As many of you know, I am more than just an attorney.

In addition to being an amateur gas dynamics engineer, cheese fermentation expert and an antique podiatry tool enthusiast, once a year I travel to France to teach negotiations to law and business students at the University of Poitiers.  I am leaving at the end of this week to do it again.


On first impression, it seems like a bad idea.  It takes a few weeks to prepare my lectures.  My classes last two weeks. Together, this means I must put my legal practice on hold for a month or more.  The University of Poitiers pays me a little for my efforts, but it doesn’t make up for the income I lose during that month.

In addition to an income drop, I feel a profound sense of isolation when I am in France.

I don’t speak much French (my students are from all over the world and my classes are taught in English).  Poitiers is off the beaten path for English speaking people, which means that, for the most part, my time in France is very lonely. Sometimes I find myself asking directions to destinations I know just for the interaction.

"Excuse me, Miss, but I cannot locate the train station on my map."

And then there is the weight problem.  Every time I teach in France, I come home weighing 10 pounds more.

French food tastes great and, frankly, when I am there I eat a lot of it.

You have no idea how good it is.

So why do I do it? Why not teach closer to home and avoid loneliness, jet lag, weight gain and income loss?  Well, I tried that but I didn’t like it very much because my American law students were just too darned lazy.

The L1 class I taught at Harvard

Over these years I’ve experimented with many teaching methods.  I’ve discovered that the best way to teach negotiations is through lectures combined with exercises where groups of students practice negotiating.  This method works extremely well to teach negotiations theory and practice.  However, my American students constantly complained about it. They grumbled about the effort the exercises require and repeatedly asked: “why don’t you just give us the answers?”

None of my foreign law or business students ever asked for easy answers. None of them ever complained about the amount of effort it takes to learn how to negotiate effectively.  All of them are in class on time and participate enthusiastically – and they do it in a foreign language: English.  A big reason why I go to France to teach – and am willing to experience sleep deprivation, weigh-gain, income loss and isolation – is because I prefer teaching non-American students.  I wish it weren’t true, but they are just better students.

There is another reason why I travel so far to teach. I believe that the American Empire is in decline. In addition to being an amateur gas dynamics engineer, cheese fermentation expert, antique podiatry tool enthusiast and a teacher, I am also a student of history – and history shows that the great empires of the world declined and atrophied when their governments became so corrupt that they became unable to solve even simple problems.  It happened to Imperial Persia. It happened to Imperial Rome. It happened to Imperial China. It happened to Imperial Brittan.

And it is happening to us.  Lobbyists for special interests are so influential that our local, regional and national elected officials cannot get anything meaningful done.  For example, there is no question that our health care system needs fixing. We spend more for less than even some Third World nations. But there is no chance our health care system will be fixed because there are too many people making money off of the system, and they are using this money – billions and billions of dollars – to pay lobbyists to buy politicians who work hard to keep thing exactly the way they are.

The same is true for any number of important, pressing problems. Name it: if it is important and pressing, nothing will be done about it.  There will be plenty of talk and maybe a law or two will be enacted, but nothing will change and the problem will definitely not be remedied. Our political system is corrupt, the corruption cannot be fixed, and so we have no chance of effectively solving the important problems facing our nation.  Our standard of living is falling. Our international power is slowly slipping away.

However, where we are falling, I believe that Europe [lead by France, Germany and Britain] is rising.  I am included in the faculty of one of the oldest and best universities in Europe.  My students will be decision makers in business, law and government. In my own small way, I am trying to influence these new Masters of the Earth.  When they are voting on treaties and drafting trade agreements that will affect American lives, I want them to remember Professor Boylan and, hopefully, judge Americans more kindly than they would have if not for my example.

I realize this sounds simplistic, even hubristic, probably illusory. But it is why I do it.

And so, once again, I will be tolerating the many indignities of international travel.

I will rent a car in Paris and make the 3 hour drive down the A-10 past Orleans, past Tours to Poitiers. That night I will have dinner (salad, duck, a glass of wine and profiteroles for dessert) at Le Serrurier, my favorite café.

Let the weight gain begin.


17 Responses to “WHY I TEACH (IN FRANCE)”

  1. Those look like pretty decent profiteroles…

    I wish I could argue with your logic, Paul. Unfortunately I can’t.

    Even more, I wish that you represented the dominant voice in the Conservative party of your country. Or even a significant one.

    Your thesis of corruption leading to decline is stated elegantly and with powerful simplicity. I imagine it pains you terribly to be able to word the problem so very clearly, but at the same time to know that for all the obviousness of the problem, there will be no solution short of the historically inevitable cycle of violence that follows such a decline.

