We discuss often about what agile methodology IS, but today I want to address one of the most frequent NONagile practices done by who think that they have mastered the methodology. While what will introduce is nothing new, it always helps to have several voices in the choir to ensure everyone hears.
How the dialog goes …
« We develop in two week iterations. »
FAUX – FALSE
« We develop and deliver to production in two week iterations. »
WARMER – Tell me more
« We develop and deliver to production, in two week iterations, customer value (or our best guess) »
« We develop and deliver to production, in two week iterations, customer value experiments that have results we can measure. »
While shorter development cycles are a good first step, do not stop there:
Your end game is to get the product out as soon as possible with the best value and quality, so that it is used… or better… yet bought.
If you build a product in an iterative manner and it does not get used by any sort of customer until 6 months or a year later, it is still waterfall.
Agile is challenging yourselves as a team (all voices included) to find the smallest iteration or story “slice” that can be actually released (even in beta) for the best beginning value. It may not be perfect, but it is a start that will already get you feedback! Feedback is the most precious-ness… my precious…
And as indicated above, the best of all, is when you measure the results to see you were successful. But that can be a whole article for another time.
EVERYONE LOVES A METAPHOR (AND SMORES)
I think of Agile delivery planning as a campsite rather than a house.
A house is meant for sleeping and eating. First the foundation is poured, then the structure is built, the insulation is added, etc. This is all well and fine if no one is going to live in the house until the end.
But here is a test… if someone wanted to move in half-way through the construction, can they sleep and eat in my house?
Not if they like a soggy head and soggier toast when it rains!
Same goes for your product. Always ask, “If after this sprint if the project is immediately canceled, would what we have still be useful?” Trust me as someone who has had projects cancelled mid-sprint that you will be happy you built it in this way.
A campsite though is a better example of how you should construct your product: a campsite is meant for sleeping and eating as well but built quickly and modularly, delivering value with each part. First a tent (already able to sleep in, and your food will stay dry), a firepit for cooking, then some stools as our legs get tired while heating smores, etc…
Get started building your campsite. There are bears!
For better slicing based on value, I suggest these resources to get started:
Also, good technique also is when looking at your first planned iterations, to step back and ask yourself :
Does this serve the base customer value that I want to test?
Can I do this more simply?
You can test this further by actually removing a part of the product and then looking back at question #1.
Something to think about: For team leaders, project managers, etc, how do you splice your projects in general? Is it a roadmap with no deliverables for three months, six months, or a year even? Why not apply the same technique?
Good luck, Happy Campers! Avoid those waterfalls; there are bears there!
Unhappy in your job, but uncertain if you changed, what you would do? Or perhaps you have a job you used to love, how do you rediscover that passion?
In business and agile product management, we talk about “pivoting” a product to meet the market. Pivoting is tweaking, changing direction, rebranding and more. But what about ourselves? Why not use the same product management and agile skills to improve ourselves, the most important product of all?
How do we pivot ourselves to meet our own “internal market” so that we may perform our best, motivated by our passion, and increase our return on investment (aka more happiness)?
Enough of these questions! The answers lie within you. Here are some self-retrospection exercises that have helped me and others make that big (or small) change towards happiness.
Exercise #1: Papertrail retrospection: What is “Past You”‘s “why?”
Before knowing your next step, it is first important to reaffirm your baseline of what motivates you when out in the wild. Much like a business must construct the “why” of their product and test it, so must you. This is facilitated by looking back at your past life “tests” or experiences.
This exercise is especially important when considering big changes, and the answer can keep you in check in the future.
Print out your CV, your Facebook/Twitter feed, your last couple emails, etc. or have them pulled up on your computer screen and grab a notebook to make notes. Do not just go off memory as you are bound to forget the important small details.
Highlight/note the experiences where you were legitimately happy and/or proud.
