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?