Sunday, November 28, 2010

A How to Marry a Frenchman Party!

Let's have a Party! 

For any of you who are currently in love with a Frenchman, thinking about falling in love with a Frenchman or at some point were in love with a Frenchman and in Paris on December the 7th... please join me for a little meet and greet party. 

Where: La Fourmi (bar/café) 74 rue Martyrs 75018, Metro Pigalle. 

When: Tuesday December 7th, 6:30pm
NEW TIME! We've moved things up to 6:30.  

Why: Because I would love to meet you guys and kick off the holiday season! 

RSVP by leaving a comment. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sprinkles, Seltzers & Suppositories

My preferred form of medication is liquid gel caps, like dayquil. Brightly colored, small, easy to swallow, flavorless and fast-acting these little pills make taking medicine a treat. The French and I appear to disagree on this point.

Never in my life have I been given such an odd assortment of powders, sprays, beads and waxy torpedo shaped tablets than while I was in the maternité. I had a natural birth mind you, but that doesn't mean you don't get a few things to help you along and more than a few things to help put yourself back together.

During the birthing process I was given Fleurs de Bach which a tincture of wild flowers soaked in cognac. As I was laboring away Sylvie offered me some and explained to me that this potion is designed to soothe you in times of emotional distress, "Like when you have just been in a car accident or when you are giving birth for example..." Perfect! I'll take mine on the rocks with a brandied cherry s'il vous plaît! Unfortunately this stuff is administered in a far less sexy vessel, a little rubber topped eye-dropper that gives you one tiny droplet at a time under your tongue. The French believe that the soft fleshy tissue under your tongue is one of the best places to administer medicine because is absorbs things quickly.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Mushy Moment

It's Thanksgiving week and in our family on Thanksgiving day, before we sit down to eat, we go around the table and say what we are thankful for. I have plenty of new things on the list of what I am thankful for this year, a healthy happy baby girl certainly has a spot on there. But also for the first time this blog has made the short list.

Since my arrival in Paris three years ago it has been a struggle to find my footing and find my voice in this foreign land. Sharing my stories with all of you has been a wonderful creative outlet and reading your comments and emails has helped me feel connected.

So what I am trying to say here is thank you to you my readers! Thank you for your time, thank you for your comments, suggestions, stories, spelling corrections and all the rest. This year I am thankful for you.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

So, what do you do?

As I slowly master the art of typing with one hand, you may notice that the next few posts come out in bits and snip-its. Bear with me. 

When in America and at a cocktail party or BBQ and you are meeting someone for the first time, one of the classic get to know you questions is...

"So, Bob, what do you do?"
"Well, Jim, I am in waste management."
"How interesting Bob! You know, I have always been curious about why we can recycle plastic bottles but not the plastic caps..."

And voilà! The conversation is launched.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Vaginal Re-education

It has been over two months since a very large object (Colette) came out a very small exit (my vagina). Not everyone likes to talk about the gory mechanics of childbirth and recovery, but I will tell you who does, the French! That's who!

I was wandering through the fabric shops in Marché St Pierre with my mother last week when a sales woman stopped me to tell me how beautiful she thought Colette was. We began to chat and she asked me how old Coco is, I told her two months. "Two months? But she's enormous!" she exclaimed. I smiled politely and continued to look through the bolts of floral fabric. "If you are making a dress you are really going to need a lot of yardage... oh la la she is just so big!"*. I smiled less politely this time. After a brief pause she then leaned over and whispered, "And the birth? I mean were you able to push her out yourself or..." she trailed off while waggling her fingers in the direction of my private parts. "Well it was a tight fit but here she is!" I replied laughing uncomfortably as I backed out of the store trying to translate this exchange into English to my mother's horror.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The BIG Day

On August 12th, one day after her French due date, Colette decided that she was ready to come out and greet the world. At 5am I was up and having contractions that seemed like they meant business! I left Grégoire to sleep, knowing he was going to have a long day ahead of him involving screaming and hand squeezing and thus he would need his strength.

I hopped online and was thrilled to see my best friend Katie was online too. I immediately called her on a video chat and sat on the couch with her chitchatting between contractions. Soon Grég was up and we decided to call our midwife Sylive to tell her that we think la fête had officially begun. She was in her car at the time, coming back from a patient's home, so she offered to swing by our apartment to check on us. How luxurious! She came in, we had tea, she looked at my lady parts and said that things seem to be progressing nicely. She suggested we take a little walk through the neighborhood to help move the baby further down the shoot, then come in to la maternité in a hour or so. And so we ventured out..

Paris is mostly drained of Parisians during the month of August but that doesn't mean it isn't busy. Tourist spots are buzzing with Italians, Spaniards and Americans. On that day our neighborhood of Montmartre was crawling with visitors meandering the confusing little lanes of our village on their way to Sacré Coeur. As we left the house and lumbered down our street I know we bewildered a tourist or two, who was likely already a little turned around because if they were hoping to get to the church they should have turned left not right on to our street. No time for tourists today! I had a baby to get out! So I walked for 4 minutes, paused, leaned against Greg or grabbed a lamppost and groaned through a contraction, and then continued on my next 4 minutes of walking and so on and so forth until it was time to call Kristen, our fantastic friend and driver.

By noon we were at the hospital and up in our penthouse pre-birthing suite. Sylvie was drawing a bath and Grégoire was running around making sure I had everything I needed. There was a third person there that day, a fresh-faced intern who was there to experience her first natural birth. She was full of questions and asked me an hour later how many centimeters I had dilated? Sylvie snapped at her and said that she doesn't clutter her patient's minds with that sort of extraneous information! Sylvie turned to me and said "You are dilating beautifully and things are progressing nicely and that's all you need to know". I was in fact thankful for her ambiguity because otherwise I probably would have started to make some sort of cacamayme excel spread sheet in my mind about how many hours it took me to get to this many centimeters, multiplied by the amount of pain I was in now, divided by the exponential increase in volume of my moaning...

Luckily there wasn't much time for that because moments later it was determined that it was time to go to the birthing room! I put my clothes back on (that's right! even when giving birth in a hospital you don't get a paper gown!) and made my way to the elevator which is the size of a phone booth thus only had room for me, my belly and Grégoire. Sylvie waved and dashed for the stairs saying, "I'll see you down there! Try not to have your water break in the elevator!".

Eight floors down we arrived in a much more serious room, no bathtub, no view of the eiffel tower, no jazzy background music... it was time to get down to business. Sylvie asked if I felt like pushing, I said I was willing to give it a try. I pushed a little and Sylvie said she could see the head. "Fantastique!" I thought. We arrived at the hospital at noon, it was now 3:30 and we could already see the head, this was going swimmingly.

And then bébé stopped swimming and decided to tread water for the next three and a half hours. Some something about my tailbone getting in the way but I am persuaded that the delay had more to do with the increasingly fickle French nature of this baby.

