colloque (n.m.) : conference
I never thought I would say this, but I think there may be one instance in which the French are definitively plus bien organisé que their american counterparts: the academic colloque.
Je déconne pas. In the US, I’ve attended a number of academic conferences at a few univerisities. While the venues are often fantastic, (see high-tech and high-ceiling’ed with tripped out all-in-one podiums), the start time, the transitions between presentations, the mic volume, the tech delays, even the behavior of the attendees – all leave something to be desired.
I remember the first time I attended a colloque in France. It was in Paris, at Paris IV (one of the many branches of the Sorbonne) and it was about “Le restauration dans le monde“. The two day conference passed without a single hitch. From the exportation globale of the Irish pub, to the integration and the movement for the authentification of la cuisine japonaise in Paris, one presentation flowed into another without a technical mishap, major delay, or other general pandemonium.
This was strange – at least to me – for two reasons.
1) The conference was organized by a Ph.D. student. For those of us who have ever dealt with the average American student finishing their doctorat – organization, promptness, and general reliability are not the words that came to mind. I have collaborated with graduate students on things as simple as the organization of a Christmas party, and their ability to vanish from the face of the earth at the most inconvenient moment is really astounding. (Toutes mes excuses à my grad student potes – I, of course, am not talking about vous – winkwink/nudgenudge).
2) The conference had a number of foreign presenters. Let’s be clear, I love les étrangers – and especially intellectual ones. Anyone who speaks multiple languages and travels extensively is my kind of person. But let’s be clear. My American collègues at their various universities could really do a better job to prepare ces pauvres for what lies ahead. Microphone feedback, laptop connection mishaps, and competitive, lengthy, incoherent intellectual jousting with other chercheurs in the room claiming to be asking “a question”. I blame the American tendency towards politesse. I think a stern hand at the helm of the colloque ship is what we need. And by gosh, the French have it.
Entre parenthèses – this seems like a good moment to acknowledge that the French do have some of their own cultural colloque issues. The most important would be that they have yet to distinguish the difference between une question and un commentaire. In a language where intonation is key, the point d’interrogation and its corresponding rise in the pitch of one’s voice somehow disappear at the colloque Q&A…
The final point I’d like to make is that the French seem to have learned one colloque secret that Americans have not. They might provide coffee, tea, and the occasional muffin/bakery item – but they do not attempt to serve meals in-house. All the intervenants and the members of the audience go on their merry way to the pay-ahead meal at a nearby restaurant or some other dining facility. This plan has a number of benefits, but primarily two:
1) No tapeurs. I organize a number of conferences myself, and it never ceases to amaze me how many people come just for the food. These people take up space and have no sense of respect for presenters; they get up in the middle of talks to refill their plates with leftovers, and munch along loudly, to the disgust of anyone within ear or eyeshot (who have consequently just missed the last 10 minutes of the presentation, due to the distraction).
2) No extra clean-up. This seems like a stupid comment, but people are really disgusting. (That half eaten cookie? Oh, I’ll just leave it on the buffet table near all the other untouched ones…). It is my experience that food can often bring out the worst in people – though this may, admittedly, be a very American problem that one doesn’t find in France.
In résumé: to my dear fellow Americans working at universities, a few words of advice.
– Learn to use the technology with which you have been provided. OR – If you do not know how to use a touch-screen, all-in-one remote that controls everything from the overhead projector to the window shades, please do not install one.
– Stop feeding us, s’il vous plait. Or if you must feed us, do it at a restaurant. University catering is often less-than-palatable, and I really would rather not know about the unpleasant eating habits of people I (used to) respect.
– Be less accommodating. Do not let the more bizarre members of the intellectual community take your conference captive. The man who continues to make lengthy comments instead of asking questions should not be called upon again. In fact, he is probably only here for the food, and this is his effort to prove he is not a tapeur and that he was really paying attention.
And a final note to all colloque attendees…
Lavez-vous. Sitting in a cramped room with others necessitates bathing. It’s a bit unfair for an American to claim that the French smell bad, if he shows up smelling rotten himself.
plus bien organisé que > better organized than
Je déconne pas > I’m not kidding (slang)
Sorbonne > The historic Parisian university
Le restauration dans le monde > Restaurants (the culture, business of, etc.) in the world
exportation globale > global/world-wide export
authentification > verification, authentification
la cuisine japonaise > Japanese cuisine
doctorat > doctorate
Toutes mes excuses à > my apologies to
potes > friends (slang)
vous > you (plural or formal)
les étrangers > foreigners
collègues > colleagues
ces pauvres > these poor chaps
chercheurs > researchers
politesse > politeness
Entre parenthèses > an aside (literally, “in parentheses”)
une question > a question
un commentaire > a comment
point d’interrogation > question mark
intervenants > presenters
audience > audience, public
tapeurs > leeches, mooches (slang)
résumé > summary
s’il vous plait > please, if you please
Lavez-vous > Wash yourselves