Being Prepared to be Unprepared and Joyeux Anniversaire à Nous en France

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
That a big key!
That a big key!

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.

17IMG_0627

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.

Other newssss:

  • 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
  • Returning back to Yoga thanks to the awesome Affordable Yoga Fitness.
  • Still loving France
  • Learned how to roll sushi.
  • 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.

Imagine:

  • 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.

This face a lot. Photo by Marilyn Suarez of ME!
This face a lot. Photo by Marilyn Suarez of ME!

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!

Expat Pokemon Evolve! photo thanks to http://blip.tv/gameexchange/the-pokemon-x-and-y-french-connection-game-exchange-6700852
Expat Pokemon Evolve!
photo thanks to http://blip.tv/gameexchange/the-pokemon-x-and-y-french-connection-game-exchange-6700852

And then suddenly Expatness feels a little less a state only for us sorry/masochist types that have immigrated more like just like…

Adult Life

– S

 

 

Paris Tips – Internet Access – Free and Not – For unfortunate souls like me

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!

Your potential view as you use the free city offered Wifi at Parc de la Tour Saint Jacques.
Your potential view as you use the free city offered Wifi at Parc de la Tour Saint Jacques.
  1. 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)
  2. Parks and other Public Places- You heard it. Free wifi in the what seems to be most the public parks in Paris plus some other spots. No power outlets but lots of basking in the grass like a vrai Parisian.
    – Parks such as: Buttes Chaumont, Parc de Belleville and Tour de Saint Jacques – Full Park Listing Here (in French)
    – Listing of all Free Wifi Spots and Instructions thanks to the Marie Here (English)
  3. 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.
  4. 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

Café at my favorite bar/café which happens to have free wifi.
Café at my favorite bar/café which happens to have free wifi.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
Blurry picture from my last yummy productive visit to Craft.
Blurry picture from my last yummy productive visit to Craft.

Rewind a bit… why does Sheila have no electricity?

Even this little dog has internet - Paris Subway Add
Even this little dog has internet and electricity – Paris Subway Ad

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.

C’est la vie. – S

Now where were we? – Paris Life – Season 4?

[Insert another Blog start opening blurb]

Introducing my newly branded (rough-draft) and moved expat blog (albeit in potentially perpetual beta mode). Really only the logo design is done. ;p

oooo look at that logo
Translation: American Flowers in Paris

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.

Carpé journée.

Life Update

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.

Stockholm was pretty - August 2013
Stockholm was pretty – August 2013

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.

Napoleon graffiti agrees (spotted in Paris)
Napoleon graffiti agrees (spotted in Paris)

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.

Not a fancy picture but a genuine one. Taken when we decided one night to take a break, picnic on the Seine overlooking the Eiffel Tower, and take a moment to appreciate what we have and why we work so hard to keep it.
Not a fancy picture but a genuine one. Taken when we decided one night to take a break, picnic on the Seine overlooking the Eiffel Tower, and take a moment to appreciate what we have and why we work so hard to keep it.

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.

Until the next post – S

 

 

TLDR? – 8 Bits of Advice for Your 1st Year Abroad

This is my summary of what if anything I would suggest to do/or would have done differently approaching my 1st year abroad.

1. Learn the language right away:

Just rip that bandaid off… do it.  You will want to eventually, and its way worse the more you wait… It’s less cute when you have been here a year and you ask your bank representative “Can I have elephant?”. Even for a short stay this is worth your time and in addition will help you understand the culture (as language is often closely tied to cultural view).  This is part of your epic story abroad! I discussed this in my last post… Plus, I like you so much… here jump to the good meaty advice parts about how to approach learning the language. Basically start speaking and learning the language (and only that language) right away, no matter how short or long you will be there.

2. Research living needs, visas & important stuff yourself:

I know its boring… I know you may trust your employer/university/family to help you out with this.  But who is best to take care of your life but yourself?  You can ask for their help but in the end you need to research, double check, & triple check all facts.  Go to the closest embassy (even if the closest is far away) and then call a couple others around your country  until you get conclusive answers (a rare beast!). Contact locals you may find on social networks.  Contact future colleagues.  This is especially important when it comes to visas… living needs… apartment finding… contracts/your rights as a worker… etc. Do your research and peer review it and you will be happy for it.