At this point things were getting tricky for the baby and I, so Sylvie made a call to the back up doctor and said the words Emergency and Vacuum... given that she only gave information on a need to know basis I decided that if she was saying those words it must be serious. Dr George however did not pick up his phone nor call back so it was up to us! We had to get this baby out old-school style. We launched in to an exhaustive effort to find the perfect birthing position. Sitting up, laying down, on all fours, on a ball and finally the birthing stool which looked more like a small garbage can with a toilet seat glued on top of it than a stool.... I told her that esthetically that one just wasn't going to work for me. During labor your mind wanders and while I was in pain and huffing and puffing this baby out all I could thing about when facing that so-called birthing stool was 'where is my camera?! I wish I could take a picture of this ugly contraption for the blog!'.

But alas, after doing every posture in the karma sutra book of birth bébé wasn't budging so Sylvie decided we needed to call in the big guns, Willy the Baby Whisperer. Willy is an extraordinary character and a superstar in the world of midwifery. He is short and stout with a thick mustache, curly chest-hair that tuffets out of his slightly unbuttoned chemise and sparkly gentle eyes. Willy walked in, introduced himself to me, Grégoire and my belly. He asked bébé by if they felt like coming out to meet their parents, he then paused (possibly for dramatic effect, possibly because he was listening carefully) and declared that the baby did indeed want to come out and we should get on with it!

Willy then climbed up on a stool alongside the bed. I was laying back at this point with my feet in the air. Greg was holding on to one leg, the now throughly traumatized intern was holding the other. Sylvie was squatting in catchers position at the end of the bed and Willy had both hands on my belly readying to help push this baby out!

On the next few contractions Willy's was pushing, I was pushing and everyone in the room suddenly switched to English and started saying "Puuuuuuoooosh! Again again again! Puuuuuuuuuooooosh!" in the most hysterical French accent I have every heard. Speaking of hysterical, I was obviously starting to loose it because in that particular moment all I could think about was the fact that French people often translate the word encore by the word again and that in this instance again is not the best way to translate encore.... but before I had the time to decide what a better word would be little Colette came shooting out like a champagne cork.

Colette - 8lbs3oz

Friday, August 20, 2010

It's a girl!

Colette was born last Thursday evening at the very civilized hour of 7:45pm. We are back at home now and enjoying the customary parade of visitors and endless stream of phone calls from every French person we have ever know wishing us well.
My favorite comment so far has come from the mouth of my self-proclaimed French Mother, Odile, "Well yes, ma belle, babies are a lot more fun going in then they are coming out!"

Friday, August 6, 2010

Whose side are you on?!

Dear unborn child,

We had discussed a 40 week stay. Yet here we are at 40.5 weeks and I find you dilly-dallying down there with what appears to be zero intention of holding up your end of the bargain. Frankly I am a little disappointed in your behavior at this point.

I don't want to make this in to a whole France vs America thing but I know that you know that in America we say that pregnancy lasts 40 weeks and that the French claim that pregnancy lasts 41 weeks but come on now... whose belly are you in?

This is surely going to be one of several stands that you are going to need to make throughout your life. Will your first word be no or non? At the age of 16 will it be more important to you to have your drivers license or have the ability to order a glass of wine at a bar? Will you eat your pizza with a fork and knife or will you use your hands? Will you say things like see you at 15h or see you at 3pm? Will you bake your cakes using cups or the scale? Will you blast past your American due date (the 4th of August) in favor of your French due date (the 11th of August) just to prove a point to your mother?

All I am saying, sweetheart, is that the early bird catches the worm. And I know you may be tempted to listen to all of these laissez faire French people surrounding you who have a tendency to be vague with deadlines and say things like "Your internet will be switched on sometime during the next 2 to 12 weeks" and "Let's meet at 10 and by 10 I mean 11". I can only imagine that the French's religious attachment to the idea of not doing anything in the month of August except drink rose and tan themselves on the beach is also throwing you off... but what sort of attitude is that to have?  May I remind you that you are half Campbell and we are a family of go getters who start as they mean to continue and who (with the exception of your mother and grandmother) show up on time.

So let's get this show on the road!


Your Mother.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Lately my posts have been focused on bellies, bumps and babies. At this point it only seems fair to throw in a post about balls. This particular entry has been on my mind ever since I moved here, my delay in writing it has to do with my lack of photographic evidence but I will just have to use my words (and possibly a stolen image or two) as a substitute.

The French love testicles. They don't hide them under grape leaves, they don't  shelter them with baggy swim-wear, they rarely remove them from their pet dogs and occasionally they savor them sautéd with cream sauce. NOTE Rongons Blancs is the seemingly innocent name given ram testicles often listed on fancy French menus. 

Growing up I was more of a cat person than a dog person and to be honest with you, I have never taken a great interest in feline or canine anatomy. Based on the fact that I never noticed any dog testicles in the States, I innocently concluded that dog genitalia was tucked up under their bellies and only protruded when their was work/play to be done. I was satisfied with this answer and left the topic alone.  However when I arrived in Paris, a city who loves their dogs and firmly disagrees with Bob Barker, I was honestly caught off guard by the sheer size and visibility of dog testicles and was forced to reevaluate my previous conclusion. I was shocked to discover that A. Neutering your dog actually involves removing their testicles (I assumed it was more like a human vasectomy... more on that in a moment) and B. That dog balls are so... well... eye catching.

image stolen from the internet 

While I have not found the right time or place to ask a Parisian dog owner if I may photograph their dog's testis for my blog (lack of balls on my part you might say?!) I have had the pleasure of speaking to a few dog owners about this topic. My favorite conversation was with a manly boat captain who was the master of a giant bulldog, whose bulging testicles made him waddle instead of walk. When I inquired about why he chose not to neuter his pup, he looked at me strangely, like I had just asked him why he had elected to not cut of his dog's ears? After seeing that my question was a serious one, he took a moment to think about it then grinned and said, "Why should I have all the fun?". 

