Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Sunday Paris lunch

A benefit of working in a French company is having French colleagues to ask us over for for the sacred Sunday lunch. This Sunday we were whisked into a completely different world - the tightly connected world of French families.

Over the course of the 3 hour lunch we collected 10 children and five adults from four different families, interrelated through family and school ties. Most of the adults had gone to the French equivalent of MIT, Ecole Normal Superior.

The conversation was conducted using a nearly incomprehensible melange of Franglish, with everybody doing their level best to communicate using their least comfortable language. The topics ranged from favorite interpreters of the Goldberg Variations to the name of Alexander the great's horse (and of course politics, that most dreaded of all subject for Americans overseas).

The centerpiece of the meal itself was a roasted Poulet de Bresse - the queen of French chickens. To accompany we had a 2000 Margaux, Chateau Giscours, easily one of the best wines we have had so far in France. Desert was an incredible looking chocolate cake from Lenotre, but by the time desert rolled around our ranks had been swollen to the point where there were not enough slices to go around.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

End of the endless summer

After months of dogged resistence to playing any sort of useful role in society, I finally broke down and got a job. There is some sort of puritan, masochistic work ethic deep in my genome which just doesn't let me feel comfortable unless I am stressed and out of control. Or as one of our French friends said, "men his age don't feel powerful unless they have a job."

Our Paris routine is very ex-pat-centric, cocooned within a group of mostly American friends from our children's school, from INSEAD and from the American Cathedral. Outside of the incredible pastries, there are days when you would hardly know we were in a foreign country. Working in a French company is one way to see more of what France is about.

For example, my French speaking skills have been stuck at boulangerie level for months now. In fact, my biggest fear on my first day of week was having to introduce myself to the company in French. The introduction went fine but I now have a huge incentive to get truly conversational.

The company I joined is called Reportive. They produce reporting tools for companies with complex reporting needs, such as sales performance reporting. Currently, almost all of the pharmaceutical companies in Europe and many of the Automotive companies use Reportive tools to provide reporting. However, they are not well known outside of the European market, so the challenge is to help them grow in the US.

My job is chairman of the board, a fancy title for someone who still owns a business suit and can look grave when the situation calls for it (meaning that I am 50% qualified for the job). My museums seen per week average is going to take a big hit, but my applied understanding of French culture should have a big spike.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Ahh, the Alps

For two weeks during winter, much of Paris clears out for the Vacance d'Hiver (not to be confused with August, when all of Paris clears out).

With the superb French train system you can be whisked from burbs to bergs in about four hours. This time we went to the La Clusaz ski report and stayed in a sleepy village of Manigod.

We knew we were in a small town when we found that the street going up to our chalet was not plowed, meaning that we had to schlep luggage, groceries and kids up and down an icy hill all week.

The view outside the chalet was one of those extraordinary, only in the alps visions of endless snow-capped peaks. The chalet next door to us had a big barn and the whole neighborhood was dotted with picturesque (and thankfully odor-free) manure piles next to each barn, often accompanied by a sign advertising Reblochon cheese for sale by the farmer.

The la Clusaz ski resort is really a collection of 6 or more small skiing operations, each with 3 or 4 lifts and a couple of restaurants.

The food is excellent, as long as your idea of excellent includes vast amounts of melted cheese. The top 3 specialties are fondue (melted cheese with bread), raclette (melted cheese with potatoes) and tartiflette (melted cheese with potatoes and bacon). Every meal concludes with a broad selection of local - you guessed it - cheeses. Who could ask for more?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Improving your skiing - the hard way

We are in the middle of a two-week ski vacation, one week at la Clusaz and one week at Meribel. Like most parents, we can't just let our children enjoy themselves on the slopes - we are genetically programmed to improve them.

Thus, when we got Alexander going with ski poles and a few runs later he had a major blow-out of a fall, we gave him a pat parental lie/line that "if you aren't falling then you're not trying hard enough. Falling is just a way to show you that you are improving!"

Today, Yvonne took a bad fall on a morning run in Meribel (steep run + lots of ice + stomach flu = trouble) . We went to the excellent on-slope medical facilities, determined that she hadn't broken anything, then rounded up the kids from ski school.

On being told that his mother had taken a bad fall and being presented with her wearing a sling and a sheepish look, Alexander immediately responded, "mommy, you must be improving a lot to be taking falls like that!"

Friday, February 10, 2006

Blogging and interviews - a volatile mixture

In my blog posts, I have tried to write about things that are interesting and relatively inoffensive. I have also attempted to avoid typical stereotypes, with the notable exception of my previous post.

So it should be no surprise that it was when I had a completely cheesy faux-frenchman picture at the head of my blog that I conducted a series of job Paris...with real frenchman.

Each of my interviews started with the interviewer's observation that they had just read my blog followed by a pregnant pause. Luckily, they all had a good sense of humor, but it is a bit of a balancing act to combine a semi-humorous blog about real life observations with the more buttoned-down and mostly humor-less world of business.

There is in fact an entire blog on the topic of mixing real world writing with business, as well as an accompanying book (movie to follow shortly?) shamelessly titled naked conversations.