The Bottom Line or Lack of One
My vision seemed a little less than perfect so I paid a visit to my ophthalmologist for an update of the prescription. Sure, it needed to be upped a bit, so with the new “ordonnance” in hand, I happily went to my favorite optician to “shop” for new “lunettes.” Very often, I am complimented on my asymmetrical multi-colored glasses, oval on one side, rectangular on the other, that Sabine and her brother, Eric, designed and made for me personally as long ago as six years.
The shop they own is “Optique Vosges” (12 Rue Saint-Antoine, 75004 Paris, +33 (0) 1 42 72 66 17) and is run particularly “familiale” — friendly, making you feel like you’re part of the family, because that’s how they take care of every single one of their clients. Many friends have taken my lead and patronized them, for the same reasons: great style, high quality and top-of-the-line service. I have them to thank for all the great looking eyeglasses I’ve had over many years that make wearing glasses both fun and fashionable.
Sabine is a very good sales person. I could tell you lots of stories about how she chooses the frames for you because she understands what a face needs to make it come alive and because once again, she seems to really care about YOU. This time, she talked me into getting new glasses plus clip-on sunglasses (we like the “papillon” style best), but also getting new sunglasses, too, because of the big savings she offered by buying two pairs…and how much healthier it is to have real sunglasses, with polarized lenses that actually lighten inside so that you don’t have to constantly change from sunglasses to regular glasses when you go in and out of doors. With progressive lenses, the cost is likely way more than you’d pay Stateside, but I can tell you that French lenses are by far superior to their U.S. counterparts — lighter, more precise and simply amazing for clarity of vision. I’ve always justified the expense by that benefit, as well as the benefit of a very stylish face, not to mention the partial reimbursement by social security and my “mutuelle” (additional health insurance coverage).
So, how could I say no? Sabine, you sold me!
When I was trying on the new sunglasses that Sabine put on my face and to which I immediately said, “I love them!,” I remarked off-handedly that they made me look a bit like Jackie O’. An American man from New York also in the shop having new glasses fitted, immediately responded, “And don’t you wish you had her money?”
I had a knee-jerk reaction and without thinking, asked him, “Why do Americans always think of money first? When I think of Jackie O’, I don’t think of money; I think of style!” I could see that I had insulted him, then started to explain more about the cultural difference between the way the Americans and French think about money and that after 25 years of living in France, money is the last thing that enters my mind!
It really struck me, particularly since so many other factors this week have entered the playing field of money, style and culture. First, I got fascinated by Jacki O’ because suddenly, she was everywhere I looked. Posters of Jackie are all over Paris, touting an exhibition of photos at Galerie Joseph, “Jackie, une Icône,” on till September 1st. She often wore dark sunglasses and so well, that Ray-Ban named one of their designs “Jackie Ohh.” (I stopped in to the exhibit today and enjoyed it, even though it’s just a small collection of photos.)
Amazon.com also caught my eye with a three-part film series titled, “A Woman Named Jackie,” a biographical miniseries from 1991 based on the best seller by C. David Heymann, so I watched it this past week. It turns out Jackie had a lot more class than she had money, except when she was married to Onassis!
And let’s not forget that the New York Times recently ran an article, written by Ann Mah, about her year in Paris that transformed her. Perhaps, the reason she had so much class had nothing to do with money, but was that special year in Paris?
Money is a big topic for me this week, too, battling with the similar cultural misperceptions about money, and banking. Americans have a very open viewpoint about banking, having lots of accounts, moving money around without blinking an eye and thinking nothing of it. France and Europe don’t have the same outlook. Money is not only taboo, but it’s sacred, and with such tight controls by the tax authorities, any movement of money is suspicious.
In one instance, a client on the verge of purchasing a property moved a lot of the money that would go toward the apartment into her new French bank account, only to be rejected for a loan by a competitive bank who couldn’t understand why she moved so much into another bank…was she courting them, too, for the loan, they wondered?!
In another instance, a client of mine in the process of transferring the title of two French properties from her ex-husband and herself as owners into sole ownership (hers) did a similar thing. She transferred the money for the closing into the existing bank account that was in both their names, only to discover at the last moment that the bank wouldn’t release the funds to the Notaire unless the ex-husband was physically in front of them to approve it! Of course, he’s in the U.S. and not about to jump a plane to help her! She had to fork over the same sum of money by transferring it directly to the Notaire from the U.S., leaving the amount sitting in the French bank account to deal with at a later time. (She was fortunate enough to be able to do this!)
This is a lesson to be learned by Americans who think that banking is the same all over the world, or that money is what drives our world. We have expressions like, “Time is money,” “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” “Money makes the world go ’round,” etc., etc., etc. Compare these with the French ones: “Plaie d’argent n’est pas mortelle” (Money isn’t everything), “L’argent ne fait pas le bonheur” (Money can’t buy happiness), “L’argent est un bon serviteur et un mauvais maître” (Money makes a good servant but a poor master), and I love this one most…”Si de beaucoup travailler on devenait riche, les ânes auraient le bât doré” (If working hard made you rich, donkeys would be covered in gold)!
Yesterday at our monthly coffee gathering, Après Midi, author Janet Hulstrand talked about her new book, “Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You (What you’ve heard about them is not entirely true…).” In her chapter, “The (Relative) Unimportance of Money,” she provides a “Bonus Tip”: “One of the things Americans really don’t get about the French is that they don’t respond in the same way to ‘money talking’ as people in many other cultures. It is not true that you can just buy a French person’s cooperation. In fact, trying to do so many even be counterproductive, because many French people find the exertion of this kind of pressure both obnoxious and insulting to their sense of dignity. In general they prefer to extend favors because they think it is the right thing to do, or because they have respect and/or compassion for the person in need of help, rather than because they are being paid for it.”
So, what’s the “bottom line” in all this?
That in France, there is no “bottom line.” In fact, the expression doesn’t exist at all. For us Americans, while the phrase was “originally coined in the mid-1960s by corporate America to describe the physical bottom line of a profit and loss statement where the final numerical figure is placed, showing whether a company made a profit or took a loss,” it took on different figurative meanings since then — describing “the ultimate outcome of a situation or the most important or fundamental facet of that situation. (Source: grammarist.com/)
See what I mean? Even that idea became directly related to money. My advice to you is that when you’re in France, do as the French. Take money out of your thought process and think about life instead. What is it that really makes you happy?
I’ll bet it isn’t money.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(as Jackie “O”)
P.S. Read more about our afternoon with Janet Hulstrand at Après Midi by visiting the page