Blog Post #4: The Dog Days of Summer: August in Europe
August 23, 2016
My fellowship, and the summer, is about to come to an end. I don’t want to let it slip by without making mention of the European dedication to August vacations. If you’ve had to coordinate with European companies, or organizations, or what have you, you know that August probably isn’t the best time to schedule something important because your European squad isn’t going to be there.
“But how is this possible?” you think to your go-go-go, under-vacationed, all-about-the-money American self. “The world can’t just stop. Business goes on.”
Not in Europe. Not even at an international organization that by its very definition has no country.
Nope, every person in this office takes just about all of their 3+ weeks of vacation to go somewhere I suspect is warm, beautiful, and relaxing. People did stagger their leave periods, but the office has been quiet and relaxed. Even we interns/fellows, who don’t get the time off, are benefitting from the phenomenon that is August in Europe. We didn’t have to fight over lunch space in the cafeteria. The weather was beautiful.
Even the restaurants, boulangeries, and shops close for weeks at a time. I guess there’s no point in staying open if there are only a fraction of people left to buy what you have to sell. However, I was there ready and willing to buy things, and the fact that I could not, sometimes, find someone to take my money and give me that thing was extremely annoying. All three boulangeries in my neighborhood were closed at the same time for a brief spell, which happened to coincide with a strong craving for brioche and pain au chocolat. Equally annoying was that you never knew if a restaurant would be open or not. I had to try three on one Saturday night(!) because my first two choices were en vacances. #parisproblems
And then there are these sorts of cases, which are bound to happen when everyone is taking vacation at roughly the same time: an intern in another section said that he was in charge of putting together an event—in August—and that his peers, his boss, his boss’ boss, and all of his potential participants were on vacation. This is not an exaggeration. So he was in charge of getting the entire event to go off without anyone in the office or anyone to attend. Needless to say, he wasn’t happy.
The rest of the city—except for the tourist zones—was peaceful as well. Parisians are not morning people by any stretch of the imagination, and one of my favorite things to do is wake up in the morning, make coffee, and go for a walk without any concern for cars or too many pedestrians or dog poop on the street. The only other time I have experienced this phenomenon is when I was living in San Francisco: Burning Man was my favorite week or two of the year because that was the only time I could get dinner reservations!
Despite the small annoyance of it taking longer for me to find what I need or to get things done, I really think the U.S. can learn a lot from the August exodus. 12 of the top 20 “happiest countries in the world” are in Europe. As an entity, the European Union has the second-largest economy in the world. Germany has the fifth-largest; France has the 10th-largest.
Sure, the US economy is one of the biggest in the world, but at what cost? There is so much inequality in our country, and coupled with rising mental illnesses, stress, and depression, it’s a ticking time bomb that’s started to give off fumes. I wonder what a difference giving people a living wage, a higher standard of living, and some paid time off would make? Would letting everyone go on vacation in August, like a lot of the world, hurt our productivity that much? Would our economy tank? I doubt it. But it’s in our blood not to take any time off for fear that we’re not going to get all of these super-important tasks done for “the business.”
That’s just the American way—putting a higher value on making a buck then some quality time. We don’t understand that they can go together, so even when we do get vacation days, we don’t use them because there’s some stigma around taking vacation that means you’re a bad worker. And we run ourselves into the ground. A 2014 Forbes article said 34% of employees say their employer neither encourage nor discourage leave, and 17% of managers considered employees who take all of their leave to be less dedicated.
Taking time off can be extremely beneficial, both to the individual and to the economy. For example, according to the same Forbes article, if workers used all of their available paid time off, there would be more than $160 billion in total business sales and $21 billion in tax revenues, supporting 1.2 million jobs. Furthermore, if employees would take just one additional day of earned leave each year, it would result in $73 billion in output for the U.S. economy. Plus, everyone wants to spend more time with their kids, take a break, and just recharge. It’s just good for you and your family.
We need to make a culture shift here, and Europe is proof that we can balance both. I’m not necessarily advocating shutting down the country for a month, but the numbers don’t lie. Though my American Type-A sometimes chafed at the slow pace in August, overall I really enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere that took over. Companies need to take the lead on this, and hopefully in time people will come to realize the benefits of time off. As much as we stereotype European workers, I really think Americans can learn a thing or two from them. Maybe just space our vacation time out a little more than they do!
Blog Post #3: Working out in a city that doesn’t “do” fitness
August 1, 2016
Anyone who knows me knows that I am really into playing sports and working out. I was a four-sport athlete in high school and played varsity soccer in college. After college, I got into triathlons, and have continued to play soccer a few nights a week. Working out is just fun for me, and it makes me feel good. So, of course, and keeping the fact that I was moving to the food capital of the world, one of my first priorities when moving to Paris was figuring out how and when I was going to work out.
