Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lunch In Paris & the F Word

It was the summer after my first year in college. I had just moved back home to go to college in the town I grew up in. The only thing worse than staying in town was leaving and coming back. I was spending my first few weeks back babysitting. We were sitting at the table, and he was playing with those wooden blocks that have letters on the side. He picks up the F and says, "F. F is for failure. You're a failure." I kid you not.
I knew that coming home didn't mean I had failed, and now I'm certainly glad I did. However, it felt like failure. Twenty-five seems as good a time as ever to define success. To prepare myself for Paris (where I will be in exactly 4 weeks), I read Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard. It's pretty great. She's an American who married a Frenchman. It's the story of how they fell in love, and inevitably the clashing of dramatically different cultures.

The French view of life is completely opposite ours. Elizabeth says of her husband, Gwendal:
He's a happy person and I am fundamentally suspicious of happy people. In the America I grew up in, little kids don't say, "When I grow up, I want to be happy." That's not the appropriate end to that sentence. We say, "When I grow up, I want to be a doctor, an astronaut, a fighter pilot." Happiness to me was something very abstract, the end of a long equation: initial self-worth multiplied by x accomplishments, divided by y dollars, z loans, minus f hours worked, plus g respect earned. Happiness, I assumed, would be the end result of a whole list of things I hadn't gotten around to yet.
Like that pig foraging in the woods, Gwendal seemed to have only one consideration when making a decision: does this make me happy, does this give me pleasure? Frankly it struck me as a little odd.
Odd indeed.