Friday, June 21, 2013

French Women's Secrets To Using Technology

I first met Jamie Cat Callan back in my corporate days. I had signed up for a Saturday writing workshop she was teaching at NYU. She incorporated a lot of great exercises into what would later become The Writer's Toolbox. Miraculously, that day she got me writing. Just as much of a miracle,  Jamie told me that yes - I was a writer. You see, at that time in my life I wasn't convinced. 

I hold a special place in my heart for those I've met along the way who encouraged me to pursue to my art. So I try to stay connected. Which these days thanks to the miracle of social media makes it much easier.

When I heard about Jamie's latest book,  Ooh La La! French Women's Secrets To Feeling Beautiful Everyday I had to get me a copy.  And as you know when I come across something worth sharing - I like to do just that!

This delightful and insightful read is part self-help, part self-discovery and part travelogue of Jamie's adventures throughout France. At the end I wanted to go buy a new perfume and book a trip to Paris! But I also wanted to know more. I wanted to know how French women were adapting to the digital age. So I asked Jamie if I could interview her for my blog.  She graciously accepted. Here's are her answers to the questions I posed.

What do French women think of all this new technology? Are they fans of 24/7 connection? Do they have Facebook pages? 
This is such a great question, because the answer is really a yes and a no.  And that’s so French—to live in a kind of grey area.  Still, I would say that French women are definitely not into the 24/7 technology and while many French girls love their smartphones, they don’t participate in as much social media as we do.  It’s not unusual for a French Woman to pull herself off Facebook and suddenly become very mysterious.  This is especially true if she’s fallen in love!   

Do you find French women as attached to their smartphones and tablets as we are? How does a French women incorporate her smartphone into her sense of style?
In recent years, the smartphone and the tablet have replaced the intriguing paperback book a French woman might carry with her on her walks.  A French woman will position herself in the park or at an outdoor cafĂ© and then she’ll check her smartphone (one with a artsy case that reflects her personality).  That said, she would also be sure to look up from time to time to catch the flirtatious glance from the man at the nearby table.  It’s a matter of balance—so she will not get so hooked into her gadget that she forgets there’s a big wide world out there. 

You write about how French women feel permission to be completely themselves.  Do they extend that to their on-line interactions or are they more guarded?
While French women do give themselves permission to be completely themselves, they may not be so willing to share all the details of their lives.  I have many French women friends who are simple not on-line in terms of blogging, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, etc.  But, the French women that I do know who participate in social media have something amazing to show or tell.  They create beautiful style blogs, or post the most amazing travel photos on Facebook.  For French women, it’s about having something interesting to share and the presentation is important.  This is part of the French philosophy.  Micheline Tanguy, a charisma expert I talk about in Ooh La La! told me, “the French like to put a flower on everything.”  And I think this is true, even when it comes to on-line interactions. 

You talk about fashion being a conversation and how it often starts with a photo snapped by The Sartorialist. I’ve been a big fan of his from when he wasn’t so famous. How does a French woman react when it is her whose photo is being taken and then posted on a blog for the entire world to see?
I’ve actually taken photos of stylish French women, Sartorialist style.  It seems to me that younger French women, especially women who are in the beauty and style business, don’t mind having their photo taken and then shared.  (You just have to ask permission).  I find that older French women are much more reticent, so I try to respect that.  I also travel with a postcard of my book, with a barcode scan for my Facebook page, so that the woman I’d like to photograph can see that I’m serious and artful about what I do.  The truth is, I think Bill Cummingham and The Sartorialist have paved the wave for street style photographers all over the world, and stylish women are much more open to being featured on-line.

Without giving away your adventure at the end of the book – how did it feel to be without internet connection for so many days?  Do you recommend the respite?
I did have quite an adventure—and while still remaining mysterious, I’ll say this—I spent nine days in a hospital in Toulouse without internet or phone (although I could receive the occasional incoming phone call).  It was hard to be so out-of-touch at first and it almost felt as if I was coming off an addiction.  I did find that I could stay grounded by writing notes in my little notebook, keeping track of the time with my wristwatch (yes, very old school!), taking lots of photographs of the doctors and nurses and all my French hospital meals (which were delicious!)  And finally, I found that staring out the window to see what the sky was doing and how the changing colors brought with them the passage of time was very soothing, indeed. 

Lastly, you write that French women transfer handicaps to assets.  I just love that philosophy! Do they see technology as a handicap or an asset in their allure and mystique?
I’ve met French women who completely embrace technology and use it artfully to share their particular passion—whether it’s making their own macarons, or designing landscapes or following fashion trends.  I’ve also met French women who seem completely off the grid, living in ancient farmhouses that they’ve restored themselves using river rocks for walls and reconstructing wooden beams from the 11th century.  And so, in terms of allure—I believe French women know themselves.  They embrace their uniqueness with great passion and confidence, whether this involves using a smartphone or not. 
If a French woman does embrace technology, she will “add a flower to it” and yes, this love of technology will not be a handicap for her, but an asset and it will add to her mystique, because she is in alignment with her truest self. 
And this alignment--that’s really the secret to ooh la la.

