Journey Update: To Quit or Not to Quit

Il faut toujours viser la lune, car même en cas d’échec, on atterrit dans les étoiles.

~Oscar Wilde

(Always aim for the moon, then even if you fail, you’ll be among the stars.)

QUIT:

It’s a simple four-letter word, but when it happens, causes us an insane amount of distress, not to mention, inherent disapproval from our mothers and unspoken disappointment from our friends. It can be quite a dramatic event when we decide to quit something. “OMG! You want to leave your xyz!?!” Yet despite our guilty conscious, we’re not likely to pass up on a well-deserved quit. After some consideration, we quit schools, we quit jobs, we quit hobbies… we even quit people! Don’t like your job? Not happy in your relationship? No problem. Just quit! Toss that stress from your life! All power to you.

I’ll admit it! I’m a quitter. In fact, I’ve quit so often that it’s become kind of a past time of mine. As soon as something requires too much time or energy… *BOOM! “Peace out, mothaf*ckas” for example, I put together six memorable times I’ve quit something (or someone) and why I thought it was a great idea at the time:

  • High-school chemistry class (culprit: too difficult) *definitely had a major meltdown after this quit because at the time I wanted to become a sports doctor (I know, weird, right) and chem is a must-have.
  • Playing clarinet (culprit: stage fright) *my grade 9 teacher made us perform solo in front of the entire class for the final exam, which is basically a death sentence for an introverted-omg-my-hands-were-shaking-too-much-to-play-properly-despite-having-practiced-a-million-hours-beforehand-and-I’m-getting-anxiety-just-thinking-about-this teenager.
  • Teaching English in Japan (culprit: lack of inspiration) *there’s only so many times I can hear “see youuuuu” from students before I start to question my impact as a teacher. Haha… silly kids! o.O
  • Running/Swimming/Cycling daily (culprit: exhaustion) *I’ve always liked the idea of doing a triathlon. It’s definitely doable… it’s just so exhausting to train for. *newsflash*
  • Living at my parents’ house (culprit: not enough independence) *independently owned and operated since 2009, baby!
  • Numerous romantic relationships (culprit: all of the above… lol) *boys are weird and stupid. Duh.

Gosh! Now that I think about it, I’ve even quit this blog… it’s definitely been a year since my last post. Oops! Although, there’s nothing like a really good quit! It’s such a relief to let something (or someone) go after an intense internal struggle, and in return, focus on something/one new. I mean why continue putting your precious time and effort into something/one that starves you of energy and happiness!?! Seriously, what’s the point? If whatever you are pursuing doesn’t bring you satisfaction nor contentment, why struggle for it? Quit.

Just to recap for new readers, after I quit teaching English and left Japan in August 2015, I set out on a new adventure: to learn about the world of coffee, become the queen of baristas, and to eventually open my very own café with the aim of helping my fellow traveling souls. Simple enough, right? Hahaha, too bad that having dreams are a b*tch.

A year of wild globetrotting and hectic job searching passed by, and soon it was November 2016. After countless rejections, I finally scored a job at the French franchise: Columbus Café, finished a one-month training program in Reims, and started at the brand new café at the Marché Rungis in the suburbs of Paris. Life got crazy and I honestly couldn’t find the time to write since then. So, what has been happening?

Now it’s September 2017: two years since I parted from Japan and a year since I arrived at Columbus Café Rungis. I’ve returned to my old Canadian stomping grounds and have a little time to reflect on life in the coffee industry. To tell you the truth, I wanted to quit every day. E.V.E.R.Y.D.A.Y. Because working in France as a barista in a newly opened café is both a dream and a nightmare, and here’s why:

The Nightmare:

