May 29, 2009

Blogging undercover

I'm packing my survival gear, kissing my loved ones goodbye, and preparing to be parachuted behind enemy lines for BM's (in)famous Operation Brainwashing Training (OBT). And you, dear readers, will have front row, VIP access to it all, in the biggest, scariest undercover blogging operation of all time. Deep Throat, eat your heart out. Assuming I manage to find the energy to post during the only "free" hours (i.e. between 1am and 7am).

Before I leave you, though, I just wanted to share this extremely educational music video, courtesy of a particularly witty friend of mine:

May 27, 2009

In the news

In theory, I suppose, I am a serious person. I have serious academic credentials, and a serious job. I must, by extension therefore, also read serious books and follow the news, seriously. I mean, that's what serious people do.

So why is it that my (extensive) personal library is filled with glossy-covered chick lit, mystery novels and a rather large collection of books of the "How I Hopped Around Nepal Wearing a Potato Sack While Singing Italian Opera" variety?

And why is it that, after only briefly skimming over the "important" headlines (on that note: Sotomayor!) the only "news items" I'll actually read are those with absolutely no serious impact whatsoever?

Perhaps it is to entertain you, dear readers.

On the menu today, differential equations (ooh, serious stuff?) as applied to... Romeo and Juliet. There's even some detailled, complicated math bit at the bottom (my mother would love it) which I didn't exactly follow. But what I did take note of is this extraordinary finding:

"By writing equations that summarize how Romeo and Juliet respond to each other’s affections and then solving those equations with calculus, we can predict the course of their affair."

Really? We can predict what will happen in a relationship and no one told me? So does this signal an end to endless conversations between girlfriends analysing in detail whether the fact that a member of the male species was wearing his nicest shirt but ended our third date with "I'll call you" means that we'll be married by next year or not?

Staying on the topic of marriage (perhaps love is in the air) I am a big fan of this Chinese "spouse market" concept, whereby our parents actually stop complaining about how they're never going to have grandkids and just get up and do something about it (while simultaneously socializing with their peers and keeping active). Brilliant. We should have that here. Though come to think of it, do my parents have good taste in men?

May 25, 2009

Monday monday

Even though I don't have a lot going on at the office this week, I resolved to be admirably diligent, show my face bright and early and clear some admin tasks from my plate. Thus inexplicably pumped up on some hyper, can-do, go-get-em trip, I set my alarm rather earlier than was necessary.

And slept straight through it. Until 10. Oops.

Anyways, the recap from yesterday's tennis was on, so I figured I'd just watch a few minutes while downing my morning caffeine fix. Next thing I knew, it was almost 11 and I was still in my pyjamas. Shit.

Thinking I would at least benefit from a blissfully empty metro-ride at that hour, I ran off to the station as fast (and as gracefully) as lugging a 2-ton laptop bag and wearing heals will allow. Only to realize with horror that I'd be sharing the steaming carriage with hoards of museum-crazed tourists.

Resigned, I managed to find a fold-out seat to perch on, cracked open my book and ignored everybody else for the next 20 minutes. At which point I got up, gathered my bags, and noticed that my shirt buttons had come undone the entire time, revealing rather too much... ummm... undergarment. I hurried off the train with as much dignity as I could muster, clutching my paperback to my bosom, and leaving a thousand foreigners to regale their friends back home with stories about how the French are so liberated and crazy for lingerie that they prance around half-naked in public transport.

Oh God. It's going to be one of those days, isn't it.

May 24, 2009

Get me some Vitamin D

It's funny how even when you're sure you're all better, and that certain things / people have been filed in the red "Will Definitely Never Make Me Cry Again" folder at the back of the cabinet, a certain friend, a kind gesture, a "remember that time..." can suddenly send everything spiralling as you clutch the side of the table thinking "here come the waterworks again."

Not that I didn't appreciate the flowers, or seeing the Boy's and my mutual friend.

