A mountain dweller in the Asian valleys

What a summer! A few months back I mentioned that I was taking some new responsibilities at work, and that despite that extended mission, I intended to write more often on that blog about my encounters, my surprises, etc. But fact is that in the last two months, I have been on the road, living these cultural differences without having the opportunity to jot down a few thoughts. 8 countries in two months… From public speaking at the National Library in Vienna to listening to a private concert of Lady Gaga in the Centennial Olympic Park of Atlanta during a business conference, from hugging koalas in Australia to surviving taxi rides in Taipei… I have experienced a few things worth capturing, especially in the Asia Pacific region most recently.

Asia Pacific is a conglomerate of diverse countries, cultures, people, nations, etc. And there are many ways to go around. Long ago I lived in Singapore where I was working in a regional capacity which allowed me to grasps some of the complexity and nuances required to deal with the inhabitants of the region. I also toured a few countries from the South East Asian peninsula and around (Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Honk Kong or Macao and later Japan), which was a favourable ground to get ready for the cultural disparities to be encountered this time around. For this trip, I had decided to move North, which also meant moving from West to East from a cultural perspective. At least that was the assumption when embarking.

East meets far West?

Many tourists try to find commonalities between what they discover and what they experienced in the past. Between the known and the unknown. At a time when Scotland is discussing its independence from the United Kingdom, it was interesting to look at Australia with the eyes of a London-based person. As such, I could not refrain from wondering if this big English-speaking country would nowadays be more similar to the UK, or to let's say to the US. The history would lead us to think towards the earlier, but the economic neo-colonialism would most likely tilt the scale the other way. Originally, I was convinced that the famous Aussie bum would be sat between two chairs, as the French say, but I was to be proven wrong. Australia is not where East meets Far West.

Looking at a GPS, you could feel like driving across British counties... Most of the Australian cities are trademark infringements, tributes from the colons to their origins. As such you drive around many glorious (well rarely so) cities of good old England. Fulham, Ipswich, Chiswick... And you also drive through these towns on the left side of the road, which is right side for Brits and other folks who did not fall under Napoleon's influence back then. On the other hand, the scale of things are more American-like. Bigger than life some would say. For instance, as far as I recall, I had never seen a road sign pointing me in a direction with a 4-digit distance. And that was a "close-by" destination by the local standards! Cars too are disproportionately big, making any European SUV feels like a Fiat 500 on the local highways and that is understandable when you consider the size of the road kills they have to face: Wallabies or Wombats are "slightly" more sizable obstacle than the average field mouse.

Everything is bigger or greater here, but not in the same self-proclaiming way that their American cousins do. They may have a Great Barrier Reef, but no sign of superlatives here and let's face it this reef is totally Great. So it deserves its attribute. But otherwise no Biggest, Largest, Greatest, Awesomest... This country has inherited from its former dominion a sense of restraint. Australia may have Dollars, cowboys, ranches, great outdoors, surfers, skyscrapers, etc. but it retained a tuned down attitude. To its advantage. It also has tea, cricket and rugby but it retained its laidback attitude. To its advantage again. In essence Australia is a mix of many influences, stirred and blended in a melting pot that pays tribute to its relatively new modern history of immigrations. And frankly, when I saw the following sign in a supermarket, I could not avoid but thinking that it could be a good idea:

Obedience and influences

But I had to move North, going deeper in the Asian culture. Singapore, Taipei and then Shanghai were on the agenda.

To conclude on foreign influences, let me kill another myth. My knowledge about China is patchy - at best. To my excuse, this may be the Empire of the Middle, but it truly is peripheral to our western educational curriculum... Just look at a European or American world map: it is hard to say that China is front and centre. So when I arrived in Taipei, I assumed that the relatively recent Taiwanese secession under Chang Kai-Shek would imply a strong, reminiscent influence of Mainland China from a linguistic, cultural and economical stand points. But as I walked the streets of the capital, it felt strangely familiar. I had never been to Taiwan, let alone China, and I could not put my finger on it until I exchanged with my local colleagues. Taiwan is not looking to the East for inspiration. Its influences lays further west: Japan. Probably inherited from the former Japanese occupation, but also by the desire to cut bridges with their immediate cousins, Taipei shows many signs of Japanese influence. Anime, Manga, Sushi bars, shiatsu massage and other Mos Burgers... are just a few hints at my shared interest for Japan with this nation. Japan happens to also be the #1 travel destination for locals.