  • My boss: was, at times, very difficult to work with. You might have heard of the stereotype that the French are horribly cheeky, cynical, and haughty. Picture the flamboyant chef from The Little Mermaid. Obviously, this is an exaggeration, but as much as we hate to admit it some stereotypes are hidden under a blanket of truth and my boss was no exception to this stereotype français. Call it cultural differences if you must, but he thought it was perfectly normal to make jokes about my weight. If I munched on a cookie during my break, he’d chuckle and nonchalantly tell me to be careful of becoming fat because then our customers will stop coming to our café. He said it was just sarcasm after I called him out on his obnoxious humor, but still WTF, he totally overstepped our employee-employer boundaries. As for his pessimistic tendencies, he would refuse to acknowledge even our small victories; for example, one time I told him we raked in our highest revenue to date (which is a huge deal for a new business), another time I told him we sold out of our signature ice-teas, but he dismissed them with a “It’s nothing. We can do better.” I realize that keeping a business alive is astoundingly stressful, but you’ve got to have at least a sliver of optimism and positivity, or else you’re going to drown under the pressure and never feel content with your accomplishments. Above all, the hardest part of working alongside him was the shame in watching dollar signs gradually embezzle his sight. Because of his fixated concern of being financially successful, he slowly lost his love for the coffee world, shut out the joy being part of this world created, and became blind to its beauty of bringing people together. His obsession became so prominent that he kept tabs on the surrounding restaurants and would throw tantrums if he perceived them to be more successful than his cafe. Of course business is business, but when one’s happiness is fully dependent upon the amount of revenue coming in, one’s mood will inadvertently fluctuate like a middle-aged woman going through menopause.

 

  • My customers: could be critical at times. They were my ever-vigilant audience, and I their dancing marionette. Honestly, it was as if my every move was on display purely for their amusement, which undoubtedly, created an unhealthy cycle of stress, anxiety, and insecurity, which then, effected my work efficiency. Things got messy! If I changed anything about my appearance or if I looked tired or unhappy (heaven forbid), some of my customers would make a stupid comment about it. I couldn’t dress as I normally would and I dare not show my true emotions. Basically, I couldn’t be myself. So every hour on the hour, I felt the need to check and re-check my clothes, my makeup, and my smile, aiming for that delicate balance between sweet and sexy. In the end, it was rather emotionally taxing having to market myself all the time. “Dance, barista, dance.”

 

  • My experience: hadn’t always lived up to my expectations. Before I landed my first barista job, my mind swam with images of laboring in hipster-perfect cafes, alongside eager-hardworking coworkers, while making Instagram-worthy lattes, for my pleasant-considerate clientele. In reality, I worked at a café where coffee goes to die. Columbus Café is basically the “Starbucks of France”. Neither the baristas nor the customers cared how good ‘n tasty the coffee was, as long as it was served instantaneously upon ordering. So, there was no time or reason to add those pretty hearts and delicate flowers on top of our lattes. There was no time to explain the difference between brewing methods or the difference between coffee beans. “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” and frankly, no one cared. As for my coworkers, I personally watched 10 hired girls up and quit since the café’s inauguration (Nov 2016). I don’t blame them. Working as a barista can be monotonous as hell and the pay is abysmal. If you’ve ever worked in the food industry, you’ll know that we spend more of our time cleaning floors and scrubbing toilets than creating anything earth-shattering. We work afoot for more than 40 hours a week and come home with a paycheck that barely covers the rent. It’s a little disheartening. And then to top it all off, you have to deal with the ridiculous requests and expectations of our customers. “Can I have the cheese sandwich without the cheese?” “I would like an iced coffee with an ice-cube… just one!” “Oh are you closing in 5 minutes!?! Ok I’ll order a meal with a dessert and a coffee… for here.” Sometimes you have to laugh to stop yourself from crying.

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Of course, it wasn’t all horrible bosses and ridiculous customers.

The Rainbows & Unicorns:

  • My boss: despite his horribleness, relied on me to keep the café running even when he wasn’t around, and within 4 months, I was promoted to assistant manager. From taking inventory to balancing the cash register, my boss took the time to teach me almost everything about owning a café. When I first arrived in France, it took 6 months of job searching and countless rejections before I was offered this job. While other café owners were afraid to hire a foreigner, my boss gave me a chance.

