December 28, 2011
If You Only Had One New Years Resolution....
If you only had one New Year's resolution, it might be to recognize where this statement applies and do something about it. I'm sure it will lead to countless things you cannot even imagine until you start writing them down.
"Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation.
So does inaction sap vigor from the mind."
-- Leonardo da Vinci.
AND I'd add to this....it also saps vigor from your life.
December 25, 2011
Christmas in Every Language & Customs Around the World
Language is one of the most powerful things we have and when we can't communicate with someone because we don't know their language, we rely on hand gestures, hugs, expressions and the most universal ones: smiles when we're happy, tears when we're not.
I've spend the holidays in several countries over the years including India, Thailand, Australia, Mexico, South Africa, England, the Netherlands, Israel, France and a few places I'm sure I'm forgetting. Celebrations obviously differ even when you're celebrating within the same culture or religion. Jewish friends in New York buy a Hannukah bush, others don't honor it at all. If you've grown up in New England or northern Europe, snow often comes with Christmas and it becomes an association for you. If you live in Australia or Africa, chances are you've never had a white christmas.
Brazilians have a tradition of creating a nativity scene or Presepio, whose origins come from the Hebrew word "presepium" which means the bed of straw upon which Jesus first slept in Bethlehem. The Presepio is common in northeastern Brazil (Bahi, Sergipe, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraiba, Maranhao, Ceara, Pernambuco, Piaui and Alagoas).
In Denmark, a christmas feast was traditionally celebrated at midnight, where a special rice pudding is served. In the pudding, a single almond is hidden and whoever finds it will have good luck for the coming year. The bringer of gifts is known as Julemanden and arrives in a sleigh drawn by reindeer, a sack over his back. Sound famliar? He is asissted by Yuletide chores by elves called Juul Nisse, who are said to live in attics.
In Iraq, Christian families light candles, light a bonfire of thorn bushes and sing. If the thorns burn to ashes, good luck will be granted. When the fire dies, each person jumps over the ashes three times and make a wish.
Like in many Latin American countries, Nicaragua retains many of the customs of old Spain. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, people stroll the streets where there are many things to buy: candles, Nativity pictures, toys and foods. Children carry fragrant bouquets to the alter of the Virgin and sing carols. On Christmas Eve, church bells beckon the people to Midnight Mass.
In South America, Venezuelans attend a daily early morning church service between December 16th and 24th called Misa de Aguinaldo ("Early Morning Mass.") In Caracas, the capital city, it is customary to roller-skate to this service and many neighborhoods close the streets to cars until 8 a.m. Before bedtime children tie one end of a piece of string to their big toe and hang the other out the window. The next morning, rollerskaters give a tug to any string they see hanging.
In Japan, Christmas was apparently brought over by Christian missionaries but today, it has become very commercialized largely because gift giving is something that appeals to the culture. This is an interesting and funny story if its true, but in the scene of the Nativity when it first came to Japan, was so foreign for them because Japanese babies don't sleep in cradles. Like the states, they eat turkey on Christmas Day (ham is also common with many families) and in some places, there are community Christmas trees. Houses even have evergreens and mistletoe. They also have a god or priest known as Hoteiosho, who closely resembles Santa Claus, often depicted as an old man carrying a huge pack. He is thought to have eyes in the back of his head.
And, you've gotta love the Scots since they have so many quirky customs considering how close they live to the English. Celebration around the holidays is much bigger for New Years Eve than it is for Christmas, something they refer to as Hogmanay. This word may derive from a kind of oat cake that was traditionally given to children on New Year's Eve. The first person to set foot in a residence in a New Year is thought to profoundly affect the fortunes of the inhabitants. Generally strangers are thought to bring good luck. Depending on the area, it may be better to have a dark-haired or fair-haired stranger set foot in the house. This tradition is widely known as "first footing."
In the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia and before that known as Bohemia), they bring their traditions from the 10th century home of Good King Wenceslaus, the main character in the familiar English Christmas carol. It is said that English troops, fighting in Bohemia hundreds of years later, brought the song home with them. St. Nicholas is called Svaty Mikalas and is believed to climb to earth down from heaven on a golden rope with his companions, an angel and a whip-carrying devil.
