Une "Américaine" à Paris

My trip to Paris this summer was unexpected and ...very short-noticed!

I was told one Monday morning if I could pack my suitcase and leave as soon as possible for 3 to 4 weeks to replace a colleague on sick leave and another one on vacation in the TATA France office . Well, who would say NO to such nice invitation, especially when it came from Claude Sassoulas, the tough but sweet “St. Peter” of the “Pearly Gate”, euhh, I meant Paris Gate of the TATA France office?

So here I am, arriving in Paris from Herndon Virginia on a windy and rather cool Friday morning July 19, with my two suitcases and my laptop (which was sadly confirmed by everyone there for being dated from the last century!), I went straight to the office to meet Chantal d’Aboville, the Office Manager for the transfer of duties! I was tired and sleepy. But Chantal quickly put me at ease with her soft and very sweet voice! (Here is Chantal: elegant, tall and very sweet, in the kitchen with me!)

I was then introduced to my other French colleagues who seemed “ravis”(glad) to see me in July and part of August in Paris to... work!

I could not remember all the names at that time, but I was thrilled and happy to see all these cute, friendly, and good looking French professionals in one place. This made my job easier I thought then. Added to the work load, I have to adapt with the heat as well, outside and inside the office. It's summer in Paris, and it can get very hot sometimes, that's why all the Parisians leave Paris for the countryside and/or the beach!!

In the US, the air-conditioning everywhere is set very cold, and we must cover ourselves extra … to get warm everywhere we go! (And remember we claim that we're aware of climate change and vote for environmental protection.) Anyway, the “air-climatisé” (air-conditioning) in France is set moderately, so we still need to open widely the window to let the air flows in the office. I found out shortly that the best place to be is the small kitchen at the end of the hall. In addition to the cool air, there are also 3 good-looking, fancy espresso-coffee machines lining up on the counter with also good-looking boxes of sugar, and a big box filled with different kinds of also good-looking/fancy round coffee packs that look like euhhh, hummm, well, I meant that might confuse the mind of someone living in the US for so long... but anyway, the coffee and tea there have the best taste (I meant the Authentic taste) that even Starbucks would not have it. LOL ! Please, no offense to our US office coffee/tea. I am only describing things as they are!

My French colleagues do not pack lunch, I noticed. Partly because most of them are men, and French men do NOT pack lunch! Come on. It may be something against the heavenly-well eating-cordon bleu cuisine culture, and also against the government policy in the effort to boost up the economy overall , I assume! But believe me it's a win-win situation for everyone, as employees pay half for their lunch while the other half is subsidized by the company, hence by the government. The same with their metro/bus fare. Socialism brings happiness to everyone. Fantastic isn't it?

That also explains partly why there is no microwave in that gorgeous kitchen! LOL:)

Well, Zofka, a blogger wrote this: “... only visiting Paris and claim to know France is similar to going to New York and claim to have experienced the US. Thus, as much as Paris is France, and as much as Parisians in many ways are culturally a part of the baguette-eating and cheek-kissing French, they are also Parisians, homoscosmopolis!” for God's sake! I completely agree. I love that sweet part of the French culture, which in fact is also part of my “formation francaise” since I was 3 years old; and also because in our family, we do a lot of cheek-kissing, hugs, we also hold hands and pat each others' shoulders/backs anytime we meet, and everywhere we can! It's sweet, fun, personal and politically speaking, it's human too! LOL

So Paris is beautiful! Just like a landscape painting from Corot. Paris is also romantic at any season of the year, mostly under the rain. I have been in Paris many times, living and working there at different periods of time. And I confess with all my heart that I have always loved this city. Some parts of Paris reminded me of Saigon, the Saigon built by the French at the beginning of the 19​th​ century, the Saigon that I now only could remember through my tears and my blurry mind. The streets, the avenues, the villas behind secured gates and well-groomed gardens, the people, the atmosphere, the ambiance, the shops, the old but gracious buildings, everything in Paris and in the suburbs reminded me of the pre-war Saigon!

I have never thought much about my lost hometown in Vietnam while living in the US, but only when I returned to France. I miss Vietnam in the middle of Paris!

Anyway, the TATA France Office is located in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a bourgeois side of Paris where all the professional buildings are grouped in one place, and where there is a huge arch called “Arche de la Défense”, standing tall as a gate keeper at the entrance of the city. It's kind of cool when seeing it from far away. Every day for 3 weeks, I walked to the George V metro station located about 7 minutes from where I stayed on the Champs-Elysées, the most beautiful avenue of Paris. 15 minutes and 4 stops later, I got off at Les Sablons station, walked for 7 more minutes and arrived at the TATA Office.

The office is on the 7​th​ floor and there are only 2 elevators for the entire building. You swipe your badge outside the entrance and one more time when you are in the elevator in order to get up to the 7​th floor.

My first day at work was filled with excitement and fear. Oh, it’s nothing except that I forgot to turn off the alarm as Chantal advised, and my heart almost dropped to the floor, where I panicked while searching for my notebook where Chantal has written the code to shut up that alarm!

Oh I tell you, this was completely a wake-up call and starting that scary Monday, I stopped dreaming about “summer in Paris” every time I walked out of the elevator, dropped my bag while trying to hold tight my heart, opened the entrance door to get inside the office, ran to the alarm pad on the wall, mumbling the code in my mouth while searching for the right number on that d… alarm, and trembling, I slowly pushed down each number just on time before that shrieking noise started!...

Oh, and talking about that elevator of the Paris office, on the 3​rd​ day, it got stuck. Really stuck! So panic again. That means that we on the highest floor of the building have to use the stairs. Fortunately my French colleagues were so nice to help me out with all the running up and down, whenever needed. And this has become a routine with the elevator being stuck for a couple of days each week​☺​ I think it’s part of summer activities and exercises for whoever stayed behind in the big city in July and August​☺

Anyway, time flew fast day after day. I enjoyed interacting with my French colleagues who worked so hard with long hours, and still kept a very sane attitude and a gorgeous humor. I have never sweated that much and laughed that much while working there. Of course, I stressed out a lot too, with the work load, but I learnt a lot on the job, and that made my stay worthwhile.

I can write more about my stay in Paris but I was told that the allocated space on the Buzz is very narrow, so time out, I have to stop. But here are some pictures about our charming office in France and about Paris-the-Romantic-City.

Well, Cesar once said “I came, I saw, I left”, this is my turn: “I came, I walked, I worked, I sweated, and I left!” VIVE PARIS!

Truong Anh-Van
August 2012

Cảm ơn Vân đã chia sẻ bài viết về một chuyến đi công tác ở Paris.

Bài rất dí dỏm và đã diễn tả được hết cảm nghĩ của một người sống ở Mỹ đi làm xa nhà ở Paris. Đọc xong tôi có cảm tưởng như đay là một bài tường trình của phóng viên nhà báo. Viết rất chính xác với những trạm metro lé Sablons và những vùng như Neuilly Sur Seine quá quen thuộc với những người đã và đang sống ở thành phố này.

Đề nghĩ Vân nên upload bài này lên site CF để  tất cả các bạn xa gần cùng đọc.

Đặng Trần Kỳ

© cfnt, Collège Français de Nha Trang