Take it a step deeper: WHY were you happy? Keep on asking “Why?” until you get to the underlying value that motivated your efforts. This may take a couple sessions of reflection to discover and it could evolve over time. Example: I was happiest when I helped launch that new website for a volunteer association. Why? Because it helped multiple countries. But why that? I was able to achieve something with a multi-national group. But why that? I met new interesting people and learned about myself. But why that? I enjoy new experiences with new cultures. But why that? I like diversity and challenging my own perspective. But why that? I need to continually grow and feel part of a global community.
Now brainstorm what activities can you cut out to focus on only those that build you toward happiness. Or, do you need a complete change? No worry. you already have experience. Just look at your highlighted CV or notes! Examples:
I only do websites as a hobby. I will focus on increasing my programming skills in my off time and start applying for international freelance projects.
I will liberate time in my schedule by cutting out unnecessary meetings, and I will from my boss request approval to participate in the companies’ culture think-tank.
Bonus activity: Recreate your CV putting your highlighted experiences in the forefront and start floating it around on recrutement sites or consider going independent. You will be surprised how many bites you may get and how more motivated and convincing you will be in your interviews if it something you ACTUALLY like.
Cannot find ANYTHING in your CV that makes you happy or proud?
That is why I also suggest searching your social media feeds, old photos, or personal emails. What makes you smile? You can still use these items to professionally progress. I know someone who once got a development job due to the personal WoW videogame forum he created. In interviews, I have successfully used my volunteer dance teaching and event organisation experience to boost myself. Often these personal experiences show more your motivation than paid gigs.
Exercise #2: Classic Retrospection… Do, Rinse and Repeat
This exercise is good to do on a continuous basis. Reflecting on your entire life or one area (personal, family or side professional project), ask yourself:
In [AREA OF MY LIFE]…
What has made me the happiest?
What takes away from my happiness?
What are some solutions?
Journal out your responses; focus on one solution (we cannot change Rome in a day); and then return to this in your next self-retrospection in the coming week, month, etc. Find your rhythm and stick to it.
The End Result
The end result could be:
You do love your job and now you know why you love it. In addition, you can use this knowledge of your “why” to decide in the future on new endeavors or commitments.
You love your job but you currently are spending too much time on happiness-detractors derailing you.
You would like to change within your field.
You have exhausted all possibilities, and now, want to completely change.
All these are fine responses. Reflect (but not too much) and then just do it. Take your next step or embrace where you are.
A Personal Case Study:
These activities are based upon past mentoring experiences and my own recent personal journey. For those interested, my recent foibles go as follows:
I started as a web developer and designer. Seven years ago, I transitioned to team and product management. Now I am an Agile organisation and product vision coach, trainer and writer.
Five months ago, I took my latest leap to coach 100%. After 12 years in the industry, this change in hindsight now seems natural, but it took some not-so-evident reflection.
You see, I had an issue for despite gaining more and more opportunities and acknowledgement for my product work in larger and more prestigious companies, I was not happy.
This unease befuddled me, my husband, my friends, my family, and the random barman I would sulk to.
If you look back at my life and professional career as a series of iterative experiments, as far as advancement, all would point towards not pivoting.
After all, only now, Product Management is really getting the acknowledgement and the solidification that it deserves. Now companies are finally waking up. They are hungry to define and fill these types of postions with better compensation and recognition.
But only money and advancement matters, right?
It depends. For some people, “Yes.” That is fine, but reflecting back again, obviously as someone who gave up everything to restart her career in “salary-poor” Paris, money is not my greatest motivator (though it is nice… I am not a robot and need money for cheese… my greatest “why”).
So after doing further self-retrospection and the activities above, I realized of all my experiences I was the MOST happy when it was facilitating team growth and product vision, but not necessarily orchestrating it.
When teams were more efficient, autonomously delivering better quality and were happier, I was happier.
When companies lost in the woods discovered the product vision they had been searching for thanks to my advice or facilitation, I felt found.