An ancient tradition shared by the Czechs and in Poland involves cutting a branch from a cherry tree and putting it in water indoors to bloom. If the bloom opens in time for Christmas, it is considered good luck and also a sign that the winter may be short.
I'm amazed how many of these traditions involve some superficial physical ritual that somehow tells us whether good luck or bad luck will fall upon us, not unlike snapping a chicken wish bone in two I guess...or flipping a coin.
Below is a fabulous and fun list of Merry Christmas and Happy New Years in many languages from around the world. Obviously, we didn't capture them all but we did include a healthy list to get you started with practicing but you never know when you will come across someone from another culture around the holidays.
Alsatian: E güeti Wïnâchte un e gleckichs Nej Johr
Arabic: أجمل التهاني بمناسبة الميلاد و حلول السنة الجديدة (ajmil at-tihānī bimunāsabah al-mīlād wa ḥilūl as-sanah al-jadīdah)
Armenian: Շնորհաւոր Նոր Տարի եւ Սուրբ Ծնունդ: (Shnorhavor Nor Daree yev Soorp Dzuhnoont) Բարի կաղանդ և ամանոր (Paree gaghant yev amanor)
Bengali: শুভ বড়দিন (shubho bôṛodin)
Cherokee: ᏓᏂᏍᏔᏲᎯᎲ & ᎠᎵᎮᎵᏍᏗ ᎢᏤ ᎤᏕᏘᏴᎠᏌᏗᏒ - (Danistayohihv & Aliheli'sdi Itse Udetiyvasadisv)
Cheyenne: Hoesenestotse & Aa'eEmona'e
Cornish: Nadelik Lowen ha Blydhen Nowydh Da and Nadelik Looan ha Looan Blethen Noweth
Danish: Glædelig jul og godt nytår
English: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Estonian: Rõõmsaid Jõule ja Head Uut Aastat and Häid Jõule ja Head Uut Aastat
Fijian: Me Nomuni na marau ni siga ni sucu kei na tawase ni yabaki vou
Filipino: Maligayang pasko at manigong bagong taon!
Flemish: Zalig Kerstfeest en Gelukkig Nieuwjaar
French: Joyeux Noël et bonne année
German: Frohe/Fröhliche Weihnachten - und ein gutes neues Jahr / ein gutes Neues / und ein gesundes neues Jahr / und einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr
German (Swiss): Schöni Fäschttäg / Schöni Wienachte -- und e guets neus Jahr / en guete Rutsch is neue Johr -- Schöni Wiehnachte und es guets Neus -- Schöni Wiänachtä, äs guets Nöis
German (Bavarian): Froue Weihnåcht'n, und a guad's nei's Joah
Haitan Creole: Jwaye Nowèl e Bònn Ane
Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou
Hebrew: חג מולד שמח ושנה טובה - Chag Molad Sameach v'Shanah Tovah
Hungarian: Kellemes karácsonyt és boldog új évet
Indonesian: Selamat hari natal dan tahun baru
Irish: Nollaig shona duit/daoibh (Happy Christmas to you). Beannachtaí na Nollag (Christmas Greetings). Beannachtaí an tSéasúir (Season's Greetings) and Athbhliain faoi mhaise duit/daoibh (Prosperous New Year). Also, Bliain úr faoi shéan is faoi mhaise duit/daoibh (Happy New Year to you)
Italian: Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo
Japanese: メリークリスマス (merī kurisumasu) -- New Year greeting - 'Western' style
新年おめでとうございます (shinnen omedetō gozaimasu)
New Year greetings - Japanese style
明けましておめでとうございます (akemashite omedetō gozaimasu)
旧年中大変お世話になりました (kyūnenjū taihen osewa ni narimashita)
本年もよろしくお願いいたします (honnen mo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu)
Klingon: QISmaS DatIvjaj 'ej DIS chu' DatIvjaj (sg) and QISmaS botIvjaj 'ej DIS chu' botIvjaj (pl)
Korean: 즐거운 성탄절 보내시고 새해 복 많이 받으세요 and (jeulgeoun seongtanjeol bonaesigo saehae bok manhi bateusaeyo)
Kurdish: Kirîsmes u ser sala we pîroz be (and) Kirîsmes u salî nwêtan lê pîroz bê