3. Take care of it before you come:

Austin covered in stuff...
Austing all packed up and ready to move to Paris… wearing 4 layers of clothing and electronics so he does not trip the weight limit.

Piggy baking on the last advice, your life is not permanent here until you have your visa… so know you cannot get settled until then. In addition, there will be important things you need to settle in your home country pre- travel, so just get it done.  Flying back to settle it is expensive or dealing with it abroad sometimes impossible/stressful. So get your visa and important stuff settled before hand. 

4. Come early, give yourself time:

This may not always be possible.  But come early and resist starting work/school right away!  The difference between us and some of our colleagues is we had a month to settle our affairs in the US and then a week once we got here.  We spent that week looking into apartments, settling our bank account, getting to know our neighborhood and recovering from jet lag…  Meaning we had an apartment, where another colleague was staying at a hotel for a couple months…  It will be hard for you to get this stuff done after you start work/school, so give yourself space if possible.

5. Meet as many people as possible: 

Pizza maker in the 11th
One of the friendly locals we have met at the delicious Pizzeo in the 11th. Picture by my mother.

Fraternize with coworkers, talk to your local baker, join some meetups or learn to dance!  You will not feel like one of the people until you meet the people. 

Plus it takes a village to raise an expatriate… 

6. Find connection back home and in your new home:

Weird Cat Judges You
Our first home purchase… We did not feel quite okay until we had a weird cat perched upon our shelf. A creepy family tradition!

Conversely… still take time for yourself.  Nurture both sides: the new one and the old.  You do not want to get to the point where you are burnt out AND homesick.  Take the time to still call home when you can.  Be okay with spending a Sunday in cleaning your house. Even if a temporary home, decorate it some. Basically find some regularity in the irregularity. Dumping a fish into new water will cause shock, same will go for you.

7. Go with the Flow: 

Weird stuff will happen… be okay with it and learn. 95% of all weird/uncomfortableness/confrontations will be due to culture differences.  Observe first before reacting. Once you understand the complete situation then you will know what to expect and when you need to stand up for yourself.

8. Enjoy your time!:

On the Seine at sunset
Us Week 1 in Paris. Sunset on the Seine.
You will be stressed at points… you will be lonely at points… You may think that you will not be able to make it work!  All the more reason to try to just enjoy where you are… right here and now.  This is a once in a lifetime chance for many people… so try to sit back and enjoy it as much as possible.
So… Carpe Expatum!
– S

Life in Paris Season 3 – Living the American Dream in Paris

 

On the Seine - Picture by My Wonderful Mother
Us - Season 3

So here we are!

Parisian life Part/Year Deux.. but we in the Suarez-Flores household call it Season 3, as far as Parisian life changes go.  We have been back around a month now, after our trip to the US, but with the flourish of guests… our work schedule… and settling back in, I have barely had a moment to breath let a lone write.

Season 1 was our first job. Season 2 was the move to unemployment and then quickly luckily into new employment.  Season 3… is what I shall call… actually settling into Parisian life.

But first some reflection and advice… Primarily: Learn the language.

So what is life like?

  • We work a lot.
  • We eat a lot.
  • We walk everywhere.
  • We teach dance weekly.
  • We travel when we can.
  • We fumble around with French.

Really not much different from Season 2… but it feels different.

The Difference

Well, the big difference is where my head is at. I am fed up.

Before, with so much uncertainty, it was okay to be confused at all times… It was okay to frown but accept weird charges on my phone bill.  It was okay, to be at odds at all times. It was okay, to accidentally order three soups instead of two. Why? Because we were new here and this is what we took as the cost of being an expat in a country where the language was not our native one.

My mother and I sont les ignorants.
"Les ignorants voyagent à Paris!" - My Mother and I posing for our favorite inside joke.

In fact, being back in the US for those 3 weeks it felt WEIRD to finally not be uncomfortable at all times  (which is a post for another time).  Not a complaint… but it made me laugh how used I had gotten to being uncomfortable.

