I have recently been haunted by a certain Facebook video poking fun at study abroad students. The blonde caricature student rambles again and again, “when I was abroad…” filling in the blanks by longing for every European cliché from a more relaxed lifestyle to a different drinking culture.
This is a stereotype I may just fall into, but with a tiny bit of pride. This past spring semester I studied abroad in Paris. And yes, for four months I got to bask in espresso, sidewalk café terraces, and croissants galore. Sometimes clichés are beautiful.
At the beginning of my study abroad program, we had a week-long orientation that included presentations on cultural and academic differences. During one of these sessions, our presenter lamented that while she loves the laid-back business style of the French, she often craves American efficiency.
“Americans are just so efficient. They respond to emails; they have quick meetings. When I work in France everyone wants to get coffee or have a two-hour long lunch before anything gets done.”
I have to admit that I had noticed a difference in my day-to-day activities in Paris. Things take a bit longer in France. They aren’t rushed quite like they are here—unless you’re walking through the metro.
Americans really do value efficiency and convenience. We have quick meetings. We snack all day to keep from getting hungry. We don’t use all of our vacation time.
I was surprised to learn there was no online portal for my university and that professors most likely would not respond to my emails within 24 hours. I was also shocked by how often my host family had off work/school for a national holiday.
And then there was the food. My host family made the most delicious dinners. In the early evening or sometimes even late afternoon, the smells would begin to waft through the house. Each night we sat down at the dinner table—no take-out or rushed fifteen-minute dinner. Sometimes it was just three or four of us, sometimes all six people. And we always had an appetizer or dessert along with our entrée.
While I’m at school, I barely make myself three real dinners a week—and that’s a good week. I love how people in France take the time to enjoy food, from taking hours to eat, to shopping for fresh food at specialty stores, to spending hours in a café just to have a coffee. In the majority of cafés, you don’t see laptops and people working. They just sit, talk, and enjoy their espresso or café crème.
I thought a lot about which style I preferred. The truth is I like a little bit of both. I wanted to bring some of those French traditions back with me, especially when it comes to food. But would it really be possible for me to live like that in the U.S.? How would I find time to cook each day? Where even is the closest bakery?
I realized that while I may be able to add some crepes into my diet, I would have let a lot of the other things go. If I have time to go to a farmer’s market, great. But the way I live at home just isn’t conducive to spending hours each night cooking and eating.
In the midst of this culture shock, the time came for me to apply for summer internships. Elisco was the first one I applied for and the first reply I received:
I started to stress out because I realized how badly I wanted this internship.
“We’re reviewing your resume over espresso & croissants.”
It was only one sentence, but it made me really, really excited. I realized there might be a place where I could have the best of both worlds.
I enlisted my roommate’s help for my project. We spent the next few days running around Paris searching for the letters to spell out “Elisco.” Once I had photographed all six letters, I combined them into a photo collage that I posted on Facebook. A few weeks later, I was offered and accepted the position with Elisco.
Sure there may not literally be any croissants, but I had found a place that had the American friendliness and efficiency I missed while in France, and also valued food like the French. We understand that food is more than just fuel, but an experience, a ritual, and an important part of life.
In the Elisco office, I’m surrounded by photos of food, the people are passionate about food, and every catered lunch is wonderful. The neighborhood helps too. I can help finish a proposal template before noon and then enjoy lunch on any one of Lawrenceville’s restaurant patios. Some days the people-watching rivals Paris’.
Because maybe how you get things done has less to do about where you are on the map, and more to do with what you value. A good meal doesn’t have to be sacrificed to squeeze in a meeting. Why not have both? Maybe we can forgo the formality of a corporate French lunch, but keep all of the flavor.
And lucky for me, there is a French bakery right up the street.