A tale of two protests

While I was wandering around the centre of Annecy on Saturday I came across a parade of the gilets jaunes – yellow vests – protesting Emmanuel Macron’s fuel tax hike. It was very peaceful, mostly middle aged folk carrying the flag of the Haute Savoie region accompanied by a couple of gendarmes who didn’t look as though they expected trouble. Those marching stopped to natter to locals they passed on the way.

This was in stark contrast to the scenes in Paris over the weekend where cars were tipped over and set on fire, monuments defaced, and shops looted. Judging by the Arabic and anarchist graffiti on display my guess is the yellow vest protest in the capital has been hijacked by the usual troublemakers. In other words, what is going on in Paris isn’t representative of what is happening everywhere else. This is the case for most things in France.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Macron uses the violence in Paris to smear the entire movement. If he does, the division between the capital and the countryside will grow even larger. That won’t be good for anyone.

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Enough is enough

It’s not surprising people are turning to violence:

What began as protests over President Macron’s fuel tax has transformed into general anger at high living costs.

Mr Macron says his fuel policies are needed to combat global warming.

So global warming is an existential threat, is it? Okay, but:

France is heavily dependent on nuclear power, which Mr Macron pledged to reduce to 50% of the national energy mix by 2035 by closing 14 of the country’s 58 reactors.

If global warming is really going to kill us all within decades, the problem of nuclear waste disposal and fear of accidents would seem rather small indeed. That politicians are closing nuclear power stations is proof that even they don’t believe global warming is an existential threat, or even a serious one.

That is on top of the closure of all four of France’s remaining coal-fired power plants and investment of billions of euros into renewable energy.

And that’s what this is all about: elites in government making life more expensive for the ordinary citizen so they can virtue-signal to other elites and the wealthy, middle-class idiots who support them. Like I said, no wonder people are turning violent. I’m amazed it’s taken this long.

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Conflicts of interests

Nothing in this report surprises me:

A rift was growing between Britain and key allies yesterday as European diplomats pushed back on calls for a firmer response to Russia’s weekend naval clash with Ukraine. The fracture in the Western alliance sets the stage for tense exchanges when European, US, and Russian leaders meet at a G20 summit in Argentina later this week.

Anyone want to guess where the fault lines lie? Here’s one side:

Britain, Poland, and the Baltic States have urged other members of the EU 28 to impose extra measures when existing sanctions against Russia are renewed in December.

The calls have been backed by the US.

And here’s the other:

France and Germany, which brokered a ceasefire and tentative peace accord between Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and Petro Poroshenko, the leader of Ukraine, in 2015, are understood to fear such a move could split the bloc and further inflame tensions.

So much for solidarity over the Skripal poisoning, then. One of the most bizarre spectacles in recent times has been the European media and its gullible consumers portraying Merkel and Macron as standing up for Europe against the Putin bogeyman, while Trump is portrayed as a Russian puppet. Yet whenever it comes to actual policy, Germany and France fall over themselves to avoid anything which might damage the commercial interests of their major firms in Russia, and the same media utters not a peep.

Regardless of what the correct approach to Russia is, the double-dealing on the part of Germany and France – saying one thing, doing the other – is inexcusable. Last week Macron was saying he wants an EU army to protect against, among other things, Russian aggression. Merkel’s approach to NATO, Trump, and Russia requires contortions which are seriously impressive for a woman of her age. The hypocritical, self-serving behaviour of France and Germany who, when it suits them, demand ever-more cooperation and integration from smaller EU states is one of the strongest arguments in favour of Brexit.

On that subject, I’m reminded of something I wrote in a post in April last year:

The Baltic states are completely reliant on Nato to keep the Russians out, which in this case means the United States. However, in diplomatic terms (and probably  a token military one as well) it also means the Brits. If we can imagine a scenario in a few years time when the Russians are massing tanks and troops on the borders of Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania on some pretext and revving the engines noisily, Britain will be one of the countries they will be pleading with to intervene (meaning, persuade the United States to intervene). How Britain responds ought very much to depend on how the Baltic states behaved during the Brexit negotiations.