And now I am back.. and I no longer want to be uncomfortable… I am sick of being apologetic and akward. I want a “normal” Parisian life (which will always include apology and formality I realize, as is their way).  I want my old confidence back in my surroundings… I want..

I want the American Dream!

The American Dream in Paris is to blend in.  To order wine with ease.  To meld with your sometimes bewildering French colleagues (because trust me… working in a different country is well, different). To be able to complain about the weather with your fellow boulangerie patrons. Perhaps, it is not the dream for some of the famed ugly american tourists, but it truly is for us Expats that have fallen in love, figured out how to move here and now call this mystical/sometimes mythical place home.

We want to be French.

Karma.. Karma... Chinese Lion
Me, as the social chameleon.

Or at least succeed at becoming French for our time here.

And right now, despite the support of my French and international friends I have yet to achieve that comfortability.

And its my fault.

Í have yet to achieve it because I do not know the language fluently.

There are jaded and not so jaded expatriates that will tell you otherwise about achieving this dream of fitting in… They will tell you that Paris is for the French.  That you will never fit in. I have heard this on several occasions.

Well, first of all I do not want to fit in with those types of exclusive Parisians, which I know those exist.  I just want to be able to live my life normally and interact with them if need to but otherwise interact with the awesome accepting/welcoming/funny French/Parisians that I have met.

But I will never feel at ease here until I learn the language…

Until I see a charge on my phone bill and then can call up and speak in French and explain and get although probably begrudging… but at least palpable… assistance to fix it. Or at least understand what they say when they hang up on me.

My cable has been on and off broken now for a year… And I live in fear of speaking to a human to fix it.

This is not I!

So I must learn French… I want to… I always have… but with not working in French, I have not made the effort enough outside of work to become fluent.  I am fine… I can mumble out some food words… or talk to a foreign french speaker.

But that is not enough.  As I live in fear of probably 95% of potential interactions I may have with the populace on a given day.  I need to get this down to at least a solid 25%.  Because it is isolating and damned uncomfortable.

SO THAT IS MY VOW.

So young... so strong...
Us on our Honeymoon 1.5 years ago at Place Saint-Michel - Ready to conquer... So young.

I will conquer you Paris… and your beautiful mystifying and sometimes odd sounding but beautiful language.  I will gnaw on the metaphorical skull that is your language.

And how! No really… how?

I have some tools I want to share in detail later but basically:

  1. Devouring all culture possible in French only.  Bought us an unlimited movie pass for two people for 35EUR a month!
  2. Only French spoken now at home (no joke).
  3. Flashcards… lots of digital flashcards.
  4. Reading fun stuff in French on my kindle, thanks to the help of a french dictionary I installed on it. Should probably switch to a French to French dictionary…
  5. Actually talking to people in French. Like a real person!
  6. Listening to podcasts as much as humanely possible, all in french.
  7. Hope to start journaling in French soon.
  8. Finishing my grammar lessons at home… (also a pending todo)
Really just making myself do it.. And already only a week into it.  There is a difference.
Any way here I go…

Allons !- S

Pre-Travel: Have You Talked to Your Bank?

As family has been asking for travel financial advice, I thought I would share what I have been sending them.  I assume this advice can go for any destination you are traveling too.
The question is: What is the best way financially to go about money conversion/banking overseas?

Ask the right questions to your bank.

There are no pictures that will make talking to your bank fun... SO HERE IS A BIG PHONE!
As all banks differ, I suggest you call your bank and do the following:
    1. Tell them the exact days you are going to be overseas and any countries you will be in.  This will not keep them from shutting off your card… as we have found but makes it less likely.  Ensure they put this note on every card that you might use.  Be sure to bring back up cards.
    2. Ask them if they have any sister banks in your countries of travel.  I know in France there is BNP which is a sister bank of Bank of America, so they do not charge BOA travelers there a fee to take out money.  BNL is the BOA sister bank in Italy. There are more…
    3. Ask about the different fees on your different cards in different situations.  For example, if we needed cash we used our debit as our credit card charges a big premium.  BUT, if we went out to eat, our credit card was cheaper (probably has more security on it too).
      Fees could include:

      1. Conversion fee 1-3%
      2. ATM retrieval fee $5-40ish per take out from an atm.

      In our experience, we found it best to go to an ATM of our sister bank and take out as much cash as possible.  If it is a sister bank, there is no fee per take out but still we were afraid of taking money out too many times, in turn making them freeze our cards.  We then stashed most of it in our hotel.  This also means we can take a certain amount per day and keep us on a budget.  Cash is accepted everywhere (more places than credit card) in most countries.

