From Paris to the Moon

Ever dream of a night swim under the light of the moon? It’s possible right now in Paris.
Every summer the city of Paris puts together events around town to encourage people to get out and have different experiences, particularly if they can’t afford to go anywhere. Someone on Instagram asked how is Paris so cool? Answer: significant social charges and taxes. 😂 But money well spent if you ask me.
Festival Paris l’été (été= summer) is just one of the organizations hosting events around the city. (Paris Plages the Paris “beach” along the Seine and Bassin de la Villette, and Cinema en Plein Air at Parc de la Villette with the largest outdoor movie screen in Europe are two more). As part of the summer festival that included a tight rope walker to Sacre Coeur, dancers, and more, UK artist Luke Jerram was invited to showcase his large scale Museum of the Moon.
The moon which is 7m in diameter has been displayed in interesting places around the world from churches to public parks (see if it’s coming near you any time soon).  When you’re in the water you also get to take a closer look of the incredible NASA imagery (1:500,000 approximate scale, where each centimetre represents 5km of the moon’s surface). It’s completely mesmerising to look at and see all the detail.
In Paris it found a home Piscine Pailleron, which also happens to be the swimming pool where I attended an awesome underwater party years ago where everyone wore white and we danced the night away in the empty pool.

 

Those who have spent summers in Europe may also recognize Jerram’s name from his “Play Me I’m Yours” pianos that were placed around cities to encourage people to play.
There are two ways to catch the moon before it sails off to it’s next destination after August 4th. For 5€ you can pay to visit the moon (tickets are for sale on the festival website; there are only morning slots available). However, I recommend option B: going for a swim under the moon. Piscine Pailleron is one of the few pools with decent opening hours (you pay a small price for that too). If you never been to a Paris pool, it’s an experience for sure so read this blog post before you go. And as always, cross check the opening hours online. The pool itself is beautiful, so the moon is a nice touch. Seriously, though, when can you swim backstroke under the moon and be so close?!?

 

Warning: All swimmers are required to wear caps, and men must wear tight fitting speedo style suits at Paris piscine (pools). The lockers use a pin code system at this pool so you don’t need change to lock up your stuff.

p.s. I can’t claim the title of the post. It’s actually the title of New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik’s 2000 Paris expat memoir. Still, despite not being original, I had to use it for this post.

Champions of the World

For me travel is more than going places, it’s about having different experiences. In the case of the World Cup I never grew up following it. Heck, as an American, I barely knew it existed, nor how all consuming it is for the rest of the world. Thankfully, with the help of a couple World Cup obsessed friends, I started to get the fever too. It also helped that France made it to the final, which was next level. (Their last World Cup win was in 1998, when the now coach of the French team—Didier Deschamps—was captain of the winning team). This is how the win unfolded for me…

The World Cup lasts for a month, and for many fans, it completely takes over their life, planning their life around games. Bars spill out into the streets, as Parisians love to enjoy being en terrasse.

When the local team plays, it’s even harder to find a seat. One secret was finding restaurants that took out of their tables in favor of seating. (That’s how we watched the semi final match when France beat Belgium—note the celebratory beer on the ceiling!).
For the final, it was a scorcher of a day in Paris, a city that is not very fond to air conditioning (and honestly doesn’t need it most of the time, in addition for having high electricity bills). Final game day was like Bikram soccer (or “football” if you will). But it was worth it. So was the fresh air when the game was over ;) !
While watching the game at a friend’s apartment (I don’t own a TV) would have been cooler (temperature wise), and less crowded, there’s something about the energy of watching en masse that is so exciting. You’re in it together. From when there’s a goal, to the moment the TV freezes, there are highs and lows, screams and groans, and even grown men shedding a tear in public.

That’s not to say that some people didn’t get very creative with their “home” viewing set ups. The funny thing too was that even if your windows were closed and you didn’t leave they house you still knew what was going on based on the screams from every direction.

On Sunday, July 15 2018, the game started at 5pm, but terraces of bars were already overloaded hours in advance. The spirit was high, and never fleeting for hours.

After the win, I could have done without the smoke bombs and seeing public property destroyed, but in general, everyone was just happy. Horns honked for hours, and hours, and hours. My head is still buzzing.
Strolling the streets, you kept happening about different celebrations. People watched from their balconies. Songs were of all types, but “We are the Champions… of the world” seemed most fitting.

I shared a clip of the singing at the location above on my Instagram post, and if you’re quick, you can check out my Instagram Stories before they disappear. I also recommend watching the Stories of the French players, particularly @paupogba and @k.mbappe29 for a peek behind the scenes, and the joy and friendship of these guys (why by the way, all the players are donating portions of their winnings to charity). The New Yorker also had engaging coverage, reading sports from a different perspective. The Guardian wrote about what 19 year old Kylian Mbappé has done for kids in the banlieue (suburbs) of Paris. And I loved this photo by Alexei Nikolsky of the moment Emmanuel Macron realized France had WON! 🏆 🇫🇷

Celebrations keep rolling on. Today (Monday) in Paris there will be a parade on the Champs Elysées and the RATP metro system had a bit of fun renaming 6 metro stations (just hope too many tourists don’t think they’re in the wrong place 😉).

There are so many wonderful stories to come out of this World Cup, so share your favorites in the comments.

What living in France has taught me about burnout

Nine years ago when I was still living in the U.S. I had a job where I received 10 vacation days a year (cue European jaws dropping!). After three years at the company I tried to negotiate for another week. I knew a raise wasn’t an option given the state of the economy. For me time has always been the bigger luxury. I was also well aware that every time I traveled I not only came back refreshed and inspired, but I came back with loads of photos that directly benefited the projects I was working on. Alas, despite my valiant effort, I didn’t get either more time, or money, during my annual review. But I still should thank those bosses, because it was just the boost I needed to get me to move to France.

I’ve often struggled with the unspoken American mentality of “the more you work, the better you are.” I’m not sure exactly where this idea came from. My best guess is seeing the crazy hours people in finance or law worked became a badge of honor (albeit it a twisted one). If you’re not working insane hours or sitting behind a desk, it means you’re not doing your job!?! Social media also hasn’t helped, as it seemingly rewards those who never pause to take a break. Behind the scenes, they’re burning the candle at both ends, but instead society and algorithms reward more is better, quantity over quality. It’s dangerous, particularly when the reality is rarely shared, so everyone else lives with a complex that they’re not doing enough.

