Sunday 26th October 2008
Well, things here are tootling along nicely, I’ve now had my first exam (which went ok) and have finished the first module without too much trouble, so fingers crossed I passed!
I’m also learning things at an insanely fast rate – it turns out there is so much I don’t know!
I’ve discovered that the humanitarian world has it’s own little language that requires translating (for example the word “coherence” when used in an evaluation context apparently means “sustainable” – who knew?).
So half of our time is spent arguing over the meaning of words and I have quite an impressive little dictionary with definitions of the difference between a hazard, a threat, and a risk, what constitutes a disaster, and the difference between disaster prevention, disaster preparedness and disaster mitigation!
All extremely exciting! I’ve also now had dinner several times with the lovely lads next door, and they have kindly agreed to continue cleaning the flat topless at my request! 🙂
However, on to the main topic of this week’s email!
I have slowly become aware over the last few weeks of constant references to the “Anglo-Saxon approach” as opposed to the “Francophone approach”, which is something I’ve never really heard about or considered in depth.
However, we ended up having a huge debate about it in class, and it’s utterly fascinating! It turns out that the Anglo-Saxon approach encompasses most of the English-speaking world (UK, USA, Australia etc) and involves our penchant for queuing and the way we hold business meetings, our obsession with timekeeping and our general behaviour patterns.
Meanwhile the “Francophone” approach involves a lot more shouting and gesturing and
meetings going hours over their allocated time slots, etc.
However it also includes the French view of themselves as radicals, rebels and non-conformists (whereas we Brits probably couldn’t conform more if we tried!).
This is something that I, as an Anglo-Saxon, have never once thought about (I’ve definitely never considered myself Anglo-Saxon before either!) but apparently it’s a pretty big deal over here, and especially in terms of the humanitarian sector.
This comes through in many ways – the biggest and most obvious one would be money. British NGO’s generally pay a lot more than most French NGO’s (with the exception of the French Red Cross and MSF, who are interestingly enough also considered different types of rebels within the sector).
The reason behind this massive difference in pay scales apparently comes from
the fact that, on a very basic level, hundreds of years ago, France was Catholic and Britain was Protestant, and therefore we believe it is acceptable to earn reasonable money whilst doing charitable works, while the Catholic approach considers that hypocritical, so regardless of your religious viewpoints, the common mentality is that it is not acceptable in France to earn good money in this sector.
Seriously fascinating stuff!
I’ve also learned that there’s an incredible amount of petty and childish behaviour amongst many of the big NGO’s, like the fact that MSF apparently refuse to coordinate with or work with any other NGO’s on joint projects and will never join any joint initiatives, and yet despite that manage to have an enormously high success rate on their projects (they are also one of the few NGO’s that doesn’t rely at all on donor funding – they literally have so
much money coming in from their members that after the Tsunami they had to start
turning down funding as they didn’t know what to do with it all!).
We’ve also just learnt about the Sphere project, which is a joint initiative to try to implement a global set of minimum standards to enhance accountability. Apparently when it was first introduced, they sent out an invitation to all the French NGO’s to come and learn more
about it. Bioforce sent someone along to find out more, but no one else did, and a memo was sent round the French NGO’s stating that Bioforce had attended this conference on joint standards. I don’t think they’ve been black-listed yet, but seriously!
Apparently the idea of common global standards, to which all NGO’s could conform to and be accountable for (which incidentally seem obvious to me, being Anglo-Saxon) goes against everything that the Francophone NGO’s stand for and would jeopardise their objectivity etc. It’s a huge debate, but fascinating stuff!
It was also brought to my attention at a party last week, when I was in the middle of a conversation with one of the gorgeous men (P? A? M? Not sure now!).
Anyhoo, I was telling him a story about something, and he suddenly stops me and says “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but you are SO English!”
I couldn’t really think of an answer to that one, and again, tend not to think of myself as particularly English, but then I realised that I think of them all as being VERY French, so it’s fair enough really!
Another shocking thing is that I’ve started drinking red wine – the French approach is clearly seeping into my sub-conscious! Also because it’s mostly what’s on offer at most of the parties I’ve been to (that and beer, which I’ve also started drinking!), and it
would be rude not to!
So that’s it for this week, but I’m already getting pretty excited about next weekend – Friday is Halloween and the Bioforce student union (BioReseau) are organising a huge party at a castle (Chateau) out in the countryside somewhere. It’s only 8 euros and you can stay the night there – how awesome is that? Halloween in a castle?
Now I just have to find a costume!
love Anglo-Saxon Maya