Alien appeal

I guess we all find in the unknown an exotic appeal and get drawn to it. Actually even the local vermin may look pretty exciting to the new comers. For example, I could not refrain myself from taking pictures of the Cockatoo who landed on my balcony, before realising there were dozens of them rampaging the resort we were staying at. In Australian cities, kiwis can be seen as the local pigeons and consequently do not catch the eye of anyone else but the tourists. I guess they are like the London squirrels, the Venice pigeons, the Parisian mimes or the Dutch on the French Riviera... An attractions that the visitors are happy to benefit from briefly, but that they also keen to rapidly forget.

But let's face it, every country has its specialities, good or bad. As a foodie I explored there culinary portfolios and was lucky to be truly treated by my friends with great local food experiences. From the Taiwanese bubble tea to the bush-style dampers, from the Singaporean Ice Kacang to the Chinese dumplings, from the more sophisticated Kumqwat crème brulee to the somewhat puzzling sweet dried meats, jelly fishes or Black Pepper Crabs... I have been indulging every bit of the way the delicacies of this region. A time I felt more like a Gulp Trotter:

Marche a l'Ombre

There are then these little adjustments that you need to make.

As a sun-deprived person from London, this tour between the equator and the tropics was a blessing. The opportunity to recharge my Vitamin D batteries which have been running low for... let's face it 8 good years. But I suppose that when you are living there, the sun is more a foe than a friend. The sun is there merciless. It is scorching hot, and for people who enjoy pale skins, you may need serious protection if you do not want to look like an Italian vanilla/strawberry gelato. As a matter of fact, French singer, Renaud, had a hit in the 80s with a slang-loaded song entitled Marche A L'Ombre whose lyrics seem after reflection pretty topical:
In French
...and in English (personal translation)
Et j' lui ai dit
" Toi tu m' fous les glandes
Pis t'as rien à foutre dans mon monde
Arrache toi d' là t'es pas d' ma bande
Casse toi tu pues
Et marche à l'ombre
And I told him
You, you piss me off
You have nothing to do in my world
Bugger off you don't belong
Go away
And walk in the shade

Well, as a Kwai Lo (white devil), as the Honk-Konguese call the Westerners, you need to adjust your walking patterns. You shouldn't stop at the very last inch of the pavement, ready to cross when the signal turns green... You need to stop at the very last inch of the last shadow, ready to cross when the signal turns green! That nuance allows you to look less awkward when you are left by yourself, with your co-workers sympathetically smiling at you, sweating in the heat, waiting for that a man icon as red as you to dress up in a fresh, green outfit.

And more...

And finally there are other local "experiences"...  Some of which you may want to forget, or you may need to talk to someone to get over it. For instance taking a Taiwanese cab and grasping the full meaning of the "danger of multitasking". My taxi driver was indeed, in his obvious order of preference, but simultaneously: chewing a betle nut and rightfully spitting its brownish saliva in an over-used, stained paper cup; entertaining several conversations on WeChat, the local emoticon-based instant messaging phone application; watching a Chinese Opera on his embarked DVD player; and, oh yes, driving me to my hotel during the rush hour with hundreds of scooters zigging when we were zagging on the sound of the opera tunes... I have not been so frightened in a cab since a New Yorker of Italian lineage boasted his vague origins and considered the safety lane between Manhattan and Newark as the reproduction of private Monza circuit.

But what I will continue to value the most are these conversations, these insightful encounters with locals who give you the keys to a slightly better understanding their culture:
  • an Australia-based war veteran from Scotland returning home after 40 years to vote in the referendum;
  • two retired ladies sharing their Proust's Madeleine when pouring golden syrup on their grilled damper bread in the middle of a bush tour;
  • the Singaporean taxi driver who sung a country song before starting a yodelling demo;
  • these university friends we left in Singapore 15 years ago and find unchanged as if we left them the day before (except maybe the additional kids running around);
  • these colleagues and their upmost generosity who made me feel not only welcome but blessed... To all of you thank you.
I have taken many pictures of these trips, and you will be able to see some on my Flickr or Instagram streams. But these encounters are truly the highlight of my summer... Maybe because my capillary state did not allow me to fully appreciate this, sadly:

To read further:


Chiling Chilean World Cup


I have reported in these pages how sport can (and should be) a source of deep emotions for both practitioners and fans. Passion, thrill, deception, excitement... You name it. During the Olympics in London back in 2012, I had the chance to live some such a vibration first hand. Even today, listening to the French national Anthem, La Marseillaise, sung by a jam-packed Copper Box after the Olympic victory of the handball team still triggers a shiver up my spine. It is patriotism, pride, happiness and bucket loads of other emotions that are intertwined and anchored in my psyche. Proust had madeleines... I have a sport achievement.

