If anyone knows the importance of cross-cultural integration, it’s Christian Routin. Born and raised in Saigon, he moved to Paris aged nine.
After an initial two-year stint at the French Embassy in Hanoi in 1991, he’s now been back in Vietnam since 2009, having previously lived in 12 countries.
Christian specialises in smoothing out the relationships between foreign and local businesspeople. He irons out the bumps caused by cultural clashes to facilitate better working relationships, allowing success and happiness to flourish.
“It was April 1975 when we moved to France,” says Christian, 50. “We took the last plane out of the country.”
In an effort to hold onto his Vietnamese cultural identity, Christian asked his mother to keep using Vietnamese around him; as a result, it’s his first language and culture, despite being half-French and one quarter Italian.
“My parents did not prepare us for the departure in 1975,” Christian recalls. “Leaving Vietnam left an open wound in my soul.”
The two-year period of working in Hanoi in 1991 only served to reopen and disturb that wound, so in the time between 1993 and 2009, Christian grew restless, living and working in 10 other countries, while trying to forget about Vietnam.
“I was scared of coming back, being happy and having to leave again,” says Christian.
“Eventually, I overcame my fear and decided to come back for good in 2009.” After getting back to his country of birth, he felt he could finally realise himself and express all he can be; even if it meant saying goodbye to proper French pastries.
Christian’s ambition to realise and express himself is something he feels could only have been achieved in Vietnam.
“I love Vietnamese people for their friendliness, kindness and warm hearts,” Christian says. “Their will to enjoy life to the fullest, their playfulness and relaxed lifestyle, their sense of sharing and family.”
It’s a society in which someone like Christian can thrive; despite lamenting the lack of respect he sees people show each other in public places.
The issues of respect and ethics play a large role in Christian’s work with training and consulting businesspeople.
“I went through culture shock when I first interacted with local businessmen,” explains Christian. “I was surprised and saddened to see that the level of ethics was really low.”
He quickly identified the Vietnamese business mindset, and summarises it with one sentence:
“I want to make money, a lot of money, as fast as possible, by all means.”
“It’s win-lose,” Christian says. “I win, you lose.”
However, awareness of this enabled Christian to develop effective strategies for integrating foreign and local businesspeople, by focusing on developing strong personal relationships.
Dog Eat Dog
Most of Christian’s clients are large global businesses operating in Vietnam, for whom the dog-eat-dog approach to success has long been dismissed as short-sighted.
“I consult, train, facilitate, coach and speak on cross-culture, soft skills and happiness,” Christian says. “I help expats and Vietnamese understand each other and work successfully together.”
Through his work, Christian enables foreign workers and companies to adapt their working environment for Vietnamese culture.
As someone who speaks five languages, Christian’s 10 Truths of Lasting Happiness workshops bring together a deep understanding of various cultures and working practices.
“Vietnamese respect teachers, as it’s a facet of Confucianism,” explains Christian. “It makes it really enjoyable to teach them.”
In his cross-cultural workshop, he puts expats and Vietnamese together, helping each side to understand the other, bridging their cultural gaps.
“I learnt how to break the ice with Vietnamese professionals in five seconds,” claims Christian. “Transforming the training into a game with teams and prizes is the best way; I love their childlike spirit and the informal, fun atmosphere.”
Driven by the joy of living in Vietnam, Christian finds most pleasure and motivation in helping others to change and improve themselves.
“There are two types of people; those who lead a successful life, and those who are successful,” says Christian. “I’m the first type.”
Christian encourages people to do what they love, and wait for success to follow.
“We all have an inner voice telling us what to do,” he explains. “Every time you listen to it, it will lead you to follow your life path.”
Unfortunately, Christian sees the louder voices of our personal stakeholders trying to shout above our instincts, but listening to his inner voice has led to where he is today; a life filled with joy and contentment.
“With every step, I am fulfilling, expressing and realising myself,” he says. “With every step, I am growing; following my path fills me with a sense of achievement.”
Identifying peace of mind as the ultimate goal, Christian has sought to build his life around it.
Unlike many expats, who after many years in Vietnam begin to grow jaded or frustrated, Christian finds living in Vietnam keeps getting easier, the longer he stays.
Will he still be here in five years? “I am focusing on the present,” Christian says. “We can’t change the past or control the future; if you focus your mind on the present, you will be the creator of your life and enjoy every moment of it.”
Photos by Julie Vola