    4. Ask what your limit for taking out is in 24h, then see what that is in the local currency.  That lets you know how much you can take out in a day.  You may want to raise it if its super small (less than 300).  Also, this way you know not to request more than this limit, that way you lower your risk of getting your card frozen.  Couples with joint accounts know that your limits are separate, yay!

Get Currency Pre-Trip

See if you can order currency ahead of time from your bank!
 This will be your best conversion rate also it ensures you have some local currency before you come here.  You may have to do this in person at the bank, where the above you could just call about.
You need some lead up to this because the bank will have to mail away for the currency and you come pick it up.
Be sure to not store the money though in your baggage and put them several places on your person, in case of theft or baggage loss on your trip overseas.

What else?: Other financial todos/notes…

  • Take at least two photocopies of your passports, drivers license and credit cards you are taking with you. Store these in two different places in your luggage or on your person.  This way if something gets lost you have copies and can report them lost with the exact information.
  • If you have a credit/debit pin code over 4 digits, go and change it to 4.  They do not accept more than 4 digits in most countries (especially Europe).
  • For Americans in Europe, your card will not be usable at all places as European cards have a chip.  So notabley at the train/metro station, unless you go to a person teller.  So when ordering train tickets online, make sure you can go to a teller as you will not be able to get them from the machine (also allow time to do this before your train leaves).
  • Do not get money from the airport/mall money exchange people.  And if you do, make sure they charge you what they advertise as they will tack on fees and not tell you.  Really  just avoid any conversion shop.  Comes down these people make their money on urgency… so try not to put yourself in a place where things are urgent.

Feel free to comment if you have further suggestions or questions!

And now for something completely different:

 

Bank on it – S

Seven Tips For Keeping Creative While on Deadline

Creativity is for hippies… and well everyone else as well.

In my previous post (“Ode to the Art of Product Development.”), I waxed on the artsiness of product and UX development.  Still these professions are not always treated so.  Often there is a trap that even I fall into, where we expect that anyone can plan/layout a site as long as they understand user experience concepts or the product goals. And that when the site moves to the graphic designers, that’s when the real artsy magic happens.

 

But it takes some serious problem solving, inspiration and creativity to lay out a site in a logical, readable, attractive manner that supports the product goals and suits the target market’s needs.  This especially can get difficult with more “tool” like websites that must be easy to use for a variety of different workflows.  Or for those in product development, discovering that perfect product or “tool” for your market.

Glad I never worked in a place like this...

 

Knock Knock. Mr. Deadline who?

 

But we don’t have time!  Deadlines press on us and the world turns!  And often we try to set a time limit on the product and UX design process.

Sometimes an hour is not enough...

Marty Cagan speaks about this in his book Inpired: How to Create Products Users Love (a must read for web professionals even if you are not a product manager recommended to me by the awesome Mr. Tim Rosenblatt).  I feel that this conundrum of needing to meet deadlines but allowing time for creativity  effects all areas of the web development process including UX design, marketing and software development.

 

Following are some tips that help me when on deadline and needing to work quickly and creatively… Applicable to all though I may tend to write from a product/ux/consultant point of view.

1.  Research Should Not Be Sacrificed

No matter how snap the decisions have to be made: do not let it snap your necks.  As in, take the time to do SOME research, even if you have to timebox it to a short period of time.  This research can be as simple as searching the internet for inspiration.  All your decisions need to be informed, and being more informed will in the end give you more ideas, helping with your creativity. Best yet, giving you informed ideas! 