    I’m not what you’d call a close student of history, but of the declines you mention, I note that only in the case of England did there not follow a serious and painful ass-kicking in the form of invasion, or revolution, or both.

    How do you suppose England escaped? If I had to guess, I’d say that the incredible shock of WWI and the follow-up effects of the Depression, and then WWII, provided sufficient external threat to galvanise British society into a new form — that Britain escaped the Great Collapse of Persia, Rome and China because it passed through a harrowing that lasted almost three generations, and was forced back on its own resources of people and social order simply to survive.

    What could possibly harrow America sufficiently? Interesting times are coming, I think.

    (I’m sorriest of all to hear about your American students, by the way. As a teacher myself, I think there’s nothing more disappointing, even heartbreaking, than a lazy student. And a culture of lazy students with an overweening sense of entitlement is definitely a culture on the way down.)


  2. paulboylan Says:

    Flint – the horror of it for me is that, at one time, I WAS part of the dominant voice within the conservative community. But over the last 30 years, the term “conservative” as it politically applies here in the U.S., has come to mean something far different than what I stand for and believe. A conservative once described someone who changed slowly and only after comprehensive and thoughtful consideration. It now describes two classes of people: those with wealth and those without wealth, but without the intelligence to realize they are the running dogs for the very people who cynically exploit them. Just look at the health care “debate” in this country: the very people who are at risk of losing health care are those working the hardest to maintain the conditions that put them at risk. Incredible.

    Yes, it causes me pain to know I could not stop what happened and cannot change what is coming. However, I am trying to influence and shape those who will have the power to affect the lives of my descendants. At least I can hold onto that for cold comfort.

    The British Empire’s decline was actually quite beautiful. I believe it set the form for all empire collapses that have and will follow – including the American fall. Some social outbursts are inevitable, but they won’t be enough to change the power structure – which is what it is now all about. The only goal of a ruling elite is to stay in power and use power to maintain privilege. Such a system can tolerate a great deal of violence even on a daily basis so long as the regime isn’t threatened in any meaningful sense.

    I don’t believe any harrowing will be sufficient to change anything in any meaningful way. We are locked in a very slow death spiral.

    But, on the whole, I tend to be a fairly happy, upbeat guy…


  3. I guess England’s demise wasn’t through defeat, but through being gently and gradually superceded, primarily by an allied force. The problem is asking oneself what that allied power will be that will supercede American superiority, if the American empire (which is mainly a cultural and political one, whereas previous Empires were more geographical) is to be supplanted in the same way. A united Europe probably isn’t it, because it won’t ever be effectively united enough. A Westernised China seems even less probable.

    Frites and mussels? Looks a bit Belgian to me.


  4. “America is the first country to have gone from barbarism to decadence without the usual intervening period of civilization.” Oscar Wilde’s quote still seems to hold true.


  5. “amateur gas dynamics engineer, cheese fermentation expert and an antique podiatry tool enthusiast” that is an explosive combination of skills.

    An insightful analysis.

    I am not prepared to give up on the American empire just yet, and while the current students you teach do not inspire hope I cannot believe that they are any less capable of changing the world than your French students, just that they live a cultural climate that doesn’t encourage it.

    You yourself are a shining example (and a magnificent specimen of a man I must add) of the forces of reason that still exist in the US. Your country has at its disposal people, resources and history which it has always had and accomplished so much. There are others, like yourself speaking out and striving to effect a better society.

    I wish I could encourage you to keep up the good fight and while it may well be futile in the end and the US slides into the twilight of the world stage it doesn’t mean that it should be accepted. You can never tell what may galvanise a nation on a new path.

    I agree that the problems you list seem insurmountable but you can either accept that it is hopeless, stop struggling and watch the US slide off the stage of history or do your best and perhaps still watch the US slide into history. I guarantee you will feel better during the slide if you go down wriggling.

    When I feel depressed at the irrationality of the world I think on two quotes I learned from the author Ken MacLeod :

    “Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.”—Alasdair Gray.

    “If these are the early days of a better nation, there must be hope, and a hope of peace is as good as any, and far better than a hollow hoarding greed or the dry lies of an aweless god.”—Graydon Saunders

    and after looking at your photos, I’m off to a patisserie for some snackage.


  6. We will do to ourselves what we did to Russia, spend so much on our military that we neglect the environment and the people. Is that not the usual path for empires?

