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Excuse Me But Your Cheese Is Touching Mine.

19 December 2010 Leave a comment

Yes, we are all suffering from that Christmas rush. The festival holidays are in full swing like everywhere else in the western world.  In the main square of Nice there is a typical Christmas village with various vendors, an ice rink and plenty of vin chaud (hot wine).  The city has done a nice job of displaying lights throughout the city.  Interestingly they stay away from themes or characters so the light displays are more abstract and bring a more sophistication to the layout of the city.  You don’t see any smiling Santa Clauses, weird elves or snowmen; just designs that remind you of a wintry scene of ice or snow.  The coloring usually is of white, silver, blue or red; nothing too alarming.  There is also a ferris wheel in the city center that went up at the beginning of December.  I have been told this ride will remain up until Carnival before Ash Wednesday.  With the abnormal cold temperatures we have been having, I lack the desire to ride up in the brisk air.  You would think they would have the ferris wheel out in the summer time, but they don’t.

Open Longer for Christmas

Open Longer for Christmas

Normally the stores in France are closed on Sunday but this month is full of ouvert exceptionnelle signs to accommodate the influx of shoppers.  CAP 3000, a mall not far from me reported a week ago Saturday was the busiest day on record since its opening in 1969.   Not bad for just surviving a global recession and having our neighbors Spain and Italy struggling to keep afloat.  But the French do know how to save and be economic so they don’t have to sacrifice when it comes to gift giving.

My work has been busy as everyone is trying to wrap up projects before the end of the year.  Luckily a lot of colleagues with families will already be starting their holiday vacation this week since schools are now closed.  Consequently this week should be a breeze and traffic almost non-existent.

Raclette: French or Swiss?

Raclette: French or Swiss?

Naturally there has been a lot of social gatherings. I had the pleasure this week to participate in a raclette.  Raclette refers to cow cheeses that can easily be melted and/or a dish where the main component is cheese.  You may have the instinctive reaction of fondu, but it is not quite the same.  It is wintry delight that everyone gets excited about providing a great excuse to invite friends over for the evening.  First you must get a raclette grill, something I never saw in the States but go to the local Darty and you will see several electric models to choose from.  It is nothing more than a round grill with mini-shovels that sit nicely underneath the heat.  There will be a huge plate of cheese and everyone takes a slice.  Then we place the cheese on your own personal shovel and put it underneath the grill.  It mimics the scene of a campfire.  Then you wait a few minutes until the cheese is all melted and then you scrape it on your plate for consumption.  Of  course there are other gastronomic items to accompany the cheese.  You will have a plate of charcuterie (various meats), potatoes and pickles.  You can even go further with some vegetables if you like but you have to understand it is all about the cheese.   It is a very hearty casual dinner and comforting as you know it is so cold outside.  There is debate where this meal originated.  The Swiss say they did it first but naturally the French claim as their own.  Personally just say it came from the Alps and you are playing it politically safe.  All in all, it was a very delightful evening of experiencing new cheeses and meats.  I’ll have to put a look out for another invitation as the long months of January and February approach.

As for my own personal Christmas, I will be staying in France and more specifically in my home.  Those of you who know me well will not be surprised by the fact I already have plans for that long weekend.  My Venezuelan colleague at work invited me to his family dinner on Christmas Eve.  On Christmas Day, some other colleagues and I are cooking a lunch together (another American and a Canadian).  Later that same evening I have a dinner with some new friends in Nice.  Through the entire weekend I will be hosting a Venezuelan student who resides in Paris via Couch Surfing.   So I will be busy and definitely not alone.  I return to work on the Tuesday after.

Joyeux Fêtes!

Categories: Everyday Life

Don’t Touch That Dial! . . . I’m Learning . . .

13 December 2010 Leave a comment

Since we supposedly have so much leisure time over here, what do we do with ourselves? Well the French watch television like everyone else in this world.  France struggles to develop a full line up of television on their own consequently you will find an American show (dubbed in French) somewhere every night.  I am sure it is quite cost-effective to just buy existing shows like CSI and Charmed and just pay for the voice-overs.  It is a good linguistic challenge to watch these dubbed shows because the average French sentence is longer then the English equivalent.  Often you have to use more words to express the same idea than in English.  Consequently these voice-overs are speaking très vite in order to keep up with the visual action and storyline.

