Canadian author speaks to students about cross-cultural communication


Maxx Shearod

Nadeau’s presentation was one of the first to be held in the new Atrium.

When Canadian author Jean-Benoît Nadeau landed in France for a fellowship some 20 years ago, he assumed that as a French speaker from Quebec, he would have the ability to converse easily with the French.

Au contraire, he told students last month. As it turned out, cross-cultural communication was so confounding that it became the focus of his research, resulting in several books, including his most recent title, The Bonjour Effect, published in 2016.

“I decided to go to France,” he said. “I thought I would have a natural advantage there.”

Nadeau came to campus on Jan. 17 at the invitation of French teacher Jacqueline Vest. He spoke to Review students about his career in journalism and discussed cross-cultural communication and the pitfalls of French from different regions with French III, AP and French Literature students.  

Shelley Stein
Nadeau also spoke to French students and faculty during lunch.

Nadeau also led a book discussion with parents and spoke to students and faculty about the intertwined history of French, Spanish, English and Latin in the Atrium.

“I thought he was a lovely speaker who proved his points with many anecdotes to show cultural differences between France and North America,” Vest said.

Vest first encountered Nadeau four years ago in Canada at the American Association of Teachers of French convention, where he was the keynote speaker. Since then, Vest has integrated chapters of his 2006 book Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t be Wrong (Pas si fous, ces français!) into her upper-level French curriculum.

Nadeau has written four books with his wife, Julie Barlow, that focus on the cultural differences between France and North America. While Barlow, a native English speaker, writes the English-language version of the books, Nadeau writes the French version.

Early in his career, Nadeau discovered he loved to write while traveling, so in 1998, he traveled to France on a for a fellowship from The Institute of Current World Affairs, which sends people aged 35 and younger for two years to study abroad. The only obligation while abroad is to write 5,000-word letters per month on any topic.

Sophomore Karli Fisher enjoyed listening to Nadeau speak during her French III class.

“It was very interesting to see how he made connections between languages, often bringing to light things that I never would have thought of,” Fisher said.

Seniors Catherine and Margaret Gorman and their sister, Claire Gorman (’16), attended several of Nadeau’s events throughout the day.

“His Quebecois accent really tested my listening comprehension skills, which I appreciated because as a language learner, I am always looking for ways to challenge myself and improve,” Catherine said.

Chair of the World Languages Department and Spanish teacher Aline Means found Nadeau’s ability to weave personal stories with his message truly engaging, as well as his sense of humor, which made for a pleasant conversation.

Nadeau has traveled to European countries, delivered speeches at several conventions and even learned a few lessons as an author.

“To become a writer, one must keep a journal,” he said. “A journal is an occasion of reflection and an exercise in development and synthesis. It’s also important in journalism to trust your instincts. Knowing the true story is the trade.”