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  • Holly

The French Way: Ca sera pret quand ca sera pret! (It will be ready when it's ready)

So you want to pick up your boat in France...pack a lunch! The language barrier in France can be a challenge but on top of that, cultural differences should not be underestimated. I am not French, I am Type-A, but my husband was born and raised there and we visit his family is there so I feel qualified to have an opinion on the cultural differences based on my own experience. There are two important areas that together could create a perfect storm when buying a boat and picking it up in France.

First, Americans are not patient and we have certain expectations and communication styles that may not always be helpful in France. The demanding, direct approach we have can set us up for being frustrated, ignored and disappointed if we aren’t careful. France has a different pace (which is also what I love it for) and they do not like surprises or unexpected changes to established ways of doing things, and, relationships and manners are everything. Like dining in a good French restaurant, things are ready when they are ready and they are done a certain way so don’t be surprised if there is no vegan option – and meals just take three hours because dining isn’t food, it’s an experience. We Americans, on the other hand, are more used to coloring outside the lines, are more cavalier about decision making, demand things be done yesterday and are always in a rush. Which might also explain why France has half the amount of heart attacks a year than the US does.

Second, (and generally speaking), the French lens on boating is through a long heritage of performance racing, less than through a cruising/comfort lens. The French do tend to live more simple lives, they don’t need all the amenities and comforts that Americans have come to see as necessary. For the French, less is more because it’s about keeping things simple and the weight down, being efficient, keeping things practical.

We had the pleasure once of meeting Jean-Francois and Claire Fountaine (both world champion racers and founders of Fountaine Pajot). They had sailed their FP Cat to the Annapolis Boat Show and I was dying to see how it was outfitted. She explained that the boat was simple and didn't have many options at all. "Not even a dodger to keep the sun off your head?" I asked. And she said simply, "I wear a hat."

Trust me, my French husband and I have had long 'discussions' about Air Conditioning on a boat so I keep it simple for him. If we are going to be in hot, humid areas most of the time it comes down to whether or not he wants to cuddle. The point is, French sailors and American cruisers have very different perspectives, so when in France, remember, you are a guest and it's best to just accept the 'French Way' as a good transition to a cruising lifestyle.

So, when an American wants to put as much as possible on a cruising catamaran because we are thinking of it like building our custom home, it’s a completely different orientation for a native French person in the marine industry and it’s likely many of them think we are excessive or nuts (which we probably are). This creates nuances on what the local commissioning technicians deem as desirable or possible under pressure of time constraints as they may not be thinking about storage space or livability when quick decisions need to be made that moment. The important point is that they may not completely circle back with the dealer for every decision they make based on their experience and perspective, which might create some surprises for owners after the fact.

The point is, when in France we ugly Americans need to remember we are visitors! It is our responsibility to make sure the loop is closed between the people in France working on the boat things and the people in the US working on the boat things - and be nice about it. Our sense of urgency or timeline will not change this country, it just makes us rude. The best plan is to slow it down, pack a lunch and enjoy France as an opportunity to build international connections...and perhaps even lower your blood pressure.


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