Nov 12, 2013

Connecting – or not

A few months back, a former client reached out via email to share the good news that she had landed a consulting job at a major company and that we should get together to celebrate.  I naively wrote back right away to congratulate her and agree that a celebration was in order offering some options for lunch or dinner in the coming weeks.  That was met with total radio – or more appropriately – email silence. 

Several weeks passed and another email popped up from her apologizing for not checking that email account more often (despite the face it was the one she wrote to me from in the first place) and asking again about availability to get together.  Again, I foolishly responded and was again left hanging in cyberspace. 

A couple months later, yet another apologetic email arrived with even more cause for celebration since her position had now become permanent.  The phrase “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me” immediately came to mind.  I didn’t want to get sucked into another black hole of email correspondence, but another friend suggested implementing the “three strikes you’re out” method so I once more responded with available dates.

That was a week ago and here I sit pondering what has become of our ever-connective world actually creating less and less connectivity.  Another former colleague reached out to a Facebook post of mine saying he too wanted to “re-connect.”  I decided rather than involve all our FB friends in our business, I would reach out off-post by sending an email message separately and directly to him.  And so another message got sucked into the cyber black hole.  The same friend suggested that maybe he didn’t read his FB messages and I should try responding to the post, which I reluctantly did and lo and behold, he wrote back there with his contact information for all the world, or at least my FB world, to see. 

Sometimes, connecting even to a colleague or friend starts to feel like dating.  Should I email back right away or should I wait?  Should I email or call?  Should I call the office number or the cell?  I opted the next day to call him and he asked if he could call me back.  Then he texted to apologize for being so busy and would get back to me soon.  It’s interesting how now I felt guilty for intruding when he was the one who originally reached out.  In any event, that was a couple of weeks ago now already and I think the chances of hearing back are slim to none.

During this time, I’ve also been playing email phone tag (this is when an email turns into a “let’s discuss by phone” situation and then the struggles of coordinating that ensue.)  I’ve shared my phone number and suggested multiple times over multiple days when I could be available.  Perhaps it’s a power play by the other person who wants to be the one in charge of deciding and I’m ok with that, but just make a date and stick to it.  Here I sit this time waiting for a phone call that may or may not ever come, but certainly has not come when it was agreed upon. 

Once again, it feels like dating as I sit checking my phone to make sure the ringer is on and the volume is turned up.  Did I miss the call while I was washing my hands?  Wait was that my ring tone I heard or real crickets?  Maybe I should try a louder more obnoxious ring tone as if that would actually make the call come through. 

The irony is that in all three cases, I was not the one initiating the contact.  But each case shares the same condition in common and that is the distracted life that has become the norm.  Like an ancient relic, I sit here on the precipice of extinction with my expectations from others to behave as I behave myself, with conscientiousness and follow through, with manners and respect.  So perhaps it’s only after being fooled three or more times that we finally won’t get fooled again – wait is that my phone ringing?

Oct 11, 2013


n. - voyage

We returned a while ago from a lovely sojourn in Martha’s Vineyard where a dear friend of ours not only lives, but was born and bred.  While the trip was absolutely wonderful and one I would repeat again, there were a couple of “don’t’s” – the first being not to take the ferry from New York, but rather splurge and fly there, which you can do now direct from JFK.  We were being frugal, but the ferry does not take five hours as indicated, but closer to over six and for a weekend getaway, it’s too much time in transport that could be better spent enjoying the island.  Furthermore, the ride over was very bumpy and we all know what that means.  Fortunately, I didn’t get sick, but I did get terrified and when I lost the horizon due to the darkness of night, I was left just clinging helplessly to my seat staring ahead in the black of night praying for the voyage to end. 

Given that experience, pizza seemed like such a poor choice for a boat snack, but there it was in all its greasy glory right along side the hot dogs, chips and beer – staples of the American diet.  This leads me to my other “don’t” and that is tempura-fried lobster.  Now I’m not talking about frying the actual meat, which could be a good idea, but rather frying the whole thing shell and all.  This works with soft-shelled crab – because you can eat the shell, but you can’t eat the lobster shell or at least I can’t.  It’s messy enough to get through with one’s little pliers and picks, but now there’s an added layer of grease and fat to contend with.  This wasn’t served on the ferry by the way, but at an upscale eatery where we went on our second night.  I guess just plain old boiled or baked lobster becomes pedestrian when living near the sea so this was their way of differentiating themselves, but I’m more of a traditionalist.

