samedi, décembre 20, 2008

Holiday Scenes

Scene I : Tiny Parisian apartment, evening. Handsome and I are discussing plans for the holidays.

Handsome: It's official. I have to work the evenings of the 24th, 25th and 31st.

Me: Fuck.

Handsome: But I'll be home by 11:30.

Me: (Sigh)

Handsome: Well we could still have some things to nibble on and some champagne.

Me: (Sigh)

Handsome: We could even stay up and open the presents on the 24th. It's just pushing things out a couple of hours.

Me: (Sigh)

Handsome: Remember last year? I got home on the 31st at 11:30 and we drank champagne sitting in the window and talked until sunrise?

Me: Yeah, that was fun! I remember that was when you told me you were ready to take the plunge and move in together.

Handsome: I said that? I take it back.

Me: Jerk. Too late.

Handsome: But maybe we'll get invited to a party on the 31st.

Me: Yeah, maybe. But since now we can't even spend the holidays with your family in the country, and you won't be here until late on the 24th and 25th, can we at least get a tree?

Handsome: A tree? What do you want with a tree? No!

Me: Oh come on! Pleeease?

Handsome: They're expensive. And we don't have room for one.

Me: We can put it in the window in the dining room. Just a little bitty one!

Handsome: Even the little ones are expensive!

Me: OK, how much do they cost, the little ones?

Handsome: 25 euros!

Me: Dude, that is not expensive. You can't get a bouquet delivered for that!

Handsome: What do you want with a tree? We're not even Christian.

Me: It's a pagan tradition.

Handsome: (Sigh)

(Me : 1 Handsome: 0)


Scene II : Tiny Parisian apartment, evening. Handsome and I are discussing gifts we are giving to various family members.

Me: I mean, really, the company is only contacting me now to ask where to send the gift? I ordered it two weeks ago!

Handsome: Yeah, they called yesterday asking for you, and I didn't know what they wanted, so I told them to call back.

Me: They sent me an email asking where to send the package. I didn't understand why it wasn't clear for them. I was like, this order for Mr. Reider goes to this address. This order for Ms. Reider goes to this address.

Handsome: That totally confused them, I'm sure. 'Why are there two different addresses for people with the SAME LAST NAME OH MY GOD!!'

Me: And now I'm all nervous that the order they contacted me about won't get there in time. I was like, please do everything in your power to get this delivered on time, since it took you two weeks to figure out you were confused.

Handsome: Good, you have to insist with those people or nothing gets done.

Me: But I mean, really, I ordered on like December the 5th!! Geez, next year, I guess I'll have to start shopping in November!!!

Handsome: (silence) Umm, that's what most people do......

(Handsome: 1 Me: 0)


Scene III: Tiny Parisian apartment, evening. Handsome and I are discussing gifts we are giving to each other.

Me: I got you the best surprise gift!! You are never going to guess what it is!!

Handsome: Is it a _____?

Me: (frowning silence) I hate you.

(Handsome: 1 Me: 0)


Scene IV: Tiny Parisian apartment, evening. Handsome and I are discussing the holiday menus.

Handsome: We already have foie gras, but I could pick up some smoked salmon and blinis and champagne.

Me: Cool!

Handsome: And oysters! We could order some oysters on the half shell and have those when I get back from work on the 25th.

Me: Yay! With mignonette sauce!!

Handsome: Ok, so what else should I put on the shopping list?

Me: Well, it's not food, but I don't know if you looked at how much wrapping paper is left. Check to see if there will be enough for you.

Handsome: For me?

Me: Yeah.

Handsome: To do what with?

Me: To wrap the presents you're giving me!

Handsome: (wide eyed) You want me to wrap your presents?!?

(Me: 1 Handsome: -14,965)

Scene V: Tiny Parisian apartment, evening. Handsome and I are on the couch.

Me: Christmas is next week! Yay!

Handsome: (Incoherent grumble)

Me: Aren't you excited? We get to open presents!

Handsome: Pffff!!