You see, despite my titles not reflecting it, I did amass five years experience helping teams transform whether as a manager, teammate, or agile advocate within the company. While often this was a side goal given to me or for which I volunteered, I started becoming known for my Agile expertise. In fact, in my last position they hired me expressly as a Product Owner whose first mission was to complete the Agile transformation and advocate for new ways of working.
So now, after all these experiments (and I have changed jobs often), what rose to the surface naturally? It was this passion to facilitate the growth of others. I would have never come to this conclusion without wiping the slate clean, including the red-herring that was my past goal of product management upward mobility.
When it comes to big new life changes, I am as guilty as anyone in my need for premature optimization, meaning my first instinct is to not start before all is ‘perfectly’ planned… sometimes so that I never actually start.
Paralyzed, I want to change in a big WATERFALL kind of way where everything is planned out and all items implemented at once.
But then I shake myself a little, say a few choice words in the mirror, and step forward in an agile, iterative, and most importantly, reflective way.
Because the first step is the most important.
Not HOW you do it. But JUST the fact you do it.
So, the first step for transforming your business towards agile is … ?
The same goes for transforming your business, project, team, etc. to begin using ‘agile’ methodologies. It is a big company culture change! You must resist implementing all at once. When I am ranting on about how much I adore agile, I am quite often asked :
Okay, but how do I implement it? Where to start?
There is a glimmer of fear in their eye as they reach for their coffee or beer (Yes, I ramble on about agile outside of work… often.)
This question is hard to answer without meeting the team and knowing the particular intricacies of the project and the overall production needs. In addition, it is best not to prescribe too much as it really depends on the team’s unique DNA and what THEY want to do first (Yay, autoorganization!)… as top down rarely works with these kinds of changes.
The first step I often recommend and one of the easiest to implement (once the team is convinced) is putting into place: “Retrospectives” or “Retros”.
What is a Retro?
A retrospective can take many forms and often should change and adapt with the team over time (if not to add some spice). The overall idea is the team gets together to reflect upon:
Since the last retro…
What went well?
What could improve?
What are some solutions?
Then two or three of the solutions are collectively chosen and teammates volunteer to follow these points until next retrospective. After all, we can not change Rome in a day! Here are some ideas for retro formats.
How often and who?
Depends on your team! Typically retrospectives are at the end of the development cycle for development Scrum teams. I suggest conducting retrospectives at least once a month for non-development teams, especially in the beginning.
Oh, that is right. I suggest retrospectives on all levels. It is not just the developers that produce, so why not spend that valuable time improving on all levels?
You have multiple product owners? Do a scrum to scrum retrospective! Do a company wide one! Marketing team one! All levels will profit from regular introspection, though the time intervals and format will vary depending on the scope.
The key is though to not turn retrospectives into ‘diss’ fests against people or teams not present. This should be watched for and any point involving those not present should be noted and taken up in the next retrospective including them or by their manager in private. If it is solely a personal conflict then it is best discussed between the two people involved.
In addition, I am a big advocate for having mixed profiles in the retrospectives including managers. BUT it is important that the managers exercise listening and letting each person, especially those naturally timid, feel free and safe to express themselves.
Much like brainstorming sessions, the participants must freely be able to communicate their ideas and thoughts. Only later when you vote on the most important solution upon which to work , should there be a HEALTHY debate on the pertinence.
Here is the kicker: You have to actually do it for it to work
Now over the years of seeing various companies/projects/teams transition to agile, one of the biggest stifling factors has been cutting off open communication or not prioritizing it. For example: just filing away retros as “another meeting”. This I have found especially true for non-sprint organized teams.
“Ahh… well I have so many meetings… so much to do. Do we REALLY have to have our retro? Didn’t we just have one? I would appreciate it if we could push it off… I have this [INSERT DEADLINE] coming up.”
Respond, “No, sorry. It is important.”
Hey, secretly, you may even want to cancel it! It takes time and energy to communicate openly and establish healthy channels to do so. But giving that loving push to yourself and others to keep to the retro routine is important.
