In a world where things are not always what they seem, I rely on my anthropologists' trained eye to help me connect some very unlikely dots about what makes the other guy tick. The flaneur in me likes to explain why people do what they do based on where they live. It's a handy insight during our increasingly frequent cultural encounters
The other day, as I was cleaning out my cache of files, I came across the one I saved from a Bazaar Magazine piece written by Nan Talese recalling her relationship with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. As I re-read it, I realized why I saved it. It explained Jackie's French mind. I couldn't help but wonder, if we're enamored with our Francophile First Lady, could we fall back in love with the French?
American relations were strained by the French foreign policy recommendations during the Bush years because they resisted a hasty rush to war with Iraq. They wanted more time to let allow UN weapons inspector Hans Blix inspect for actual evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Turns out the French were right. There were none. More like weapons of mass distraction.
“What strikes me is how un-American Jackie was, and we loved her for it anyway. ”
So why are Americans at odds with the nation that gave us the Statue of Liberty and our founding principles of liberte, egalite, and fraternite? If we’d taken their advice, we have avoided much of the death and destruction in Iraq. In retrospect, our American “need for speed” and "time-is-money" mindset cost us lives and world respect. I can’t help but wonder, if we’d been more “French” during the gulf war – by thinking deeply, at length -- lives would surely have been saved and the world would be more peaceful.
“Relationships are more important than things”
Nan recalled Jackie told the restaurant not to bring the bill to the table, a subtle gesture I admired and adopted. I still do it to this day. Taking money out, means she puts people in, before things. Jackie thought her relationship with the author was more important than business dealings. If you think this is antiquated or charming, a whopping 85 percent of the world conducts business this way. Deeda Blair rhapsodized in Vanity Fair about the exquisite atmosphere of restaurants and you felt that there were delicious conversations taking place at every table. Now you go into a place and everything looks transactional. Bingo.
“Aesthetics trump practicality”
I always admired how hard she worked and how devoted she was to her authors. She was also able to balance publishing books that she knew had an audience with books that were for her own reading pleasure. I remember once when we were both on a break, getting coffee in the little Doubleday kitchen, and I congratulated her on having just signed Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. She said, "Well, every once in a while, you have to do something for the soul."
We are embracing a life quality that empowers people to change the impersonal nature of the globalized marketplace. One size doesn't fit all. It isn't surprising that to many that how much a like doing something is more important than making a lot of money for something that's not as meaningful. People are valuing the craft, authorship and provenance as much as price and convenience.
“Love of the Absurd (or why the French think Jerry Lewis is funny)”
Jackie never expected to receive any special treatment, and she would line up just like the rest of us when seeking a few words with the publisher. Though in the outside world she was always known as Mrs. Kennedy or Mrs. Onassis, in the office she was just Jackie. She walked to work through Central Park every morning wearing slacks and a T-shirt or a sweater. She sat at a plain old gray metal desk. One day on the elevator, someone approached her and said, "Oh, you're Jacqueline Onassis, aren't you?" She said, "No, I'm not!"
“Children should be seen and not heard.”
I parent like the French, and I don’t apologize for it (like them either). If you're raising your kids like they're the center of the universe, then they won't think you have an emotional life of your own. I think that kids being the naturally out-sized egomaniacs that they are inclined to be require you to offset that struggle by standing your ground to stabilize that dominating tendency. I would often say I'm not a mother, I'm a lion tamer, so I carry around a whip and a chair.