The difference between the Swiss and the Maasaï

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It was a beautiful afternoon at the Olduvaï Camp in Tanzania and we climbed a little rock to watch the sunset on the Serengeti. The view was breathtaking and you couldn’t see a telephone line, a building or anything man-made 360 degrees around.

For a few minutes, we were contemplating the nature in total silence when he turned to me and asked: “Do you know the difference between the Swiss and us, the Maasai?” Then, with his huge smile he continued: “The Swiss have the watches, WE have the time!”

We burst into laughter and I never forgot that moment.

Working with different cultures is an amazing experience and it also has its challenges. How time is perceived from one country to another is one of them.

It is not a universal rule that you should answer an email in 15 minutes or you must attend a conference call while on holidays! Showing 10 minutes late for a meeting is not necessarily rude (actually, sometimes being on time can be) and starting an Opening General Session at 8:30 AM might force you to start your conference … without your international delegates!

One cultural dimension is very helpful to understand the relation to time from various individuals: monochronism vs polychronism. It has been widely described by American anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher Edward T Hall in his book The Silent Language (1959), in which, as mentioned by Wikipedia: “Hall coined the term polychronic to describe the ability to attend to multiple events simultaneously, as opposed to “monochronic” individuals and cultures who tend to handle events sequentially.”

Let’s illustrate the point with a (slightly generalized) example: in France, you might speak about politics or soccer before the meeting starts; your cellphone might ring during the meeting; your assistant might come into the room to ask you to sign something urgent; when reaching point 4 on the agenda, you might remember something you forgot to mention at point 2 and want to come back to it, etc. In Germany, it’s quite the opposite and German people might believe that it is impossible to work with French people who can’t concentrate and can’t be taken seriously … while French people might believe that it is impossible to work with Germans because they are too dry and too serious. Guess what?! Both countries have great and successful companies … and are taking long breaks during summer!

In other words, one individual’s relation to time is deeply affected by her or his culture, there is no universal answer to it and it is certainly not fully correlated to the level of professionalism of the person you are dealing with.

So, the next time you are frustrated about timing issues, first acknowledge it; second, try to understand what is “standard” in the business culture of the person you are interacting with; third, have a conversation about this with her/him and, if all the above doesn’t work … remember the difference between the Swiss and The Masaaï!


(This is my latest blogpost on which can be found at

Once upon a time, there was an invisible industry called “The Meetings & Events Industry”. Invisible because nobody knew that, in the US only, it was providing 1.8 million jobs!

When they were attending their company sales meeting, their presidential inauguration, their Super Bowl, their industry tradeshow, their congress session or their shareholders meeting, people never realized that hundreds of their compatriots were working days and nights behind the scene so that everything could run smoothly. The ghosts were at work!

At first, they didn’t realize that the venue didn’t light itself alone, the sound was not really “The Voice of God”, the chairs didn’t move themselves like in Fantasia, the invitations were not sent by Cinderella’s Aunt, the speakers worked hard to be as inspiring as Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society, their hotel room was clean and ready to welcome them, their smartphone was connected to the web or they could review the conference content afterwards from the comfort of their living room. The ghosts had specialties!

Then one day, one of them heard that his niece, her daughter, his cousin, his grandson, had graduated from an “Event Management Program” at a very well known university. Although they were still not quite sure “what exactly that they were doing”, they realized that the ghosts were alive and kicking! The profession was taking shape.

Education and certification are essentials.

Today, there are more than 10,000 CMP’s worldwide. More than 10,000 individuals who have decided to complete the “Certified Meeting Professional” certification. Then to recertify through industry service or by consuming educational content. They speak the same language, they make sure your event runs smoothly and that your organization’s objectives are met. From AV to cultural differences in business, they have a vast array of specilaties they bring to your event so that you look great on stage or have an amazing and unique experience at the meeting you’re attending.

Next time you see me, shake my hand, I’m a CMP, a certified ghost, I make you look good and I’m proud of it!

When are you joining us in the CMP world? For a limited time, Events on is making it even easier with over 100 free videos eligible for CMP Clock Hours! For more information go to