Don't Touch That Dial!

Don't Touch That Dial!

In spite of the American domination in media, it is not to say that the French are unoriginal.  One night I found myself enjoying a little French television and stumbled across Le Grand Défi de la Santé (The Big Health Challenge).  I have to say, this show was smart, literally.  So here you have 8 contestants divided into two teams.  It is the typical round robin of answering a series of questions before your opponent.  In addition the questions were obviously related to human health.  It covered all categories of health including bacteria, dog bites, what happens when we sleep and sexuality issues.  Instead of just quick catchy facts and figures making the game about speed, this show was really about learning.  Off to the side was a legit doctor who validated the answers.  The show, as a concept, includes the discovery of why these facts existed or occurred.  Yes the sexual openness of the French also made prime time.  Several questions referred directly or indirectly to the male anatomy.  Then one team had to answer the ever so important question of how many times the French have sex.  (the answer is two to three times a week)  Nonetheless I have to say this show was quite sophisticated and a pleasure seeing the genuineness of the French wanting to learn.

But here is where the creepy Twilight Zone soundtrack entered my head. I looked at the clock.  What? Yes, I looked at the clock – it was 2 hours later!  This intelligent game show was on for a two-hour segment!  Really? Was I that consumed by intelligence for 2 hours and not know it?  C’est vrai?

But now I have broken into a cold sweat; I discovered I was truly alone.  I instantly realized that I had not seen a single commercial.  Not only was this show on for 2 hours, but uninterrupted for 2 hours.  No jumping toys.  No cereals with faux fruit.  No tampons with wings. No nothing.  It was just me and the doctor and 8 random French people who actually knew how to smile.  There is a bond here that is undescribable . . . or at least temporary as I have to wait for next week’s show.

So what was the following show? It continued along the spectrum from intelligence to down right nerdville.  I didn’t catch the title but seriously, these contestants needed social help.  It was two contestants, usually male, that fit the nerd stereotype to the “T”.  They didn’t look pretty; didn’t dress pretty and just weren’t pretty.  If they didn’t have thick glasses, they had a pocket protector.  The point of this show was to give each contestant either a random list of numbers or letters.  If it was numbers, they had to figure out the mathematical pattern.  If it was letters, they had to come up with the longest word (like in Scrabble).  Mind you, they had to do this in seconds – and they did!  I was astounded at their skills (but it still didn’t make me want to invite them over for social interaction).   The real kicker was who was in the audience – teenagers!  Yes, the live audience in this studio were not adults but teenagers.  When the timer started ticking for the next question, all the teenagers participated in the question.  They all diligently starting writing on their paper to see if they could match the nerd’s responses that were on stage.  I mean really, just want drug did they put in their food to make them want to hang out here?

It makes me reflect back to the American show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? – something that wouldn’t fly here in France I am sure.   My reasoning is that often I feel the American shows are about seeing how low someone can be pushed down.  The enticement of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader is to see the adults struggle with the bar set so dismally low.  Yet here in France, the bar is set so high, they are driven by the challenge.  I believe it is after effect of the school system here but that is for another blog article for another day.

Now with all that said, I won’t over romanticise French television.  There are some mindless, dumb reality shows as well allowing you to vegitate after a long day’s work.  What is refreshing about French television is that is not saturated with those reality shows.  You have a balance here when you look at the line up for a given evening of leisure viewing.  You have your choice on whether to go up or to go down.

If your pragmatic mind has gone off in trying how to figure France is paying for all these shows, then well done.  First there are in fact commercials on French television, just not as many.  Second, we are in the land of taxes and yes, every year each resident that has a television gets hit with by the State for Redevance audiovisuelle (Television Tax).  I will be getting my first tax request in the fall of 2011.  It does beg the question, would you be willing to pay a one shot payment in order to have fewer commercials?  Of course the content of the shows will influence your answer.

Categories: Everyday Life

All the 1’s and 0’s lead to Erding, Germany

5 December 2010 Leave a comment

If you have ever stepped foot into an airport to fly somewhere, I bet you that your personal 1’s and 0’s were sent to Germany. I’m talking about your personal data either to complete a travel transaction or for the plane to be cleared to leave.  All data in this digital world gets reduced to a series of 1’s and 0’s in order for any type of communication to occur between computers.  So how does that fact relate to my life in France?  Well the digital heart of Amadeus resides in Germany, not France.  Let me back up a minute to explain.

