A French waiter, working in Canada was fired for being "aggressive, rude and disrespectful." That sounds like a great reason to fire a waiter. But Guillaume Rey filed a complaint saying that he was really fired for being French, and that's just how French people are.

He doesn't claim that he wasn't "aggressive, rude, and disrespectful." He does claim that, as a result of his culture and French training, that he "tends to be more direct and expressive." Or, as Canadians call it, rude.

I will say, flat out, I don't know if he will win his complaint, as I don't know the rules of Canadian employment law, but I think it's worth discussing. When do we get to claim culture for the way we act, and when do you need to comply with the local culture?

It's not an easy question, and sometimes we don't even know to ask it. 

Chess grandmaster Anna Muzychuk stepped down from her world title rather than submit herself to a culture that required her to be chaperoned and wear a head covering when outside the tournament. She, rightly, in my opinion, stood up and said that she won't participate in a culture that oppresses women.

Being polite, like a Canadian would expect, though isn't the same as being treated like property, as Muzychuk would have been.

When you choose to move to a new country, you need to figure out how you will adapt. If you want your new homeland to embrace you, you should probably embrace some, if not all, of their social norms.

I'm an American who lives in Switzerland, and while I've adopted a lot of Swiss norms (punctuality, shaking everyone's hand, sending my children to school by themselves), there are some American norms I've kept. I'm still louder than lots of people and I have to stop myself from using American norms with Swiss people. For instance, if an American says to you, "We should have lunch sometime," the proper response is, "That would be lovely!" and then you both walk away and never have that lunch. 

But, if you say to a Swiss person, "We should have lunch sometime," she's likely to whip out her calendar and prepare to schedule. So, you end up doing lunch when you might not have wanted to rather than say, "Oh, what I meant was, I want to be polite while still blowing you off!" 

Rey chose to move to Canada, and he chose to work in a people facing role with many, many local norms. He wanted to maintain his French norms and that didn't go over well. Personally, I think the restaurant is proper to set expectations for how their staff behaves and to discipline, up to and including termination, if the staff doesn't live up to those cultural norms.

I've eaten at many French restaurants in my time in Europe and I can say that Rey probably did behave like most French waiters.One of the things that drive me crazy about eating in France is the difficulty in getting the check, so I can pay and leave. It's not as simple as just asking for it like it is in the US and Canada.

In complaining about this, a French acquaintance pointed out that I was the rude one. He explained that when one dines in a French restaurant, it's expected that you'll stay the whole evening. If you try to leave in less than three hours, you're indicating your displeasure with the establishment or the meal.

Huh, I said. Never thought of that. I just wanted to pay and leave. I enjoyed my meal and my time in the restaurant just fine. But, perhaps to the restaurant, I'm indicating negative feelings about their establishment.

The point is, it's entirely possible that Rey was simply acting French, and it's entirely possible that his boss terminated him for being rude. And I have to side with the business here. And, I also make sure I have the time for a three-hour meal when I go to a restaurant in France now. And it turns out, it's pretty enjoyable.

Published on: Mar 27, 2018