VIVE LE FRENCH DRIVING CODE

I know that I have written before about French drivers, but I have realised that I missed out some critical rules that visitors to France will need to be aware of if they are to visit France and survive on our roads.

You can spend an incredible amount of time and effort researching, reading and learning the French road code and the severe penalties that can be involved for their infringement, as outlined here (Travel guide: the enforcement of driving rules in France).

This is strongly advised before leaving home, but unless you are aware of some of the unwritten French road code, you will find it hard to understand why you seem to be an object of abuse, and why you are often being pelted by stale croissants.

The most important additional road rules ….

1. You can carry any item on the roof of your car, irrespective of its size compared to the size of your car, as long as it is attached to your car by a bungee cord, and you can still drive and keep your left hand in contact with the item at all times.
If the object is a mattress you will have right of way on all roundabouts (See Vive le French Driver posted 15 November 2010). Any piece of timber or pipe cannot exceed 5 times your car length and must have an item of clothing attached to at least one end. If the attached item is a pair of knickers, the driver is available for dating.

By Ferdinand Reus from Arnhem, Holland (CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)), via Wikimedia Commons

 

2. Rules of the road do not apply at any time to people using their automobile as part of their job, in particular mailmen and baguette delivery ladies.
Both these trades are considered critical to the well-being of the French populace, which cannot function without the availability of the latest TV Guide or fresh bread for lunch.

3. You must wear seat belts at all times both in front and back.
The fine for not doing so is € 135. Exceptions to this are if the offender is visibly pregnant and labour has actually begun or if the offender is wearing an original French designer outfit such as a Chanel suit. Note that there are considerable additional fines if these are found to be Asian knockoffs, and that all Gendarmes have done extensive training in Haute Couture being able to recognise a fake Dior at 100 metres.

By Daniel71953 (Own work) (GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0), via Wikimedia Commons

4. The phrase “Courtesy on the Road” cannot actually be translated into French.
If you do show courtesy you will immediately be recognised as a foreigner and will be treated with disdain and taken advantage of. Tailgating, overtaking on the right, sudden lane changing, unrecognisable hand signals and flashing of lights are signs of artistic creativity and should not be taken personally unless they include a raised middle finger.

5. Rental Car Companies will never deliver the car that you have ordered.
It is not unusual to have ordered an 8-seater family mover to be given a 4-seater Renault Clio with a roof rack fitted with 4 hand straps. This is because no matter what you order you will be given whatever car is the furthest in the yard from the rental office. Rental companies do not pay high wages, and watching foreigners who have just flown in, and are tired and badly jet-lagged, manhandle their luggage over 1 kilometre in the rain is one of the few perks of the job.

6. You must always give way to the right, even if you are on a main “Route Nationale”, and the car on your right is coming out of a lane that has only been used by small goats for the last 100 years.
Most times smaller roads will have a solid white bar painted across them which means that the car on the right does not actually have priority, but most French drivers stop on this line with their rear wheels, rather than with the nose of their car, making sure that you have to come to a screaming halt as they will totally block your ability to proceed anyway.

By Roulex 45 (Own work) (GFDL http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0), via Wikimedia Commons

7. French drivers who do not have a GPS and/or are slow map readers have the right to stop anywhere they wish, particularly in the middle of a roundabout, to peruse the road signs to try and find some indication of how and where they should proceed.
This inalienable right loosely translated to “The Law of the Moron” is a throwback to World War 2 when the French Resistance would twist road signs round to confuse the invading Germans, and this is still done as they are the single largest nationality of visitors to France. You will often come across German tour groups looking confused and screaming “Wo ist das verdammte Chateau Margaux ?” or similar phrases.

8. Any white lines on a French freeway (autoroute) are not painted there to denote a separation in individual lanes.
The lines themselves are actually motorbike lanes which have no speed limitations. Motorbikes will weave in and out of traffic in the belief that whilst they are actually on one of these white lines they are protected by Blessed Sebastian of Aparicio, the patron saint of motorbikes. This is misguided as Sebastian lived in Mexico in the 16th century, and the fastest thing that he ever saw was a randy mule heading back to its girlfriend in the stables.