But afterwards I needed a pick-me-up, so I bravely strapped on the bikini-top (if you saw how pale I am, you'd understand the need for serious courage), threw some chick-lit, an Ikea blanket and a bottle of green ice tea in a bag and headed off to the park. Along with several thousand of my fellow Parisians.

And it might even have worked, too.

May 23, 2009

The Future Mr Ipsa

A couple evenings ago, over a plate of over-cooked spaghetti, my aunt anounced that I absolutely must be fixed up with a young(-ish), dapper multi-millionaire who invented a rather well-known website devoted to shopping.

Right. This idea is not half-bad (I'm already salivating at the thought of all those shoes I could afford...) But there are a few holes in my aunt's great master plan.

First, she's never actually met Mr Millions, but has only spotted him across the green of the 18th hole at the golf club. Second, she has no idea if said dreamboat is actually single. Never mind checking up on other minor details such as sanity, a sense of humour that doesn't boil down to thinking Jackass is funny, good personal hygiene and the absence of any ex-girlfriends' skeletons in the closet.

In sum: good strategy, but leaving a little to be desired on the execution.

Sometimes I wonder if BM, and firms like it, don't suffer from the same problem. We're certainly very clever (we have the per diem to prove it). But it's rather easy to swoop in, be clever, and bugger off again before anyone's had a chance to test your ideas, isn't it?

The Definitive Guide to My Little Corner of Paris (Part 2)

MARKET: Le Marché des Enfants Rouges (rue de Bretagne)
Because its improbable name, a reference to the young pupils of the local orphanage, was coined at the start of the 17th century. Because the concept of choosing your lunch from a motley crew of international food stalls and then settling at one of the large wooden tables to eat with strangers is impossibly charming. Because one of the sweetest things the Boy ever did was order a pizza there just because it was called the "Res Ipsa Pizza" (clearly I'm easy to please when it comes to grand romantic gestures).

RANDOM SPOT: The wall at number 180 (rue Saint Martin)
Because over the winter it cheerily wished passers-by a "bonne crise" and because, now that spring has come, it assures us that all is well again in the world... sort of.

CAFE: Café Beaubourg (next to the Pompidou)
Because, while admittedly overpriced, it has one of the best car-free, people-watching terraces in Paris. Because there's a small chance the art from next door might seep in subliminally while you're having your beer, making you terribly cultured.

BAKERY: Berko (rue de Rambuteau)
Because even though you're living in the Magical Land of Patisserie, sometimes you crave cheesecake. Or cupcakes. Or both. And because when that happens, walking into Berko feels like you've died and gone to frosting heaven.

SUPERMARKET: Daily Monop' (somewhere near you)
Because they're open late enough for weary consultants and other non-35-hour-week folk. Because they have loads of fresh, pre-prepared dishes that mean I no longer have to cook when I get home at some ungodly hour and am feeling rather lazy. Because shopping there with my Duane Reade "Bag It For a Greener NY" tote adds a certain element of bobo chic to the experience that is not entirely unpleasant.

May 21, 2009


Courtesy of Andre Jordan.

Double Life

I assume you've noticed things have changed somewhat over the past couple months. Notably, this blog has gone from being somewhat of an afterthought to something altogether more urgent. In fact, the blog is really now "what I do."

I'm coming up to almost 7 years of professional existence. First, as a lawyer. I love the law, it's a fascinating intellectual exercise; sort of like a Rubix cube. But you don't want to be one of those people who are defined by their Rubix cube. That's sad. Today, I'm a consultant. We all know I've had mixed feelings about consulting from the start, and my latest project has given me the most up-close look at a nervous breakdown that I'm willing to risk.

So now what.

Maybe I finally let go of the dream that my job would bring me happiness and fulfillment. Maybe I finally realized I need to look elsewhere for definition.

So I came home, looked around, and I didn't find anything. Even my "cat-lady" fall-back option was gone. And this made me sad. So I wrote about it. And pressed "Publish". And felt a little better. I tried again, and it worked again. Fascinating stuff.