2.  Keep Open

 

While working under pressure do not let that limit you (easy to say, huh?).  Maybe you won’t have time to wireframe out all your pearls.  But atleast start by listing or sketching out all your ideas before pursuing one.  As with research, to ensure you stay on deadline be sure to timebox your brainstorm session.

What is key is to not judge these ideas right away.  The biggest poison to creativity is closing yourself off by judging prematurely.  SURE the idea may be stupid at first, but if you have a little time to follow the thought process out you may arrive at a golden solution. And if you train your brain to judge your ideas immediately, you shut yourself off from fully utilizing its creativity.  Meaning, less ideas come out when you blockoff pathways.  Also, when you move on to picking the key ideas you will pursue, you still have a list of ideas to fall back on.

3.  Keep Focused Via the POWER OF LISTS

 

 I. Love. Lists. As anyone that knows me… well, knows.  YES keep open but at a certain point you need to hone in (or clear the clutter of your frantic mind).  The best way to keep your priorities straight is to have lists. Make a list at least of your top product goals (or other goals if you are not a product manager).  Also a clear list of feedback is good, when reviewing your solution for a 1st,  2nd or 3rd time.  Try to keep these lists short though… even with feedback, try to boil it down to key points.

Now you have these lists, use them.  When you get lost, refer back to them and center yourself.  Another reason why for product manager’s personas (<– click there to read all about the magic of personas) are key!

 

4.  Digitally Brainstorm, Save Trees, Save Time

 

For the first three tips you could do this on paper.  And for sketching that is often the fastest unless you have a tablet and software skills.  But for the rest, try to do this using google docs, a word processor program or a awesome list software like WorkFlowy.

Why? Because when the time comes to present your ideas, spec your ideas, etc, you already have them typed up.  Clean them up and VOILA.  Saves you time from parsing your scribbles on paper and transcribing them for that power point. Yay, for copy and paste!  In addition, those brainstormed ideas are digitally saved for later.

5.  Feedback early and often

No one likes to waste their time (or your client’s, colleagues, etc).  You will find when you are working close with your client (maybe even in the same room) you will move faster.  Or if this is not a client situation, your teammates, test user, etc. Like in a game of Marco Polo, you need to get feedback often or you may hit into the wall of the pool opposite from your target.

For those who have not played Marco Polo. Basically you close your eyes and flail around in a pool trying to tag your friends. When you call "Marco", they must respond "Polo", helping you find them.

Do not do get feedback via email – if possible.  Even if you have to arrange an impromptu, walk over to your client/boss/colleague’s desk for advice or video skype meeting, be sure not to waste your time writing up some big email just to get quick feedback.  Also that way you can see their reaction first hand and quell any worries on their behalf.

6.  Feedback as Inspiration

 

To continue the last tip’s line of thought, you need to strike a balance between showing people your product too early and shutting them off from you following that train of thought and getting the feedback you need.  This is especially true for consulting… and I could write a whole novel on this. So while I encourage early feedback, do take some time to fully explain your idea and make it clear this is just the beginning of the baby’s life.  Depending on the client, you will have to find the sweet spot, where early is not too soon.

What is important is, do not let feedback/judgement stymy your creativity.  Take it as a challenge/new aspect to design around and not necessarily a reason to move on immediately.  Feedback is not a final deathtoll and is is just a reason to reflect and adapt your idea.  At points you do need to give up the ghost on an idea, but the first negative feedback should not be the death rattle.  And starting over should be avoided especially when on deadline, unless with more feedback you realize its a deadend.  Even then parts and main concepts learned for your idea should be salvaged (thank you Mr. lists).

7.  Take a break

 

When especially frustrated… take a walk!  Bounce a ball against the wall!  Or if you cannot rip yourself from the computer, just peruse the internet for inspiration.  Something as simple as searching for your key goal words in google images, to see what comes up.  Work smarter, not harder.

 

 

 

 

GO TO YOUR HOME!

 

So in summary, the above tips are for creativity when in a pinch.  There are of course more tips necessary just to ensure you MEET your deadline. Such as avoiding the dreaded feature creep beast.  But that is a post for another time..