9. It is never safe to cross a road in France, even if you are at a pedestrian crossing, have a flashing orange warning light and the little walking green man symbol in your favour.
To avoid possible injury you should keep walking along your side of the road until you reach either a pedestrian underway or pedestrian overpass. By law the French government have decreed that there must be one of these at least every 100 kilometres so, for the sake of survival, it is well worth the extra short amble.

By Coyau (Own work) (GFDL http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0), via Wikimedia Commons

10. Last but not least … when driving in France you must have all relevant documentation, plus safety items, at all times or face severe fines.
The documentation includes registration (carte grise), valid driver’s license, auto insurance papers including the window sticker (vignette), accident report sheet (Constat Amiable), a valid passport or national identity card, your airline tickets to prove you really are foreign, medical insurance certificates, a printed and laminated copy of the Marseillaise, some discount vouchers for Intermarche or Carrefour supermarket chains and a letter from your closest relative, church, synagogue or mosque agreeing to repatriate your body in case of a fatality. The extra safety items include warning triangles in case you break down, fluorescent safety vest within reach in the car, spare bulbs for all lamps and reflectors, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, spare pair of glasses if you wear contacts, a euro or “jeton” to be able to get a trolley anywhere, a copy of Paris Match anda sign in French saying “I am lost. Please do not shoot me” (Je suis perdu. Veuillez ne pas me tirer.)

So please do come and visit us in France. It really is a beautiful country with wonderful people and with many organised tours available where someone else will do the driving for you.
If you do decide to drive here “Que Dieu soit avec vous”.

HOW TO REALLY GIVE A GREAT SPEECH

I do get asked quite often as to what it takes to do a really good speech, and though I am usually a bit flippant about this (see “How to give a great speech”), there are some rules that one should follow to at least try and set the stage for a successful outcome.

So, here are my main rules:

1. Preparation is everything and takes time and effort.
You should leave as little as possible to chance. It is important that for at least a month or more beforehand you carry a notebook (or PDA) with you to jot down random thoughts that come to you, no matter how remote, as you think about what you should be saying. Collect everything relevant even though you will probably discard at least 50% of it for the final draft.
Mark Twain said “It usually takes at least 3 weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech”.

Source: United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division; digital ID cwpbh.04761

2. Find some interesting and relevant quotes.
There are hundreds of quote internet sites that are available. Not only will these give you some interesting elements to embed in your speech, but will also jog some thought processes in areas that you may not have considered.
However, don’t overdo it. Two quotes are enough, maybe one at the start if it is a good punchy introduction to the topic, and an even better one for an inspirational gutsy finish. I once sat through a presentation from one of my sales managers where every one of his 50 Powerpoints was an inspirational quote from some famous person. After the first 10 or so it became tedious and meaningless, and I had to cut him short by starting a round of applause before everyone completely turned off.

3. Use Powerpoint as little as possible.
Too many people spend about 90% of their preparation on the Powerpoints and only about 10% of the time on the actual speech, in the false belief that the Powerponts will drive their words, and even worse belief that an audience likes to read-along with the speaker as he reads his own slides from the podium. These times allocated to preparation should actually be reversed, and if you do use Powerpoint then limit them to about 1 per 4-5 minutes of your speech, so a standard 45 minute presentation should not have more than about 10-12 slides. It is also critically important that you limit the number of words on each one, as you want them to imply an idea, rather than just being another version of your spoken words.

4. Keep it simple.
Many speakers believe that using complicated words and expressions will establish the fact that they are intelligent. The reality is that this just makes the audience think that they are pompous. Gordon Brown (an English past Prime Minister) in a speech once talked about “neoclassical growth theory and a symbiotic relationship between investment in people and infrastructure”, which while it may have had great meaning to him was meaningless drivel to most of the audience. He lasted less than 3 years as PM.

Source: White House webcast, via Wikimedia Commons

5. Don’t overuse statistics, and don’t fill your Powerpoints with Excel spread-sheets.
Some well-chosen figures can add credibility to your presentation, but they must be relevant, accurate, up to date and supportable. Most people do not believe nor trust statistics and believe that you can use statistics to prove anything, so when you say that “73% of all speakers use too much Powerpoint” you may be right, but most of your audience will actually not believe you, and hence will question your overall veracity.