I started my business two years after moving to Paris. I’d just finished my second Masters degree, and despite all the schooling, starting a business was something that I was not prepared for.

The afternoon of the day I graduated in 2011 I got a horrible migraine like never before, and a stiff neck. My body started to shut down with the realization that I no longer had the crutch of saying I was a student, despite the fact that I had been freelancing while I did my studies to cover my cost of living. I am a pretty easy going person and not one to overly stress, but the act of graduating set off something physiological in me that was out of my control. Now it was time to figure out what I was going to do for work. I wasn’t drawn to full time jobs, so I got a freelancers number (SIRET) so I could start working in France.

Grad school did teach me a lot of things, namely that I enjoyed the freedom and flexibility of being a student and setting my own schedule. It helped that a lot of my French friends at the time were doing their own thing too. To be honest, before moving a France, having my own business is not anything that had really ever crossed my mind. Maybe it was that I didn’t have any role models leading the way. Or maybe it was knowing the price of U.S. healthcare in the back of my mind.

Still, it took me a year or two to realize that while society seemed to be pressuring me work more, that my secret sauce was working less. And it’s not always working less, but giving myself enough time to process, or as I like to call it, percolating. My best ideas weren’t coming in front of a computer, but while walking down the street, swimming, or literally making connections in the metro. These days I’m appreciative of my AppleWatch which reminds me to stand up every hour, because sitting at a desk all day is not healthy either.

Several years into my business where I thought I was in a good groove, my body decided to remind me to slow down again. This time the physiological response was that my tongue turned white and I couldn’t eat anything acidic, so my diet turned to ice cream. Know what’s the worst when you’re already stressed? Figuring out what’s wrong with you! Eventually a colleague convinced me to go to the hospital. During my follow up doctors visit after my 7€ visit to the Urgences Stomotolige (mouth ER) I received the best advice I’d ever receive from a doctor: cut the toxic people out of your life! Not typical medical advice I realize, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. This time while business was in order, I hadn’t realized how toxic my landlord situation had become (and it was probably time to graduate from that 7 floor walkup 16m2 shoebox apartment).

Self care needs to happen in every aspect of your life. And while most people go to the gym to stay in shape, I realize I do it for mental health more than anything. As much as I can, I try to go three times a week. I used to be into intense cardio, but I’ve come to appreciate a good stretch and core strengthening class too. (Hello BodyBalance: a mix of yoga, pilates, and tai chi set to music, but I also enjoy punching and kicking in BodyCombat – very therapeutic!). I also walk to work, which is the perfect amount of time to be inspired by one of my favorite podcasts.

With time I’ve come to the realization that what works for everyone else wasn’t necessarily working for me. (Or maybe everyone else is just covering everything up too, or assuming it’s normal and OK.) For the past 7 years I’ve stuck to contract work in order to help ensure I have the balance I need to succeed. Traditional work environments guilt me into being at my desk and in front of a computer, and being an introvert at the core can make offices draining for me. (The irony is that my last two long term gigs I’ve completely embedded myself like a full-time employee!). I know full-time jobs have their benefits (and stability), but I also see friends burn out from full-time jobs too, which scares me more because it’s harder to step away when you know you’re running on empty.

One of my super powers has come from working on different projects, and the nature of doing that gives me the opportunity to zoom in and step back from what I’m working on instead of getting lost in the mania of deadlines. The tours I offer (I prefer to call them experiences) are awesome because they get  me outside. Not only am I unplugged from my computer, but it means I’m connecting with people—in real life!

When I give tours people often ask me what drew me to France. The year after undergraduate I spent a year teaching English in a French high school. I was contracted to work 12 hours a week with two weeks of vacation every six weeks. As you can imagine I didn’t make a lot of money (but hey, French salaries are already notoriously low because companies have to pay large amounts in taxes to the State). However, there was something in that experience where I saw the value in this less traditional schedule. The irony is that after that year I thought I didn’t want to be a teacher at all. Funny how things change. I just needed to teach in my own way, and on my own terms.

It’s not just teachers who get a lot of holiday in France. French vacation leave is closer to 5-9 weeks a year. If you work a job were you rack up a lot of overtime you get additional time off known as RTT (Réduction du Temps de Travail). In the start-up sector I know a company where you only get your bonus if you take 3 weeks off in a row during the year. Don’t worry, you can take other time off too! Civilized, right?!

Along with my reframing of what it means to work, I’ve also had to rethink how I work. Tech companies are the poster child for digital workflows. But that limits you to tabs and files. In the last year, I’ve turned to my trusty paper notebooks first. I buy unlined notebooks intentionally, so I don’t have to fit my ideas into a framework that exists. I’ve given myself permission to get messy, I move ideas around ideas on sticky notes, and I buy nice marker pens so it makes writing even more fun (cheap thrills). There are studies that prove that writing things down by hand lead to better retention, yet we don’t do it enough. I’ve fully embraced not being the cool kid, embracing old school paper vibes, and being OK with not working the way everyone else does. It also makes my desk feel more like home when I’m working from a client’s office which is an open floor plan with undefined seats. I even find myself going to my shelf and digging through old notebooks, thankful that I took the time to write things down. It’s fun to be able to integrate the things I’ve learned in the past into projects I’m working on now.

I’ve lived in France for nine years, and have been French for two, but this is the first summer I feel like I’m truly embracing being French and taking a proper holiday. In the past I’ve just stayed in Paris, opting to travel in off-season for better deals. I’ve always thought that I’d work on my own projects, but the reality was that I was always too burned out from the rest of the year to accomplish much of anything. No work happens in Paris starting in late July through most of August. It’s clear that the French step away. But it’s convenient because everyone knows no one is going to accomplish much of anything during that time. The summer I was a nanny years ago I learned that the French really don’t work while on holiday. They also don’t try to go and do million things, instead opting for time by the pool in-between meals that last for hours.

After the month of June that nearly destroyed me, I knew that I needed to have some travel on the horizon, and an actual trip. While I knew the month was going to be ambitious and intense, you don’t always know how to plan for the unexpected things that add up. (My friend Lauren recently told me that everything takes 3x as long as you expect, and I totally believe it!).