Now I spend large parts of my day composing posts in my head while absent-mindedly aligning boxes on powerpoint. I smile when I realize it's almost time to go to "my real job". I wake up in the morning and rush to check my comments and blog stats, giggling like a schoolgirl when I think I may have "captured" another reader for my stories. What validation! What thrill!

With all this alternative, non-paycheck-related excitement, my days go by a little faster, a little more happily, and even the loneliness has started to recede. Don't worry, I'm not about to trade in the chance at a real life for a virtual one, and an actual face-to-face conversation over lunch with a friend remains more satisfying. And I know I'm taking a risk that my employers (past, present and future) could take offence.

But this is fun. Let me just enjoy it for a while.

May 20, 2009

Meet the expert

However, when it comes to improvising a post-surrealist chateau-worthy party outfit on a 3€ budget, my expertise is unrivalled... It's a shame that particular skill isn't more highly valued after graduation.

May 17, 2009

Is anybody out there?

So recently I began to wonder whether there might not be others out there who had foolishly chosen to do the unthinkable and blog about consulting like - well, like normal people. Curious, I wasted a good hour or two on google and found nothing but self-congratulatory, how-to blogs that preached about the wonderous fun and oodles of cash that come with a job as a consultant. These blogs also typically tended to offer the uninitiated lots of advice about how to land one of these fabulous jobs.


And also highly dubious. Most people loathe consultants (almost as much as they loathe lawyers, I'm discovering with dismay). In fact, my former client placed a rather mean-spirited anti-consultant joke (which they had obviously penned themselves, typos and all) right above the coffee machine. The next week we found a dead chicken nailed to the door of our team room.

Ok, I made that up, but the coffee machine joke incident really did happen.

What I'm saying is lots of people have a slightly more, ummm, balanced view of consulting than what I have been able to find on the internet, and that must include people who actually do this for a living.

Now, the reason for my failure to find any interesting, objective "A Day in the Life of a Consultant" blogs may simply be my inadequate research methodology (damn, I knew I should have taken that BM training on "How to Google Like You Mean It.") So, if any of you know of a blog out there that I might enjoy, and that might prove to me that no, I am not alone, there are other consultant bloggers out there that also have the occasional bad day, I sure would appreciate a heads up.

In return, let me share with you these few seconds of much-needed levity:

May 16, 2009

The Definitive Guide to My Little Corner of Paris (Part 1)

Really, I should have started this a long time ago. Over the past couple years I've used this blog (and previous incarnations) to provide unsolicited and rather ill-informed opinions on what to do in New York, California and Australia, and have never taken the time to share my favourite Paris spots.

This shocking state of affairs will now be made right, with this first instalment of the "Definitive Guide to My Little Corner of Paris."

A few ground rules and disclaimers before we start.

1) This guide will be completely random. You will find within its pages recommendations for restaurants, bars, museums, as well as shops, streets, parks, events, times of day, whatever I feel like, really. And in no obvious order.

2) This guide will probably focus mostly (but not exclusively, see rule n.1) on places that are within walking distance of my apartment. This doesn't mean there aren't other nice things in Paris. Or that you should use advanced triangulation techniques to find out where I live and stalk me. That wouldn't be very friendly.

3) Its "definitive" nature is entirely relative. I will feel free to add or subtract to it at any time. And it's going to be broken up into lots of different parts, which means you'll have to keep coming back to find out more. Devious, eh?!

OK, now that we've got that out of the way, here it is:

By Res I(p)sa

BAR: Andy Wahloo (rue des Gravilliers)
Because the deco is loosely based on the very Parisian (and strangely not considered either derogatory or racist) concept of the "Petit Arabe du Coin," North-African style. Because it's tiny and intimate (which makes it a bit too crowded on Fridays and Saturdays, though). Because the DJ is likely to play music you've never heard before but immediately think is very cool. Because the house cocktail with ginger makes you go "Woh."

