Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Anatomy of a Japanese hotel room

You've probably heard before just how teeny Japanese hotel rooms are (read: even smaller than Paris hotel rooms), but I thought it'd be interesting to post about some of the differences I've noticed. This hotel was nice because there was actually a bit of room at the end of the bed where I could full open my suitcase.  Many places don't even have that and it ends up being a little like Jenga to move around the room.
Earthquakes are a fairly regular occurrence here, so there's always a flashlight and very detailed instructions on what to do in case of an emergency.
You'll also almost always find a pair of pyjamas - I tried them on once and looked quite ridiculous, so you won't find me wearing them nightly lol.
And of course, the famous Japanese toilets.  I always get worried I'll accidentally press the wrong button and get a 'surprise', but eventually you learn what the different symbols mean and some luckily have English translations. I am definitely getting onboard with the heated toilet seats though.  (Also, it's pretty ironic given the advanced technology of these toilets, but there are a surprising number of Turkish toilets still in use in businesses/restaurants/bars/etc around the country).

One fairly new trend I think is having a particular floor or wing dedicated to female travelers only.  I don't remember seeing anything like this during my last visit (or maybe my male colleague didn't know they existed).   I'm not really sure why they exist, because I tend to think of Japan as a pretty safe country for a solo female traveler, but I also know there are a rising number of women-only train cars, taxis, etc here, so there must be some sort of concern somewhere.

But a nice benefit of these women-only rooms are the added amenities.  Almost all hotels will have tea/coffee, sandals, a hair dryer etc, but the female-only rooms also have very nice bathroom products - usually Shiseido face creams/shampoo/conditioner.
They also usually have a selection of skin care products - here we have face oil, cleansing milk and a face lotion, along with a hair clip, a head band, relaxing bath salts and some strange relaxing foot pads.
Most have also had a humidifier in room, and my last hotel even had a facial steamer! I couldn't figure out how to use it, but here is what it looked like:
So even though the rooms are small, there are a few nice touches that make them more comfortable.  Voila - now you know what to expect if you ever visit Japan. :)

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

If you don't like poo talk, you better move on...

So a lot of the customer sites I visit require very high biosecurity (=cleanliness), and many go as far as to require visitors to take a salmonella test before arrival.  The salmonella test usually involves pooing in a cup, and then bringing that cup to a lab for testing.  You wait a few days, and if you get the all clear, you're good to go for the visit.

For whatever reason, my colleagues are required to do them all the time, but I have yet to be asked to do a salmonella test for any of the customers I've visited worldwide.  (I realize though that by writing this, I am probably jinxing myself).

I went to Germany last week for a few days, and the last guy who visited told me they not only required a pre-test, but also an on-site test.  The feasibility of this really piqued my curiosity. I asked the poor guy all kinds of awkward questions like "What do you mean an on-site test?  How does that work?  But what if you don't have to poo?  What do you do then?"

He explained that the on-site tests involve a very long Q-tip and some flexibility.  So that brought on more awkward questions.  How do they give this Q-tip to you?  How do you give it back to them?  Does it come with a vial?  (yes)  Is it see-through?  (yes - cringe)  Do you need to get an actual 'sample', or is it enough to just swish it around up in there? (Answer - he had no clue, he had never dared to ask).  How uncomfortable is it to hand it back to the site manager?  (Very).  I was also dying laughing inside picturing some of our older, very straight-laced Republican male employees having to do this.

For my visit, I had not been asked to do the lab test before my arrival, so I was dreading them having me do it onsite.  Luckily though it never came up - and I sure as heck was not going to bring it up - so I was saved from the poop test for yet another day. 

I swear, my job is so random and strange sometimes...


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Continuing on from yesterday's post, we also had a really interesting discussion about the relationship dynamics in Syrian couples. A lot of the wealthy Syrians left Syria not long after the troubles started and moved to Cairo, and many settled in this very same compound.  As we talked, the conversation turned to match-making - the ladies were really wanting to get the daughter of one friend set up with another Syrian friend of the family.  They made a side comment about how Syrian women are treated like queens, so I asked for more details.  Apparently according to Syrian tradition, the women do not work - they take are of the children and the household - but in exchange, the men have to buy them whatever they want.  So during the woo-ing phase, the men shower the women with all kinds of gifts. Any clothes, or shoes or jewellery - whatever your little heart desires, they have to go out and buy.