Lithuanian: Linksmų Kalėdų ir laimingų Naujųjų Metų
Maltese: Il-Milied Ħieni u s-Sena t-Tajba - Awguri għas-sena l-ġdida
Maori: Meri Kirihimete me ngā mihi o te tau hou ki a koutou katoa
Mongolian: Танд зул сарын баярын болон шинэ жилийн мэндийг хүргэе and (Tand zul sariin bayriin bolon shine jiliin mendiig hurgey)
Navajo: Ya'at'eeh Keshmish
Nepali: क्रस्मसको शुभकामना तथा नयाँ वर्षको शुभकामना - (krismas ko subhakamana tatha nayabarsha ko subhakamana)
Norweigan: God jul og godt nytt år (Bokmål) and God jol og godt nyttår (Nynorsk)
Old English: Glæd Geol and Gesælig Niw Gear
Punjabi: ਮੈਰੀ ਕ੍ਰਿਸਮਸ। / میری کرِسمس (merī krismas - not used) and ਨਵਾਂ ਸਾਲ/ਵਰਾ ਮੁਬਾਰਕ। / نواں سال، ورہا مبارک (navā̃ sāl/varā mubārak)
Raotongan: Kia orana e kia manuia rava i teia Kiritimeti e te Mataiti Ou
Romanian: Crăciun fericit şi un An Nou Fericit
Samoan: Ia manuia le Kerisimasi ma le Tausaga Fou
Sardinian: Bonu nadale e prosperu annu nou
Slovak: Veselé vianoce a Štastný nový rok
Spanish: ¡Feliz Navidad y próspero año nuevo!
Swahili: Krismasi Njema / Heri ya krismas -- Heri ya mwaka mpya
Swedish: God jul och gott nytt år
Tahitian: Ia orana no te noere and Ia orana i te matahiti api
Thai: สุขสันต์วันคริสต์มาส และสวัสดีปีใหม่ - (sùk săn wan-krít-mâat láe sà-wàt-dee bpee mài)
Tibetan: ༄༅།།ལོ་གསར་ལ་བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལེགས་ཞུ། - (Losar La Tashi Delek - Happy New Year)
Tongan: Kilisimasi fiefia mo ha ta'u fo'ou monū'ia
Ukranian: Веселого Різдва і з Новим Роком
(Veseloho Rizdva i z Novym Rokom)
Xhosa: Siniqwenelela Ikrisimesi Emnandi Nonyaka Omtsha Ozele Iintsikelelo
Yiddish: אַ פֿרײליכע ניטל און אַ גוטער נײַער יאָר - (A freylikhe nitl un a guter nayer yor)
The above list was a sample of a longer list from Omniglot, a site dedicated to languages from around the world. Visit their site for more languages including pronunciations. They also made the following note: Christmas is not universally celebrated and there are a number of different dates for Christmas and New Year depending on which calendar is used. Orthodox Christians who use the Julian calendar, for example in Russia and Serbia, celebrate Christmas on January 7. Another collection of phrases for the holidays can be found here. Also check out this link on Christmas Around the World.
December 25, 2011 in America The Free, Belize, Europe, Fiji, Holidays, Israel, New England, New York, On Africa, On Australia, On China, On Costa Rica, On East Africa, On Fiji, On France, On Germany, On Guatemala, On India, On Italy, On Japan, On People & Life, On South Africa, On Spain, Reflections, San Francisco, South America, Travel, United Kingdom, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
December 19, 2011
Steve Jobs Life Lessons: How Do They Play Out In Your Own Life?
The 600 page Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson isn't one I've picked up yet but Lance Ulanoff recently finished it and wrote a piece on Mashable about lessons learned -- aka insights -- from the man who was mysterious to so many of us, being described as creative, driven, intense, mean, focused, innovative, entrepreneurial, masterful, and a genius.
He has been ranked up there with Einstein and by others who are either bitter, anti-Apple or who worked with him and just didn't like the man, as lucky albeit smart.
