Public institutions by definition, consulates are nonetheless shrouded in mystery. What top-secret business is conducted behind those heavily guarded doors? Apart from registering marriages and helping foreign nationals who find themselves in a pickle, that is. According to Vincent Floreani, the Consul General of France in Ho Chi Minh City, the answer is both mundane and grand.
As it happens, a lion’s share of Mr. Floreani’s time is dedicated to shaping France’s image and busting stereotypes about his fellow countrymen and women. When not busy promoting France’s industry champions, Mr. Floreani is on the lookout for new cooperation opportunities, especially those that can put Vietnamese brands on a fast track to international success – a job made easier with the EU-Vietnam free trade agreement coming into effect last month.
Vincent Floreani —Consul General of France in Ho Chi Minh City | Source: Co Nguyen for Vietcetera
Before moving to Vietnam in 2017 to represent France in 22 southern provinces and cities, Mr. Floreani was based in Chicago, USA serving as the Consul General for 13 Midwestern states where misconceptions about France were equally thick on the ground. To Mr. Floreani’s consternation, a country that is home to some of the world’s most innovative tech startups and leading universities is still known as the land of croissants and cheese.
We ask Mr. Floreani about his country’s unsung champions, how Vietnamese students can benefit from the French curriculum and learn why for him the month of November is a season to celebrate innovation rather than Beaujolais nouveau.
What does your job as the Consul General of France in Ho Chi Minh City entail?
While the embassy in Hanoi is a permanent diplomatic mission that acts as the French government’s representative abroad in matters between the two countries, the Consulate General of France has a more local function — to promote and facilitate cooperation between France and Vietnam.
I see my mission as four-fold, with a focus on fostering cooperation in economic development, education, cultural exchange and administration. On the economic side, we help French companies to get a foothold and grow in the country by boosting France-Vietnam business cooperation and creating strong links between the two countries in the long term.
In education, we encourage language exchange as well as building partnerships between universities to offer online and in-person courses and degrees. At Villa Saigon, our artist-in-residence venue, we focus on strengthening relations between French and Vietnamese artists.
And, of course, the consular services the citizens are most familiar with, like issuing passports and visas (40,000 a year) and taking care of the French citizens in Vietnam.
What are some big-ticket projects you’re working on currently?
The biggest all revolve around the EU-Vietnam free trade agreement that has just entered into force scrapping duties on 99% of all goods traded between the two sides. Moving forward, doing business will become much easier: companies will now be able to invest and pitch for government contracts with equal chances to their local competitors, for example. So we are currently talking to French and Vietnamese companies considering going into import/export.
Another important milestone is the introduction of the “Goût Français” (French taste) label in Vietnam to guarantee provenance of imported food, beverages and art-de-vivre (lifestyle) products. Now local consumers can purchase French goods with confidence.
Companies will now be able to invest and pitch for government contracts with equal chances to their local competitors. | Source: Co Nguyen for Vietcetera
And November is a month I’m especially looking forward to. Contrary to popular belief, France’s biggest export is not pâté and Beaujolais but cutting-edge technology. We are a nation of innovators, researchers and entrepreneurs — the fact we will be celebrating on 13-14 November at IDECAF in Saigon.
We are bringing together French and Vietnamese scientists to exchange ideas and present their research on medical and sustainability subjects. We will also spotlight the French lead in software engineering and developing pioneering technologies in the digital field. We are a world leader in animation, post-production, special effects and virtual reality. Out of the world’s top 10 animation schools, four are French. Despicable Me, a Minion film, was animated by the French studio Mac Guff.
We recently interviewed Aurélien Palasse, Ubisoft Managing Director in Vietnam, about his company's expansion plans. Why do you think so many French companies open branches in Vietnam today?
I had the chance to be at Ubisoft studio’s inauguration in May; it’s a great opportunity for Danang graduates to find employment at one of the world’s leading video gaming companies.
To answer your question, I think what makes Vietnam such an attractive market is that it outshines many of its neighbors in sociopolitical stability and growth potential. Investment conditions are very favorable and the country’s strategic position in the ASEAN region makes it a convenient hub to operate out of, regionally.
Investment conditions are very favorable and the country’s strategic position in the ASEAN region makes Vietnam a convenient hub to operate out of, regionally. | Source: Co Nguyen for Vietcetera
For what we call the French Tech Vietnam companies specifically, joining Vietnam’s dynamic high-tech sector is not only a wise investment but also an opportunity to share the know-how and inject a dose of French innovation into the local economy.
And then there is the fact that the two nations have a lot in common. Us French, just like the Vietnamese, are warm, loud and like to gather around big tables over food and drinks. So we find Vietnamese lifestyle very attractive.
As a representative of France in South Vietnam, could you share with us how you experience the marriage of these two cultures in your daily life?
On the purely sensory level, you feel it the moment you step outside your front door: French colonial architecture, Vietnamese words that come from French (la chemise / áo sơ mi (shirt); le fromage / phô mai (cheese)), or the undying love for strong coffee and baguette.
But I also see it in locally-based French entrepreneurs who care deeply about promoting and protecting the Vietnamese terroir while bringing local brands to the world. Companies like Le Fruit or Marou Chocolate are great examples. Through investing in fair trade, they empower Vietnamese farmers, help them transition to sustainable development while protecting the environment. Such collaborations give birth to beautiful things.
We asked our readers and there is a lot of interest among young Vietnamese to study in France or work in French companies. Where do they start?
France has a long tradition of welcoming international students and we would definitely like to see more from Vietnam. French universities are very strong in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, with Paris Saclay ranked number one in Shanghai Ranking's Global Ranking of Academic Subjects 2020 — Mathematics, University of Paris (Sorbonne) at number 3 and PSL University at number 10.
France has a long tradition of welcoming international students and we would definitely like to see more from Vietnam. | Source: Co Nguyen for Vietcetera
There are several initiatives in place designed to make enrolling in France’s educational institutions easier, like partnerships between Vietnamese and French universities. Students can choose to study from Vietnam or to move to France for the duration of the course.
Same goes for French companies. They are always looking for great talent and we try and do our bit by organizing the annual France-Vietnam Job Fair with the French Chamber of Commerce. Jobseekers can find lots of useful information about France in Vietnam on Phap.fr.
Lastly they wanted to know what skills, in your view, are crucial to getting ahead in life?
I would say that in a globalized world like ours, it is essential to focus on languages. There are Anglophone and Hispanic countries where the study of foreign languages is less important because English and Spanish are widely spoken around the world. Vietnamese doesn't have the same reach so for those who want to explore opportunities in multinational companies or to study or work overseas, investing in language education is crucial.
It will help you stay up to date with global trends, open new career opportunities and expose you to new ideas and thinking, not to mention making independent international travel and enjoying foreign cinema possible. One of the great resources available to those studying French is our mediatheque at IDECAF in Saigon. Southeast Asia’s largest, it offers French books, comics and DVDs for rent.