6. Don’t write your whole speech down and then read it out as this will generally come across as being dry and lifeless, even if you use a teleprompter.
Better to know what you are going to say, and after practice, practice, practice write bullet points and prompts on some small cards that are easily carried and scanned if needed.
If you are going to tell a personal story, there is no need to write the whole thing down. “Tell them about breaking my leg” is more than enough to remind you. Practice the whole speech many times from beginning to end. This will not only make you familiar with what you want to say, but will also show you how long it will take.

7. Be yourself.
The best speakers do not take on a separate stage persona, but play themselves when they are on stage. It is always easier to be yourself than to pretend that you are someone else. If you are not comfortable moving around the stage, then move very little, though you should not just stand behind a podium. If you are not comfortable using your hands then don’t try and wave them about as it will not look natural. If you are not very good at telling jokes, then don’t try and do it, as there is a good chance that it won’t work, and there is nothing worse than a joke, which needs a punch line, having no punch.

8. Some quick tips:

  • Look at the audience directly not over them
  • Start and end strongly. That’s what they remember most.
  • Short sentences and phrases can be effective eg “We will win. There are no excuses.”
  • Repetition can be powerful. Martin Luther king said “I have a dream” 7 times.

Source: United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division; digital ID cph.3c26558

  • Remember that your audience is on your side and wants you to do well.
  • Don’t apologise ! Never start with anything like “I am not sure why I am here”.
  • Be enthusiastic about your topic. If you aren’t then your audience won’t be either.

9. Remember that it is meant to be fun for yourself as well as your audience.

HOW TO GIVE A GREAT SPEECH

Kin Hubbard (1868-1930) US cartoonist said “Why doesn’t the fellow who says “I’m no speechmaker” let it go at that instead of giving a demonstration”.

I am often asked as to what tips I can give to people who are asked to make a speech. Most people fear public speaking more than they fear death, but I feel that if you follow some simple rules, everyone can be a great speaker, thus returning death to its rightful place at the top of “feardom”.

1. Always start your speech with “Four score and seven years ago …”.
This is the way that Abraham Lincoln started the Gettysburg address in November 1863, and despite the absence of the internet, twitter, facebook and other social media at the time, it is still ranked as the greatest and the single most remembered speech in history.

Source: United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division, digital ID cph.3a53289

If you speak often, and start all your speeches this way, over time people may start to identify you with this opening and forget that it came from Abe.

2. If you must practise your speeches, do so whilst standing naked in front of a full length mirror.
This way, when you do the actual speech and you are fully clothed, you will have much greater confidence knowing that you are completely dressed.

Practise naked in front of a mirror; Source: http://bilddatenbank.khm.at/viewArtefact?id=204

Many speech coaches also advise that you pretend that your audience is actually all sitting there naked in front of you, which would give you an even greater shot of confidence. I advise against this last suggestion particularly if you are speaking to the local “Senior Citizens Association”, as it is hard to concentrate on speaking fluently when your brain keeps bringing up thoughts of ironing out creases.

3. Prepare at least 100 complex Powerpoint slides to accompany your speech.

Typical powerpoint

You should make sure that the images that you use have absolutely nothing to do with the topic you are speaking on at the time, but are eye-catching enough to make sure that nobody focuses on what you are saying. This is particularly important if speaking at a European conference, where most of the audience will believe that they are much more knowledgeable on any topic than the actual speaker, so it pays to distract them with pretty pictures.

4. Be cautious about not offending one specific ethnic or interest group that may be in your audience.

As it is hard to determine who is in attendance beforehand, it pays to ensure that you insult all of them without any bias to show that you are not a racist. You will therefore need to include in your introduction serious slurs to all religions, nationalities, ethnic groups, sexual orientations, genders, tradespeople, politicians, actors, musicians, children, the elderly, all professions and any other groups that can be identified, generally by the wearing of identical T-shirts.

5. Always use a lot of statistics in your speeches.

Large lists of numbers are always well received by any audience.
If you feel it really necessary you can even use some that are relevant to your speech, though this is not mandatory. Even though you should never have more than 50 of your 100 Powerpoints dedicated to long lists of numbers, do not assume that your audience will be able to speed read them all, so you must make sure that you actually readout all the numbers with no omissions.

