Month: March 2011

So, can you do better?

Loads of things in society are clumsily done. Companies have an impossibly difficult time to get their whole mission done perfectly, a level of difficulty you can often only really appreciate if you are in on the inside… and even then…   You need at least a good product, an attractive design, easy to use,  durable, an acceptable price and a good marketing to let people know about it. That is a lot of different people already with different ideas which have to converge, and that is even discarding the external factors. So when they mess up on something, I often wonder, what would I have done? Can I do better? Usually, you can come up with a reasonable alternative, because at least you would not do-whatever-it-is-that-is-bothering-you, right?

Standing in the BHV I faced one of those moments. We were there to take on the exceptionally dull task of selecting a new a cooking Wok. To insure that this would not have to be done again for a very long time, we decided to go for something of quality. An hour later, the price had launched itself into the stratosphere and another hour later we could no longer care less. Just give us a Wok.

We did actually come home with a fine looking specimen, which had been made by Mauviel (in France!). I will presume that most of you will have never head of them, but they have been making pots and pans for 180 years now. That is a very long time, but you might figure that people need pots and pans, especially in a culinary culture like France, so why not. In the meantime, the design of their pots is refined and looks pretty cool. So far, so good, but then you get their brochure pushed into your hands. It had a cover to make it look like an Art project, and they had filled it up with pictures of the pans hanging in trees, balancing on boots and confronted with Playmobil puppets. Wow, must be good pans right? Is there even a remote link between pans and trees? And boots? The strange thing is, that there was nothing actually wrong with the photography but remember that they are trying to sell us a pan. This can not be the best course of action.

And then it hit me. After 180 years they must have tried everything by now, so that is how you end up with pans in trees. And really, I can not claim to be able to do any better. What would I suggest? You can get a great chef to recommend the pans in the brochure, but it would make you look elitist. You could show a woman cooking in a big provincial kitchen with her cute little kids playing at her feet, but then you would just look outdated.  Besides, whatever you do, they will still be pots and pans. Indeed. Might as well just hang them on someone ready to battle it out in the kitchen. Why not indeed. I do not have anything better.

Blame the parents, in Korean

Everybody is traumatized by their parents in some form or other. At the “big” end, perhaps their divorce made it hard on you to commit. At the lesser end, perhaps their parsimony made you want to splurge as the prodigal child. Parents have a certain character and are faced with decisions they take as adults. Children witness their parents in the adult world and are impacted in a big or a small way as they themselves grow up. Even with the best intentions of the world, parents can not shelter their children from themselves. They will be traumatized by something. What has always toyed around in the back of my head, is what if we do it on purpose? What if we choose the trauma rather than letting fate decide what it is that will impact them.

Imagine if you put your kid on the Korean School in Paris. Just like that, from day one of the primary school onwards. You have nothing whatsoever to do with Korea, have never been, will never go and have never even met a single Korean in person. And then you put little Jacques on the Korean School. He will have friends with names like Dong-Sun, Mun-Hee and Kyung-Soon with ex-pat parents who work at the embassy, university, Samsung or LG. And Jacques. As he grows older, he will be more and more confused as to why on earth he is on a Korean school. Of course you will answer him, telling him it is a good school and all that. By the time he’s twelve, he will know that it a 200km drive from Seoul to Chanwon. He will have written essays on the collapse of the traditional Korean value system. He will know about the healing powers of Kimchi. And yet he has virtually nothing to do with Korea, because, you know, he’s French.

This is the trauma to kill all others. Jacques, of course, will be fine. He’ll think his parents are weird, but then which kid does not? And will no doubt put his own kids on a normal school someday, but then, most people do. But what he will not do, is complain about your early morning Elvis-fueled kitchen dancing. That is just too petty. The kid will be practically trauma-free.

