Saturday, July 16, 2011

Artisanal is the New Pink...

Thanks, Georges...from Le Bonbon au Palais candy store...
I laughed when I read on an application for the Sorbonne that a letter of motivation had to be “manuscrite,” or written out by hand.  In an age where virtually every aspect of our lives passes through a computer keyboard, I had to hand-write a letter in ink on a blank sheet of white paper.  No lines allowed.  How backwards, I thought.  I’d rather just type it.

I ended up not doing the application.  Lacking interest in the program, or simply playing the lazy card, I did not want to write the letter and waste hours recopying and applying white-out.  Some people say this method is used to gauge your character based on your handwriting.  Others say it’s to test your dedication.  I think it’s just to get a laugh out of the 19 year old girls who still dot their eyes with hearts.  It’s cute, but at the Sorbonne?

The idea of doing things in an artisanal fashion, keeping to tradition, doing things by hand, is a hallmark of French culture.  That’s why you can sit at the dinner table and discuss food for hours with the French because it’s all wrapped up in tradition – it’s not just about the taste and presentation, but where it comes from and how it is made.  It can be a fantastic obsession, resulting in the best, homemade, handcrafted anything.

But sometimes tradition gets in the way.  

My new artisan neighbor...
For example we gripe and moan in lines at the police station as we wait hours for paperwork to be processed.  “Why can’t everything be done online?” we grumble as we wait our turn to meet with an actual person to discuss our files.  What we don’t always see is the bureaucrat diligently hand-writing our names and information into a giant human ledger the size of an atlas, marking our presence in this country.  It all seems so 19th century, but it’s how things are done.

Then today I opened up my mailbox and between the tire pump I stash there and last year’s Ikea catalog that I never discarded there was a small piece of paper that was seemingly handwritten.  I realized quickly that it was in fact a photocopy of a handwritten message that someone had put in all of our mailboxes.  It was an advertisement from Mr. Alain, the “new artisan in the hood.”  He was offering his handyman services to the neighborhood and had written this little message to introduce himself. 

By calling himself an artisan and using a hand-written advertisement, Mr. Alain struck a chord with me.  I could see this man, probably in his 50s, hand-writing his message and then struggling to get it copied correctly at the printer because, let’s face it, he’s artisanal and probably doesn’t even own a computer.  It was kind of touching and I would probably call Mr. Alain if ever I needed some repairs done in my apartment in the same way that I’d trust my grandfather before the guy from Sears. 

Who needs to reprint?  Handmade = cute...
I could never imagine seriously considering hand-written advertisements in my mailbox in New York unless they came from some sort of flighty student group or council.  But here, it’s endearing.  Someone took the time to handwrite this message – and eventually copy it, but still.  It’s a bit more human than an email, and a great marketing strategy in any case.  If Mr. Alain turns out to be some slick 30 year old with a degree from Sciences Po, I’d be surprised, but ultimately disappointed.  His white old-man hair should be appropriately tousled to match his mustache and there should be just enough dirt under his fingernails to make him look like a hard worker.  And he needs to wear overalls. 

I’ll guess I’ll wait until the heater breaks to give him a call and see who’s behind that handwriting…


  1. Wait! I'm still stuck on the 1st paragraph. Does this mean you're not going back to school next year???
    You already know I'm an old fart. Back in my day I had to walk ten miles barefoot just to get to school...ok seriously, barely no one used a computer in my graduating class in college. Believe it or not, I did many of my term papers on a typewriter (god was that correcting ribbon annoying) or by hand. My husband says the new generations don't need to know how to write. My 3 year-old knows how to operate my ipad better than I do! I digress. You strike me as the type that would appreciate receiving a hand-written letter from a friend or loved one. I like that hand -writing shows that extra effort and care has been involved. Call me old school! ;)

  2. Sorry sorry, this was all about another application at a different Sorbonne campus...I've been accepted to my first choice program, with a letter markedly less hand-crafted than most in France...and I agree, a little more care is nice. Old souls or just old fashioned...don't know which to call it...