A cup full of excitement

I will spend some time to discuss the profound connection that the Brit have to football, and how they differ so much from other nations with that respect. But today, I wanted to share another concentrate of emotion with this Chilean video. You may remember those miners who got trapped underground a few years back. Under the scrutiny of the entire country, they united and survived death. Today they unite again to epitomise the nation's hope with regards to their national team in the World Cup. The Chilean team is facing the world champions and the vice-champions, Spain and Netherlands, and inherited of what is nicknamed the Group of the Death... Something way to familiar for the miners. Watch and enjoy what a well written speech can do... A deep emotion!


The Franco-British paradox

Edit: a few more additions on 9/06/14

The lists.

You have certainly come across some lists that define whether you are or not a Londoner, a Parisian, a Russian... I have even published one here a year ago. And yet, although these lists rely on facts and clichés I totally buy into, I have also realised that after two years in the UK, I had not completely blended in. Not yet. And in fact, I am still enjoying my differences and am even building upon it.

That led me to think about what we call in French "Les combles" of a non-English in the UK. This is hard to translate a concept, but it would be the "heights" if my faithful dictionary is accurate. A "comble" is something pushed to the absurd limit, something over the top... The following is a list, which will certainly expand thanks to your comments and suggestion, of the heights of being a non-assimilated alien in the UK. Some are a bit far-fetched, yet you will pardon your humble servant.

Statement or reality.

So as a matter of fact, you indeed know that you are not assimilated in the UK when:
  1. You wear flip-flops in Wellington
  2. You kick a football in Rugby
  3. You take a shower in Bath
  4. You spread mustard in Worchester
  5. You look for ancient ruins in NewCastle
  6. You get a speeding ticket in Slough
  7. You finish a book in Reading
  8. You shot a revolver in Winchester
  9. You go bankrupt in Sale
  10. You remain a virgin in Middlesex
  11. You keep on eating chips in Dumfries
  12. You play snooker in Poole
  13. You sell Biafine in Blackburn
  14. You breed pitbulls in Yorkshire
  15. You grow potates in Leek
  16. You get nailed in Hammersmith
  17. You lay back in Hastings (courtesy of Mel Cason)
  18. You get screwed in Cork (sorry, not in the UK, but could not skip that one)
  19. You are constipated in Waterloo
  20. You are seedless in Braintree
  21. You dismount in Ryde
  22. You refuse to march in Marlow
  23. You are a headstone cutter in Livingston
  24. You are immaculate in Staines
  25. You never excel in Chartwell (special tribute to Microsoft-fans)
  26. You are a veggan in Egham
  27. You don't do a great job in Pipewell (bit kinky this one, and need to speak French to get it)
  28. You are a clueless inspector in Leeds
  29. You are trading bleech in Blackpool
  30. You are running in Woking
  31. You get stuck in Stape
  32. You get a mute audience in Acklam
  33. You own a dermatological firm in Hitchin
  34. You fly the gay pride flag in Grays
  35. You are hacker in IPswich (sorry for the geekery)
  36. You forget your teddy in Sheringham
  37. You are feeding the ducks in Swanage
The British cities are so interweaved in History that their name have inflitrated the vocabulary. And vice versa. So let's see if you can come up with more statements... Up to you twisted minds!


In the marsh-mellow

Spot the difference

Ever since I moved from Paris to London, my friends back there kept on asking me the trivial question: "what is the real difference between the two capitals?". I say trivial, because two different cities are by definition... well, "different". But fair enough, both cities have a certain appeal, an history, a reputation... They are attractive destinations for tourists. If both nations may have entertained centuries ago some bellicose relationships, since then the Entente Cordiale has warmed up. Exchanges between the two countries have been as frequent as a French teenager exchanging saliva with a British girl during a linguistic trip.

More recently many French people have started crossing the Channel, and no longer to discover a new mother tongue. If British retirees keep on investing in houses in France, it is more active a population that transit in the other direction. Some say it is for tax evasion, to embrace liberalism, to be offered more exciting job opportunities, to live in a multicultural environment... Many reasons are brought forward, some positive, some more dubious. But in light of that context it is understandable that people want to understand that exotic proximity. In fact, my personal appeal for that French-British relationship got me on TV a few years back, when Sky News invited me to comment on the French news that was that week abundant in the press outlet. An interesting experience...