And once they are married, it is 100% the man's responsibility to take care of all shopping and purchases.  Even groceries.  But it's all the wife's choice - she sends him with a list of "Buy a kilo of oranges, 5 peppers, etc" and he has to get it on his way home.  Same if she needs any dishes, household items, clothing, etc - it's his duty to provide them.

It got me thinking though about how this could be perceived elsewhere, as many of these Syrian refugees are moving abroad.  Seen from the outside, and without that cultural context, it almost looks like the woman is completely submissive to her husband, forbidden from even leaving her home or having any money or purchasing power.   I tried explaining this to the ladies, and they were completely flabbergasted that anyone could ever think that, repeating again that "Syrian women are queens!"  It reminded me a bit of how I used to find so many things in France ridiculous or stupid - until I took the time to find out the 'why' behind them.  I wish there was a way for us all to remember that there is a often good reason behind most things that seem scary/strange/wrong in other cultures.

On another topic, I used a different hotel this time, and they gave me a list of ten rules for using the pool.  The English was a bit spotty, so I wasn't quite sure I was understanding it right - I thought it said women had to wear burkinis - so I asked for clarification, and it turns out it was actually the opposite.  This particular hotel chain - which was Egyptian - has forbidden burkinis in their establishment.  It was only then too that I noticed none of the women were wearing a veil.

I brought this up too with the ladies, and they said it's a change that's come about in the past two years.  Before, women could wear whatever they want to the beach - a bikini, a one-piece, a burkini and no one cared.  But recently, more and more hotel and private beaches/clubs have started forbidding them, and my dear friends were getting rather frustrated by the whole thing because it was limiting the places they could go and have fun, with no logical reason behind it.   I'm sure most of you have heard how much of a fuss the birkini has made in France over the past 12 months, so it was interesting to see a similar tactic being taken in a Muslim country.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

More on Egypt

I just got back yesteday from another trip to Egypt.  It was probably the most horrendous return itinerary ever - the two options were either leaving Cairo at 1:30am and landing at CDG at 5:30am or leaving at 4:30am and getting here at 9am.  I ended up going with the 1:30am flight because I figured that even if I took the 4:30 flight, I would have to leave the hotel at 1:30 or 2am anyways to head to the airport, so might as just leave earlier and not spend the extra $$ on a hotel. What would you have done?

Besides that, my trip was great.  Things are going well with our first customer there, and I (and my waistline lol) benefited from their extremely generous hospitality.  Friday is the 'jour de repos' in Egypt (and sometimes Saturday too), so Thursday night, many families gather together for a large meal.  And last night was no exception for my customer and his family, just with a random American in tow.

I can't remember if I mentioned in my post about my last trip, but they appear to only really eat two meals - breakfast and then 'Lunch' around 5:30pm.  So one can start getting pretty hangry by the time late afternoon rolls around.  But having already experienced one of their family feasts, I knew it was worth it to hold out, and I was not disappointed.  We showed up to gigantic table full of slow-cooked beef, duck, chicken, hamburger-stuffed pitas, rice pilaf, stuffed peppers, stuffed zucchini, fried cauliflower, stuffed grape leaves, tomato salad, straight off the grill puff breads, and freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.  Anytime any room was made on my plate, it was immediately replaced by a few more spoonfuls of beef or rice or whatever, accompanied by gentle admonishments of "Eat, eat".

