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Downtime: Petronille de Parseval on the joys of travel and navigating cultural norms

Piaget’s managing director of Australia and South-east Asia crosses borders to seek connections and experience the unfamiliar.

Which trip made you fall in love with travelling?
When I was a student, I went to Spain. It’s not far from France but I was amazed that a place so close could have a completely different way of living. They have siestas and parties, and they have strong family ties – different generations go out together, and this is not the case in France. Even though we are Europeans and share some common values, I enjoyed seeing the different ways in which they were translated, and this got me more curious about the world.

What do you like most about travelling?
The unexpected. I was travelling with friends in Nepal once, and we got lost on a trek and wound up in a small village. And it started to rain. Our guide was super nervous because he was worried about getting us back to the bus in time, but our kids saw some local children playing football and joined in. We wound up spending two to three hours there having a football party with the villagers and, even though we couldn’t communicate verbally, it was a shared moment. An unexpected meeting, a smile, or a chat in the market – this is what I love about travel.

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You meet many people from different countries in your line of work. What have you learnt from some of those encounters?
I had to go to Saudi Arabia on one of my business trips when I was based in Dubai, and I was a bit nervous because of how conservative the culture was. I was one of the only few women at the business hotel I was staying at. But I was lucky to get invited into the homes of some of the families there, and I got to see the warmth and welcoming spirit of the Arabs. It was like going behind the scenes of this image I’ve always had of the UAE. So travel keeps me open-minded. If you don’t understand what drives or triggers the people you work with, you can’t build trust.

Do you have an example?
In Europe, you are seen as efficient if you are straightforward and get right to the point, even if you’ve never met any of the people in the meeting. I’ve upset some people in the Middle East using this style, but I learnt from that. In the Middle East, if you don’t spend at least 20 minutes showing care to the person you’re talking to, like asking about their family or their last holiday, you can’t even begin to talk business. I used to worry about time, especially if I had only an hour for the meeting, but I’ve realised that in taking the time to know the other person, we can discover common ground and forge stronger relationships.

What’s next on your list of destinations?
Since arriving in Singapore, the list of places I want to visit has been getting longer and longer. I’d like to go to Japan since I’ve never been there, and not just to Tokyo. I want to ski, I want to see komodo dragons, I want to meet people from Korea, Malaysia and Thailand, and just see the peculiarities of each culture and learn more about Asia.

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