Now not all French people feel this way. The Original Madame was in town last week and was gushing with pride when she described her new West Highland Terrier, Ebo, to us. Ebo is the cream of the crop with pedigreed parents, a shiny white coat, perfect proportions, evenly spaced eyes and so on and so on. As part of her elaborate description of just how fabulous this dog is, she noted that even a small sample of his sperm is worth hundreds of Euros and that there are countless female dog owners who would happily pay top dollar to roll around in the sac with a handsome fellow like Ebo. My ears perked up when I heard this and Grégoire's eyes briefly unglazed because he and I have been looking for ways for Madame to entertain herself as she enters her golden years of retirement and earn a little pocket money. This seemed perfect! For the rest of her stay we encouraged her not to castrate Ebo and instead to start a little Westie stud service in Southern Brittany. She seemed somewhat onboard with the idea but upon her return to Quiberon she found Edo humping her newly embroidered couch cushions and lost it. Ebo consequently lost his balls this weekend and will be sharing his prize winning sperm with no one.  
well designed government issued brochure

Moving on to the topic of human males and their balls, I would like to tell you about birthing class last week. We discussed post-partem issues including contraception. Sylvie, our mid-wife and class leader, passed out stylish brochures from the government listing the various creams and contraptions one can use to prevent a second pregnancy too close to first. She then said, staring at me, "Class, you will note that vasectomies are not listed here because they are illegal* in France... unlike in SOME counties... isn't that right Mary?". I was honestly surprised and said, louder than I planned, "What! Why?". Eva, the Danish chick in my class was right there with me pointing out that vasectomies were permitted in Denmark. Sylvie then explained to the group that the French government considered vasectomies to be a form of self mutilation and that in any case men are incapable of making that kind of permanent decision, "I mean, can you imagine Mary if that poor man changes his mind?".

This kind of logic is a classic example of Negative Freedom vs Positive Freedom, a concept that I would like to delve into soon in another post. Essentially Negative Freedom limits your choices so you are free from having to make mistakes like neutering yourself and Positive Freedom puts it all on the table and lets you decide what is and isn't a good choice for you. France has a long history with Negative Freedom while America prefers Positive Freedom.

Irregardless, my class's (and my husband's) verdict was clear, they all looked at me with eyes that said "Torturing terrorists and capital punishment isn't enough for you people? You also have to dabble in genital mutilation? What's next?". 

So vive les testicules I suppose! At the very least this phenomenon explains why Paris is teaming with dogs and babies.

* I wanted to do a little further research on the legality of vasectomies in France and found this interesting article about a Frenchman's struggle to get around the current law: 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I HEART Pregnant Ladies

The whole I heart trend swept though Paris this year in the form of stickers, sweatshirts, graffiti and more. While everyone strives to put an original spin on it, the only I HEART _____ that really caught my eye was this sticker stuck to a scooter parked infront of the agency...

Translation: I HEART nothing. I am Parisian. (Note: this rhymes in French making it all the funnier in my opinion)

I love this sticker on so many levels. Parisians really do appear to love nothing and even the few things they secretly do love they happily criticize from time to time just to keep things consistent. The one enormous exception to this rule is pregnant ladies. Never have I experienced so much love, affection and attention from my fellow city dwellers then I have over the past few months.

Not only does everyone I meet (aunt, baker, banker, boss, co-worker, cleaning lady, delivery guy, doorman...) want to talk to me about out my pregnancy, they all want to compliment me and cheer me on! Wishing me bon courage! And telling me what a great job I am doing!

The first set of comments and compliments rolled in at around five months when my belly started to show. The Parisian women in my life peeped up first, commenting on the size and shape of my expanding midsection. "Oh la la Mary, the shape of your belly is so perfectly round! How lucky you are!" or "Mary, pregnancy suites you so well! Look at the curves of this bump it is perfect!". They discussed and drooled over my tummy as if it were the new must have accessory for the summer that my ultra rich husband bought for me as a gift.

Adoration of the bump soon expanded from my private circle of acquaintances to the sphere of public art. It was both part of me and not part of me, it was as if I had sculpted something lovely for the whole world to look at, admire and comment on. Parisians who are known to stomp the streets wearing their funeral faces would briefly remove their stoney masks and smile at my belly or make a kind remark. Note: Never did a Parisian run up and touch my belly, something people from the States warned me about and something I was preparing for mentally. Must be too close to hugging for their comfort.

I should tell you that it is not just the women; as I was walking down the street I overheard two young men sitting in a café say, "Ahhh look at her! Some guys are just lucky as I guess.". I also had a charming old man stop me as he exited the bakery one morning to say to me with admiring eyes, "Félicitations madame! Go make us a beautiful baby!". Who the 'us' is in this sentence is open-ended. I am assuming he means us as in Team France as in go forth young lady and make a beautiful French baby who we can add to the ranks of tax-paying-French-speaking-citizens-of-the-world... I can't help but wonder if I were not a young, fair skinned brunette if he would have said the same thing?

In addition to the kind words that swirl around pregnant Parisians there are all kinds of kind gestures that are offered to make sure we are as comfortable as possible. This is most notable when riding the public transit system in Paris. People practically leap out of their seats when they see you insisting that you take their spot. At times more than one person will offer and then a small debate amongst the travelers will ensue, "Take my seat in the corner madame, you will be more protected here" followed by "Non non madame take my seat by the window you will be more comfortable here!".
Last week I hopped on the bus. Buses in Paris are a lovely airy luminous alternative to the underground  metro and have the added benefit of not having to hike up and down stairs with a giant belly, a stroller or a walking cane. Because of this, buses in Paris are stuffed full of the old, the pregnant and the leagues of parents burdened with strollers and toddlers. In this kind of environment I believe almost everyone deserves a seat, but again, fair or unfair, pregnant ladies trump all! When I got on the bus last week I saw that all the seats were filled with young mothers and the elderly. No one offered me their spot which seems logical to me, plus I was feeling fine standing up so I grabbed the bar and was ready to depart. Just then, the bus driver looked in the mirror, opened the door to his little cabin, stepped out and announced to the bus that he was not leaving until someone offered me a seat! I assured him that I was fine and this wasn't necessary and he simply wouldn't not hear it.

So while in a few weeks form now when this little bébé is born I will certainly not miss my swollen ankles and killer heart burn, I will almost certainly miss the rare affection and attention of my fellow urban dwellers reserved for pregnant ladies. Although who knows how much they heart babies?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Italian Method

Oh la la! My midwife cracked me up today in our birthing class. Today the topic was Contractions. Two of the best things I have ever heard her say were....

1. Sylvie explained, "There are all sorts of ways to jump start contractions. There are drugs you can put in an IV, you can take a long walk up hill... you can try it à l'Italienne (the Italian Method) which essentially involves having lots of sex with your husband right around your due date." Oh Italians! Do you deserve this title? Or is this another Turkish Toilet situation?!

2. One of the other mothers-to-be in the class asked Sylvie if the baby would be uncomfortable during contractions? "Oh no no no. That little baby will be sitting in your uterus clam and happy like it had just smoked a fat doobie. Those happy hormones will be running through your veins and his. Nature has this one covered." I wonder if this phenomenon contributes to a baby's desire to immediately eat when he is born?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Maison de Naissance

On my way to work this morning I was stopped by a lady who just found out that she is pregnant and wanted to know where I was going to give birth... from the way she was eyeballing my belly she seemed to think that I might be on my way there that very moment. I told this lady all about the fantastic place we are giving birth and as I was going on and on about it, I realized I haven't even told you!

I am now 33 weeks into this adventure and running more or less on schedule, but back when I was 15 weeks, I was in serious trouble for not properly adhering to the Parisian-Pregnancy-Timeline.

