Tag Archives: Vernetti Creative

English humour vs. French humour

22 Mar

During these bleak times, through the recession and dark longish  nights…I thought I might cheer you up with a bit of lightness and…humour….

Humour is by definition an Anglo-Saxon concept i.e. the equivalent in French would be “esprit”, farce (prank) and humeur (a state of mind, or mood), but not humour. Only in 1932 did the French Academicians give their approval to the noun “humour”!!! (Economist 18/12/2003)

As quoted in the movie Ridicule by Patrice Leconte: “the French have jokes but do they have a sense of Humour ?”…

I asked a Brit living in France what she thought about French humour and her answer was: “only a couple of words..!!”…typically British dry reply I assume..!

French esprit is unique in the sense that it can be described by the Anglo-Saxon as ‘Grinçant’ a concept typically French where the object of the humour is usually somebody else …(cf le diner de cons). The main aim of la “derision” consisting of mocking someone else’s weak point or naïve attitude.

Where British humour has a lot to do with self derision – which is perceived as demonstrating low self-esteem in France. However I’d like to point out that when one does mock oneself it does avoid others mocking him or her …!!! One can therefore set the limit to the extent of self derision which they are prepared to reach…

French humour is usually under the belt and fairly straightforward known as “l’esprit Gaulois” It is a licentious humour one would describe as visual and according to David Trotter in l’Esprit Gaulois: Humour and national Mythologie “a form of coarse humour characteristic of the lower orders of society, and thus inevitably concerned with the baser instincts”. My own perception of French Gaulois humour is that it can be as naughty as English humour, the only difference being…in the way it is laid out!!! (er…so to speak!!!)

French version is usually quite literal (we call a spade a spade!!) and situation based (cf all Feydeau plays based on a “quiproquo” ie situations being mixed up, the lover being taken for the husband and the servant for the mistress etc… Whether British humour possess (equivalent) several levels  : the first level which is quite literal, second level usually a bit more complex to understand …however…fairly naughty and finally a last level that one would not dare even think about…as it is far too shocking…!!! But everybody…eventually… works it out !

Contrepétrie is another form of French humour: where one changes one letter for another and it becomes fairly salacious…; the fun part being creating “contrepétries”: ie mixing letters so it becomes witty. Making an innocent remark such as: “nous avons convenu de la date…”if you reverse the C for the D, then things becomes somehow… more interesting!

The goal of the contrepétrie game is to banter with colleagues or friends without the audience understanding how cheeky the sentence can really be…in this sense this form of humour is similar to Cockney slang i.e in the way it is structured…by association of ideas.

English humour is somehow more subtle: it comes at several levels and in different shapes.

For example Pantomimes at Christmas times are one of my favourite entertainments ever… as I come from another culture… it becomes the d challenge of a few days to fully understand the different messages delivered…hence making my enjoyment bigger when I finally get it !.

Traditionally performed at Christmas, with family audiences consisting mainly of children and parents, British pantomime is now a popular form of theatre, incorporating song, dance, buffoonery, slapstick, cross-dressing, in-jokes, audience participation, and mild sexual innuendo. There are a number of traditional story-lines, and there is also a fairly well-defined set of performance conventions. Lists of these items follow, along with a special discussion of the ‘guest celebrity’ tradition, which emerged in the late 19th century. Panto story lines and scripts typically make no reference to Christmas, and are almost always based on traditional children stories, including several written or popularized by the French pioneer of the ‘fairy tale’ genre, Charles Perrault. Plot lines are often ‘adapted’ for comic or satirical effects, and certain familiar scenes tend to recur, regardless of plot relevance. (Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia)

The first level of the humour developed in the panto is for the children and the more subtle one is usually salacious …geared to the adult’s tastes.

Potter called humour an “English inherent reaction” and considered this as one of the pillars of the English society. It was cherished by the upper social class but has now spread to the whole society.

