1. Look, I want the dubious delights of arseholes-in-the-sky Business Class. I want to strut self-importantly round the Business Lounge at East Midlands airport, snaffling complimentary peanuts and barking into my mobile. It goes with the territory. I accept it; I embrace it. I am ready and waiting to be anointed into the ranks of Euro-Jetset-Business-Trash. So don’t palm me off with f***ing cheap-n-cheerful bmibaby, OK? Where you have to flail your arms about desperately in order to have a stewardess in a sweatshirt (I ask you, a sweatshirt) charge you £1.50 for an “instant cappucino” with lumps of dried powder still floating about on top of it. No, no, this won’t do at all.
2. I must be more naive than I thought. So many children at the airport, off on holiday with their parents a week before the end of term, simply in order to get the cheap deals. These children should have been in school. What sort of parent would do such a thing? Apparently, this is common practice. I never knew; I was genuinely shocked.
3. The first sign that French offices are different from British offices: people smoking in the corridors. Actually, people smoking almost everywhere. Evidence for the comparative lack of stigma attached to the habit: the health warnings on the fag packets. British packets: massive scary warnings in the largest typeface possible. GO ON DIE THEN YOU SICK F***ERS! French packets: discreet little if-I-might-be-so-bold hints, in the tiniest typeface possible. Pour etre en bonne santé, ne fumez pas. Polite form of “vous” and everything. I’m only surprised they didn’t add s’il vous plait.
4. Second big difference: French office workers have the best manners. Everybody shakes hands, all the time. Strangers wander into the office: everybody gets up, shakes hands, exchanges cordial pleasantries. At my previous job, it took three months before anyone would even speak to me.
5. Third big difference: lunch. French office workers still respect the sanctity of the lunch hour. None of this “wolfing a sandwich down at your desk in 30 seconds flat” nonsense. Both the canteens I visited served properly prepared hot meals, with a wide array of choices. (I had cuisses de grenouilles – that’s yer actual frogs’ legs. Never had them before, and very delicious they were too. Bloody fiddly to eat though – all those little bones – but delicious all the same.) Proper hors d’oeuvres as well…and proper desserts…and even bottles of wine, if you please. Booze and fags in the staff canteen – imagine! In one canteen, you could also repair to a separate “cafeteria” area after your meal, for proper coffee and more cigarettes. Oh, it was just so, so civilised.
6. Not everything was different, though. The same old corporate mission-statement wankspeak bollocks was still pinned up around all the offices. Not a uniquely British disease after all, then. It might have been in French, but I could still spot it in an instant. The same thing went for the grisly Pravda-style “everything is fantastic” in-house glossy periodicals. “Encore une triomphe pour notre equipe de marketing internationale!” Well, maybe not in those exact words, but you get the general drift…
7. Next time I go over to Paris, I’ll be flying out on the night before. Because getting up at 5:30 to get to the airport did not sit well with me at all. In fact, by the second day I was suffering from full-on jet lag. Which is no good when you’re trying to concentrate and make a good impression. To this end, keeping myself alert by repeatedly jabbing biros into my palms proved to be a less than satisfactory coping strategy.
8. I need to learn how to avoid automatically subordinating myself to other people in semi-formal situations (be they professional or social). It benefits nobody, and it only makes me look like an arse.
9. The expected Snotty Parisian Attitude never materialised. Not anywhere. Instead, everybody was uncommonly polite and charming: hotels, cafes, bars, taxis, the lot. Maybe this was partially because we were well away from any of the obvious tourist haunts. Or maybe that Snotty Parisian Attitude isn’t quite as prevalent as people seem to think.
10. All things considered, I think I might get to quite like this Travelling Round Europe On Business lark (if it indeed does materialise). At any rate, this was a good start.