According to all of the women I spoke to, I should have signed up for a spot at a maternité (the maternity ward of a hospital) at least 17 weeks earlier.... that's right, 2 full weeks before I even knew I was pregnant. Why? You ask? Apparently because the number of ladies giving birth and the number of beds in which to do so are grossly out of balance in Paris. Based on several solid sources, women who are trying to get pregnant should sign up for a spot at the maternité every month and then cancel it if their pregnancy test doesn't come up positive. And if they haven't called in advance then they should call the hospital to book a bed immediately after peeing on the stick... before calling a doctor to confirm the pregnancy... before calling your mother to share the good news.

At 15 weeks I was yet to sign up for a maternité... to the complete horror and dismay of my French family, friends and coworkers. Why was I dragging my feet? You ask? Well, in a world where healthcare is supposed to be free, I had somehow managed to find one of the only non-free doctors in Paris. Dr Menard a lovely lady, a highly qualified private doctor dedicated to women's health (birthing babies, doing gynecological exams, performing surgery and researching feminine cancers... something near and dear to my heart). She, however, charged 80€ a visit compared to public doctors who charge nothing and she charged 1,400€ to make an appearance on your big day, again compared to doctors in public hospitals who charge nothing. So 80€ multiplied by 9 monthly visits, plus a 1,400€ showing up fee, in addition to the bed fee at her private clinic add up to spending over 2,500€ more than we would in a public hospital. And to be frank she seemed rather bored with my healthy normal pregnancy and my basic questions, so we decided to take a closer look at the public hospital scene.

I walked over to Lariboisière, the public hospital closest to our house. The building itself is almost regal looking from a distance with a lush courtyard and tall clock tower. Once you get up close however it is a different story, the interior is... well... in an elegant form of decay, sort of like Venice. Cracked marble staircases, once noble chandeliers dangling from a wire and dark greasy smudges on the wallpaper. I ventured though the main building to the maternity ward that is housed in an unusual looking addition, which based on the sculpted burned brick and orange vinyl panneling, must have been built in the early 70's.

Security was tight, the thick glass wall perforated with a microphone sitting between you and the person sitting at the information desk felt unwelcoming. The woman behind the desk buzzed me into the waiting room that resembled a cross between the waiting area of a gritty interurban train station and the visitor's area of a prison. Nothing about this place felt nurturing, welcoming or pleasant. Still, I thought I should stay and sign up for a spot so we would at least have the option. I took a ticket as if I were at the butchers shop and waited my turn. When my number came up, the tired looking woman at the desk almost choked when I told her the date of my last period and she replied, "October 17th? Are you joking madame?? You should have come in months ago!" She then wished me luck and told me that I should receive an official reply in 10 to 15 business days through the mail. Why she couldn't just look it up on the spot, I can't say.

That week Grégoire and I contemplated our options, feeling rather unenthusiastic with both. That weekend we watched the documentary the Business of Being Born that was a total game changer for us. For those unfamiliar with the movie, here is the trailer... 

Immediately upon finishing the movie, Grég and I both hopped on our laptops to start looking up independent midwives in Paris. The first place we found that got us really excited was CALM (comme à la maison or like at home in English). This politically active group is fully focused on the revival of traditional natural births and birthing experiences that empower women. After attending one of their meetings and seeing their Maison de Naissance or Birthing House we were sold. It seemed to be the best of both worlds, a friendly home like environment with a bathtub and a fold out couch for the dad, a kitchen for making snacks and soft lighting. All of this homey comfort combined with the fact that is was physically attached to the Hospital Les Bluets so if anything serious were to go awry a crew of doctors and surgeons were literally down the hall.

Saddly there was no room at the inn, I had thoughtlessly gotten pregnant in the fall and thus am having this baby right in the middle of summer vacation which doesn't work well with the sacred and strict French calendar.

The good news was that now at least we knew what we were looking for, a Maison de Naisance. The next one we found (there are only 3 in all of Paris) was La Groupe de Naissance in the 11th and is absolutely perfect for us!

It is situated on the top floor of the hospital Mona Lisa Clinique Léonard de Vinici in the 11th. The space is like CALM designed to feel more like a home than a hospital and is physically attached to a clinic so again surgeons and operation rooms are just down the hall. The group aspect of the Groupe de Naissance refers to the fact that a small group of mid-wives (6 to be exact) have partnered with two doctors (one is a surgeon one is a obstetrician) and two counselors who all share the same philosophy about giving birth: Giving birth should be everything you want it to be and we are here to make that happen for you. You would like to give birth on all fours while mooing like a cow? Pas de probleme. You would like to give birth with an epidural while listening to the Beattles? We are happy to accommodate you. You don't want anyone in the birthing suite with you other than your husband and your midwife? Why that is what we do best.

In a land where conformity is king and state run maternités are run like production lines there is precious little room for individuality or for doing things on your own terms... two very American concepts that are typically scoffed at in France. So when I met the mid-wives of the Groupe de Naissance and asked them what the birthing experience is like in their clinic, the midwife turned the question to me and asked me, "Well madame that depends, tell me what you would like your birth experience to be like?" No one had asked me that yet so I took a minute and replied to her question explaining my desires to have a natural birth in an environment surrounded by people who are telling me that I can do it, not that I can't or I can but probably shouldn't. I told her about my deepest fear of being bombarded by disgruntled state workers who have been working in hospitals all their lives and boss pregnant women around for sport. I told her that I never want people to say, 'are you joking madame?!' when I ask them something. I told her I wanted that day to be beautiful and special and intimate. And that above all I didn't want any strangers or florescent lighting in the birthing suite." She listened, she nodded, she looked at me and said, "That sounds wonderful."

Suspicious of her all too quick reply, I said, "That sounds wonderful, so....?""So that's what we'll do. In this clinic we center each birth around you and what you want to do. Every month you will meet for an hour with the same midwife who will attend your birth and follow up with you at home after the birth. We do all of the necessary medical exams and also spend time talking about your feelings and planning your birthing experience. The entire group will study your case once a week and support your midwife who in turn supports you" she explained.

She suggested I read their mission statement, which is as follows:

L’Accompagnement Global de la Naissance

Accompagner quelqu’un, ce n’est pas le précéder, ni indiquer la route, lui imposer un itinéraire,
ni même connaître la direction qu’il veut prendre, mais c’est marcher à ses cotés
en le laissant libre de choisir son chemin et le rythme de ses pas.

Global Accompaniment of Birth

To accompany someone isn't to precede them, nor to give them directions or impose your itinerary on to them, it is not even to ask them which way they would like to go, 
but rather it is to walk next to them, side by side leaving them the liberty to choose their own road and rhythm of their steps.

"Oh" I said, with tears of joy in my eyes, "where to I sign up?"


