Comparisons between the way Americans and Europeans think about work, food, dress code and manners, is something I find fascinating. I wrote a previous post entitled: What French Women Know, Can we Learn from them?
I am reading, Lunch in Paris, by Elizabeth Bard. She is a young American journalist who now lives in Paris, after marrying Gwendal, a French man whom she, “slept with halfway through our first date.” I am using excerpts from her delicious, fun-filled memoir that depicts cultural differences.
“Like most French people, I don’t think Gwendal ever expected fulfillment or recognition for his work. When he finally asked for a raise…the director told him he had taken on the extra responsibility pour plaisir–for fun. When he was bored or frustrated… I just couldn’t keep my big American mouth shut. ‘If you put all the time and effort you spend on your hobbies into your job, you’d have the cinema career you’ve always wanted.’ Gwendal’s response: ‘You are right…at least in the U.S. But here, working harder, faster, and better just makes people hate you.'”
Bard continues: “In the America I grew up in, little kids don’t say, ‘When I grow up, I want to be happy.’ That’s not the appropriate end to that sentence. We say, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a doctor, an astronaut, a fighter pilot.’ Happiness to me was something very abstract, the end of a long equation: initial self-worth multiplied by x accomplishments, divided by y dollars, z loans, minus f hours worked, plus g respect earned. Happiness, I assumed, would be the end result of a whole list of things I hadn’t gotten around to yet.”
“How is he ever supposed to be successful? He needs to be a little bit miserable, like us. It’s how you get to the next thing.” Bard says.
Finally, when Gwendal says he went to his high school library to look at All the Jobs in the World, he picks out two: scientific researcher and film director. The French school counselor says, “An non, You forgot to look at the key. Each job has a dollar sign and a door, explaining how much it pays, and how easy it is to get this job. Regarde, tu n’y arriveras jamais.” You’ll never get there. Gwendal says, “If you want to do something different, if your head sticks up just a little, they cut it off. It’s been like that since the Revolution. You know the saying, liberte, egalite, fraternite…Everyone has got to be the same.”
If you live in the UK, Sweden, Canada, Denmark, India, Botswana, Morocco, Australia, and of course, anywhere else in the world, including the U.S., what do you think? Do you feel there are limits on who you, your kids or your grandkids want to be? Are those limits part of your culture?