60 minutes in California


Yesterday I had my first teleportation experience. My husband has been sick for some days now and asked me to go cover up for him at a conference he was really interested in: “How to expand your business in the United States”. I had stuff to do and tried to find a good excuse not to go. But I didn’t find any, so I got my pink Moleskine notebook, my pen, a huge cup of coffee and started walking. There was a snowstorm in Brussels. Or, even worse: a rainstorm for five minutes, then snow for another 15 and so on. The whole day. The moment I entered the conference building I was warmed up by a distinct Californian accent coming from a corner of the room: the main speaker – a San Francisco lawyer – was going through his notes with his assistant. Who, incidentally, looked just like Lucy Liu.

There was a weird moment when Lucy Liu came to me asking who I was representing and instead of telling the simple, plain, reassuring truth (My husband is sick but is really interested in what you’re here to say to he asked me to come and take notes) I embarked in a series of lies.

“Ehm…I am working for this…Y company”

“Great! This is my card, do you have one?”

S**t! And now?

“Well…I actually ran out of my office to be here on time and forgot my cards!!!” (How stupid do I sound?!?)

“Oh, I see. Can you then just write me your email so that I can send you a few documents?”

This is becoming bad. I only have a gmail account and certainly not one with the company’s name. I quickly text the husband to see if there is a info@ or similar general account I can use. He says to tell Lucy Liu that she can send everything to HIM. So, thinking that it is now too late to tell the truth, I go on with the total self humiliation.

“Ehm. You know, I just started this new job so my boss says it is better if you send everything to him. I ‘ll write down his address.”

And Lucy Liu looks innocently at me, with her big, black Bambi eyes. Yes, here I am, almost 35 and not responsible enough to be entitled to a proper email address or to be trusted to receive emails on the boss’ behalf. I flush.

Then Lucy and her boss started their briefing to Belgian companies, to inform them on how to set up a business in the US and, more specifically, in California. They were clear, and informal, and full of enthusiasm, talking as if everything was just possible. They went all American about that. And I loved it. It was actually so relieving that I could have cried. (And I would have, if I wasn’t worried to look like a complete and total idiot. Still an intern at 35, clearly not trustable and also emotional).

If you’re born an American, you probably don’t even see my point. But here in old, about-to-sink (continental) Europe, we don’t talk like that. We don’t give people opportunities, or dreams, or enthusiasm. We just warn them about risks, possible losses, dangers and we constantly tell them not to forget that they could fail, and that hurts, and is definitive and so it is better to stay safe and not venturing into unknown territories.

Optimism’s never been a European trait but since the crisis started, 5 years ago, there’s no place for anything but cynicism and pessimism. While in America the President gives inspiring speeches on how to overcome current difficulties, on this side of the Atlantic tv and newspapers are all about how this crisis is not going to be over for at least 5 years, which means no new jobs, no new opportunities, no better salaries. Politicians just tell people they have to pay more taxes, work 15 years longer and count on less benefits. It is actually depressing, watching the news.

When I was working as a journalist I was very young, and impatient. I was supposed to be available 24h/24 (which I willfully was, because my social life sucked) and to assist, support and never contradict my 50-something superiors. A couple of decades of good conduct would have been rewarded with a good salary, maybe a foreign correspondent job and some power over hopeless 20-something trainees.

When I got bored of this system and took a plane, I was heavily criticized.

“You had to stay, and to be patient. In ten, who knows, maybe 15 years you could have a good position. And travel then”.

“In 15 years I will probably be married, and have children and maybe I won’t be that excited anymore about working round the clock and travelling”.

“Yeah. But, you know. You don’t do things this way when you want a career. Be patient, follow your editor. Watch. Learn. Wait. He’ll decide when your time has come”.

I wish I grew up in America. Just to know for 10 little minutes how it feels to think that if you work hard and are motivated, there’re no limits.