Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense & Sensibility Paperback – Oct 26 2010
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About the Author
Mireille Guiliano is the bestselling author of French Women Don't Get Fat, French Women For All Seasons, and Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire. Born and raised in France, she is married to an American and lives most of the year in New York and Paris. She is the former President and CEO of Clicquot, Inc.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
LIFE IS LIVED IN EPISODES AND STAGES
In just over two months’ time, I was going to start my dream job: translator at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France. Then chance or fate intervened.
Six months earlier, my first serious position after college as a translator-interpreter and small-projects manager in the Paris office of a Swedish company had ended abruptly when the office was closed during one of those periodic tough economic times that leads to downsizing. I had worked there more than a year and was given a bit of severance pay. Quite a bonanza for a girl in her twenties. And it got better.
I needed a job, of course, and that led me to set my sights on the Council of Europe, which for young and innocent moi was the ultimate employer on my radar screen. I aced the qualifying exam and was offered a position as a translator starting the next session, in the fall. So, in the meantime, I used my severance pay to travel to America and Greece and on the spur of the moment took a last-minute discounted American Express weekend to Istanbul.
On a bus from the airport to the hotel there, a handsome fellow with longish curly hair, blue eyes, and a deep tan said to me in French, “Vous êtes très intelligente de voyager avec un p’tit sac.…” (You are very smart to travel so light).
I always travel light, but in this case it was because I had left my suitcase back in Athens.
I figured he was Turkish. He wasn’t.
He was an American from New York who had seen the same discounted trip from Athens to Istanbul.
He became my companion for the next few days, and then for another few days back in Athens, and then for another few days, and then I was hopelessly in love.
We wanted to continue our relationship, but he had to return to America, where he was completing his Ph.D. I went back to France. For the next weeks I faced what turned out to be the most important decision of my life. A classic: the job, the man, the city, the country?
Familiar with it? The country, the city, the man, the job. The man or the job…the job or the man?
Forget all my previous planning and dreaming, I chose the man and New York, my husband and home now for more than thirty years. I never took up my early dream of working at the Council of Europe.
So much for planning, in business or in life. Lesson learned. Things happen. Opportunities are often unpredictable.
Life is lived in episodes and stages. Episodes because they are roughly self-contained and somewhat arbitrary, at least as they relate to time and place. Stages because they evolve out of one another and are linear and in many cases inevitable, like adolescence or one’s first professional position. Business, too, is lived in episodes and stages, and it has a sometimes cruel way of disarming our passions and shrugging off some of our most prized abilities as commonplace or irrelevant.
One stage in my life began when I was a teenager in Eastern France and discovered a passion for languages—my native French, increasingly important English, and old-world German, then the preeminent first language in Europe (though no one outside Germany wanted to admit it). When we are good at something—and I was very good at the study of languages—aren’t we proud and motivated to pursue it and encouraged to do so by others? Sure. People who are good at music, dance, or athletics, for instance, fill their early years pursuing their gifts and pleasures, perhaps even becoming world-class performers or nearly so, and some even turn professional. But generally not for long.
My interest in language and culture led me to become a high school exchange student outside Boston, then a college student in Paris, and eventually helped bring me to America to be with my soon-to-be husband, Edward, where I worked in the proverbial fields. Early on I was a translator, including for the UN, then, following my passion, I toiled in the lowest of the low positions at the New York office of Food and Wine from France. Then I moved on to a New York PR-advertising firm where I leveraged my French heritage and a bit of knowledge to become a director of the Champagne Bureau, a trade organization and U.S. division of the CIVC (Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne), promoting the entire Champagne industry. That’s when—college internships and entry-level jobs included—I truly learned business and benefited from the fatherly teachings of the American owner of the agency.
It seemed like a risk to me to take that first professional job in PR. As I’ve noted, I had no training. I feared I would be unemployed in no time. Even sitting in my own office on Fifth Avenue with a secretary outside my door—Fifth Avenue in New York City!—gave me the willies at first. But then I discovered something about myself and about overcoming fears and anxieties.
Maybe you, like me, can remember walking into your first real job or a new position after a promotion and wondering whether you could live up to your employer’s expectations, whatever those were. For me, it turned out that some of my first tasks would involve public speaking and giving radio interviews, activities that rank right up there among people’s most common dreads and anxieties. I’d not connected being on the radio with the job before and had never imagined doing it. But my boss explained that I had an opportunity at hand and that handling the media was a responsibility that went with my new position.
Champagne is the traditional drink of New Year’s Eve, and a large percentage of annual consumption takes place from late November through January 1. Therefore, those are also the prime weeks for articles and interviews about Champagne. Over the years I have delivered the “how to open a bottle” talk countless times, usually during the last few days of December. Well, the first opportunity I ever had to give that little speech came my way just after I started this new job. I was told that I should pitch to radio stations the opportunity to conduct interviews about Champagne—and then I was to be the one interviewed, mostly live!
