Saturday 4 February 2006

Limoges, France: The Vision, The Joy, The Pain

I’M IN LIMOGES, FRANCE and have presented on CSS, spoken on a panel with French standards luminaries including the wonderful Tristan Nitot, Founder and President of Mozilla Europe, and did my duty as a judge for the Web design competition that was held here.

The experience has been very mixed, ranging from the fun of meeting absolutely wonderful people to being treated exactly as everyone stereotypes the French in relation to Americans.

The Vision

The International Web Design Festival is a brilliant idea spearheaded by a woman whose name we should all know: Pia Abildgaard.

Pia has worked for about a decade as I understand it to help the Limousin region, the region in central France where Limoges is located, progress economically. Known mostly for its famous porcelain work, Limoges is the capitol city of Limousin, and is at a physical and socio-economic crossroads. With no ocean access, precious little rail traffic, and an airport that isn’t large enough to park an airplane in, Limoges has very little industry left other than cattle. Yet, it’s a perfect central place for travelers moving about.

In order to bring economic development and progress to Limoges, Pia and many others are working hard to create a center for Web design. The vision? To make Limoges as to Web design as Cannes is to film. Is it possible? Well, I think the vision is fantastic because of the outreach factor.

It works like this. The festival offers an opportunity for designers around the world to compete in their home countries. Teams of designers and developers work on a themed Web site in the course of 24 hours. Sleep? Not an option, really. Coffee in abundance, music all night, and food aplenty keep the challengers going. Winners from the International locations then are chosen to meet here in Limoges for the Grande Prix of Web design contests, held the same way. Plenty of good French coffee, but no rest for the weary.

The Joy

Along with the contest, there are several conferences that take place. Workshops are available, and my own role here was to open the Friday sessions with a plenary keynote on CSS. I’m happy to say the session was very well attended and I had the great pleasure of signing more copies of “Le Zen” than I would have imagined possible! My first time signing a foreign language edition more than once at any event in a career spanning over 30 books. Truly an honor.

After my presentation, I sat on a panel with French standards evangelists and supporters, including Tristan, whom I’ve always wanted to meet. I wasn’t disappointed. What a passionate human and a huge mover and shaker when it comes to standards support! I was in awe to be sitting with him and numerous other colleagues who truly made me feel that I was part of the WORLD in Word Wide Web.

My hosts here have been fabulous, despite my lousy French which consists of about 10 words and a phrasebook. Wherever I’ve gone that’s been with colleagues and friends, I’ve been very happy indeed.

The Pain

Okay, this is a two parter as there are two distinct pains that I’m dealing with at the moment. The first has to do with what I saw in the actual designs as I was judging the contest participants.

Code is supposed to be poetry!

Everything, and I do mean everything was done in Flash. Out of about 20 competitors, only one had valid XHTML and CSS along with Flash. Everything else was either pure Flash or table-based layouts with Flash embedded just about everywhere.

The ubiquitous Flash design isn’t unreasonable I suppose, as the standards message is just now getting into this particular conference, only in its second year. And, the main man fostering the competition is Joshua Davis, who is a passionate designer well known for his interest in Flash, and his deep understanding of the Web. That the group even brought out a posse of standards-oriented people and that our sessions were well attended is truly a comfort.


It turns out I wasn’t the only person looking at source code. To my knowledge there was one other judge (yes, that makes a total of two) in the technical jury I was on who did the same, and he was an American.

I sincerely apologize to all those who worked so very hard during the competition. Many of you created beautifully visual designs, but the truth of the matter is what I saw in terms of code literally made me ill.

This is not Web design. It is motion design. Flash design. Interactive design. Any of those things: motion, Flash, interactivity can be a part of Web design, but not one of them stands alone as a means of designing truly usable, accessible, interactive and beautiful Web sites.

We have an uncanny belief in the Web standards community that we have made a bit more than a dent in the presentational domination of the Web. Dent? HA! We haven’t even scratched the surface, oh no.

What was truly interesting was just how fucked the code was. I’m not talking so much about presentational markup and table layouts. Nope! I’m talking about bizarre things like documents with no DOCTYPE written using HTML syntax but with an xmlns attribute stuck in the opening html element followed by a bucketload of JavaScript and unecessary divs.

Semantics? Not one bit anywhere.

And what’s with this mix of HTML and XHTML syntax with no DOCTYPEs. Or, DOCTYPEs included, but a mess of tag soup within.

Fellow evangelists, standards supporters, and colleagues: Have we failed our community? Why is the message so profoundly mixed and messed up? This is not markup generated by tools. This is people. And this is wrong.

Yes, the graphics are great, and some of the Flash design is astonishingly good, especially considering the sites we judged were done in 24 hours. Okay, well and groovy, but hang on my standardista friends. If we think for one moment that our standards evangelism days are soon coming to an end, we’re living a fantasy.

We have a lot, and I mean a lot, of work to do.