Me: You're not looking forward to opening presents?

Handsome: It's not like I don't like giving or receiving presents, it's just that I've never really been into Christmas as a holiday. It gets on my nerves.

Me: Oh no, you're a grinch!! I'm going to start calling you the grouchy grinch!!! (poking Max, who is napping contentedly between us) Max!! Did you know your favorite buddy is a grouchy grinch? How could you possibly prefer a grouchy grinch to me?

Handsome: If you think it's bad now, just wait fifteen years.

Me: (Calculating age he would be, realizing it is close to his notoriously grouchy father's current age.) Oh lord, save me.

(Handsome: 0 Me: 0)

Happy Holidays, everyone!

vendredi, novembre 07, 2008

Feels So Good

I don't think I've ever been more excited to fill out a ballot.

Too bad the French postal system didn't quite know what to do with it, and sent it back to me.

I promptly freaked the fuck out.

Once I'd calmed down, I found a cool program for expats called "Express Your Vote" where FedEx offered drastically reduced rates to FedEx your vote back home. And I expressed that sucker right back to Georgia.

And voilà!


vendredi, octobre 03, 2008

Perfect Pancakes

I've been thinking a lot about pancakes lately.

I blame Dooce. She talked about how she and her husband finally convinced their daughter to try pancakes at a restaurant, thereby expanding her approved food list to five items. The only problem being that Dooce didn't know how to make pancakes the next morning when her daughter asked for them.

Which got me thinking. First about my mom's Swedish pancakes, which are a lighter, more crepe-like version than the thick stack of flapjack-like numbers you'd get in your average diner. OOooooo. Diner. I suddenly really want diner food. Chocolate milkshake, cheeseburger and fries. With a side of pancakes.

No, seriously. I only like my Mom's pancakes, so that's the only kind I make or order.

Pancakes are one of those rare pieces of American culture that remain slightly exotic over here. A normal French breakfast is a slice of baguette with butter, or a brioche with jam, a croissant, or a yogurt. Sadly, they've also adopted the horrendously colored sugary cereals as well, but we'll ignore that for now.

Because of the quintessential American-ness of pancakes, it's been fun sharing the experience of making and serving them with Handsome and other friends. They're ridiculously easy to make, and it turns a morning ritual into something special.

This summer we were staying at some friends' house in the country, where they had cooked lunch and dinner for two weeks. I wanted to do something in return, so the day before we left, I made pancakes for everybody.

The women gathered around to see what exotic things I was putting in this intriguing mixture. One of them looked downright disappointed when she discovered it was only a matter of eggs, flour, milk and butter, with a dash of salt and sugar.

"Oh," she said, thoroughly unimpressed, "it's just like crepe batter, only thicker." And with that, she turned straight back to reading her fashion magazine.

I've talked before about the importance of aesthetics over practicality in some aspects of French life. Remember the hanging files?

When I was ready to start cooking the pancakes, our hostess looked worried.

"I'm afraid I don't have a mold for you to use," she said, knitting her brow and looking dubiously at the frying pan I was preparing.

"A mold?" I asked, confused. "Why would I need a mold?"

"So the pancakes are round," she said, surprised I needed to ask.

I burst out laughing.

Yes, god love 'em, they use a mold to make them perfectly round, one at a time.

That is so fucking cute, it kills me.

jeudi, septembre 18, 2008

Three Countries in Three Hours

Um, hello there! It's been a while. But, hey, you know how everyone in France takes the whole month of August off, right?



So what on earth have I been doing this whole time?

Well, Handsome and I spent a lovely few weeks in the Aude region near Carcassonne staying at some friends' house built from a mill dating back to the 14th century. Unfortunately, you can't really see any mill-like characteristics. Unless you squint really, really hard.

Anyhow, on this foray into the region, we explored many castle ruins, a hat museum, lots of local markets, and a tiny town reputed to be the resting place of the Virgin Mary,* and otherwise famous for its inexplicably creepy holy water basin.