Let’s say (entre nous) I was “anxious” over the charge. I can still remember my hand feeling weak as a I picked up the phone to call the first radio station and pitch them a story about Champagne. I needn’t have worried, they wouldn’t take my call anyway!
I found dusty old pitch letters in the file. Now, I could have just blown off the cobwebs and sent those out to the same people who had been ignoring them since Prohibition was lifted. But I realized I had an advantage: I had an authentic French accent that people in New York frequently told me they found charming. I needed to have the chance to speak directly with someone who could actually make a decision. Just as a job application letter is designed to get you an interview, the pitch letter needs to be designed to get read and remembered—and by the right person—in order to secure you a spot. (And there are oral versions of pitch letters, too, that need to be polished for use on the phone or in person.) Also, I had to recognize that lots of pitches get tossed out unread (Don’t we now do that constantly with emails?). So, first I called to get the name of the current booking manager. That proved to be extremely important. (Never misspell a name or send a letter to someone no longer in a position.) Then I recast the pitch letters to that person, always adding a little distinctive French phrasing at the beginning of the letter. Then the real work began. Knowing in advance that the success rate would not be high, I called and called stations across the country. Then I called some more.
Sometimes people were busy or simply did not want to speak with me (part of the skill set for selling is the ability to accept rejection). Sometimes I got lucky, and people remembered me from the pitch letter. Sometimes I got very lucky and they called me after they got the pitch letter (obviously, in those cases my pitch aligned perfectly with helping them do their job and fill their slots). But mostly I called and called. When I did get through and spoke with a decision maker, including a preliminary one, I enjoyed remarkable success. “Oh, is that a French accent?” That’s when I knew I had them and that I had a good voice for radio. We’d talk over the phone about whatever they wanted—from information about their trip to Paris or my recommendations for a French restaurant in New York. As we laughed and built a connection—a key element in successful business—interview after interview got scheduled. And with each interview that took place—from sixty-second spots to sixty-minute programs with call-ins—I not only overcame my fears but discovered that I enjoyed being interviewed and had a talent for it. I learned the importance of doing more than is expected and that there are lots of good ideas in business, but execution is what matters. And you can be most effective when you align your special talents to the task at hand. (What is it that you have your predecessors didn’t or your colleagues don’t? Perhaps just a better work ethic or simply a distinctive and attractive accent.) Plus there are new approaches to good, old ideas, like the ones I managed to find with the pitch letters. To the astonishment of my boss, I did fifty-three interviews that first season, compared with three the previous one. It was a year’s worth of results in a few weeks, and it built my business confidence enormously. And it helped build a stage in my life and career. C’était le bon temps.
I could still be doing that today—promoting Champagne across America—what a great job. I progressed quickly to the head of the line to take over the PR firm with its various accounts when the owner retired, but instead I took a ... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Mirelle Guiliano understands her adopted country and knows how to impress us. On the one hand, she used her elegance and sophistication to good effect when she began with Veuve Clicquot and, yes, American women are rather intrigued by (apparently) effortless French style. On the other, "me + French = wonderful" can grow tiresome WHATEVER nationality is involved in the equation. While I'm sure peppering her conversation with French phrases is charming in real life (although she reminds us she is "equally" proficient with both languages) in a book it gets tiresome very quickly, c'est vrai.
But, ignoring the calculating branding (including the branding of nationality) and a bit of...hmmm...maybe too much self-assurance to be completely relatable, Mme. Guiliano really does have excellent advice for women. Particularly in American culture which can tend to the casual (especially with the younger generation entering the workplace) or the uninspired (note numerous political leaders who could all benefit from this book), specific advice about fashion--and more specifically, style--is very helpful.
I know some other reviewers have dismissed much of her business advice as common sense and maybe it is. But I found reading this book--especially the first half--surprisingly interesting and helpful. Yes, perhaps these are things I could write a paper about (mentors, proper approach to your work and workplace, actively LOOKING for opportunity and being prepared to take it when you see it, etc.) but I was reminded about actually APPLYING them to my personal life.
Time and again I made notes in the margins about something I should remember in MY workplace--and I'm not even in a business, but in a service industry. I think these reminders will be useful and will correct a few bad habits (of attitude) that you can forget to be aware of after a while at the same job.
She speaks from hard-won experience, has excellent advice well worth the length of a book (rather than, as many of these things, a magazine article), and her story is genuinely inspiring. "Women, Work, and the Art of Savoir Faire" is a good read at any stage of your career. For some reason, I found it hard to put down--odd, for a business book. Whether she wrote it herself or had (unacknowledged) help, the writing style is clear and engaging. I recommend this whether you're starting out at the beginning of your career or, like me, in the middle and need to ... reevaluate it--and yourself.
I was actually inspired by the wardrobe section to go through my closet, to remove anything that didn't make me look and feel great. I am inspired, when I go back to work next week after some time off, to follow her advice on dressing better for your job. And while I never appreciated the sentiment when it came from my mom, I believe the author when she says that seductive clothing has no place in the workplace.
