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The Last Word

Jean de Reydet
Can a Businessman Be a Traveler and a Traveler a Happy Man?

Now 32 years old, Jean de Reydet headed the French Chamber of Commerce in Moscow for almost seven years with the goal of uniting French companies in various lobbying efforts to foster their growth in Russia. As a result, he completed several informational campaigns in France regarding the Russian market with diplomats of the French Republic representing both the President of France and Prime Ministers cabinet, as well as with the Foreign Affairs Committees of the National Assembly and the Senate.

At the same time as his activities with Club France, Jean de Reydet also raised money for two expeditions:

  • Arktika, the polar adventure of Gilles Elkaim (2001- 2004) and
  • In Search of the Russian Titanic in the Bering Straight (2004)

and completed two reports:

  • The Gold of Magadan: A new Eldorado in the Siberian Far East and
  • Central Asia: The Opium Trails

Coming to Moscow in 2000, what did you expect to find? A little more than one year after the crash of 98, Russia was virtually a new country and totally misunderstood in the West!

In leaving France to come to Russia at the end of the 20th century, I felt that I was crossing the Iron Curtain in the right direction. I expected to see a country in grainy black and white, as in my history books. Instead, what I found was a country in the midst of an economic boom. A Russia full of energy and dynamism, which had clearly decided to fight for its place in the new century.

Was it hard to get used to a new culture, to a totally different mentality?

No. The hardest part was understanding the prejudices arising from my own Western upbringing, and the limits of my European mental framework. After that, opening up to a new culture was simply a matter of curiosity.

What do you like and what do you dislike in Russia?

Oh, there are so many things to like and dislike in Russia! First of all I like Russia as a whole country. My love is absolute and pure. I also like it for the things that allow me to make money without too much effort (laughing). Oh, I remember one thing that makes me admire it; Russian stewardesses in stylish uniforms all dressed up and slim with perfect make-up. As for the second part of your question I have to think it over more seriously. (Thinking) I dont like it when someone says, and does it in an indisputably way, about how the Russians have to be Russians.

You have seen a lot of far-away Russian cities and towns which one is the most impressive?

I love Eastern Siberia, where I have been numerous times. Only there can one really understand the immensity of the country and its resources. The frozen ocean of the Chukotka region, the gold mines of Magadan and, of course, the Island of Sakhalin where one can watch the fascinating struggle between the foreign oil companies and the Russian Federation.

Is it difficult to do business with Russians?

One realizes rather quickly that in Russia, the signature of a contract is merely an important step in the negotiations process

What makes you happy in life?

To see Russia in the process of winning the Cold War on the economic front, after having lost it on the political one. For a country that was still Communist 15 years ago, the challenge was enormous

What are the things that interest you in Russian people and why? Is the Russian soul so totally incomprehensible?

The famous slave spirit; part of my nostalgia for tsarist times! Seriously, I am sometimes wary of the irrational aspect of the Russians. Their tendency to not be bothered with banal reality! Of course, in Western Europe we have become far too conventional; we do not enjoy ourselves enough, dont really believe in anything anymore; at least not very hard.

What fascinates me about the Russians is that they are unpredictable, they are romantic and they have unbounded imagination and not always tempered with a sense of reality. I may say that I understand Russians better when I am sober and they understand me better when I am drunk.

Why do you need all the expeditions? Is it dangerous?

Never forget that Moscow is the capital of an empire. Russia is by far the largest country in the world and much of it is almost unexplored and with the most extreme climates and the people able to survive anything. It is a country where everything is possible; the land of records. Every time I dream up an expedition, it meets with the greatest enthusiasm, as well as real scientific and technical expertise. As for danger, dont tell yourself stories; I take far less risk than did the great Soviet explorers and scientists.

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