But back to my initial question, what are the differences between both cities? After 8 years in the UK, I have now lived longer as a Londoner than a Parisian, and the disparities are becoming less and less obvious to me. I guess that is what one calls assimilation. When the difference becomes the new norm... That said, I remain French at core, and there is still every now and then a little event in my daily life that will make me smile. This happened last weekend for instance.


When you are the father of a couple kids, you are always on the look for new activities that will help you keep your sanity. Outdoor activities are great for that, because as Sigourney Weather pointed out in one of her films, "no one can hear you scream in space". Sympathetic friends directed us to the London Wetland centre, a marshland within walking distance to Central London which has been adapted for educational purposes for kids and other bird watching fans. You can walk around discover migrating species in a protect habitat, when 10 minutes before you were still in the middle of the traffic jam.

I realised then that this greenery was one of the key differences between London and Paris. In the latter you can walk in parks and squares, but they are nowhere near the size of Hyde Park or Richmond Park. Paris does also have a marshland... but the colourful birds there are of very different species...

Le Marais (The Marsh in French) is one of the oldest part of the city. It is tucked on right bank of the city, just off Ile de la Cite and the Hotel de Ville. It is the medieval part of town and was built upon what was then a wetland. Nowadays it is the gay-tho after having been the real pletzl. There are still some reminiscences of the Jewish past around Rue des Rosiers, where kosher restaurants and museum are available. The only surrounding humidity in that part of the city comes from sweating clubbers who are enjoying the Parisian night life to its full. Throughout the day (although not so much in the late morning) it is a vibrant part of town, with bars, restaurants, galleries, small boutique shops, hotels... And even if you are not a proud member of the gay community, the walk through these ancients cobbled streets with not-so-straight (pun not intended) buildings is a delight.

You will agree that although sharing the same terminology, both are very, very different experiences... The extra focus on the nature in London could also be the source of some misunderstandings for keen party animals. When a Parisian plans a Stag-Do he is probably not thinking of something as literal as his Richmond counterpart...


A new chapter

Back to the <blank> page

I have been quiet on this blog lately. I confess. But I also have some valid excuses such as the arrival of my second son in February, the acceptance of the older one to his preferred school, some family holidays here and there... And more recently a change of job. I certainly feel like I am currently turning a page, and moving to a next chapter.

Strangely, in the past, I took that expression quite literally, and started to write. This blog when I arrived in London. A short story when I became a dad. So now that I am about to enter a new stage in my adult life, I was wondering where this idiom would take me. For now, I am not quite sure of the answer, but at least the reflection brought me back to this blog, and I hope that in spite of the professional activities and other side effects, I will find the time to regularly come back to this vessel and to fill it with some goodness: cultural differences, random and puzzling experiences, insights from London or other valleys, photos of this, of that...

On my bedside table

Whilst I may not have found the inspiration to write yet, I have certainly resurrected the taste to read. Here is a sample of the books that are currently laid on my bedside table, and I thought they were a great summary of where I was today:


I have always been a fan of Jules Verne and have always been amazed by how this story teller was in fact a fortune teller. Some of the anticipation books he wrote were not only great narratives, but also a sneak peek at what would soon be a reality. "Around the World in Eighty Days" has had a special place in my childhood, and it is not totally alien to my thirst for discovering new cultures. I had never actually read the book, but been immersed in its universe through a Japanese anime dated 1972 which I am discovering today was pretty accurate an adaptation despite its anthropomorphisms of various animals. The reason I was seduced by this book when I saw it on its shelf was of course heavily connected to this childhood memory, but also by the judicious reference to my new job. I have been indeed promoted to Head of International Marketing and have therefore a new expanded geographical remit to LATAM and APAC. With a team now spanning from Sao Paulo to Taipei, from Sydney to Munich or London, I will certainly have to endorse both Phileas Fogg and Passepartout's roles. The phlegmatic and time-controlling freak on the one hand, the curious and adventurous on the other hand. My personal ambition being to work with my head, my hands and more importantly my heart, to constantly learn new ways to fulfil my and others’ full potential, I am truly excited by this new opportunity.


This leads me to my next book Chris Anderson's The Longer Tail. Today again, like very often, I am asked what my job is. At times, I feel I am like Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother, or more likely Chandler Bing in Friends... The one whom nobody knows what he does for a living. So lets clarify that for good: my role consists in explaining to small and large businesses the benefits of promoting their offering in the search results provided by Microsoft search engine, Bing.

