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)