Then we moved upstairs to the family room for dessert.  There was chocolate, wafers, a million different types of honey-soaked desserts, oranges and bananas from their own groves, nuts and tea.  Around 20 of us, from ages 1 to 70, sat on the biggest sofa I have ever seen and watched TV and chatted. The patriarch of the family wanted to watch an old sitcom from the 70's, and it was really fascinating to see how the women were dressed - very modern, no headscarf, short skirts, etc - similar to if you've ever seen pictures of Iranian women at that same time.  It made for an interesting contrast to what you see today - women dressed in a modern but still mostly conservative way, with about 50% of them wearing the headscarf in the cities, and 100% of women wearing them in the countryside.  It just made me wonder if women watching those shows today are cogniscent of the difference or if they don't even think about it and it's just like watching an old episode of Three's Company or something like that.

At a certain point, all the men moved into one room to smoke shisha, and the ladies who were wearing headscarves took them off, and we turned on some music.  The youngest daughter had been learning how to belly dance off of YouTube, so all of us - from the little girls to the grandma - lined up in a row while she tried to teach us some moves. It was hilarious and touching and one of those really surreal, but extremely human, moments that are a big part of the 'Why' I keep doing what I'm doing.

Afterwards, the (Indonesian) nannies put the kids to bed, and us ladies sat around drinking tea and talking.  They asked all kinds of questions about life as a woman in France and the US - do most women work?  At what age do they get married?  What is childcare like?  Do the kids go to private schools? What happens after you get married?  How do you furnish your home?  Do the men help out?

I should explain too that these women are all college-educated, at Western Universities, typically the American or British University of Cairo.  They have degrees in interior design, pharmaceuticals, history, and marketing. They speak excellent English and are well-traveled.  All of them got married while they were in University.  Most of them have never worked though because they got pregnant immediately after marriage and are stay-at-home moms. The entire family lives in the same guarded, fancy compound, in brand-new and astonishingly beautiful homes that are cared for by maids (who also help out with a lot of the cooking).  They drive shiny new BMWs and SUVs, and have drivers for when they don't feel like driving.  It's certainly a life far-removed from your average Egyptian, but my little peak into their world has been fascinating.

(More tomorrow on my continued discussions with these ladies)


Saturday, February 11, 2017

V-day gfit ideas (or treat yourself)

Last week, I attended a really fun "Love" themed book-signing at La Cuisine Paris showcasing three expat authors.  After a glass or two of vino and a few tasty red velvet pancakes, we all sat down to listen to Lily, Lisa and Craig read a love-related excerpt from their book.

Lily's book, "Je T'aime...Maybe?", is her second book and describes even more of her hilarious dating misadventures in Paris.  Lisa's book, "My Part-time Paris Life" is a memoir of a woman finding herself in Paris after the death of her mother (and dealing with the headaches that come with owning and renovating an apartment here), and Craig's book "Pancakes in Paris" covers the trials and tribulations of opening an expat business in France, and explains in funny detail how Breakfast In America grew to be one of the most famous diners in Paris.

The excerpts of all three books had the crowd laughing out loud, and while I don't think I have many male readers out there, any one of them would make a great Valentine's gift for your loved ones - or even yourself!  I'd always toyed with the idea of writing a book about all of my expat escapades, but it felt like there are so many out there already that what could I say that was new & fresh?  These three have shown me that there are still original takes on the City of Light to be found.

Along similar sexy lines, Heather's Naughty City Guides are also both on sale for Valentine's Day - her Naughty Paris Guide is on sale for $6.99/€5.99 (plus shipping) and the Naughty New York Guide is $4.99/€3.99 (plus shipping). You can send an email to for more purchase information!

Friday, January 27, 2017

J'ai testé pour vous..une école de coiffure

I am leaving tomorrow for a week in the US to attend a trade show (and then my cousin's bachelorette party!), and pretty much every time at the last minute before a trade show, I think "Crap, I should get my hair done".  It's a bit of a cliché, but (most) (foreign) gentlemen do prefer blondes and the blonder my hair is, the more they like me.  I know, I know - it's sexist and not fair and blah blah blah, but as one of the few women in my industry, I've decided I'll take any leg up I can get.

