I’m currently in the south of France, basking in the glorious sunshine in the odd moment or two when I’m not working. The few days I’m here are an opportunity to catch up with the latest developments and debates in the industry in which I work, as well as to spend time with colleagues and acquaintances that I haven’t seen for a while. And inevitably, that means ‘doing lunch’.
Meeting people and spending time getting to know them is a pretty essential part of my job, and as a result, I’ve had more than my fair share of business lunches. Sadly they can’t all be like today’s lunch, which involved seafood, good company and plenty of chatting – all in a swanky restaurant on the beach with the sun gleaming majestically off the sea a few yards away. There are worse ways to earn a living, I can tell you.
What struck me today is that eating out at lunchtime is different wherever you are in the world. When I first started out in my career back in the UK, I had a number of lunches that could potentially have had books or plays written about them, such was the bacchanalian excess that ensued on more than one occasion. All in the name of (professional) relationship building, obviously. Drinking at lunchtime in Britain is a commonly accepted part of doing business, and although not everybody does it, it’s certainly not frowned upon in most companies. Unless your business is ‘driving trains’, of course.
In the United States, business lunches are much more transactional and, well, professional. There is a more firmly established agenda, and conversation is much less likely to deviate from work matters. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s actually a more open and transparent way of doing business that admits that two people can have a professional relationship without first having to talk about the recent downturn in temperature, or whether the other person’s dog is properly house-trained.
Certainly, the very prospect of alcohol with lunch generally seems to be frowned upon in America, unless you know that person very well. Even at lunches with friends, the ordering of a beer tends to lead to your companion sighing wistfully before not-so-subtly mentioning the magazine feature they’ve recently read on Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Here in France of course, not ordering at least a bottle of wine with lunch as my colleague and I did today can lead to near instant deportation. But to be fair, the
stillflat water that we opted for instead meant that we could concentrate far better on the glorious food placed infront of us. While the British focus on the booze, and Americans on the business, the French just make sure that they get the food right. Which to my mind shows they’ve got their priorities in exactly the right place. And probably explains why they’re perfectly happy to sit there for two hours enjoying the experience.
Now if you don’t mind, it’s almost time for dinner. After the meals I’ve had over the last few days, I should probably phone the airline to see if I can get an extra wide seat.