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....