Arrival in Paris

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

The following article continues the saga of my Leap of Faith, which turned out to be my journey from lawyer to coach. This article was originally published in the Orlando Sentinel in 1999.

Arrival in Paris

A year in France sounded like a reasonable antidote for the forty-something mid-life crises of a couple from Houston. Because Jim and I had minimal travel experience in France and minimal French language skills, we made a trial move to Paris for one month. It started out well. When we landed at the airport, we breezed through customs and immigration so easily that we did not recognize the process had occurred until we found ourselves at the street exit.

Then, unlike in New York, our cab driver spoke a little English. He took us straight to the furnished apartment we had rented for about $1800 a month, despite the fact that we could hardly pronounce the name of the small street, and could only tell him that it was in the 17th Arrondissement. Already life was so different from home.
We found our small one-bedroom apartment nicely decorated, and it even resembled its picture on the Internet. The kitchen and the bathroom were so tiny that they were cute. (We knew from talking to seasoned travelers and researching floor plans on the Internet, that apartments in Paris were small.) In France most major kitchen appliances are in miniature. Our dishwasher barely accommodated breakfast and lunch dishes. We had to stoop to peer into the refrigerator. We had an understanding that he who cooks doesn’t clean up, because there really wasn’t room for two people in the kitchen at the same time. We just bumped into each other a lot.

The bathroom had barely enough room for both me and my reflection in the mirror. When Jim shaved, he said he invaded his own personal space. I bumped my head and my backside the first time I brushed my teeth and bent over to spit. The toilet was installed at an angle, because otherwise one could not get past the toilet to the shower. The shower was so small that the curtain rubbed against my backside while I showered. Soap-on-a-Rope was a necessity, because a dropped bar was nearly irretrievable.

The apartment gave us something new to laugh about every day. We loved it. Living there for a year would probably be a challenge, but for a month it was great.

Eager to experience Paris, we quickly scouted out our neighborhood. Living in the 17th Arrondissment, we experienced a real Parisian residential neighborhood – not the hyped-up version filled with post cards, camera-toting tourists and waiters who know how to sneer in English. My French was not good that first jet-lagged day. Our apartment manager had what seems to be the universal response to my language difficulties: She spoke faster and louder and flapped her arms. My French didn’t actually recover from jet-lag, however. So now when asked if I speak French, I respond, “I thought I did until I moved to France.”

The triple whammy of an unfamiliar language, unfamiliar customs and unfamiliar products kept us in continual bewilderment. Fortunately those who stereotype the French as rude are wrong. Or maybe the French took pity on us. They tried hard to help us, and some actually apologized to us for not being able to speak better English. I struggled to communicate in the local tongue, often speaking “Spanglais.” Coming from Texas, where Spanish-speakers are abundant and French-speakers are almost non-existent, I found that unbidden Spanish interjected itself into my conversations when the stubborn French words would not rise to the surface. Sometimes it worked anyway. Mostly it resulted in a very puzzled look on the face of my listener.

Adventure and comedy spiced ordinary daily events like grocery shopping and dining out. If we didn’t look at our life in France that way, we would have been ever-agitated. Our first grocery shopping trip took an hour to buy the few things that we could easily carry home walking. We never did find any decaffeinated or herbal tea that day, but we did find some “light” tea and something mysterious called “infusion.” We didn’t find any skim milk, but we found “half-skim.” We found hundreds of cheeses, and things called bacon that weren’t bacon as we knew it.

We didn’t find facial tissue, but we found folded sheets of papier toilette. You have to go to the French version of Walgreens to buy facial tissues in Paris. There you will also find shampoo, lotion, and even clothes. But not sun screen. You get sun screen at the pharmacy, where you will also find the anti-cellulite cream and posters of thong-clad women advertising it.

At the grocery checkout stand we bit our nails as we tried to decipher the ominous warnings hung over some lanes. Timidly we ventured forth, hoping we didn’t have the wrong number of items, the wrong form of payment, or worse, the wrong passport, for that lane. Halfway through the checkout process, we were discovered: We hadn’t followed the proper procedure. After much pointing and arm-flapping, I understood that we were supposed to weigh our vegetables in the produce department. There I found the scale that spit out a label with the ultimate price on it after I pushed buttons to tell it what it was weighing.

I thought I had actually passed the vocabulary test on the scale (with the help of pictures), but it still tripped me up. I was not fooled by the fact that the French call grapes raisins and plums prunes. I found raisin noir for the luscious black grapes and raisin blanc for the juicy green grapes (which the French call white), but no raisin rouge or even raisin rose for my red grapes. Finally the exceedingly patient customer behind me just reached through and pushed the button for black grapes.

Meanwhile, Jim was still tying up the checkout line, apologizing in English and arm flapping to people in line behind him. Contrary to the French reputation, the waiting customers were very gracious, telling him “Pas de probleme” (“No problemo” in Spanglais).

Leap of Faith

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

A forty-something mid-life crisis tightened its long fingers around my neck, slowly suffocating me. I had practiced law for 18 years in big firms, small firms, on my own, changing the configuration every few years. My life had the outer hallmarks of success. I liked my clients personally, and they gave me good work and paid their bills promptly. I was my own boss in a reasonably secure position. I cherished my beautiful new home designed to my specifications. My teenage son, Brandon, was smart, handsome and happy. I had a relationship with Jim, a loving and considerate partner who would talk through conflicts with me.

Yet, discontent haunted me and sucked the energy out of me. Sometimes I felt guilty for not appreciating my good fortune. Often I felt crazy, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do instead. What was I even qualified for? Would I have to go back to school again? I had tried to find a new career for years. I was afraid to let go of what I had in order to start something new. What if I couldn’t make a good living at it? Or worse, what if my new career also turned into “Just a Job”.
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Decision & Faith

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

How Vision and Faith Orchestrated Events for a “Leap of Faith

I enrolled in a French class. I examined my financial situation and determined that, if I leased my house for enough to cover the costs on it, I could manage for a year or so without working. I could just relax in France and see what answers would bubble up in that old eight-ball. I consulted Jim and Brandon. Brandon, who was just graduating middle school, salivated at the idea of living in France for a year. Jim was a at career crossroads himself, and declared his willingness to follow my lead. Now to my ex. After a few discussions, Bob generously put aside his desire to be with his son in order to give Brandon a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Nearly miraculous solutions materialized to solve the lingering problems. I leased my treasured house to people I knew and trusted. They just showed up at the door with a real estate agent, not previously knowing it was my house. Bob acquiesced to take possession of our elderly dog and the other dog broke out of the yard during a thunderstorm and made friends with strangers who wanted to keep her. Using the nacent Internet, we finally found a suitable temporary apartment in Paris. As each hurdle fell away I felt reassured, and I faintly recognized the work of some other hand in this process.
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