On one day trip, we drove all the way to Andorra to take advantage of the VAT tax haven. The countryside was breathtakingly beautiful - a mix of Switzerland, Austria and Spain - but the architecture was 70's and cheap and horrifyingly ugly. There was a creepy, unhealthy feel about the place as well. When people call it 'the largest shopping center in Europe', you understand why. People are only there to buy, buy, buy. Andorra is jointly admistered by France and Spain, so it's equally strange that from store to store you have no idea what language to use - French, English, Spanish, Catalan? Not that I could pretend to string a sentence together in Catalan. It always sounds so silly to me - like someone got mixed up between Spanish and French and just made some shit up. (Apologies to my Catalan-speaking readers. Ha! Like I have Catalan-speaking readers.)

Handsome and I made our purchases and got the hell out of the first border town, thinking it might be better in the capital, Andorra La Vella.

I have never seen an uglier city in a prettier setting.

See if you can see what I mean. This is the countryside. This is the capital. Just have a gander at all ten of those lovely photos on the second site and see if you don't agree with me.

We drove through the town, silently incredulous, craning our necks to see if we could identify any place that might remotely appeal for lunch. Handsome looked over at me with an expression on his face I immediately understood. Something akin to, 'I am very hungry, but hell fucking no to this place.'

"Let's get the fuck out of here," I proposed.

Handsome's face immediately lit up. "Let's have lunch in Spain," he said, rubbing his hands together excitedly.

"Onwards to Spain!" I declared.

We had lunch here.

I fucking love Europe.

* It is obvious that I was not indoctrinated in any religion, and most of the time, I'm perfectly comfortable with my lack of knowledge. Last night, however, while telling some friends about our trip, I suddenly realized my very big mistake.

"Oh fuuuck! Guys, I put the wrong Mary!!" Oops.

mercredi, juillet 23, 2008

I Won

I try to limit myself to the truly amusing stories whenever I talk about work on this site.

I have one for you.

Last year I got moved into another department, much to my chagrin. My other job wasn't perfect - it had its share of stress and I had my bouts of extreme self-doubt - but I liked the high-profile aspect, and the fact that I actually was useful there.

The new job was quite a change. No one really needed me, even though everyone was more than nice and welcoming. I quickly became bored and felt totally useless. Which in turn led me to lose any and all motivation.

There were things I could do to pass the time, but I had absolutely no desire to do them. Most especially, I was asked to file continous paper updates in enormous documentation binders. Navy blue official-looking binders so huge the binding is made of wood on the inside. They are big, heavy and totally mind-numbing if all you're doing is 'replace pages 14a-15d with pages 14a-15f.'

My predecessor had not done the last few months of updates, so I had a lot to catch up on.

I put it off.

And put it off.

And put it off.

Until the pile of updates, left unopened in their plastic sleeves, reached at least a foot off the floor.

I've been in this job for a little over a year. Only once, my semi-official boss needed to consult the binders.

"Penelope?" he called tentatively from the hallway, "Those documentation binders, did you do the updates?" The upturn in his voice betrayed his anticipation of the answer.

He entered my office, his eyes shut to sheild himself from the view of the glaringly massive pile of white update folders he knew he would find on the floor. He opened them to my smiling face.

"Nope!" I said cheerfully, "As you can see, I haven't touched them. But you know, you could always use the electronic subscription, which is always up to date." I tilted my head to side as I held the air hostess-y smile I had plastered on my face.

"I don't like the electronic version," he replied, almost apologetic. "You really should start on it when you can," he added unconvincingly.

"Hmm mmm!" I replied in dismissal of the subject.

A few months later, he was promoted and became my official boss. I was in his office discussing some of the things he wanted me to help him with in his new role.

"And, Penelope," he said, a hint of defeat in his voice, "you can go ahead and cancel the paper subscription of the documentation. Your refusal to do the updates has shown me that it actually is not something we use or need. We will stick to the electronic subscription from here on out."

"Victory!" I shouted. I did a little dance around his desk chanting, "I won! Laziness pays after all!"