Below is the list of so called lessons gleaned however for Lance's take aways, read the original blog post, which also includes a page of fabulous inspirational quotes, one of which includes this reminder, "don't settle." I think about that phrase today more than ever.
As we get older, we realize that we have less time to "settle" and live an extraordinary life. When we're really young, even if we subscribe to living a life far beyond "settling," we don't have the wisdom or years behind us to know how fast the decades march on. We often live in the moment which is a beautiful place to live, yet the perspective of time has little meaning.
Next to each lesson learned below, are my own reflections and experiences of working in the technology industry, many of which reflect back to Steve's decisions and mindset. Also refer to my "so long Steve Jobs" blog write-up here,
One of the most frustrating things I deal with in working with start-ups with small budgets is how many compromises need to be made on a consistent basis. It has also made me and the entrepreneurs I work with learn how to become more resourceful along the way. That said, I think about the "one chance to get it right" more often than not and this means stepping up to the plate. Work the long hours, hire the right people, don't undervalue marketing or positioning, get the product out there before your competitor jumps ahead of you...the industry just moves too fast.
Make Your Own Reality
My take away from this is connected to "not settling." It's also about building a better life by not accepting the reality you've been given, for you almost always have the power to change a current reality. Sure, you can come up with every excuse in the book: I don't have the money, I don't have the access, I don't have the education, I don't have the resources, yet Gandhi didn't let don'ts, even if they were different ones, get in the way of his success. Steve Jobs didn't either. I say this to teenagers whenever I get the chance: Don't let someone else write your life story or dictate how the chapters should unravel. This one still keeps me up at night sometimes.
Control Everything You Can
This is counter to so much of what the social media afficiandos and purists believe, which is centered around collaboration and giving up control. The latter is also something I see as a new "American" behavior even outside the technology industry where parenting is often about collaborating with your kids rather than disciplining them.
Control helps keep things on target, your vision in tact and products on schedule but it also can result in alienating people around you, not allowing others' creativity to flourish and the inevitable...once you're out of the way, what happens to the company and its products?
Control can deliver great things - look at Picasso's paintings and Steve's iPhone. Yet, those I talk to give Apple three years with Steve gone. I'm not sure that I agree, but you get the idea.
Own Your Mistakes
This is probably one of the hardest things to do, particurly when a bad decision negatively impacts a large group of people. But it's also PR 101: when you do a "dirty," whether it was intentional or not, own it, apologize, commit to fixing it and move on. If Clinton had done that earlier and embraced his actions from a place of leadership, perhaps we wouldn't have spent so many cycles focused on blowjobs more than the state of our economy. Europe trivialized it and we behaved like high school children, including "some media."
I love this one. Sometimes we know ourselves but don't "give" ourselves what we need and so I'd add to know thyself, trust thyself. One of my favorite quotes and it isn't a Steve Jobs one: Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live. -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Leave the Door Open for the Fantastic
Is it fantastic or is it outstanding? I prefer the latter because it takes us beyond fantastic. Fantastic is an experience, which Steve Jobs certainly created for us again and again, but outstanding is a way of living, a way of being.
Don’t Hold Back
Ahhh, is this one of the reasons I love Italian culture so much? Or why people like Steven Spielberg awes us time and time again? Don't just give it to them baby, but give all of it to them. As big, as great, as dynamic and as extraordinary as you can.
Surround Yourself with Brilliance
This is a general lesson for great leadership. Outstanding leaders do this time and time again. Choosing and "curating" the right team for a project is a skill of a master. And, rather than be afraid that who you surround yourself may just be more brilliant than you, you embrace it.
Build a Team of A Players
Ahhh, mediocrity. There's nothing that drives me crazier than mediocrity, particularly in business. And "real" A players I'd argue don't waste time trying to convince you that they're A players; they just execute.
Sure, this largely applies to person-to-person contact, whether it's about managing your team or being ethical with your board and calling the right shots. That said, when I see this statement today, I think about truly being yourself amidst a world of cluttered voices on the web.