I know I’ve done the work, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done. As a reward, I’ve sought out vacations where I’m forced to unplug: Iceland and Maine. Turns out those low luggage weight limits and added fees are good for something — traveling light = sans computer! I think an email can go 5 days without a response for the betterment of my mental health. My second getaway involves going to somewhere remote, where the bathroom is an outhouse, and I’m fairly certain there is no electricity.

The other perk of planning travels is that it means you have something to look forward to. It’s the best incentive to get things done so you can enjoy the time away. While I’m still not taking a solid three weeks off in a row, or a month for that matter, it’s still more than those 10 days a year! And I already feel a little more French for it. 🇫🇷

p.s. For more on creativity and mental health, check out AIGA Eye on Design.

Dîner en Blanc

Nine years ago, when I was still living in Baltimore, I discovered a magical event that takes place in Paris called dîner en blanc and posted about it on my blog. The secretive event by invitation-only happens every June where all the invitees wear white and invade a different location around the city. 2018 marked the 30th anniversary of the event, and much to my surprise, yours truly scored a ticket this year!!

Between social media or the fact that the event has spread to cities around the world, the event is not so secret anymore, but somehow they still manage to achieve some level of mystique around the event. Guests are divided into groups of 40 and assigned a team leader you communicates information. The day before the event guests are told where their meeting place is. But even the team leader doesn’t know where the final destination for the event is until they receive the message around 8:30pm.

Our group meant in front of the Air France terminal along with another group. Pairs were assigned their table number as they arrived. We quickly started to make friends.

When the location was announced, we were on our way!

Mind you, this is all after traveling in the metro while carrying tables and (white) chairs along with real dishes, glasses, and whatever meal you plan to eat. As this is France, three courses is the minimum. 😉

Traveling via metro is always entertaining, but it’s fun spotting people going to the dinner. I thought the laundry basket method was a clever touch.

As you approach the location you start to see more and more groups in all white. Some may seem far off, but before too long, the patches of grass nearby quickly disappear as new groups arrive and set up. Alas, the poor families who had hoped to have a calm picnic on a Sunday evening were in for a rude awakening! We quickly took over… Invalides.

Invalides as we started to arrive, with people enjoying a beautiful Sunday evening.

The dinner this year took over the entire esplanade between Invalides and the Seine, on both sides of the street!

Set up is quick and efficient. Before you know it, it seems that every table is suddenly outdoing the other with flowers, candles, and decoration. So many details across the board I wish I had thought of (including wearing a fascinator). In my defense I did have two giant bags with dinner.

Everything you bring you have to take away when you leave too. At least bags are lighter once the champagne has been drunk!

Our table was made up of more foreigners than locals (one story I heard was the event really is a way to introduce new people to the city). We were surrounded by Americans who had flown in for the occasion, but one American couple came from Grenoble where they live. Another table removed, the women from Trinidad and Tobago and currently live in the UK. Further down there was a Frenchman, and many more. I admit on my way I feared it’d be a slightly snooty event of high class locals. I was pleasantly surprised that it was one of the more diverse events I’ve attended in Paris — refreshing! Paris isn’t a city where I find myself talking to strangers much, but I loved the event, and how we befriended everyone around us. Several people had attended the event in different cities around the world too. This night proved to be their favorite.

I’ve never seen a dinner party come together so fast!

Apèro complete. Let’s eat!

To officially kick off the dinner, there was the napkin twirl (something I first encountered at French weddings; I also had specifically gone in search of white cloth napkins the day before!). We were also given bubbles which we forgot to use before it got dark. And then there were sparklers, which lit up the entire esplanade in front of Invalides! It was magical.

My ticket came to me by my friend Jen. We represented the “local” contingent of our section. At some point we realized many of our neighbors had disappeared. Clearly the Americans weren’t used to the long, leisurely meals we’ve become so accustomed to in France!

The perfect evening for dîner en blanc.

Throughout the night bands showed up, there were incredible costumes, and many guests had considered how they—and their tables—would light up at night.

The dinner lit up with sparklers! ✨

The biggest downside? The complete lack of bathrooms—a trend I encounter in everyday life in France!

Eventually the party took to the streets, which had been blocked off by the police. Amusingly, there was an NYPD cop car on the scene too! Not quite sure how that got here 🤔

The pictures can’t quite capture everything. For me it was the perfect excuse to be outside, and enjoy the company of friends, both old and new. Also, the nine years of being patient really paid off! I never thought this day would actually come… 🍾 🥂 ☺

 

 

 

 

The best worst travel story ever

We were four hours into our journey when they made the announcement: we were turning back and returning to Paris. We all pulled up the location map on our monitors and let out a collective groan. We were HALF WAY THERE! They have to be kidding, right!?! Our flight still was going to be 8 hours, except now we were going to end up the same place where we started.

How to get jelag without actually going anywhere.

I knew weather delays could be an issue. This is just not how I expected it to unfold. My mom‘s wise words came in handy: I worry about the things I have control over, I don’t worry about what I have no control over.

Truth be told, I think some of my Facebook friends were more mad about the situation than I was. The way I see it, you can either complain, or make the most of the situation. I mean, how many people can tell the story of how they traveled halfway over an ocean, only to turn back to where they started?!? I tell everyone I meet now. 😂 I’ve found it’s a good conversation starter, and makes other people feel like their day hasn’t been so bad after all.

Thursday night I had questioned the fact that we were even departing, but I also was relieved to know the worst of the blizzard cyclone storm was supposed to be over by then. Alas, despite different previous messages, our pilot announced that JFK had indeed closed, and they tried everything but no other airports had space to accept us due to the crazy weather. (We also needed an airport with a long enough runway, and one that was still open at midnight).

At that point I also realized how much worse it could have been. I didn’t go swimming in the ocean. We didn’t skid on ice when landing. I’m not traveling with kids or a baby (but my seat mates were!). And I didn’t have to deal with wet luggage from a water main break (that really did happen the day after we arrived at JFK and an hour after I departed for my next flight).

On the bright side, we were put up in a hotel at the airport and had free meals. And we – the self proclaimed “Norwegian [airlines] refugees” – had a common story. It made me realize one of the realities of living in Paris: I don’t talk to strangers like I do in the U.S. And I admit, I miss that. On the plane, no one could use turn to their phones – our new normal force of habit – so instead we had to talk to each other. I’ve never heard such chatter on an international flight, let alone at was 2am.

