Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Another step closer to 40!!

It was my birthday last Sunday. I ended up having a lovely day despite being in no mood to celebrate. Not entirely sure why I was feeling so gloomy - it went beyond turning 36 - but I'll hazard a guess that having to work all day Saturday and cancel plans contributed.

Initially I made low key plans - spurning the more traditional British plan to drink lots since I was originally expecting to be very happy on Vicodin following my wisdom tooth extraction - in favour of a tour of the Chelsea art galleries followed by French cream donuts at Pain Quotidien with Sara on Saturday, and then brunch on Sunday with a small group of friends.

I was really looking forward to a nice relaxing weekend, but unfortunately had to cancel my Saturday plans as a client threw a hissy fit last Thursday over an analysis I'm working not being ready, this despite the fact that the agreed deadline of June 22nd is still over a week away so it’s not even MEANT to be ready, but does that matter? No, of course it chuffing doesn’t. I mean, as the client, why on earth would I be reasonable and allow the analysis to be completed in the AGREED time when I can throw a tantrum, have the agency consultant work like a dog over her birthday weekend and get the report a week earlier.

Sometimes I REALLY hate my clients.

Ironically the client pitched a fit to my AD while I was at off-site training, learning how to deal with client conflict. Timely!!

The training was an interesting two day experience I can tell you. If I'm honest I'd rather have been working than taking the training, but it was mandatory. The general gist concerned learning to be a better listener with your clients, suspending your own agenda in meetings to improve your emotional bond and how to deal with conflict, should it ever arise.

As usual with these training courses, only some of it was useful, I especially wasn’t so keen on the role play aspects of it. I hate it when I am pushed into doing things like that. I get such stagefright and I'm usually so anxious about the role play that my anxiety is all I can focus on, and I don't respond how I would naturally if I were actually in this situation with a client, so then I get critiqued on an unrealistic reaction.

I also had to raise my eyebrows when they discussed how to deal with client conflict. Apparently when a client gets a strop on, you are NOT supposed to smack them upside the head and tell them to stop behaving like a child, no matter how much you really want to, you MUST suppress this urge. Instead you should ask probing questions to get to the heart of why the client is upset, acknowledge their feelings (I am so sorry you feel that way), reassure them (there there) and work towards a resolution (what can I do to make YOU look good?)


I had to laugh when half way through the session, Simon - fellow Brit and recent transplant from London to NYC - leaned over to me and whispered "It's very American this training isn't it?" It really was, although I was shocked to realize that until he pointed it out I hadn't noticed. Clearly I’m fully acclimatized to the American way of doing things after 7years in New York. However once he’d said it, I couldn’t help but notice and the two of us would roll our eyes and smirk at each other every time the trainers discussed ways to deal with a client’s emotions.

I was reminded of that piece from "An Audience with Victoria Wood" where she talks about having a new car alarm, "it's an American car alarm, it doesn't go 'wah wah wah' like a normal alarm. Instead it asks 'why did you feel the need to throw that brick through the window? Are you upset? Can we talk about this?'"

Anyway training and client tantrums aside, I did manage to celebrate my actual birthday on Sunday with brunch at Aquagrill in SoHo with 6 pals - Jacqui, Azniv, Melissa, Sara, Francesca and Nigel, fellow Brit and token man. Nigel was in his element with 6 women and we were in our element sorting out Nigel's love life over Bloody Marys.

Nigel's almost 47 - although he looks far from it, more like late 30s - and looking for the right woman with which to settle down and start a family sooner rather than later. He’s been a heavy user of over the last few months months, but hasn't had that much luck, never getting beyond 3 dates with any woman, that is until he met Erin, a 37year old dance instructor, originally from Alabama.

Erin and Nigel have now been on six dates. Unfortunately Erin has yet to put her hand in her pocket and offer to pay for so much as a drink on any of these outings, and it's something that's beginning to niggle Nigel.

Initially he didn’t mind so much, since this is typical of dating in New York. Men are expected to pay, at least for the first few dates. Beyond that, it’s acceptable for a woman to offer, although not necessarily okay for the man to accept, and this is where it gets tricky since this varies among women with some being completely fine about going dutch on dinner – a camp into which I fall, I’m all for equality, although it’s nice to be treated every now and again – and others who will offer, but not mean it - the fake reach for the wallet - and will immediately brand a man who accepts as cheap.

For his part Nigel doesn't expect Erin to contribute, he'd just like her to offer. He'd be more than happy with a fake reach; he’s just not too keen that she's taking it for granted that he'll pay and being treated as a walking wallet.
He's now become overly aware of it that he finds himself tallying up how much he’s spending on the gold digging harlot (my words not his).

It’s all oddly old fashioned to me, when I first moved here I felt as if I'd somehow travelled back to the 1950s when it came to dating. Even after 7years living here I find it odd that Americans so completely reject our approach of splitting the bill. I've been on dates with guys who’ve told me that if a woman even offered to contribute on the first few dates they’d immediately assume she wasn’t interested in him romantically and he wouldn't ask her out again. Then again I've also been out with guys who’ve told me how much they appreciate that I’ve even offered, especially when it's clear my offer wasn’t a just 'a fake reach', but that I intended to back up it up with cold hard cash. It’s very confusing, especially when you throw into the mix that more than 20% of New Yorkers are foreign born, not to mention all the ex-pats, and don't intrinsically know these dating rules.

The consensus on Nigel's situation among the six women at the table – two born and bred New Yorkers and four multinational non-Americans - was that by not offering to pay for so much as a round of drinks or a post dinner coffee after six dates is a bit bloody cheeky of Erin. We dithered over whether to make allowances for the fact that she's southern - apparently southern women are extremely traditional and expect men to pay for EVERYTHING - but decided that she's lived in New York long enough - over 5years - to at least know to offer. When in Rome and all that.

Nigel agreed and says that it's really starting to bother him especially as he's found himself being all too aware of what she orders when they go out to dinner - entree only, entree plus dessert and coffee, whether she orders the most expensive thing on the menu - that it's having an impact on their dates, at least for him, so he's decided that if she doesn't offer on their next date then he's going to broach the topic. He’s anticipating an awkward conversation and expecting the relationship to end. However he seems quite matter of fact about this, and seems optimistic that someone else will come along!!

I wish I could take on board some of Nigel’s dating optimism. I try, but it doesn't come naturally when things don't work out. I have a tendency to rehash the past way too much and question what went wrong even though I know I'll never have the answers. Moving on is easier said than done. I had a small lapse this week when I saw that the restaurant GS manages was FINALLY reviewed in the New York Times – they wrote to the critic inviting him to review last summer when he and I were still an item. The review was a huge deal for him and he was determined to get a good one, which he did, a very good review. It was published on my birthday of all days, and when I the piece online on Wednesday morning my stomach flipped and a few old feelings and resentments came flooding back. I want him out of my head damnit!!!

Phew!! I hate these small set backs in my, already lengthy, recovery, but hopefully this time it will be short-lived. Fortunately I have my parents arriving in town on Sunday, so entertaining them will provide enough of a distraction.

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