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Going Dutch, a French Tale

Posted on October 29, 2012 and read 1,698 times

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Antonin Going Dutch, a French TaleAntonin Jamond
Strategist
BSUR Amsterdam

Ever thought of becoming a global nomad? Not sure if it’s time to follow your heart and try your luck working abroad? Well I have some motivating thoughts that will hopefully give you a kick in the pants, make you kiss your Mum goodbye and walk out the door. Working in another market and another language – well it could just be the best thing you ever do.

We collect bits and pieces of experience everywhere. Experience and adventure change us, add to us and help make us who we are. Which is why I left Paris to work in advertising in Amsterdam.

What’s really interesting to witness from a cultural point of view is how business is handled here. The whole country was raised in adversity – fighting to reclaim its land from the Spanish and the North Sea, inventing new technologies to prevent the locals from drowning. They were also amongst the first to go global, bravely sailing off to trade with exotic destinations. This proud culture filters through to the advertising community here today

Cutting the crap

One easily recognizes how distant, romantic, yet slightly official the French tend to be when they communicate. Stating one thing but projecting seven others might veil the speaker’s true intentions and spread confusion. Still it opens unexpected interpretations and throws some alternative grey in the black and white mix of ideas.

No journalistic romance here in Amsterdam; the Dutch always cut straight to the point. Informal, non-conformist and down to earth, they leave little room for prosaic glorification. If it’s useless, it’s useless. Face the truth’s brutality headfirst. In such a small country, you can’t allow yourself to keep anything but the essentials.

Here is an example of the French’s passion coming up against Dutch’s common sense. Quoting Lemmy Kilmister, “you win some, you lose some,” and that’s how it goes with culture when bathing in new environments. And this is how it went for me in Amsterdam.

“White spaces act as opened windows for creativity and possibilities,” I suggested in a review. “Yeah, it’s a blank canvas,” the response shortened in a laugh.

Show me the money

The French generally love to spend more hours on style and manners than on the business agreement itself. They’ll take more care on who to deal with, and mostly how and where.

The Dutch are hard-nosed and business-driven. If someone has something to offer, they will engage negotiations and fight for the best deal. It’s in their DNA. I’ve seen thrifty people collect and trade books of promotional coupons, regardless of queuing lines in supermarkets or actually saving value.

Being from a country limited by size, the Dutch also always see obstacles as opportunities. Hungry for international expansion as a country, the Dutch became global entrepreneurs before it was cool.

Not only the land is flat

No royalty, no pompous Champs Elysees, no outrageous bling buildings in Amsterdam. The Dutch were democratic from the start. Society was born egalitarian and encouraged to stay so. Advertising agencies here are open plan and everyone has open doors. Our agency has taken over an old school house, another agency has reclaimed a church, and there’s even an agency with a tree growing through the creative department. Less formality, hierarchy and bulky bureaucracy leave space for free thinking, giving strategic solutions and creative ideas more room to spread.

Management in France is more directive than collaborative. Powers are centralized, and that is also to be seen in other aspects of life. In Paris agencies interns fetch people coffees. In Amsterdam, everyone can get their own.

Liberté, égalité, Amsterdam

In France the ARPP does to advertising what North Korea does to free speech. Or close. As an institution promoting responsible communication, everything you produce has to go through them before airing. In a television commercial, we once had our food client’s mascot – a typical friendly farmer – up in a tree. He was dropping the freshest fruits straight into the pack before it morphed into the logo. The ARPP deemed the commercial too dangerous. Why? Because the farmer should be wearing a helmet

Damn, in Amsterdam you can ride a scooter without a helmet!

So here are three great pieces of knowledge I’ve collected from my time as a Frenchman working in a Dutch advertising agency:

First, the French and Dutch differ but complement each other in the end. The Dutch drive the highways, we know the little roads around, and together we steer clients to the next level. To their logic we fuse the romance, and that gives a sharper edge to the work delivered

Secondly, substance over style. From the Dutch I’ve learnt that what you present is more important than how you present. Like society, the industry is open for craziness, but only as far as it can sell. Function goes over form and advertising people here are better at dealing than painting.

Thirdly, our passion may allow us to see things differently and open new views on given situations, yet gut feelings aren’t enough to prove a point. Philosophy, improvisation and risk-taking ought to be backed up in science-figures. They need to see what they’ll get. You’re the showman, show the businessmen.

Whoever you are and wherever you go, there’s no right or wrong. Dutch give birth at home while French pre-mums are rushed to the hospital. Both babies grow up perfectly fine. From leaving my home to work in a new one, I’ve come to realize there isn’t one way of doing things. It’s how you blend your experience of both worlds that matters.

So I challenge you to dive in the unknown, embrace the non-familiar and live out of your box. It makes you a better person, enriched by the diversity of the experiences. For the more you experience you gather, the more you become. I’d say go for it. Amsterdam or elsewhere, go find your bits and pieces. Break down doors and smile, no one will blame you for trying.





  • Mike Bayfield

    No royalty? I think Queen Beatrix might disagree. But, apart from that, a nice insightful article. I’ve recently moved from the UK to work in Germany, so some interesting parallels.


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