The conversations with strangers continued as we waited in line to check into the hotel, and to pick up food vouchers, and ate meals together. Each step of the journey we continued to bond. Suddenly our new 2pm departure later that day (by the time we got our bags and checked into the hotel it was around 7am), became a 7am departure the following day. The story kept getting “better” and better.

Through it all I chatted with people throughout the day with interesting stories I would never otherwise met. More than complaining, we laughed. A lot. In one case I met someone waiting in line for a dinner voucher, but when someone else joined the conversation an hour later, they assumed we’d known each other for years. Ha!

Waking up at 4:30am was not the most fun. Neither was the disorganized wait in the airport. Or the two hour late departure. But we had a bigger plane and empty seats, so that wasn’t so bad. When we FINALLY landed in NYC ~50 hours later there was applause. Then we we sat on the tarmac for 4 hours. It only added to the best worst travel story ever. It could ALWAYS be worse. 😉 Between hearing/seeing stories of friends trying to travel and social media, there was another dose of perspectivel. I’ll take 4 hours vs. the 13 hour wait on the tarmac we spotted on Twitter any day!

You can’t make stories like these up. So, yes, I’m telling the story about a plane turning around halfway to our destination. But it’s also a story of perspective and making the most of what comes your way.

From these adventures, I learned a few valuable lessons:

  • It’s all about attitude. You can either be the bad attitude in the room, or the good one. Being pissed isn’t going to do much. It made my day when other passengers thanked me for helping put things in perspective for them.
  • If you’re traveling in winter know that weather delays are real and your plans may be affected by them. The people you yell at are human too, and it’s not their fault. (I’ll give the Norwegian airlines flight crew props for being so lovely and professional through it all.)
  • Be patient + set low expectations. I often joke that through living in France I’ve learned to set my expectations low, and that way it only gets better from there. We had a few naive moments – like when we landed and then waited on the tarmac forever (it’s not over until it’s over 😉). One look on twitter showed that some other flights waited seven or thirteen hours that day. Perspective.
  • Pack carry-on only in winter. That ensures you don’t have to deal with waiting for baggage on top of flight delays. If you are checking a bag, move a couple pairs of underwear and some makeup (or whatever will make you feel human) into the bag you’re traveling with – just in case!
  • Buy a liter bottle of water once you’re through security. This is a result of my traveling budget airlines who keep you less hydrated (for free), than most, but I never regret it. Staying hydrated is also my secret to combatting jetlag.
  • Go to the bathroom before you land. You never know how long you’re going to be sitting on the tarmac, and they may not let you go to the bathroom for the first hour!!
  • Bring snacks. Again, you never know when you’re going to be sitting on a tarmac for four hours. The airline doesn’t have enough extra meals for everyone, so instead you get nothing. Hungry, frustrated people are no fun! You can make friends too if you share your snacks.
  • Share the humor on social media as it unfolds (well, when you’re back on land). Tell a story. Your friends will be rooting for you! And it’s a good way to laugh at the situation.

Ok, everyone has some travel horror story? What’s yours? Share them in the comments!

Travel to… learn

Whenever I meet new people and tell them the name of my blog, they say, “oh, you must travel a lot.” Which I suppose I do travel more than many people, but that’s not the point. With my motto I say “travel is not about where you go, but how you see the world.” I see travel more as a state of mind than a checklist of places you’ve been.

In 2017 I chose the word “pivot” as my theme of the year. I quickly came to realize that I couldn’t accomplish the changes I wanted if I kept doing the status quo. I also didn’t know exactly what this pivot would mean. I let curiosity be my guide.

At the end of 2016 I picked up a copy of Designing Your Life, inspired by Stanford professors Bill Barnett and Dave Evans’s popular course that uses design thinking skills to help plan your life. (I also followed their course on CreativeLive). Rather than diving into one thing head first, they have you imagine multiple scenarios, and prototype and test them out before you make any jumps. It was a helpful tool too in making sure I was getting the most out of the status quo while I put gears in motion.

Looking back, it almost seems like 2017 was my “year of learning”. Each one of my travels involved going somewhere to learn something; it’s almost like I don’t know how to travel unless I’m learning something new. On my Paris tours I always encourage people to explore the city through their own interests. I realized that was the very thing I was doing for myself, and it took me a little bit of everywhere.

Most people would look at this list and say “what the heck is she doing!?” or “why is she learning that?”. But each of these events or workshops enriched my mind, and deepened my own work. In fact, from UX (user experience) to storytelling, everything I learned helped link together my past experiences and tied them together in ways I never expected. As Walter Issacson said, “The pattern tends to be curiosity across disciplines.”

Traveling to Munich was a no brainer. I’d never been, so if I have an excuse to visit a new place AND see friends, it’s a double win. Also, in a small world moment, my friend Yann-Yves (who I’ve collaborated with in the past) is part of the awesome CreativeMornings Munich team and filmed Christine’s talk. I’d traveled to San Diego for AdobeMAX where Christine had spoken in November 2016, so it was fun to see her presentation grow with more experience.

Yann-Yves in action. Sadly someone at the venue decided to open all the windows right before starting, making Christine’s slides less visible in real life, but thankfully there’s the video below!

During her creative residency Christine officially launched her Everyday Explorers product line. I connected her to all my contacts for the Berlin leg of her trip. Then I started to get jealous that they’d all get to hang out without me, so I decided it was best I go and support her ;) It was also the perfect excuse for me to stay in what would become one of my favorite hotels: the Michelberger. Her event went great and I even got to meet Erik Spiekermann, and reconnect with old friends I met through blogging. It was awesome seeing everyone have fun with her travel journal kit too. (It later inspired me to host a mini workshop for Christine when she came to Paris, knowing workshops are something I’ve been wanting to do more of too!).

Everyday Explorer’s travel journal kit, deconstructed Christine style.

Develop an Authentic Leadership Style – but why? I like learning new things, and because I’ve encountered too many moments in my life which I feel like could have been essential learning moments, but instead they were just frustrations. I was curious to attend so I can be part of the leadership I want to see, and be. Turns out that instructor John-Paul Flintoff also wrote a book called How to Change the World which was a nice addition to my bookshelf.