Traditional is not a word I would use to describe my friend’s father, also a long time Vineyard native.  He lives in a non-traditional home with two non-traditional pet roosters who actually come when they’re called and allow themselves to be picked up and held.  They greeted us when we arrived and clucked and pecked around us as we visited.  We took a little boat ride out to the beach since he lives on a bay and then we each took a turn on his excavator – and that’s not an SUV by the way, but a 10 ton machine that operates on hydraulics used for lifting or digging dirt and moving it from one place to another.  I’m still not sure exactly what the project was that he was using it for, but it was quite fun to have a go at it.

All in all, it was a delightful journey with delightful people and the ferry back came all too quickly, yet still took all too long!  

Dec 14, 2011

Malade comme un chien

exp. – sick as a dog.
To follow up on my previous post, I was premature in celebrating my recuperation. In fact, it took several more days and a full series of antibiotics to do the trick. It’s no wonder that everyone in the apartment got so sick given how hot it is. Well actually I was the only one who got sick, but no wonder!
At first I thought the raspy, throaty voice from endless hacking was sexy. That is until I feared I might have done irreparable damage to my vocal chords losing the ability to ever speak properly again. It was during this time that I realized the expression “sick as a dog” is a bit of misnomer. “Sick as a New Yorker in December” maybe, but my dog is never sick.
One of my favorite sayings is “a faithful friend is the medicine of life.” It’s true that friends always have a way of making us feel better. As holiday cards start to stream in, I realize how lucky I am to have so many friends because I also believe that while friends we have many, good friends we have but a few. Most of us who have entered the social networking game can count upwards of a hundred friends easily – some have even upwards of a thousand, but how many of these friends are really that close to us?
Networking in general has been around since the Dawn of time. Technology has just made it easier. Making new friends, however, is just as complex as it’s always been. Recently, a woman in our building was widowed. She had been very gracious with us regarding a question we had about work she had done on her apartment that we were thinking about doing on ours. So I foolishly felt a tiny connection for that reason. When her husband passed away after a long illness, I reached out with a note of condolence offering my company should she want to get together for coffee, tea, a chat.
She never responded and now when I see her in the building, I feel awkward like she wishes I would go away. At first I felt like an idiot for reaching out to a total stranger who clearly already had a lifetime of friends, not to mention family, to see her through her grieving. It wasn’t until a good friend of mine pointed out though that what I had done came from the right place and that I shouldn’t feel bad about trying to do a nice thing. That’s what friends are for, making us feel better no matter what the circumstance.
Dogs also have an ability to make us feel better because they never judge. They also can intuit when we’re under the weather or just under a cloud. “Man’s best friend” indeed and what more faithful friend than a dog. So here’s to dogs and friends, not necessarily in that order – may the holiday season be as kind to all of you as you all continue to be to each other.

Dec 9, 2011

Mieux vaut prévenir que guérir

exp. – better to prevent than to fight or an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

While I feel like I’ve touched on this phrase before, this week I truly learned this lesson the hard way. I wasn’t feeling well, which made me realize I hadn’t gotten my flu shot yet so I rushed to the pharmacy to do just that. This was my first mistake. I told the pharmacist I didn’t feel well to which she replied, well it takes two weeks to take effect so you may still get the flu. Jokingly I said, well at least I won’t get it again after that. Turns out this wasn’t funny.

I don’t think of myself as a hypochondriac, but fortunately I’m not often sick. So when I am, I can go from ill to dying within hours. The following day I was in urgent care sweating and almost crying explaining all my symptoms to a rather unsympathetic doctor relatively disgusted with me for getting the flu shot when I already wasn’t feeling well. You see I reversed the natural order – not feeling well, flu shot, doctor, vs. doctor, flu shot to prevent not feeling well. He seemed more interested in whether I was pregnant or going through menopause – too old for the former, too young (I hope) for the latter, but he did ascertain that I was dehydrated (probably from the loss of fluids due to the fever) and had some sort of “unspecified viral infection.” He told me to let him know if things got worse.

Well the next day they did. I thought my head was going to explode. I had a cough, dry throat, clearly a fever. I was weak, dizzy, nauseous, in other words an utter and complete mess. So I made a second trip to urgent care. This time it was another doctor, much more sympathetic as far as I’m concerned because I give him credit for single handedly saving my life. It was so simple, ibuprofren to bring the fever down, a prescription cough suppressant and a prescription flu medication. I went from a fever of 103 to 98.7 within hours, slept without sweating and awoke feeling almost cured.