He watched me go round and round, shaking his head and smiling.

Strangely, I'm beginning to like this new job.

mercredi, juin 11, 2008

Reason 2,451 Why I Love Paris

I was not in a good mood this morning. It normally takes me 20 minutes by bus to get to the metro station, where I hop on Line 1 and have three stops until I get to work. This morning, though, there was more traffic than usual, so the 20 minutes turned into 45. It was hot and crowded and I couldn't open the window. I hadn't eaten breakfast because we were out of yogurt, so in addition to everything else, I was also hungry.

Hungry, hot, late & cranky.

I finally arrived, stopped to buy an apple and a croissant, and was stomping my way to the building where I work when someone tapped me on the shoulder from behind. I turned around to face a man in his late forties, a smile on his face.

'Bonjour,' he said.

'Bonjour,' I replied a little impatiently. I was already horribly late.

'May I give you a compliment?' he asked.

I love this type of gallantry times a million - asking permission to give a compliment. While you're at it, could you throw your coat over that puddle so I don't get my feet wet?

'Go right ahead,' I answered with a smile. 'It's always nice to start the day with a compliment.'

'You are simply exquisite. You have so much allure - even from far away - I noticed you immediately. You really are beautiful. I don't ask that you leave your boyfriend or husband or children, but simply put, may I see you again?'

I laughed. 'Thank you for the compliment. It's always nice to get one. But, no.'

He actually looked surprised. 'So I can't see you again?'

'No,' I said firmly but with a smile.

He looked around, a little confused, 'This is not how I pictured the scenario in my head.'

'C'est la vie,' I shrugged.

'In any case, I wish you a very good day,' he said, bowing slightly and stepping away backwards, as if he were addressing the Queen.

'And a good day to you,' I replied.

Suddenly, a day that started out frustrating and crappy turned into 'The sun is out, and I'm alluring!'

God, I love this place.

lundi, juin 02, 2008

Fifty-one square meters of Paris (and that includes the only closet)

We finally did it!

Handsome and I bought a cute two-bedroom apartment in the 18th arrondissement of Paris. It's cosy, but feels surprisingly spacious.

Each of the three main rooms have little "Juliet balconies" (thanks, Mom, for providing the correct term) where I have already imagined cute little window boxes full of plants and flowers. I am hilariously optimistic about actually managing to keep them alive.

The three main rooms also have different original crown moulding. The dining room is appropriately adorned with fruit. We have so far identified pears, apples, grapes and raspberries. Or blackberries, depending on how picky you are about their relative size to a pear. I even had to vigorously defend the apples against a devil's advocate-playing friend who insisted they were tomatoes, and that tomatoes, as fruit, had every right to be there. As if.

We took too long to decide whether to repaint the kitchen, bathroom and hallway ourselves, or call in a professional. But after getting quotes from two different painters, even black market prices were too much for us. When I told my mom the first quote, she was horrified. "That's more than I paid to repaint the entire exterior of my house!" she exclaimed. Such are the prices in Paris, apparently. So after moving in, with our boxes piled high in each room, we set about the process of painting.

I will never forget how to say 'primer' ever again. I kept getting it confused with the word for 'spackling', so when I kept suggesting we might need some before the actual layer of paint, Handsome politely dismissed it, along with the actual spackling.

But Handsome is nothing if not quick to learn, so after consulting all three different cans of paint, insistent and in agreement on the essential steps to painting, and at least five different trips to the store, he came round to idea that there was more to painting than meets the eye.

Paint Can Consensus Essential Steps to Painting:

1. Wash surface

2. Let dry

3. Fill cracks

4. Let dry

5. Sand

6. Dust

7. Apply primer

8. Let dry

9. Apply paint

10. Let dry

11. Apply second layer if necessary

We were painting over a thick high gloss paint and many, many cracks and old leaks that needed repairing. Which meant it wasn't going to be quick, or easy. Handsome was, to put it mildly, anxious to get the project over with and unpack the boxes. I became swept up in the minute details and was determined to follow the protocol from A to Z so it would be as close to perfect as possible.