One of the possible paths that came into my mind while reading Designing Your Life was UX research/design. I knew it was already in my wheelhouse of experience, but just under a different label. I signed up for a UX bootcamp at General Assembly and it turns out that I loved it. While so much of user experience is about designing apps and websites, what I loved most was the focus on the work that goes in behind the scenes, in person, off the computer, and through sketches. The power of disconnecting to lead to stronger solutions. (Spoiler alert: you’ll see this connects to a pivot later in the year.)

I’ve nearly filled a notebook per event/workshop I’ve attended this year. I love looking back through them, which helps spark ideas and my teaching.

The Annie Atkins Graphic Design for Film Making workshop in Dublin changed the way I approach projects. As a creative there’s a lot of pressure to be “original” but as Annie taught us, every film is created from existing worlds. Even the eccentric world of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel (the film that Annie worked on that made her a household name – well for designers at least) started with images of actual places. Rather than starting from scratch, looking to what we know can be a powerful tool. During the two day workshop we learned how to fake calligraphy, age documents, and even make fake passports.  Little did I know, but the simple act of having to write and create our own telegrams would give me an even greater appreciation of the telegram I’d find later this fall from 1942 announcing my mom’s birth. I see movies and my own family’s “archives” in a new way now.

You can watch Annie talk about graphic design in film in the video from this year’s AIGA conference, or listen to her on the podcast 99% Invisible

The Here London conference was inspiring for giving a look inside the process of different kinds of creatives. The conference is from the team behind It’s Nice That and Lecture in Progress (advice, insight and inspiration for the next generation of creatives)… And completely unrelated, that trip I had the AMAZING experience of Secret Cinema: Moulin Rouge (where I got to put my new prop-making skills to good use in order to get into character for the over-the-top immersive event).

Know what I learned this year? I love making things with my hands. I don’t know if it’s a return to being a kid again, or just wanting to disconnect. The Risotto Studio‘s riso print studio’s notebook making station was a highlight!

Data Visualization? Really? Yes, really! Numbers scare me, so I’m trying to face them head on. Know what the biggest takeaway was from my Guardian Masterclass? Data Visualization is ultimately all about storytelling and deciding what story you want to tell, and for which audience. I was surprised, but not, all at the same time. I didn’t even have to try to find the connection to my other work – it found me! As for Edward Tufte, I’d attended his one-day seminar about 10 years ago. I knew I liked his approach and was ready for a refresh. It was an excellent exercise in simplification and looking at the facts. I was also looking for an excuse to go to Boston ;)

My Guardian Masterclass was led by Adam Frost and Tobias Sturt of Graphic. During the day we had a couple challenges where we had to determine how we’d visualize a data set. 

The Tufte books are valuable regardless of what industry you work in. They also are included in the seminar price (seminars are all over the country).

Of all my workshops, I was surprised that STORY led by 74-year old Robert McKee was the most exhausting. Three days of 9am-8pm lecture, culminating in a half-day analysis of the film Casablanca, was a shock to my system (or maybe it was the 16 movies I watched in 9 days leading up to it to prepare ;) ). Information overload at times, I still walked away with a brain full of different ways I could apply what I learned about screenwriting to storytelling in any number of ways across my work. Due to the intense schedule, I barely had time to talk to any of the other attendees, but of the couple people I talked to, one random conversation near the coffee queue has led to interesting conversations that may be leading to some intriguing endeavors and linking together of projects. It was another reminder of the perk of getting out and attending workshops (in the real world), especially when you don’t know anyone else. You never know when or how inspiration may strike.

Robert McKee is the author of the books Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, Dialogue: the Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage & Screen, and Storynomics (coming soon).

Believe it or not I did have a few other trips last year too, so maybe I’ll get around to sharing those one day too if you missed them on Instagram. I may not be good at taking actual vacations, but I’ll travel to learn any day! I have to admit, having one’s own business has it’s perks when it comes to writing off these expenses – it’s all an investment!

In fact, I happened to post a few images on Instagram – here and here – from my mom’s 1974 travel journal from her trip to Kenya and Tanzania with the American Natural History Museum the same day this post initially went live. It took me a little while, but then it clicked – my mom traveled the same way and loved to learn!

So where are my travels taking me in 2018?

I’ll be stateside in the beginning of the year to see friends and family, I’m attending UX design events in DC and London, and will be back in London to see Hamilton (finally using those tickets I bought 18 months in advance!!!). That will get me through March. Beyond that, we’ll see where inspiring reasons to travel take me…

p.s. I didn’t mention it in the list because it’s all taking place in Paris, but I’m back teaching again! (One of my goals with my “pivot”.) I’ve been developing UX design curriculum and courses (in English) for OpenClassrooms, which is Europe’s largest online education platform. Turns out teaching is the most incredible way to learn! In my first two months on the job I learned more than I did in my two masters degrees (where I learned a lot too). It’s so rewarding! But even moreso, I think it’s a good indicator that I’ve pivoted in the right direction.

Creating Your Own Path

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Hi! It’s me, Anne! Remember me? I know it’s been awhile. A lot of things have changed for me in 2017, but as I gear up for 2018, it’s time to get my writing back on track. So, the time to start is now.

I launched my business in 2012 as a way to stay in France, and realizing I enjoyed and thrived on the structure of the life of a grad student. Starting a business came with its own challenges from having the right to work in France, but not as a “salaried” person (that’d mean taking a job from a French person) to learning how to be an entrepreneur (and en Français! no less, which means I still don’t know what certain accounting terms are in English!). But it turns out the constraints I had working in France made me carve out an incredibly rewarding professional life. The way I work and the work I do may forever be difficult for me to articulate (because it’s not always the norm), but I’m proud to say I’ve carved out a way to work that I love, and it has only gotten more rewarding with time.

