business news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a story Friday about the French government considering legislation to protect its native businesses (such as Danone) being acquired by foreign companies (like PepsiCo).

We commented that it was just a month ago that France voted against the European Union constitution, and wondered if these kinds of declarations suggest that just maybe the French government doesn’t believe in globalization.

We also noted that “there have been numerous people (including a few Frenchmen we know) who have commented that France’s problem is that is still debating the 35-hour work week when there are plenty of other countries where people are willing to work a 35-hour work day.”

To which one MNB user responded:

What is interesting to me is that Americans love to jump all over France when the country decides to do something about protecting businesses with a historical and cultural significance. The same way any country protects a national monument, the French see businesses as falling under the same rules. To them it is about the preservation of a cultural identity.

As Americans we believe so much in globalization, we are willing to sell anything to anyone especially our jobs to foreign nations. The position that outsourcing to another country as being better than protecting what the French see as a national treasure is very short-sided and endemic of profits being more important than national heritage.

To this day, when Americans return from France the stories are predictable; they fall into one of two camps:

1. I hated it, it was not like America.
2. I loved it, it was not like America.

Group 1 loves globalization and the homogenization of experiences. Next time, they should just head to Vegas and save themselves from confronting the fact that there are different cultures out there with different cultural values and tastes. By the way, a Big Mac in France tastes the same as here, except there you can wash it down with a beer. They may be rude to tourists, the French are rude to everyone, especially to other French people. It is a game they play. Don't take it personally. Take it from someone who lived there for 20 years.

Group 2 is saddened by globalization and the homogenization of experiences. They are curious and enchanted by the fact that the French are different. France has one of the richest cultures in the world. Everywhere you look, it is different: food, wine, architecture, accents, landscapes, climates (all 5 of them), etc. Every 20 feet promises a new surprise. All this in a country that fits in Texas.

As for the 35 hours a work week and mandatory 5 weeks paid vacation…Let's just imagine how much happier we would be stateside if we could spend a little time with our families enjoying weeks away from work, letting our minds and bodies rest. Is it an inefficient system? Perhaps. Is it healthier? Perhaps. Are the French willing to renounce money in exchange for time and a cultural identity? Absolutely.

If life is measured by economics, the US still has the edge - until the Chinese take over.

Let's dig up the New York Times from this Sunday the 24th of July, turn to Section 3, the Business Section. Well, what have we here:

China has a bid to buy Unocal, a medium-sized American oil company. The takeover was put on hold as the board of Unocal has embraced an offer from Chevron. Yet, the offer from Cnooc, the government-backed Chinese oil company is higher??!!

Did I just read correctly that we would take less money so our companies don't end up in foreign hands? Oooops, it seems that America is also not above protecting its business cultural identity.

Let the finger pointing end. Because the French are different does not mean that they are stupid. Because America is the 800 pound gorilla of the business world does not make it smarter or less impervious to business patriotism.

So, go to France and get into a political, social and economic argument over who has the better system. And then both of you can reflect on it over a great bottle of wine, some magical food, stinky cheese, while overlooking a thousand year old quaint little village square during your 3 week government-sanctioned paid vacation.


How do you say, “the Content Guy got smacked around” in French?

May we respond?

First of all, longtime readers of MNB will know that more often than not, we say nice and good things about France and the French people – we even get nasty emails from people when we give a French wine a good review, but don’t particularly care. We love France, we love almost all the French people we know, and, quite frankly, hate the whole notion of homogenization.

You say there are two groups of people in terms of attitudes toward France. But we think you are painting too much in black and white.

The fact is that one can regret some of the implications of globalization (such as the loss of national identity) but recognize that it is inevitable – there’s not much that anyone can do about it, and if countries and companies are to remain viable and credible, they need to understand this reality of modern economic and political life.

By the way, some of the more passionate arguments about the need for the French people to work longer, harder and smarter have come from (go figure!) French people, who don’t want their nation to become a charming yet irrelevant player on the world stage.

Are homogenization and globalization synonyms? We don’t think so. At least not necessarily.

And maybe it is up to all of us to make sure they are not treated as synonyms.

MNB wrote Friday about how Nolan Bushnell, founder of the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant chain – is launching a new chain, the uWink Media Bistro, which will offer twentysomething patrons the opportunity to eat, drink and use a tabletop gaming system that will allow them to play each other or against other patrons – even people they don’t know. The games will be range from the easy to the complex, and the company will be able to easily download new ones at any time.

We noted in our commentary that while the concept holds no appeal for us, “we’ve seen a lot dumber ideas succeed.”

MNB user Dean Lustig responded:

Hot weather got you crabby. Poor word choice.

Just because this isn't a grocery store idea doesn't make it dumb. Blockbuster's games out rent their movies; and those Gamers are in college or have graduated having children.

More importantly, this is a great new way of entertainment, and will be a new direction to automating the ordering and delivery of food. Swipe your CC and order exactly what you want, when you want it through a kiosk. This guy is a proven innovator and leader. But wait, Grocery is renting their in-store space to Food Service restaurants to increase sales, and have automated their own check out lines. Gee, I guess it is dumb.

You misunderstand. Or maybe we weren’t clear.

We don’t actually think that the idea is dumb, just that it is a restaurant that we can’t imagine patronizing.

And trust us, we never would suggest than anything that isn’t a grocery store is dumb.

Quite the opposite.

We mentioned last week that the “Livestrong” bracelets sold by the Lance Armstrong Foundation help to fund cancer research, which led MNB user Randal O'Toole to write:

The money raised from the sale of "Livestrong" yellow bracelets is not going for a cure for cancer. Instead, it is all dedicated to help cancer survivors get on with their lives. This is no doubt a worthy cause, but some people are understandably disappointed if they think their purchase or donation to Armstrong's foundation is helping to cure cancer.

We checked the foundation’s website and found the following:

“One of the goals of the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) is to improve the quality of life of people living with cancer. By funding research, community programs and public education and outreach efforts, the LAF is making positive advances in the issues that matter most to survivors and their families.”


“The LAF disseminates grants focused on improving the quality of life for cancer survivors and aims to fund research that is not readily fundable from traditional sources. Since its inception, the LAF has awarded more than $9.6 million in research grants. The LAF focuses its funding on Cancer Survivorship Centers and Research Grants.”

Fair enough.
KC's View: