The first time I visited La Fontaine de Mars – now one of my favorite restaurants in Paris – I was with a group of friends who had come to France for my 50th birthday and it was our first night in The City of Light. We were shown to a table upstairs in a room full of other American tourists and I turned to the Maitre’d and said in French, “I don’t want to sit with the other Americans.” Don’t get me wrong, I love America, but Americans dine differently than the French. We’re loud at dinner, we rush our food, and we don’t know how to savor the experience. We see the meal as something to be done with quickly so we can get on to the next attraction. It’s “dinner and a movie” in America, but in France it’s just dinner. The French take three hours for dinner and they speak in soft tones enjoying the long relaxing experience of savoring both their food and the conversation. When I’m in France I want to experience a French dinner. The manager was very gracious and accommodating and showed us to a place downstairs next to an elderly French woman and her dog. Now that’s France!
I returned to La Fontaine de Mars in July with my son and as we were eating, Christiane Boudon came by the table several times and we began chatting about France, America and her restaurant. Christiane is the owner of La Fontaine de Mars and she loves America – particularly New York City. She told me that Americans have an expression for which there is no translation in French. That expression is “enjoy!” and she loves Americans because they “enjoy!”
I asked her how it was different from the French expression, “joie de vie,” and she said that the “joy of life” is more paced and long term, but that Americans enjoy the moment. I think she’s right. We’re loud and hurried because we don’t want to miss anything in the moment, and we’re rushing off to experience the next moment. It’s a good attribute that makes us productive and driven, but it has its drawbacks too.
As I wandered around Paris I thought about the people who come there and never experience the “Frenchness” of it all. They never speak a single French word, never sit for a three hour dinner or sip a cool rosé over a two hour lunch. They rush from one tourist site to the next making sure they “see it all” and try to jam as much into the number of days they have as possible. They go through their check list and mark off the things they’ve seen without ever experiencing Paris. They’ve visited Paris without ever having experienced it. I’m afraid the same is true with life itself.
We are a busy people. We run from one event to the next and pride ourselves on our busyness. We’re off early in the morning – a quick breakfast, a workout, maybe the paper – and on to the day’s activities, before rushing home to run around with the kids or dash out to a meeting. We’re experiencing life at a whirlwind pace and I’m afraid we neither “enjoy” nor have “joie de vie.” We’re experiencing life on a shallow level and we’re too busy to notice.
On our last night in Paris I gave my son his choice of restaurants and he chose La Fontaine de Mars mostly because of the “fontant du chocolate.” This particular dessert was so good it had brought a tear to his eye on our first visit. Christiane was not there but this time I talked to our waiter and the manager quite a bit. They told me that the staff had all been there for a long time and that their longevity – in a business that is known for its turnover -was because of how well they were treated by Christiane. Then they told me that they would be closing for a month because she has bought the two buildings next to la Fonataine de Mars and is expanding. It’s no surprise that her business is doing well. Great food plus great people is a winning combination.
The same owner who had time to stop and chat at my table was also a person who had time to invest in her employees. It’s congruency. The experience of great food, in a great setting would not have been enough to make me return. Great people implementing a great product make great companies, and my initial experience with a waiter who was willing to find me a table downstairs was what drew me back. When leaders invest in the people they lead they are making the most important investment they can make.
I think Christiane Boudon experiences both “enjoy!” and “joie de vie.” She enjoys the moments of chatting with customers and invests the “joie de vie” in her employees. It’s a winning combination.
Vision for Your Life is an investment. It’s an investment in you, your team and the success of your business. Know who you are and be it!