Over the summer I sat down for a call with Jennifer Synder for her wonderfully inspiring podcast, Creating Your Own Path (CYOP) to talk about that very subject. I first got to know Jennifer through my Skillshare map making class where she was a really engaged student and our friendship grew from there, despite the fact that we still have never crossed paths IRL. We could have talked for hours, but here’s our conversation broken down into three parts:

CYOP #118: How to Create Cohesively Across Multiple Platforms

CYOP #119: Handling the Freelance Ebb

CYOP #120: Using the Internet to Create Offline Connections

If reading is more your cup of tea, here’s the 2013 interview I did with Jennifer! It even shares a rare glimpse into my life as a costumed character. 😂

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Another reason for my silence online was that in September I lost my mom to ovarian cancer rather suddenly. As anyone who knows me, they know that my mom was my biggest champion (and also silent Twitter awesome link curator 😉). My mom was thankfully able to listen to these episodes, and in what ended up being her last week one of the things she told me was, “Anne, you have so much confidence now.” It meant so much to hear that, as I know myself all too well as “the quiet one” growing up. These words also gave me the confidence to speak at her funeral (my words are in the link above) – something I never would have considered not that long ago. Jennifer and my mom had also “met” in that magical Skillshare classroom, so I’m so thankful that I got to tell her what a gift these three episodes were to my mom.

I’ve realized in recent years, I’ve fallen off the internet radar a bit. Some of it has been focusing on business and making a living, a reaction to the state of the internet, and also rethinking my priorities. My plan in 2018 is to share my voice more, whether it’s talking about my mom, dealing with death and loss, the joys of travel, sharing my latest projects and endeavors, or reflecting on life as an entrepreneur.

I’ve learned that we all have the ability to touch others, whether we know it or not. Despite what society tends to indicate, it’s not all about numbers and metrics. One of the things I’ve set out to do is to slow down, reach out, and let people know they’ve made an impact or inspired me. I never expect a response in return, but I’ve worked to become more intentional in how I say thanks, because I know how valuable those words and conversations have been to me in my own work.

p.s. The artwork in this post is by the talented Melanie Biehle as part of Jennifer’s CYOP Artist in Residency program (she is so amazing at giving back to the creative community!!). I love the quotes they selected, and it’s a good reminder that sometimes we need to listen to our own advice. In addition to using it as artwork to promote the podcast episodes, Jennifer also sells notebooks and prints with quotes from her podcast guests in her online shop!

 

Healthcare in France

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Healthcare is one of the attractive features of my life in France. Honestly, I could never imagine running my own business or being an entrepreneur in the U.S. without having a safety net like it if anything ever were to happen to me. Having healthcare means I can be creative, I can take risks, I’m free to run my own business and do the work I do and am best at (which is anything but the typical 9-5 job). If anything major happened to me, I know I’d be supported by the national rather than racking up heathcare bills that would be even more hazardous to my health (back when I worked in the States and had good insurance, the health system still caused me a lot of anxiety).

So, here is my American perspective of navigating French healthcare. I’ve already survived bureaucracy, and thankfully healthcare rarely causes me much stress – except when my American-ways get in the way. I hope this can also serve as guide to what to expect at the doctor or Emergency Room in France should you ever find yourself here. Even if you don’t speak the language, don’t worry, you won’t be turned away.

Disclaimer: this is the Cliff Notes version. Don’t take everything at face value. These are my experiences, and I invite others to share their experiences navigating healthcare in France in the comments.

Let’s visit a few scenarios:

CHEZ LE MEDECIN
I’m usually able to make an appointment within a week or two. If I’m really sick, I can almost always make an appointment for that day if doctor can fit me in. All my doctors’ offices are inside typical Parisian apartment buildings. I feel more like I’m visiting a home rather some sterile, soul less room with ugly furniture. There is almost never a receptionist (except at my gynecologist’s practice where a few doctors each have their own rooms – I also pay more at this doctor, as you’ll see below). That means that most of the time it’s the doctors themselves answering the phone and taking appointments, which can get admittedly get slightly frustrating when you’re in the middle of an appointment when you really don’t feel well. The biggest difference between France and the U.S. is that you won’t find gowns (paper or cloth) at the doctor’s office. Modesty isn’t really part of the culture; think of it more as something that makes your visit more affordable!

pretavoyager-doctorfrTo get to my regular doctor I go through two sets of beautiful big wood doors, pass through this garden courtyard, and then head upstairs. The office itself is pretty boring, and not nearly as photogenic as this. I will note that I think my doctor thinks I get too much exercise!

I typically pay 25€ for visits to my regular doctor (médecin traitant). Part of that visit is covered by Social Security (Sécurité Sociale) into which I pay, I’m reimbursed for some – or all – of the cost of my visit. Many people in France also have a “mutuelle” which is additional insurance. Compared to the U.S. even paying full price is so affordable that I didn’t feel it was necessary to have the additional insurance.

However I recently had a meeting with my banker, and now I pay 21€/month towards a mutuelle. He assured me it’s good to have a mutuelle should I ever need an extended hospital stay. I’d definitely have a mutuelle if I worked as a salarié (full time employee), but as a freelancer it’s extra. I also regularly pay a lot into Harmonie Mutuelle, which despite the name, is not at all a mutuelle, but is the group that manages my health care [RSI] under my particular business status. So no, health care in France is not free, but it is affordable, and helps take care of everyone.

pretavoyager-FrenchgynoThe waiting room of my gynecologist is WAY nicer than most doctors’s waiting rooms. This doctor is more expensive (90€/visit), but she has a different status as a doctor, and I’ve kept going even after my amazing student insurance ended. Still, it’s nice to be in a “home” setting for a check-up. I always joke I could live here!

Another slightly strange thing for Americans when it comes to going to the doctor in France is that most of the time lab tests don’t happen at the doctor’s office. Instead, you go to a “Laboratoire” which specializes in different tests. The doctor will give you an ordonnance (prescription) for the tests you need. They don’t cost very much and depending on how long it takes to process the results, they will soon be posted online, as well as sent to your doctor. I’m fairly certain I’ve even had to walk down the street with my pap smear in hand in order to drop it off at a lab. Similarly, because doctor’s offices are typically in independent apartment buildings, it means there is not a pharmacy attached. If you ever need a shot, you’ll need to pick it up at the pharmacy and take it back to the doctor to administer.

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Good dental coverage is not very common in France. I pay dental out of pocket (~60€). I like going to my dentist just because he has the coolest waiting room ever!

