Building companies and living on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, I have learned that there are many things that distinguish Europe and America at all levels. Here´s a random list:

-America has more murders, Europe has more suicides.

-Americans mostly love guns, Europeans mostly hate and regulate guns.

-Americans are mostly religious, Europeans are mostly non religious.

-Americans believe in equal opportunity, Europeans believe in equal outcomes.

-Europeans believe in the rule of law, Americans believe in the rule of lawyers.

-Americans believe in the individual, Europeans believe in the collective.

Now having come up with this list and before you start finding exceptions to what I just said and disagreeing with me, here´s another comment on what makes Americans and Europeans different that you can disagree with.

-American top managers believe they “own” their employees, European top managers know they don´t.

First, I will start by saying that our partners who run what I think is the best managed corporation in USA, Google, have realized this and behave in a more “european” manner (thank God the Republicans lost and I can write this without fearing of getting Google into trouble), in the sense that they allow employees to spend 20% of their time doing special projects. But this is not the case in most American corporations in which employees are forced to sign agreements as they join the companies that are so confining, that I would argue that being married has less obligations that being an employee of a US corporation.

Americans make employees sign non compete agreements that are mostly non enforceable in Europe, as this clash with the concept of freedom of the employee. In Europe, courts believe that if you have specialty you cannot be forced not to compete in it and they side with the employee. So, at FON we have a very European way of working that is leading fantastic results around the world, but that I sometimes find it hard to explain to managers in the States.

FON has become the largest WiFi network in the world and is growing at a rate of 20K access points per month (around one T Mobile per month in terms of T Mobile WiFi number of access points), but SURPRISINGLY it is being managed by many part time managers who, other than running FON, do other things as well. I know this sounds BAD in America, where having two top corporate jobs is seen as cheating on your wife or husband (as Steve Martin said, to cheat on your wife is French, to get caught is American).

Case in point, FON China, for example, is kicking ass under the leadership of Yat Siu, who only oversees FON part time and mostly runs Outblaze. Why? Because Yat Siu is so good at what he does that Yat Siu part time help overseeing our full time team works better than a lesser full time manager. So at FON we don´t care if managers are not “faithful” to us so long as they do a great job.

At FON we care about results which are so visible. All you need to do is to look at our maps that if a manager is producing as well as Yat Siu we just see that on googlemaps. And in any case top managers at top corporations are also multitasking, so what difference does it make if it´s inside the corporation or outside?

FON believes that amazing employees should really be partners and find the right formula of interaction with us. And this blend of full time and part time is yielding great results.

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PanMan on November 27, 2006  · 

I agree, and I (being European, and even Dutch, which is kind-of extra-liberal on some things), have always been surprised on the strict rules some employers force on their employees. The strongest example I know are the drugs tests that some American companies make their employees take. Here, the idea is that you can do in your own time whatever you like, as long as it doesn’t impact your work life. Not many employees will endorse drug use, but as long as it’s in your own time, I don’t think it can be a reason for termination.

The director of a school once put it nicely:
“In Europe, people work to live. In the US, they live to work”. That about sums it up.
(Oh, for the record and the almighty Google archive: I don’t do drugs, but think people should be able to decide that themselves).

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Prem on November 27, 2006  · 

Martin, I agree with your point of view of American vs European management. Unfortunately many European managers ‘americanize’ after working for years under American multinationals.
I know couple of European people who started companies after being managers at American companies, building for example those non-compete agreement forms for their employees.

At the end of the day, this model doesn’t work here. European employees don’t care about those agreements.

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Eric on November 27, 2006  · 


As an employee of FON, I agree with this difference of exclusivity in the workplace between FON and standard US corporate practice, but I also think that FON is more similar to a US than Spanish company. But, as a US attorney, I disagree with the “rule of law” difference.

First, what I love about FON is how unlike a Spanish company it is. I don’t know what it’s like working in the rest of Europe, but working for a Spanish company is a total nightmare. I worked for a very typical Spanish company for 5 years before FON where there were absolutely no pay raises, no human resource policies that rewarded employees for their performance and any suggestion for innovation was castigated. There was no such thing as stock options and their was no possibility of real promotion if you were not some one with a series of long compound last names. It may seem that I am exaggerating but that is the truth about the Spanish corporate culture.

On the other hand at FON, we dress as we please, we have stock options, and no matter how intense the work may be, we all feel very much an integral part of building FON. There is very little of the slowness and indecision that is so typical in Spanish companies either. I saw more happen on my first day at FON than I saw in 5 years at my former Spanish employer. The one thing that distinguishes FON from a US company and makes it very Spanish is that we are still able to joke around and not take ourselves too seriously which never happened when I was working in the US. Every Spanish person who comes into our offices for the first time remarks about what a cool place FON is to work.

In terms of the rule of law, I still haven’t seen that in Spain at least. In the US, Americans love the rule of law more than they love what the laws actually say. They love to see the law enforced and abided by. That’s why they have so many lawyers waiting to make sure that even the bad laws are enforced. That’s also why American politicans are always against signing treaties and Europeans are in favor of them. American politicians know that swarms of teaming lawyers will come rushing to sue every time the US fails to meet its treaty obligations. In Europe, they sign the treaties because they know that nothing will ever happen to them if they don’t comply, hence thousands of ineffective European directives.

And by the way, you forgot that Americans love the death penalty and the Europeans don’t.