RESTAURANT: Le Réconfort (rue de Poitou)
Because I've been going here for years, and even though the place has abandoned its cutesy-colourful look in favour of designer-chic, the menu has essentially stayed the same. Because said menu is printed inside second-hand books. Because the food is simple, very French, and yummy. Because it's a fabulous date place, even if you're not on a date.

RESTAURANT: Les Philosophes (rue Vieille du Temple)
Because of the Tarte Tatin à la Tomate. Because it's the best place to bring tourists, without paying tourist prices. Because the outside tables are always full and after you've managed to get your hands on one, you feel cool.

BAR: La Belle Hortense (rue Vieille du Temple)
Because it's a great place to have a glass of wine before having your Tarte Tatin à la Tomate. Because it's actually a bookstore, and having wine in a bookstore is one of those things that has to be done.

BOUTIQUE: Ann Tuil (rue Vieille du Temple)
Because it sells shoes - really nice ones from designers like Sergio Rossi. Because it has a nice, small, neighbourhood feel and the guy running the place recognised me on my second visit.

BOUTIQUE: Prune (rue des Archives)
Because it sells shoes - really nice ones from designers you've never heard of and can't find anywhere else. Because it feels more like an upscale art gallery than a shoe store.

HAIR SALON: Atelier 7 (rue Saint Claude)
Because it's not a chain, but a boutique salon where you can get your hair done by the owner (Sophie). Because it feels fun and friendly rather than clinical and scary. Because I got the best haircut of my life there on a day when I was feeling like crap (so the stakes were extremely high).

MUSEUM: Musée Rodin (rue Varenne)
Because even though it's not in my neighbourhood, it remains my favourite museum in Paris. Because it's beautiful.

to be continued...

May 15, 2009

Friday Conversations

The following took place between 8am and 8pm:

Conversation 1

Upsetting Person 1: "So I hear you're looking to get staffed on a new project."
Res: [sounding cheerful, motivated and highly competent] "That's right!"
UP1: "Good. I want to staff you on my project that starts in a couple weeks. It's in Paris, in an industry that's related to banking."
Res: [sounding less cheerful, but determined and calm] "Gosh, that awfully nice of you, but I have a goal, you see."
UP1: "You have a goal? That's cute. What's it called?"
Res: [hastily covering over the cracks in her voice] "Well, I want to be staffed internationally, in an industry that's not related to banking. I've been waiting almost 9 months for this, and I had a really hard time with my previous client, so it's very important to me."
UP1: "Right. I see." [pause] "So, are you interested in my project or not?"
Res: [the panicky high-pitch sounds are getting pretty obvious now] "Well, it's not that I'm not interested, per se. It's just that, you know.... What I mean is... I'm sure it's a great project and all... I mean obviously part of me totally wants to work on your project, but..."
UP1: "Well, you have to let me know soon cause lots of people probably want to work on my project. You should feel pretty special that I even asked you."
Res: [sounding pathetic and wimpy] "Right, yes, absolutely, I'll get back to you very very soon. Thank you so much."


Conversation 2

Upsetting Person 2: "So you know how back before Christmas we signed you up for a two-week training course in July?"
Res: [sensing this might be a trick question] "Ummmm, yeah?"
UP2: "Well, we don't want you to go anymore."
Res: "Uh-huh."
UP2: "Instead we want you to go at the end of this month. See, someone else totally bailed and it's going to cost loads of money so instead we want you to go. The other person was a short girl as well, so you're like interchangeable."
Res: "Well, the thing is, I have commitments then, people counting on me, things I planned ages ago that are really important to me and my personal well-being."
UP2: "Well, obviously we can't make you go."
Res: "Good, cause I can't go."
UP2: "We feel bad even asking, honestly."
Res: "Well, don't worry about it, it's just that I really can't go."
UP2: "It's just that it would be for a really good cause and all."
Res: "Oh. Like peace in the Middle East?"
UP2: "No."
Res: "Eradicating hunger in Africa?"
UP2: "No."
Res: "Saving little baby seals?"
UP2: "No."
Res: "So not really for a good cause, then."
UP2: "Sure it is. For one, it would save me from spending the rest of my Friday calling around to find someone to step in. And, it would mean I don't have to tell the boss that the training budget got blown."
Res: "OK, well, that sounds like a pretty good cause, but I still can't go."
UP2: "I totally understand."
Res: "Thank you."
UP2: "It's just that - "
Res: "?"
UP2: "You're usually such a nice person - "
Res: ".."
UP2: "Someone people can really count on - " [stifles a sob]
Res: "Well... It's not that I don't want to help..."
UP2: "Wonderful! You're all signed up then! Toodles!"
Res: "????????"