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  • My customers: despite their ridiculousness, taught me about true French culture, and I don’t mean haute culture and hors d’oeuvres. The French, like most Europeans, are quite social, and in fact, they look for any opportunity to gather together and talk. Working the morning shift, I witnessed their longing for community come to fruition. Every morning without fail, people come together with one or two colleagues for a coffee. They talk about their families, last night’s game, and the latest political fiasco. It lasts only 10 or 15 minutes, but nevertheless they take a moment to connect with each other before they’re engulfed with the stress of work. There’s a real sense of community among the French, and within this connectivity is where the fantasized happiness truly exists.

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  • My experience: despite its disappointments, was a culmination of lessons learned, and were nothing short of extraordinary. It’s one thing to learn a theory at school, it’s an entirely different matter experiencing that same theory in the real world. For the past year and a half, I’ve had the pleasure of jumping head first into the revolutionized world of coffee. At first, I acquired a barista certificate from the Canadian Barista and Coffee Academy in Toronto and then additional latte art training from Café Lomi in Paris, Next I was also fortunate to pass a 1-month internship at Caffe Ficini in Rome, where I received my first ever behind-the-counter experience. And finally, I was hired as a barista at Columbus Café in the Marche International Rungis, and was quickly promoted to assistant manager after 4-months of very early mornings and hard work, all the while managing my café inspired blog and social media empire: Kaeru Domicile. Now with millions of espressos pulled, thousands of lattes poured, and hundreds of pages written, I’m left to ponder how incredible and once-in-a-lifetime these experiences actually were. I mean… I was on a billboard at one point. lol

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Quicker than I thought, my roller-coasting time in France has come to an end; a year and a half of nightmares, rainbows and unicorns. And now I’m left with the question: do I delve deeper into the café world in hopes of realizing my 生き甲斐 (purpose) or do I QUIT?

I know what mon amour would say, “TOUJOUR PLUS – ALWAYS MORE!”

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Quitting will never subtract experiences from your life. This accumulation of skills and knowledge will always be a part of you.

Journey Update: Doing Life the Hard Way et On S’en Bats Les Couilles

Tell them that this is the way it works, and I know better than them.

~Peggy: Mad Men S2E8

Panini poulet parmesan, s’il vous plait,” requested a customer. Being in job training for the past month, I knew exactly what I needed to do when a customer places this order – Into the Merrychef oven, the panini goes for 1 minute 5 seconds – the perfect amount of time to melt the cheese, warm the fillings, and lightly toast the bread.

On this day unlike any other, someone left the 15-tier cooling rack of muffins in front of the oven; not directly in front, but enough to create a slight inconvenience when opening the oven door. Feeling a little under pressure to serve the sandwich within a reasonable time frame, I quickly analyzed the situation remembering my co-worker’s infamous (at least to me) quote, “There are no problems. Only solutions.” Aha! Voila! It’s possible to fandangle myself in between the cooling rack and the oven with juuuuuussssst enough space to open the oven door and pop the pre-toasted panini inside. And so I executed the first solution that came to mind. A quick inhale of the stomach, a few awkward flailing of the arms, and an impromptu game of limbo later – slam! beep! beep! boop! – the deed was done!

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The scene of the crime: 15-tier cooling rack inconveniently in front the Merrychef oven

Feeling like the queen of the world, I began my victory dance only to be met by a wholly entertained chuckle from my fellow barista & trainer, Charlemagne who just so happened to be watching this whole fiasco go down. “You always do life the hard way, don’t you?” Then with the littlest of effort, he rolled the cooling rack away from the oven, leaving a large margin of space to manoeuver around freely; no limbo required.

And this, my friends, is how I approach life – attacking problems with solutions that seem convenient at the time, but require the most effort in the long run, not because I’m incapable of considering more convenient solutions, but because challenge & curiosity have been my dear companions for many years. That’s probably how I ended up where I am today – on an epic café journey around the world with very limited funds and resources… because why not!?! Why not take the road less traveled despite the gargantuan potholes? Call me crazy, but it’s the best opportunity to test your survival skills, and if you fall… just get up, dust yourself off, and look for other possibilities. What’s the worst that could happen?

And you? How do you approach life’s daily challenges? I have a feeling you take the road less traveled, too. 😉

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Columbus Cafe & Co in Reims

Just a quick update about what’s been going on in coffeeland chez Nicole.