Trust me; of all the times my teams have wanted to cancel the retrospective… Where people grumbled, “Well, what do we really have to say to each other? We talk a lot already.”… those OFTEN turn out to be the best retrospectives. People leave smiling and feeling loved because they took the time to improve themselves and their team, vent their frustrations and find solutions.
Pro tip: Bring candy. People love candy. Or ask people to volunteer taking turns cooking or purchasing food to bring. Food = love, commitment and yumminess. Plus, it gives the team a sense of ownership. They will want to be at that retro so that they did not bring food for nothing!
Well other than the free candy… In your agile transition or project life you may not always make the right decisions. The first steps may be off path, BUT if you bake in moments of reflection, you can easily fix these mis-steps and learn from them. Turn them into an investment and not a loss.
So no crazy long, overly optimized roadmap of how to transition to agile is necessary.
Just start by talking with each other.
Just take that first step and keep at it and the rest will eventually fall in line.
Look! I remember how to log into this blog! Which really calls more into question my password changing practices and not so much my memory…
So here I am a couple days after our anniversary of arriving in Paris… which let’s have a quick update and reflection:
Paris Season… 5ish…
So since last post:
Bought an apartment
I know other things have happened but seriously dudes that made my… year… decade… life. Super happy in our own chez-nous in Paris. I keep thinking we will regret it when our loan payments come out each month but then. I just. don’t. Because it is friggin’ awesome.
Anyway this takes a lot of effort and much of our life has been a bit saturated with home-needs. We started looking last February, our offer was accepted last April, everything was official in September and we have been living here since October. Since then lots of home projects which eventually I may share with you kind internet blog black-hole.
Still at the same job! I speaka the French every day! And I am now moving into a new position. 😀 In the last year the product I work on has launched in France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and Austria! In addition, we have released a major project which was a collaboration with the Irish team. And soon we launch in the UK and Ireland. Boy this past year at work has been… eventful and unbelievable! Lots of stress and responsibility but very rewarding and I have gotten to travel a bit with the job and work with other nationalities which is my favorite part.
All our siblings are married off! Which meant 3 trips to the US in the last year.
Still teaching dance on the side but not dancing as much as we would like
Family came to visit and we have spent quite a bit of time in Loire lately. And look forward to more family and Loire in the future! Life is good.
Plotting my next adventures thinking to take some time in Spain as I take back up Spanish (because I am loca) and Asia (I know big… but I am open)
Moral of the Story: Being an Expat = Prepare to Not be Prepared (AKA Adultness)
I will not bore you more with my Sheila News of the Year but leave you with a tidbit of reflection (still a high chance of boredom could arise).
Easy for you to say… you are a lion
Being an expat/transplant/immigrant (because let’s get real ‘expat’ is just a white privilege fancy word for immigrant) has ‘gotten easier’ as in I am now used to not being used to things.
Moving to a new country, is relearning everything (when perhaps you had not already figured everything else out in your old country) instead now you must do it again in 1 or 2 years rather than 18.
Registering/applying so you may be allowed to live there and work (a bit of the expat birth)
learning to speak (in the case of moving to a country with a new language)
learning about doctors, police, laws, social rules, where to buy random things that before never were a question like… the metal thing you put in your drain to catch stuff or Birthday cards
obtaining your driver’s license
Social Security subscription
Translation of all documents: marriage and birth certificates to prove you exist
Asking yourself questions you never thought you would have to like: ‘Will I be socially shunned if I slice the cheese in this fashion?’
The answer is Yes.
Now add a layer of figuring out HOW and WHERE to do the above with the vocabulary of a 2 year old.
I have not learned just how to ‘to be French’ but I have learned HOW to learn.
So I advise you several things:
Get used to it… the sooner you accept things will be hard and learn adapting/problem solving skills the better.
I know you love your expat friends and they are a great comfort and resource as they know and have done what you have done, but also meet locals! Really just meet as many people as possible. They add to your experience and comfort the blow.
