Can We Agree to Disagree?
Exploring the differences at work between Americans and the French: A cross-cultural perspective on the gap between the Hexagon and the U.S., and tips for successful and happy collaborations.
At first, there’s this impression that we’re alike, that being French or American is kind of the same. We celebrate the same heroes, sing the same tunes, and prefer the same cool looks.
But once we start working together, sharing the same office space, and using the same coffee machine, we notice that our ways of working diverge, and that we do not understand each other as much as we thought we did. Soon enough, we become suspicious, embarrassed, judgmental… Working together becomes challenging. All of a sudden, we realize that the ocean that separates us is real!
Sabine Landolt and Agathe Laurent, co-authors of this book, have been through this deep realization themselves.
– Sabine, Swiss-American, has had significant experience living in Italy and in France, arrived with her family in New York in 2008.
– Agathe, spent her early childhood in the US and later had an international professional career, was onboarded to her new job in New York in 2014.
Without a question, both experienced challenging work-related moments, due to cultural misunderstanding and radically different approaches to work. The simplest task became mountainous obstacles to overcome. All basics became such as obstacles.
Deeply inspired by their own journey, they decided to create this very unique book: a compelling collection of stories from French and American professionals about their experiences working together. This book reveals the risks of misjudgments, miscommunications and related emotions. It provides tips to accelerate mutual understanding, with a clear and simple ambition: To help let go of stereotypes, spark curiosity, and encourage professionals to combine the best of both cultures, for happier, easier and more successful professional collaborations.
What makes this book so different?
This book introduces a whole new concept with very unique learnings , with an approach that’s a bit provocative as well as evocative! This book shows the severe risk of mutual misjudgment. The authors don’t try to reinvent the wheel here nor to dig into the ‘why’s’. Through doubts, observations, interrogations, experiences, the reader grasps the profundity of the gap, and the deep emotions -i.e. the symptoms- in those moments.
This book is about real stories, which we hope will make the readers smile and relate to, whomever they are and wherever they live–in France or in the U.S. It is not about trying to be scientific, nor relying on the Theory—we know there are nuances of all types, based on the regions, the industry, and roles within an organization. And of course, there’s a person’s unique history . This book speaks about what matters most to people, and where the issues are the most numerous and unexpected. The authors are not trying to be comprehensive—the topics come directly from the 50 interviews—split evenly between Americans and French people, conducted in a semi-directed mode, following the methods of Freud and Piaget, working with associations and spontaneous probes. This book provides tips and tricks on how to get there. Where, you may ask? Again, happier, more effective work collaboration. The work is not about taking sides, defending one perspective versus the other, nor about criticizing one group —on the contrary, our profound goal is to provide a blueprint for a successful collaboration between Americans and the French. We know that both possess unique assets that can create an extraordinary alchemy. Our common history and alliances have demonstrated the fruitfulness of the friendship between these two great Nations!
There is a lot to continue doing in order to combat preconceived ideas about each culture. Only a few organizations seem truly willing to embrace this issue “seriously.” For example, there are typically still insufficient incentives to encourage people to learn foreign languages, which remains the first important step toward another culture. And other solutions currently deployed to facilitate the dialogue and bridge the gaps remain too limited: Having an onboarding program, or being taught the scale difference, is not enough! So, even though it may appear to be a drop in the bucket, this book works towards bridging that gap. It is inspired by the real conviction that discovering other cultures is a blast. That working in an international context is both a huge opportunity and a time to be cherished. This should be true in the professional sphere as much as in the personal sphere. This book is an invitation to continue the journey of exploring the richness of working together, making sure we accept our differences, understand them, and learn from them to make each of us a stronger professional and a better person.
WHY THEY LIKE THIS BOOK
One of the most basic human needs is to understand and be understood. Yet we live in a time when it has become ex- ceeding challenging to fulfill such a need. This book despite its deceiving didactic simplicity offers valuable insights on how to suspend certainties and listen to the other with the intent to understand, not with the intend to judge.
— YOUSSEF MAHMOUD, Former UN Under-Secretary-General, (Senior Advisor at the International Peace Institute)
La présentation de projets aux équipes américaines et les retours immédiats avec des mots positifs et constructifs par- ticipent de leur rayonance. Cette positivité est inclusive et énergique! Le livre de Sabine Landoltet Agathe Laurentestpar- ticulièrement inspirant pour trouver ce chemin de l’inclusion et collaboration positive entre des esprits très différents — ceux des Américains et des Français!
— DOROTHEE CHARLES, Cultural and Artistic Director Development, Cartier NA
A very original book to explore cultural differences between the French and Americans in a way that I have never seen before! This book is lighthearted and fun but also deep and meaningful. Every French moving to the US for work should read this book, and vice versa. It is lively, original, useful and so human!