It tends to analyse a given situation and extract the most absurd sides in order to highlight the ridicule of the situation. This allows the person to distance him or herself from the situation, thus enabling them, in some cases, to take an objective decision. This nonsense approach forms the art of developing absurd ways of thinking based on a logical approach!!! Absolutely fantastic for imaginative personalities as it brings one to unkown territories of fantasy …one can banter indefinitely …

To summarize : English humour or French esprit?? Of course I will give you a twisted answer as I believe both have their defined role to play in their given culture. According to Pierre Desproges in Les étrangers “ Comment reconnaitre l’humour anglais de l’humour français ? l’humour anglais souligne avec amertume et désespoir l’absurdité du monde. L’humour français se rit de ma belle-mère ».

My personal choice would go for English humour with a French je ne sais quoi …! and I do not hesitate to use humour in large doses during my training sessions and in my coaching practice when I need my client to relax slightly before starting the hard work !


My recruitment week…

17 Mar

My recruitment week…

I used to go out in the morning really excited to meet lots of new extraordinary people and …believe me I did that absolutely everyday!!!! I’ll let you guess my job: I serve a lot of glasses of water, visit a lot of different hotels, ask a lot of questions, observe a lot of different behaviors, have to dress immaculately, be charming and smile a lot!!!

Now I can imagine you SMIRKING…You got it wrong…I am a PROFESSIONAL….double wrong!!!…I worked in England as an independent assessor on large recruitment campaigns!!!

Here are a few mishappenings that usually sent me to the water cooler pretty quick (YES…more water!!!). Stress makes you act in really weird ways from time to time..!!

Candidates unable to speak any English…and using every trick in the book to save themselves time, in order to be able to grasp what the question actually means: “could you repeat that please?? …what you mean is …” then he repeats exact wording of the question….is that correct? I usually repeat the question once more, and then rephrase the question in Pidgin English: You…preparation for this interview??? And… after all this effort, does not answer it!!…

Demonstrating how to count different travel zones for a test…Showing my three fingers in front of the face of the candidate and asking how many zones he can account for….4 was his response. Tried it again during another test: answer was two this time!! I guess arithmetic was not on top of their agenda…

During a role play,ie a situation given to the candidate who has to prepare himself for a specific scenario happening… the candidate took the brief so seriously and literally that he wrestled the assessor to the floor shouting: DON’T MOVE… I’ll call an ambulance!!! It was so entertaining that the second assessor (another lady who serves glasses of water and visits lots of different venues…!) observing the exercise, let it proceed for a while before calling for a halt when it became…too dangerous for the assessor’s health!!

Closed body language: pen and finger pointing…feet inwards pointing…arms crossed. I even interviewed a candidate who had kept his anorak on (it was July…) and… , I realized when I took him back to the reception room….his backpack (which by then had become fairly flat…!) on during the whole interview!!! He was obviously keen to run away as soon as possible!!!! I must have been terrifying…

Body odor: candidate who obviously had never met (let alone been) in a bath and was getting excited …waving arms…result obtained: I.., choking to get some fresh unpolluted air and wishing candidate had no arm….!!!

During a particular role play, the candidate was supposed to call my daughter to let her know that I am running slightly late but will be with her shortly. This is the candidate’s interpretation of the scenario when asked: “but what are you going to tell my daughter???  Candidate (candidly):” that you are her mother”….Me (absolutely stunned): “But …she knows I am her mother!!!” A Vaudeville scene as my uncle would say (I am French by the way).

Cabin Crew candidate afraid of flying and thinking this was an opportunity to beat their flying phobia…or the trade union rep for the baggage handlers turning up for an internal hearing straight from work, all dressed in white…I don’t think he had ever touched a piece of luggage in his life…!!

Another tool used in an evaluation centre was an evidence based questionnaire: When asked to discuss a situation when someone was proving difficult to work with, candidate answered: cannot think of any situation as I have never had people disagreeing with me….!! Always useful information from the point of view of an assessor…

Another candidate who obviously had understood the competency based interview questionnaire! asking if the fact that we were asking probing questions would play against him…

One of my colleagues (that is a chap serving glasses of water (yes yes!! You got it this time…) ran into my assessment room one day and breathlessly described how he had called for a “Sharon Smith” in the reception area unable to identify a lady waiting, when a deep raucous voice answered that she was Sharon. He was so shocked that he could not establish the sex of the candidate and was asking for my help!! His chosen criteria were that the candidate had…small feet and a handbag so she was a lady for sure…!!!

