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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Efficiency: How North American

Yesterday in Paris I watched three officers write a parking ticket. For the same car. They all stood facing the improperly parked vehicle and wrote in their respective parking offense books. It appeared as though two of them were writing on blue forms in triplicate and another was completing pink forms. I am pretty sure the blue forms of the two offers were identical - what do you call triplicate doubled?

All this to say, there could be some inefficiency in France. And when you think about it, any city with 20 mayors in 20 city halls could be suspected of having some built in inefficiency.

Let's compare this with my North American home culture where we are oh so efficient:

Speaking: We talk fast and use short sentences. Everyone has a shortened form of their name in case we do not have time to say the whole name. Okay there are places where the whole name takes a lot of time, like Billy Bob Ray Lee, but in most circumstances I wonder if this short cutting is really necessary. In Nova Scotia we take it to a higher level by trying to say even short sentences really fast, so "Did you eat yet?" becomes "Jeet yet?". No time is wasted on speaking.

Eating: In North America the typical meal occurs between two other activities, such as working and working, or during other activities, such as Facebooking and watching television or you guessed it, working. Restaurants are often motivated to get the first group of diners on their way in order to make way for a second or third shift, completely possible when we have many diners beginning at 5PM (no one would show up for dinner here before 7, which is still considered very early for anything except a pre-dinner drink, called an apero). And upon arriving at a restaurant we expect the meal to appear within mere moments of our backsides hitting the chair. So much more efficient than, say arriving a bit later in the evening, enjoying an apero and some nice conversation, receiving entree, main and dessert in a leisurely manner (yes, the entree comes before the main, no matter what we write on American menus), and finally a small coffee (the one concession to time efficiency here in France) as final topics of conversation are wrapped up. 

Working: You know it, that thing that occurs during eating, also during sleeping but hopefuly not during more intimate activities. We North Americans all arrive early in the morning, make our way to our respective desks without so much as a how do you do to our colleagues, sit at our desks and work. Alone. Without talking, which would only consume time.  This is quite different from my experience in Paris where everyone arrives a little later (they probably slept in after that late dinner, or didn't sleep at all after that even later coffee). Each person takes a few minutes to kiss their colleagues, or at a minimum shake their hand, ask how they are, listen to the answer, and respond in kind. Anything interesting that has occurred since the day before is shared, sometimes over a very small coffee, and then the work day can begin. The work day almost certainly involves a lot more conversation than the average North American is used to, as each topic deserves some team input and discussion. In the middle of the day everyone stops and has lunch, usually together, and more conversation takes place. Finally, by 6 or 7PM, each person leaves after taking a moment to say goodnight to their colleagues. It takes some getting used to, all this talking and time that could have been spent, yes working. Alone. At my desk. Teamwork without the actual talking to people is what I was used to.

On balance? If enjoying a three hour dinner means I have to accept some inefficiencies, I choose the three hour dinners. Thanks Paris for not always being easy, but for never being boring.


  1. I love inefficiency. It’s one of the reasons I love being an artist.

    Although I get up early and have no commute, I frequently don’t start working seriously until around 10:00. There are no co-workers in my studio to hug and chat with, just a mannequin who never has anything interesting to say, but I take out my colors and get to work on something that has no deadline, rarely any monetary value, and I usually don’t even know what it is yet. I might work on this piece for days, even weeks. Some days I take a 3 hour lunch! When it’s finished I start another, because it’s never really done.

    The obsessive part is that I think about this 24/7.

    1. I may have given the impression that my colleagues do not work long hours, which would not be accurate. In fact those of us who work for an American company based in France have the opportunity to do 6AM teleconferences with clients in the East, and 10PM conf calls with HQ in the US. The normal work day is the peanut butter in the sandwich.
      But we get to live in Paris and travel around the world, so on balance life is good!

  2. It sounds like a much more civilized way of living...I knew Paris had the answers!


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