I’ve noticed that Estonians and Lithuanians have said very little during the Brexit negotiations, and the Latvians have been urging caution. I’m sure it’s occurred to them that with Britain out of the EU they suddenly become a lot more vulnerable to malign Russian influence, be it commercial or even military.

This is why I think the EU will ultimately fail. The European continent, and the islands off it, do have genuine shared interests and concerns but the EU is structured along very different lines. These conflicts are now coming to a head, and at some point in the near future people are going to be asked hard questions as to which alliances matter most to them. I expect it will take some pretty ugly scenes before they find an answer.

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Tasteless but legal

The French might be odd, but they can hold the line when they want to:

A French court has ruled that posters showing a woman tied to train tracks did not promote violence against women.

The posters were put up around the town of Béziers last December to celebrate the arrival of high-speed TGV trains. They carried the caption: “With the TGV, she would have suffered less.”

The ads faced a legal challenge from a number of feminist groups and criticism by France’s equality minister.

But the court said they were legal, despite the questionable humour.

Would a British court have ruled the same way? Maybe, but they’d have found some other way to get the advert removed (as Sadiq Khan did with billboards showing nice looking women on the London Underground).

But the far-right mayor of Béziers, Robert Ménard, defended his campaign, accusing critics of “political correctness” and pointing to a history of such images in old films and cartoons.

After the French court threw out the complaint, Mr Ménard tweeted that the case had been “an inquisition in petticoats”.

Quite right too. Now I don’t know whether M. Ménard is actually far-right given the label is nowadays meaningless, but if so it’s rather illuminating that this is who we now rely on to advocate freedom of speech and push back against corrosive third-wave feminism.

The court in the southern city of Montpellier said the posters had been designed to provoke a reaction, and did not encourage violence against any specific group, including women.

Good. As I said after the Charlie Hebdo attack:

Nothing highlights the cultural gap between France and Britain more than the uncomfortable suspicion that Charlie Hebdo would not have lasted more than a year in the UK before being hounded out of business by the state and its backers in one form or another, as this article makes clear.

I have no confidence this advert would have been displayed in the UK. There’s a good chance anyone posting it would be charged with a hate crime.

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Une Manifestation

On Saturday, while trying to get on the A41 on my way to a seminar in Geneva, I ran into this:

One protester has died and more than 200 were injured as more than a quarter of a million people took to the streets of France, angry at rising fuel prices.

The female protester who died was struck after a driver surrounded by demonstrators panicked and accelerated.

The “yellow vests”, so-called after the high-visibility jackets they are required to carry in their cars, blocked motorways and roundabouts.

They accuse President Emmanuel Macron of abandoning “the little people”.

I was pretty annoyed, especially when one of them told me I had to move my car to the side of the road to let the bus behind me past, which was carrying children. I was tempted to suggest that, if kids languishing in buses are a concern, maybe they shouldn’t be blocking the f*cking road. They then handed me this:

The protesters were mostly aged between forty and fifty, rather too old to be subscribing to anarcho-communist ideologies which have no chance of success at the ballot box. But when I got home and read the BBC article, I thought they may have had a point:

The price of diesel, the most commonly used fuel in French cars, has risen by around 23% over the past 12 months to an average of €1.51 (£1.32; $1.71) per litre, its highest point since the early 2000s, AFP news agency reports.

World oil prices did rise before falling back again but the Macron government raised its hydrocarbon tax this year by 7.6 cents per litre on diesel and 3.9 cents on petrol, as part of a campaign for cleaner cars and fuel.

The decision to impose a further increase of 6.5 cents on diesel and 2.9 cents on petrol on 1 January 2019 was seen as the final straw.

Diesel has always been cheaper than petrol in France, in part because French companies were early pioneers in diesel engine technology and the refineries were geared to meet the subsequent demand. But a decade or so back politicians across Europe decided CO2 emissions were the greatest danger mankind had ever faced and encouraged everyone to switch to diesel cars, which get a better mileage per gallon. So everyone did, only now the politicians are saying diesel is bad and have whacked up the tax, leaving millions of people facing rising fuel bills and with cars that in many cases will be near-worthless. An increase of 14.1 cents per litre in two years on a fuel the government encouraged people to adopt is extortion; no wonder people came out in protest.