Now on year 4 starting… things feel easier but then BAM! New life experience demands awkwardness/growth (now things that I have never done even back in the US that are just adult responsibility evolutions). Like filing taxes as a home owner!
And then suddenly Expatness feels a little less a state only for us sorry/masochist types that have immigrated more like just like…
So my life has gone through… changes. Where am I now, almost a year ago since the last post?
Got a new job nine months ago! At a French company! In French! So my French speaking abilities have gone from “poor” to “workable but still shameful”. ;p Seriously though it is going very well. Another new intense challenge but worth it.
Everyone in my family ever is getting married. Which is awesome. And that means trips back to the US to see them. We have another this coming October!
I am in the process of finalizing the buying of an apartment. *fingers crossed*.
Honestly, with how stressful and insecure things were for us for so long in France (whether I shared them on the internetz or not) I was not sure I would ever find this stability again. And WHAM now after a lot of hard work I am on stable ground. *touch wood – as they say here*
And I am happy. Obviously we are also planning on sticking around for the long run.
Next Steps – Refinding Yourself
When you move to a foreign country (or anywhere) to find yourself, often you find yourself… in respect to your native country.
Self Questioning as an Expat
For at least the first two to three years you have one line of questioning…
How does this new experience compare to my previous in your old country? And how should you react?
You are not finding yourself, but finding who you are as an expat from your native country and who you should be in your new country. You become a walking stereotype and diplomat.
Then you either go home, move on to a new country or stay.
Moving on to the root question, “Who are you?”
if you stay, it is at this point (which you will reach at least by the 3 year mark as we all know Love Only Lasts 3 Years), where you start to sift through all the noise, stereotypes and confusion to figure out who YOU are and not who your country is (the new or native).
I am there now.
I love my life, my friends, my city and still appreciate my roots. But I have taken on too much and I also have taken on too much the persona of an ‘Expat’. Which was useful and necessary for the original transition but now is old and tired.
While being a transplant will ALWAYS affect me. I do not want that to be me. When I am introduced I do not want to be, ‘Sheila the American who lives in Paris’.
I want to be ‘Sheila the mobile application designer’ or ‘Dancer’ or ‘Poet’ or ‘Lover of fine cheeses’ or ‘Life Long Learner’. Or whatever I find to be my true focus. It could even be ‘Sheila the woman that loves Paris’
It is not a shedding of my national identity because I am ashamed, it is just not hiding behind it.
Plus it’s too easy
To say… I reason like this because I am American. Yes, I am sure that is true to an extent.
But why? Not all Americans think the same. So why in particular do I reason like this?
Because I am me.
But who am I?
And that is nothing an astonishing view of the Eiffel Tower or a buttery croissant can tell you. Unless you find time to self reflect while enjoying them.
Author’s Note: It may seem contradictory to post this sort of post on an Expat Blog. And you are probably right.
So… in the nonstop sitcom that is my life (minus the laugh track and the ability to change the channel quickly) I currently am with out electricity at home for an extended period of time. This means no internet as well. Which is definitely not the first time I have encountered a long period of no internet since moving here due to my many apartment moves.
But you get to profit from these experiences with my list of suggestions for: If you are traveling in Paris or live in Paris and need that sweet sweet internets.
Free Internet in Paris
That’s a keyword phrase for ya!
Libraries – You do not have to be a resident to enjoy the perks of libraries. Not only can you get a library card without live in Paris but also there is free good internet access, desks, serenity, power outlets and the ability to brag you were in the library all day. If possible, always check the opening hours as they can vary (usually closed sundays and mondays and open afternoons only during the summer).
– Library Locations (in French)
McDonalds – Okay, not free as you SHOULD purchase something but you can always sneak in there and show it to the man if need be. I hate to admit it but McDonalds has saved my life as a traveler several times. Toilets, food, cheap coffee (actually not too bad espresso in Paris), a rare power outlet and internet is nice.
