When I began looking at different International Business Seminars (IBS) programs, I was most interested in the different destinations that were offered. When I saw the Paris and London trip, I was a little hesitant because we would be traveling there in the winter season, and I prefer the warm weather. Nevertheless, Paris was a place that I always wanted to visit because of the history and culture. London is known as the “business hub of Europe”, and seemed like an ideal place to learn about international business from the different company visits that would be offered. The weather, in both Paris and London, was very temperate, around 40F, which made it still enjoyable to walk around and see the sights in both countries. The decision to go on this trip was one of the best choices I have ever made. I learned so much on my trip, but I want to highlight some of the main differences in culture, politics, and cuisine that I observed throughout this experience.
There were many noticeable differences between the cultures of the people in London in comparison to the people in Paris. The people in Paris were very “drawn back” and weren’t very openly-social to us, as tourists. In general, they came across very “stuck-up” and non-inclusive unless you made the attempt to talk to them. I really enjoyed watching them interact at the cafes and restaurants since it is different from what I am used to. The meal times were much longer in Paris and no one was expected to leave until hours after the meal. It was very rare to see the Parisians with a cell-phone. All of their interactions seemed to be, only, with the people they were with; laughing, smoking cigarettes, eating, and, overall taking dinner-time from “just a meal” and turning it into a full experience. It made me realize how important it is to just take a step back from goals and daily interactions and set aside time to just enjoy and live in the moment. In London, people were very warm and welcoming. They seemed to genuinely care and appreciate that we were from the United States. London felt like a second home. It was also similar to the fast-paced, digitally-driven, larger cities in the U.S., like Chicago and New York. It was very humbling to get out of my professional and social circles at home and see how others live in Europe.
The Political Climate
I was very interested to learn about the political atmosphere of both Paris and London. The UK and France are allies of the U.S. and I wanted to compare current issues of these countries. France is currently experiencing protests from the “yellow-vests”. These protests were an attempt to get the French president, Emmanuel Macron, to lower taxes and gas prices. It is economically difficult for French residents who live outside of the city to afford the drive into the city for work. I walked with the “yellow-vests” and they seemed like nice, respectable people and my assumption is that there is only a small minority that was actually destructive and dangerous as portrayed by the media. The political atmosphere in London was very similar to that of the U.S. There were two polarizing parties: the conservative right and the more liberal left. These opposing parties’ ideologies led to the Brexit vote which was extremely volatile and a hotly-debated topic. The conservatives were fighting against immigration and keeping their traditional values. The liberals wanted to stay a part of the European Union (EU) and were accepting of immigration. I did a lot of research before and after the trip. While hearing a speaker try and persuade our group to the conservative side, I found myself in the middle of both parties. The heavy immigration would eventually take a toll on the UK’s economic environment, even though they have a low rate of unemployment (3-4%). I don’t believe that their English values would have faltered as the conservative party claimed. It was quite a volatile time for politics in both countries and I was so lucky to hear and experience all of the controversies.
One of my goals was the chance to try a lot of new cuisines. I preferred the food in Paris but the food in London was also good. Something that I learned about the eating habits in Paris and London was that they take meal-time very seriously. For example, the hotel we stayed at in Paris was small and not very modern, but the complimentary breakfast was a full-course meal. I enjoyed the traditional English breakfast in London consisting of bacon, fried eggs, grilled tomatoes, beans, and black pudding. In Paris, I had hot wine at the Christmas market, escargot (snails) at a steak restaurant, beef bourguignon at a brasserie, macaroons at a café, authentic ramen and many espresso shots. In London, I had Fish-and-Chips at a pub, Lebanese food, and went to an ice bar. Some of the best food I have ever had was in Paris. The cuisine in London was good but similar to that of the US.
Before I left for the trip, I thought I was going to like Paris the most, but London was my favorite city. London had some rich history like Paris but also had a very modern side. I was fascinated to hear about Brexit which may have biased my favorite of the two cities. I enjoyed London so much that I would like to live and work there for at least one year. It was also a little easier to communicate in London because their primary language is English while in Paris it was French. I did a lot of people-watching on this trip and was absolutely fascinated by the fashion in Paris where most people wore pants that you could see their ankles, retro shoes, and casual topcoats. I also really enjoyed the history, architecture, and cuisine in Paris. The busy streets of London were woven with modern architecture and historic buildings. It was so cool to eat and drink in old English pubs. Each city had its high points, even though my preference was London, I would love to go back and visit them both again someday!