    I hope you are right about Europe. France, Spain, Germany were also in the empire game at one point, at least one. They seem to have left behind ideas of grandeur and like us, at least back at the post revolutionary period, are focusing on how to best accomplish collective self-governance. Being post imperialist, capitalist-socialist democracies will give them an edge in the cultural, political wars. Blah, blah, blah…

    Don’t worry about our students. They are busy trying to figure out this brave new world. I think that what is happening in the classroom, training them for a world that they see vanishing, seems irrelevant. Don’t take it personal.

    So go enjoy those freedom fries, then walk a lot. You know it will help your weight, the loneliness and your enjoyment of the place. And please, forget about hubris and complaining, be thankful that you have a the ability to go.


  7. Ana Nymous Says:

    amateur gas dynamics engineer, cheese fermentation expert? I hope you are not insulted that I find this very funny.


  8. It’s kind of appropriate you are teaching negotiation in France, the country thats people are jokingly referred to as cheese eating surrender monkeys.


  9. Actually, when I read your title, for some reason I was expecting pictures of hot french girls. But the profiteroles look good too.


  10. paulboylan Says:

    Yobbo – England’s retreat from global imperial dominance was caused by loss of control over markets supplying goods combined with a political system both calcified and weary. It was just too much trouble and cost too much to hold it all together. The ends slowly but surely didn’t justify the expense and effort. The US will retreat for similar reasons: the rich and powerful that became rich and powerful via American Imperialism and market control has decided they can remain rich and powerful – and still consume all of the stuff they like to consume – without American labor and despite the American political infrastructure.

    The American empire is definitely a geographical empire. The US has absolute hegemony over the sea lanes and therefore oversees, controls and dominates the global economy. The rise of effective piracy is a sign that it is costing more than the US has to maintain that hegemony and no one is really willing to shoulder that load. The impact of this withdrawal will be enormous.

    Moules-Frittes is very, very French, you uncultured bogan.

    Bart – I love that quote.

    Barnes – I find it strangely ironic and somehow fitting at the same time that those cheering on the American Old Girl are damned foreigners like you.

    As you surely know, much of what I write is for effect. Despite the sense of doom I profess, I am very much involved in the fight. I just prefer to engage the enemy as a fifth column.

    Jannelle – We should be so lucky as to do what Russia has done. Their empire utterly collapsed. They regrouped and are now making a brilliant play supporting Iran as a trump card to force America to recognize Russian regional hegemony within its near-abroad. I admire the Russians for not just bouncing back, but doing so with a vigor the Soviets never realized. As an American, however, I am concerned about what this all will mean 20 years down the road. I can see it coming. The US political and military leaders can see it coming, too, but are, for a wide variety of reasons, helpless to stop it.

    Ana – I am delighted you find it funny. I made it up in the hope someone would laugh.

    Nautilus – I picked the exact place to do this. It could have been virtually any university anywhere. I chose Poitiers for the very reason of where it is and the demographic of the students it sends my way. My essay may say I am blindly hoping to make a difference. That is an artistic device designed to add a bit of pathos to the mix. In truth, I am reasonably confident my influence will be meaningful. Cheese eating? Always. Surrender monkeys? Only when surrendering tactically will lead to a strategic victory.

    drej – You want pics of hot French chicks? Just wait and see.


  11. Bondiboy66 Says:

    I’d have plumped for the reasons for teaching in France being (in no particular order):
    – Food
    – Wine and/or beer (Belgium isn’t far away after all)
    – experiencing a different culture purely for the experience of it.
    – Some nice scenery, history and architecture in Poitiers and surrounds.
    – Hot French chicks.

    I’m shallow, me.


  12. I’d love to see you at work.


  13. paulboylan Says:

    Nothing would delight me or satisfy me more.


  14. paulboylan Says:

    Bondi – Nothing wrong with you, my young friend.


  15. Lucky man, have a case of Veuve Cliquot for me please.


  16. To the Tune of ‘Je Suis Une Rock Star’

    Je suis une Quokka.
    Je havez une papillon.
    Je drive une citreon
    without moi glasses on

    Voulez vous
    Savor une profiterole pour moi
    Becoz Le Bloke FKDup et
    neglectee moi
    by FKN up and not bringez home zez nougat
    zat I demandez pour moi
    la la la la
    etc etc

    Feeling a bit less lonely now PNB?
    Think of me when you quaff down those pastries they look damned fine.

    You know if you drink green tea it is meant to reduce your appetite?
    and do yoga?
    And eat chick peas?



  17. OK.
    So the chick peas will just make you fart.
    But this will provide you with many, many opportunities to practice the French phrase for ‘pull my finger’ and you can thus introduce your European Students to a vital element of Australian Humour.

    I fear that we have been sadly misrepresented in the media this week.
    And I count on you to set your proteges straight.


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