I personally find the whole world of search engines fascinating. They are at the forefront of the technology with Artificial Intelligence, connected devices, Virtual learning machines, big data... But more importantly, search engines are a data base of intents, as John Battelle once coined it, and this is the reason why the Curator of the TED conference's book is on next to my pillow. It indeed democratised the concept of the long tail and its application to commerce, whereby there is an uneven distribution of intents with a high volume of asks for a small number of topics, and then a high number of topics where the asks are small to marginal. So when some businesses fight for the most demanded and therefore disputed products from the head of the diplodocus, some like Amazon built their success by focusing on the dispersed yet unmet needs of the tail. The same dynamics apply to search... and it is fascinating to consider what the majority thinks (or search for), but also to explore the depth of thoughts that human beings are capable of. This is a passion that I try to share and expose in my public speaking or classes.


I have indeed been giving some lectures in different universities in the past few years, teaching aspiring marketers on the opportunities, challenges and best practices of online advertising. It is always an honour to be able to share some of your learnings and maybe to inspire a few. The next book, the Manifesto of the Communist Party, is a direct consequence of my return to the school benches. Inspired by all this academic brain juice I once opened one of these numerous boxes in which you store your manuals and other class notes in a vain hope that one day you will need them. Under the heavy layer of dust was a few books that the Teenager Cedric planned to read to be better informed, cooler, smarter, hairier...

Marx and Engels' foundational essay was amongst them, and I decided to save their beards from the moths. I have since dived into this classic only to realise how modern it was. Bar a few obsolete or outdated terms, the concepts and associated utopia remain so current that it is inspiring. I am personally disheartened with politics as the content of programmes have lost their elevations. There is no more philosophical stance in the choices you make, you now elect the less worst within a single school of thought which has imposed itself as the norm: liberalism and individualism. Nowadays, politicians do not debate, they denigrate. Parties are just variances of the same flavour. I find this pauperisation of the public thinking damageable. After all, politics and search engines have that in common, it is not good for anyone to have a single view as it is necessarily partial, in all the sense of the terms.


The last book is a gift from a dear friend of mine... And I am not sure what to find in this dairy book. But as a French who is about to be even more immersed in different cultures, figuring out where to put my hand on some cheese, literally or rhetorically, is certainly an asset. I look forward to devouring these pages...

And I want to seize this opportunity to thank my friends and my cherished ones for their past, current and future support. I love them. I love you. And I do not say it enough, so let me write it down. That may be the introduction of my above-mentioned new chapter...
"You are a man of heart!"
"Sometimes", replied Phileas Fogg quietly, "when I have the time."
Jules Verne (1828-1905)


Olympic tears before the sweat.

The emotional tap.

The London 2012 Olympics are still a vivid memory. I totally embraced the spirit of the Games at that time, enjoyed every second of this international event and the drama that came along with it. Sports are a marvellous catalyst of emotions: joy, despair, achievement, anger, rage, sadness...

This myriad of shared feelings, concentrated in a short period of time, sublimes the actual sport performance to make it something bigger, larger, more universal. It triggers a response of communion between nations.

A marketing plea?

I am personally a cerebral machine that works on emotional fuel. This is why I have been working in advertising. I like to tell stories, engage people emotions. Too often though, and especially in the context of economical pressure, story telling is discarded to focus on transactional messages. "Don't charm, sell" seems to be the motto as if you could not use your charm and connivance to actually drive business relationship.

Of course you do have the big brands that are the trees hiding the forest. For the Nike, Apple and other Microsoft, how many other advertisers are forgetting to instil some emotions in their engagement with their customers? Some claim that brand building is not required for all brands, and that some brands do not require to create an emotional connection with their market. Commodity products spring to mind...

Who cares about toothpicks? I hear you say.
Can buying a USB stick ever give me butterflies in my tommy? Someone adds.

Well, I do think so... It just requires a little more efforts. In fact marketing commodities, like good B2B marketing, is about applying the same level of intransigence as for marketing high-involving products despite more limited resources and an easy path towards complacency. 

Paris-based creative hot shop Buzzman did an amazing job with their Hunter Shoots a Bear interactive video to encourage people to make use of Tippex. And look at what Procter & Gamble has done with the following commercial. It does not sell diapers, wipes, detergent... It sells emotions! And smartly announces their corporate tie-in with the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics that surely will be heavily used in shops to drive product usage and adoption. Smart. And efficient.