Now for the ugly

Now comes the part I really hate to talk about because I do not want to diminish the beauty of the experiences I had and the true friends I made. Consider that the first morning, waiting for the shuttle in the freezing cold, a man came walking down the street looking right at me. He came right up to me and readily began joking about one of the videos I’d done with Andy and before you know it, Jean and I were the best of friends.

I owe a huge debt of love and gratitude to Jean, who was a real gentleman and had no reason but the kindness of his heart to make sure everywhere I went I was comfortable. Jean speaks great English, and since my French is limited to those 10 words, he was my translator as well as my friend. Not to mention he bears an absolutely uncanny resemblance to my brother Morris, which of course made me love him all the more.

Jean, if you’re reading this, thank you so much for helping me find my way.

But again, I say woah. I really tried to not believe the stereotypes of how the French treat Americans. But you know what? When I wasn’t being treated wonderfully by my hosts and colleagues, I have to speak honestly and tell you that I was treated horribly. I have never in my life been to a country where the people have been so overtly rude and hostile.

Now there are a few reasons that the good people, the wonderful visionaries and hard working, passionate French here in Limoges need to hear this. From my heart I want to tell you that no matter your upset with my country’s very wrong actions politically, whatever prejudices you might have toward Americans and perhaps a more specific and personal issue, Jews, you have to understand that if this malicious, unfriendly attitude persists you will never be able to build the bridges to the rest of the world you might imagine you’d like.

If Limoges is to become a center of technology, of Web design, then attitudes will have to change. Yes, there’s a language barrier and that’s a significant problem. I’m not proud that I don’t speak French. I speak Spanish and English fluently, but that’s all. Does that make me bad? I think not! I am a warm person at my best, always making an effort to be polite and friendly and kind in my interaction with others. For the most part it works in this world. But when I asked someone very politely to help me find a building, the man was so impossibly rude he just stared at me with hatred, then made sure to take a nice long look at my cleavage before giving me yet another stare of hatred. Fortunately, one of his friends had more grace and helped me.

It’s one thing to be unfriendly, it’s another thing to invite a woman to a country knowing her ability to speak the language is limited and leave her on her own. If you expect her to get on well when the majority of people outside of the actual event could care less, there’s a big problem.

If Limoges weren’t interested in developing a relationship with an international technology community, fine – be as you are. But when you invite the world in, there is, at least in my mind, an inherent responsibility of the hosts to make certain that the experience is a good one for their invited guests.

Merci Mercy

I want to be absolutely clear. My French hosts at the conference were terrific. I made wonderful friends, and met colleagues that inspired me. I do not want to express any bad feelings about the parts of this experience that were good.

But I cannot, in true Molly fashion, keep my mouth shut at how astonishing it was to me to be treated so poorly outside of that environment.

So to the people of Limoges, I say: If you want to improve your economics and build an international technology center, work on eradicating the pervasive, well-known prejudice toward Americans and others that visit your beautiful country. In all my life I have never experienced being treated so coldly as I have been by certain French people, and it is, in my view, an unacceptable way of being for any society that wishes to progress into a peaceful, bountiful, enriched future.

To the people who befriended me, made me welcome, and cared for me during my stay here, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. France is beautiful, has many passionate people with whom I deeply relate and, to my wonderful colleagues in the cause of standards, I thank you for your special hospitality.

I only hope that I can return again to find a more welcoming people, and to be able to work with you, no matter our differences, in the spirit of progress and innovation. Here’s to that better future.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 23:52 | Comments (58)

Comments (58)

  1. For shame. Sorry to hear that you got treated so poorly by some, but glad to hear that there were those who were kind and civil and warm.

    I’ve noticed a lot of discussion on French sites concerning FACE, but my French is pretty limited, too. I can’t say whether they’re excited about it or mock it for “attempting to replace Flash” (that much I could translate on one page) but if they’re all such hardcore Flash-fanatics, I fear it may be the latter.

    Bah. Cursed Flash!

  2. Okay, first things first: apologies on behalf of my fellow Frenchmen. I can only hope it wouldn’t have been that bad in less backward areas than Limoges. Can’t be too sure of that, though. For shame.

    And of course, each time we go to the US people here warn us that we’re going to get a cold reception, since “American hate the French”. Ha. We’ve *always* been treated at least as well as enybody else, and quite often markedly better – be that by Washington, DC waiters or by Western backcountry Republicans. All the more shame on us French for that.

    About the prevalence of Flash in French web design these days: the major cause is probably that thousands of so called web designers are graduating each year from design schools, with no education whatsoever on internetworking, protocols or standards. They do rather well what they’ve been taught to do and have no idea that they could do otherwise. I mean, many people call themselves web designers and wouldn’t be able to write a few line of correct HTML…

    That’s for the supply side. On the demand side, most French businesses have not given any real thought on their online communication policy. What they want is a nifty front, catchy – the online equivalent of a large billboard sign. Or, if they’re a large organisation, of a 16 pages quadricomic handout. And that’s it. Perfect fit with the available workforce, obviously.