 

Let’s end with a laugh shall we?  This is what I think about every time I cannot figure out where to place an item while wireframing:

You too good for your home? – S

Affording Paris – Setting Your Budget

This is the first part of my three part (at least) series on settling into Paris.  Most importantly finding a roof for your head.

But the first question you need to ask yourself is…

Can I afford this?

 

Or really, HOW can afford this?  If living in Paris is what you desire, depending on your income/savings you may have to make some “sacrifices” in creature comforts to afford what you need.  And although I find it worth it, you will know your own limit.  Life in Paris is in no way a hardship, its just is different from in-particular lifestyles in suburbia USA.  And I am sure these same sacrifices you  need to make to live in other big cities such as NYC and Chicago.

Anyway… let’s analyze the bare minimum of what you should expect to need.

Cost of Living (minus lodging):

I find lots of cost of living sites on the internet misleading (often inflated).  Comes down to how YOU are willing to live (especially with food and entertainment). I recommend thinking about what your core basics are and then research perspective companies that might offer them, to calculate costs.  Also, try to find locals or bloggers on the internet that might be similiar to your situation to ask.

An idea of monthly living costs, as of October 2011 (for a couple):
  • Transportation – 120 EURO for two monthly metro/bus passes
    • Though personally we just walk and buy carnets (books of 10 tickets) for our occasional ride.
    • Add 30 EURO more to the pass if you live outside of the city.
  • Electricity – 50 EURO for 2 people in a 27meter squared one room apartment.  This escalates closer to 70 during the winter, depending on your heating preferences and the age of the building.
  • 2 Phones/Internet/TV – 90 EURO
    • Take 30 EURO off, if you have one phone.
    • Yes, these all come as combos usually.  As in, we didn’t want TV, but it comes with it.
    • We currently are with Bouygues.  Not super impressed… I hear FreeWifi is better and cheaper.
  • Water – 20 EURO?
    • Included in our rent so this is a guess.
  • Apartment Insurance – 12 EURO/month
    • Required to rent.  And you need it before you secure a long term apartment lease.  I went with a local agent, recommended through a friend. But I heard you can secure this via the internet.  Make sure you get coverage for theft & window/glass breakage.
  • Food for Two – 600 EURO/Month or 20 EURO/Day
    • This of course varies.  And this is if you are very good about eating in with an occasional dinner out.
    • Some meals out can cost 7EURO-30EURO per person… so its up to you.  And those on the lower end are not usually bad.  Just have to find the right spots!
  • Misc – 100 EURO
    • Medicine, cleaning stuffs, etc.
This comes out to 992 EURO/month for two people minus lodging.  That’s if you live minimumally.  Which you have to have an iron will to live as such in Paris.
For one person, I would say take off 400 (as couples share most expenses).  So 592 EURO/month for one person minus lodging.
Do not forget the Shiney Things:
  •  Entertainment and inevitable travel (you are in Paris/Europe after all!)… this could be up to 500EURO/person a month… but that depends on you!  But its foolish not to fit some of that into your budget.
  • Shopping? – I do not but… you might want to.  Depends on your tastes, the amount varies you can pay for this.
  • Booze & Other Vices – A beer or glass of wine is at least 8EURO  if you go out to a bar.  Happy hour is pretty popular here and will save you a EURO or two. Cigarettes are 5 Euro a pack.
  • And then of course the expense of traveling to/from whence you came, if you plan on going back to visit.
  • Medical Insurance? – While basic coverage free in Europe, when in an emergency you could still accrue some heavy bills.  Plus dentistry and optometry costs are not covered. If you plan on getting some supplemental insurance, plan at least 50 euro a month for a good plan.

Oh Right… Savings…

Do not forget a buffer!  For example getting locked out of your apartment could cost you from 400-1k (a blog post for another day).  So once again… look back at your budget and expected costs and perhaps cut out some shiney things to ensure you have some savings.  Saving at least 10% of what you make is a good start.

ADDENDUM: Taxes… Oh right!

