I spent yesterday flying back from France by way of the Netherlands, and it occurred to me, leaving Europe and transitioning back into American society via passport control and customs procedures, walking through airports, driving along highways and finally looking into my fridge and cupboards that the cultural chasm between Europe and the United States is far greater than my brain had made it out to be.
For a third culture guy like me, a completely integrated and fully bilingual/bi-cultural expat with one foot squarely planted in North America and the other perhaps more lightly planted in Europe, this didn’t seem so obvious for some reason. There are things you can only glimpse, not grasp, when your stay in a foreign country lasts only a few days. Spend a month or six or twelve overseas however, and your perspective begins to change, and your world view with it. June in Europe – untethered from my laptop, from email, from my daily blog reading, from the echo chamber of Social Media chatter, from the unfortunate distractions that have become CNN and MSNBC and Fox News, from myopic political, business and even marketing philosophies that serve only to hobble even our best intentions, from soulless landscapes of increasingly impersonal national chain signage, and finally from the endless crap that fills our days, obscures our vision and keeps us from actually making real forward progress in business, economics, living standards and life in general – was a big eye opener for me. On so many levels.
So what can a business strategist/consultant/marketing guy like me learn from eating a panbagnat on a beach in Cannes, ordering a Nutella crepe from a street vendor in Paris, driving to Monaco by the bord de mer, watching an Italian cafe owner prepare and serve a cappuccino with as much ease as grace, watch how foreigners struggle to order food in the restaurant section of the TGV, pass through passport control in 5 different countries and a thousand other little experiences that together trigger as many “a-ha” moments in his brain? A lot. A hell of a lot.
Things that working in the same cubicle day after day, locked in the bubble of busy-work and petty office politics and managing endless repetitive tasks cannot. Not that they aren’t necessary, not that I still don’t have to deal with email, conference calls and meetings, but when these things take over your days, they begin to trap you. You start to sink under the weight of now and yesterday instead of tacking to the winds of tomorrow, next month and next year, without which – if you know anything about both business dynamics and/or sailing – will have you in irons before you know it.
The first question someone asked me upon landing in Greenville this morning was “did any of our news make it over there while you were in Europe? Our politics?” I promptly answered “no. Nobody in France or most of the world really cares about US politics – unless they have a bearing on their own, which is seldom the case. They have their own political issues to worry about.” At best, their own navel-gazing to do, at worst, their own fires to put out, both I suspect in equal measure.
I could write an elaborate blog post today and discuss in intricate detail how different the EU’s approach to forging a better future for its citizen is, how cleverly European nations began to overcome infrastructure, energy, economic, social and political hurdles long before the US ever will, how much power people have over their governments, and how regulation actually HELPS rather than stunts business growth in Europe nowadays, but I won’t. I have far too much work to catch up on, far too many things to square away before my next trip, and far too much thinking to do about my own wants, needs and aspirations beyond 2010. There is so much work to be done, so much work that can and should be done… and it is becoming increasingly clear that much of this work simply cannot be done from little old Greenville, South Carolina.
Nor should it. (Don’t expect any more information from me about this last point. I am still only thinking, not yet planning.)
Between you and me, rather than going on and on about one subject or another, about Social Media or corporate cultures, about R.O.I. or content, even about how European companies and American companies require completely different approaches when it comes to customer experience design (what weighs heavily on my mind today), I would much rather hear what’s on your mind.
Photo by Margaret Bourke White.