When I see a tweet, I think "are they doing this as a way to game the system and up their Klout score aka "perceived influence" or are they doing it from a centered, balanced place? aka "this is who I really am and what I really think".
Or, are they trying to deliver an aura or image of what they think is respected by their peers, some of whom haven't been behaving so well lately?
Scrambling to get respect from the gate keepers is all around us and some of the conversations I'm hearing and part of behind closed doors is astounding.
I think to myself again and again, "are we really having this conversation? Is sucking up to X or Y influencer while burying who you really are worth it? It's a game not worth playing because it's a life not worth living. And, yet it's happening all around us. In politics. In technology. In life.
There are some people who you would build a moon for even if 1,000 people in a row told you a moon couldn't be built. Steve Jobs had that gift which resulted in outstanding products that changed the way we live our lives. Richard Saul Wurman had that gift when he developed the TED Conference concept. Tony Robbins has that gift when he stands in front of thousands of people. Obama has that gift through his calm and articulate embodiment. Being persuasive by being "real" and "intentional" is the most powerful gift you can give.
Show Others the Way
We all need mentors whether we think we do or not. Sometimes we're the teacher, sometimes the student and sometimes when we think we're the teacher, we end up being the student. I would add to this that the real talent in showing others the way is finding out how people learn and showing them the way in their modality or language. Some teachers only know how to teach from their own modality which leaves a huge percentage of people either bored, pissed off or simply confused.
While it may seem like an awkward aside to raise here, it feels right as I write this. I wish women would stand up for women in business more than they do. I know a lot of incredible women who help, inspire, nurture, fund, and more, however what I haven't personally experienced is women taking risks to help pave the other for others in their peer group. (risking a powerful relationship behind closed doors by speaking up or making things right, speaking up publicly or simply taking the time to encourage in a deep and meaningful way).
By the latter, I don't mean sharing. As women, we do this well. We listen, we share and show our girlfriends we "understand them."
I get some of the reasoning behind why we say no: we're already overspent and don't have the time or energy, we want to reserve that energy for children and family when we're already doing so much, we don't want to risk tampering with a connection that has been instrumental in getting us to our current positions because quite simply, it ain't an easy compromising ride to get there. And so on. That said, the majority of people who have "shown me the way," have been men.
Trust Your Instincts
Steve Jobs was a master at this and most great leaders are too. Women btw are really good at this in their personal lives and we need to know that its an incredibly rich asset in our professional lives too. The best leaders are strong enough to go to a place of solitude when the noise of external voices telling them what to do becomes so loud that they can no longer hear their inner voice. Our inner voices always lead the way.
Silicon Valley is great at taking risks and it all started with the guys at the forefront, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak being instrumental in the early days. One of the things I see with companies outside the U.S. is that risk taking is less embraced because it's not part of their culture.
There are always exceptions of course: great products are great products, and great leaders are great leaders. That said, I have seen hesitation and uncertainty first hand in working with start-ups and entrepreneurs now from France, Scotland, Belgium, South Africa, Australia, Ireland, Canada, England and others. If you truly believe in something, there's no room for fear and doubt. Trust, believe and take the risk because if you don't, someone else most certainly will.
Follow Great with Great
When I read this, I thought of what those who have been to the top know all too well, "you're only as great as what you've done lately." That said, there are entrepreneurs in the Valley and elsewhere who had a successful exit and never "created" anything else. Yet, they're still part of the conversation, at all the VIP dinners and are even funding other startups because they have the money to do so.
You know the drill: you get access when you have one of the following: power (connections to people or things other people need), money (you can buy that access), position (you hold a title at a major company or in government and can use your influence to help), in the inner circle (are part of a prestigious family, went to college with or are buddies with someone of influence and so the latter three are automatically waived).
What's truly remarkable is when none of those things matter, you push them all aside (or simply ignore them) and just consistently keep building great things that benefit people. Steve Jobs showed that he was capable of that with the iPod, iPhone, iPad and Pixar. Other "greats" do the same.
Make Tough Decisions
Tough decisions often make you unlikeable, at least to one group or person. I had a reflective conversation in a long cab ride recently with someone who worked with Steve Jobs in the very early days. He attended a small gathering of like-folks after his death somewhere in Silicon Valley.
