May 21, 2015

Scoop Part Deux

Pray for Us...or for me when I start writing for French newspapers
(Self-promotion: Check out my latest published article detailing WWII commemorations in Burgundy in the link to the right...)

When you are sitting in a café at 10:00am in France with your spouse, enjoying a morning espresso, you really shouldn't answer your phone when it rings with a number you don't recognize. It is just so American to be so available all the time. A lot of French people seem to live by a few simple rules:

  1. Never respond to emails
  2. If you want to nap, unplug (landline) or turn off your phone
  3. Ignore voicemails
  4. Assure people to their face that you will follow up promptly. Then don't.
But, alas, I have that Stars and Stripes gene, so I keep answering calls, responding to electronic mails, and having my coffee time interrupted. It was the agency chief calling with my first assignment.

Before diving into the details of the task, let's take a bird's-eye view of the situation, pretending to be the agency chief (A man I enjoy and like tremendously).

"OK, I have a new local correspondent in Arnay-le-Duc. He has no journalistic experience whatsoever. He is not from the town, the region, or even the country. He is American. Recently, I made him write in French with a pen to see if he could actually string consecutive words together in a grammatically correct fashion. He has no network in the area, no favors to call in, and no track record."

May 4, 2015

Scoop à la française

Mayor Claude Chave talks to his constituents at the opening of the local market

I have become the correspondant local de presse for the Bien Public, the daily local newspaper covering events in all of the Côte d'Or. I am "responsible" for all the events happening in Arnay-le-Duc, from official ceremonies with the mayor to the opening of a new producers market or a concert given by an accordionist at the senior center. Hard-hitting journalism, in other words. I have replaced a woman in her 80s who did the same job for approximately 35 years. The paper ran an ad for several weeks beseeching the population to sign up to cover events for the publication, but not a single French person submitted an application. When my friend Françoise told me she thought it would be a good idea for me to throw my hat into the ring, I said "Why not?" and called the paper's office in Beaune.

I explained to the receptionist that I was 100% American, and if this was a problem, we can stop our conversation right there. We stayed chatting, and it became clear that I was the only soldier responding for duty, and we were going to sink or swim together. A few days later, I was meeting with the agency head in his office. He spent a large part of our interview staring at the ceiling and taking deep breaths. It wasn't hard to read his thoughts. They went something like this: "What on God's green earth have I done to end up spending a Tuesday morning talking to an American in blue jeans about working for my French newspaper? What is wrong with my countrymen? How is it possible that not one French person wants this job?"

I couldn't blame him. In fact, my own thoughts were not that different than his: "What the hell kind of life choices have I made that have resulted in my being in this strange, windowless office with this man huffing in all his Frenchness, asking me to write a summary of a newspaper article to see if I can string words together in his native tongue? Why does every job I find pay less than the previous one?"

Regardless, we agreed it was going to be a great partnership. The chief told me he was going to be in Arnay on Friday, and we would go see the mayor at 10:30. Great, I thought, I'll get clearance with the main politician in town and be good to go.

Thursday evening the agency chief called. He wondered what time we had agreed to meet. I was startled that he was calling me for this information, but whatever. I gave him the aforementioned details and hung up. Thirty minutes later he called back, saying that the mayor was in fact going to be in Beaune the next day, so I should come and meet with both of them then.

This sounded fine, so I put on some quasi-professional clothes and went to meet with Mayor Claude Chave and the chief. We ended up talking for a good 45 minutes, with the mayor continually expressing mild astonishment at how many people I knew in town (he was among the last citizens I had not personally met in the small town of 1700 people) and the agency chief obviously enjoying being in the company of an elected official. As the meeting reached its natural conclusion, the chief clapped his hands and rubbed them together vigorously. "On boit un coup?" he asked. "Shall we have a drink?"

It was 11:30 in the morning in newspaper headquarters. Even though I had been here more than a year, and should have known better, I still thought this was probably an invitation for coffee.

Instead, the two reporters in the newsroom stopped their work and joined the chief, the mayor, and this out-of-place American in drinking a Chablis premier cru, full of minerality, citrus aromas, and surreal notes of feeling extremely foreign in a foreign land. We polished off the bottle, and-- bam! -- I was officially hired. 

I left the offices feeling pretty good about my professional progress, and continued riding high until the agency chief called me two days later at 10 in the morning with my first assignment. It will be the next post here...