LA PHARMACIE
I’ve learned the hard way over the years that I could have just gone to the pharmacy 90% of the time and they could have given me just the medicine I needed. (There are also a few 24 hour, 7/7 pharmacies around the city too). In general medicines are far less expensive in France than in the U.S. However, when you feel awful and are upset, don’t expect a lot of compassion from the people behind the counter most of the time (I have had some great [warm] pharmacists help me too!).

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
In France les pompiers (firemen) are the first responders – yes, they do more than hosting awesome dance parties for 14 juillet! Earlier this year I was walking with a friend visiting when her knee gave out unexpectedly. She couldn’t move so the lovely gentlemen behind us called the pompiers and waited with us until they arrived. I of course went along. I was relieved to add another hospital adventure to my list of experiences that was not my own. You call 112 in case of emergency in France. I don’t know what her medical bill ended up being, but I think she was fortunate it happened in France rather than in the US!

pretavoyager-parisambulance 600My view from inside the ambulance when the pompiers picked us up. Due to the nature of the case they ended up taking us to a hospital on the other side of the city. 

SOS MEDECINS
When I feel really awful, so much so that I don’t have the energy to leave the apartment (particularly back when I lived in a 7th floor walkup), it’s nice to have the option to call SOS Médecins. It’s more expensive (~70€/visit) than going to a normal doctor, but it also means the doctor comes to you. I’ve only called them once, and I felt like they needed (there were two who came) a stretcher after climbing my 7 flights! It’s a good thing I didn’t break anything, because they never would have survived getting me down the stairs ;) Even though it wasn’t what I called about, they were concerned about my blood pressure, so they called a private ambulance to take me to a hospital. (That ride cost 80€, but after social security it was only 45€). It’s interesting to know that different hospitals in France have different specializations, so they won’t necessarily take you to the closest one. Later in the year for a different illness, I ended up visiting Urgences: Stomatologie (or the mouth ER). There are so many speciality stores in Paris, that I love that there are speciality hospitals too.

pretavoyager-mouthERWithin the large hospital complex, at Hôpital de la Salpêtrière in the 13th arrondissement, there is a specialized “urgences” (emergency room) for “stomotologie” – in other words, there is a Mouth ER! A co-worker suggested I should go there when I was experiencing a mouth issue. I was too stubborn, saying I would just go to the normal doctor. Well, eventually I ended up here and it was way cheaper than any doctor!

I’d spent enough time in France to realize that hospitals in France are fairly low on frills. Fortunately, for my first visit, I had planned appropriately: wore leggings, a comfy t-shirt, fleece jacket, socks, and packed a totebag with water and a snack, not to mention a book and extra battery pack and cord for my phone (not that I really felt up for the latter two, but at least I had the option). My first visit I wasn’t sure if I could eat (it was kind of why I was there in the first place), but once they let me out I was SOOOO happy to have this. On my two hospital visits I’ve witnessed other patients literally kicking and screaming because they’re starved. (That sounds really dramatic, but we all know how we get when we’re hungry and don’t feel good.).

pretavoyager-FrenchERwaitingroomI encountered very few TV screens in my hospital visits in France.

Like most hospitals around the world, you can expect a wait. But in France you get more of a 1960s/70s vibe, without any (well, maybe a few) flat screen TVs to keep you busy and distracted. Healthcare is more affordable because every facility doesn’t need to be state of the art. As long as I can get healthy, I’m ok with that.

My check-in was quite lovely as most of the information they needed was on my carte vitale (social security) card, which resembles a credit card with a puce (chip). Into hour four or five – on a Saturday afternoon – I started to feel a bit neglected in the small, beige, rectangular room with a checkered tile floor. There were only five people in the room, and most in worse shape than me. I eventually got wheeled into the private room, where I waited for awhile and then got some tests done. Then it was more waiting. Whew! 9 hours later: it was just a virus. I was free to go. The doctor told me I could go, but then nothing happened. I waited a bit longer before confirming I really could leave. I was utterly confused that in the land of bureaucracy there was no need for more forms, or the need to check-out. The thing that made me laugh the most was that no one had told me where/how to leave the hospital. I had been wheeled to various rooms and no longer knew where I was. Thankfully the biggest stress of that day had been finding my way to the exit– to where my friends were waiting to pick me up.

pretavoyager-FrenchERThe room where my blood was tested at a hospital in the 10th arrondissement. Notice comfy pants, socks and shoes. Don’t be afraid to bring your own blanket and water bottle too! 

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Christmas 2015 really came when my first [experience] bill from the “urgences” arrived and I only owed 29€. I later realized it was that “expensive” because of all the lab tests they ran. In spring 2016 I owed 6,90€ for my ER visit and 13,90€ for my follow-up appointment. Seriously, I spend more than that on meals every day! My coworker had encouraged me to go there from the start (even telling me about the “mouth ER”). The real irony is that it was so much cheaper than the 75€ specialist my generalist sent me to (more would have been reimbursed had I had a mutuelle at the time), and whose specialty seemed a bit different, and made me worse, not better. This experience was a small price to pay though in the realm of health care. Any mental blocks when it comes to hospital, is more than made up in the fact that it won’t make you bankrupt!

pretavoyager-FrenchhospitalA small section of the large room which was the “mouth ER” where I had my initial visit, as well as a follow up visit a couple weeks later. I felt a bit like I was time traveling through the décor, but all I cared about was that there was a doctor specialized in my issue who was talking to me.

 

MATERNITÉ
While I can’t speak directly to this experience myself, I’ve had enough friends go through it, and have made hospital visits, so I thought it was worth touching on. Before I freak you out by saying that you’re expected to bring your own towels, remember that having a child in France is a very low cost. (I believe it’s over $10,000 in the U.S. for reference).

My friends have stayed in the French maternité for 3-5 nights in general. This was not because they had any complications. It’s just how it’s done here. One friend had a 360€ bill for a 5-night stay, but that’s only because she had requested a private room. While it was not covered by Secu (social security), it was covered by her mutuelle, so the total came to 0€. She did admit not all of the visits leading up to the birth were completely covered, but again, that’s where the mutuelle comes into play. Another friend paid 60€/night for a private room and another 25€ supplement for her husband to be able to stay there too – all covered by their additional insurance.

Two other major differences regarding having a baby in France are the fact that maternity leave is much longer (it usually starts a month or more before the birth), and, after the baby is born, moms receive “perineal réeducation” (vaginal retraining), which is like a video game for down there to get things back and working ASAP. What can I say, love is important to French society, and the French love vacation (all 5-9 weeks/year + holidays).

