Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Work Christmas Parties: French Style

The obligatory Christmas party: a tradition that spans multiple cultures apparently. In the US, it's usually an alcohol-clad affair, with cheap wine, bad food, and a dance floor. Co-workers numb themselves from the awkwardness of a bad DJ with one too many glasses of alcohol and everyone hits the dance floor, promising to not judge eachother the next day for their awful dance moves. Past christmas parties I've attended include: boat races, santas dressed-up (are we 5?), a pizza run mid-way through because the food ran out, ice skating, after parties, etc. They are generally jovial and I generally enjoy them.

I can't say my party last night is typical of France, but it does seem very Parisian. First off, it was held in classy loft/art gallery. There they go trying to culture me even at a work event! Secondly, it started and ended with Champagne. I seriously tried to drink something else, but they ran out of the normal wine within an hour and all that was left was Champagne. PAUVRE MOI.

As far as the food goes, let's just say I didn't realize that chocolate square WAS FILLED WITH FOIE GRAS! Really??? Foie gras at a work party? We're not eating raw veggies with ranch dip, pork filled dumplings, pizza, or starving? Yes, I'll take another of the scallop ceviche with passion fruit please. Oh and are those truffles in that risotto? YUM.

Alas, there was no dancing, but I can't say I missed it. Party Number 2 with the entire company (and apparently the dancing) is on Friday and it's on a boat along the Seine. Unfortunately, (fortunately?) I will not be able to attend as I'll be en route to NYC YIPPEE!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Getting in the Christmas spirit!

I Was in Dusseldorf this past weekend visiting a friend from college. But the main reason I went was to go to a Christmas market and get a dose of Christmas spirit. I had never been to one and it was amazing!

So I was thinking it would be like one square full of vendors, but it was actually across the entire "old town". So impressive! Vendors, food stalls and my favorite -- mulled wine. You know what makes shopping outside even better? A glass of warm wine yummy.

Dusseldorf was actually an awesome city. It had great architecture, a busy downtown core, and yummy food. It isn't really touristy either which is appreciated. Hope you all had a fab weekend as well!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Top 10 reasons why I think I lived in France in a past life....

So when people ask how I'm settling into French culture, I usually answer "Great, swimmingly, doing really well, thanks for asking." But secretly inside I'm thinking this has actually been really easy, am I doing something wrong?

Sure, there are parts I disagree (helloooo beaureaucracy) but the more I learn about the culture, the more I think it's more like me. Technically, I'm like 40% French (maybe more like 20, but who's counting) so maybe subconsciously these things have been passed down to me through previous generations (thanks grandpa! No really, I'm related to him (do you see the resmblance?) but I'm going to save that for another post). Anywho, here are the top 10 reasons why I'm liking French culture so far.

