petite anglaise

October 2, 2006

the office

Filed under: working girl — petiteanglaiseparis @ 3:54 pm

I think it might be the light-hearted banter I miss most.

In the mornings, as the coffee machine screeched and growled, grinding beans (or cockroaches) to make a near perfect espresso, we yawned, stretched and gossiped. On a good day, someone might have baked a cake, or some brownies, or brought in a huge bar of imported Cadbury’s chocolate. It was nine a.m. and I’d only eaten breakfast half an hour previously, but I learnt that it’s never to early for the first chocolate fix of the day.

Around one, a crowd of girlfriends fetched sandwiches and salads together and we picnicked while we moaned about the boss, or our boyfriends, or discussed the latest episode of whichever series was flavour of the month. On bad days, our collective silence was punctuated only by the occasional sigh; on better days we made each other giggle uncontrollably, and I wobbled dangerously on my high stool, tears streaming down my cheeks, secretly giving thanks to the French God of post-natal re-education, without whom I would have undoubtedly been in trouble.

The office was my main source of adult conversation; my lifeline. I don’t think I ever woke up looking forward to working – or that a single day went by when I didn’t swear at the sound of my alarm clock – but once I was there, my office friendships sustained me.

There are many things I don’t miss, of course. The distinctive rattle of a cassette being inserted into a dictation machine, especially ten minutes before I was due to knock off for the day and fetch my Tadpole. The constantly trilling telephone, which could not be left unanswered. Not only having to drag myself to the office in the mornings, but the need to look presentable, which meant tights, make-up and uncomfortable shoes. The tray used for taking coffee and tea into meetings, which was just too wide to comfortably negotiate the meeting room doorway. Photocopying; binding; typing accounts. The ducking, diving, bowing and scraping of office politics. Living at the mercy of mercurial temperaments and blood alcohol levels. Long periods of idle time which crawled by at a snail’s pace while at home, piles of ironing, dusty floors, washing up in the sink all waited patiently for my return.

As I sit in front of my computer, barefoot, clad in jeans, a mug of tea by my side, I decide that a little bit of loneliness is a very small sacrifice to make, in the grand scheme of things. Besides, I can get my banter from gmail, and bake my own brownies if the desire should grab me.

And when an email pops into my inbox from my new accountant, the irony of the situation in which I find myself is definitely not lost on me.


  1. Don’t know if you can apply US military habits to French companies (or English co.s in France), but we are always happy to see alumni at lunch time.
    Try dropping in at lunch and catch up on the gossip – you’ll give them a fresh audience.


    Comment by Alice — October 2, 2006 @ 4:07 pm

  2. Thank you for writing this…
    My similar pangs for completely different reasons made this a lovely read.

    Comment by becky — October 2, 2006 @ 4:14 pm

  3. As I sit here in an office situation which very clearly resembles your former one, by all accounts in many ways, I can only say that I do so admire all that you’ve done for yourself in the last 6 months — congratulations to you and all the best to you in the freedom and independence of the coming months. You took a difficult situation and transformed it to your benefit, into something a million times better…

    It took a lot of courage and a lot of hard work, and I’m sure you’re going to be an amazing memoirist! Your words here are living proof…

    All the best to you, always.

    Comment by Always Ace — October 2, 2006 @ 4:17 pm

  4. I know what you mean. If you’re lucky your office mates are like a small family. I miss it from time to time also. Actually i missed working in general. A year of unemployment starts to drive you a bit mad.

    Comment by Lux Lisbon — October 2, 2006 @ 4:19 pm

  5. Hi Petite
    If making perfect brownies qualifies me as a perfect man, you need feel lonely no more. I am here.

    Comment by David — October 2, 2006 @ 4:19 pm

  6. I thought I was the only person who spent the idle time at work thinking about all the things I could be doing at home with such idle time, but for the fact that I have to be at work…seemingly having no reason for being there at the time.

    Overall though, things happened the way they did for a reason. As for ditching the office scene…I envy you.

