4. He probably was outside enjoying a glass of wine.

The reality was a lot more prosaic: the guy had just got bored and left. Worst of all: it didn’t seem to bother anyone. And of course he hadn’t called the Chairman to say he was leaving. Welcome to France!

I was shocked, because I would never, ever behave like this. If I had to leave a business meeting, I would explain why, and apologise. But believe me, it didn’t seem to bother anyone. When I tried to imply that this wasn’t acceptable, I was told that we couldn’t put him on a leash. After all, he could do whatever he wanted, they said. Of course he could, but why would you want to be a non-exec if you find the board meetings annoying?

I was gobsmacked. No wonder we French have such a bad reputation in business. What to do? I think that I need to find myself a similar role in the UK. Let’s be honest: I don’t think that it would happen over here. It’s time for me to be more British…What do you think?


  • James Casserly Omaexlibris

    It sounds like a plot from Curb Your Enthusiasm. Seriously though, it doesn’t take much effort to communicate to others that you have to leave. Suppose some vital business needed to be conducted and his leaving meant the quorum hadn’t been met? If this behaviour is acceptable, how can any business get done?

    • Totally agree. I am starting to wonder whether it’s actually possible to do any business in France…

  • Louise McDonagh

    Personally, I could never be so rude, but I have been in meetings before where people have just stood up and declared that they are too busy for the meeting. Rude!

    • Really? How could we would never do this but some people don’t hesitate to just leave? We must have missed something.

  • Romesh Bhattacharji

    This is definitely rude. Never heard of such a thing elsewhere. Very French or typically European- this exercise of one’s freedom?

    • I think it’s very French. It’s never happened to me over here. But who knows?


    Very rude. I lived in Singapore for many years and that would not have happened in any business meeting there.

    • I still can’t believe it happened. I find it incredibly rude, and I hope it will never happen again. And right now, I wish I could move to Singapore!