Thanks Jamie! 

To find out more about Jamie Cat Callan visit:

To buy Ooh La La! French Women's Secrets To Feeling Beautiful Everyday (which I recommend you do!) click here!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Real Truth About Privacy

Back in the late seventies and early eighties I spent my summers sharing beach houses with friends in Avalon, New Jersey. They were lazy, crazy days filled with parties from happy hour to bar closings, excessive drinking, missed meals, and late night hook-ups hastened to the tune of Donna Summer singing "Last Dance."  

There was no Internet then, no cell phones, no text messaging or email. If you wanted to take a picture you needed a camera, not a smartphone. Making movies was reserved for filmmakers. If you were doing something you shouldn't be doing or with someone you shouldn't be with - it was alot easier to not get caught. 

Or so we wanted to believe. 

The truth is people got found out all the time. 

Your constitutional right to privacy meant nothing if that stolen kiss on the beach with the hot guy who was not your boyfriend was witnessed by your guy's best friend. And that joint you swore you didn't inhale? It was shared with someone who would be sure to give you away for the right price.

Which back then, prompted these words of advice from a slightly older and wiser friend.

"If you don't want to get caught - don't do it."

Mmm. So if I thought I might be embarrassed, mortified, ashamed, horrified, humiliated, appalled or any combination there of for something that has my name attached, I shouldn't worry about my privacy. Maybe - just maybe I should just think twice before doing it. 

Of course, today you don't have to be doing much to have your privacy breached. In the world of big data, what I order each time I visit  Starbucks is recorded for all posterity on my rewards App. I can't pretend I went to the gym three times this week because Equinox is tracking the proof. If I pin those cute jeans on Pinterest, thanks to remarketing (also known as stalking) those pants will haunt me until I buy them. Or disable the cookies. Facebook likes to say you get to pick your privacy settings, but really - who are they kidding? Someone at Facebook can surely see through whatever you blocked.

Unless you choose to live in the backwoods without an Internet connection or cell service or Duane Reade on the corner - real privacy in 2013 just does not exist.

I'm not sure it ever really has. But what I do know for sure is that when yours is comprised it spreads faster and quicker than any of us ever imagined back in those glory day summers, whiling away the afternoon in a sand chair admiring the hobie cats lined up on the beach. 

Which leads me back to that wise advice. If you're worried about who is listening in, what people will think if they find out your stuff or that you will get caught doing something you shouldn't be, like ordering one of those cinnamon chip scones made with real sugar, make a choice. 

Own it or just don't do it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Today was my friend Joe's birthday. At least it used to be. Joe passed after a long and arduous battle with cancer last Fourth of July. He never liked to do anything in a small way so it seemed fitting that the day he chose to leave this world was one in which he could exit with fireworks.

I was reminded of his birthday this morning on Facebook. Not that I would have forgotten. While our lives had taken different trajectories in recent years, the two days we were always certain to talk was on our respective birthdays. We were those kinds of friends. The kind you make when you are young enough and foolish enough to think you might live forever. The kind that no matter how long it's been since last you talked, when you pick up the phone it feels like it was just yesterday. The kind that no matter what, remembers to call and wish you a happy birthday.

Except this year, for the first time I can't do that. I'm missing that conversation. I'm missing him.

I'm missing my friend with the smiling Irish eyes who took pleasure in making everyone around him smile. Who loved to tell jokes that somehow made you laugh even when they weren't funny. Who loved his family and friends, especially his wife and his boys. Who knew what it meant to be in the moment and relish the joy. Who was always the last one to leave the party. 

Except for this one. This one he left too soon.  

I know I'm not alone today. His Facebook page is proof. New posts filled with love and remembrance for the bright light he was. You see you couldn't be Joe's friend and not have at least one story to remind you how lucky you were to have known him.

That's life in the digital age. We are reminded of birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, births and now deaths.  Joe would make a joke about that. He would notice as I have that Facebook seems more mercenary than usual today - suggesting I give Joe a Starbucks card for his birthday when he would rather a beer and a good party.  He would question as I do if they're tracking our actions so well how did they not notice his inactivity the past eleven months or at least remember Joe didn't drink coffee. He drank tea and not the fancy herbal kind Starbucks sells. 

I always tell people that they need to think before they post. Because once it is out there, it lives forever. 


Kind of like Joe.