Before this fellowship, the last time I was in Paris for any extended amount of time was 10 years ago, when my family went for two weeks as a graduation present for me and my younger brother—me from high school, he from middle school. I had to do preseason workouts to prepare for my first season of college soccer, and as I went on runs around the neighborhood and did sprint sets on the Champs de Mars (in full view of the Eiffel Tower, which was awesome), it didn’t take me too long to realize that there just weren’t that many people “working out”—and especially no women. I even had a Japanese tourist take a picture of me during a work out. That was kind of weird.
I had studied abroad for a semester in Bordeaux in 2009, and experienced much of the same. I signed myself up for a P.E. soccer class at the university, and was the only girl (this, in and of itself, is not new to me, and it’s my own personal mission to show as many people as possible that girls can play soccer well). When I was going on runs through the city, people would stare every. single. time. And some of these times I also got catcalls and groups of guys laughing at me. I managed to sign up for a gym, which was incredibly expensive, but at least I had someplace to go. Again, I was one of the only females, and certainly the only one lifting any kind of weights.
So when I arrived in Paris, I wasn’t expecting too much. Over the course of the summer I’ve been both pleasantly surprised and disappointed in the state of French fitness en masse. It’s been hard to work out here, and the difficulty is a product of the “fitness culture” not being quite there, simply being in a big city, and being in THIS big city in particular. Plus, since I was only going to be here for three months, I didn’t feel like spending the €100 or so I’d need to join a health clubs. Because of the lack of fitness culture, which is a decidedly American phenomenon, there are very few small crappy gyms here.
When I found my apartment here, one of the things I was most excited about was the fact that I live right across the street from a park. The park isn’t huge but it’s got a nice lawn that’s certainly big enough for squats, lunges, push-ups, etc. So, I figured that I’d do more circuit training there than relying on running (I have had back surgery, and really try to avoid running on pavement as much as possible). So I wake up early before work, head out to the park, and… it literally doesn’t open until 8 am. And no, it’s not possible to jump the fence. And after work the lawn is full of picnickers. FULL, I tell you!
Next option: biking to work. Paris has an incredibly extensive bike-sharing service, Ve’lib, so I thought maybe I’d just sign up for that instead of a metro card and bike everywhere. Problem: UNESCO doesn’t have a shower (or a gym, I checked). Scratch that.
So I decided just to bite the bullet and go for runs; maybe I’d find a dirt trail somewhere in the middle of the city… ha.
Once I started running, which I still don’t do too often, I found some good routes from my house. I usually do one of two: running up the Canal St. Martin, or running down to Place de la Bastille. Unfortunately, I live too far from the Eiffel Tower or the Bois de Vincennes, two popular places to run, to make those viable options. This past weekend, I ran to the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, which I had heard was great for working out, and loved it! It’s a beautiful and full of runners, though with a 4-mile round trip, not to mention running in the park itself (otherwise, what’s the point?), it’ll probably have to be saved for weekends.
Another problem I’ve encountered is that the sidewalks are also extremely narrow, which is an annoyance at best and necessitate a full-blown stop-and-walk at worst.
However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there are more runners than I remember, and especially women! Especially in the park and by the canal, I have passed tons of women getting their sweat on. It’s awesome to see, and I hope it continues! The French are really only starting to warm up to the idea of team sports for women (and their women’s national team is excellent!), the fact that there are so many out there running is a huge step in the right direction. In fact, I did an all-women’s 10k race my first weekend here, and 2,500 women participated! The popularity of women’s sport and fitness is obviously growing, and they are a completely normal sight these days. It’s great to see… and experience!
Allez les filles! On s’accroche!
Blog Post #2: MOST Ministerial Forums and the Euro 2016 Cup
June 27, 2016
I finished my first big assignment for my internship, and while it’s not as fun to read about as trying to find eggs in Havana or queuing up for the Bangkok subway (I’ll talk about my quest for the best crêpe in Paris later), I thought I’d keep you all up to date on what I’m doing at work. As I mentioned in my previous post, I am working on the MOST Ministerial Forum in Cameroon. But let me explain a little bit about the work first. Specifically, I work in the Social and Human Sciences (SHS) Sector, Division of Social Transformations and Intercultural Dialogue, of which the Ministerial Forums are a key activity.