Groupe de Naissance
06 69 75 20 64

Financial Details:

Given that this is a private practice and not a public hospital they do have additional fees but I am all too happy to pay them! Each monthly visit cost 13€ and the big day costs 1,000€ so while it is far more expensive than free it is money well spent if you ask me. 

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Glaring is Caring

Sitting in cafés and people watching is a national past-time here in Paris and a sport that visitors quickly pick up on. There are slight variations to the rules to people watching in France when compared to people watching in America. The principal differences are that in France blatant staring is permitted and smiling is considered to be amateur and is unacceptable in the major leagues.

Parisians not only play people watching while sitting in cafés or in parks, they play while moving around the city. Players walk the streets in their own personal bubble, not greeting the people around them, not smiling at anyone. This technique helps them avoid over-stimulation and frees them up to stare at passersby more openly since they feel somewhat insulated from the rest of the field. I would compare this phenomenon to the 'car bubble' that most Americans are familiar with. Drivers often pick their nose, inspect their teeth or openly stare at fellow drivers as if their windows were one-way mirrors and the others couldn't see them.

I highly suggest visitors to Paris try their hand at people watching, if you are nervous about staring at strangers you may want to start off by wearing dark sunglasses. As you begin to feel more comfortable, take those glasses off! NOTE: Do not stare and smile. Only stare. Smiling will add an addition level of meaning to your stares that could get you in a whole load of trouble.. more on that another day.

At times, people watching in Paris is taken to the next level. Parisians may not merely stare at you, they may in fact glare. This is a technical aspect to the game that alarms most foreign players so I would like to spend some time talking about it. If a French person glares are you do not be alarmed mon ami! These are not anti-American glares! These are not glares of hatred! No, they are glares of interest, of concern and of care for your well-being. Allow me to illustrate...

It was a cold spring day. The sun was out, but there was a chill in the air. Assuming that  things will heat up later in the day, I stuck to my original plan of wearing my new red espadrills sans socks and added a scarf and coat to my ensemble to keep warm on my way to the office. Admittedly my outfit was a little disjointed, winter on top, spring on the bottom, but I decided to go with it anyway. As soon as I arrived at work all three of the ladies standing next to the coffee machine stared/glared at my feet. "Isn't it a little early for espadrilles?!", said one. "Your feet must be freezing Mary, that's a little irresponsible don't you think? Especially for a woman in your delicate condition!" said the other. The third just shook her head, stirred their coffee and glared at my offensive and dangerous choice of footwear. Now all of this glaring should not be misinterpreted to mean that these ladies do not like my cute red shoes, oh no, these glares really translate to concern for my well-being and health.

As we have learned, the French firmly believe that being cold can give you a cold and that nothing increases your chances of falling ill more than exposing your delicate neck skin with a scarf or uncovering your fragile ankles too early in the season. A similar incident occured last fall while leading a tour last year with my friends Ritzy and John. We received more than one glare from the Parisians around us. Ritzy picked up on this and assumed people were glaring at us because we were tourists being too touristy. "No no no Ritzy, they are not staring at us because we are tourists", I explained, "they are staring at ME because I am wearing this boat neck dress with no scarf in September and they are concerned that I will get a cold. So while it feels like those nasty looks are filled with distain or dislike, really they are filled with worry for my health and disapproval of my reckless wardrobe choices.".

These caring glares are not limited to clothing (or the lack their of), Parisians also freely glare at people's food and beverage choices. For example, I had a business meeting in a café recently with a fellow American travel writer (who specializes in Eastern Europe... not France). He ordered a café au lait and a citron pressé. The server hesitated, looked to me to make sure that the person I was sitting across from did in fact just order what he think he ordered, furrowed his brow at my nod, spun around and glared at us as he prepared our drinks. My friend stirred his coffee and asked me "Wait, what just happened there Mary? Did my terrible accent offend him?!". "Well... a number of things are going on here, none of which have to do with your accent. First of all café au lait is a breakfast-only beverage and it is 5 o'clock in the evening. Secondly, the French rarely order two drinks at the same time. So while the server might find those two things odd (hence the glance at me to make sure he understood you correctly) the glaring is casued by concern for your digestive system. The French only drink café au lait in the morning because they believe that amount of milk is too difficult to digest later in the day. On top of this milkly mistep, you ordered an acidic lemonade that may curdle the milk in your stomach making digestion even more difficult for you. So the reason he stared at you is because he cares about you and your little tummy. See? It's that sweet?".

Glaring is caring in France. Give it a try.

Monday, April 19, 2010

5 x 0 = 0

One of the most memorable lines from my mother's visit to Paris came from my husband's mouth. My mother was reading out-loud from one of those pregnancy books looking for facts to back her apartment remodeling agenda.  "Ahh ha!" she cried, "Here it says that a woman's nesting instinct is multiplied by a five during pregnancy. Mary, are you sure that you don't want to sort through the junk in the living room closet? Mathematically speaking you should be jumping at the chance!".

To this my dear husband says, "Yes Debbie, but five times zero still equals zero!"

It is true, for the time being I do not feel the slightest increase in desire to scrub our apartment with a toothbrush, alphabetize our piles of magazines or sort through my sock drawer. Maybe that will kick in later. If I play my cards right, it will kick in when I am too big to move and can simply art direct from the comfort of my couch.

While I have not felt the urge to clean I have had a very strong desire to create... stuffed animals out of old shrunken sweaters to be specific. That must mean something! Here is a picture of an octopus, an owl and a robot that I recently finished.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Vocabulary Lesson Part IV

We Americans are enthusiastic by nature. This fact is evident when you hear us describe things; our everyday vocabulary is bursting at the seams with adjectives and exclamation points! How am I doing today? I am great, fantastic, wonderful. What do I think of this quiche? Oh I think it is delicious, amazing, out of this world.  Do I like this music? Like it? I love it! I think this music is rockin-awesome! As you can see, when the adjectives in the dictionary no longer suffice, we don't hesitate to combine and invent even bigger better ways of expressing ourselves, rockin-awesome being a case in point.

In contrast, the French refrain from the casual use of adjectives to protect these precious words from loosing their impact when they are employed. Cautious use of positive adjectives and measured enthusiasm are two things that take getting used to as an American in France. We easily mistake their lack of enthusiasm for snobbery or indifference, which is actually far from the truth. The French are simply more honest and realistic than we are when describing things. It is true that an amazing quiche is actually rather rare. If a French person finds something that is mediocre, they see no reason to say it is great or even good just to spare your feelings. Instead they will frankly describe the quiche as fine or tell you they have had better; both likely true statements. This is not to say that the French never give out compliments or praise, they just wait until they find something or someone who truly deserves it. When a French person does run across something so extraordinary that it merits a strong adjective then it should be seen as a very special moment indeed that others should pay attention to and the person receiving the praise can fully believe and relish.