Apple Stores – Rumor has it offer free internet and computer use… if you can squeeze your way into one. They are always crowded so no porn perusing!
Free (with purchase) Internet in Paris
Some Cafés – You gotta keep an eye out but some cafés and brassieries advertise free wifi (usually posted on a small sticker on their door) like my favorite café L’Assassin in the 11ème. Be sure to buy something though! Also power outlets will not always be available. If you are only going to buy a drink, be sure not to sit at a table with dish settings as to not raise their ire. The best perk if you come there enough you may reach the coveted “regular” status.
Starbucks – Depending on the branch, you need to use a code on your receipt to activate an hour or more internet use. Power outlets sometimes are available. While not as common as in the US, you also can find Starbucks in Paris, mostly in the center of the city a.k.a. the business arrondissements/quarters.
FreeWifi and Other Citywide Wifi Telecom Providers – FreeWifi is not free. It is woefully/trick-fully the name of a company. You in fact need to have an account or a very nice friend with an account, BUT if you can score one, these providers do give city/country wide wireless codes with most telecom accounts. Let’s say you actually live in Paris but are awaiting or internet carrier to hook things up, ask them what your citywide Wifi login details are to get a jump on things. In fact that is how I am typing/saving this article. right. now.
You can also connect to their services “SFR”, “Orange”, “FreeWifi”, etc and see if you have the ability to buy a day pass.
Internet Cafés – All around the city you can find internet cafés with computer/internet booths, usually indicated by a neon glowing @. In addition there is the chain called Mlik which is open 24/7. These places are also useful if you need to print, fax, scan something (paperworrrrkkkk?) or call someone. I tend to price shop (walk and look at the menus of several I pass) before I decide who to patronize as prices will vary.
Coffee Shops with Work Stations or Internet Access – I do not know many but I do see them starting to pop up, like Craft. There is sometimes a minimum order or fee, such as, 9EUR at Craft.
Coworking Spaces – Coworking spaces or labs are where you can collaborate with other professionals or work on your own personal projects privately at a big person desk or on a cool person comfy couch. They include places like Super Belleville, La Mutinerie and La Tank, La Cantina and La Rouche. Some do require a pre-application or monthly signup. While others you can rent hourly or use the space for free during certain periods and networking events.
– You can find a list of coworking spaces on the TechList for Paris – here.
Rewind a bit… why does Sheila have no electricity?
So in my recent move to a new apartment I messed up in signing up for electricity. They shut it off August 1st… and the first appointment we could make because our neighborhood/arrondisement’s office is on vacation is August 16th. No joke. August in Paris is the worse.
Let’s take this as a learning lesson. When you move into an apartment you have two months to change it to your name after the old tenant has cancelled it and be sure to VALIDATE our contract. I messed up the steps and did not reply to a text that was sent to me to validate the contract (EDF is the carrier), hence the shut off.
Introducing my newly branded (rough-draft) and moved expat blog (albeit in potentially perpetual beta mode). Really only the logo design is done. ;p
First you must know that the Learning Machine, still exists but will be solely be professional or nontravel/expat ramblings. While this new little niche shall be my hide out for all the things I find fit to share in my growth as an American abroad in Paris.
While I have not been writing here for months now… I have been digesting and figuring out life in Paris. It has been a labor of love which I am becoming ready to share. So we will see how these little writings will make their debut to the world and how often. But we might as well get started.
Now where were we?Season 3, looking back at the archive. I have now been amid what I would consider Season 4 for quite a while.
Austin is in a new job. We have moved at least two times since last time I wrote, now living in upper 11th of Paris or lower Belleville neighborhood. We were able to take our first real vacations in years, traveling to the Mediterranean and Sweden.
I took a professional pause to work on my French and some personal projects (including a non-profit dance exchange in Paris which welcomed over 200 dancers from around the world). And now I am back on the “find a job I can be passionate about (preferably in French)” train. Going well despite I decided to board this train in the summer time a.k.a. unemployed deadman’s land.