 

In short, we Americans have the tendency to associate healthcare as something that is naturally and inevitably expensive. As the French would say, “C’est comme ça!” (that’s how it is.). However, in this case, nothing could be further from the truth. Healthcare can be affordable. It can support everyone who is sick, no matter who you are. Americans, just look to the rest of the world to see how it’s done – they’re onto something with universal healthcare. That’s why travel matters – you can see other way things are done, and learn from these experiences.

 

 

French Lessons: Voting in France

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Becoming French has its perks. The biggest perk is never having to renew my carte de séjour ever again, but being able to vote in French elections is high up there too. It’s one thing to follow another system online, but it’s another living and learning to have to navigate a new system. I have to say while we often take what we grow up with as the “right” way to do something. Learning how another country works is fascinating and really we all have a lot we can learn from each other. While I lived here during the Presidential elections in 2012 (French presidents are in office for 5 years), actually being able to vote changes one’s perspective.

To vote in France you have to be 18 years old. You register by December 31st. (I was lucky and filled in my forms right before the end of the year). By early April registered voters receive their “carte electorale” which has your voting locations and you must vote at that location within your arrondissement. Before both the first round voting (April 23) and second round voting (May 7th) registered voters receive a mailing with flyers for each candidate as well their name cards (these you vote with, but are also available at the local voting center).

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Unlike the U.S. system, the election cycle is much shorter (and far less agonizing in that respect). France is not a two-party system, but rather home to many parties. The first round vote narrows down the large pool of candidates; the two candidates who receive the most votes will move on to the second, and final round. (John Oliver explains the system well.). Typically the two main parties — gauche/socialist and droite — move forward but neither made it through to the second round. In fact, Emmanuel Macron made up a party, “En marche!” translating to “let’s get going,” for his candidature. There are spending limits for each candidate, and each candidate has equal media time. During the debates, there is literally a clock tracking how much each candidate speaks. The debates last over two hours and end after midnight – interesting for a country with only one time zone. 24 hours leading up to the election French media nor candidates are not allowed to make statements (in this case, even to refute what has been dubbed as “Macron Leaks”.).

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Voting happens on a Sunday in France, which helps account for the country’s high voter turnout which tends to be above 80%. (Speaks volumes to the U.S. which votes on a Tuesday and has about 50% turnout, even with early voting). The catch with the May 7th election is that it falls on a holiday weekend (Victory Day – one of three holidays in the month of May in France). During Presidential elections in France you are only voting for one person, and nothing else. The U.S. scantron and electronic voting system typically has at least 10 things on the ballot. In France there are the two rounds of elections, followed by a vote for the legislators a month later.

During my first ever French election [first round voting] I was in Dublin, which became an eye opening experience on how everything is not what one expects. As an American living abroad I’m used to absentee voting, which involves me applying for an absentee ballot and mailing in my vote to my home state before the election date. My eyes nearly popped out of my head that I learn that in France you vote by procuration, or essentially sending a friend to vote in your your place. My initial reaction was “voter fraud” but after having lived it through two elections now, I have to say it works. It is also very official and you go to the Mairie [Mayor’s office] to register in advance. So while in Dublin at a workshop I received a text from my friend — I voted! For French citizens who live abroad it is common to register and vote at your local French Embassy. The queue may be long, but there’s a certain pride that goes along with voting in person.

So how does voting actually work?

  1. Based on your carte electorale you know where to vote. Voting locations, like the U.S. are at schools, but also at the Mairie [Mayor’s office] of each arrondissement [district].pretavoyager-bureaudevote18
  2. You are given a number for your bureau de vote so you know which queue to wait in (my voting center had two).
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  3. You cut the line to go pick up your small brown envelope. First you check in with your French I.D. You’re asked if you’re free later to come count votes, and then are told to pick up your name cards to go vote behind the curtains. The interesting thing here is that you’re required to pick up two names so that it is not obvious who you’ll be voting for. This year the name cards added braille for blind voters.
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  4. You go “behind the curtain” to place your vote – folded inside the envelope.
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  5. You destroy the card of the candidate you are not voting for and drop it in the big bin on your way out. (You the try to make out crumpled names to get a quick sense of the results as you walk by.)
  6. Given this is France you go back to the end of the longer queue. This is the part that confused me, as typically choosing your candidate is the longer part of the process. This line is to officially cast your vote.
  7. At the front of the line there is a big clear box with votes in it. First you have to be checked in yet again with your official I.D. card. There is a big paper ledger with all of the registered voters. There is a clear plastic line guide to ensure you’re signing in the right box.
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  8. Once checked in the officiator of the box opens a small latch and tells you to put your envelope inside. She then says “A voté” to signal your vote has been counter [the latch has a counter associated with it] and stamps the back of your carte electorale. (I didn’t think to give my friend my voter card, hence no stamp for the first round.)
    pretavoyager-carteelectorale

Congratulations! You may not have an “I voted” sticker, but you have voted in France! And now that I’ve voted and written this post, I have to jet out to vote again. Don’t worry, just voting by procuration, for a friend. Not too shabby to be voting twice in my first official French presidential election ;)

UPDATE: Emmanuel Macron won! He takes office next Sunday. Compared to the Americans (election early November, inauguration in late January), here’s one time the French sure work fast….

Paris Tours: Navigate Paris

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After 200+ tours over 4 years, I decided it was necessary to create a new home for my Paris tours: Navigate Paris!

The original Navigate Paris has always been my most popular tour (3-hour crash course overview of the city with custom exploration) — I love it because it’s never the same for me either. My Paris Design Tour has a general loop of many of my favorite shops celebrating French design and design-y places and adapt it to the interests of those on my tour.

I’m most excited for the latest addition: Research Trips. I started these a couple years ago but more thought of them as part of my consulting work. Now I want to open them up for others who may be looking to invest a little more, or are traveling to Paris with a specific project in mind and they’re looking to Paris for research.

Learn more about my offerings on Navigate Paris along with reviews, FAQ and links to my Paris guides! I also created a Navigate Paris Facebook page, and @navigateparis on Twitter and Instagram (but those accounts are more to tag; still follow @pretavoyager for Paris updates).

 

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