It’s only fitting that I write a post about communication sitting in a conference room in France. Last night we had dinner scheduled for 8PM with a company at Le Procope, the oldest restaurant in Paris (est 1686). We were excited – this restaurant had patrons like Danton, Voltaire, John Paul Jones, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.
We’ve been having a difficult time getting cabs here in Paris (not uncommon). The cabs come and go at their convenience. We waited for half an hour or so at the hotel and the concierge told us to head to the Taxi stand around the corner. Around the corner in France is much further than around the corner in the United States. We walked about half a kilometer down the road to an intersection with a Taxi stand. And there we stood… another 45 minutes. At this point we’re late for dinner and we hadn’t left yet!
Our taxi eventually showed up, a petite beautiful french woman at the wheel. She politely asked where we were going… “Le Procope” we responded. In French she asked for the address. I had previously sent the address to my phone but didn’t sync it up so I wasn’t sure – other than that the restaurant was down by the Louvre. For the next 5 minutes we were passionately chewed out in words that I hadn’t heard since my Mom yelled them (she’s Quebecois) as a young child. The taxi driver was yelling with such clarity, I was able to actually translate…. “a lot of restaurants in Paris”…. “was she supposed to have them all memorized”…. Bill (business partner) and I sat with our heads down, scrambling to lock in a wireless signal and get the address.
Stressed out, I asked Bill for the address. He remembers everything… he had to remember this. Bill looked at me stressed beyond relief and began to repeat what he thought the address to be… in French. “Why are you telling me in French? Just spell it!!!!” He spells it with a French accent… I’m going to kill him. By this point, we look like Abbott and Costello getting our butts kicked by an angry French taxi driver that’s about half the size of us.
Our taxi driver headed out! She drove fast… screaming and beeping at any car or pedestrian who dared to get in her way. By the time we hit central Paris, Bill and I could only laugh. I picked up more of her speech… “sick in the head”… “eat it!” as we darted in and out of traffic.
Eventually, we made it to the heart of Paris.
Our taxi driver didn’t know the street (she needed a cross-street), so she let us out and told us to look for it. At this point, we were just incredibly thankful to be downtown, safe, and were even laughing given the theatrics we just witnessed. I told her I loved her in French, and she blew me a kiss… we were on our way.
Or so we thought.
We walked around and around downtown for the next hour or so… now 2 hours late for dinner. At this point, we hoped our company began to eat without us and we decided to throw in the towel and grab dinner on our own. That was when we passed the Tex Mex Indiana restaurant… Bill and I had to both take pictures.
We rounded a corner and there before us was Le Procope in all its glory. We hurried inside and the waitress told us that our company was still there! We shared a lot of laughs as we retold the events of the evening. Dinner was amazing, and we made some new friends.
There were some lessons learned, though:
- In order to communicate effectively with your audience, you must speak their language.
- In order to communicate effectively with your audience, you must also understand their culture.
- In order to get to your destination, you need to know exactly where that is – with as much definition as possible.
- Don’t give up! It may take you more than one way to get there.
This advice transcends French and English or France and Indiana. It’s how we need to look at marketing as well. In order to effectively communicate, we need to know exactly where our market is, where we want them to be, use methods to move them effectively that are natural to them, and speak in their language – not ours. And if you don’t connect the first way, you may have to try other ways to get your message through.
If you’re wondering… we took the subway back to the hotel. 🙂
This research stems from a survey of 165 marketing, commerce and supply chain executives, and 12 deep-dive interviews with executives who reveal the ways they are rethinking their engagement strategy.