Of course all of this came at a price and it was a rude reminder that I’m not in France anymore. My total for my subscription medications was almost $100 – that was for all two of them! And the pharmacist gleefully pointed out that I had actually saved $70 on one of them because of my insurance. While I just had what I’m guessing was some version of the flu, I can’t imagine suffering through it without relief and to think of the far graver maladies people have to suffer through because they can’t afford health insurance is eye opening to say the least.

So to end with another French expression that mirrors the English one, ne remettez pas à demain ce que vous pouvez faire aujourd'hui – don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. I should have gotten my flu shot months ago before flu season hit. But mistakes are to learn from and to blog about.

Nov 16, 2011

Chercher le mouton à cinq pattes

exp. – looking for the sheep with five feet or basically something that’s too good to be true – not that I know why a five footed sheep would be such a good thing.

Looking for a job, especially in a difficult economy, can be a daunting task. Beginning with the job descriptions themselves, no matter what the position is, the expectations always seem overly ambitious to the point of being unrealistic. I’m surprised they don’t include things like “candidate should be able to fly and breathe under water.” On the other hand, including words like “motivated, professional, organized and responsible” seem a bit redundant because if one has none of these qualities, it’s not likely they’ll be looking for work.

Waiting to hear from people regarding a job or even just to have a preliminary conversation about a job is reminiscent of waiting for a boy to call you for a date. I remember back to the days when we only had landlines and before answering machines existed, dragging my phone as far out of my room as possible whenever I wasn’t in it in order to not miss a call.

Things haven’t changed much, only that it’s easier to keep a phone close at hand. People drop their phones in the toilet all the time. I’m happy to say I haven’t done that yet, but I remember when I first moved to New York and before caller ID, I answered the phone not once, but twice from the bath to speak with someone who turned out to be my future boss – I remember sitting very, very still.

I’m sort of an anti-cell phone person. I have one naturally and I try to take it with me when I can, but I either forget to turn it on, don’t hear it or can’t find it in time to pick up before a call goes to voice mail. It always startles me when it rings and I find it intrusive if I happen to be doing anything but sitting on the couch beside it when it does. I also have trouble with texting. I find it more time consuming than anything else.

In Paris, cell phones work in the metro, which you would think would cause pandemonium, but the French, civilized in many ways, are certainly so when talking on their phones. There’s no screaming and yelling like you hear in New York. Calls seem to have a meaning there and are kept short in public places. Here, they seem to be about nothing at all and the fact that one is surrounded by strangers doesn’t impede in any way sharing the most personal information as audibly as possible. In this case, I would prefer that people text as long as they look where they’re going when they do.

I like to Skype, but you have to make sure you’re presentable if you’ve got the video going. It goes without saying that there’s no Skyping in the bathroom. Emailing makes it easy to hide and gives you the most time to compose yourself before responding. But like texting, it can grow tiresome when a conversation could be much more easily accomplished by a phone call.

We’ve come into an age when the multiple methods to communicate have in a way made it easier to not communicate at all, at least directly that is. And sometimes all that communication can lead to miscommunication. Texting, typing, twittering, it’s all a lot to do with only two hands so maybe that’s why a sheep with five feet is a good thing after all.

Is that my phone that’s ringing…?


adv. – above all (or especially)

This is almost a literal translation into English since “sur,” which technically means on can also mean above and “tout” means all. There are many adverbs that are literally translated, “literally” among them as “littéralement.” “Complètement,” “effectivement,” “exactement,” “définitivement,” all sound like their English counterparts, albeit with a “ment” ending vs. a “ly” one. “Definitely,” “totally” and “indeed” can all be covered by “tout à fait,” sort of more loosely defined as all in fact.

Going back to “literally,” I tend to pronounce it in a British way for some reason. This results in a clipped version by placing emphasis on the “t” before the “rally.” Americans tend to roll slowly over the “t” like a speed bump so that all the consonants are used. There’s one word I notice that some American almost pronounce more like a British person and that’s “forward.” There are people who drop the first “r” so it sounds more like “foeward,” but unlike a British person, they pronounce the second “r”, which is what makes it different.

Other people, especially from the Midwest, actually add an “r” where there isn’t one. For example, “wash” becomes “warsh.” New Englanders, like Englanders, tend to drop the “r” – we’ve all heard about “pahking the cah.” Then there’s the interchanging of the “s” and “k” in a word like ask, turning it into “aks.”

“Ask” makes me think of the French word for sit, which is “assis”. I say this a lot to the dog since he learned his commands in French and the other day I noticed for the first time that the word for sit in French actually has the word “ass” in it, which struck me as funny. “Coucher,” which can mean to sleep or lie down (and funnily has the word “couch” in it) is another command word the dog knows. We taught him to sit first and then lie down, rewarding him with treats when he does. Sometimes, even if I just ask him to sit, he’ll go straight to the lie down position as if to say, let’s cut to the chase.