These are our different takes on the Paint Can Consensus.

Me :

1. Oh goody, everything will be so clean!!

2. Look what a difference being clean makes! It's a whole other color!

3. I love these little spackling knives! I think I need more spackle on that spot. And that one too. This knife is so cool!!

4. Wow! It only takes three hours!

5. This power sander is one helluva machine! Am I glad I put those dust masks in the shopping basket when Handsome wasn't looking..... I am totally rocking this!! I am modern woman, hear me sand!! This is a really great workout for the arms....Power Plates are for sissies. Oooooo, feel how smooth I got that wall! Weeeee!!!!

6. All this dust that I created with my powerful sanding! I rock!

7. 'Primer' is 'sous-couche', 'primer' is 'sous-couche'.... It's going to look so pretty when I'm done!

8. It only takes an hour! That's fast!

9. OOOOooooo!!! 'Orange Blossom' pretty!!!! This roller and extension pole really make painting the ceiling a snap! Oops! Almost fell over backwards over the bathtub....I guess I should just turn around...Whee!!! Look at my smooth sanded ceiling!

10. It only takes an hour to dry! I can't wait to see what it looks like!!

11. A second layer would make it just about perfect......weee!!!!

Him :

1. What the fuck? We have to wash all this? Even the ceiling? Jesus Christ, this is going to take so long....

2. Can I paint yet?

3. A little gob over here....Done! Can I paint yet?

4. Three fucking hours??? I am giving it an hour, max....

5. No I don't need the dust mask. Or the safety goggles. God this is a pain in the ass. And boring. Where did you say the dust mask and safety goggles were again?

6. No fucking way.

7. I'll just go over everything real quickly and then in an HOUR, MAX, I am painting this shit once and for all.

8. Is it dry yet? Can I paint now?

9. God, finally! Meh, looks okay, but it's DONE!

10. Done, done, done. In thirty minutes, I'm unpacking the boxes and the shit is going in its place and off the floor and out of the way ohmygod I can't it dry yet?

11. You have got to be fucking kidding me. NO. And we don't have any more paint. Thank GOD.

No tears were shed and nobody had a paint bucket hurled at them in the process. But I think it just might have inspired me to try more - gasp - projects. (Hi, Mom! Hi, Sis!)

Who woulda thought?

dimanche, avril 27, 2008


Even after more than 15 years of study and 4 years of living in France, there are still days when I come smack dab up against the realization that I can still make a ridiculous fool of myself in French.

It invariably happens at the worst possible moment.

Take for instance this week, while working a conference for IT bigwigs in Deauville. I'd been asked to lend a hand, and was more than happy to do so. The first evening, we were rounding up all the participants into buses to go to the organized dinner. The assistant I was helping has a rather laid-back style, in that she doesn't feel the need to do head counts to make sure every one is on the bus. She figures they're all adults, they knew what time the bus was leaving, and if they miss it, too bad for them.

This tends to make me nervous.

So there I was, standing in my red dress and high heels next to our local events planner, nervously scanning the hotel entrance and parking lot for last minute stragglers. The assistant I was helping was in casual conversation a few feet away with the guest of honor, the VIP of the evening. I wanted to do a quick check of the hotel lobby to make sure we had everyone, but not wanting to overstep my bounds, wanted to see that it was okay with her first.

I cupped my hands to my mouth and shouted across to her,

"Hey, Josephine! Don't you think I should turn a last trick in the hotel before we leave for dinner?"*

Everyone burst out laughing.

I am fucking brilliant.

*"Eh, Josephine, tu ne veux pas que j'aille faire une derniere passe dans l'hotel avant qu'on ne parte?"

mercredi, avril 02, 2008

Pour Laurette, Pour Annick

Two weeks ago I learned a colleague of mine, Laurette, a pleasant, positive woman in her late forties had a sudden brain aneurysm and had fallen into a coma. She had just gotten back from vacation and hadn't been stressed or sick.