    Worrying thing is that even universities, who have been pioneering the internet and the world wide web here, have turned to brochure-like websites, when they used to have in-depth websites showing the diversity of knowledge they harbor – however poorly designed.

    I dunno. Prolly the reason why I went off web design and on to network administration.

    On these laments, I go back to tidying my own html code, just in case someone looks. Then again, at least I didn’t get paid for writing it.

    –le Plume in Paris.

    P.S.: rest assured that your rude Limougeaud had no idea you were Jewish. Unless you were wearing a black suit, a long beard and a felt hat – which probably wouldn’t suit you all that well. Especially the beard.

  3. Hi Molly,
    I was present in Limoges and i attended your presentation which was an excellent introduction to the webstandards and css. I was there with my grilfriend. She started creating webpages two years ago, learning xhtml and css the way i was already teaching it to my students : with respect for semantic, modularization and validity. So she is the girl who raise up her arm when you asked who had never made webpages using tables layout. She is also the girl who raised up the hand when you asked “who feels like a master in CSS”. Let me say that it was a problem of translation that lead her to raise up her hand. She understood “who is a teacher” and not ‘master’ in the way you meant. If the episode was funny from my point of view, it appeared later that it was not meaningless. She is confident with these technologies and their use looks quite ‘natural’ to her. I assume that she can be described as an exemplary of the ‘new web designer generation’. This is promising and exciting.

    Now, i’ve read somthing else on your website.. And it confirms what i thought after this ‘anecdote’ during your speech. You say that only one team respected standards.. Well, i guess this team must be the one composed with my students (please let me know if i’m wrong, by email if you want). They’ve made two versions of the website. One fully accessible (regarding the usual rules and normalization), standard compliant(XHTML 1 strict and CSS 2), fully modularized (as much semantic code as possible, the presentation being made only with css code), and another completely flash based. They have been awarded for this as second team in the amateur category. The job is ‘their’ job and i’m not taking any honour from THEIR performance, but i know that the guidelines they followed is the one we show to them in the school my girlfriend and i are teacher. This means something. It means that as teachers we can show the way to this new generation and that the pain you feel is only based on the ugly heritage that some webdesigners still refer to. But like you see, it’s not hopeless. It’s only a question of education. At this time we see a lot of schools raising in this particular domain of webdesign and i’m convinced that the standards will rapidly become THE only reasonnable way for designers to make websites. Moreover i think it will become the only way they will be able to refer to.

    So. I hope my english was understandable and that it was clear that my intentions are to confirm that we can be confident in the future of webdesign as a way to create accessible, reusable, democratic contents.

    Thanks for your great work and for your inestimable presence in Limoges.

  4. @LePlume: Thank you for the explanation (and the sweet apology). I don’t always like my country’s policies, but I can honestly defend its friendliness. As for the Jewish issue, haha – no black hat and a beard but I often speak about being Jewish because it is a significant part of my life experience and heritage. So I have a tendency to be very open. Maybe it’s too open.

    A point of clarification: This wasn’t only French teams of designers. There were contenders from the International community: Russia, French, Poland, Brazil, Canada and the U.S. So the concern isn’t that the French aren’t getting standards – I think in general the French are! And that may have a lot to do with the interest in Firefox and the hard work of people like Tristan.

    Also, I’m not blaming the students. I’m blaming myself and my fellow standards advocates for not doing a better job, and anyone who teaches only Flash to learning Web designers. Flash is a beautiful tool and can be used extremely well as a part of Web design, but it is one of many tools and I believe it is the ability to combine skills and know where and when and for whom to apply a given technique that makes a professional.

    I absolutely agree that there is a disservice being done in today’s education systems across the world where Web designers are not being taught modern techniques. This is not the student’s fault! And it’s something only we, in a combined effort, can change.

    @dvil: I knew that something had gone on with the translation issue from your girlfriend’s face! So I didn’t think she was calling herself “Master” 🙂 And thank you so very much for the hard work that’s obviously influenced your students, you all deserve much praise for bringing standards to them. It will help them in their personal satisfaction and careers. So I thank you for helping to progress the Web. Your students should be very proud of their entry.

    I encourage you to take it one step further: Integrate Flash into your designs so you don’t have to split out into two entire versions! This is not so easy but again, it is that next important step to creating a compliant but media-rich Web site. Look into techniques such as SIFR (Shaun Inman Flash Replacement) and limit the use of Flash to those areas of the page where it can enhance the goal of the design – everywhere else (navigation, etc.) stick to well-styled, structured and semantic markup. For accessibility, you might need to caption a Flash movie or write server side code along with JavaScript to create certain effects, but either way, there are ways to unify these techniques now.

    But that’s just a suggestion for the future. You and your students have a great deal to be proud of.

  5. Molly, I can so relate to your exposure to some stereotypical French rudeness. All my life I had romanticized France and dreamed of going to Paris. My sweet love and I made that dream come true a few years ago.

