Manja Cats, Singapore & Us

Manja Cats: Tigger, Ve Ching, Harmony & Missy (in order of adoption); Singapore: Where we are currently living; Us: Alex's British, Tarsier Girl is Singaporean.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

1st to 6th October

I spent four days with work colleagues at a customer’s office in Paris. The office was at La Defense, which is in direct line with the Arc de Triomphe. The is the view from the Grande Arche, which we walked passed on our why to work.

Although the end customer is from the Middle East and the project contractor is French, pretty much everyone from the customer was English, as was the project contractor’s representative. The guy making most of the decisions on what we had to produce had been a previous customer and is a sensible, practical, reasonable, calm and generally a nice guy, and so the meeting went very smoothly. It’s been a long time since the last one like this.

I arrived on the Sunday (1st) morning, and as I’d managed to sleep on the overnight flight from Singapore I was able to survive the day and stay awake till around 11pm, so no jet lag. Other than sightseeing with colleagues on the Sunday, (the Louvre (and briefly saw the over-rated Mona Lisa along with all the other sheep), we tried going into D’orsay Museum, but as it was the first weekend of the month all the national museums were free entry, everyone else in Paris had the same idea, (and I thought Singaporeans could queue for makan!), so we went to Sacre-Coeur, and then onto the Louis Vuitton store, as one of my colleagues had to spend an outrageous amount of money on some of the world’s ugliest bags for his girlfriend’s friend. I can’t believe people queue up to go into a shop. We then had dinner just off the Champs-Elysees and then went up to photograph the Arc de Triomphe at night) the rest of the time was work.

Queue outside Louis Vuitton - Bizarre people.
Not working directly with the French, meant we didn’t experience the “full effect” of working in France, but it was interesting to chat with our English host about his experiences there. None of us could believe that in this day and age that people would still take a whole hour for lunch regardless of project schedule and that time off in-lieu is taken on top of the large numbers of holidays in general.

Our main exposure to working in France came at lunch. The project contractor is a large French company and so has an inconceivably large dinning hall by English standards. What was also unbelievable was the process of getting a meal; the quality of the meal, a fine three course one; and the fact that wine or beer was a drinks option!

The first stage of getting lunch was to select a meal from the eight options on display. Things quickly became tricky as each meal was served from a different place in the restaurant. This made eating with colleagues difficult if you didn’t all have the same meal option, you have to arrange a meeting place before heading off in different directions to get your meal. After locating where the meal was served from, (not as easy as it sounds, as the meals and serveries are identified by name, (in French), rather than number), you placed your order at a touch screen terminal, with the option of most of the starters and deserts and the main course options being displayed in English, and pay for it using your company ID card. You then get a printed receipt and you then go to the servery which also has the order and then fills the trays in the order entered at the counter, so no queue jumping. At the servery, you would find two things; one the serving staff couldn’t read your order if it was in English, and two, your tray with eventually your meal. You could now head off and try and find your colleagues.

Other minor direct and indirect exposures to French life, were having wine as a drinks option at shopping mall restaurants as an option to having a fizzy drink or water; massive queues for tickets at the metro stations, (this was on the first working day of the month, and so most commuters have too buy a new monthly ticket that day); and disappointingly, poor quality food, (cold chips at one restaurant, and the best coffee was from McCafe, well actually it was a cappuccino, (café crème is too milky for my taste), and most restaurants in commercial areas were Italian. At a noodle bar, my boss had Singapore noodles made with curry sauce (yuk :P) and I had “Buddhist noodles” (vegetarian) which weren’t too bad, except the green chillies had no bite and there was too much carrot in it, but there was a nice sweet chilli sauce), though I did have one good dinner. Was also disappointed at breakfast that the croissants served at cafés while warm and soft, didn’t come with raspberry jam, but did find yummy pastries (especially pain au chocolat and some apple-y thing I can’t remember the name of) at McCafe and another pastry and coffee vendor.