 

As I mentioned in my last post, I found a job as a barista at Direction Coffee – a 3rd wave establishment (think hipster style café) – the brainchild of 2nd wave institution (think Starbucks)– Columbus Café & Co. This soon-to-be-opened coffeeshop is located in Paris’ Marché International de Rungis– the largest wholesale food market in the world.

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Columbus Cafe’s trademark muffins

However since the Rungis location doesn’t open its doors until Nov 7th, my job training was held at another Columbus Café franchise in champagne city, Reims (1.5 hour drive from Paris) from Sept 26th to Oct 29th. To say the training was an amazing experience would be an understatement. I mean…. just look at how cute my coworkers are!

AND Look at these 15 essential life lessons I’ve learned:

  1. A boss who micromanages is like getting popcorn kernels stuck in your teeth. They’re horribly annoying and it left unattended can cause major problems down the road.
  2. If you are stressed, I will be stressed. Bref.
  3. Sex jokes are the same in EVERY language. No subtitles required.
  4. Anyone can work a coffee machine, but not everyone can make a good cup of coffee.
  5. I can give quality work or quantity of work, but never both. I prefer to give the former.
  6. People are not always rainbow-pooping unicorns. Some people take advantage of your open trust policy, even to the point where they steal your stuff. Respect for people and their property is a lost virtue.
  7. For the first time in my life, I UNLOCKED MY BEAST MODE in public!!!! I used direct communication instead of passive aggressiveness in the face of a confrontation. It wasn’t so scary after all even in a second language. Take that, shy & awkward Nicole! Booya!
  8. I thought all French people were slim, fashionable, well-reserved, eloquent demi-gods… and then, I left Paris… o.O
  9. Customers are so weird and wonderful and the best part of my job.
  10. If you smile genuinely, 98% of customers will return your smile. The other 2% are those rainbow-less pooping non-unicorns.
  11. Being told “Your English is pretty good” by tourists is the most undeserving compliment I’ve ever received. But thank you, it comes naturally to me.
  12. There is nothing funnier than a customer tripping on a step and spilling a large hot chocolate and a large chocolate milkshake all over the wall and down the stairs… especially when the house is packed and the queue is out the door. Right, Charlemagne!?!?! 😉
  13. All of my coworkers can successfully serve non-French customers in English despite taking only a few English classes during their early school years. It’s kind of impressive.
  14. My coworkers at Columbus Café Reims are definitely the coolest cats in coffeeland. My heart shattered into a thousand pieces and I cried like a baby when I had to say goodbye to them… Ok… I was also a little tipsy at the time… but golly wow, it’s not every day that you work with lovely ladies & gents who start Disney singalongs at work et nous nous en bats les couilles!
  15. No one in France knows what a barista is.

So often when I tell people that I’m a barista, they have no idea what that means.I’m sure you already know, but just so you know…

 

What is a barista?

A barista is an artist and a scientist who just so happens to specialize in serving coffee. We create coffee (and non-coffee) based beverages, invent new recipes, design pretty latte art, and entertain customers (sometimes in multiple languages). At the same time, we taste, roast, grind, and weigh the coffee beans to precise measurements in order to create a formula for the perfect espresso. Yes, there is a formula. Then, we have to foam the milk to the perfect degree and texture. Throughout the day, we religiously check the temperature of the water/milk/pitchers/cups, the flow rate of water/espresso, and the grind/colour/taste of the espresso. If something is off, we must find the cause and change it. We aim for consistency and quality – A great cup of coffee. Every. Single. Shot.

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Moi in my barista uniform ready to make some killer coffee

What skills and knowledge are necessary?

Just a love of coffee and an eagerness to explore the world of coffee. As well, having a soft spot for people is always a nice touch because you kind of have to deal with them a lot.

 

Next Steps:

The leaves are changing colour and beginning to fall. Time to pack my bags and move on. I moved back to Paris on Sunday (Oct 30th) and start the next part of the journey at Direction Coffee tomorrow (Nov 2nd). Allez-y!