    While I enjoyed the culture and museums, I was shocked by the number of times I was treated as an unwelcome tourist. I’ll never forget the day I sat in Les Deux Magots and ordered hot chocolate (wicked good). I was tired of pulling out my French dictionary and translating every time I wanted to order…so I just pointed to the menu and asked for some confiture to go with my hot chocolate.

    The waiter said nothing…and returned to the table with my hot chocolate and a tiny jar of jam. $3 for a tiny jar of jam! And the waiter couldn’t even ask me (dumb American tourist) if I would like something to put the jam on! I still have that silly $3 jar of jam in my pantry.

    In contrast…as we headed to England I experienced the friendliest and warmest of welcomes. Example of the royal treatment in London…I was walking down a street and had stopped for a moment to pull out my map. Before I could even finish unfolding my map, a local immediately stopped and asked if I needed help with directions. He listened closely to my destination and helped us find the right bus. Charming!

    Now, negative stereotypes are annoying…so I must add that I still think France is a wonderful destination…especially for romance…and if you happen to travel with a friend who speaks French…you might just fall in love.

  6. Hi Molly, sorry to hear you had a bad experience with some of my fellow Frenchmen. Being married to an American woman I know how it is to deal with cultural differences. She often has mixed feelings about our trips to France. She sometimes gets remarks and comments from friends of mine or my family that she feels (very understandably) are rude and insensitive. On my end, I can only try to educate people that, however the apparences are, sometimes the intents are not that malicious. What one considers rude can be a matter of culture and education. You value greatly the ‘friendliness’ of the American people, and living in the USA, I can only acknowledge that this true, I’ve always been treated very nicely, but you can’t expect that every country goes by the same standards. In France, it’s considered weird to smile at strangers. It is also improper to bring your religious beliefs into a casual conversation (it’s not necessarily anti-semitism, it’s two hundred years of anti-clericalism…).

    Anyway, you’re clearly upset, but please don’t make the same mistake than those who offended you. Your remark on ‘an unacceptable way of being for any society’ hits the sensitivity cord pretty bad..

    If you care to read my wife’s take on some similar issues, it’s here:

    Hope you won’t give up on the French. 🙂

  7. @Goodwitch: Very similar to my experience. And you know I’m already quite happily in love, so I don’t quite understand your reference there.

    @Cedric: Thank you for the insight. Also, my comment about an “unacceptable way of being for any society” can’t just stop at that point. I went on to say something very specific about ALL humanity, my own behavior and insensitivies are included in that. I firmly believe we cannot progress in a global way if we do not transcend that. All of us but particularly anyone, anywhere, who is clearly saying they want to build bridges. I appreciate the blog link and I’m going to check it out. And I definitely will not give up on the French. I hope that my expression of love and warmth for the many people I met that were not representative of the bad experiences is clear here.

  8. Molly, I meant “fall in love” with France.

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  10. Just to throw another stereotype out there – this time the ‘American-centric American’ idea – perhaps the French show equal disdain for *all* foreigners, not just Americans ;o)

  11. Hi Molly,
    i attended your presentations. First, thank you for your investment. I am web developper. My company (Le studio vert) now uses standards since i work there (1 year). I hope the message you defended with Tristan Nitot, Elie Sloïm, Laurend Denis and others has been heard and understood.
    Even if i am convinced about standards it was an honour to meet people like you in Limoges, i hope my french colleague are conscious of their luck.
    I agree with you, this is shamy that only one team respected web standards.
    If it can comfort, meeting you, Tristan, Elie, and Laurent made me feel like to contribute to to defend standards.

    Thanks a lot for your simplicity and your pedagogy.

    (PS : sorry for my english)

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  13. Hu ? The trackbacks appears like comments ?

  14. @JJ: Ah, yes. Well, I can only speak for myself, and I am an American. This is my experience. I am not British or African or Swedish. If the French have other overt prejudices, I can’t speak to those. I can speak only for my own experiences. That is not the same thing as having the thought that someone only has a prejudice against me.

    @Benoit: Thank you for your kind words. I agree, Tristan, Elie, Laurent and of course Christophe are very inspirational. I’m happy you are going to contribute to!

    @Olivier: Yes, the trackbacks appear as comments.

  15. Hello from a “fellow french autor” (thanx for your autograph and kindness).

    I’m sorry if you had a bad experience with some french people… hmmm perhaps the weather was too cold for warm discussions :-/

    Here are some photos of the WIF and your conference :

  16. Hi Molly,

    Well i’m really sorry you were so treated such a miserable way by some french people, and really honored you speak from me on your blog (blushing).
    NB : Go and see Raphael pictures, they’re better than mines.


  17. Molly, I’m ashamed of the icy reception my compatriots gave you during your stay in Limoges and my sadness is only equalled by yours. Although I wasn’t in Limoges last week, I apologize for the way you’ve been treated there. I really hope it won’t put you off going back to France and spreading the Word of web standards to the french people (I think they need it ;)).