I normally try to get my hair done in the US because I've never really been happy with my haircuts & colors here, but I read a French blog last week talking about all the various hair academies in Paris, and I thought, pourquoi pas?  I used to go to the Aveda Institute all the time in the US and I loved it - and I figured if my hair got messed up here, I could always get it fixed next week.

So I checked out this website, and chose Jean Louis David because 1) I had done a case study on them during my masters program and 2) I thought they were the "specialist of blondes" (but I actually now think it is Jacques Dessange).  It was a bit annoying to make a RDV because you either had to call a numéro payant or show up in person, but I got my appointment set up for this past Tuesday. 

I showed up and paid my 15€ (7€ for the cut, 8€ for the color), and got sent upstairs. I was fairly quickly assigned a student, and we went through their look book together, and I chose a photo of a women with golden highlights. She in turn showed me something like this:

And I was like "Um, no - that's what my hair looks like now. I am coming in to cover up the regrowth, not make it look like I haven't had highlights in six more months".  She called over the instructor, who said that this was a new style becoming popular in France, and that the student was here to learn it, but that she would do that first and then give me some highlights after.  So I sat there for and let her do here thing, not in any way convinced by what she was doing....and three hours later, she whirled me around and I looked pretty much exactly the same as I had earlier. Minus a few inches of hair. 

At that point, I was like "Do I say something or do I not say something?" I mean on one hand, it wasn't terrible at all and I had only paid 15€, but on the other hand, she was there to learn and it wasn't what I had asked for. In the end, when the instructor came over and asked what I thought, I decided to speak up and be honest and said "It's fine....but it's not at all what I wanted".  I thought she might say "Tough luck", but instead she replied "Sometimes hairstyles need to be washed a few times before you really see how they are - try it out for a few days, and if you don't like it, come back and we'll do it again for free".

So I left, and didn't end up liking it any more, so I made another appointment for today. This time, I ended up getting a personal consultation with the instructor, and she had her chouchou redo my hair, and it is a million times better.  Exactly what I was looking for and the equivalent of what I get in the US.  Unfortunately though her class pet was Spanish and lives in Madrid, so that's a little far to go for a haircut.... Though I guess going to the US is also far too. :D

Would I try it again?  Probably.  I'm never satisfied with hair cuts/colors here no matter how much I pay, so in the end, I figure why pay 200€ when I can pay 15€?   Though I would probably give another school a shot next time for comparison's sake.  Has anyone else tried a hair school here?


Monday, January 16, 2017

A day in the life

Last week, I was out all week traveling in the countryside, visiting customs in and around Cholet.  One of the days, I had just arrived on site and was in the office drinking a cup of coffee with my client and the site manager (side bar - when will I ever learn to like coffee??  It's such a social thing here in France, and refusing a coffee offered by a customer is like saying "No, sorry, I don't want to spend 10 minutes chatting with you", so I always feel obligated to accept and choke it down).   But so there we all were, drinking our dirt water coffee, and all of the sudden we see eight or nine employees leaving the building at break time.  This normally does not happen because everybody wears special clothes inside, so going outside is a bit annoying because it requires getting undressed, changing clothes, etc. 

The site manager opened the window and yelled out "Hey, Jean-Paul, where are you going?" And JP replied back "We're going to see a deer".  The three of us looked at one another like "WTF??" and then I laughed and said "Well let's follow them, I want to see the deer too".

So we all trek outside in a line and Old Jean-Paul starts telling a story about how he was on his way to work that day, and it was really foggy and he couldn't see anything, and all of the sudden "WHAM".  So he pulled over and got out and realized he had hit a deer.  She wasn't moving at all, so "since no one was around to see", he hefted her up and popped her in his trunk and continued on his way to work.  And now five hours later was coming to check on her.

He opened the trunk and we all collectively leaned back a bit in case she jumped out, but nope, there she was, perfectly untouched and frozen in time. Luckily (or I guess unluckily), she had been killed upon impact, so she hadn't sat there suffering all morning, which had been one of my concerns.  His colleagues asked him what he was going to do with her, and he replied "Make steaks and sausages".  And then we all trekked back inside again.

That too is life in France, my friends.