Working here?  They will take out most of your taxes (up to 25%) BUT I would suggest saving an extra 10% as at the end of the year the government will be sending you a bill for the rest!  (That’s right you report your first year but the following years they calculate it for you!)  Worse comes to worse you save too much and have some to burn on travel at the end of the year!

What about Lodging?

That is actually a separate topic as this can be greatly variable depending on your needs and wants.  In fact I encourage you to calculate the above first and THEN look at what your lodging budget will be (then of course tweak your utilities to fit the space of your abode you desire). And perhaps make some sacrifices on your shiney object budget.

Expect a post shortly talking about researching/gaining lodging.

But if you need a ball park now.  Expect to pay as little as 500 euro/month if you do not mind living in old maids quarters (10 square meters and a bathroom in the hall) to 2000 euro/month for large flat’, 2-3 bedrooms, 60-70 square meters.  We pay 850 euro/month for our 27 square meters one bedroom apartment a little north of the center of the city.

 

Til next time – S

 

The French are nice

I always cringe when I am asked/told, “Oh you moved to Paris? Aren’t the French rude?” Honestly… no they aren’t!

Maybe I’m lucky, maybe I’m naive but in the four months since we’ve been here I’ve only had one “rude” experience.  I’ve had more random acts of kindness than I remember having in a long time. Though to be fair I’m often in need… Takes a village to move an expat.

Talk the Talk

I hear from travelers or worse case people who have never been to France boldly stating their belief that the French are rude and I should be careful.

It’s funny because I have a feeling that most of these people if a foreigner came into their work, didn’t speak a lick of their language and demanded service, they would not be so keen.

What is important, to have a good experience, NO MATTER where you go is: Learn some of the language.

To be honest I made the same error in the Czech Republic.  At first I thought the inhabitants were rude and gruff.  But once I at least learned thank you in Czech, “De-koo-yah”.  People opened up much more.  It’s making that effort.

Just try to think of it from their point of view, though maybe not always correct, if you were rushing to work (which people are apt to do in big cities like Paris) and some one stopped you and started speaking [Insert foreign language you don’t understand here], you might be abrupt.  Hence why the French in the country are considered nicer.

Why do I think the French get a bad rap?

Just my observations…

  • Mocking – They may mock you when you try to speak French.  But honestly, if we can’t laugh at our horrible butchering of their language, they might as well  But usually its just a bemused repeating of what you just said, and they are still helpful in the end.
  • They are called “serveurs” for a reason, not “waiter” – Just looking at the word itself shows the cultural belief and difference between the role of a server in France vs. let’s say America.  They serve you your food, true.  But they don’t wait on you.  You order in one go, they bring it to you.  And then they leave you be until you wave your finger in the air.  You could sit for hours.
    It’s not necessarily BETTER, though I do prefer it.  It’s just different.  To each their own!  And when you are among their own, try to appreciate it for your stay.
  • They love their language – The French really fully truly love the ins and outs of their national language.  They are proud of its poetry.  They are one of the few countries that speak a romance language that strictly stick with the formality and semi archaicness of vous vs. tous.  They love their heritage and they are conscious as to what is proper to say or not and have a million ways to say it.  So yes, maybe, they COULD scrounge up the English they learned in highschool to help you out.  But if they are able to do it via pantomime and french, they might prefer it.
    THOUGH I have found, especially young French people are super enthusiastic to try out their English on you.
  • They are “proper” – Etiquette is important to them.  No feet on the chair.  Eat with a knife and fork.  Don’t shove the whole quiche down your neck hole.  And let’s face it, people on vacation are not always proper.
  • That whole pushing out air thing they do with their mouths – To put it not so politely, its kinda a fart noise.  The French seem to do it when they are asked a question ( like directions for a confused tourist) and they are not sure, as to say, “Hmmm let me think… not sure I know.”  But it kinda put me off guard when I first got here as its not a sound I’m used to.  Until I realized they were just thinking…

On the contrary:

  • They are extremely welcoming.  They will say “Bonjour” to their neighbors several times a day.  Not something I’m used to.
  • When they say goodbye they must say it at least 3-5 times. Especially at the super market. “C’est moi.  Merci ! Bonne journée ! Bientôt ! Au revoir, merci !”
  • They kiss random strangers and loved ones alike.  Bisous is a strange at first but kinda awesome tradition.  One that has gotten Austin and I in trouble a couple of times, but nice.  He learned the hard way that guys don’t kiss male strangers.  And we have started to like it so much that when we have American visitors we find ourselves going in for the kiss… which then usually turns into an awkward hug on each side for good measure.
  • The people that work in A. a Frommerie (cheese shop) or B. a Boulangerie (bakery) might be the happiest people in the world.  Might be the fumes.  They are just ECSTATIC and not pushy in any way.  Sometimes makes me want to run away and sell cheese until an old age amongst the smiles.

Cultural Karma Chameleon

 

It comes down to that believe it or not the French are human.  And I’m sure their jerk ratio is the same as the American jerk ratio.

I really feel uncomfortable when Americans are assumed to be uncultured French haters. ;p  And now I feel uncomfortable when Americans assume the French are rude.  This is not an anti anything post… this is a pro people post!

So I suppose I am espousing the principal of “Laissez faire”.  Barring they are not kicking babies, try to blend in as much as possible when you visit a foreign country.  Do as the Romans do in Rome, etc.

You might just be surprised how nice our fellow humans can be, when you just open up.

Enough of the hippy talk – S

Expa-t-ools #2: Google Translate is Mana from the Gods

So not hard to see why Google Translate (http://translate.google.com) might be awesome for an expat.  It is ESPECIALLY useful for me in the office, as sometimes some French emails wander into my inbox…

Thanks to Google Translate I have:

  • Found a temp appartment and upkept dialog with a landlord who does not know English.
  • Understood my husband and I’s work contract…
  • Translated WHOLE dance sites so I could figure out where to go dance!
  • Understood work emails…
  • Figured out how to pronounce some French words!
  • Understood French TV! (kinda… its kinda strange)

This is due to these lovely Features:

  • Translate a whole web page – While using Chrome when you a visit a foreign site it will ask you if you want to convert the text to English (whatever you computer’s language is set as).  This uses google translate and well… where was once French is now English.  Sometimes this fails, but I’ve had pretty good success with it.
  • Text Conversion Back and Forth – The usual translation tool, visit: http://translate.google.com copy and paste or type in text and then quickly convert.  You can hover over converted text and it will show you the corresponding word in the source text.  Knowledge++
  • Pronunciation –  Any converted text you can hear!  Just click the little sound icon at the bottom.  Good for practicing!

Plugins!

While I like the main google translate site, I needed some more in browser window translation POWA.  So both in firefox and chrome I have downloaded some plugins so I can #1 have some chrome translation functionality in firefox… and #2 be able to select text and translate right away!

I’m not a hundred percent happy yet with the plugins I found but so far good enough.  As in they are good but I wish I only needed one!  Check out:

  1. Google Translate Extension AutoTranslate –  https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/obgoiaeapddkeekbocomnjlckbbfapmk – Select and Translate
  2. Firefox Add-on Google Dictionary and Google Translate – https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/239624/ – Translate whole pages
  3. Firefox Add-on My Translator – https://addons.mozilla.org/en-us/firefox/addon/my-translator-google-translate/ – Select and translate

Advice

  1. One suggestion I got is to write what you want to say, convert it and then convert it back.  If it still makes sense then its good to send!
  2. Be wary as always as to ambiguities of language especially with foreign words inserted in the foreign words… I swear that makes sense! EXAMPLE: At work I was converting a document into English from French (a whole page conversion via Chrome) and the document kept on talking about a “Nice looking cat”.  Now we like cats at work… but why would we want to include that in our product?  What the document meant was “Nice looking chat“.  The english word chat was amongst the french.. and in French “chat” is a meow meow.  So in this multinational world… be careful!  Actually at some internet cafe’s the add a t, so “tchat” so that the French pronounce it right!

So to conclude….

I heart Google – Sheila

P.S.  Google if you read this… First, “Hi!”.  Second, please add a copy all to clipboard button for the translated text.  You know we gonna do it any way!