Life lately: welp, guess I have to work in French now

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I haven’t had much time to write on this blog because I’ve been surprisingly busy. For the months of July and August, my workload was light. Everyone was on holiday and there were no big meetings.

Then September came, and everything just exploded. Though I officially only have one boss, I am now also working for two other people, including covering for a colleague who had to go on maternity leave early. I just did a quick count on my fingers — this week, I had long, in-depth conversations with at least 12 people, 90% of whom I didn’t even know a month ago. And some of those conversations were in French, mon dieu.

As an introvert, I feel overstimulated and exhausted. Every day, I would come home with my brain buzzing, feeling hungry, anxious, tired, on edge, restless, all the above. I remember all the French grammatical mistakes I made that day and beat myself up just a little bit. I wonder if I came off as weird or too quiet or too anxious in a meeting.

At the same time: I have also learned a lot about myself. I pride myself on being a good listener, the type of person whom other people find trustworthy, even when they’re only meeting me for the first or second time. (My oh my, the number of people who have unloaded their complaints on me in the last two weeks alone! My mother and I don’t have a lot in common, but this is definitely a trait I’ve inherited from her, it turns out.)

I’m finding it easier to become friendly with my Swiss and French colleagues — by being unapologetically genuine, unpretentious, and vulnerable — and I can be funny in French, too. For instance, today I was chatting with two colleagues, one French, the other Swiss. “How do you like it here?” the French colleague asked me.

“Oh, I love it here,” I said. “I want to stay here forever.” Then I joked: “That’s why I’m looking for a Swiss husband.”

“Hey,” exclaimed the Swiss colleague, waving his hand, “I’m available!”

The French colleague rolled her eyes. “Oh come on, you’re already married!”

I’ve been working closely with S, a French woman in my division who understands English but doesn’t speak much. The first time she asked me “Ça va (how are you)?”, I froze up and could only manage to respond in the informal form: “Ça va, et toi (good, and you)?” The next time we had this interaction, I found it too awkward to change back to the formal vous. Which was kind of a social faux pas — S was much older than I was, she was the manager of her own team of five people, and we didn’t really know each other, so I really ought to have addressed her as vous to be polite.

To remedy this, I decided to address everyone at work as toi, to give off the sense that I, as an American, took an egalitarian approach and did not believe in calling anyone vous (except strangers, obviously). S and I also talk a lot and have developed a good rapport. I learned that her son works at the same architecture studio that’s on the ground floor of my old apartment — more proof that Geneva really is a small village. I also picked up on some subtle social cues: for instance, S addresses my boss as vous because they’re not close, but addresses my boss’s boss as toi because they’ve worked together for 20 years and chitchat all the time. So the rules are definitely not so hard and fast.

Anyway, it seems I have at least one French meeting every day now. And it’s hard. My French isn’t that good, and my colleagues definitely accommodate me by speaking more slowly and deliberately. I’m getting there, slowly.

On an unrelated note, in early August, I started doing the Chloe Ting 28-day flat stomach challenge. It’s now been 1.5 months, and I think I’m still only at day 23. I’ve skipped a lot of days, and I don’t do all of the exercises. Even so, I’ve noticed a difference in my physique and energy level. I haven’t had a cold in months. My shoulders and waistline are looking more defined.

During this same time, I started logging my diet and exercise on the MyFitnessPal app again. I’m not sure how I feel about it. When I log my meals, I feel this pressure to eat less, so that I’m not ‘in the red’ when it comes to calorie count. But that has meant I’m always hungry, which isn’t good either. And my goal isn’t to lose weight: it’s to get more sculpted and build more muscle. So now I just make sure to get enough proteins and fresh vegetables, walk and/or exercise, and limit my sugar intake.

Here are some meals I made in August and September.

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Shrimp, cucumber, and apples with Thai satay sauce.
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Lamb pilaf.
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The first pizza I made after coming back from Bologna. Forgot to leave blank space for the crust!
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Kung pow chicken. Not totally authentic because I used cucumbers instead of peanuts.
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Northern Chinese-style dumplings.
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Salad bowl for work lunches.
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A favorite family recipe: mishmash noodles.
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Crostini for a baby shower.
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Cheesy lobster roll made in a microwave.

Other moments….

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Picnicking with a friend outside the art and history museum.
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A mail worker’s tricycle parked outside an apartment building.
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I finally got my Swiss driver’s license after two years! US license holders don’t need to take a test; they can pay CHF 125 and get a new license on the spot.
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The Geneva version of the DMV was so much nicer.
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Printed on the spot.
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A greenhouse at a public garden in Geneva.
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Small update to my living room layout: I added a TV stand to serve as a cabinet.
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Cute box of donuts!
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Lastly, I hosted one of my most successful meetups yet! Even though it was rainy, we had 15 people come out to this cafe. (In Switzerland we’re now allowed to eat inside a cafe with the Covid certificate.) Here are some things we discussed at our table:

  • If you could send a message to yourself from 10 years ago, but could only write 3 words, what would you write? Romanian: “Follow your heart.” German: “Invest in Bitcoin.”
  • Is it better to have gender equality or gender equity in society? Is it sexist to promote women simply because of their gender? Or is it even sexist to assume that’s happening in the first place?
  • Why Canadian healthcare is not as great as you think it is (waiting 12 hours at the hospital to be seen is very common)
  • Why British people should stop being passive-aggressive and just tell us how you really feel
  • The world is probably going to get worse in the next decade — but then it’ll get better when the young people of today are in charge

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