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HAPPY HALLOWEEN from everyone at Columbus Cafe

“Whatever makes coffee grow, I’m into that.”

~Karlos

Journey Update: Sprinting Through a Marathon

Once I was 20 years old… I only see my goals. I don’t believe in failure. Cause I know the smallest voices can make it major… Once I was 20 years old.

They say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade – But what if you’d rather make coffee? Chasing your dreams is kind of like that. You finally find that one thing that fills your soul and lifts your spirit. It’s your purpose, drive, destiny, higher calling, or whatever you want to call it. So inevitably, you pursue it like a dog chases a stick. Then Life, like the sick freak she is, sends you lemons when you’ve already invested in milk, sugar, and a coffee cup.

FIRST, LE DRAMA

At the end of June, life was finally playing in my favor. I scored a rendez-vous at a well-known Parisian café (talk about sweet deals), aced the interview, and was invited to return for a trial-run. (In France, new employees are given a trial run, which can last anywhere from one day to 3 months, wherein the employer can observe your work ethic, but can also fire you at anytime.) “Super! I’m set for my year in Paris,” I thought, “Just have to impress the socks off them at the trial-run.” In preparation, I went back to the café a few times to watch the baristas work, taking note of all the important service phrases and coffee lingo they used. In my mind, I was ready!

Then the day before the trial-run,…

They cancelled.

Just my luck, they hired someone else with more café experience, and I’m sure their lemonade tasted real good that day. Needless to say, I was devastated, and frustrated, and exhausted. (Siiiiiigh…. having dreams suck! *grumble)

So, I packed my bags, wrote a small (?) tantrum on FB, and ran away from soul-crushing Paris to my family in Lübeck, Germany.

I know. So melodramatic!

There I spent 12 glorious days recharging from and re-evaluating my 生き甲斐. (Siiiigh… damn dreams! *grumble) Spending 12 days with this awesome sista-from-another-mista also helped with recuperation. For the purposes of this article, I will call her Katniss [but with a C because of my tendency to match the first letters of the real & fictional names] because although she hasn’t killed anyone (that I know of), Catniss has the same level of badassery as the HG character; she isn’t afraid of anything. Only 11 years old, and yet she participates in triathlons just for fun; loves paddle-boarding, skateboarding, climbing trees, and unicycling; she’s also killer with a bow-and-arrow, speaks 3 languages, has traveled all over Scandinavia & Germany, cooks like a boss, and quit the Scouts because they weren’t badass enough. Oh yea, and she loves dragons. This chicka is fierce! Honestly, where was she when I was a kid!?!?!

Needless to say after a week and a half of romping around town/the German wilderness with Catniss, I’m feeling relaxed, motivated, and ready to take on the world. But first, some heartfelt appreciation.

THANK YOUs

After my slight (?) FB outburst of failed dreams and general disdain for having dreams in the first place (Siiiiigh… those mf dreams! *grumble), I was moved by your steady outpour of pure empathy, generous assistance, and wildly good advice. From someone who battles with depression and who thinks traveling alone for a long period of time is a good idea (I honestly don’t know where i get these smart (?) ideas), your words are the light when I’m in a dark place and the hand that reaches out when I’ve fallen down. I’m truly thankful.

Of course, I won’t name any names because you know who you are. Well…, I will name one name for the sake of his future success. My dearest friend, Reginald, who for some reason wouldn’t let me refer to him as Renly ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (Why? I don’t know.), gave my resume a proper makeover. Honestly, it’s gleaming! Ergo, to all of his future employers and clients who are google stalking him atm, you can rest easy knowing your resume/your trust is in the right hands. He’s DA MAN!

NEXT STEPS TOWARDS WORLD DOMINATION

So, about my dream/purpose/whatever. (Siiigh… stupid dreams *grumble). What to do!?!