While on tour, one of my clients asked me how to translate the word 'great' into French. I paused. I know the literal translation of the word 'great', it is either grand or génial depending on the context. However I did not pass this information along right away, because if I did teach this man how to pronounce génial and set him free to point at things (like his dinner at a restaurant for example) and say géniale while smiling and giving the server a thumbs up, I would in fact being doing this man a disservice. Great is a strong word in French and if used too often or too easily, the person you are trying to compliment will assume you are being disingenuous, that you are mocking them, or that you are a complete fool who can't tell good from garbage. So I told him that the actual translation for great is génial but if he really wants to give a compliment à la française he would be better off saying pas mal, not bad, or one of the following adjectives...


Literal translation: Decent

To be used when an American would say... good, nice, fine, or lovely.

Pas mal

Literal translation: Not Bad

To be used when an American would say... great, wonderful, or very good.

Bon or Bien

Literal translation: Good or Well.

Side note: As a general rule bon is used when describing things that we can taste, touch or smell and bien is used for everything else.

To be used when an American would say... exceptionally good, far exceeds expectations, fantastic, amazing, or awesome/rockin-awesome.

As you can see, in the photo above these boys are enjoying a Monaco (beer and grenadine). Since they are drinking said beverage at a Parisian café,  they have resisted the urge to high-five the bartender and grin with pleasure as they sip their delicious drinks, instead they are making a classic French Face (I will write a whole separate post on that soon) and probably thinking, these drinks are made just like they should be, thus they are pas mal.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bare Lightbulbs

My mother landed in Paris two weeks ago to get the lay of the land and see this baby bump with her own eyes. Her time here was very enjoyable and tad exhausting (emphasis on the enjoyable mom!). During the first few days of her visit all three of us were plagued with the stomach flu. Since you are mostly an American audience I will spare you the dirty details but suffice to say that it put a serious cramp in our stinky cheese eating, oyster slurping, wine sipping, walking all over Paris plans and resulted in a lot of time resting in our apartment.

The last time my mother was in Paris was in April of 2008, she arrived one day after we moved into our Montmartre home. At that time we owned two inflatable mattresses, two blankets, a couple of cups made out of cut-off plastic water bottle tops and a set of disposable silverware we kept from a take-out place. Since then we have fleshed out our apartment with some furnishings: a tulip stand record player from Germany, a cardboard stag head, an electric fireplace, a couch, a bed, a vintage rolling bar cart... but admittedly we still have a some holes....

For example it isn't easy to explain to one's mother why one doesn't own a garbage can, a rolling pin, a pot holder, a full length mirror or a single coat hanger... The excuse of 'we just moved in and aren't sure where to buy hangers in Paris' just doesn't fly like it used to. It was equally hard to justify why exactly we have a retro French faux bois Jazz wall clock in our kitchen that slowly loses time (which happened to be 93 minutes slow that day) as our only timepiece.

What sent my dear mother over the edge, however, was the bare lightbulb dangling from the bathroom ceiling. Unlike most American apartments, French apartments come with no light fixtures; just wires protruding from the walls and ceilings and if you are lucky a lightbulb. Such was the case two years ago when we moved in and sadly such is still the case in both our bathroom and entryway.

Why? It's hard to say.

Is it because we have trouble with commitment? Is it because I am married to a person who scoffs at most lamp shades and says things like "30€? Pfffft! I can make you one of those!'? Je ne sais pas.

These missing items, combined with an extended amount of time sitting on the couch feeling unwell, lead to a larger discussion of how we are going to prepare this petite apartment for our new permanent houseguest, the bébé!

My mother looked around, declared it a mission impossible and strongly suggested we move to (gasp!) the suburbs. Coming from her (long time suburb hater) I knew that to a non-Parisian the situation here does look a little daunting.

But not to worry! We have a plan: Since we only have one bedroom and I value my sleep and sex-life we are planning to put the little darling in the living room. I have the corner all picked out. It's going to be lovely. My crafty husband is going to put wheels on the crib so we can slide it over to access our only built in storage which would be otherwise blocked by the crib. Then when we need to do laundry we will just push the coffee table against the record player along the wall and fold out our giant drying rack. The kid won't need a mobile because Grégoire's bike hangs on the wall to save floor space and its spinning wheels will surely provide hours of entertainment to this little bébé. See? Piece of cake!

Parisians have adapted to living in small spaces by becoming expert jugglers and impressive contortionists. As you can see in the photo up top, this clever city dweller stores his bike outside his window. My imaginative sister in law uses her oven as a pantry. These fine people in the photo to the left don't have the space for a garden so they glued a plastic one to their windows. Until last week (when we took an admittedly much needed trip to IKEA to purchase a full length mirror) I inspected my outfits by standing on my toilet seat and bending over to look at myself in the cabinet mirror glued to the wall above our sink. Problem(s) solved.

All of this to say, where there is a will there is a way and Parisians have been cramming themselves into Paris for years! With imagination and determination we too will find a way to integrate a baby and all of its accouterments into our tiny Parisian home. I have no doubt.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Do NOT get fat

Not getting fat during pregnancy seems to be a major concern in this country. It is a topic that is not merely discussed amongst French women, but an issue that is addressed and readdressed by the medical community and by the government. It is as if there is a nation-wide fear that by encouraging women to have babies (a necessary evil in order to keep the population numbers up and support the tax burden) the government risks compromising one of France's main touristic attractions (tourism is a huge part of the French economy) beautiful thin women.

It's hard to say if it is truly a question of national economics or if it more of a issue of national vanity, but I can say that I am stunned at the amount of attention that is focused on this topic.

The following lines appeared on the State's guide to pregnancy and were repeated in about five different sections, "Pregnancy is a time for you to eat twice as well, NOT TWICE AS MUCH" and "Most women eat for two when they are not pregnant, so don't get any ideas about starting to eat for four just because you are pregnant."

My doctor's office also had a thing or two to say about weight gain. Their list of Dos and Don'ts clearly stated their position, "This office considers 'cravings' to be a myth and they will not be tolerated or recognized as an excuse for excessive weight gain."


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Thigh Highs and Garter Belts

One pregnancy related problem I am currently facing the struggle to find the right kind of hosiery to wear. This expanding belly of mine is either pushing my tights down in an uncomfortable bunchy manner or causing serious discomfort (not to mention an unattractive double belly fat roll) by coming up half way over my bump.

Last week I started looking around for maternity tights online and I quickly ran across a French forum for women that was discussing this very issue! The title of the discussion: "What does one do to keep their legs warm while pregnant and wearing dresses and heels?"

The French answer to, let's face it, this rather French issue was...

....not suggesting you buy bulging maternity tights.

....not suggesting that pregnant ladies should skip the skirts and heels and just wear sweats and velour.

Oh no, mes amis. Their answer? Thigh highs and garter belts! Not only can you wear them after the pregnancy but they keep you looking sexy and fabulous during your pregnancy without cutting off your circulation, causing unflattering bunching or compromising your femininity.

