The Importance of Narrative

Life in Paris is not always bowl of cherries, but it rarely goes long without a surprise. Most of the surprises are pleasant. A few are enlightening.

One of the more enlightening moments occurred recently. (I’ll be intentionally vague with details to protect the privacy of those involved.)

A young person from the United States was discussing their perspective and subsequent choices in life. The ‘narrative’ terminology used caught my attention. I’ll paraphrase what I overheard…

“I don’t watch television because what I saw was that they were presenting a fairy tale narrative that said if I just wait, wish, hope, or play the lottery, one day I’ll magically win a million dollars. Or that some benevolent authority figure will suddenly recognize and reward my talent. Like a judge on a talent show.

“The other narrative is how I need to buy stuff in order to have a certain life. To be a certain person.

“Then there’s the narrative of how I’m supposed to act. I act the way I act, which is not rude but nobody’s fool. And what I’m supposed to believe. People want you to believe all sorts of stuff. I believe what I’ve experienced and what I can verify.”

The observations were incredibly astute, especially given the fact that this person was, I’m fairly confident, under 30 years of age. I think their college experience was interrupted, but there was some serious exposure to high-level thinking. The vocabulary was primitive in spots with a flourish here and there.  In between, very few ‘uh’s and ‘you know’s and ‘like’s that plague many conversations.

Some serious reading had taken place, and, when they started to discuss certain business topics, clarity and insight were top shelf. (I’ve sat around the table with one or two ex-IMF/World Bank/private bank guys here, so I’ve learned to recognize the thought process of really smart money people.)

I think a rigorous examination of this ‘narrative’ concept is something we could all consider and benefit from. Being aware of it has certainly served this particular person well. They’re self-made, successful, grounded, and generous.

We’ll be returning to this topic in the near future. Stay tuned…

  • BGT


6 thoughts on “The Importance of Narrative

  1. Turn off the TV is key. The message of a lot of advertising is “you’re not good enough, but the problem is fixable if you buy this product”. Advertisers are very good at creating anxiety and insecurity then selling you the solution to the problem they created.

    1. Amy, thanks for this. I watched far too much TV the last few days. The mute button during ads helped, but all that time . . . I would have been better off reading. Which I’m going to go do right now!

  2. Off topic, but I just returned from Paris and wanted to thank everyone for the travel advice I received a few weeks back. I thought I would provide an “after action” report for those of you who might be planning a first trip. Obviously our host has much greater insight, but a second set of eyes never hurts. We stayed at the Hotel Du Louvre, just North of the Louvre museum. I was pleased with the accommodations and service we received there.

    This was my fourth trip to Europe. Each time we have visited one city for a week, usually with a day trip thrown in. I have been to Rome, Athens, London, and now Paris. Although my wife preferred Rome, I can say with certainty that Paris is my favorite. It really is a good representation of Europe, and you can feel the influences of both Northern and Southern European culture. Things that struck me:

    1. Food – French food is, on the whole, of better quality than American food. This is definitely true of casual dining, which is everywhere a step up from our casual dining. I think American fine dining has largely closed the Gap with the French, and while the French dishes were delicious, I think you can probably find comparable food in America pretty easily now days, even if you live in a provincial area like I do (Cleveland, Ohio). I did have my first experience with escargot. (I found it earthy and very mild).

    2. Fashion – The French dress better than we do. I ended up wearing mostly polo shirts, cotton pants/khakis, and comfortable white Nike tennis shoes. I did find my apprehension about tennis shoes unfounded. While the French undoubtedly prefer their tennis shoes to look less like “athleisure wear” and more like a traditional shoe, they were far from uncommon. Large numbers of men wear casual jackets / sports coats around town. And yes, the dark suits that Mr. Tully wisely recommends were common. I did see a few Parisians dressed in OMG style with Khakis, OCBD, and blue blazer. I wore the same myself for dinner a few times. Loafers on men were also much more common than usually seen in America. I didn’t see as many common themes in women’s fashion (and I am admittedly largely devoid of fashion sense, which is why finding Mr. Tully’s book and the OMG uniform such a God send for me). A lot of dresses. More modesty. Not as much skin tight clothing.

    I will say I stopped at a few department stores, and briefly considered stopping into Mr. Tully’s favorite, Charvet. The sticker shock I suffered quickly reminded me that I am, in fact, not an OMG, but rather an aspirational working class upstart. Being generally of the “Millionaire next door” mindset and shopping for my wardrobe from the sale sections of retailers, it gave me a new appreciation for the reasonableness of Brooks Brothers full retail price!

    3. Health – The Good: The first thing that stands out when you settle into a cafe seat and start people watching is how thin the French are compared to Americans. I would estimate 80% of them are thin. And not just “normal” sized, but model thin. It was striking. I’m 165lbs with a slight paunch, and I would be in the fatter half of Parisians. Even the 20% of French that are not thin are only over-weight. A beer belly. A woman that is pear shaped. They simply do not have the morbidly obese people that we do in America. Also notable was that I did not see one French man that appeared muscular. They were all very svelte, and with the exception of some members of the Gendarme, none had the “bodybuilder” physique you often see among the fit in America.

    The Bad: The French smoke like chimneys. Large numbers, both men and women, smoke. My wife is particularly sensitive and frankly, it was a major disappointment. The cafe seating is elbow to elbow with the other patrons. On more than one occasion, we would sit down, order a meal, and upon receiving it, have someone sit down 2 feet away and light a cigarette. It really detracted from the cafe experience. About half way through the week we started sitting inside the cafes to avoid the smoke.

    4. Over all impression – Walking the Champs Elysee or sitting fountain-side in the Jardin des Tuileries, one gets the feeling that Western Civilization has continued on uninterrupted in Paris in a way it has not in America. Every one is polite, well dressed, and behaving themselves. They seem to care more about the aesthetics of the built environment. No public drunkenness, no neck tattoos, no loutish behavior. And, despite the conventional wisdom of the French being “snooty” or feigning ignorance of the English language to avoid dealing with Americans, I found the French universally friendly and helpful. I twice stopped strangers for help, once on the street and once in the RER station, and both were generous with their help and time.

    Finally, yes, the tourist attractions were beautiful. I was particularly fond of the gardens at Versailles. The Louvre was a close second, especially for it’s architecture. The Mona Lisa, like a previous day trip to Stonehenge in England, was underwhelming. The Musee de Armee an unexpected treat with a very impressive collection of armor, swords, etc. Although an agnostic, at the Sacre Coeur I continued my vacation tradition of praying to the God of whichever house of worship I am visiting for a safe return home to my children. As you can see by this post, my prayers were not in vain! I hope some of you may find this helpful. Au revoir!

  3. Thanks so much for this report, Karl. I really appreciated all of your observations. More than once I’ve heard about visitors zooming past beautiful pieces or art in a race to see Mona Lisa–only to be dismayed by the small size of it, and the large crowds around it. I also appreciated your comments about the food–we tend to eat a lot of garbage, fast, mindlessly.

  4. Indeed. We are (sadly) sold number of ‘narratives’ that many swallow hook, line, and sinker with no critical thought process at all. Advertising and the 24/7 news cycle (on either side of the political spectrum) are only part of the problem.

    Karl, your reflections on Paris were very interesting and enjoyable. I noticed a similar thing during a recent visit for several days in Washington, D.C. Trim, presentably dressed men and women everywhere. Dining out too was a refreshingly civilized (and quiet) experience. A far cry from many other places out here in the provinces.

    Kind Regards from MIchigan,


  5. Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences and observations Karl. I much appreciated having a visitor perspective to add to Byron’s resident views.

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