    Comment by Adam — October 2, 2006 @ 4:23 pm

  7. I love the Pro/Con to homeworking discussion – having worked at home in the UK and at home in Spain.

    But there are so many points on both sides of the fence that it’s easy to lose sight of the important rules…

    Take breaks
    Be disciplined
    Enjoy yourself
    Don’t get lonely


    Comment by TryingTimes — October 2, 2006 @ 4:49 pm

  8. Hi P

    Professional bookseller thinking about chucking it all in and staying at home to be a professional scibe.

    Every word of yours makes great sense – but the courage is lacking!

    Remember John Lennon gave up being the most famous musician in the world to stay at home baking cookies with his kids.


    Drew Mishmash

    Comment by Drew Mishmash — October 2, 2006 @ 4:52 pm

  9. The grass is always greener….etc. etc.

    When I work from home I sometimes go crazy from the isolation, but I get so much more done. When I’m working in the office I get irritated by the constant low level noise of being surrounded by other people.

    Now it sounds as though you’re making the most of your talents and education, rather than working in dull job for which you are obviously vastly over-qualified. Enjoy!

    Comment by stressqueen — October 2, 2006 @ 4:53 pm

  10. Lovely. It must leave a sweet taste in your mouth to be on the other end of the phone for a change.

    Maybe you could install a water cooler on your landing and you and any other neighbours who work from home could stand out there and chat at morning tea time.

    That cockroaches story is just revolting. But I’ve heard worse from a Polish colleague – an engineer – who worked on deep-sea fishing boats for a while.

    They set out on a six-to-eight-week voyage. They thought the water tasted a bit odd, but nobody felt sick, so they didn’t wory. After two weeks they switched to the tank on the other side of the boat to keep things balanced. It tasted sweet and lovely, so my friend was sent down into the now half-full water tank to see what was up.

    Cockroaches were up – thousands of dead cockroaches floating about 5cm deep across the top of the – now half-full – tank. He cleaned out what he could, but the worst of it was that they all knew that in two weeks’ time, they’d be switching back to the cockroach tank, and there wasn’t a damn thing they could do about it.

    I have also heard of cockroaches living inside electrical equipment like DVD and video players, where their acidic droppings can cause permanent damage.

    Comment by Damian — October 2, 2006 @ 4:57 pm

  11. I love my home office very much,too, and would never exchange it for a “corporate” one… Even crumbs in my hthi-tech (black) keyboard are there for a reason. The only problem is I now own many new-ish (H&M etc.) clothes I do not have to wear, cause it’s at home, so I don’t. I think there may be quite a few of them whose existence I’ve simply forgotten – it couldn’t have happened a few years ago when I was a teacher, having to look presentable, just like you…

    Comment by alcessa — October 2, 2006 @ 5:03 pm

  12. Hi Petite, that was beautiful. I recognize so many things of my own life and work in it:-)

    Comment by veerle — October 2, 2006 @ 5:04 pm

  13. I know the feeling petite. While there are many things about being a paramedic that I do not miss, (and too many memeories I keep locked in a corner of my brain, hopefully to stay there and not come out. “Here be dragons.”) I do miss the camaraderie. We were a tight knit group of people at the hospital where I worked, and depended on each other for survival. I also miss the absolutely absurd things that one can see with a job like that, and that make you laugh even when you know you shouldn’t.

    Comment by Dave of the Lake — October 2, 2006 @ 5:07 pm

  14. May the brownie-baking desire grab you most frequently!

    Comment by Antipo Déesse — October 2, 2006 @ 5:20 pm

  15. Hello,
    Have found you via Dr Peter Rost’s blog.

    I have immediately become a fan!

    I will to link to you……

    Cheers and good luck as a “homeworker”. Blogging in jimjams can be fun!