And the skills I have acquired you may ask??? Mastering the art of holding several glasses of water at the same time…I am also an expert at tuning in to thousands of different accents and way of speaking…when in the beginning a candidate kept on referring to “we” I was confused about how many brothers and sisters he must have…now I am used to the royal “we”.

I have also learnt to never make assumptions (which believe me can be absolutely nearly impossible sometimes…!). People are amazing is my own conclusion to this fun hobby/job I held.

On a more serious tone, competency based interview help the assessor to determine in an objective manner if the candidate is suitable for the job…i.e. all the questions asked are based upon the skills required for the job.

For example, when recruiting for a famous airline company, it was paramount to be able to establish if the candidate was customer service focused. So rather than asking the candidate: are you customer focused or do you place your customers first?? I would ask a situation based question such as: can you remember the last time you provided exceptional customer service?? I.e. you went the extra mile for one of your customer?? In that instance the candidate would provide a situation when they thought they really had gone the “extra mile” for the customer. And in analyzing the situation, I could determine if the customer was top of the candidate’s agenda or not. Therefore I could then match the demonstrated skills with my client’s requirements of exceptional customer service…

This work technique enables the assessor to work in an objective manner and in a consistent way by repeating the same technique. Through giving the same chance to each candidate!!!

This competency based technique is now starting to make its way in France. Let’s hope it will become common knowledge throughout the French recruitment world quickly and efficiently!!!!

Une semaine avec un étudiant…à quatre pattes !

7 Mar

Une semaine avec un étudiant…à quatre pattes !


Nous habitons un appartement, qui, bien que cossu pour Paris, est tout de même situé au quatrième étage d’un immeuble Haussmannien…pas des plus commodes pour héberger de façon permanente un compagnon à quatre pattes…aussi, lorsque mes enfants m’exprimaient leur souhait d’adopter un adorable chien Chihuahua (pratique à porter dans son sac…) j’ai failli être tentée !

Après quelques essais de recherche sur internet et la lecture d’annonces pour le moins frauduleuses ‘le chien est à Londres, je vous le donne gratuitement mais vous devez régler les frais de rapatriement d’une valeur de 2000 euros à mon cousin qui habite le Gabon … ??!!’ j’ai décidé de mettre cette recherche en attente. Par le truchement d’une dame qui enseignait le dessin à ma fille, et qui accueillait des chiens d’aveugle en formation, nous avons consulté le site de

La maison des chiens d’aveugle à Paris et avons été invités à la journée porte ouverte en juin dernier. Et là, la saga a débuté….

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Accompagnée de mes deux loustics nous sommes arrivés sur un lieu qui respirait la joie de vivre ; des chiens d’aveugle partout, adultes, bébés, et retraités (ce sont les chiens non les bénévoles !). Un calme olympien y régnait. La maison des chiens d’aveugle est fort bien organisée.

La journée porte ouverte a été très touchante : un public mixte fait de non-voyants, de chiens d’aveugle au travail et de chien d’aveugles à la retraite. Une démonstration des compétences des chiens d’aveugle plus tard…et…nous avons laissé notre adresse pour devenir famille d’accueil.

La réunion m’a aidée à conclure que je ne possédais pas le temps nécessaire consacré à l’éducation d’un chien d’aveugle en formation. En revanche, j’ai décidé de proposer ma famille comme famille relais lorsque les familles bénévoles partent en vacances, bien méritées, sans pouvoir emmener leur pensionnaire. Le mois de septembre suivant, nous avons été contactés pour recevoir Elypse :

Elypse venait de subir une intervention chirurgicale, et elle était un peu ‘dans les vaps’. J’étais novice en matière de chiens d’aveugles, et il nous fallut à toutes les deux, plus de  45 minutes pour regagner la maison, alors qu’il en faut dix en temps normal! En effet un chien d’aveugle obéit à des codes particuliers et cette chienne semblait vouloir se mettre à terre tous les dix mètres…je ne savais que faire, mis à part, lui parler alternativement en français et en anglais, à la surprise des piétons !! Après deux jours d’apprivoisement réciproque, nous nous sommes finalement beaucoup appréciées et j’avais la larme à l’œil lorsqu’Elypse est retournée à la maison des chiens d’aveugle.

