Can you tell us about your expat status? Which country has marked you the most?
I started my first missions abroad in 1985. I went to live in France (1986-1989), and at the time the European Union did not exist. It was a completely different reality, especially in terms of borders. Then I moved to Bulgaria (1991-1993), a country where I lived just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I had a European vision but it was a country occupied by Russia. For example, people were still lining up for rationed groceries. The Bulgarians considered me a wealthy person because I had enough money and a passport that gave me a free pass.
The language barrier sometimes played tricks on me in terms of understanding, but I always had a desire to learn the language of the country I was in. In Taiwan, for example, where I lived from 1993 to 1996, I took classes every day with a local who wanted to learn French. A little anecdote : “After some time of learning, thinking I could get by in Mandarin and on the encouragement of my colleague, I go to the first store and ask for a phone card. Puzzled, the saleswoman looks at me without moving (and without understanding, obviously). I repeat myself, she smiles, she turns around and goes to get me a bottle of whiskey! One thing led to another, and with assiduity, I began to express myself better and with the right intonations. Thanks to this, I kept an excellent memory of my stay.”
I also lived for a while in Libya, during Gaddafi’s time. It was a country with a more rigorous way of life, including in the hotel where we stayed. It was not easy every day, and foreigners were handpicked. To the extent that you could not have a VISA with a stamp for Israel (because of the political issues). Moreover, in comparison with the other countries where I have always walked freely, in Libya, we knew we were being followed.
My travels have also taught me the customs and habits of each country. In Taiwan, there are color codes specific to a situation. Red is the color of happiness. During a wedding, for example, we offer a red envelope as a lucky sign. White, on the other hand, is rather the color of mourning. A white envelope is offered at a funeral. It may seem trivial like that, but it’s better not to be wrong! Above all, it is a question of respect for traditions.
When I was younger, during my studies, I was president of a fraternity. I believe that it has served me well in my career. In Taiwan and Ukraine (1998-2002; 2002-2003; 2003-2005), I have been put to the test in negotiation discussions. Indeed, there is a “ceremonial” that takes place with toast and vodka. If there were 20 people around the table, we drank 20 glasses of vodka. It served me well from a resistance point of view! Laugh.
What do you think of the younger generation of engineers around you? What would you advice them?
“I think young engineers are positive, up for a challenge and flexible. Professionally speaking, I can advise them to have an open mind, not to be afraid to assert themselves and communicate.
For our young colleagues who feel an expatriate soul, they must invest in a certain approach to culture. To expatriate is to get out of your comfort zone. Each country has its own culture, customs and habits. In my opinion, we must show a real will for integration.
In conclusion, all these trips remain wonderful adventures of life!”