‘Lucky you, travelling on the first KLM non-stop to Boston, how I envy you!’ With a broad smile on his face full of freckles, Leo looked at Lilou, ‘Moreover, you can say merci to Air France.’ He loved teasing his French girlfriend. ‘I didn’t know they had become friends?’ Lilou was looking at the departures when she felt Leo’s hand in hers. ‘Oh no, too much on each other’s nerves for that’.
Now that they lived together in Amstelveen, not far from Schiphol Airport where Leo worked for KLM as a digital architect, Lilou had become slightly more interested in planes. ‘Air France? You’re kidding, my conference is in the US, not in France?’ Leo grinned, ‘It’s very simple, even in a complex merger like ours, fortunately there are positive points, some in contrast to what has been widely reported in the press. Delta Air Lines now considers KLM important enough to play with the big boys. Even our CEO said so in an interview in Parool lastweek’.
Leo was walking faster now, Schiphol being one of the largest airports he knew and time was running out. Lilou had trouble keeping up with him. There was some sadness in Leo’s tone ‘Too bad that you have to leave just today on your birthday, but well, to be on this sort of pioneer flight is priceless!’ Lilou smiled, birthdays were not really part of her culture, not like here anyway. Only her mother had called this morning from Paris with a ‘I never forget 31st March, ma chérie, happy birthday toyou’.
When a couple of minutes later they arrived at Gate D7, the inauguration of the 17th North Atlantic KLM destination was in full swing. Surrounded by his staff and the media, a visibly happy CEO had just cut the ribbon. Leo felt very proud, wasn’t he working for the world’s largest airline after all? Air France had brought in the passengers and KLM the cargo, he liked to put it when talking to his friends.
Creating one seamless service to the passengers had been the objective in 2004, unfortunately with more and more issues over the time, often caused by cultural differences. The French top-down management style made the KLM staff feel uncomfortable when working in Paris. They preferred by far the egalitarian style used at home.
Building relationships before doing business and when working in a team is crucial for the French, something the task-oriented Dutchman is tempted to rush, considering this as a waste of time. Even if at Roissy Airport shorter lunch breaks have become more common, the French consider themselves being less time-sensitive than the Dutch.
One thing the French feel very frustrated about is that their beloved language is losing ground to English, something KLM staff is not always aware of, used to speak foreign languages from a young age.
Lilou was one of the last passengers to board, glad that her tall blond boyfriend could come with her until the gate. Leo kept smiling ‘Enjoy your trip and by the way, you’re travelling World Business Class, Happy Birthday, ma chérie’.
By Micky Keeren May 2019
For Etiquette à La Carte