It was jarring, most especially because she didn't appear to be one of those people who smile only with their mouths, their eyes and body language betraying sadness or depression or even ill will. When she smiled, her whole face followed, her head tilted a bit to the side. She always made time to say hello and ask how you were.

There was still hope she might pull through - the ambulance had been called right away.

She died last Saturday.

This is for Laurette, who brightened so many people's lives with a simple smile.


When I first started working on the CEO's floor almost four years ago, I was totally overwhelmed and scared to death I wasn't up to the task. I had never worked for someone as high profile as the CFO of a major corporation, never had to answer phone calls from government ministers, or arrange flights on private jets or coordinate with dedicated chauffeurs.

Every Thursday I had to distribute a weekly schedule of visitors and appointments (including where my boss would be eating) to the front desk, floor receptionist and special events coordinator. There was a restaurant on the floor below reserved for the executive board, complete with a personal chef and a white jacket-clad waiter. If there were visitors at lunch or breakfast, my boss would receive them in the private restaurant. If there were no mealtime visitors, he would often have the waiter bring him lunch in his office.

It always smelled divine.

Annick was the special events coordinator. She was in charge of the executive restaurant and other special events, like the annual champagne reception. Always impeccably dressed, not a hair out of place, she carried herself with poise. She knew the best tables in the city, the best florist and chocolatier, where to find the perfect oh-so-French corporate gift, and which card stock was appropriate for formal invitations.

She intimidated the hell out of me.

Because of this, I invariably made the dumbest mistakes on her section of the weekly schedule, and numerous times had to call her at the last minute to awkwardly sputter an explanation and ask for her help in fixing it. I was sure she despised me. Which of course made me make more mistakes. One day in my second month on the job, I couldn't stand it anymore. I went to her and assured her I wasn't a complete and total idiot, wanted very much to not unnecessarily complicate her life, and asked for her patience while I got the hang of things. It totally broke the ice.

I got to see her in a different light. We shared some good laughs about a few particularly despicable colleagues, and she grew to appreciate my extraverted and occasionally shockingly irreverent self, as I grew to appreciate, rather than be intimidated by, her style and class.

She revealed herself to be unfailingly generous. One day, I happened to mention that I couldn't find a punch bowl in the whole city for my annual egg nog party, and not only did she know immediately what I was talking about, but she also offered on the spot to lend me her (no doubt impeccable) set. In her perfect handwriting, she wrote me instructions how to get to her house in Versailles.

I arrived at the door of a lovely three storey grey stone house, a wrought iron gate surrounding the small garden in front. Annick was waiting at the front door and invited me in. She showed me into the living room and told me to make myself comfortable on the the black leather couch. Le Corbusier, of course.

Her husband came in to join us for a cocktail. Dressed in coal black jeans and button down shirt, he cut a handsome figure. He was relaxed, open and charming, asking me questions about myself and making me feel welcome. Annick sat on the other side of the room, her back razor straight. She didn't seem more relaxed at home than at the office. I had just finished an impersonation of our most hated colleague, which had made them both laugh, when she remarked that she had no idea I was so full of personality. I assured her she hadn't seen anything yet.

She had prepared the punch bowl and cups wrapped in newspaper and packed in sturdy shopping bags I could easily carry back with me on the train. Before I left, she asked her son in to play a piece for us on the piano, noting with exasperation that his piano teacher had let them know he preferred ragtime to Rachmaninov.

They all three walked me to the door and waved goodbye. It had been a refreshing visit and a nice change from the cramped quarters of Paris.

The punch bowl was the centrepiece of my egg nog party. I returned it to her at work and thanked her again for her kindness. She called me a week later to say she had been rearranging some things in her dining room and it had suddenly broken in her hands. She laughed it off saying at least it had gone out with a last bash.

When I left the CEO's floor after changing jobs, I didn't see her as often. We ate lunch together a few times, until one time she abruptly cancelled without explanation or any apparent desire to reschedule. The CEO's floor is a stressful place to work, and I assumed it was as simple as that.