Still I am optimistic and have been talking with a couple exciting companies that hopefully I will get to announce in the coming months once the living return to Paris.
Overall life as an expat (especially in the last month) has semi-smoothed out, especially due to my gained proficiency in French, seeking stability and simplifying my commitments.
And of course we love Paris more than ever.
Though we have not had electricity for the past week and a half… but that is a post for another time.
After School Special
What have I learned so far this Season? Let’s make this semi-educational.
EXPAT LIFE LESSON #121:Hey man, you are already an expat… do not take on the rest of the world as well.
Simplify, delve into your new life and concentrate on some (read: not all) positive and productive activities!
Because this is not your past life, you have a new obligatory hobby: Figuring out a new culture, language and way of life.
Some might say that moving aboard can be the worse thing you can do for your relationship. Or really any major move or life change is tough in a four-legged race… let’s be fair.
For me it has been the best thing I could have done. As I now appreciate my husband more than I could ever express in a silly little blog rambling. I am learning to trust in him, see him for the man he is and not take him for granted, not even for one second.
I am so ever grateful that I made this move with Austin. He is my constant (Lost style ;p). Life abroad is not all travel, cheese and ease. I have my down moments of self doubt where I cannot tell the paperwork from the oak trees. But he always seems to find me no matter how low I get.
We had worked together before but moving to a 27 square meter apartment, working at the same long hour jobs (two now), teaching dance together (in french) and relearning to how to live (french style) definitely has been a challenge.
I have now reached the point where I see my fellow expats leave, those that came around the time we came (my “expat class” as I call it). It is sad though we all have our reasons. Some came planning only to stay a couple months. Some have found better opportunities. Some just do not like it. And Paris is definitely not a city to stick with if it is not the right fit. I am not too sure I would still be here if I did not have Austin. (And a few dozen friendly french strangers and friends a like).
We definitely have progressed greatly since our arrival in Paris, in our temporary 17 square meter apartment or when the machine ate my credit card on the first day. We have progressed enough so that I can fondly look back at some of our earlier now-funny struggles. I will not say we have stability now but we are gaining comfortability… and we have come a long way.
And I am glad this has been a partner marathon.
Austin and I moved to France 6 months into our marriage and 5.5 years into our relationship. For those who know our wedding date (the binary for 42), you know we love Douglas Adams and our wedding abounded in references to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Today I stumbled upon a reading that I had to share and my relation to it. It is a mix between how I felt: the first time we kissed, at our wedding and during our first year in Paris (in the apartment where you could barely swing a cat).
Enjoy and Thanks Austin.
From Douglas Adams’ “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish”
There was a sort of gallery structure in the roof space which held a bed and also a bathroom which, Fenchurch explained, you could actually swing a cat in, “But,” she added, “only if it was a reasonably patient cat and didn’t mind a few nasty cracks about the head. So. Here you are.”
They looked at each other for a moment.
The moment became a longer moment, and suddenly it was a very long moment, so long one could hardly tell where all the time was coming from.
For Arthur, who could usually contrive to feel self-conscious if left alone long enough with a Swiss cheese plant, the moment was one of sustained revelation. He felt on the sudden like a cramped and zoo-born animal who wakes one morning to find the door of his cage hanging quietly open and the savanna stretching gray and pink to the distant rising sun, while all around new sounds are waking.
He wondered what the new sounds were as he gazed at her openly wondering face and her eyes that smiled with a shared surprise.
He hadn’t realized that life speaks with a voice to you, a voice that brings you answers to the questions you continually ask of it, had never consciously detected it or recognized its tones until it now said something it had never said to him before, which was,
Now bask in the fact that you have this opportunity at all… the internet (for those lucky enough to enjoy it) is the pinnacle of luxery and awesomeness. And basically free vs the amount we pay and what we gain from it (though some would argue hours of funny animal videos on demand has no intrinsic value).
