Bonjour!

It's not the style that motivates me, as much as an attitude of openness that I have when I go into a project.

- Herbie Hancock
I grew up in the Midwest where you smile and say “hello” to every person you pass on the street. You bake cookies for a new neighbor, and when someone comes to town to visit, you drive out to the airport to pick them up.

I took all of this thinking with me when I moved to Paris, France for a short study abroad program during my college years. To say that I was excited to study at L’Universite de Paris-Sorbonne (!!!) was an understatement. I don’t think I was able to sleep for at least a month leading up to my departure. I had studied French in my little town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa for four years and I couldn’t wait for the experience to speak French with real French people.

My first day of school, I walked into Le Metro with my perfect French-looking scarf, purchased at a street market the weekend before, and wrapped around my neck just like all the regulars in France and greeted all of the Metro passengers with a big smile, head nod and hand wave accompanied with a very loud and musical, BONJOOOOOUR!!!!

I was so happy to have arrived.

It didn’t take me more than a week to learn that if I wanted to fit into France, I needed to speak more softly, avoid eye contact and wear a frown while walking down the street. It was hard to turn off my curiosity and passion for life so that I wouldn’t stick out, but I was happy that my zest for life returned when I returned home.

Years later, I would learn that my curiosity and passion for life would get me further than any frown and perfectly tied stylish scarf.

********

Throughout my life, I’d always had a silent dream to write a book. Not fiction or poetry, but some type of book that would be interesting and connected to the things I was interested in. I never had any idea how this would all come together and in fact I did nothing to make it happen. I never took a class on writing and I never pursued seminars, workshops or conferences on book writing. I wasn’t even a very good writer. I just knew, in my heart, that some day, some how, I wanted to write a book.

At some point later, I had volunteered on a committee to support a regional conference. I was a last minute addition to the committee and in charge of lining up the keynote speakers-- the guy who had been in charge, had disappeared. There was no time to waste when I took on this new role—the promotions needed to go out the following week. The fact that I was naïve worked to my advantage and I had no doubt that we could line up the speakers within the week.

“Who would you like as our keynote speaker?” I asked the committee, pen and paper in hand, ready to take serious notes about their ideas.

They told me the person they’d really love to have and then laughed saying, there was no chance we’d be able to get him to speak at our event given the timeframe and small budget we had available.

“What’s his telephone number?” I asked.

“You’ll never reach him” is what I was told when they gave hime his number. "He's in demand. He's published nearly 50 books and travels all over the world. Good luck setting getting him on the phone. You better have a back-up plan. You'll never reach him--bonne chance!" were their parting words as I left the meeting.

The next day, I nervously practiced the voice message I’d leave while I dialed his number, confident only that I wouldn’t reach him.

He answered on the second ring.

Not really thinking he’d actually answer his phone, I nearly shouted BONJOUR! but said hello instead. After talking through our request, the dates, topic of presentation and his fees, by the end of the phone call, we had our keynote speaker.

When the conference was here and our keynote speaker was to arrive, I drove to the airport to pick him up. For the next three days, I followed our keynote speaker everywhere. I made sure he had water, got him a snack, checked that he was happy with his accommodations, ensured that his meeting room and set-up was working properly and chatted with him to make sure he felt comfortable. If he had an easy way to accommodate it, I would have made a nice plate of fresh-baked cookies. Of course, I drove him to the airport at the end of the conference—an alternative plan never even crossed my mind.

Today, and now being a traveling speaker myself, I know that usually, this hospitality rarely happens. Instead, I end up on a flight that is inconvenient and usually delayed. Many times, my bag gets lost, no one greets me at the airport and I know I need to show up the morning of my event, ready to deliver with a smile and lots of energy, in spite of the fact that I’m jet-lagged, hungry, everyone speaks a different language, the technology isn’t working and I feel a little bit lonely.

But, I never knew about this the day I picked up our keynote speaker, Jack, from the airport. I was just focused on making sure he felt comfortable and welcomed. It’s just what you do, when you are from the Midwest and I wanted him to experience my style of: BONJOOOOOUR!!!!

Three days later, as I dropped Jack off at the airport, he gave me a giant stack of his books and said in his polite way that we ought to write a book together, someday. In retrospect, I believe he was just being kind, but my zest and passion for life being what it is, I was on the phone to his office the following week to discuss the plans for our book.

Though it took a few years, we did write that book--- and, I was reminded again that genuine enthusiasm, openness, a little bit of naivete, along with a sincere desire to accept someone, may never help me fit in to what's expected, but it is guaranteed to welcome greater opportunities than simply blending in.

© 2011 Lisa Ann Edwards