More and more often, though, when I saw her and said hello, I felt her distance. She seemed changed - an emptiness had settled in her eyes.

On one occasion, I even felt her total indifference. I had called her to get her advice on a courier service to deliver a bottle of champagne and she curtly replied that I could always have it mailed. In a rush to fill the awkward silence, I gushed that I wanted to thank some people who had helped Handsome and me look at apartments, that had bought an apartment together and wasn't that great. I had no idea it was the worst possible thing I could have said.

"What do you want me to say, Penelope? Be happy," she shot back and hung up the phone. The total iciness in her voice left me stunned.

A few days later while I was eating with two friends, she passed by our table, paused to say hello and hesitated a bit, as if she had lost her way. She slowly walked by, a weak smile still frozen on her face.

"What on earth is wrong with Annick?" I asked. "Doesn't she seem a little out of it to you guys? She's got this strange look on her face. Is she on drugs?"

I didn't realize it at the time, but my friends deftly changed the subject. They knew she was going through a rough patch but didn't want to betray her confidence.

A few days after that, - on Good Friday to be exact - I was in the cafeteria by myself and saw her sitting alone, staring off into space, her hand bringing her fork up mechanically to her mouth. She seemed so incredibly lonely and sad. For a moment, I hesitated. I wanted to go over and sit down, ask her what was wrong, offer to help. But then I remembered how summarily she had brushed me off on the phone. I didn't feel like being told off again, so I walked past her and pretended I hadn't seen her.

Two days later, she committed suicide.

Annick was a very private person. The reasons that made her take her own life, the titillating details of her private life, have been spread around, discussed and analyzed ad nauseum. It was a shock to everyone. But despite the theories, opinions and analyses - which might be comforting to some - I'm not sure it's really possible to understand 'why'.

I can't get that image of her alone at the table out of my head. But I know it wouldn't have changed anything if I had stopped to talk to her.

There are those among us who appear to be put together, confident and polished, but are very fragile and cracked underneath. They can, one day, suddenly break apart in your hands.

I hope to handle the next ones I meet with more care and understanding.

This is for Annick. May she rest in peace.

jeudi, mars 20, 2008

Six Degrees of Separation

I, like a lot of people, read lots of blogs. I read Huffington Post and DailyKos for political news, Go Fug Yourself for a good laugh, regularly send the 'Crap Email from a Dude' section of Jezebel to girlfriends who are having boy trouble, and when I'm feeling down, get a boost from Cute Overload and the Daily Kitten. I am also addicted to several blogs written by smart funny women, be it Pioneer Woman, A Little Pregnant, Suburban Bliss, Dooce, Poundy, Finslippy, Amalah, Whoopee, One Good Thing, or Les Cadeaux.

These blogs make me feel connected, particularly to things in the US, something I don't want to lose for fear of becoming a snotty expatriate ass. I have met my share of holier-than-thou expats, and they are some of the most insufferable people on earth. I even made my friends back home promise me that if I ever started to act like my shit didn't stink because I live in PAAAAARIS, they would personally come knock some sense into me pronto.

I don't comment very often on the blogs I read, mostly because I don't feel the need to add to what are invariably interesting, funny and thoughtful posts, but occasionally there comes a time when I absolutely have to share. The other day, I read on Molly's blog, Les Cadeaux, a post in which she talked about getting divorced and starting over at 33. I was moved by the grace of her writing, and added my comment to share my own experience with divorce, in hopes it would give her a little boost. She sweetly sent me an email thanking me for my comment, and I wrote her back. At the same time, I was exchanging emails with my sister about things totally unrelated.

The next day, I came into work to find an email from my sister with the subject line 'Not to Freak You Out But' and the verbatim text of my comment on Molly's blog with 'sound familiar?' added to the end. I suddenly panicked, thinking I had inadvertently sent the comment to my sister instead - and god she must think I've lost it. But it turns out a friend of my sister's also reads Molly's blog, had seen my comment, and called my sister the next morning to say, 'I think I know who your sister is!'