6. To be remembered, it is important to leave your audience hungry for more.

It is therefore critical that you give them very little worthwhile information in case you slake their thirst and quench their appetite. In fact, the less that you tell them the more they will go away feeling that there is significantly more that they could learn about your chosen topic. In this way, by telling them nothing of importance at all, it will ensure that you will be remembered and talked about long after the conference is over.

7. Always overdress so that you can look and feel superior to your audience.

For example, if you are speaking at a conference of barristers it is worthwhile dressing like a High Court Judge, or if speaking to a group of politicians you should dress like a dominatrix or an arms dealer. If you are invited to speak at an IT conference, whatever you wear will not position you as being greater than a bunch of “IT nerds”as, since the movie “Social Networks”, they now occupy the highest levels of superiority.

Author: Contributor(s): Queensland Newspapers Pty Ltd

 

8. It is better not to practise your speech beforehand as this will remove any spontaneity.

It is much better to just think about what you want to say as you are being introduced, and you should always have the same small printed card available to prompt you when speaking. This way you will not need to have different prompt cards for every speech.
This card just needs to say:

  • “Four score and seven years ago …”
  • I want everyone here to know that I hate …. (name all the groups, missing none)
  • Tell the rude joke that I heard at the last stag party I went to
  • Say nothing too interesting for 30 minutes including 20 minutes of statistics
  • Finish last 5 minutes with a flourish and promise everyone free beer if they applaud

I hope that this helps anyone faced with the prospect of public speaking. To keep stealing from Abraham Lincoln, just remember that “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt”.

COULD THE GOOD GUYS PLEASE WEAR WHITE HATS

I have had a number of conversations recently, both electronically and dinner-party chatter, about how the west must intervene in Libya, even militarily if needed, to stop Muammar Gaddafi from his continued slaughter of the rebels lined up against him.

This move towards intervention seems to be gaining support at the highest levels.

France 24 International News reported that “The US has ramped up pressure on Libya’s Gaddafi, as President Barack Obama Thursday told him to quit. He said the US was considering every option and didn’t rule out the possibility of military intervention.”

At the same time, the UK Mail reported “Britain will not stand by and allow Colonel Gaddafi to slaughter his people, David Cameron pledged last night. The Prime Minister joined forces with Barack Obama to approve a ‘full spectrum’ of military responses …”

France and Portugal have already officially recognised the anti-Gaddafi National Transitional Council in Benghazi led by Mustafa Muhummad Abd-Al-Jalil, as the true Government of Libya.

I find it amazing that so many people, including western leaders, seem to have come to the conclusion that because we now believe that Muammar Gaddafi is one of the “bad guys”, those that oppose him in Libya must therefore be the “good guys”, and we should immediately side with them against Gaddafi, even not ruling out “… the possibility of military intervention”.

Just a few months ago these same people were singing the praises of Gaddafi as a “good guy”, and the United Nations had, in May 2010, appointed Libya to the UN Human Rights Council and was holding up Libya as a shining example of respect for “human rights”, as can be seen in the following video:

Instead of Hotel or Embassy accommodation, Gaddafi was allowed to pitch his own Bedouin-style tent on government property during official visits to both Brussels and Paris, and the fact that he travelled with a camel and 30 virgin female bodyguards, seemed to be considered strange only by some press and a few demonstrators.

This lunatic who has been in power for over 40 years through brute force and ruthlessness, and who is not acting any differently today than when he took power in a military coup in 1969 or any time in between, now has open, visible opposition to his rule, so we have all moved to the side of the opposition in some naive belief that they couldn’t be any worse, without knowing much about them beyond the fact that they oppose Gaddafi.

I am not, and never could be a supporter of Gaddafi, but what in the name of anything that is sane makes so many people believe that those opposing him are any better?
I had one friend justify intervention by the west based on the Edmund Burke quote that “Evil flourishes when good men do nothing”, and so we must intervene otherwise evil will triumph over good.

But in this situation, who is good and who is evil?