“Avance” means go or advance, if you want to be more literal. “Attend” means wait. These are two other words the dog knows, even though ironically they sound very similar when you say them. The word “no” and “non” also sound the same in both languages, but for some reason, he doesn’t seem to understand either. Truth is the dog doesn’t really understand anything we say to him. It’s more the intonation and inflection that he responds to and of course, the treats. As complex and intriguing as language is, only humans use it to communicate. Animals operate on a simpler level, interacting instinctively and there’s nothing more literal than that.

Oct 11, 2011


n. – exit


n. – emergency exit

These words are in German as you may notice and I discovered them a while ago when visiting my husband on a business trip in Munich. I have nothing much to say about this other than I just found it funny since the second word looks like it would mean “not” an exit vs. more importantly an emergency exit.

German words can be very long. I think it’s their way of being efficient with the language – why waste time separating words when you can string them together to make one giant one.

While living in Paris, I experienced being tri-lingual vis a vis computer keyboards. Mine had the English “qwerty” version, my husband’s work laptop had the German “qwertz” version and my in-laws’ home computer had the French ”azerty” version. It’s amazing how much difference one little key can make when it’s not where you’re used to having it.

I love my computer and I love to type on it. But I have a confession – I still like pens and paper. The other day, I brought out my ancient Filofax to write something down while meeting with someone and he looked at me as if I’d grown another head. Jokingly he asked if I would like a post-it note. I like those, too.

Don’t get me wrong, I can download, upgrade, re-start, log off and shutdown with the best of them, but there’s just something secure about writing on a piece of paper. Notebooks and I mean the ones made from trees, rarely spontaneously combust or disappear into thin air. Hard drives crash – I suppose they use the word crash since it’s a drive. If you haven’t backed it up on your second hard drive and it has to be restored or replaced, you lose everything. And what if the back-up drive crashes? I like to think of my back-up drive like an airplane’s black box, convincing myself that it will survive anything including a nuclear holocaust. Of course, I wouldn’t so it wouldn’t really matter. Paper doesn’t crash and it’s not as if a giant eraser will rub out everything you’ve written (that is if you write in pencil, which I don’t, so even that I don’t have to worry about.)

There’s a funny commercial (I forget what it’s for) where a man comes into an office meeting with his pad (again the kind made from trees) and pen, which has leaked in his pocket. His co-workers make fun of him as if he’s some sort of cave man and it’s funny. But I relate to that man.

Computers do cut down on paper waste, which is a good thing and you can’t get a paper cut from a keyboard, which is also a good thing. There’s no ink to smudge, leak or run out. Computers have changed the world for the better and will continue to amaze us in the years to come. So as long as my keyboard stays in “qwerty,” I’ll keep typing, but that paper and pen will always be around somewhere.

L’herbe est plus verte chez le voisin

Exp. – the grass is greener at the neighbor’s.

Now that I’m back in New York, I can look at it more rationally than I did when I was living in Paris. It’s easy to romanticize what we don’t have and then see things in a new light when we get them back. In some case, that light has dimmed and in others, it burns even brighter.

For better or for worse, something that stuck out when we first returned was the abundance of things. On top of that, there was the speed at which things got done. Small home renovations were accomplished in a matter of days where in Paris we waited six months to have a hole in our ceiling repaired. Time doesn’t stop here like it does in France for Sundays or the month of August. As a result, the time seems to be flying by at record speed.

Here there’s hardly any request that will be turned down especially when in a restaurant. Dressing on the side, substitutions, sending something back to be cooked more – whatever it may be is almost always met with a “No problem!” In Paris, the few times I dared question something on the menu, I would get a cold hard “Non.” Service comes at lightening speed, the bill shows up before you even have to ask for it and as a result, it’s possible to get home from a weekend lunch while it’s still light out.

That’s not to say I don’t miss long, lazy lunches from time to time. And I do miss saying “Bonjour” to strangers in the elevator. Here if you say hello to someone, they sometimes look at you like you’re trying to mug them. And that’s if they even hear you since almost everyone has their ear buds in or their noses and thumbs pressed down towards their smart phones.

And what’s with all the protesting? I used to make fun of the French for that, but it turns out we’re even worse. I know people are angry about the economy and with good reason, but the protests down in Wall Street have become more of an occupation. That’s one thing about the tenacity of a New Yorker – in Paris, once it’s time for dinner, everyone is willing to pack it in, crack open a bottle of wine and call it a day. Here they’re literally setting up camp and moving in.

