History, Relationships

In the last month, my company started a project in Caen (pronounced “Caan”), 2 hours west of here in Normandy. I’ll write another blog about the work; this one is about relationships.

The relationship between people is extremely important in France, including in business. I suppose relationships are important in the US as well, but they do not get personal – there are conversations you’d have with a coworker who is also a friend and there are conversations that you should never have publicly at work, namely conversations about closely held beliefs: religion, politics, race relations, etc..

I went to Caen with a colleague, Christian from Bremen, Germany. We are working with and had lunch with Etienne, who was born and raised in Caen. Caen is about 20k from Omaha Beach, so at lunch Etienne asks both of us: “did you have relatives in the war.” We both answered “no”; I answered “no” because I know of no relatives in direct combat; my mom’s cousin died in North Africa and Bruce’s uncle Larry served in the war. I was completely surprised by the question, seeing as the war was 70 years ago. I’m finding out that it’s very much on the minds of the French.

It was the intent of the allies to take Caen 2 days after D-Day. It took almost two months. In the meantime, except for 2 churches and a castle, the city was flattened. I should point out here that in the last 100 years, Paris has been occupied and/or surrounded, but only “skirmishes” have taken place in the city – no shelling, no bombing. Into the 50s, Caen was rebuilt. Etienne, who was born in 1963 (another thing he shared; 2 years from me) was completely familiar with the history of Caen and its rebuilding.

The funny thing is, Etienne holds the on the American style of warfare responsible for the flattening of Caen, which was to remove all obstacles in order to get a clear shot. He says this to me only after knowing him for less than 2 business days. I didn’t take it as an insult – I don’t have the connection – the relationship – that Etienne does. I don’t live there; it was 70 years ago. Afterward, Christian told me that he’s glad it’s over and wants to move on.

A southerner, a westerner, a conservative, see things differently from me, just as a Frenchman, German, or Greek does here. Is that a conversation anyone wants to start at a US workplace?

P.S. Later that week, I bring this up on a park tour of Bois Bologne, Paris’ biggest park. In that park, in 1944, 35 resistance fighters were caught, tortured, the executed by the Nazis. We visited the memorial, including the bullet holes in the pine trees. All these “little” stories are known, discussed, and remembered by the French, and the Americans living in Paris.

There is a good reason why they should be discussed — we don’t want them to happen again. To accomplish that, relationships must be built. In the meantime, Andrea Merkel was in Greece last week getting called a Nazi (obviously untrue and unfortunate), but the EU wins the Nobel Peace Prize. See more: my company, battle for Caen, Merkel in Greece, the resistance, and Guy Moquet.

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Categories: Tom's Travels | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “History, Relationships

  1. Colleen Hartman

    How interesting. I have learned so much about WWII. Since I was born in1938, I was an infant at the start of the war. I do remember while going to country school, packing boxes to send over seas. I don’t have a recollection of having it explained to me, who these boxes were for. It seems that we filled wooden Velveeta cheese boxes that would not have held much. I remember that Mom kept the ration books in the cedar chest. Since technology of today did not exist then, most visual news reports were news reels at the movies ( which we didn’t often see) and were probably months old anyway. At a young age I probably didn’t listen to the radio news reports, but I do remember listening to a live broadcast of a test of the atom bomb. and feeling fearful about it. That is probably why I remember it There was a lot of family at Grandpa and Grandma Woods house near Orient and all were listening to the radio. Your peceptions of French culture serve to educate all of us. Thanks . Hugs.

  2. Linda

    Hi Tom & Kelley,

    I just got back from a beautiful bat mitzvah in Deerfield, Illinois. Your blog reminded me of how we should discuss history more often. Visting my high school friends & celebrating their daughter’s bat mitzvah was a similar to being in a wedding. Except, I had no responsiblities other than to listen and dance later in the evening. Thanks for teaching us about the french culture. My neice is a high school senior who visited Paris last year. Is it okay with you if I share your blog with my neice? She would love hearing about the French culture and your experiences abroad. Have fun.

  3. Barry Hoffmeier

    Kelley, Gerry and Ed, your Grandpa’s brothers both fought in WWII. Gerry left for service the day after GGHoffmeier’s wedding 4/19/42 and didn’t come home until October of 1945. He was in the Army and was in the Phillipines. The story goes that Gerry had contacted some sort of disease(infection) in one of his legs while in the Phillipines. He was now back in a US hospital and was scheduled for surgery to have part of his leg removed. The night before the surgery, a nurse came into his room and told him she wanted to try some kind of new medicine on his leg. The next day when the doctor came to examine Gerry he noticed some improvement in the leg and cancelled the surgery. I was told that Gram Hoffmeier, their mom, was never told about this. Gerry would still experience bouts of ‘jungle root’ on his feet during the summer when his feet would sweat. Ed was also in the Army and served some of his time with General Patton. His story was that at some time they captured a German women who they thought should be searched. Some of the men thought she seemed harmless, but when searched they found a small revolver in her bra. Both Gerry and Ed called their mom on Oct 13, 1945 to tell her that they were both safe and were being discharged to come home. Ironically, Oct 13 was her wedding anniverary, although Grandpa H had passed away in 1926.

    • Colleen Hartman

      How interesting. There are so many stories about WWII that are now surfacing. I hope families are recording these remarkable events because we are losing our WWII vets at a rapid pace. Thanks for sharing with all of the Engle blog readers.

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