One of my favorite chapters was on etiquette. I would love this author to write an entire book on etiquette. She confirmed something I knew to be true - the handwritten note or thank you card is really important. She also confirmed where your napkin should be when you get up, and how you should arrange your fork & knife. I did these things myself but saw so much variation in others that I wasn't sure if it was all in my own head.
Mirielle's tips are the all important ones. She concentrates her efforts on what she know works through the filter of her own experience. As a woman in a man's world, she breaks a seemingly intrinsic rule that should have been abolished over fifty years ago, but for some reason--perhaps some vestige of female insecurity or the jealousy gene--still exists, that being that women in powerful positions rarely mentor their up and coming protégés. Guliano decides to take on this role within the pages of her book, but also suggests finding a role model willing to share his/her know-how about and familiarity with their mutual place of work.
Women already in business may find some of Mirielle's advise a bit obvious: she tells us the value of good communication skills, discusses the value of dressing well without showing too much and confesses the truth that as a woman, working harder and most likely longer is key to gaining respect from the Boy's Club. Remember that Madame Guliano has paid her dues, worked at a top position and now has segued into her new life of author and lifestyle coach. She has lived the life and walked the walk and this memoir/how to may not be comparable to one of Lee Iaccoca or Jack Walsh's business commentaries but nonetheless it does stand out as a summarization of key items that will work in a corporate environment simply because they are classics.
As in "French Women Don't Get Fat" and "French Women for All Seasons." Mirielle emphasizes simple techniques that win every time. We all know these things; Mirielle compiles them for us and affirms them with personal testimony.
As food and wine played a paramount role in her last two books, this book would not be complete without a section on business dining which I found to be the most enjoyable portion of the overall read. Mirielle explains the necessity of proper table etiquette with tips on how to shine during that interview lunch or dinner where your potential boss scrutinizes your dining behavior as to how it fits in with corporate image. She delivers three menus for those at home dinner parties--all of which contain the essential simplicity in preparation and sophisticated arousal of the taste buds. For those who dine out all the time due to their schedules, Mirielle offers her 50 Percent Solution to eating to avoid weight gain--I tried this at lunch the other day and it worked very well--she utilizes a Zeno's Paradox technique where she divides her food continuously in half and then just eats the half. As the brain takes the time to focus on the infinite act of bisection, the stomach has enough time to trigger the brain as to when it actually is full. I ate less than half of my food and felt comfortably satisfied. Mirielle has come up with a thinking person's guide to portion control.
She ends her book with advise about understanding that the old feminist boast about being able to `have it all' is nothing but myth. Taking on too much equates with being stressed to the max where no portion of your life receives the full attention that it deserves. Just said.
Guiliano is one smart cookie--well, half of a half of a half of a cookie. She created a brand for herself while she worked for Clicquot Inc. and now she has enhanced that brand to promote her books and speaking engagements. As it's been quite a while since I checked out her website, I was quite blown away by the content that has been added since the publishing of her first book, "French Women Don't Get Fat." Indeed, Mirielle formulated her working persona and has now morphed that character into the star of her own lucrative niche. She embodies the idea of savoir-faire transforming into joie de vivre.
Bottom line? In "Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire," Mirielle Guiliano tackles the business world with her simple and savvy French style and adopted American know-how while staying skinny and enjoying a balanced life. Recommended.
Diana Faillace Von Behren
A lot of Guiliano's advice seems facile but in this day when some hopeful job applicants don't know to change out of their jeans and flip flops and strapless tops for an interview; it is time to go back to basics : "Don't overdo your eyes with make up." Or, "The quality that sets people apart in business is the ability to communicate orally, in large and small settings." Or, "Before going to bed, decide mentally or physically what you are going to wear in the morning."
This book would be a great boon for a young person without any experience in life or the job market, someone who needs to be told the obvious by a woman who was willing to write it all down in book form.
For the woman who has been in the work world for some time, this book will be clearly stating the obvious. And at the risk of getting nothing but negative feedback, I did tire of Mireille Guiliano tooting her own horn throughout the entire book. And goodness gracious, if you are not French, well then, just stand to the back, please, and make way for that marvelous lot of people, The French!
Probably the single most valuable line in the whole book for me was "if you're not a brand, then you're a commodity." She was talking about champagne, but I think it works for your career as well.
Now I'm going to stop saying nice things.
Boy, did I find Giuliano obnoxious. There was a moment where she describes herself and another woman in a business meeting eye rolling at another unfortunate woman who... Presented wrong information? (no) Said something stupid? (no) Was rude to other people? (no) Wore the wrong earrings? (yes).
Apparently the poor dear chose something too bling bling for her suit. And, I mean, who can respect the presentation of someone who can't accessorize? How old is she? 14? Have we suddenly found ourselves in the movie Clueless? She makes business sound like some kind of high school mean girl's club.
And after examples like her open mockery of someone's earrings, Giuliano *dares* to go on and wonder why women don't mentor each other. Case in point much?
Anyhow. I learned stuff. The recipes look tasty. But she made me so glad I'm building my career in IT and not luxury beverages.