A question was presented to another person in the group who also worked with him: did she "like" him?The response was one of silence and no one said a word. A lot of people didn't like him. A lot of people didn't like Picasso.
I'm not suggesting being an asshole is a formula for success but some great leaders who are also artists are often unliked. Steve Jobs was an artist and while he was unliked by many, he was also a visionary who created great things, including inspiration for others to find their own genius inside of them. A gift. Making tough decisions is part of that gift.
Presentation Can Make a World of Difference
It's amazing how many people still rely on traditional Powerpoint slides for presentations. Boring ones. Frankly, I hate speaking in front of large groups and feel "more secure" about my delivery when I use visual aids. Quite simply, its a crutch that helps us move the presentation along when what we should be doing is telling a story from our heart and life experiences that educate, inspire and ultimately move people to action in some way.
Some of the greatest TED talks have used some visual aids, even a slide or two, but 80% of their presentation is about flow and about story. If storytelling isn't the essence of what you deliver, then it most likely isn't an outstanding presentation.
Find a Way to Balance Your Intensity
I would add to this since balancing your intensity isn't the whole picture; balancing your life is what you need so you don't burn out and can find peace with what you signed up, aka your career. If you're not working part-time or gave up a job to raise a family, you're probably spending more time in your work life than any other thing you do. Striking a balance is critical to sustaining happiness and peace with that decision. Life is a long road. Balance sets you free.
Live for Today
Steve Jobs was much more able to go to that place after he learned about his terminal illness. While intellectually we know that we should live for today even when things are going our way, very few people do.
Isn't living for today just another way of saying "be present"? And yet, even if we've hung out in Buddhist temples, spend quiet time on yoga and meditation mats, it's hard to live a very present life all the time. Our brains aren't wired that way. At the core of our decision making, even important ones is our lizard brain, a pretty unevolved part of our bodies. Refer to my post on Linchpins, lizard brains & getting uncomfortable.
While there are people who share their wisdom and bring others up with them as they themselves rise to the top, I see sharing explode when people hit their forties, whether or not they have children. Something happens when you've reached a certain plateau -- call it wisdom, call it inner peace -- where the race no longer matters. Sharing matters more and for some, it's the only thing that matters.
For the original once again, go here as it was my inspiration for this variation...
December 06, 2011
Paris: The Loves, The Peeves, The Fashion, The Rules & The Men
Every time I arrive in Paris, there's always a "dating and mating" period, where I have to become re-acquainted, re-accustomed and re-united in a way that is less natural than New York City, where I go through the same ritual despite how many umpteen times I've been there.
It typically takes about two days and my curses at the bureaucratic schtuff that gets in my way starts to subside a bit and Paris becomes Paris in all its glory, dark chocolate, crepes, brasseries, grand boulevards, shopping, cafes, gastronomie chefs, quaint Marais and Latin Quarter alleys and all.
The getting re-acquainted period goes something like this as I walk into my first shop, cafe, restaurant, hotel or bar. 1. Bonjour Madame. 2.
Not awake and still jetlegged, I'm thinking: Oh yeah, French. Rewrite your brain but oh my brain is so tired. "Bonjour" I say with perkiness in my voice to hide the fact that I didn't sleep on my 10 hour flight and the fact that I'm pissed off that I always used to sleep through everything including flights and now long flights are brutal rather than a napping or grazing day.
I adjust my scarf and hat to avoid looking too American a k a a sloppy, uncaring, horribly dressed female with an oversized coat and white sneakers for comfort. (note you won't find the latter on my feet in Paris -- ever).
Who said looking fabulous, sexy, French and stylish meant you could wear comfortable shoes, especially masculine flat-soled sneakers for crying out loud? I agree with the French on this one.
3. I roam for hours, not wanting to interact with anyone. On the first day, I just want to look and meander, look and meander AND as presently as I can amidst drizzly rain drops and 30 degree temperatures, take it all in as if its the first time.
