A Communication Disconnect Between Two Cultures


Let’s continue with my observations of the LeWeb incident. LeWeb is one of the few events in Europe that gets successful web businessmen from North American to come to Europe to discuss web trends. It is an initiative by the French man Loic LeMeur who runs a business in California.

You can read the summary and see the video on yesterday’s post:

Today I want to tell you how I personally reacted to the incident.

Through The Eyes Of A Potential Attendee

First I have to give you some background information:

  • I have an international web marketing business
  • LeWeb happens in Paris, an hour’s drive in for me
  • Naturally, I considered going

In the end, I decided against it for a combination of reasons:

  • Not really on target with my business, price and schedule.

When I first heard about the LeWeb incident my first reaction was unease.

  • Unease at the lack of professionalism
  • …I came close to investing my money and my time with this?

That was before I actually saw the video.  As I said yesterday, you need to put everything into the right context.  There was quite a bit going on here.

In the final analysis, there was little substance for anyone to get upset.  And this is not really a cross-cultural communication blunder.  It’s more like a slight ruffle.

Disconnect In Communication Style

As a European business owner I expect a certain level of professionalism for any business investment I make.

The video you see on Anita’s post makes it clear that this is a “friendly” wrap up discussion.

This is an American discussion, in tone, style and vocabulary. This is where there is a slight disconnect:

  • The audience was European
  • In Europe
  • And they paid to come to this event

Of course the attendees knew who the panelists were before coming and came to hear what they had to say.

There are differences between the American and European cultural acceptance of the language and tone.

It is highly unlikely that the French people in this audience would pay to attend an event with the same vocabulary and tone in the French language.

And this probably holds true across the majority of the European audience.

As an international marketer I am constantly confronted with the difference in communication style between the two continents.

This difference is actually stronger in what is expected.

My French clients usually agree that conversational language is best.

But when it actually comes down to creating international marketing materials in English…

…They usually want something more formal.

There are actually three things to establish:

  • What people agree to as acceptable
  • What people expect
  • What people actually accept

Ripe Environment For Wrong Debate

The main question:

  • Was there a cultural disconnect before the debate on whether 2-hour lunches make French entrepreneurs less productive compared to American entrepreneurs?
  • Was there a cultural disconnect with different expectations of the European audience?

On one side of the coin, a few other questions come to mind.

  • Would the Americans behaved the same if this was an event between Americans and a more eastern region of the world?
  • Would the French have behaved differently if they did not feel awe for the Americans of Silicon Valley?
  • Do web businessmen differ from offline businessmen?
  • If there is some kind of a link here, is it anything to do with the inherent characteristics of a new business environment?

On the other side of the coin, I do think that:

  • Cultural encounters may go through growing pains to move all parties forward.
  • LeWeb needs to continue here in France or Europe.
  • Yes, I probably will consider attending the next one, because…
  • We can all build our international skills by looking at this incident and using it to move forward towards further cross-cultural encounters.

My Personal Gut Response

It was a personal shock.

I had not realized just how strong my European side is.  I usually only feel the friction of being North American.  Logical, I guess.

I definitely expected more business-like language at this event… even at a friendly, laid-back closing session.

Sometimes I found the laid-back tone leaned towards insolence. But I think this is because I watched the video and did not attend live.

Beyond my personal reaction, I think this language and tone created a certain lack of respect for the European audience.

The problem is that this lack of respect questions the credibility of these high profile Silicon Valley entrepreneurs as models to follow.

Yes, I understand and totally agree with the value behind focused concentration. And share most, if not all, North American work ethics myself.

But as an international sales and marketing executive here in Europe I have built relationships with people across all of Europe.

Most Europeans simply need more to build relationships.

  • More time
  • More face-to-face contact

Sharing meals is full of symbolism in many countries.

Even in the United States…

  • Remember the 1960′s, when sharing meals was also one of the symbol of the standard American family.

France USA In Business

One of the best blends of cultures I have seen in business is between a French man and an American.

These two cultural behavior traits usually do well in business… after the initial getting to know each other phase.

This is why I am confident that future LeWeb events will benefit both cultures.

…Not done yet.  One more comment to make on this incident!  Tomorrow I will show you a bit more about the different cultural behaviors in play here.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts and comments below.

Photos from Shutterstock.

  Filed under: Cross-Cultural Communication

Cindy King

  • http://digg.com/ FoophyCotytnv

    Great ideas. I try to make things work in my business overseas but I have a lot of problem, one of them is money. Like Arny says, I’ll be back.

    • http://cindyking.biz Cindy

      Looking forward to seeing you back!

      Have you thought about doing some international web marketing? Connecting with your foreign clients on foreign social media platforms? Heavy time investment but can be low cost.

      Who knows you might come up with an initial project idea on a small scale where you hook up with a foreign partner first. The more international business intelligence you have the easier it will get. Have a look at the Useful Resource Pages in yellow in the right sidebar here towards the bottom. You will find lots of information for people to get started.

  • DulkAlcorerek

    it’s not just different cultures like different countries. Men don’t understand women. Liberals, conservatives and Christians betwen themselves.

    • http://cindyking.biz Cindy

      Yes, communication between people is full of variety and problems often have multiple layers. That’s why I found this example of communication disconnect rather interesting. The difficulty created by cultural differences are clear to see.

  • excaragapic

    the disconnect is not only betwen 2 cultures. sometimes men and women have the disconnect and it is easy to have a disconnect between the East and West coast of the US (but they are probably different cultures).

    • http://cindyking.biz Cindy

      Interesting comment about East and West coast Americans. I would love to get some more feedback about this. Wonder what the differences are…?