— GERARD ARAUD, Ambassador of France to the United States from 2014 to 2019
With a thorough, empirical, and dare I say loving approach, Laurent and Landolt show us that differences abound among French and American co-workers, but in the end, there is always a willingness to come together for the greater good. Each nationality recognizes something in themselves, and admires or remarks at least, something unique among their peers in a new shared environment. That seems an excellent foundation on which to build new alliances for the greater good for the business at hand. Surely, more books like this would make a success of international business, creative endeavors and non-profits, alike.
— MOLLY BRENNAN, Vice President Sales, International luxury furniture and textiles
Cet ouvrage très nouveau, fondé sur les expériences réelles de jeunes gens multiculturels d’aujourd’hui, fait le point avec clarté et précision sur les leçons fondamentales qui s’imposent à toute personne cherchant à travailler avec succès en France et aux Etats-Unis. Écrit simplement et intelligemment, il offre de nombreux exemples concrets, dans des contextes variés, qui aideront les lecteurs à naviguer plus à l’aise dans des situations complexes en comprenant les règles du jeu et en évitant les écueils qui pourraient compromettre leur réussite.2
— FRANÇOIS RIGOLOT, Meredith Howland Pyne Professor of Literature Emeritus, Princeton University
I am still enjoying dipping my toes into the French American differences pool, finding what would work for me and what wouldn’t. As a I am myself originally from Rio de Janeiro but leaving in Sao Paulo, two different cultures in the same country, a book like “Can We Agree to Disagree? “ is definitely my cup of tea!
— BERNARDO FARIA, Entrepreneur and Contemporary art Collector, Sao Paulo/New York
I remain fascinated by this great country and intrigued by the Americans. So close and so far away. Money, sex, religion: we don’t laugh at the same jokes and don’t take offense at the same flaws. This is what Sabine and Agathe are talking about, with finesse, intelligence, benevolence, humor too. Their book will surprise you, make you smile, certainly think and perhaps spare you some blunders. Must read: on this one at least, can we agree to not disagree?
— PHILIPPE LALLIOT, Current French Ambassador in Dakar, Senegal
Like having a relationship therapist in your pocket! A thoughtful guide to navigating the sometimes choppy waters of French-American relationships; with a focus on the power of empathy.
— KATE GREENE, Global fragrance industry executive and Founder, OUR HOUSE Creative Agency
As an American, I like to focus on action and results, and this book allows take-away steps to make a difference. As a person raised in France, I am sensitive to all things French. I am a true “hybrid” and have used my deep knowledge of both systems and cultures to my advantage throughout my career, and as a “citizen of the world”. The French and American people seem so similar, but the cross-cultural workplace epitomizes many of these dichotomies and differences. A must read for the open minded looking to become better people and more productive at work.
— ELSA BERRY, Managing Director, Vendome Global Partners
I have been through the French cursus par excellence and never thought I would spend such a big part of my professional—and personal obviously—life in the US. Ten years so far, and still counting, over the course of two stays. I have been in more than 40 states. I have supported or joined everything which in one way or another seems transatlantic. I regret nothing of all my past efforts… but this book: had Sabine and Agathe written it earlier I would have saved time and energy and avoided pitfalls and mistakes. Never too late. Thanks to them, I’m getting ready for my next chapter. Merci !
— BERTRAND BADRÉ, CEO Blue like an Orange Sustainable Capital
La beauté de l’histoire franco-américaine ne saurait gommer les difficultés relationnelles qui naissent parfois de nos différences socio-culturelles. Grâce à une expertise très pragmatique, un ton ludique et bienveillant, ce livre ravive l’enthousiasme à œuvrer ensemble. Frenchies et Yankees ont tant à apprendre les uns des autres !3
— FRÉDÉRIQUE BEDOS, Fondatrice de l’ONG d’Information, Le Projet Imagine
This book by Agathe and Sabine offers a practical guide to understanding the working relationships between the French and (North) Americans— especially relevant for professionals working in the province of Quebec, Canada, a culture that is heavily influenced by France. I moved from Toronto to Montreal in 2016, and this book would have been extremely useful in helping me navigate the complexities and dynamics of working with my French colleagues from get-go, rather than learning a lot of the lessons outlined in the book the hard way. Highly recommended reading!
— RENJIE BUTALID, Startup Ecosystem Builder AI Ethics, Entrepreneur, Lecturer McGill University
The authors lay out and explain through a rich and true-life selection picks of experiences, from both Americans and French sides, very realistic situations. This book pictures not only the immense gap between both cultures, how ste- reotypes easily lead to misjudgments, and most importantly how urgent it is to drop preconceived ideas. We finally have to admit, that both cultures ways of doing bring tremendous complimentary.
— CLAIRE ISNARD, Global Executive in Fashion&Luxury
In business as in love, any relationship between the French and the American is mined with a potential for misunderstandings and joyous collaboration. Agathe and Sabine have written a practical, engaging guide to happy transatlantic unions.
— MATTHEW KAMINSKI, Editor-in-chief of Politico, co-founder of Politico Europe