In 1993 I found myself back in the Arizona desert, having been deported there by one disillusioned Frenchman. Jean-Marc and I had tried to live together—lasting a full ten months—but all that sizzling chemistry that fueled us in the beginning eventually fizzled out, and our Franco-American romance was over. Jean-Marc's mind was set. To prove it, he bought me a one-way ticket back to Phoenix!
Back in Phoenix, I busied myself picking up the pieces of a life I had quickly left behind. The cold, current reality was I needed to find a job, illico! But what was I qualified for? I had a French degree... but no skills!
I didn't want to go back to being a receptionist, and I hated working at the department store... though I loved my customers, who bought both girdles and g-strings from me (I wasn't personally familiar with either culotte before going to work at Dillard's lingerie department). My customers taught me so much and, just before leaving my summer job--to begin my semester in France!--I received a touching letter of recommendation from the most eccentric, glamorous, and mysterious of my clients (see the "complicité" chapter--you can read it for free by doing a search inside feature, here).
No, I didn't want to go back to those jobs. Come to think of it, if I could somehow sidestep the employer thing altogether... that would be ideal!
I wanted more than anything to avoid a train-train or run-of-the-mill existence—especially in regard to employment, which represents the largest part of one's waking hours.
Self-employment, then, became my goal. Yes! Only by working for oneself could one experience freedom! Only by being one's own boss could one work creatively! Only by calling all the shots could one, say, skip out early for a double matinee, large popcorn with extra butter, and a coke.
Suddenly, I had an inspiration...
I could be a "girl Friday". Better yet, I would be my own girl Friday!
A girl Friday got to do a lot of things. No two days the same! Variety would be the spice of this new (if newly failed...) life.
I had a car, which was about all I needed, along with the adrenaline of a fresh warrior! Now all I had to do was to decide what I had to offer: what to put on my Girl Friday menu? Just what, after all, was I capable of? So far I had been good at failing a relationship, but never mind... time to pull up those bootstraps (even if the heartstrings needed a good tug, too!).
Let's see, what were my skills?...
I could help type up papers
I could clear out one's clutter room
I was good at washing cars
I might walk someone's dog?
I could run errands...
And I sure knew how to apply make-up! (Perhaps offer makeovers???)
....Not to forget that I had a knack for complaining—I had been good enough at it to "win" a one-way ticket out of France!—so perhaps I could offer to "argue one's case" somehow—that is, without having to go to law school. No time for that. I needed to earn some cash!).
I might not be skilled or trained in any one area, I thought to myself, I might have even neglected these chores in my very own home, but no looking back now!, there were many things I could do! and, in the doing of them, I might just forget, petit à petit, all that I had left behind in France. I might even forget him. (Would Jean-Marc ever give me a second chance?)
Bon. Never mind. I was set! All I needed was a name for my company" (My very own company!!!) But what to call it? It should be something French, non? Never mind my French dream had come to an end, all too suddenly....
Because, as Girl Friday, I would be proposing to carry out a variety of jobs, it occurred to me to call my new enterprise "Anything At All". Better yet, why not be fancy—and use the French equivalent! But just what was the equivalent? Would "Anything at All" translate to "N'importe Quoi"? I'd heard the term somewhere before.
N'importe Quoi seemed to mean something along the lines of "You Name It!" (perfect for a service-oriented company, non?), but I still had vague doubts about the actual translation. What's more, was it prudent for a 24-year-old woman to offer "Anything At All"? Even in English the meaning might be misconstrued....
Despite any doubts, I thought to go ahead with my business-cards order. I could just see the finished product! The card would read, in bold print, "N'importe Quoi!" and there, to the lower right, my name: "Kristi Ingham" with the title "Your Girl Friday".
Some girl Friday! I never even got around to my first errand: visiting the printer. Instead, I took the first paycheck job I could get, and spent my run-of-the-mill existence in a quiet airpark office, nursing a broken heart.
It would take another decade or so (a move back to France—which would come sooner than expected, and the foundation of a French family) before I would fully grasp the meaning behind "N'importe Quoi".
Today I sit here at my desk, a self-employed writer, and shake my head sympathetically at the would-be Girl Friday of two decades ago. What a mistake that would have been to call one's company "A Bunch of Baloney" or "Rubbish!" (I cringed when I finally realized the exact translation of my would-be company's name!).
And what folly that would have been, for that failed girlfriend, or girl Friday, to have offered "anything at all"--when what she really should have offered was to share her dream.
20 years later and I am sharing my dream... of writing and living with my French loves (family, dogs, friends and readers). Thank you so much for reading!
n'importe quoi = nonsense, rubbish; whatever
illico (illico presto) = right away
une culotte = panty
le train-train = life's treadmill
petit à petit = little by little
I managed to win him back... and to get him all the way to the alter in a centuries-old cathedral near the sea in Marseilles. Just look how scared he looks! Petrified! And I've got that jackpot winner expression on my own face. To comment or to read the comments, click here. (In all fairness, there is one more way to interpret that look on Jean-Marc's face: relief! His would-be bride arrived so late to the wedding that the priest was waiting for her out on the church curb, finger-a-wagging! I tried to put the blame on the cultural misunderstanding (see the marriage chapter, around p. 15) that had occurred the hour before, but there was no time to mess around. There was a French man waiting to marry me!!!!
Please forward this story to a friend who is trying, and sometimes failing, to follow a goal... and remind them never to give up their dreams! Il ne faut jamais abandonner ses rêves!
A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. In 2002 I left my job at a vineyard and became self-employed in France. "French Word-A-Day" has been my full-time occupation ever since. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation.
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