Is this really my life?

Trip Start Jan 30, 2006
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17
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Trip End Jan 13, 2007


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Flag of France  ,
Sunday, December 10, 2006

There are certain times when I am traveling that I wish I had the smallest camera in the world and could take pictures.  They are usually the times where it would be culturally insensitive or down right stupid to rummage around and look for my camera.  One of those moments happened this past weekend.  A camera wouldn't have even captured the moment it needed to be on film and in the movie titled: "Another stupid American visits France."

I had to drive the nine person full sized van for the meeting at the castle.  Now, to an American this might not sound large.  However, in France this is enormous as the roads are built with horse carriges in mind, not Hummers.  Every morning I drove from my farm in Switzerland to the castle on the hill in France where I was attending a meeting.  The voyage really hadn't been a problem as the signs are all clearly marked on which way to go.  I always had followed the signs to the centre of the village then past the Casino to the castle.  However on Saturday morning there happened to be a market in the centre of the village.  Everyone was just setting up their stalls with cheese, olives, sausages, wines, mushrooms and other delicious, and costly, foods.

The village of Divonne is one of the cutest towns I have ever seen.  The first time I saw it, I thought it was a set from a Hollywood movie.  I never realized that little French towns like this really existed.  The streets were single lane cobblestone paths (not meant for large vehicles) with beautifully decorated store fronts.  There were Christmas lights, red carpets on the side walks and ever green boughs draped very elegantly in appropriate places.

So as I was driving on this fortuitous Saturday morning, the two vehicles in front of me were also full sized vans.  They went straight through the market. (Little did I know that they were vendors in the market with legitimate reason to go through the centre) In an instant of stupidity, I thought I could also make it through the market to arrive at the castle on time.  I couldn't really ask for directions in French for an alternative route, so instead I just followed.  Bad move.

Imagine me driving a manual car with the steering wheel on the left side over curbs, under awnings, and around screaming French people.  First of all I have become very used to driving with a steering wheel on the right . And this whole changing sides thing is confusing.  Secondly, I have only driven a manual car for 6 months of my life in Korea and that was a year and a half ago.  Thirdly, I am not known to be the best driver.  However, after reaching the dead end of this cobble stoned street and being told by a police officer - what I can only assume was why are you here? - I had to back up again through the market.  I think it proved that I am the best driver in the world (I didn't even stall once). 

So the moment on film would be me driving, with the French police man stopping and speaking to me, with me responding in American English and both of us not knowing what to do with this full sized van in the middle of a small market.  All around the van were vendors watching the spectacle who had seen me pass through and gave me stares, were now shocked that they would have to see me pass through again.  I don't know who was more shocked - me or them - that I made it without hitting one thing!
(Although I cam close to clipping the awning and cheese cart)

I was even more shocked when later that evening I found my self drinking 1998 Dom Pérignon Champaigne, eating $1,000 caviar off of mother of pearl spoons with a Belgian, a Japanese, a Brazilian, a Colombian, a Swede and an Indian, discussing the politics of Sri Lanka and other such tumultuous countries and how to run projects with investments by JP Morgan of $327 million.  I was the only female and was at least 20 years younger than all of them and 50 years younger than some.  As we moved from the bar to the dinner table I made the mistake of asking the waiter not to take the plate away from someone who had gone to the bathroom.  I was informed that it was customary because what was on the table was called a waiting plate.  I had no clue they set the table and then unset it - including the silverware - as people sat down.

Several times this weekend I had to stop and ask myself: Is this really my life?  The answer is yes, it appears this is the realm of international non governmental organizations (NGOs) this is how they change the world.  They told me that they only meet this way twice a year so they go all out - but still I never thought it would happen in my life once!  This weekend was the bi-annual board meeting of the organization that I will be working for at their world headquarters in Gland, Switzerland.  I met the board and discussed the expectations of the new office.
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