Speaking on Wednesday, the president blamed world oil prices for three-quarters of the price rise. He also said more tax on fossil fuels was needed to fund renewable energy investments.

So why not just borrow the money if it’s such a great investment? After all, aren’t we forever being told that renewable energy is now so cost effective it doesn’t need subsidies? In any case, why should motorists be taxed to pay for renewable energy generation? Why not charge the customers directly?

So we have a government invoking an idiotic fad to punish people for following an earlier idiotic fad, which nobody in power has taken any responsibility for pushing. At the same time we have a blatant cash-grab in order to fund white-elephant projects which make the government look good when it struts around on the world stage with other kleptocrats. Little wonder Macron is the most detested French president in living memory.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents to a poll by the Elabe institute backed the Yellow Vests and 70% wanted the government to reverse the fuel tax hikes.

More than half of French people who voted for Mr Macron support the protests, Elabe’s Vincent Thibault told AFP.

Annoyed though I was at being delayed on Saturday morning, I’m rather glad I’m in France and people are making a noise. Most other places, the population would just eat it up.

“The expectations and discontent over spending power are fairly broad, it’s not just something that concerns rural France or the lower classes,” he said.

Indeed. How many of those supporting lunatic environmental policies live in cities, smugly tell everyone they don’t own a car, and have no idea how the country is fed and the lights kept on? Once again, the wealthy, metropolitan middle classes are making life miserable for everyone else.

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Lest we forget to bash Trump

Blue checkmark Twitter has been alight this past 24 hours with complaints that Trump is a disgrace. Why this time, I don’t hear you ask? Apparently, rather than join Merkel and Macron at Compiègne, the site where the 1918 Armistice was signed, Trump decided to stay in his room and watch TV because it was raining. I have no idea whether this is true or not, but given this version is being widely circulated by lefties and it happens to suit their narrative, we’ll be safer assuming it’s a load of bollocks.

There are several reasons why Trump may not have attended. Was it on his agenda? The main Armistice event is today under the Arc de Triomphe, I don’t know if attendance at Compiègne the day before is normal for a US president. Was Trump even invited? Many people posted pictures of Obama standing in the rain, albeit at a wholly different event but you’d not know that from any caption. This is known as “fake news”. I’m certain that had Trump gone along, the same people now saying “disgraceful” over and over would complain he wasn’t welcome and he did or said something inappropriate. Or his wife looked too good in her outfit, as usual.

The blue checkmarks also simpered over this Tweet, and followed up in the comments with more Trump-bashing:


It’s a good pic, but I fear the sycophants are missing a vital point. Angela Merkel, who was supposed to be the leader of the free world when Trump “abdicated the responsibility”, is barely in charge of Germany having been rejected at the ballot box. Macron, who is fresh from honouring the leader of the Vichy Regime, has a popularity rating of 29%, a record low. Meanwhile, the Americans have just had a vote which, if it not exactly providing Trump with a ringing endorsement, did not show he was wildly disliked either.

So here we have American, British, and European elites praising two deeply unpopular leaders for a cutesy photo-op while criticising, for the millionth time, a president who remains popular with the masses. Perhaps Trump was being disrespectful for not going to Compiègne, but standing on the graves of dead soldiers to virtue-signal your dislike for him is hardly better.

That’s not the only point they’ve missed, though. A popular view among the dim or dishonest is that it was Trump-style nationalism that caused WWI, whereas it was as much about competing empires as anything. One could hardly argue, as you might with WWII, that populations were whipped into war fever before the shooting began in 1914, nor that those who fought were doing so for selfish internal interests. If we’re looking for parallels between today and the pre-1914 situation on mainland Europe, we might want to look at the EU and it’s economic and political bullying of member states and Macron’s recent call for pan-European army. For the elites, though, this is all good. No doubt Archduke Ferdinand thought much the same thing when planning the tour of his subjects in the Balkans.

