vendredi, octobre 08, 2004

Breaking News! Read All About It! In a Trash Can Near You!

I haven't bought a newspaper since I've been here, so what do I know? Maybe they're prohibitively expensive. Somehow I don't think so. But for whatever reason, newspapers seem to be quite the hot commodity. It seems they can even be a profitable side venture for the less scrupulous among us.

The floor I work on in my company is the executive floor. It's where the CEO is, and all the Vice Presidents. I work for two Vice Presidents, one of Finance and IT, and one of Human Resources. These guys are important people, the company is big and old and respected, and Paris is a nightmare to drive in. So naturally, they have chauffeurs. And naturally, the chauffeurs have a boss. The chef des chauffeurs, as he is called, is a beady eyed, shifty character, with a thick Portuguese accent. When I try to pronounce his name the French way, I inevitably get all tangled up. Do Pereiro is easy enough in Portuguese, but in French, you have to do the French 'r' twice and put the stress on a completely different syllable, and I usually end up choking, coughing, and saying it the Portuguese way. The man thinks I'm weird, I'm sure.

On my second or third day on the job, he came into our office, looked shiftily from his right to his left at the two VPs office doors, and rubbed his hands together, saying, "Y'a pas des jourrrnaux?" I thought this was rather odd, and asked my coworker about it. She explained that he would come around collecting the newspapers that the VPs were too busy to read, and that after awhile, someone got curious why, and followed him. Apparently, he takes the Le Mondes, La Tribunes, and Les Echos and sells them on the street for the regular selling price.

I remember my ex telling me that newspaper stands in the US would never work in Chile because there, if you put a quarter in, and opened up the bin to see all the newspapers right there before you, it would be too tempting, and you would grab them all, knowing you just paid a quarter, and sell them yourself. At the time, I thought this was really funny, because what would you make, a dollar? And who would buy a newspaper from you, knowing you had stolen them? But I was young at the time, and knew less about differences.

So I asked my coworker, my American sense of scruples and outrage at injustice raging forth, why the assistants give the newspapers to the guy, if everyone knows he resells them to pocket the money himself? Especially when they all tell me he is a crappy worker to boot. So we slowly, all of us, begin to tell him, nope, sorry, no newspapers today. And eventually, he stops asking.

But Senhor Do Pereiro is not the only one who sees the merit in a newspaper gotten for free. Apparently, your average person is willing to go to great lengths to get one. I have seen this at least a dozen times. If this is simple avarice at not wanting to pay for a newspaper that one can get for free, I can sort of understand it, but seeing a well dressed businessman in a silk tie digging through the trash can in the metro station is a bizarre sight indeed. One I have seen many times over. If the reason is that this businessman cannot face the prospect of his long RER train ride home without something to read, well, that is sort of endearing. Seeing so many people reading, completely absorbed in their books, newspapers, reports, seeing people walking while reading they are so into it, warms the cockles of my book loving heart.

One day, when I was blindly traipsing behind the crowd of people piling onto the escalator to change from Charles de Gaulle Etoile to the La Defense metro line, from afar, I saw it. Gleamingly, glossily free, it was an abandoned Madame Figaro on the railing. I quickly grabbed it and rolled it up, making as smooth a gesture as I could, as if I had simply prepared my magazine for the ride. It was the current month's edition, had a special feature on accessories, and my fingers turned black from the dust it had collected as it waited to be snatched up, and I greedily read it on the metro car, smushed up against my fellow passengers, absorbed in reading their own similarly procured treasures.

mercredi, octobre 06, 2004

Pink Lipstick

I didn't watch TV back in the US, using it only to rent movies on rare occasions. I didn't even have a DVD player. So it was really sort of deliciously fun and sinful to watch hours and hours of bad French TV in the temporary apartment.

I haven't seen French TV in a very long time, not since I was an exchange student as a teenager. I was really surprised to see that they have almost as many commercial breaks as we do now. Before, I remember it was sort of like a special event, announced beforehand with sexy voices and cool little graphics. Well they still announce it now (Publicite....Publicite...), it just becomes less special when you see it all the time. Their commercials used to be cooler, too.

One thing I cannot get over, despite trying to disprove my theory over and over again, is that French women on TV must wear pink lipstick. Frosty, glossy, hot pink or pale, paired with overly tanned skin and a red shirt, even paired with purple eyeshadow and dyed blonde hair (yes! purple eyeshadow), every single one of them has pink lips. Newscasters, presenters, game show hostesses, every single GUEST, everyone. It is amazing. I don't think this has even much to do with pink being an in color for clothes last year. I think this is some notion that pink lipstick is closest to natural looking. Ehhhhh! Wrong! You know, not everyone can wear pink, especially if you have the tortured complexion of a dorito. Pink with red? Pink with purple eyeshadow? What is this, people? Lithuania? Bring in your professional makeup artists, let's match skin tone and clothing with makeup! You're French, for god's sake, you can do this!

Working in the Dark

I've decided to keep a list of cultural differences I've noticed since beginning to work and live here in Paris. This is not a new idea, of course, but keep in mind that what I notice is only what strikes me in particular, thus making it completely original. Ha! So there.

One particularly noticeable difference is that here in headquarters, in the modern business district of La Défense, it seems that most people actually prefer to work with the lights off. Be they secretaries, interns, technicians or vice presidents, they are working in the dark. Some even go so far as to pull the blinds closed as well. I am not sure if this has to do with computer screens and glare, energy efficiency taken to the limit, or simply that everyone's skin looks much better if you forgo the fluorescent bulbs.

Personally, it depresses me and puts me to sleep. My poor coworker has to hear me every day say, "Do you mind if I turn on the lights?" She gives me a look, smiles, and says, "Whatever you want."