Of course his sister will go to a normal school, you know, just to rub it in…

Back to Reality

Last night, I went to see Cedric Klapisch’s latest film, Ma part du Gateau, at Odéon in St Germain. I watched the flashy life of a golden boy trader in London/Paris alternated with that of a fired factory worker from Dunkerque. The film accuses the speculative nature of trading as the source of the closing of the factory in Dunkerque, pointing an accusative finger to the trader for acting without a conscience. The trader is living fast, ready to tear out of any situation with his silver two-seater mercedes in this us-against-them scenario in the working world. When the film was over, I heard the voice of a man behind me muttering “what a load of nonsense” while others were clapping. I turned to see a blond middle-aged man in a pin-stripped suit and designer glasses with his eye-brows raised at his equally middle-aged wife. My first thought: banker.

I would have loved to have heard his full opinion (there is a lot to say about the film), but even ease-dropping was excluded in the human flow to the exit. I walked out of the cinema into the busy life in the heart of St Germain. There were cars driving down Boulevard St Germain, busses, scooters, Vèlib bikes and all kinds of people chatting or walking around. As I headed homewards lost in thought, I tried to imagine all these people in a dualistic world as presented by the movie. I had barely walked a minute when I saw the banker couple again, now in an animated discussion about the film: the man was clearly not impressed. But then: the blinking of the indicator lights of a silver two-seater Mercedes parked full out on the sidewalk. Right there at Odéon! The couple gets in and drives off. I could not believe my eyes. They had their car parked on the sidewalk for the full duration of the movie? Really? Here? For THAT movie? Life can give you clichés which are so hard that they would never work in literature or film. Or perhaps are even too crass for a blog..

(Picture: Ma Part du Gateau)

Jeux Olympiques – Olympic Games

In 2008 at the Olympic games in Beijing, the main source of information was in five languages – French, English, Spanish, Chinese and Arabic. That gives a pretty good coverage on five continents. For 2012, London has dropped that down to the two official languages of the Olympic movement, namely French and English. That is it. If that seems a little skimpy for you, wait till you get to the ticket office. As of yesterday, ticket sales for the world’s biggest sporting event have opened and is available ONLY in the language of the host country. Only English?! Does that not sound awfully provincial for a global event, even if it is in English? What kind of a welcome is that to the rest of the world?

Complaining about bad decisions in an article is easier than taking the right ones, but the British parliament has set the budget for the event at 10.7 billion euros, almost all of it public money. Of course that is not the total cost, but we should also keep in mind that money will come in too. And on that note, we are back to ticket sales, which are the most direct source of cash we can see straight away today. And that is where the budget is to be the tightest? Gentlemen, come on. Even besides the ethical aspect of Olympic games being a global sporting event, stepping on people’s toes for something as simple as an online ticket office is counter-productive. You can have this fixed in two days, at very little cost and make people feel welcome. Or do you think you would easily hand over your credit card details to a website in a language you only more or less understand?

(Image source: London 2012)

PS If the mono-language choice does not sound very international, note that if you do not have a Visa card you can not buy tickets either… Great sponsorship deal IOC! Visa does, however, in its infinite willingness to serve, offer a workaround, if you have the time and do not mind handing them your bank details…

Introspection gets you lost

What ever happened to “I love you Nicole”, “the President is a fascist” and a banal teenage tag? It seems that in todays world you can no longer just spray something on a wall anymore, it has to be thought out. And perhaps you need to have completed some kind of formal artistic education to even be sufficiently pretentious as to consider expressing yourself on the public canvas (i.e. other people’s walls). Just have a good look at the attached picture. “Freedom is for Animals”. How far removed can you be from a nighttime scribble of a frustrated youth with nowhere to go?

If you walk a few streets with the line in your head, you realize that it is quite a quote. Forget the half-hearted freedom you may stand to gain at the falling of the regime governing your country, or the eloping with your favourite waitress, or the slapping down of a resignation letter with eloquent profanity. Freedom is forever out of reach of mankind. Freedom is lexically unrelated to human beings, it is strictly for animals. If you, in a moment of doubt at the traffic light four streets away, thought that perhaps you too were an animal, the image of the cat will appear before your mind’s eye, grinning like Alice’s all-knowing Cheshire cat. Yes. It is not for you. If you do whatever you want you may not land on your feet as some other species do. Freedom is animals only.