Conversation 3 (a few seconds later)

Upsetting Person 3: "So I hear you're off to training in a couple weeks."
Res: [still shell-shocked] "..."
UP3: "So you can't be staffed on UP1's project."
Res: "..."
UP3: "So we've found you something else instead."
Res: [whispers] "Goal? Me? Have?"
UP3: "Huh? Sorry? Couldn't hear you. Anyways, it's in Paris."
Res: [feeble] "ok"
UP3: "In an industry that's related to banking."
Res: "right"
UP3: "With your former client."
Res: ---------------------
UP3: "Res? You there?"


[pause while I let you absorb what has happened]

[longer pause while I struggle to compose myself]

[much longer pause while I shout out obscenities at the top of my lungs in whatever language feels appropriate]


May 14, 2009

The Great Staffing Adventure of May 2009

During your first week at BM, you will be given a detailed, audiovisual 3-part presentation on the "Staffing System." The Staffing System is very high-tech. It is transparent. It is efficient. It represents the latest in BM lean organization thinking.

And it is a complete mirage.

There is no such thing as the Staffing System. Instead, as the end of your project looms (or in my case, couldn't come fast enough), you grab your lasso, your Swiss-Army knife and your wits and embark Indiana-Jones-like, on the Great Staffing Adventure.

It took me eight months to switch from naive ideological faith in the System to gung-ho participation in the Adventure. But in the end, even gullible little me realized that unless I took drastic measures, I was only going to get staffed on the projects no one else wanted, and that had little if anything to do with either my skills or my inclinations. Of course, that may still happen (after all, I am an Adventure novice and may soon get voted off the island) but at least I will have tried.

My first step was to articulate a goal. The aw-shucks-I'm-easy-to-please attitude of the past had to go. No longer would I be willing to get staffed on "anything", eager for "new experiences". No, now I had demands, desires, direction. My goal, ladies and gentlemen, is 1) to get staffed outside of France, 2) with people who speak English and 3) in any industry that isn't banking.

Goal: check.

Once that was done, it was time to step into the fray. Now, this is where it gets messy and bloody and totally demeaning, so steer your kids away from the screen, please.

After a short warm-up of Tarzan vocal exercises and a couple rounds of the haka, I began to liberally litter the BM email-server with grovelling requests and shameless sales pitches, advertising anything I thought could land me a project.

Dear important BM person,
Did you know that: I'm among the 5% of consultants who can spell; I'm new enough to still agree to making photocopies and bringing your coffee; I know all the best places to buy shoes?! TAKE ME!
PS: Buy now and receive 25% off your next purchase, and a small replica of the Eiffel Tower, absolutely FREE!

While I'm sure other Adventure participants use game theory and complicated Excel models, I went into battle without much of a system, plan or morals. As a result, I have already managed to weasel my way onto the staffing lists of the exclusive Pharma and Energy practices, as well as that of the Shanghai office (I have no idea how I managed that one).

Of course, the expended blood, sweat and tears has not yet yielded any actual results (this isn't a Disney movie) but at least it's kept me entertained...

May 10, 2009

To my boys

I am so sorry. I know you'll feel betrayed and abandoned, and you won't understand, but I really hope you'll like your new home in Germany. You'll always be my babies.
PS: Don't eat too many mice.