3.0 rating on November 27, 2006  · 

Europeans are more fashionable.

–loving the fonera in amsterdam–just set it up! convinced even my neighbor to put it on his system! so FON. so the letters worked!

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daniel on November 28, 2006  · 

I’m american. I think your observations are overly simplistic, biased and in many cases incorrect. Yes, george bush is an idiot, thats one thing the whole world can agree on. I however am not religious, I hate guns, and i believe in strong social welfare. I have to say, I resent your generalizations. also, I would totally use fon if it WASN’T SO SLOW IT WOULDNT EVEN LET ME PUT IN MY CREDIT CARD INFO.

ps europeans totally do not have better fashion. Swedes maybe, but germans wear camoflauge cargo pants and flaired jeans with courdoroy patches. Not happening in america….

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Olaf on November 28, 2006  · 

Martin, fellow commentators,

for someone who lived in the US for very long, Martin, you draw quite a negative picture of American culture. As a European living and working in NY, I find that everything is for a reason. American society and its cultural patterns have their roots and heritage. We Europeans accept e.g. Asian habits as to be different and we are proud to be so tolerant. But we tend not to accept Americans to be different. While I very much disagree with the death penalty and US gun laws, we cannot just apply our European understanding of justice and positive law. I also don’t think Europeans are non-religious, in fact, there is a war in Europe between Protestants and Catholics. There is very much we can learn from America: everyone here (at least in NY) from wherever they came from finds something they can look up to, something they find they have in common with other immigrants. They keep their cultural integrity but want their children to become “good Americans”. Why is that? How many Catalonians want their Children to become good Spaniards? People die in Europe because of troubles with the (dis)integration of the Basque Country, Catalonia, Corsica, Cyprus, North Ireland, you name it. Ever heard about Ohio wanted to be its own country?

Alright now, just wanted to even it out a bit. I am still proud to be a European but I am always alarmed when I sense Anti-Americanism and I guess if we claim to have the most advanced cultural role model in the world we shall not stop learning from other cultures. And learning means to overcome habits and adopt new ways of treating each other.

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Killy-the-Frog on November 28, 2006  · 

Many of Americans never writes their country phone code when they send an inquiry aboard… as everybody should know by hearth American stuffs.
Many do not even write USA, and only write their state name… as everybody should know every single states of USA. Do they know the subdivision of France?

That is an annoying stuff like when many try to pay in USD in countries in which we do not use USD.

They also have their good points, such as very welcoming 😉

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gilles on November 28, 2006  · 

Yes Martin you are right but your analyse would be more complete if you could talk about the notion of RISK and the economic environment .
For example European still seem to be divided on the employee or self-employed status.
Are they attracted to the setting-up of a business?? .
European Union still believe that administrative and financial barriers severely
hamper starting-up a business, and more so on this side of the Atlantic than the United States.
A majority of european believe the current economic climate is not conducive to the setting-up of any new structure. When compared to other aspects, this macro-economic dimension follows behind the purely procedure-type difficulties.
And lastly, European still do not seem ready to grant a second chance to someone who failed in the past; we all know that risk of failure is associated and accepted by a majority of American with the fact of being inherent to the setting-up of a business.

It should be said that such a frame of mind has not yet materialised in Europe . Nevertheless when you consider that entrepreneurship is first and foremost a state of mind and a matter of commitment, we can only be optimistic especially if European confirm their willingness in the future.

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Jens on November 28, 2006  · 

Hello everyone, I just wanted to add a difference that existent for sure between EU and USA and bring some light ironical humour in that discussion. This ( Danish traffic speed control is hardly possible in the USA, I guess. I hope nobody feels offended by this video.
To sum it up. I would say: Americans are afraid of nudity, Europeans censor violent video games (nudity vs violence).

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Martin Varsavsky on November 28, 2006  · 

Olaf, there are many times that I write extremely positive posts on America. I love the country, lived there for 18 years and in many aspects it is the best country in the world. But there are some things about America that I strongly dislike and they are:

-too much tolerance for social injustice.

-a general feeling of violence, aggression, love for guns, etc

-religion in politics, European political leaders don´t mention God.

-too many lawyers

Other than that I love building businesses in America, I love the American can do attitude, I love American art, movies and literature, and more important America has the best internet companies in the world.

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Martin Varsavsky on November 28, 2006  · 


If you hate guns, you believe in strong social welfare and are not religious you are different from most Americans. In any case it is interesting to me how patriotic Americans get when they feel a foreigner criticizes them while at the same time Americans not only frequently trash other nations but also invades them. As I said in my blog in many other parts America in many respects is the best country in the world, certainly the best country in the world to be an entrepreneur which is what I am, it is also amazing at making Europeans and Asians forget about their pathetic nationalistic struggles and integrate into one big nation, America. But you may agree with me that guns, lawyers, inequities, are a problem with the States.

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Ivan Martinez on November 29, 2006  · 

I love the United States. But is America only the United States? Just a reminder there are more than 30 other countries. I would prefer calling it The US.

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Olaf Kreitz on December 2, 2006  · 


thanks for this discussion, it is really interesting to read all the different views here, especially for a European living in the US. With regards to your comments on my comment, I agree with you!

And Daniel, what you said about fashion can’t remain uncommented: Germans are bad but not that bad and Anina is absolutely right (hey, she is the expert anyways). Walk around in Rome, Paris or Madrid and you will see what she means…

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