Sorta freaky, sorta cool, non?

Which now makes me think I really should update my blog more often. You know, if people besides my immediate family and friends are actually reading it.

There are actually people reading this, right?

jeudi, février 07, 2008

Cultural Differences

A colleague of mine sent me an email the other day asking for some translation help. As the executive assistant to one of the big bosses, she was preparing a meeting in Paris with some foreign executives, and had written the assistant of one of them to ask what they typically had for breakfast. The reply had her mystified, which led her to seek out my help.

'Miss Penelope,' her email read, 'could you help me out with what this means? I am at a loss!'

I scanned the list, and to my horror, saw the foreign assistant's original message :

"They prefer to eat fresh fruits such as cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, mango and papaya. In the mornings, fresh fruit, cinnamon raisin bagel with honey nut cream cheese, coffee with two brown sugar (sugar in the raw) and hazel nut creamer. They especially enjoy Aquafina water, cranberry juice and Tropicana apple juice. . "

My colleague had highlighted the words she could not immediately understand :

Cinnamon raisin bagel
Honey nut cream cheese
Sugar in the raw
Hazelnut creamer
Aquafina water

I sent her my best attempt (there is no way to translate 'hazelnut creamer' - thank god.) but I didn't at first understand why she needed these particularly American items translated. I picked up the phone.

'Hi, it's me. Um, what is this for?' I asked. I couldn't imagine she was putting this in a presentation. My company is hardly Kraft Foods, after all. She explained she had to organize a breakfast meeting and just wanted to make sure she got the right things for everyone.

'Is there an American grocery store in Paris where I can find this stuff?' she asked, sounding a little desperate.

'Oh thank god, no,' I said, 'Heaven forbid! It's bad enough you guys have fucking Oreo cookie fucking cereal but if you start stocking hazelnut creamer I swear I'll jump off the Eiffel Tower in despair.'

There was a slight uncomfortable silence on the other end.

'Let me explain what 'hazelnut creamer' is. 'Creamer' is an entirely processed white liquid made to look like milk, but doesn't have the slightest drop of anything naturally occurring, like, oh I don't know, cream, to which is then added entirely fake hazelnut flavoring. You put this in your coffee.'

'Oh my,' she replied.

'Exactly,' I said, 'and, okay, bagels. You can find bagels in the Jewish quarter, but they are certainly not going to be fucking cinnamon raisin, for god's sake, and if you are remotely able to find cream cheese, it absolutely will not be goddamn honey nut.'

'Okay,' she said slowly, sensing she just needed to let me blow off the steam.

'And Aquafina water? Does this person actually think it is necessary to specify the brand name of fucking bottled water? It's like if you told someone in buttfuck Indiana that your boss needed to have a liter bottle of Panna, Lavazza espresso, pain au lait and chouquettes, with a heaping bowl of mirabelles and reines claudes.'

'I see,' she said, sounding relieved she wouldn't be schlepping all over the Marais.

'I'm going to hazard a guess,' I continued, 'this person who responded to you has never left the United States.'

'I suppose not,' she replied.

'Look, this is what you do : you order a nice quantity of croissants and pain au chocolat - everybody loves them - some fresh fruit, some bottled water and coffee, and it will be just fine. Trust me.'

And Time magazine declared French culture dead.

Not quite yet.

mercredi, janvier 16, 2008

Only in France

In reading the paper the other day, my eye was drawn to a small article titled 'Bomb Scare in Créteil.' A suspicious package was found in a municipal office in Créteil (a Paris suburb) and the building's 60 odd workers were evacuated until the package could be inspected. Police arrived on scene.

In France, good wishes for the new year are sent out all throughout the month of January, so cards and presents are still trickling in people's homes and offices.

The suspicious package turned out to be rather harmless. Not a bomb or anthrax, it was instead a generous gift to the municipal workers of Créteil in the form of a nice size jar of foie gras. Traditional for the new year.

Only in France, kids, only in France.