1. I love bread and carbs. This may seem like a duh moment (who doesn't like bread?), but seriously I could just eat bread and be super happy. And the french feel the same way.
2. I like to eat lunch at the same time everyday (there is a pattern here, many of these revolve around food). This is something I didn't even know was French, but my boss told me that she's impressed with how regimented I am about lunch and how "it's very French." Yippeee
3. I eat a lot of yogurt. I know exactly where this comes from -- my dad used to give me Yoplait (SHH!) Custard Style (strawberry only) when I was a kid and I loved it.This definitely set the tone for how much yogurt I eat. Like most meals in France, yogurt is a very ritualistic thing - they eat it after Lunch & dinner as a close to the meal. Some call it a healthy dessert, but I've definitely seen people eat both yogurt AND dessert. There's an emotional connection there to which I can relate.
4. They prefer red wine. I've talked a lot about the French loving wine, but in general they prefer red and so do I. As the wine maker of Chateau Monlot told me when I asked why he makes only red wine he said "Because that is what the French like to drink." Simply, supply and demand :-)
5.Confession: IWear an outfit more than 1 day in a row. Okay, so I don't normally wear it one after the other unless I won't see the same people (the french will do this, however), but I do this and I love it. Outfits take a lot of time and energy to me and I like saying "Oh I just wore this to work and now I'll wear it out." So efficient.
6. I like scarves. So an easy way to hide the fact that you are wearing the same sweater you wore two days ago is to put on a new fancy scarf. This is a new accessory in my life which I've taken to like a moth to a light. So easy! So Pretty! So warm! So cheap! Can't believe I waited until France to use these.
7. I hate salad. No, really, I do and so do the French (hear me out). There are a lot of famous french salads (Ni├žoise, par example), but to me, these aren't salads. A. They normally have potatoes in them. POTATOES.IN.SALAD. and B) they don't have lettuce. I love both of those statements (yay potatoes, boo lettuce) and thus French 'salads' are things I can get behind.
8. I hate washing my hair.  See that guy's hair to the left? That's where I get my hair. It's unruly, thick, wavy and only needs to be washed every 3 days. Which I used to fight (I'd begrudgingly wash it every other), but now I just embrace it whilst knowing my neighbor has similar grooming habits.
9. I love sitting on a patio. This is probably another thing I get from my mother (it'll be snowing and my mom will ask if we'd like to grab a blanket and sit on the patio with the heater), but in a similar fashion the French are suckers for sitting outside. Even in winter. When I was here last Jan, the heaters were in full swing and everyone was eating/drinking/smoking at cafes outside. Love it.
10. I believe rules are made to be broken. Not sure where I get this from, but I've always said "I ask forgiveness, not permission." (Andrew, on the other hand is the opposite). I've learned from my French boss that the best way to manage bureaucracy is to ignore it completely and just do what you need to do. It's very effective. As my intercultural trainer said, "France is a country of exceptions. They have billions of laws, but most people don't follow them.' Excellent, my favorite kind.

I'm sure I'll be updating this list as I go along (and perhaps will even have a top 10 reasons why I'm not French), but those what I've noticed for now :-)

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The French way of work: Economist Article 11.19

My father forwarded me an interesting article in the economist recently about "The French Way of Work" (or lack thereof). Basically, the French are stereotyped as being lazy workers, but the article says they are actually poorly managed. Apparently, the French are very content with their work, but rather discontent with how things are run.

Why is this? Well, let's refer back to my inter-cultural training, shall we? (as my mom says "Danone sure got their money's worth sending you to that class") We spent nearly an hour talking about the French education system (BORING!), but the main takeaway is super important and super infuriating. The French education system starting about when kids are 12 is SUPER serious and competitive. I knew this (the bac test, etc), but what I didn't know was how it affects business. Basically, the 'grande ecoles' are the handful of super elite schools where every, single (no joke) CEO of a major french company has been educated. And basically, getting into these schools pre-determines the rest of your life. Thus, if you went to a good school, you will succeed in business, even if you arent' that affective in life. Sure, we have 'super elite' schools in the US, but seeing as we're a task oriented society, it doesn't matter where you went to school as long as you do well. (yes, yes, you have a leg up in theory if you went to an 'ivy' school. But frankly, you are probably better off dropping out ...helloooo bill gates, mark zuckerberg, and steve jobs)

So basically, France is NOT a meritocracy (even though thier school system is). The management at these top firms are being appointed for the wrong reasons. And then they get to the top and are ineffective, then people are pissed about it, find it poorly managed, and are demotivated. I can totally relate to this.

But the main reason my dad sent me the article was because my company is cited as a major exception as they promote generally from within and for merit. YAY! I won't write the name here (not like it's a secret, but whatever, don't want people googling and finding this post). But it's true, in my company we have what is a called a CODE, which is mainly corporate gibberish, but the E stands for Empowerment. In the US, this seemed like common sense to me. But here it is a major breakthrough. At this point 3 months in, I definitely can see some work culture differences, but I would definitely NOT say anyone's lazy. More analytical, slower to react, infuriating at times MAYBE, but certainly not lazy.