Politics and Pastimes
A food guide might not seem like essential reading for a global manager, but there are two reasons to recommend Patricia Wells’s The Food Lover’s Guide to France (Workman Publishing Co., 1987). First, she addresses the basic questions of Europeanization. “I searched for answers to two basic questions.… How, in this homogenized world, has France managed to retain its undisputed role as the maker, the shipper, the ruler of Western cuisine … [and] can all this continue?”
With a journalist’s rigor, she records in detail France’s regional differences and how passionate individuals reflect them in local cuisine. In doing so, she also makes clear France’s emotional commitment to the local farmer and artisan producer — which continues to cause difficulties for the E.U.’s common agricultural policy.
The second reason to read Wells’s book is much more important. In more than 25 years of doing transatlantic business, I’ve never seen an American executive succeed who didn’t enjoy Europe or find pleasure in simply being here. I’ve known such businesspeople to climb mountains, visit bookshops, attend operas, or, most often, eat and drink. These interests draw them out of their hotels to engage the local milieu. And their excitement is transmitted to the organization. Wells’s prose will lure you into a patisserie in Provence or a fromagerie in Normandy, making the diversity of France come alive.
But no single book can capture the many markets and cultures in Europe. The best volumes span politics, society, and management. For each discussed here, there is another equally good one, addressing the same issues in another country. Just as Patricia Wells is a wonderful guide to French food and culture, Marcella Hazan has a mouth-wateringly informative perspective about Italy. And Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon is no more or less revealing than Hubert Védrine’s France in an Age of Globalization (Brookings Institute Press, 2001). Tim Parks’s A Season with Verona uses sports (specifically soccer) as a window into culture and society. Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch (Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1992), Jimmy Burns’s Barca: A People’s Passion (Trafalgar Square, 1999), and Simon Kuper’s Football Against the Enemy (Orion Books, 1996) use the same sports vehicle to provide insights into the U.K., the Catalan region of Spain, and the whole of Western Europe, respectively.
The wide variety of books about Europe’s many subcultures is ultimately just another affirmation that even with forces of unity, the new Europe is not, nor will it ever be, a single Europe. (The euro may, in retrospect, be seen as the high-water mark of integration.) Jean Monnet, the founder of the European Community, may have anticipated this. He is quoted by Fons Trompenaars as saying, “If I were again facing the challenge to integrate Europe, I would probably start with culture.” However, the creators of the E.U. did start with politics, leaving culture an unchecked, equally powerful force shaping a Europe that is richer for retaining its diversity.
Reprint No. 02407
David Newkirk, [email protected]
David Newkirk is a senior vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton based in London, where he specializes in strategy and organizational issues for multinational clients. Mr. Newkirk has worked with industry leaders on all aspects of strategy, organization, marketing, technology, and operations.