The Cameroon forum is focusing on the impact of climate change on migration in central Africa, and UNESCO in particular is concentrating on the impact on women and youth. I turned in a BOATLOAD of research (in summary and outline form), as well as policy recommendations on the subject. I now know more than I ever thought I would about migration in central Africa. The research was to support the UNESCO representative’s position at the Ministerial Forum, give him salient points to address as well as provide him with background information on the situation. I should explain that UNESCO facilitates the Ministerial Forum, which basically means ministers from a bunch of different member states—in this case, about 10 from central Africa—get together to discuss a topic. UNESCO has a representative there, who will represent UNESCO’s position on the subject and recommend best courses of action to the ministers in attendance. Hence, my research!
It’s been great being able to deep-dive into a topic and become the quasi-expert on the subject, just in case anyone has any questions (but let’s be honest, they’re going to ask my boss before they’ll ask me…). Proposing policy recommendations was particularly gratifying, and I also was able to draft an outline recommending resolutions to be adopted at the conference, which I think the UNESCO representative will propose once there. It’s nice to have concrete deliverables and to see that the work I’m doing, as well as my conclusions from my work, being used in a way that could actually have an impact on UNESCO’s work. It’s still early, but hopefully I continue to have impactful work throughout the summer.
Now for the fun stuff!
Yes, that is a giant soccer ball hanging in the middle of the Eiffel Tower.
I have the great fortune of being in Paris during the Euro 2016 Cup, which France is hosting! The energy throughout the city is awesome, even with all of the extra tourists. It’s pretty fun to see packs of Swedes roaming the streets, 8 Irishmen sitting at a café in their jerseys, or boarding the metro in rush hour with 20 drunk Germans (OK, that wasn’t so fun. But it sure was funny!). Everyone turns out to the bars when France plays, and since France just took first in their group, I’m sure the celebrations will continue!
I would say that 80% of food and bev establishments in Paris are showing the games, but the funny thing is that the Parisians ONLY go watch the France games. I expected them to turn out for games with the other good teams in the tournament—the Germans and the Spain, for example—but boy, was I mistaken. For Germany’s first game, I was one of 5 people at the bar watching (and 2 of the others were my friends!). I’ve learned it’s better to watch the non-France games at home and then spend my money at the bar to cheer on Les Bleus. But when France is playing, it’s a great time. When France scored to pull ahead of Albania in the final minutes of the game, the entire bar broke out into a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise… talk about patriotism 😉
France look like a favorite to win the tournament, and let’s hope they do—because what a celebration that would be!
Blog Post #1: Bienvenue à Paris!
June 8, 2016
My first week at UNESCO headquarters is almost in the books, so I think now is probably a good time for my first blog post. My Parisian experience so far has been interesting, and I’ve had to learn things I didn’t think I’d have to (or that I wanted to, honestly!). I was hit immediately with a terrible bout of the stomach flu when I arrived and was laid up for just about 5 days. I now know how to find a doctor, get blood work done, and fill prescriptions in Paris—and I have to say it’s a sight easier here than in the US thanks to centralized health care (even for foreigners!). I managed to recover, visit a few museums, and even participate in a 10k race that I had signed up for previously. Healthy again, it was time for UNESCO!I didn’t really know what to expect walking into headquarters. The other GW fellows who were already on-site all reported really positive experiences, but I know that the environment in a field office can be vastly different than one at headquarters. Unlike Elena’s Havana office, headquarters is situated on the other side of the École Militaire from the Eiffel Tower, so the area is central and iconic. The building itself is massive, as you’d expect, though it’s tucked away off the tourist path; without signage, a casual passerby may not understand what it is he’s looking at. That being said, I did walk through a Segway tour on my way to the metro yesterday… tourists (psh).
I’m happy to say that the warm reception the other fellows received has been echoed here in Paris. Everyone is extremely friendly and helpful. I am the only American in my section, and my coworkers hail from Canada, El Salvador, France, Moldova, Mongolia, Norway, Palestine, Sweden and the UK. The office is massive and I’m not sure that I’ll know my way around even after 3 months! The stagiaires (interns—unfortunately, there is no good translation for “fellow” in French, and after my first week I get the impression the staff would hardly acknowledge a difference anyway) have lunch together every day, so it’s nice to have a group of friends.
My boss has assured me that bringing a gender-equality lens to the MOST Programme, my area of work, will be vital. I will be working on the MOST Ministerial Forum in Cameroon, which is focusing on the impact of migration on women and youth in central Africa. The Forum will be held in September, so unfortunately I’ll already be back in DC when it takes place, but I am excited to contribute research and policy recommendations along the way. Should be a fun and interesting summer!