Guillaume Rey was a waiter at Milestone’s Bar & Grill in Vancouver.
In 2017, he was fired for being “aggressive, rude, and disrespectful”.
Rey took the owners of the restaurant to British Columbia’s Human Rights Tribunal.
He claimed he was unfairly dismissed.
Nothing unusual so far, I’m sure that happens all the time.
It’s what happened next that was unusual.
He claimed the reason for his unfair dismissal was: “Discrimination against French culture”.
Rey, who was French, said the restaurant misinterpreted his behaviour.
He said the French tend to be more “professional and expressive”.
He was French and he behaved in the French way.
They may have interpreted it as rude, but that was just their prejudice.
The restaurant owners said his behaviour had reduced a co-worker to tears.
In April and July, he already had two warnings about his temper.
Tribunal member, Devyn Cousineau, said “Mr Rey will have to explain what it is about his French heritage that would result in behaviour that people misinterpret as a violation of workplace standards of acceptable conduct.”
Edith Boncompain, of the Institute Alliance Francais in New York, said “That cannot be a defence: “I am French so I am rude”.”
But apparently it is.
In 2013 the Paris Tourism Board ran a campaign to change the behaviour of waiters, taxi-drivers, and others.
The problem is that people working in these jobs confuse rudeness with efficiency.
Rude people think bad manners are impressive.
It’s what Jean Paul Sartre calls “living inauthentically”.
To do their job, they feel they must act as if it was a part in a play.
Indeed, one of Sartre’s examples is the French waiter, who must look fierce and busy, so that everyone thinks he’s efficient at his job.
He isn’t really doing his job, he’s just acting the part as if he was in a play.
Sadly that’s how a lot of people in our business do their job.
As if they were acting the part in a play.
For instance, a person acting the part of a planner would be determined that they are in charge of strategy, therefore that is the only part of the work that is important.
Never mind if the work is impactful or memorable, is it on strategy?
That same person, if they were acting the part of a media planner, would be determined that hitting the target as often as possible was all important.
Never mind impact or memorability, did we get work in every possible channel?
That same person, if they were acting the part of a creative, would be determined that the artistic quality of the work is the only important part.
Never mind impact or memorability, will it win an award at Cannes?
See we don’t have ad-people anymore.
Everyone is solely worried about the part they’re playing.
But the sum of the parts is less than the whole.
So we have work that all looks identical, beautifully shot mood-boards full of little insights, that find and hit the target but are immediately unnoticed and forgotten.
It is work that satisfies everyone that they have ticked their little box.
Work that is invisible, just like every other piece of wallpaper.
Because everyone is doing their job in isolation, like a French waiter.
Secure in the importance of their own role, ignoring where their part fits into the whole.
Ignoring impactful and memorable, concentrating solely on their part.
It’s not work, it’s the theatre of work.