  18. Hi Molly !

    Thank you so much for your participation in the Technical-Judge!

    We have done our complete work (Artionet@Work) using XHTML and CSS standards but we haven’t received so many points for this work 🙁

    That’s so bad, but any way we would be back next year for the Swiss’s selections with more CSS and strict HTML to force the jury to understand that XHTML & CSS have to become standards and the WIF has to focus the contest on this elements too! That’s my opinion, else the contest have to change the name to “Flash Contest”, what do you mean ?

    I thank you so much for your hard work!

    Best regards

  19. Hi Molly,

    I don’t know a thing about css, or web standards, but I was directed here by my husband Cedric. What I do know is that there are rude people all over the world, even in America. Consider that the most watched news network in the States is openly hostile to French people. Recently the anchor said “no one would care if Paris blew up!” And of course there is Bill O’Reilly and his anti-France campaign. And that is racism on our national TV! (Hell, consider that last night at McDonalds, I was treated like a criminal, because THEY forgot my cherry pies.) You think France is particularly “rude and hostile,” but I assure you this is not the case. I think we are all particularly sensitive when we are abroad. It is easy for us Americans to dismiss Bill O’Reilly as a nut-case, but probably not so easy for French people that see him and learn that he has a million faithful viewers. Similarly, it is easy for French people to dismiss the anti-American nuts, but we may be more inclined to take them seriously.

    Of course, it always sucks to be treated rudely, and I’m not discounting that. And I’m sorry to pound this issue into the ground, but I hate the stereotypes, and I do what I can to make the world more livable for my Franco-American child.

  20. Well, now I am really sad our (slovenian) team couldn´t make it ( We canceled in few days before 🙁 ).I see that this festival was really something. Most of my sadness comes from a thing called html, div, ajax based page, and that was what we wanted to use in Webjam, strictly user center page non flash. So I can´t wait to presenet slovenia team next year. :).

    So Molly Big up for those words! Keep up doing it 🙂

  21. @Raphael: Thanks for the wonderful pictures!

    @Bruno: No, obviously the trick is to stick with French friends the entire time, and I won’t have the problems I did.

    @Yannick: I am with you! If it’s to be a Flash contest, great! But Web design is something different than just great Flash.

    @Jessica: Yeah, I agree. There are mean people everywhere. But I’m well traveled and I have never had an experience like this, not anywhere. I too hate stereotypes, and I don’t want to perpetuate them either, but this was my true, personal experience. You’ll note that I spent plenty of time acknowledging that within the environment of work, the experience was fantastic, so it’s not like I’m sitting here without having thought this through a bit.

    @Leon: I’m sorry you couldn’t be there as it would have been great to see what sounds like a very good site. I hope to see you at another event some day soon.

  22. Thanks for your feedback Molly!

    Just bad you weren’t in the Gala Saturday night.

    I do promotion for XHTML & CSS and standards during our 2 minutes presentation.

    I hope I would see you @media2006 in London!

    If you have any feedback of our work we would be happy to know it! 🙂

    I just would find nice from the WIF’s judge if some criticals would been said and explain (good and bad points) for each team!
    So we can do better for the next edition!

    Thanks a lot for all

  23. Hi Molly
    I know you’re on your way to England,and do hope you’ll arrive save!
    Thank you for your nice words concerning me, I really appréciated meeting you and talk to you and thank you so much for your participation !! But I do fell loousy about the way you felt treated by the french people, and moreover because I’m danish. When I first settled in France, 25 years ago, I also found that people were a bit..cold, but the fact is that today I just love french people !! It’ s right that I lernt their codes and behaviour and also speak the language, because that they have a language problem that’s for sure, that Americans are among the most friendly people in the world, that also sure, but give France another chance ! please do come back, we’ll work on the fact not only having realisation of Flash websites, and why not help us with that ? Ok Molly, many thoughts to you and bye bye for now ! Pia Abildgaard

  24. Hi Molly,

    It’s a shame you felt treated poorly whilst you were in France, but as was mentioned above, it’s not necessarily rudeness but maybe cultural differences in many cases. The kind of attitude to strangers you talk about is as prevalent in countries such as the UK, Italy, Spain etc in my experience.

    People aren’t less friendly, but in many cases are certainly less demonstrative in public with strangers than the average American!

    Anyway, on to the real stuff! Sounds like it was a good event overall, and you touched on something i’ve been thinking about lately too. Just how much effect has all this talk of standards had in the rest of the web community? We’re sick of hearing it i’d imagine, but it seems that there’s still a long way to go in terms of making “standards” a standard… Looking forward to hearing you speak in Newcastle in the UK sometime soon hopefully too!