Le second lascar était d’un tout autre genre : je volais littéralement derrière lui ! On m’avait prévenu que Falco (rebaptisé f…ck all par mon fils!) était …puissant et j’ai vite compris la signification du mot !!! De fait Falco était un moteur à réaction !!! Heureusement pour lui et pour nous, la semaine de ses vacances a coïncidé avec la semaine de nos vacances en Bretagne et le gentil chien d’aveugle n’a fait que galoper toute la journée sur les plages bretonnes….

Pourquoi ces chiens sont-ils différents ? Et bien pour commencer, ils sont entrainés à accompagner un non-voyant, et donc ne vous lâchent pas d’une semelle. Ces chiens sont placides, loyaux, et répondent très bien à la voix…quoique mon dernier petit pensionnaire, tout juste âgé de cinq mois, n’en fasse qu’à sa tête !

L’emmener sur les champs Elysées au milieu des vacances scolaires ne fut pas une mince affaire…Ladurée par exemple, refuse d’accueillir les chiens d’aveugles (no comment !) alors que la pizzeria en face du métro Georges V m’a accueillie avec un grand bol d’eau pour le chien J et moultes caresses de la part du propriétaire du restaurant … (pour le chien!).

Le plus drôle est que les gens sont très curieux, et chaque fois que nous prenons le métro, Fog attire l’attention de tous…à moins que Fog ne soit attiré par tous J…enfin en particulier vers un jeune homme…qui s’est révélé être boucher de profession !

Les chiens d’aveugle viennent avec moi dans mes interventions professionnelles : l’école où j’enseigne a accueilli Fog les bras ouverts et les étudiants, futurs DRH, semblaient fascinés par le chiot. La même chose se produit au supermarché où après un échange assez sportif avec le garde de sécurité (style : »mais vous n’êtes pas aveugle, donc pas de chien ! » Ce à quoi je réponds que le chien apprend son métier et qu’aller au supermarché fait partie intégrante de sa carrière professionnelle …et si le ton monte et bien j’appelle le directeur du supermarché. (En général on me laisse entrer dans le magasin avant !), le chien d’aveugle et moi organisons notre shopping de façon constructive, sous le regard étonné des clients.

J’ai même été au théâtre avec l’un des chiens ! J’avais, bien évidemment vérifié la possibilité d’emmener mon compagnon à quatre pattes avec la réception…en revanche, j’avais sous-estimé le degré de chaleur dans la salle, et le chien a haleté pendant toute la représentation….heureusement les spectateurs étaient tolérants !

Et puis le prénom du dernier chien m’a beaucoup amusée …Fog ou brouillard en français …est un peu …’risqué’ pour un chien d’aveugle… ??? J)

Pourquoi effectuer cette démarche ? et bien j’estime d’une part, que je ne suis pas disponible pour adopter un compagnon à quatre pattes à plein temps, alors recevoir un chien dix jours tous les trimestres me convient parfaitement…enfin donner un peu de son temps à la communauté est une valeur qui me tient à cœur et je souhaite l’inculquer à mes deux adolescents ! Enfin, mon métier est d’accompagner des personnes sur des problématiques professionnelles sur un court temps (je suis coach : www.pvcreative.fr) et le futur métier du chien que je reçois est d’accompagner un aveugle : tout ceci me semble en parfaite cohérence.

Suis-je triste lorsque les chiens repartent à la maison des aveugles ? Un tout petit pincement de cœur, passager, mais, tout comme mon métier, qui est d’accompagner une personne sur un temps donné, et bien j’envisage ma contribution à l’éducation de ces héros , comme aussi délimitée dans le temps… !

Pascale Vernetti – février 2011

Famille relais

La maison des chiens guides pour aveugles

105 avenue St Maurice

75012 Paris

01 43 65 64 67

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