Frankly, the sight of deeply unpopular German and French leaders cosying up, cheered on by elites who scream hysterically about an American president, does not bode well for peace in Europe.

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The French and Brexit

The other day I read a story in The Sun, which was repeated in The Express, saying French President Emmanuel Macron was threatening to blockade the port of Calais once Britain leaves the EU. I was going to write something in response but found no evidence in either article that Macron had said any such thing: it was merely speculation by some remainer politicians ramping up project fear.

It was nonsense, of course:

French officials have rejected suggestions they could resort to a “go-slow” policy at the port of Calais if there is no Brexit deal.

The UK’s Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab warned on Thursday of major disruption in a “worse case scenario”, which might force firms to use other ports.

But Xavier Bertrand, president of the Hauts-de-France region, said ensuring “fluidity” of trade was essential.

Another official said closing Calais would be an “economic suicide mission”.

As most of my readers know, I’ve been living in France since before the Brexit vote. Here’s the aggregate view of the French from where I’m standing: we don’t care. Now some might think the decision was stupid, but the French are no strangers to making silly decisions in what they perceive to be their national interest, and so can perfectly understand why a majority might have voted to leave. They also share the view of many mainland Europeans that Britain’s heart was never really in the EU project, they were always moaning and asking for opt-outs, and so perhaps they’re better off leaving. The subject of Brexit rarely even comes up; unsurprisingly, the French have other things to concern them.

So even if French politicians decided to punish Britain for leaving by causing chaos at the ports, this would be unpopular with ordinary Frenchmen who already take an exceptionally dim view of Macron. The French might burn a lorry load of British sheep on the motorway or illegally ban imports of British beef in order to protect their own industries, but they don’t hate the British to the point they want them punished over Brexit, let alone ports blocked which would hurt them as much as us.

Last weekend I met a bunch of Frenchmen to play some music, all of them over fifty. During the break the subject turned to politics, and they expressed their dissatisfaction with the ruling classes in France and Europe generally. I understand the younger generation have grown up brainwashed on EU propaganda, but rather than resenting Britain, I think a lot of French and other Europeans have more in common with Brexiteers than we think. Not that you’d know this listening to politicians or the media: their view of Europe comes from people of exactly the same privileged social class as them, only sitting in a different capital city. That they’re seriously suggesting the French are going to blockade Calais shows how little they know about the countries they’re fighting to maintain their partnership with.

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Meetings in France

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about presentations in French companies, which I thought was a useful precursor to what I will talk about now – meetings in France.

The most important thing to know about meetings in France is they are not convened for the purpose of sharing information and especially not for making decisions. Decisions in French companies are made by managers meeting informally, e.g. at lunch or in the coffee room or, in many cases, unilaterally by a single senior manager. It is important to understand that any meeting which looks as though it is convened for the purposes of making a decision is simply theatre, a ruse to hoodwink underlings and auditors that some sort of process has been followed. More often though, it is plainly obvious nothing of importance gets decided in French meetings because the whole thing is one long discussion with no decision at the end of it.

So what are they for? Well, that depends. If it’s a regular, scheduled meeting it’s to inform the management of what is going on in their own department. That I will make the subject of a separate post, because it deserves one all of its own. But if it’s any other meeting, it’s best thought of as something akin to the court of a medieval king, with a twofold purpose:

1. It gives subordinates an opportunity to impress the senior manager

This can be done by showing enthusiasm for the manager’s ideas, the latest management directive, or the process being followed. It can also be done by “offering solutions”, even if what is said is quite daft and the person has no expertise in the subject whatsoever. French meetings may be unique in that everyone has an equal say, so if the chap in charge of catering wants to weigh in on drilling, his opinions are considered just as valid as those of the drilling specialist. It is forbidden to suggest that because an individual has no knowledge or experience in a subject, he or she shouldn’t stick their beak in. I have tested this rule to destruction.