May 9, 2009

Post 101

Welcome, folks, to my 101st post on this incarnation of my blog. Through the past 100 snippets of my life, you've followed me from pre-INSEAD jitters, to school drama, to back-to-the-real-world jolts. And if after all that you're still reading, thank you.

Following a trend I'm sure you've come to expect, this has been another particularly hell-ish week, in more ways than I could even begin to explain (and not all of them have to do with the fact that my client managed to shatter my ego in one fell swoop). So, my tail between my legs, I ran home to mom and dad last night to get coddled. What a relief it was to actually be able to feel and express everything that had been going through my head, without censorship and without needing to hold back the tears. Of course, it was none too pleasant for my parents, but then it's always the people you love the most that you hurt the most, isn't it.

Then this evening, it was back to the facade. I went out for dinner and drinks with about 10 of my INSEAD "friends", and somehow managed to laugh and joke my way through it as if everything was as close to perfect as it could be. The entire evening was such a masquerade I felt I was having an out-of-body experience, watching myself act in complete contrast to the whimpering, teary mess that hovered beneath the surface.

I'm not sure anyone fell for it. If they did, I may have discovered my future career path.

May 4, 2009

Ma pomme

Before I leave NY and head back to the real world, I thought I would share with you some of my favourite spots from this trip (a sort of Res Ipsa's Lonely Planet, if you will):

Thompson LES and Above Allen (on Allen St): Because it's in my favourite part of town, and the terrace bar has one of the most incredible views of the Manhattan skyline I've ever had the pleasure to enjoy over a Caipirinha. I wouldn't pay the "actual" rate for this hotel, but for the deal I got on expedia, it's a bargain.

Double Crown (on Bleecker and Bowery): Because the English colonial/Asian fusion food is surprising and yummy (the "Pigs in a Wet Blanket" being not only fun to order but also delicious) and the atmosphere is convivial and relatively unpretentious.

Freeman's (off Rivington): Because eating mac&cheese in a pseudo-Disney version of a hunting lodge full of the LES's beautiful people is fun. And because it's so hard to find you feel like you really earned it.

Coffee in Washington Square Park: Because unlike most things in NY it only costs the price of your morning latte, and there's usually free live music thrown in.

Abercrombie & Fitch (Fifth Ave): Because sometimes it's just nice to ogle.

I should really do one of these for Paris some time... Stay tuned.

May 2, 2009

From the couch

Ah, how perfect, perched up over the L.E.S., waiting to go out and grab a few drinks on Orchard Street, and listening to Ryan Adam's "New York New York".

All said and done, I should be in 7th heaven right now. I had a yummy Diner breakfast of french toast and maple syrup with my lovely travelling companion N this morning, followed by lunch with very very close friend E (+1 baby) in the Meatpacking District, and topped off with yet more chatter with another E over in Brooklyn. Tonight, and over the next couple days, there will be more friends, more catching up, maybe a little shopping... Really, what's not to love?

And yet. As I look out at the rain pouring over New York, I can't help thinking I'm bringing the whole city down. Yes, there's the Boy trouble, and having to give away my cats, and having to go back to a job I'm less than enthousiastic about (note the carefully disguised euphemism) but surely despite all that I should still be able to dig deep and muster up the required vacation spirit?

And then there's the bittersweetness of being in New York. It feels a bit like going back to the house you grew up in and realizing all the furniture's been moved around and you can't remember where the bathroom is. And the new owners are treating you like a temporary and rather annoying guest they have to put up with while they wait to go back to their real lives, lives which you clearly are no part of. That's when it finally hits you that this house is not "home" anymore, that after years of pining to find that one place you belong you've now exhausted all possibilities and have nowhere else to look.

God, I've just read back over this post and it sounds almost as miserable as I actually feel. What a jolt. So much for the months of carefully practiced sugar-coating. What and how much to say on my blog has been at the forefront of my mind lately. I guess we're trying something new now. (As an aside, a big thank you to petite anglaise, who despite now being a serious, published author, actually took the time to reply to my email on this issue, blogueuse-to-blogueuse).