    Comment by Insider — October 2, 2006 @ 5:30 pm

  16. Sounds very exciting, whatever it is that you’re not telling us . . .yet! :)

    Comment by okdokes — October 2, 2006 @ 5:45 pm

  17. Now you’ve given me a reason NOT to move to Paris! Cockroaches almost stopped me from moving to Texas a second time!

    Hmm… but getting away from school politics and country fried steak (with cream “gravy”) may be enough.

    Comment by Wren — October 2, 2006 @ 6:02 pm

  18. What irony? They miss you. :-) Much good may it do them.

    Comment by fjl — October 2, 2006 @ 6:14 pm

  19. Yikes – I went out this afternoon and came back to over 11,000 spam messages on my gmail (500 of which had not got caught in the spam filter). Has the world gone mad?

    Comment by petite — October 2, 2006 @ 6:44 pm

  20. I hear you. I chucked my legal secretary job for the grand world of becoming an apartment building caretaker a month ago. My daily communications consist of the nagging building manager’s phone calls, trying to move on transients and yelling at people to keep their bloody dogs from pooping on our tiny lawn. I miss the comraderie of the office … the drones vs the lawyer divas, but I don’t miss the fact that I was losing my hair and developing a twitch from any quick movements or loud noises. :)

    Comment by Lise — October 2, 2006 @ 6:56 pm

  21. Bonjour Petite,
    I have always disliked working for someone else. You do all the “work”, while they make all the money and take all the credit, then sack you for blogging. Who needs that? The the best boss is you. Besides, you can’t beat working without shoes.
    You’ll do great!

    And yes, the world has gone mad.

    Comment by Mad William — October 2, 2006 @ 6:59 pm

  22. Great post! There definitely is something about office friendships that helps keep work sane. When I look at some of my closest friends now, I met several of them at work. I hope that you can stay in touch with the people that you got along with most and maybe get together for some coffee and sweets!

    Comment by Anali — October 2, 2006 @ 7:00 pm

  23. You are an inspiration to me

    Comment by Ida — October 2, 2006 @ 8:15 pm

  24. Your post is easy to identify with. I don’t work from home, but moved up to a position where I have little in common with my coworkers and am often isolated. After the camaraderie of my last position, it was a difficult adjustment to make. But there are always benefits to every situation, as your post makes so clear.

    Comment by ambika — October 2, 2006 @ 8:17 pm

  25. Having gone from 9to5 to entrepreneurship, I can relate to the office friendships and the void they leave when they’re gone. Great post!

    Tom Bickle

    Comment by Tom Bickle — October 2, 2006 @ 8:24 pm

  26. I know what you mean about office life, it can drive you mad but on the other hand it’s got me through the last couple of years: the ciggie breaks on the roof, bitching about the Mirandas of this world, moaning about the lack of desirable/available/straight men. Like children, we react well to routine & rituals: coffee break, lunch break, shopping break, Elle arriving in the Monday post – Friday at 5pm is the best part of the routine though…

    Comment by Kate — October 2, 2006 @ 8:54 pm

  27. Dear Petite

    Thanks for a great blog, from a Brit living in Denmark (21 years) I discovered this site whilst reading the Telegraph on-line (at work) and am now having to master the art of looking busy whilst reading the archives.


    Comment by Ailsa — October 2, 2006 @ 9:00 pm

  28. Yes there is the camaraderie of the office, but it is rarely true friendship. When you leave a company you learn that.

    The thing I really don’t miss about working for a company is the politics.

    Comment by Lost in France — October 2, 2006 @ 9:57 pm

  29. Hey you know what? I bet you could get someone to do the typing for you. All you need is a little dictation machine. They could work for you. If they had spare time they could post snippets of gossip onto a blog and….eeek!