Another way of impressing the management is to catch one of your colleagues out on some area of knowledge or a technicality, thus making him look stupid. This stems from the French school system, and probably accounts for more man hours being wasted in France than anything else. If you can ask a question of your colleague (but never, ever your manager: I have also tested this to destruction) that he cannot immediately answer, you have scored a point by indicating you are sharper than he is. Astonishingly, French managers actually believe this. It’s therefore common in French meetings for someone to say “Aha! But did you think of this?” with “this” being some ludicrous scenario nobody in their right mind would consider. Indeed, if you did this in an Anglo-Saxon environment you’d be told to shut up and stop being silly, but in France all questions are valid, and so the person being asked cannot simply dismiss it. This is why their presentations consist of 96 slides with another 150 for backup: they have to anticipate someone asking, “but what was the pressure in the pipe in 1978?” and, if he doesn’t have the answer to hand, being pompously told “but you should know.” And then he watches the person who asked cast a quick glance at the boss before sitting back and with a smug grin of satisfaction all over his face. Without exaggeration, I have seen teams execute hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work and expend thousands of man hours studying ludicrous scenarios because “if someone asks in the presentation, we need to be ready”. Saying, “no we didn’t study this because it’s obviously stupid and unworkable” is an unacceptable answer in a French meeting; everything must be analysed and considered.

Finally, as a minimum everyone in a French meeting is expected to speak and contribute in order to get noticed by the manager, and it is these performances on which your career progression depends. You can now imagine why they go on so long. Things are made worse by the practice of having a “round the table” at the end of the meeting. So having listened to three hours of people ask stupid questions, opine on subjects way outside their area of expertise, and talk forever about how they discovered (at great expense) that water is wet, each individual is invited to have their final say to wrap things up. Each person, with one eye on the senior manager at the head of the table, will repeat whatever he or she said during the meeting in a process which takes no less than half an hour. If the term “replacement bus service” causes English speakers to contemplate suicide, the French words “tour de table” at the end of a pointless meeting that is already running an hour late will drain the will to live from even the sturdiest expat.

2. It reinforces the seniority of the manager

A Chinese chap I once worked with told me meetings in China consist of the big boss listening to various opinions of all his subordinates before making a declaration of what will happen next. Even if the manager has made a catastrophic error of judgement, perhaps by misunderstanding something technical, everyone will bow their heads and say “yes sir” in a show of unanimous obedience. It is career-suicide to even contemplate questioning the boss, regardless of how wrong he may be. Compared to Anglo-Saxon meetings, French meetings feel very Chinese. Once the senior manager has made his feelings known, there is very little pushback from subordinates who may well be seething (and will complain bitterly as soon as the meeting is over and the boss out of earshot). Making declarations and seeing everyone stare at the desk in silence, fearful over their next performance appraisal, is a useful way for a manager to reinforce his or her authority over the team. (I’ll let you imagine what it’s like for the manager when I’m in the room; there are reasons why my career has been dead for quite some time.)

The meeting also serves as an opportunity for the manager to assert his or her authority by assigning tasks to their team members. Often they are belittling admin tasks, or tasks the employee is wholly unsuited to perform, and the ordinary French employee has no choice but to accept they will do it as best they can. When it comes to snapping out random orders which leave their staff baffled, French managers are a lot more Asian or African than European. It is telling that they are often reluctant to issue orders one-on-one, and if they do it’s almost always via email, never face to face. This is because the orders are unimportant, and the tasks would be deemed unnecessary if the slightest thought was applied. Rather, it is the act of issuing instructions in full view of the team which is important, followed by the underling obeying without question. It’s also a test of loyalty, so a manager can identify who the troublemakers are. Usually, it was me.

If you ever find yourself in a French meeting, it is important you understand the true purpose of the meeting and the game that’s being played, and you abandon whatever expectations your own culture has supplied you with. Your best bet, though, is to avoid them altogether.