Only in Paris.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Dos and Don'ts of a French Pregnancy

One of the most interesting and amusing aspects of being pregnant in a foreign land is comparing the list of dos and don'ts you get here with the list you grew up hearing about. When you are pregnant (much like when you are a bride) advice comes at you from all angles, charged with personal experiences, political bias and hearsay. Today I want to share some of my favorite dos and don'ts given to me by french colleagues, doctors and official websites...

Do not under any circumstances lift your arms above your head! I wasn't sure what our accountant was talking about when she told me this, so I started to move my arms and said, "What? You mean like this?" Before my arms were at breast height she reached over with both hands and clamped them to my side... "Yes, exactly like that. Don't do it! This means that from now on your husband must scrub the tiles." While I am a wonderful homemaker, I am terrible housecleaner, thus I am honestly not sure what tiles she was referring to... my shower stall tiles possibly? She seemed so insistent that I nodded, looking grave while I assured her I would let Grégoire scrub all of the tiles in our home from here on out.

For those addicted to smoking, up to ten light cigarettes per day is permissible. Whaaaat? And this little tid-bit of advice was on the list of dos and don'ts that my doctor's office gave to me!

Consumption of alcohol is unacceptable, wine is acceptable. This was also on the list my doctor's office gave me. Now, last time I checked wine contains alcohol so reread the sentence... and read it again (consumption of wine is a topic near and dear to my heart) and I then determined that by alcohol they must mean hard liquor. So manhattans are out but a nice glass of red burgundy is apparently fine. What does that mean for beer you say? Well that is clarified in the following rule.

All sparkling beverages should be systematically avoided, especially during the later months of pregnancy. Now in real life (as in when I am not pregnant) I really only like to drink three things: wine, coffee and water. That is it. When hard pressed I will have an Orangina or a ginger ale but I otherwise do not enjoy soda. So what's a girl to do? Two out of the three beverages I drink on a regular basis are shunned by the American pregnancy community and the French have banned fizzy drinks.... A girl can only drink so much juice.

Avoid ingesting dirt or anything that a cat may have peed on. All joking aside this apparently is the most important rule of all for French pregnant ladies to follow. Over here toxoplasmosis abounds and while it has little to no effect on the mother it can kill or seriously hurt your fetus. One way of getting this bacteria is through cat excrement... many French cat owners lodge their cats during pregnancy or add the cat box cleaning duty to their husband's list of chores along with tile scrubbing. Another way of getting the toxoplasmosis bacteria is through dirt that is clinging to your vegetables, some say a good scrubbing is fine others go so far as to say no vegetables or fruit should be consumed in their raw form, especially salad. I am still trying to sort this whole toxoplasmosis thing out, for the time being I am required to do monthly blood tests to confirm that I don't have it... so far so good.... but I can't help but eye restaurant salads more carefully to confirm those black specks are pepper and not dirt sprinkles.

Unpasteurized milk products and undercooked meat must not be consumed. France and America seem to agree here, which is nice. In the US importation of unpasteurized milk products is illegal, so you really have to go out of your way to eat them but here they are everywhere! As soon as you want to eat a fancy bit of fromage or an organic yoghurt they are almost automatically made with raw milk which makes them delicious but which also makes them dangerous for unborn babies. When it comes to meat the French strongly believe that the optimal way to serve it is rare. Restaurants and their staff are so sure of this that when you order it any other way, you are likely to get a look and a lecture on how the meat would be better if you order it, at the very least, medium rare. For me that is apparently not an option. When confronted with the temptation of order a rare piece of steak (both because that is my preference and because I hate being lectured by servers) I conjure up the image of my doctor and her shoe. The day she presented me with the list of rules my she took off one of her brown leather high heels and pointed to the sole saying, "You need to ask for it well done Mary, it should be cooked so tough that you might think you are be eating shoe leather!" Great.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Three reasons....

Three reasons why having a baby in a 350 square foot apartment in Paris (contrary to popular belief) is in fact going to be great!

1. No need to buy an expensive and complicated baby monitor... I am fairly certain that we will be able to hear our child from any corner of our apartment.

2. The age old argument over what color to paint the nursery will not be an issue for us as I doubt either of us will want to paint a corner of our living room yellow or blue or green or what have you.

3. Once our child learns how to roll or crawl or walk there is absolutely no risk of them falling down the stairs... we don't have any! Ha!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I heart Google

For obvious reasons I LOVE this spot for Google.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Oh my God! Guess what?

Women in relationships between the ages of 25 and 35 are essentially forced to remove the phrase 'Oh my God! Guess what?' from their vocabulary.

For the past few years whenever I say, "Oh my God! Guess what?". The answer was inevitably, "Oh! You are pregnant!! Yay!". Up until now my response to their reaction was inevitably "No... I don't have to work this Friday!" or "Nooo... I tried that gnocchi recipe and it was a disaster!"

However starting today I would like to officially reintegrate 'Oh my God! Guess what?' into my vocabulary because... Oh my God! Guess what?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Vocabulary Lesson - Part III

I learned two new expressions this week and cannot wait to share them with you. They are exactly the sort of thing that no French teacher would ever think to teach you and are thus perfect for our series in vocabulary.

Cinq à Sept

Literal translation... 5 o'clock to 7 o'clock.

Meaning...the term cinq à sept refers to that magical period of time when you can sneak out of work without your boss noticing, spend two hours with your lover, and still be home in time for dinner with your spouse which is typically served around 8 o'clock.

Real life examples of this expression in action....Ex 1. "Who is Lilly? Oh. She is my cinq à sept...if you know what I mean". Now I do. Ex 2. "Christine, I am really enjoying you as my English tutor, can we do next week's lesson from.. oh I don't know... cinq à sept?!". Classy.

Baise en ville

Literal translation... a screw in the city.

Meaning... a small men's handbag that is just large enough to contain a toothbrush, tie and change of shirt. Everything you need when you have a sexy overnight date in the city, a longer version of a cinq à sept, one might say.

Real life examples of this expression in action... although vulgar when translated in to English (one can also translate the verb baiser by the verb to F@#%) this expression has become completely banal and is used by the young, the old and the refined. Ex 1. "Oh what a lovely leather baise en ville, would you like one for your birthday sweetheart?".

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Screw you and your Dinosaur - Part II


A continuation...

Do what?!

You would like me to do math using this piece of paper and pencil while you and your co-workers occupying this hip-open-space-office-loft watch me? No thank you.

But I am in too deep, I used the word amortize as if I knew exactly how to use it. Again a look of surprise and puzzlement must have spread across my face because Pierre kindly offers the use of the calculator function on his iphone if I need it, I could just tell him what to type in. How sweet.

Ok Pierre. Game on.