Friday Night at the Acropolis

Friday Night at the Acropolis

Once upon a time there was a database named Sabre . . . Yes, Sabre was the first database within the airline industry built to handle all reservations and transactions.  Based in the States, it was the only player in the industry during the 1980’s.  The European travel market was just taking off and becoming more affordable for the average European.  Yet Sabre wasn’t known to play well with the growing European fleets of Air France, Lufthansa, Iberia Airlines and SAS.  When a travel agent made a request for flight availability on given route, Sabre would always should American based airlines first in the list.  You would have to scroll down to find the European airlines in order to make a purchase.  As you can imagine, Europe wasn’t happy with this bias.  So the four airlines I mentioned above got together to come up with a business plan to create a competitive database with the mission statement that it would be neutral, not showing bias to anyoneAmadeus was born.  SAS withdraw from the negotiations but the remaining three airlines invested in the new independent IT start-up, Amadeus.  Consequently the decision was made to spread out the three main offices of Amadeus in France, Germany and Spain respectively.  Madrid, Spain holds the actual headquarters including the CEO, Finance departments and Marketing.  Sophia-Antipolis, France holds all key product development and support.  Finally Erding, Germany holds all operations including our mega-data center.  Amadeus has grown so successful we are the dominate player in the global market for not just airlines but the entire travel industry including hotel, car and cruises.  Amadeus literally handles 500,000,000 database transactions every day.  We own the largest civilian data center on the European continent.  Our marketing team put together this web page with a short video that really puts our data center on the map.  If all this techy stuff lights up your transistors, I encourage you to take a peek this one journalist’s blog who was invited on a tour.  This feat in technology is quite impressive, including our annual electricity bill of €4 million.

Pyramid of Chocolate

Pyramid of Chocolate

So why all this marketing jargon to explain a good Friday’s night fun? This past Friday was our big Christmas party for the Sophia-Antipolis office.  The party was held at the local convention center here in Nice called the Acropolis.  Don’t forget that this party had to accommodate nearly 2,000 employees.  We had a huge hall to ourselves with a formal sit down dinner.  Everyone was expected to dress up for the evening.  We were served chapon, a castrated rooster raised for the high quality of meat.  A dish that is a Holiday treat in France.   Unfortunately each table was restricted to one bottle of red wine and one bottle of white.  Once we finished them, the servers told us they had strict orders to not offer any more (honestly I think it was just to control consumption since most people had to drive home).  The meal concluded with a huge pyramid of chocolate seen in the photos.  As there was nice music in the background throughout the meal, suddenly Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind with Alicia Keys dominated the scene (a little surreal and shows the dominance of the American music scene).  Our CEO from Madrid, our Executive Director in France and our HR director formally made a presentation to acknowledge employees that have been with Amadeus for either 10 years or 20 years.  One of the reasons I was attracted to Amadeus through my interviews was the longevity of its employees and it showed this evening.  We had 80 employees receive the 20 year status mark.  Going back to the short history I gave up above shows these guys were here from the beginning.

Rotating Dance Floor

Rotating Dance Floor

After the presentation, the dance floor opened up and rotated . . . yea, rotated. In the middle of the dance floor there was a raise circle that literally began to rotate clockwise.  Everyone got on board and started to dance to the music and have a good time.   Those that weren’t dancing made it back to the open bar for more beverages.  It really was a pleasant evening.  I got a free ride from one of my colleagues and left the party around 3:00 in the morning.  It seemed everyone was most appreciative for such an event as they didn’t have a Christmas party last year (due to the economy) and the strikes we had earlier this year due to going public on the stock market.  Of course we will see what next year will bring.  The guard is changing as our new CEO takes reign come January 1.  These past two CEO’s (from what I have heard) have been very people orientated and approachable.  They lived by the philosophy of work hard, play hard.  Amadeus is known in the industry for its past employee parties being on a large scale.  Yet we will see if the new CEO will continue this trend; he comes from a finance background and maybe more worried about the bill at the end then the party itself.

Categories: Working Life