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Apartments in Britain and France

I’ve remarked before in the comments on other people’s blogs that one of the factors driving up the costs of British housing (although admittedly not the main one) is the British insistence of living in an independent dwelling, i.e. a house rather than a flat. More often than not, they also insist on having a “garden” which looks less like this:

And more like this:

For some reason, many Brits find the idea of living in high-density housing, i.e. blocks of flats abhorrent and would prefer to pay through the nose for a tiny, damp, decrepit house with half the available footprint rendered useless for living than a warm, comfortable, modern flat. This might be reasonable if you live in the countryside or in a small town, but Brits insist on living in a house even in London. This is why, when you take a train out of any large British city, you pass behind rows and rows of awful terraced housing. Take a train out of any European city and you don’t see individual houses until you’re near the outskirts.

I’ve just spent almost five years living in a suburb of Paris, a five minute walk from the metro station, in a building similar to these, which are typical:

My building was 8 storeys tall, each containing a 1-bed, a 2-bed, and a 3-bed flat. There were 3 buildings in all, so around 75 flats, all sharing communal parking, lifts, entrances, etc. The place I’ve moved to is broadly the same, only 4 buildings and about 150 flats. These are quite new and well built with proper concrete walls and floors; if I lived closer to the centre of Paris, I’d have been in an old building with paper-thin walls, but the communal living concept would have been the same. Some even share a heating and hot water system, but that’s much rarer now with new flats having an individual, fully-electric system (hurrah for cheap nuclear power!). Everyone pays a communal charge based on the surface area of each flat, and that goes towards running costs and maintenance, organised and managed by professional companies who exist for this purpose. I’ve heard of people having problems, but in general it runs quite well. This is how people live in French cities, and many raise families in apartment buildings even if many move further out and buy a house.

If you mention apartment blocks to Brits, though, they think of this:

Unfortunately, these have a terrible reputation because they were primarily used for social housing and stuffed full of people who nobody in their right mind would want as neighbours. And I think that’s the problem: Brits don’t make good neighbours. The British papers are full of stories about neighbours engaged in decade-long feuds, some of which turn violent, over the height of a hedge or the placement of a fence. In all instances the bottom line is, “This  is mine and I’ll do whatever the hell I want!” Whenever I had problems with noisy or anti-social neighbours in Britain, the reaction to any complaint was “It’s my house, I have the right to do whatever I want.” Sealed off in their own small houses, Brits don’t feel the need to consider anyone else. Little wonder moving them en masse to high-density tower blocks didn’t work out, then.

Contrast this with a note I found stuck on the lift in my Paris apartment building last week:

It reads: “Hello everyone, I beg your forgiveness for the noise over the past few days. I was extremely happy to see my friends who no longer live in Paris, and whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. All this is to tell you I am sincerely sorry, and it won’t happen again.”

I am reasonably sure this wasn’t posted after a complaint, too; they put it up having realised they were probably making a racket and in the interests of maintaining good relations with their neighbours (and the body that runs the building). Can you imagine this being posted in the lift of a British apartment block? No, nor me.

Later, someone wrote an addendum:

“Well done, one must enjoy life and especially the good things.”

In many cases, the problem of housing in Britain is not so much the type of accommodation but the mentality and quality of the tenants.

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Presentations in France

When I arrived in Paris in early 2014 I was sent on a training course entitled “Living and Working in France”. It was run by a French lady who’d worked for Michelin and been sent on expatriation to the US for several years. When she returned she realised how peculiar the French way of life must look to foreigners, so quit her job and set up this course, which was excellent. The course took two days, morning and afternoon, so four sessions in all. The first day was about life in France, the second covered the work environment. On that second day an entire morning – a quarter of the whole course – was dedicated to a single topic: meetings in a French company.

When she introduced this topic, the instructor laughed and said this is one of the things which baffles and infuriates most foreigners working in France so she had to give it plenty of attention in her course. Having spent almost five years sitting in meetings in France I can say she was absolutely correct, but the training only allows you to understand what is going on and why, which does little to ease the frustration. I was about to describe meetings in France in a blog post but realised I couldn’t do so without first describing what passes for a presentation in a large French company. Now aspects of this will certainly be found elsewhere, particularly in large, bureaucratic organisations, but parts of it will be uniquely French with the combination being quite horrific. So here goes.