Still we do important stuff on there as well… like further technology, humankind and stuff.
It is an invisible omnipresent “box” of awesome.
What would Maud think?
I sometimes wonder what a person from the middle ages would think about the internet… Let alone just as far back as my late grandfather Dido.
“You mean you spend hours on a magical box which has the power to calculate the meaning of life ? But is used mostly for living pictures of cats meowing songs from another magical box called a TV (and naked pictures)?
Now excuse me, I need to go survive the bubonic plague…”
What will I think?
What further farcical inventions will our children invent? Can’t wait…
“You mean a tentacle that you suck onto your left elbow which transfers smells to your shoulder (how we will smell in the future) so that you may fully enjoy the gelatinous laser cats puppetshow (and naked pictures)?
Now excuse me, I need to go survive the NEObubonic plague…”
Excellent – S
Also required/related watching (unless you hate swearing or are at work). Love Louis CK.
The last four months have been hectic stressful to put it mildly. I must say the 2nd year is proving to be harder than the first, luckily I feel we are emerging from the worse of it. Or as Austin and I joke… “Presque y la ‘. Almost there… (That is the joke. Also that is improper French…)
Now as the smoke clears so does my vision and I realize I am stronger and more resistant than ever (like a flu strain ;p). The first year it was a funny dream not a reality. Second year you realize the work you really have to establish yourself. And you get to it! Though sometimes round about…
We are more in love with this city than ever and determined to make it work. Our french has drastically improved. And so has life. 🙂
The importance of just sitting
So part of what I have learned in my time in Europe…
Learning to just sit… and relax… quality time. Sure during the day all is crazy and chaos. But especially at night I have spent more hours than ever in my life around a table… drinking, laughing, talking, eating and eating some more. No TV, no computer, just each other.
Especially in Paris, the café culture of sitting on a terrasse (café patio) and philosophizing with an apèro (pre drink) is amazing, though not always great on the wallet. ;p Luckily “happy-hour” borrowing from the english term is also popular.
Or in the case of summer time: “pique-nique” and laughter on a bridge, along the seine, in the park.
This is where relationships are formed, movements made (impressionism for example) and smoking habits are procured! Plus, odds are it’s a bit too tiny in your apartment for guests… In a way this is the Parisian form of the American sitting on your porch with a beer, chewing the fat and watching the grass grow (if we had a porch or grass).
The Average French Diner
I have gotten used to scheduling at least an hour and a half for dinner, but have surpassed this up to three plus drinks. This is something that I got so used to that upon returning to the US, I was stressing over having a 1 hour dinner with friends before an event as I thought it just wouldn’t be long enough.
Apèros – a Kir (sweet wine), a martini rouge, a small beer or perhaps a Ricard (licorice old man drink). Sometimes drinks come with some olives or peanuts so you don’t pass out.
Ordering – Order all in one go (barring digestif and dessert). Most places offer a formule or formula where you get a better price on the culinary gauntlet you are about to run. At this point you order a carafe or bottle of wine.
Entrées – A small dish such as a hard boiled egg and mayo, some paté with bread or escargots
Plats – Main dish usually soaked in butter plus some raw protein
Cheese platter? – It could happen. Cheese is for afterwards to nibble on. Just be sure to cut the cheese correctly and respect the rind to cheese ratio!
Digestif – a shot of liquor or coffee.. or both
Dessert – Usually combined with the last step
Follow up drinks are possible… See a pattern here?
Dinners in Italy can be even longer…
I am not the best but getting better
I can’t say that I am the best at relaxing… A constant planner with wheels always turning am I!
But with the help of long dinners and new found friends I am learning to sit back and laugh at the day.
And this is the essence of Expat-hood.
No one country or person has it all figured out. But often it takes a move and a new perspective to really learn more about yourself, where you come from and where you are setting out next to explore (because seriously who actually knows where they are going?)