    Comment by meredic — October 2, 2006 @ 9:58 pm

  30. Ah yes, the joys of kegel exercises. Sorely lacking down this end of the equator, considering the sales of adult incontinence products ….
    On the joys of being dooced, I happened upon this article via some software I decided to acquire :
    The acquisition is not sparked by a fear of an employer – I was lucky enough to dooce my employer instead. I ditto all the comments about the joys of being boss-less (and hence not needing the adult incontinence products for form of irritation inspired by said boss)
    Not to veer off the subject, because it seems children are a topic close to your and many of your commenters’ hearts, but we here in SA have just been through one really nasty criminal trial – 3 men convicted of killing a little 4-year old girl and raping her elderly nanny, and currently a silly twit of a woman who had her boyfriend’s 6month old baby from a previous relationship murdered, evidently out of jealousy. Children are an endangered species here. So when I read all your beautiful descriptions of your Little Person, I get a bit tearful and wish I could raise my own Little Person in a country like France …. it sounds so idyllic ;)

    Comment by Cat — October 2, 2006 @ 11:12 pm

  31. Please add directions as to abode of Franch God of post-natal re-education. Thanks !

    Comment by Annabel — October 3, 2006 @ 12:14 am

  32. I had the weird experience of being employed for several years, while all my work was taken away. So I got used to “work from home.” In the end I was the only person left in a very large building with my assistant. Finally they started tearing down walls around us, then they moved me next to corporate security. Then, they fired me . . . but they waited until I was outside the country, and called the entire US press. Have to admit I’m very productive from home with a computer and few meetings . . . first book (The Whistleblower) is out and second is coming. I’m sure you’ll learn to love it too, Petite!


    Comment by Peter — October 3, 2006 @ 1:29 am

  33. Is it any consolation that at least you have your (excellent) writing to fall back on?
    At least you can avoid the streets for a while longer.
    -Although once there, you could have your morning chat with your fallen street-comrades, I guess-

    Comment by Tina — October 3, 2006 @ 7:16 am

  34. I know that envy is an ugly thing, and I know that you have gone through the very rough to get to the smooth and that there are still probably some unresolved pains, worries etc, that you may be dealing with but I really, truly envy you. I’m so happy for you, and you deserve every bit of this great life unfolding infront of you. But I still envy you!

    Comment by redlady — October 3, 2006 @ 10:16 am

  35. I can understand that you are glad to have left!

    Perso, there is nothing more ungrateful and mind boring than the job of a secretary! especially when you have a degree!!

    Its surely a blessing in disguise and a chance for you to find your real niche – la bobo parisienne est rarement une secretaire -)))

    Comment by anne — October 3, 2006 @ 10:45 am

  36. Spam goes quite well with egg and beans.

    Comment by Murphy — October 3, 2006 @ 10:46 am

  37. Very, very occasionally I miss these things too, but then I give myself a slap and remember to thank God a thousand times that I don’t have to pretend to be sane and responsible any more.

    Comment by Emma — October 3, 2006 @ 11:04 am

  38. I changed jobs over the summer and it felt great coming back for a group lunch on a Friday. Having left Paris I was also amazed at the number of calls/e-mails I received from all my girlfriends. Will it last? Probably not but it feels good!

    Comment by May — October 3, 2006 @ 12:13 pm

  39. Can see that you would miss all the office banter etc….lots more time to write stories for us readers..

    Comment by heather — October 3, 2006 @ 12:19 pm

  40. Transition!

    Friendships — whether you change workplaces or countries — always take time to develop, to provide that sense of belonging. But they happen. It’s surely just a period that takes some getting used to — and maybe requires a conscious effort to seek new ones out to replace the ones you were just ‘given’ by virtue of desk orientation. Freedom’s maybe a little bit scary. At first.

    Comment by Puppy — October 3, 2006 @ 4:52 pm

  41. You know, if/when loneliness starts driving you mad, you always have the option of hiring out space in a shared office. It’s got all the pluses of office life and none of the minuses. It’s changed my life!

    Comment by céline — October 3, 2006 @ 5:27 pm

  42. If the French post-natal re-education is anything like their treatment for bladder weakness in later life . . . .

    . . and, you have an accountant? That sounds like you have income (hopefully) or have I missed something?

    Anyway, love your latest tranches de vie. You being at home is good for your readers!

    Comment by Sablonneuse — October 3, 2006 @ 5:58 pm

  43. ah yes, you want to get up to date on the press page, my friend.