  1. At this very moment, I’m on my way to la bella Roma (34 hours via bus & train from Lübeck because I have no money) where my dear friend Sebastien graciously set up a-can’t-miss opportunity for me. I will spend the next two weeks learning to make Italian coffee in an Italian café in the traditional Italian way. Thanks for the coffee beans, Life! By the way, I can’t stress how awesome Couchsurfing is. I met Sebastien through CS. So if you want to globalize your network for free, CS = international connections.
  2. After a short jaunt in Rome, I will stop in Basel to visit my dear friend Pascal & his family, and to celebrate National Switzerland Day. I also met Pascal through CS.
  3. Then, back to Lübeck for the rest of the summer to help my famjam with landscaping & gardening whilst admiring Catniss’ badassery and learning Spanish from their Chilean employee. (I never realized how little Spanish I knew up to this point. Little as in two words – I’m sorry Spanish speaking friends. I should have made more of an effort to learn from you.) I’m also thinking about asking the owner of ONE Fairtrade, Aykut, if I can volunteer in his café for a few hours here and there. Italian coffee. Check. German coffee. Check.
  4. At the risk of wasting a 1-year visa, I’ll head back to France before the end of the summer. Either I could return to Paris and give it another shot or my dear friend Katriona has a friend who lives in the south of France and might be able to introduce me to a cafe there. Small town living or big city dreaming. Who knows? We’ll see.

Either way, I need to learn to take life as it comes with its highlights and lowlights, enjoying each day for what it is. Nothing more; nothing less. Pure contentment. No point in sprinting through a marathon.

Now back to my duoLingo studies (i.e., French, German, and Italian for logistical reasons, and Portuguese <– this one is all my Brazilian friend’s fault; obrigada, Brazil [his nickname – long story]). I’m still waiting for Japanese to become available, but either way, I will shamelessly advertise for duoLingo when learning une autre langue. First introduced to me by Dante, it’s free and fantastic; great for vocab acquisition & review, listening & speaking practice, and translating to & from English. And when you want to learn every Portuguese swear word, I’ll hook you up with Brazil.

Manda ver! [Bring it on!]

Challenge? Yes, please.

~Nicole Snobelen (owner of clothing brand, Evelyn by Nicole Snobelen, founder of The Abby Fund & one of my greatest cheerleaders)

A SHORT BUNNY TRAIL WITH LONG CONSEQUENCES

BLM vs ALM

As much as I like to poke fun of the #AllLivesMatter & #BlackLivesMatter dribble that I see on my FB Newsfeed, this racial war is deep-down not about the labels. [I talk about the dangers of label use in more detail in another post here] Whether you call it #ALM or #BLM, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the people whom #BlackLivesMatter are representing are suffering because they’ve been mistreated by our blindly oppressive society for far too long. Therefore, contrary to its name, BLM is not about a division or supremacy of race. It’s an outcry for help, and we, people of privilege, need to do something about it because we are the ones with the blind power.

Don’t believe me? Today, I went through the national border between Germany and Switzerland, and even though I didn’t show my passport to the guard (because I absentmindedly left it in my luggage under the bus), he let me cross with a simple, “Oh, no problem!” No one else was offered the same leniency. THAT, my friends, is #whiteprivilege.

Ergo, please don’t get distracted by the labels when you are forming/expressing your opinion about BLM or ALM. It’s not about you and your self-pity of being unfairly perceived of as racist oppressors (even though we unknowingly are). So please don’t pretend that you are the victim.

If someone fell in front of you, you wouldn’t dismiss them because you don’t like the brand of their shirt. Would you!?! You would help them because they are hurt. It’s not about you and your perceived taste in shirts. Simple.

Thus the next time I see ALM or BLM hashtags followed by some pathetic whining about the unfair judgement against the privileged party or undeserved justice of the marginalized party, I WILL cross the nearest ocean, find you, and I WILL hug you…

…and hug you

…and hug you

…so tight

…until you swear to be more empathetic and less of a self-seeking victim (I would use another word, but I promised my father I wouldn’t swear as much in my blog).Yes, I just threatened you with hugs.

That, or I will team up with my culturally diverse & representative social media hounds and hunt you down. *cough Chris & Larisa *cough [Oh wait! You need cool GoT names.] *cough Sandor Clegane & Lyanna Mormont *cough

As always, thank you for reading.

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