  25. Hi Molly, i’m so sorry you felt left alone, but i believe som of the crowd were afraid to mix with you due to the distance they feel they should keep with a “star”, it’s seems that it’s a bit the unknown facts about the French – It is not an egalitarian society, and people stay in theirs circle… sad but true. As for the anti-American/ Anti-Jew problem, this is deeply rooted in the french mindset. They replaced the traditionnal christian antisemitism by a disguised pro-palestinian stance. Strange, but this is also a fact. I’m half-jewish/half-irish so you can imagine how it feels sometime. This said, Limousin is a region apart in France, from a tradition of poverty they have the will to try everything, and there is a strong support of the local authorities to have a web centered economy The web makes it easier to change the way people think, and i believe you make things easier by pointing at this problem, so that locally we can change our way of doing.

    For the motion design vs semantic web, i truly agree, and i wish next year there will be a separated award so that both technics can express themselve.

    Next time you come around Limoges, be sure to tell me before, and we will have fun. My family and I will welcome you warmly.

    Your conference was tops, kisses from Limoges

  26. First; being european (Dutch) and having been married to a jwish American for a few years, I can tell you that what we consider to be direct, is often interpreted as being rude. On top of that the european sport of sarcasm aggrevates that situation some more. I have many an anecdote on that.

    Secondly and more importantly, I feel that the web-standards story can be easily told, but is very hard understood.
    The on-screen presentation in the end is what sells the product and a tag-souped, tabled, doctype scrammbled, javascript galored page will look identical to the semantically maked up web-standards compliant one. And a good flash will blow everyone away.

    The only light I see at the end of the tunnel is that the argument that a good semantic/presention seperated page is rather easier to port to a mobile device. There people in manegement start to listen. And they are very aware that mobile, if it is not here already, it will come quickly.

    I also feel that the web-standards community should play the awareness-game with corporate management. You can educate designers all you want; they are not the ones making the decisions.
    And as long middle and upper-management don’t care or are not aware of the benefits of WS-compliancy, any table-builder still has a fair shot.

  27. And to weazle my way out of the previous comment: Adam Curry once said: spell-checking is for whimps. Sorry.

  28. I’ve been in Boulder, Utah. One or two people there were really not friendly towards French. You people of America really have to improve your welcoming of tourists if you want to become the great country you’re wanting to be.

  29. JJ is right – the French are rude to everyone. Perhaps is wrong over me to over-generalise (especially as I have a few French friends) but I experienced similar ‘problems’ when I went over to Paris a few years ago.

    Whilst in Disneyland there were several Dutch and Spanish tourists who attempted to make conversation with me in limited English/French. The French on the other hand were pushy, ignored me when I spoke to them (in French), made no effort to try and understand my (limited) French when I was ordering foodstuffs and generally gave me a bad impression of the French people.

  30. Hi Molly! It was really nice to finally meet with you in person. I’ve published my notes about the WIF on my blog. Unfortunately, it’s in French.


    Here is the piece that may be of some interest to you:

    “Discuté longuement avec Molly Holzschlag, qui me tresse une couronne de laurier (et ça fait vraiment plaisir). Molly est une forte personnalité, et on a bien de la chance de l’avoir du coté des standards !”


    “Had a long talk with Molly, who is saying nice things about me on her blog, and I really appreciate. Molly is indeed a strong personality, and we, standards activists, are very lucky to have her on our side!”.

    And yes, of course, really sorry if some French people gave you such a bad impression. It’s a shame that a small minority of people can be more visible (in a negative way) than the large, well-educated majority).

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  32. Sorry for this trackback in French, Molly, It was generated automatically by my blog engine, please delete it…
    I was at your conference in Limoges, and I really enjoyed it… I’m really surprised by all the things you say about your experience here :

    First, I did not imagine that so many professional webdesigners still ignore webstandards and accessibility. As a webconsultant, specialized in content, I have been living for years with standards in mind (and using your books and all the information from the team as inspiration…).

    Secondly, being born near Limoges, I am quite ashamed by what you experienced during your stay here. Of course, people from France in general and from Limoges in particular are not all rude people, but it is true that french standards of sociability are not in favour of talking or being kind to anonymous people… Add to this the fact that many of us are really not comfortable with speaking in foreign languages, and you get to the very sad result of people visiting our country feeling rejected… Being a star was not a help for you, because in our very hierarchical society, we cannot imagine that people like you are so approachable.

    I must admit that I am myself very “french” : I would really have enjoyed to come and see you just to say that I really appreciate what you do, but I imagined that you would be bored by other people like me talking to you all day long, and that you would appreciate to have a few moments on your own, so even when I saw you alone (a few times), I just did not imagine that I would come and see you… I just stayed here with my team, telling them how a nice person you must be…Very complicated, isn’t it ?

    Anyway, thanks for coming, and please come back next time. AND REFUSE TO GIVE ANY PRIZE IN WEBDESIGN TO NON STANDARD-COMPLIANT WEBSITES !


  33. Hi Molly,
    I felt sorry when I heard that you experienced rude and icy behaviors of some French guys. But I think that meeting some rude people shouldn’t result to make a general opinion on the French.