4. Return to hotel within the first 24 hours. Something or another doesn't work for some strange reason - some stupid rule that doesn't make sense to anyone west of France, some design decision that got in the way of practicality or old plumbing. Fatigued, I ask as if on automatic pilot: 8 more hangers, 2 blankets and another towel knowing that I've probably only been given 4 hangers, a small blanket that will be sure to leave me freezing cold in the middle of the night and one or possibly two small towels that the Parisians call bath towels. (yes, often even in a 4 star hotel).
Then there's the European hotel lighting system...you know the one; your key must be inserted into a slot at the door before any of your lights work and one light often controls some random one on the other side of the room and you spend countless minutes trying to figure it out (no Renee, it's typically nearly an hour).
I know the logic is centered around sustainability and conservation but crikey, they make it so complicated that it becomes exhausting even when you know the concept. What's wrong with a simple on and off switch? (BTW, I have noticed that many of the 4 and 5 stars in South America and Australia
Simplify grasshopper, simplify.
As I walked down very long and very wide boulevards on my "first night of many first nights," Boulevard St. Germain which I know fairly well and L'Universitie and Rue Saint Dominique which I don't know as well, I took in every face and accent as I ended up having to talk to 90% of them.
Of course I got lost - despite how many times I've been here, I always get lost when I walk the streets at night. It seems to be another part of the annual ritual even if it is in fact, a familiar road.
The same thing happens in the states - it's just not the way this 'right brain' is wired. You'd think by now, I'd find one hotel or apartment I absolutely love and just book the same one every time.
A Sag who loves spontaneous adventure is less likely to make those practical decisions although more times than not, I wish I had. No one was from Paris and those who were, did their best to guide me in the right direction in their broken English (the majority) and I did my best to understand in my broken French (which used to be a helluva lot better).
I always seem to find my way home and the blind exploring isn't necessarily a bad thing. (it's better in May than it is in December however. Did I mention it's supposed to be 3 degrees C this week?) Below is the "Things That Bug the Crap Out of Me" in Paris List:
- Rules & Regulations: I realize that some of the "rules" in Paris are cultural. For example, don't mess with a French chef's menu by saying hold the cream or hold the cheese even if it means you'll have an allergic reaction and be sick.
- God forbid you muck with his ingredients. Or, don't dare ask for a taste of an open bottle of wine even if you've told them in advance you plan to order a bottle and drink and eat well into the night. In my case, I even mentioned reviewing their restaurant on 3 different venue occasions and still got a "no way we can do that madame."
Might it not mean that the customer doesn't order something she doesn't want and then writes positive things about your place afterwards? Cultural or not, it's marketing 101 and old school protocols like these simply come across as inflexible and not listening to your customer in a world where listening and engaging are the easiest (and might I add, cheapest) things to do to gain a loyal fan.
- Arrogance & Attitude: This is related to the first point, particularly the inflexibility about what's possible and not possible. Paris isn't India after all based on a caste system where "if its not in my job description, no can do Madame." Crikey, it's the romantic international capital of the world. If a woman wants a splash of wine, give it to her. The tip and good PR for months and quite possibly years to come will more than make up for it.
When I checked into my hotel, I couldn't get over the attitude of the bellman when he realized he had to move my fairly large bag to another room on a different floor (it's a small place and even though there was an elevator, he would have had to navigate a bit).
Isn't this your job I'm thinking? I can't imagine my bag was larger than any other woman's bag coming to Paris for nearly two weeks, particularly given the fact that I was only 45 pounds of my 50 max for the airplane and at least a third of it was camera equipment.
The bag even had wheels for crying out loud. In the end, I just smiled and said I'd take care of it myself - his bad attitude wasn't worth the extra time I had to spend looking at his sour face when 10% of his job is to get my bag from A to B and the other 90% is just about being nice, warm and pleasant, so my overall hotel experience is a memorable one.
- Snobbery Towards Americans: This one pisses all yanks off, yet frankly I actually get it. To be fair, after spending 7 years+ living and romping around Europe, yanks wore on my nerves as well. And so, I sympathize, however one of the things that I've noticed over the years is how similar French are to Americans.
- Sure, the average knows a helluva lot more about culture, literature, global matters and geography, but it doesn't go without the characteristics of complaining, whining and the belief that they're the best country in the world. How is that different from Americans for the most part?
