Wednesday, June 2, 2010

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One of the transitions I've had to make with our move to Paris is the shift from working to being a stay-at-home mom. I had been working full-time for nearly ten years before the kids came along. And I worked all kinds of schedules for another decade after that -- three days a week, four days a week, five short days -- and often ended up at the kitchen table with papers to edit or conference calls to conduct while the kids did their homework. But except for three months' maternity leave for each one, I never stopped working all together.

Those first months in Paris I was so busy trying to keep my head above water that I didn't really miss the rhythm of work, just the paycheck. And when I took on a short-term technical editing assignment, I did enjoy making my own money again, although I couldn't quite shake the feeling that all that work was cutting into my free time.

And now? The reality is that our time here in France is limited and since we're not strapped for cash and it is oh so much easier only having to deal with one work schedule when it comes to long vacations and days off, not having a regular job feels like the right thing to do. And I can't say that there's anything in particular that I'm pining to do careerwise. My professional reputation is well-established back home and I'm not at all concerned about having to justify a gap in my resume when the time comes to return. And I stay plenty busy and don't have a lot of time for eating bon bons.

The only thing that really bugs is how to answer the question: "what do you do?" Actually a young man who recently stayed with us asked, "do you just walk around all day?" To which of course the obvious answer is "No, I ride the metro and the bus." The real problem is that there is no term that seems right. The word "housewife" sounds too much like Donna Reed; even the French femme de foyer seems to suggest that I'm spending my time getting manicures and whipping up dinner parties for my husband's business contacts. Blogger sounds ridiculous, writer presumptuous, and domestic engineer, well, let's just say whomever dreamed that up didn't have me in mind.

I don't know that there's an easy answer here, but do me a favor. The next time you're at a cocktail party and you ask someone "what do you do?" and you're confronted with a long pause, figure out how to shift the conversation. Better yet, find another opening gambit. This blogger-trailing spouse-mother-expatriate-observer of all things Parisian will thank you.

Now if you'll excuse me, my hiking group is waiting for me at Gare du Nord.

15 comments:

D R E W said...

i think it's sad that we ask that question... i mean, why does our job/career define us? especially when a person doesn't like their career and/or job. shouldn't what defines us be what we like to do in our free time, or that we are parents and raise children, or our general experiences in life, etc.?

Ksam said...

It's funny, because it's such an American question to ask "What do you do?" It's something the French rarely ask, because most work to live and don't live to work and thus aren't identified by their job title. Personally though, I think you should say you are a "lady of leisure". ;)

And out of curiosity, what hiking club are you part of?

Duchesse said...

Being a career-minded North American myself (and I happen to love what I do), I'd be inclined to answer that I'm an analyst/translator/engineer or whatever on sabbatical.

I think it's great that you get to enjoy free time to do something other than work in Paris, Anne, especially since it seems to me that you've been working two full-time jobs for years in the US (government worker by day and mom by night). Can't believe you only had 3 months off with each pregnancy! And I know the hassle of settling in to a different country even though I don't have children... so I can only imagine what it's like when you have youngsters to look after!

Enjoy the hike!:)

Cynthia said...

I always say I'm a rentière, it makes people laugh and the conversation usually carries on :)

Susan said...

You are absolutely a writer and essayist --I start every day with a visit to Paris grace à Anne. I will be very sad when you return to the US and leave me without your wonderful photos and entertaining observations.

debbie in toronto said...

I would just say the truth.."I'm lucky enough not to have to work while my family is here in France..so I spend my spare time enjoying the city"....and then give them a look that says..move on....:)

g said...

anne...
long time reader, commented once before; different set of circumstances here, but same situation and i wish people would just move on after my pause and "um...well". i know exactly of what you speak. i too will miss your posts, it is a nice point to each morning....thanks for that.

Lisa said...

Well said Anne. I find myself in a similar situation (not working) having just moved back to the States. If only I were in Paris....my answer would be, "I LIVE in Paris..that's what I do."

Starman said...

My friend Pascal, born and raised in Paris, tells me you never ask that question of a French person. The next time an American asks, you could reply, "I try to find time to fit in all of life's adventures."

Anne said...

Thanks all for the lovely comments and the snappy comebacks. And Ksam: I've been hiking with the American Women's Group. It was a spectacular day for a hike.

Anonymous said...

How about 'OBSERVER'?

Joan said...

Hi, Anne

Greetings from Minnesota! Like you, I will be just another American in Paris although just visiting for a week or so in July after a long weekend in Berlin where a friend has offered to show Jerry and me around. We have rented a flat in the north Marais and would enjoy getting together with you i(July 16-17?) if you are available. It would be great to see you again! We will spend a few days in the Loire Valley as well and welcome any advice you might have in terms of which chateaus to visit and whether to see a sound and light show. Look forward to hearing from you. - Joan

Virginia said...

Can you say, "Aeronautical engineer" with a straight face???
V

Suburban Princess said...

Why do we need titles?
To avoid the ackward silence I usually respond with 'Suburban Princess, Wife and mom' :O)

Sasho said...

With all due respect to working moms who stay at home, everyone likes a title. You're the one who has to do battle with the mighty French bureaucracy (never forget, they invented the western version). And you're explaining it to the rest of us. How about Chief Cultural Translator and Guide? You can substitute Explorer for Translator, if you like.

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