    I’ve been in the United States several of times, each time a couple of months, and one day in NYC, I was trying to buy newspaper and the guy heard my accent and understood that I was French, he just started to yelling at me and insulting me, telling that “all the French are cowards and that after having VAPORIZED Iraq, America should do the same for France”. I’ve got a couple of experiences of that kind in America, but: 1. I never thought that kind of people could represents American people in general; 2. I’ve never told this story before today, because it just helps to keep “cliché” and stereotypes ALIVE.

    There are smart and nice people in every country and for sure there are assholes all around the world (even in Antarctica probably).

    I think it is a better way to spread the word about good stories and experiences to avoid that people travel with narrow mind. I can’t imagine the reaction or the behavior of a friend of mine, if I tell him before he leaves to NYC “watch out, if you speak English with a French accent in the street you can be hurt by people”.

    If we want to go beyond all the stereotypes (for instance the one between American people and the French), we should learn to be careful with quick judgment and generalization of behaviors.

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  35. On the French:

    I am told that the French regard their language with a considerable amount of pride; in fact, they regard their language as the defining characteristic of being French. I found that if you approach them in halting, imperfect French they will respond in welcoming fluent English, grateful that you paid them the respect of attempting their language. Approaching them in English may have been your mistake. (Naturally there are dangers here. One friend of mine traveled to Europe armed with the ability to ask for directions in several languages. He had not acquired the ability to understand any of the directions he was given, so the effort was of no avail.)

    Unfortunately, this does not help the person who has no background in French, and no time to acquire it. Not all of us are lucky enough to have acquired the right language training in high school.

    On web standards

    The most compelling argument I ever saw was one of Zeldman’s slides, probably still on his web site. He simply noted that there is one web user who cannot interpret images, and doesn’t use Internet Explorer. That user’s name is Google. I would love to see someone follow that up by showing the audience what a non-compliant site looks like to Google, or to a screen reader. It would be a very persuasive presentation.

  36. “And what’s with this mix of HTML and XHTML syntax with no DOCTYPEs. Or, DOCTYPEs included, but a mess of tag soup within.”

    I think if the markup is going to be a complete invalid mess, a DOCTYPE would be inappropriate. I mean, what’s the point of saying “This is HTML 4.01” when it clearly isn’t? You’re better off leaving off a DOCTYPE, and claiming later that you actually invented a whole new markup language if anybody asks.

    It’s like the same logic as IE7 not supporting the application/xml+xhtml mime-type.. if the browser can’t handle xhtml, it shouldn’t say it can. And if the document ain’t html, it shouldn’t say it is.

    But don’t get me wrong, I actually believe browsers shouldn’t display anything invalid.

  37. Cultural differences:
    Most Americans internalise experiences abroad; they often seem to think behaviour they are exposed to is directed at them personally. I’ve noticed this before with different friends with very different backgrounds born in the USA.

    A rude waiter in France will be rude to anyone, not just Americans. I once witnessed a French friend who is the sweetest guy in the world barking at an unwilling waiter — he explained to me that was the only way to get some action and food 🙂

    Molly, do not forget that the statue of Liberty in New York was a gift of France…

    Web standards:
    I’m pretty active on a forum for Mac users, where a part is dedicated to web development. I’m still amazed at the questions and the horrible code I often see, so many years after has started. I think you are right: we only have scratched the surface.

    Getting development tools to produce clean code is still a holy grail I feel; getting them to co-operate would make a huge difference. I don’t know how willing they are to listen to the web standards message? Maybe some media exposure, like the current ‘Target’ case, is the only way to get a shift in attitude. Sad but true.

  38. You seem to be a nice person, and I wish just to enlighten you as much as I can, supposing what I am saying makes sense.
    Cultural differences:
    “I often speak about being Jewish” Well, I know no one in France who is antisemit (though these extremists do exist, like racists), and most people couldn’t care less and are just not interested in religions(s). But as mentionned above, secular France doesn’t like proselytism (hence the muslim scarf stance) of any kind; and politically, most Frenchmen have a dim view of the excesses Israel commits in the name of peace. Likewise for the US excesses in the name of democracy (or whatever the day’s catchword may be). Abused words indeed. So depending on how you go about your displaying your belonging to these groups, you could get the cold shoulder. Just like (or less than?) French people would nowadays get in the midwest (for eg.), I may add, especially if displaying their atheism. Is it fair? No. Does it matter? Not really. One learns and grow. You represent your country whether you like it or not, and its policies. Travelling Frenchmen (why they were singled out is another debate) were popular in most countries after resisting pressures to invade, and were not when testing Abombs in the south pacific. To a certain extend, it is not totally unfair as people do elect their leader. Some people cannot go past this and see the individual. Too bad for them. Too bad for both actually. And pause and think: why do you comment on your hosts’ attitude when you say nothing of the French bashing still taking place in the US? Liberty fries and toasts anyone? The bridge you mention has to be built from both banks… Ressentment can only go down symetrically, it cannot easily vanish on one side only. Not simple being loving when you feel loathed. When living in a glass house…

    Just a last-minute thought: maple-leaf covers for hiding american passports as canadian ones have been around for a looooong time, so the issue is not new. It probably gets worse and worse actually. Why?