    Comment by petite — October 3, 2006 @ 7:32 pm

  44. Hi petite!
    Just been catching up after not visiting your site for some time – as ever, the writing is enchanting and poignant. We can all identify with the ethos of your pen – from the daily round of camaraderie in the office or work place to the near impossibility of extracting any useful or accurate information about their day from your offspring – after 4 kids through school, we still haven’t acquired that parental skill! Keep up the brilliant and entertaining work – congrats on the book deal! Thanks for the read!

    Comment by dave — October 3, 2006 @ 8:41 pm

  45. God Petite, I feel a little out of touch despite faithfully reading… a book deal huh? I know it was in the air, but fantastic news! Congradulations!

    Comment by Jt — October 3, 2006 @ 10:50 pm

  46. It is the human interaction that sustained you. All things happen for a reason. I suspect that there are bigger things in store for you. Maybe the sound of silence will invigorate your creative juices. Dawn

    Comment by dawn — October 4, 2006 @ 4:52 am

  47. In reply to Petite #43: Yes, I have followed all the news since you lost your job but thought you were temporarily unemployed at present – awaiting a book deal or something else exciting . . . .?
    You have made oblique references to important happenings but as far as I know, no definite statements yet.
    Or have I missed something again????

    Comment by Sablonneuse — October 4, 2006 @ 10:40 am

  48. I have worked from home for most of the years since my currently 15 year old was born and much prefer to be my own boss.

    One “benefit” is that your official work clothes last for years due to lack of use.

    But I do find there are snags. The tendency to celebrate more than once in advance: the idea of the contract, the offer of a contract, the signing of the contract, etc leaving not much left when you actually get the cheque for the work.

    You have to actively organise a “work” social life with similar people, to compensate for the lack of chat round the coffee machine, though commenting on blogs, email and the internet in general help to fill the gap. And its good to be able to do things during the day on the spur of the moment, unless you become a workaholic and never leave your computer.

    And then there is the food problem. Always having time to have 3 meals a day rather than finish something you don’t want to do, rather increases the size of your waist. Or time to do the cleaning rather than finish the report. Or to mend the teddy bear for the 15 year old rather than finish the report….

    Maybe you should invite comments on the best ways to beat procrastination when working at home.

    Anyway congratulations on your book deals and look forward to reading the product.

    Comment by varske — October 4, 2006 @ 2:18 pm

  49. re:#47.
    OK – I’m thick -I WASN’T as uptodate as I thought!
    Congratulations! But you didn’t say anything about the bookdeals in your blog did you???
    If not, why not? That’s surely something worth proclaiming from the rooftops – and possible film rights too. Fantastic, you deserve it!

    Comment by Sablonneuse — October 4, 2006 @ 9:21 pm

  50. At the risk of being too obvious (which LaPA being a naturally modest creature is anything but) here is a relevant extract for those who don’t/can’t follow embedded click-links:

    Parisian Blogger Gets Book Deal
    September 27, 2006

    SOURCE:The Bookseller

    “Following a very competitive auction, Katy Follain at Michael Joseph/Penguin has bought Petite Anglaise and a second book by blogger Catherine Sanderson, paying a sum approaching the mid six figures….MJ will publish Petite Anglaise in spring 2008. Follain describes Sanderson as “a very talented writer, one that we are very keen to build so that she becomes a household name with Petite Anglaise and future books”.

    Follain signed the books through Simon Trewin and Sarah Ballard at PFD. Sanderson has also won deals with Spiegel & Grau in the U.S. and with Doubleday in Canada, through Zoe Pagnamenta at PFD New York. RCS/Sonzogno has also bought rights through Nicki Kennedy at ILA.”

    Talent will out, accountants will tremble, and I’m for the book signing in London, Paris and New York. Not in person, obv.

    PS Damnit, I’ve blown P’s real name again. Sorryee!

    Comment by Andrew — October 5, 2006 @ 3:28 am

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