That said, having dinner along Rue Saint Dominique on my first night, I moved tables because the American accents and loud voices were so obvious and tacky, I couldn't tune out. And so, it was simply better to move, politely of course.
I think my main issue with it all is how blatant and vocal the French are about it, rather than acknowledge the differences, but also the positive side of American culture and its people: friendliness, fun spirited, energetic, entrepreneurial, authenticity (minus a chunk of LA - a boat load of friends living there are bound to email me about this one, but I think a boat load is a fair enough statement since its so clearly not all), and resourceful.
Yanks know how to get things done and if something doesn't work the first time, chances are they'll try a different approach and keep trying until they succeed.
- Internet Connectivity in Hotels: The "having to connect using tons of codes & often" issue doesn't apply just to Paris or France for that matter but other cities in Europe as well. (London less so). When I was in Budapest and Prague over the summer, I had to go through the same thing. Munich too. You're given a code, you enter it with a password, then you have to fill in your life's particulars and in the case of my Paris hotel, I had to agree to spam mail and so I used a spam email address.
The problem is that it only works for 24 hours and often if your laptop goes to sleep or hibernates for a bit, you may lose the connection and have to go through the process from scratch.
To make things even more inefficient, you have to get a new code from the front desk and most of the time, they are printed off on little slips of paper they hand to you. Often the codes are so long, its more efficient to trek all the way downstairs to get the paper than the painful process of having them read it to you with errors over the phone.
Below is the Love the Crap out of Paris List:
- The Formality: Part of the rules and regulations part of their "culture" and frankly, the way things are done, is a formality aka a formal way of behaving in the world. Protocols exist damn it, follow them or take your barbaric uneducated unsavvy self home.
- Part of this I find fascinating, anthropologically speaking. For example, when you order from a menu, even if its a price fixe menu that includes a dessert, you don't tell them what you want for dessert while you're ordering course one and two, even if its listed there and the waiter is standing there writing it all down.
One year I was staying with a friend in one of the burbs (the year I learned to master the RER and beyond) and he had left 4 little bottles of wine for me in the fridge as well as some interesting pate. I decided to drink one of them, which was a tough decision, but opted for the one that looked the most unusual in the end. He later informed me that I was supposed to open all of them and sample some of each, not drink just one. Who knew?
- Attention to Decadence and Design: While Rome and London do a pretty great job on the design front, there's no better experience than going into a chocolate shop or bakery and leaving with a beautifully wrapped piece of something that looks as good as it tastes.
And, it's not just about their chocolate and patisseries, but all of it....linens, towels, scarves, hats, jewelry or frankly, something as small as a barrette or card. They take care to wrap it and the packaging is fabulous, every time.
It's the same way they serve their coffee and everything else for the most part. It's not as grand as it was ten years ago but I think this is more of an economic consideration than anything else.
- Shopping: see above. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the boutiques and higher end shoe/boot shops in Paris.
- The Men: the same things that frustrate the hell out of me with French men are some of the things that I love. I could easily lose the patronizing attitudes and the trend that mistresses are as common as having a therapist in LA. But French men are charmers and unlike any experience I have ever had in northern California, they make me feel feminine.
American men from the South know how to bring this out in a woman (while we're on making sweeping generalizations but if you can remember that they're generalizations based on a combo of observations and direct experiences, bear with me and read on). It's the way they talk to you, pay attention to you, delight in the small details of your eyes, your hands and your life story.
Additionally, like Italian men, they care about design, the way they dress and the way a woman dresses as well - the more feminine the better. And, they cherish in this and it rubs off. (No doubt, there will be a lot of woman who disagree with me over this one and might even be pissed off, but we can have that conversation -- or rather debate -- offline sometime over a glass of Bordeaux).
- The Food: Need I say more? Even the tourist restaurants where the food isn't out of this world, it's presented in such a way that it could fool you.
Something will be memorable about it in the end. Go to local brasseries, restaurants and cafes wherever you can of course and take the time to explore especially if you're in Paris for longer than a 48 hour business trip. For more on food/wine in Paris, click here.