The public transportation in Paris is terrific. You can get everywhere on the metro or bus or even velib. Here, the subways are often not running and if they are, there’s no indication when the next train is coming. I don’t think there’s an MTA app like the one we had for RATP, but I could be wrong. There is of course an abundance of taxis at literally arm’s reach, but not so many between 4 and 5 pm. Nobody has ever been able to explain why absolutely all of them have to go off duty at the same time.

It’s true that the city never sleeps – construction is continuous, sirens blare, music pulsates from cars and restaurants and people as a result just naturally talk louder in order to be heard. My dog barks longer, walks faster and plays harder. But with all of this comes an energy that I missed. By comparison, Paris is peaceful with a pace that’s softer and easier. There’s a serenity, a stillness and a calm that allows you to stop and look around and with good reason because Paris is the most beautiful city – La Ville-Lumière – the city of light indeed.

So there’s no comparison because the two places are each unique and precious and how lucky am I to have been able to live in both.

To zen or not to zen

Yesterday my husband and I went to yoga together. We got there as we always do a few minutes early so we can set up our mats and settle in before the class starts. There are some people who don’t really care where they may end up in the class, but there are others who are very adamant about not only their personal space, but where in proportion to the rest of the class it may be. I fall somewhere in the middle.

Class started, we were working on bumble bee breath, which I had never done so I was trying to concentrate on the instructions, but someone arrived late and the distraction began. I could see out of the corner of my eye that she had nowhere to put her mat and the teacher, I don’t know whether it was to make a point or not, really wasn’t helping her. Once we finished our bumble bee breaths, which I bumbled pretty badly, the late woman came over to me and asked me to move my mat so she could put hers down.

This was yoga, but man was I bugged. It was the way she asked, which was more of a command and without any apology. I moved of course and staggered my mat, but she chose not to stand at the top of hers, but rather in the middle. Mats are staggered not because the mats bump into each other, but because people do, but if you’re not going to stand where you’re supposed to, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Aggravated, I moved again and let her hand bump into me on the next swan dive forward just to make my point.

Half an hour in to class and I was still irked, but now it was because she was one of those over achievers. The teacher would call out a pose and she would take it to the next level – I hate that. What I hated even more though was that here I was in yoga of all places filled with so much hate.

The studio where we practice is the studio where I actually got my certificate to teach yoga. Although it’s changed ownership since then, it’s continued its atmosphere of pretty down to earth yoga and by this I mean, it stays away from a very spiritually led practice. For me, this is not a deal breaker – truth be told, I started going there because of its proximity to where I live, but I like the classes and find them challenging. The clientele, however, I think very much likes that the spiritual side is not really included apart from a few Om’s and a Namaste once in a while.

There was an article in the paper yesterday about this very thing as it related to teaching yoga to schoolchildren. Most schools insist that the instructors refrain from chanting Om or using the prayer position or even saying Namaste, which struck me as a bit extreme.

Om, for a simple definition, represents the sound of the universe, which we all do unarguably inhabit regardless of what religion you follow. Namaste means “the divine in me bows to the divine in you” and who doesn’t want to be divine?! Anjali Mudra or hands in prayer is really just a position where your hands are pressed together in front of your heart, which I find hard to believe could offend anyone.

To take this topic to a more controversial level and across the pond, France passed a ban on head scarves or hijabs for Muslim school girls, which raised a lot of protest. Taking it a step further, they also want to ban the niquab and burka as the traditional full face veil for women in public. These are seen as oppressive to women and against the secular nature of the French government.

But where does it end? What about the orthodox Jewish women who also cover their heads, whether it be by a scarf or many times a wig? What about the yarmulke or the kippah as the French call it? What about people wearing crucifixes or Stars of David? What about the red dot or bindi worn on Indian women’s foreheads? What about lip plates or neck rings worn by African and Burmese-Thai women? True the latter are seen more commonly in their native lands, but hasn’t western culture adopted all sorts of body modification practices itself, the most common among them, tattoos?

It’s interesting that the French culture, which is much less puritanical than ours and where topless sunbathing is the norm has bigger issues with too much covering of the female body. I understand there are more complex issues that are behind the burka ban with regards to women’s rights. Further complex still is the fact that many of the people protesting the ban were the women themselves.

I unfortunately have no answers, only questions. I know it’s far too simplistic to say live and let live even if I don’t know how I got all the way from an annoying yoga moment to questions about religious freedom. But that is the journey that began yesterday and who knows where it will end. For this moment, however, deep breath in, deep breath out and Namaste.