By the time you have crossed the Seine, you may have considered the possibility that “Animals” is to be read as “Barbarians”. That makes it all even worse. Then the artist would be telling us that Freedom, which everybody wants but nobody defines, is in fact a trap. Freedom is only wanted by those who crave an unethical, barbaric life. It is the path of decadence leading to amorality and ruin. It is for beasts! Oh no, something we all inherently want is not good for us! We need rules and restraint to keep us in check, our innocence too is now lost. This graffiti-ed cat has sent us tail-chasing. Whatever you do, keep your eyes on the walls as you meander on, for somewhere someone may have figured out what it is that we can have. And I hope it is good.

Your office or mine?

Gare du Nord has over 100 shops in it. You can have a cup of coffee and a sandwich before you leave, buy flowers or other gifts when you arrive. The station is surrounded by hotels for people leaving early or arriving late. The other major stations around Paris, as you would expect, all offer similar amenities. Where it becomes surprising, is when you think of business.

With more and more people working out of the office, would it not make sense to have flexible office spaces at all the major stations? Spend a few hours in an office at Gare du Nord before tubing it to the airport? Perhaps the home office is not available and you need somewhere to work for the day? Perhaps you have an office, but it is in Issy les Moulineaux and you are taking the 3 O’clock flight out of Orly? Perhaps you are in-between two client meetings at St Lazare and would like to work for 2 hours? Perhaps renting a meeting room with colleagues or a client at Austerlitz makes more sense than heading off to their office in La Defense? There are so many possible scenarios which would justify the use of a Office-by-the-hour for the nomadic worker, so where are they? We could even ask ourselves, how do we manage now, in the in-between time where society still needs to get the grips of the office-less office worker?

Today physical meetings often push the nomadic worker into long batches of public transport (to get to the offices of one or the other) or into the kind of places which are not ideal for working (cafe’s) but are the sole ones available. Airport hotels often have meeting rooms, but they are mostly used by a niche of international or supplier-client meetings. This office landscape needs to develop. It makes sense to have wifi- and coffee- equipped offices available by the hour. It would be perfect if it was clean, well ventilated and calm, with the possibility of renting a projector or a printer. Just think of how much time could be saved, and how much more comfortable and professional it would be. If the company exploiting them could hook into the business fidelity cards of Air France, the SNCF Grand Voyageur and Avis that would be even better. We can meet at the station.

Is there really not someone out there interested in investing into the future of office life?

(Gare du Nord picture: source)

The Casual Consumer

So the iPad 2 will start infiltrating our periphery vision in the coming weeks, as the enthusiasts will triumphantly wave them in the air as they walk out of the church of Apple, reborn. We will see backpacking kids in Beaubourg basking in the glow of free wifi, we will see business men unwinding in the metro with L’equipe online, we will see friends showing each other holiday pictures in café’s, skipping from one picture to another with the graceful swipe of a ballet dancer. Of course they will not all be iPad’s – we will see a whole range of flat, shiny, luminescent devices, and one of them perhaps even in your hands. After all, there is no reason to believe that you might want to miss out on all the fun, now is there?

But one thing always leads to another. You may be the pleased owner of a smart phone or a tablet, but then you realize that you need something to wrap it up in, or carry it around in, or, just a jacket to be able to recognize your own amongst the millions of others, almost all black. Now how hard can it be to find a good case? We all know where to buy milk and a good croissant, but most of us buy electronics so rarely that we know close to nothing about the fridge market. People end up in the FNAC or the Darty by default, or as a desperate soul on Google looking at prototype cases by some designer in Spain. When you do not know where to look, it is really not that easy. So this time round we will do things differently.

As the market for tablets and fancy phones is set to explode this year, let us start straight off the bat with the accessories. Ladies and Gentlemen, in St Germain there is a great looking boutique called Sunset Case which sells cases for fancy devices (iPhones, iPads, Blackberry’s and such) with all kinds of stuff painted on them to make them unique. If you need something special to hide or embellish that pocket window to the cyber world, this is the place to drop by. No FNAC cover for you this year. At least… to avoid popping the bubble straight away, I took the trouble not to look at any of the prices. Yes, let us stay in a blissful, dreamy ignorance, at least till the issue actually rears its head.

Sunset Case, 8 Rue des Ciseaux 75006 Paris – 01 43 29 59 71