Books on Monday: The Culture Code

Here’s a book that, I guarantee, will make you sit up. Here is a book that will reveal the secrets of your innermost psyche. All right, maybe not yours, but at least that of most Americans. On occasion, most of the French. Even a bit of the English and the Germans. What does everybody really feel about stuff? What do you look for in a car? In a cheeseburger? In a caravanserial interlocutor*?

This quick read will tell you.

The Culture Code.


Clotaire Rapaille writes about “culture codes” with an enthusiasm that is almost always tempered by diplomacy: in the world of marketing, it does not pay to treat anyone with disrespect. There is one heartfelt lapse, however, a cri de coeur that will not endear the author to his (former) countrymen.

I was born in France, but like everyone else in the world, I had no choice of homeland. From the time I was very young, I knew that parts of the French culture failed to fit me properly. The French are extremely critical, they are pessimistic, they are jealous of what others have, and they put little value on personal success. When I told people there that I wanted to build a large business based on new ideas, they sneered and called me a megalomaniac.

The American culture seemed to offer so many of the things I wanted from life, especially in building a career. When I decided to emigrate, François Mitterand was president of France and he’d frozen the assets of any French citizen leaving the country. Therefore, when i went to New York, I had no money. I also had no place to live and my English was very poor. I’d come to America to do work on archetypes, and few people had any idea what I was even talking about.

I knew a few French immigrants in New York and I went to see them as soon as I arrived. They welcomed me, offering me a place to stay, some money, and the use of a car. When I told them about what I planned to do for a living, they encouraged me and told me they were sure I would succeed. As happy as I was to hear these words, the first thought that came to mind was “Are you sure you’re French?” These people, who’d been living in America for a few years, were utterly different from the French I knew in France. They were optimistic, helpful, generous, and enthusiastic about new opportunities. In other words, they were American. Yes, they’d embraced the American culture, but in addition, like me, they had many of these traits already and came here because they knew they would be surrounded by like-minded people. The French who were lazy and lacked imagination stayed in Europe. The ones with guts and determination came here. These people found “home” by moving elsewhere. Their homeland was an accident of birth; they found a permanent place to live when they left it to come to America.

Although I’m not lazy and don’t lack determination, I’m willing to give the French way a try, if it gets me a nice flat in the Seizième.

* Someone you pick up at a bar.

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