The best people for giving presentations by far are Americans who’ve practiced it. They’ll stand at the front of a room with a slide showing a picture and they’ll kick things off by talking about why that picture is relevant. That gets your attention. A Frenchman will kick things off with an agenda he has no intention of sticking to. The American will then proceed to the next slide which has a maximum of three pieces of information in concise form, a picture or cartoon, and plenty of white space. He will then leave that slide on the screen as a focal point while he talks around it for several minutes, imparting the information you’ve come to receive. A Frenchman, on the other hand, will present a slide like this:

He will then read out what is on the slide, word for word if it’s a series of bullet points. Whereas the American uses his slides as a presentation aid, with the bulk of the information delivered verbally, the French think all information to be imparted must appear on the slide. It is common when preparing slides for a French manager for him to say “You forgot to mention it rains in Argentina”. If you say, “No, I’m going to say that in the presentation” you’ll be instructed to include it in the slide.

As such, when an American gives a presentation, he’s going at a rate of around one slide every four or five minutes on average, and each slide is light in content. When I’m asked to give a presentation I ask how long it is and aim for around one slide for every four minutes, with a couple spare at the back if I need to expand on something. The French, bless ’em, don’t appear to think there is any link between the number of slides and the allocated time, hence don’t use this as a basis for preparing the presentation.

Instead, they just put in as many slides as necessary to deliver the information they believe their hierarchy wants to see (French presentations are delivered solely to satisfy anyone in the room more senior than the presenter; anyone else might as well not be there). As such, it is not uncommon to see what is supposed to be a two-hour presentation contain eighty or ninety slides, each crammed full of text in size 8 font with almost no white space and graphs spilling over the margins. Nobody – not even the geniuses who finished top of the class in a polytechnique – seems to understand that a slide every 45 seconds for two hours is laughably impossible, and human beings can’t consume visual information at that rate. They get around the first problem by letting the presentation overrun by a ludicrous degree: I’ve seen hour long meetings go an hour and a half over time. The second problem doesn’t actually matter, and I’ll explain why.

A presentation in France is essentially a report using PowerPoint instead of MS-Word. I noticed some time ago certain managers don’t like reading block text. I suspect they believe it’s beneath them; rather than read a report and provide comments, they feel a lot more important ordering someone to stand in front of them and explain things in person. I once had a facility manager tell me he “didn’t have time” to read my project execution plan explaining what changes were about to be made on his asset, and instead I should make a trip of several days to give him a presentation. The implication was that four days or my time was worth less than half an hour of his, but I suspect he was just lazy.

The other reason some managers prefer presentations to reports is the same reason they prefer management-by-committee to individual decision-making: it allows them to evade responsibility. If someone writes a report and sends it up through the hierarchy, the managers have some sort of obligation to act on it, and they can’t claim ignorance. This is especially true if, as is the case most of the time, one of them has to sign it before it’s issued. Far better to have a presentation where lots of people are present, nobody really knows who said what, and every decision can be passed off as a collective effort or denied outright. Taken to its extreme, even technical work – calculations, designs, etc. – is not validated using an inter-discipline check endorsed with signatures, but by sticking the whole lot in PowerPoint and presenting it to a bunch of people who try to spot any errors. This actually happens. Several times in my recent career I asked for some technical data or a design and was handed a PowerPoint presentation. This is why it’s important all the information is contained in the slides themselves, and nothing left to be imparted only verbally: a presentation in France is often the method by which work is endorsed by the hierarchy, as opposed to signing off on a document. Unlike elsewhere, it’s not actually a method of sharing information in the sense normal people would understand the term, hence it doesn’t matter that it’s ineffective.

In summary, the reason presentations in French companies differ so wildly from those found anywhere else is because they serve a totally different purpose. For the uninitiated, I’ll leave it to you to imagine what it’s like sitting through one of these things on a warm afternoon.

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