Twenty painful minutes go by while I try to recall the figures he mentioned earlier and try (to no avail) to distract him with charming questions about keychain sales and t-shirt design. I was hoping that he would see that this simply wasn't going to work out and that the only humane thing to do would be to put an end to my misery. But no, he waits patiently, cruelly. So I eventually come up with a number and hand it over.

"Here, I suppose I would take that number and multiply it by 3 to 5 years depending on when you hope to turn a profit" I say. He seems disinterested and says, "Huh. Ok.".

Very long moment of silence.

"So Pierre... do you do this kind of thing often?" I inquire.

"Do what? Buy dinosaurs? Not often, no." he replies.

I do not find this funny. "No Pierre, I mean do you often purchase items at auction? As in, is that how you acquire some of your wine? In this position would I be expected to advise you on these sorts of purchases?" I ask.

Pierre shrugs. "No." He says.

"And you do have an accountant, don't you?" I ask.

"Yeah." says Pierre.

There is a long moment of silence while I try to understand why then he put me through such a painful and embarrassing exercise.

Pierre breaks the silence and tells me he has some important questions for me and that I should answer them as quickly as possible. Fine.

"Where do you live? Are you married? Do you smoke? Do you play sports? What kind of music do you like? Do you like wine?"

I answer them even though I am scandalized by how personal and off subject the questions are. He then passes the baton over to his associate, Julie, to see if she has any questions for me.

"Are you familiar with Excel?" she inquires.

"Yes." I say.

"Would you say you are good at Excel?" she continues.

"Sure." I reply.

"Mary, can you explain to me what a v-cap is?" Julie asks.*

"No, gosh, I am not sure what that is. What is it?" I say, genuinely interested. Never having heard the word in my life and based on the v like vin as in the word for wine in french I am hoping it is finally a question about wine.

"Oh. You don't know what that is? It's a formula used in Excel. Huh, can you then please tell me what you mean by 'you are good at using Excel'? " she says.

I want to die for the third time during this interview and at this point cannot even recall what I said to them. What in retrospect I would have liked to say them is this: "I am not answering that Julie. In fact I would like you two to answer a few questions of my own. Can you please tell me how these games and questions relate to this position? And why in the ad you did not say anything like, looking for Excel expert who can give us complex financial advice? Because if that were the case, believe you me, I would have never applied for this job. And if you were looking for a candidate that would be able to answer these kinds of questions on the spot why then did you call me?! Someone who clearly states on their resumé that they have a degree in French literature and Urban Design... Experience in event planning and customer service... A love of food and wine and France... Someone who is not an economist... not an accountant.. not a business school graduate."

Julie wraps things up by saying, "Last question. Have you had a chance to look at our website? What do you think of it?".

At this point I am mad. Assuming that I do not have the job thus do not have anything to loose, I answer the question with brutal honesty. "You know Julie, I have had a chance to look at your website and while I like the fact that there is a lot of information on it, I find the overall design unattractive and the flashy color choices garish and cheap. If I were you I would go for a more subtle approach."

Long moment of silence.

"Which agency did you work with?" I inquire.

Very long moment of silence.

"I designed it myself." says Julie.

And with that they thank me for my time and tell me they will be in touch.

I assumed that is were the story was going to end. I bet you did too! Well no my friends, a month and a half later I receive a phone call from Pierre. "Hey Mary! How are you?! Sorry it took us so long to get back to you, we just got home from vacation. Anyway, congratulations! You're hired!!".

Long moment of silence.


I told him, "Thank you, but no thank you."

*She said what sounded to me like v-cap... in reality I have no idea what she said. All it know it is started with v. So if any of you excel-o-philes would like to jump in here and say what you think it is feel free.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The price of a Dinosaur - Part I

This Friday I have a job interview... maybe that is too presumptuous.

This Friday I have a meeting with the hippest and most interesting company in all of Paris. It's a get to know you type meeting during which I hope they fall madly in love with me and tell me they want to create beautiful children together in the form of free-lance projects.

All of this excitement and preparation reminds me of a story that I haven't shared with you. I believe enough time has passed that I can freely tell this story... just to be sure, names have been changed.

This summer I ran across an ad for an amazing job: A wine focused special events company was looking for an Anglophone to manager their office and customer relations. I jumped at the chance. Sent off my cv and scored an interview.

I arrive in the shabby chic loft that serves as their office and am greeted by a young Parisian disguised as an American frat-boy. He introduces himself as Pierre... let's say... and offers me coffee. I accept, which forces him to sift through the pile of dirty and less dirty dishes on the counter looking for a cleanish cup. There is no sugar to be found. Apparently the milk has gone bad. Fine.

Black coffee in hand, he starts to describe his business plan to me at length. I tell him a little bit about myself, how I ended up in France etc. He then describes the position to me, sounds like I would be mainly dealing with customer service, a little bit of party planning and a few administrative tasks... going to the post office, photocopying things.. etc.

Pierre then proposes we play a game. I come from a highly competitive family and LOVE games so I tell him that I am in! He says, "I am going to give you a scenario and you tell me what you would do.... sound good?". Let the games begin!

"Let's imagine that I am the owner of a zoo in California. I just heard that through the magic of modern science they have been able to clone a dinosaur! And guess what? They are selling it at auction to the highest bidder tomorrow afternoon. As my employee, how much do you think I should spend on this dinosaur?"

Long moment of silence.


I was expecting something more along the lines of... we are serving garlicky eggplant at an event next week what kind of wine do you think we should serve? Or... we just realized that we didn't order enough champagne and our client is furious! What should we do?

My face must have shown my surprise and puzzlement at his question, because Pierre quickly and generously offers to answer any question I may have about the zoo if it would help answer his question.

Ok Pierre. "So tell me, what kinds of animals do we already have at the zoo? Do we already have a suitable spot to put the little darling or do we need to remodel the monkey cages? Is the zoo doing well or is this world premiere of a cloned dinosaur a last ditch effort to save our failing zoo? Is this a vegetarian or carnivorous dinosaur? How will that impact our insurance policy if it is a carnivorous dinosaur? How much do we charge as an entrance fee? How long to do think this dino will live?" I say. He answers my questions, pulling numbers out of the air, 10 million here 50 grand there.

After about 15 minutes of this businessy banter, I conclude by saying, "Here is what I would do Pierre, I would take the construction costs of the new dino-land exhibit, amortize that amount over the expected life of the dinosaur and compare those numbers to our projected increase in ticket sales (based loosely on the increase we experienced when we bought that two headed elephant a few years back) and come up with a final number that way."

My plan of attack was to dazzle him with interesting questions, display a sense of business logic, skip over coming up with an actual number and move on to the next scenario.

Turns out this was the only question and that not coming up with a number was not an option. He digs around in his desk, pulls out a piece of scratch paper and a pencil and says, "Sounds like a good plan, let's do it!".

Long moment of silence.


To be continued....