    Now, about the cleavage, I have a personal gripe I suppose, but here is my rant. Breasts are sexual. Men are wired for sex. Men will look at what women show of their breasts. That’s life. Litterally. Most men manage to glance inconspicuously, and some men are ruder than others, but they only look at what is shown in any case. The fashion pendulum is presently swinging towards women showing more and more, and men being expect to play dead. Well, that’s difficult. Not impossible of course, but that’s not the way men are made. So all I say is, if women show less, life is easier for men. And women. Just common sense imho. No one looked at anything you didn’t show to them. Think about it.

    Anyways, I hope you won’t take this personally, it wasn’t the goal at all. Just to stir your thoughts. Lastly, the good thing about life is that you always meet nice people. You just have to put up with the not-so-nice ones…. :o)

  39. Ai, ya!

    Grasshopper-mind forgets to close his <a> tag. Maybe I’ll pay closer attention before clicking ‘submit’.

  40. Hi Molly,

    I’m French, and i would like to say that our country have to change its way of thinking, especially when American people are concerned but i hope this experience won’t stop you from coming to our “beautiful” country 🙂

  41. Hi Molly,

    I’m French, and I must say I totally agree with Martijn ten Napel. The people who were being rude to you would just have been rude to any other people may (s)he be american, jewish, uruguayian or french.
    It’s kinda “unwelcoming with strangers” where strangers means “people i don’t know”, not “foreigners”.

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  43. Hi Molly,

    I’m Stéphane from France. I have take lunch whith you and Jean on the WIF 2006 in Limoge.
    I hope you remember ?
    My professional return from Limoge had be hard and very busy. Now it’s ok, but i regret to can’t write e-mail you or post comment on your blog after the WIF 2006.
    I’have goods memories of you kind, friendship and laughings !
    But i’m suprise and i regret you have treated coldly by some French people…
    I’m very impressive and happy to encounter you. If you return to France, for business or hollydays would be a pleasure for me of making you visit the town of Bordeaux and tasting some French wine.

    In the use of web standards and accessibility i have win a little battle : now, my boss want its web site accessible ! and you have contributed to it !!! Thank you Molly !
    I hope to see you in other meeting like WIF 2007 or read you.

    Stéphane from Bordeaux

    PS : sorry for my very poor English…

  44. Hi Molly, I have nothing to do with web design, however I am in France trying to learn French. Living in Limoges and have been for 3 months.
    I have met a few rude people, well two to be exact. But after living in South London for 20 years I can tell you Limoges is a damn sight more welcoming than Camberwell, South London. Please don’t go to there to prove me wrong as you will get mugged and probably worse. Especially if you tell all your Jewish. The key to getting on is no matter how bad your french is try speak it. Don’t be shy of looking a fool, I came with no french, well okay maybe 20 words. It is a lot better but still very poor, so what at least I’m trying.
    I suppose a thick skin does help. French folks usually will try speak their limited english if they see you trying. As for being rude well France is a country that hates everyone else from else where in France, with everyone hating the Parisians the most and Parisians have nothing but contempt for anyone not from Paris. In a land of 365 defferent cheeses what do you expect. In the UK there is strong misguided resentment towards Americans, due to that cretin in the Whitehouse, but you can’t lay the blame on every American its just plain stupid. Americans are a lot different to Europeans, we are not
    “have a nice day” kind of folks. Please give Limoges another shot, its far better than Paris, and South London for that matter. Europeans don’t want to hear about anyone’s religion, for us its a return to the dark ages when the Vatican ruled, and how very aptly named.We have fought to many wars throught the ages which I suppose has made us all a little hostile to strangers, especailly ones that go on about their beliefs.
    Take care and learn some french come back and I’m sure you will have a better experience.
    Once you do make friends in France you will have a friend for life.


  45. I am sorry you feel you were treated badly. I have never been treated badly anywhere, unless there wasa really good reason like excess baggage. The French are the most courteous people I know.
    Hum!, you were eating at McDo?…..why?. Smile, just wondering.

  46. Hi Molly,

    I am from Limoges. I have had the occasion to meet Pia and she is a great woman, both in human and professional terms.

    I hope that if you come back in Limoges one day, you’ll be properly welcomed.

    I have followed up classes about “intercultural studies” and this would be great to discuss in depth what happened to you here in Limoges. I have travelled to several places and I find it very interesting to study the different situations that can occur to someone who’s travelling, for personal or professional reasons.

    Take good care!

  47. Hi
    Dear Molly!

    I’ve got the pleasure to write this mail to you,
    and to ask you if it’s will possible you send to me
    all sources codes for the book”The Zen of CSS Design”…Thank you!!!

    sincerely yours.


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