The idea prevailing in America that French firms are not worthy of credit is a matter of great surprise all over Europe. Here is the way an Englishman whose firm has done business in France for fifty years, sized up the situation:
“There are no better contracts in the world than those entered into in France. Americans who have had little experience in such matters may find the negotiations leading up to the signing of a French contract somewhat tedious, but we do not mind this and one is so completely protected by the laws of the country, that losses are almost unknown.
“Not long ago we had a case in point. A purchaser of lathes who had already made an advance payment, received his machines and then by various excuses put off the final payments for the remainder from week to week. We waited four weeks and then made our complaint to the judge at the tribunal. Two days later the judge ordered the delinquent firm to pay up in full and we received our money the very same day. How long do you think a New York court would have taken to decide a simple question of business of this kind? The fact is that in spite of the war, French credit remains to-day as good as any you can find.”
On top of their resentment over our lack of confidence in their credit is the added feeling which has cropped up since the beginning of the war over the way American manufacturers have ignored many of their French contracts. A French manufacturer summed it up in this way:
“There is no doubt that some American manufacturers who had signed contracts for the delivery of machinery in France, deliberately sold these machines at home at higher prices. It has created a very bad impression and I am afraid that henceforth your salesmen will find it much harder to operate in my country.
“The trouble is that Americans have been spoiled by too many orders. Before the war they were all crying out for business. Now that they have everything their own way, they have become independent and arrogant. With the ending of the war, all this will change, for the French are not likely to forget some of the bitter lessons they have learned. Henceforth they will profit by them.”
One reason for our laxity all up and down the French business line is that the American has never taken the French export business any too seriously. On the other hand, stern necessity has been the driving force behind the English and German manufacturer. The American, too, has made the great mistake of assuming that the foreigner, and especially the Frenchman, is not always serious-minded and to be depended upon. If he wants his mind disabused in this matter, let me suggest that he see him at war. He will realise that the superb spirit of aggression and organisation that mark him now is bound to last when peace comes.
You must not get the impression from this long list of American business calamity that all our endeavour has failed in France. Those few great American corporations who have planted the flag of our commercial enterprise wherever the trade winds blow, have long and successfully held up their end throughout the Republic. So, too, with some individuals. The story of what one New Yorker did is an inspiring and perhaps helpful lesson in the right way to do business in France.