We all now agree that Gaddafi is evil, but until just weeks ago, the current alternative to Gaddafi, Abd-Al-Jalilwas was his Minister of Justice and considered close to Gaddafi. It also seems unusual that it is only recently that he started commenting on Human Rights violations in Libya, resigned from the Gaddafi Government,stood up as the self-appointed leader of the “rebels” and started asking for support from Western nations. Not surprisingly his leadership is already being contested by some tribal leaders because of his previous close ties to Gaddafi.
Libya has always been more of a region of warring tribes rather than a nation. When Independence was declared in December 1951 there were 3 capitols (Tripoli, Benghazi and Al Bayda), just 16 college graduates, no physicians, engineers, surveyors and pharmacists, just 3 lawyers, and it was estimated that only 250,000 Libyans were literate. Apart from the education of some “chosen few” not much has changed.

By definition, the Muslim nations see the west as their sworn enemy, and whilst it may suit the Libyan rebels to ask for help from the west to help remove Gaddafi, they will not thank us in the long term, no differently than what has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. I doubt that Abd-Al-Jalil is any different to Gaddafi, and that rather than being a real Hero and potential friend of the west, he is really just another Opportunist who is seeing a chance to take his turn as lead dog.

I believe that in Libya, unless we can get the “good guys” to wear white hats and the “bad guys” to wear black hats like in the old movie westerns, it would seem wiser to just keep out of it all.

MANAGEMENT OR LEADERSHIP

I am often asked about what is my personal differentiation between management and leadership, and while I believe that a lot of this current discussion on this topic is something to keep academics and consultants busy, I do believe that there is a difference.

Some time ago someone said to me that the difference was that “We lead people and manage things”, and whilst this is simple to say, it is only because it is for simple minds, as I believe that it is wrong.

I believe that in reality we both lead and manage people.

Peter Drucker comes closer when he says “Leadership is doing the right thing, management is doing things right”, but whilst I am a rabid devotee of Drucker, I believe that this too is not enough.

Leadership being doing the right thing involves setting a direction for the future, ensuring that the resources and the culture (behaviours) are aligned with the needed end goals, identifying what has to be changed and how do we go about driving this change.

Once this is done management, being doing things right, then has the role of making this happen against the objectives that have been set and are cascaded through the organisation.

The issue is that I do not believe that this can be as clearly defined or delineated as much discussion, particularly over the last 10 years, tends to imply. Both capabilities are critical for a successful executive and trying to suggest that the CEO needs to be a leader and his direct reports need to be managers, misses the point that they all need to be both at different times.

Too many people confuse being a wonderful, fluent, charismatic and inspiring speaker with being a great leader. I believe that this is the main reason that electorates become quickly disillusioned with elected representatives, whether this is as President of the US or as Lord Mayor of North Sydney. We tend to be attracted to elect people that have the ability to “sing to our hearts” through words and presentation, or just animal charisma and image, with little ability to test whether they actually have the skills to run a national cabinet of ministers or a group of city councillors. Arnold Schwarzenegger won public support for his run for Governor of California because people wanted to believe that his on screen tough-guy persona was the reality of the man needed to slay the state’s budget deficit dragon of the past decade … after all he had done tougher things as “Conan the Barbarian” . The “Governator” recently had to step down with an increased budget deficit of around $ 20 billion that he had had little success in denting, let alone banishing it forever to Cimmeria.

by Photographer Mate 3rd Class Stefanie Broughton; via Wikimedia Commons

The problem is that the skills needed to win elections are not necessarily those that are needed to run a business enterprise whether this is a country, a city council or a corporation. The needed skills are a blend of great leadership and great management.

Source: Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, 1964; via Wikipedia

Being able to build a compelling, well articulated vision without an ability to execute, is actually worse than having a lesser strategy that can be well executed, though you have to be careful that you are not like the 2 blind men hurrying down the street with absolutely no idea of where they are going, but content in the belief that they are making good time.

Source: Lee McLaughlin, Author: Lee McLaughlin, Date=1973-07-03, Permission=© Lee Mclaughlin

Good leaders with little management skills are hoping that the management capability of those below them will ensure successful execution, whilst great managers with little leadership skills create an organisation with good logistics and little excitement. I worked for one CEO who believed that everything in business could be encapsulated in mathematical formulae, and he built his strategies on this premise. He would then not cascade the strategy too much as he had an inherent fear that if his competitors discovered his magic equations they could outmanoeuvre him.

Great leaders need to also be great managers and vice versa, and seeking to separate them for the sake of academic discussion does them both a disservice.