In journalism, a reporter is given an assignment by her editors, i.e. bosses, predicated on a preconceived expectation of the answers the journalist will receive and in consequence write a story that already has the preordained editorial slant the powers that be at the publication anticipated.
In fact, we learn through guidance, mentoring, a wink and a nudge how to repose the same questions over and over until we get the answers we want and need to keep the story on message when we set out to write above mentioned completely unbiased article.
Sometimes, no matter how clever one is at reconstructing a query, the formula doesn't work. At that point, the story changes, it takes on texture, depth and a human angle no one was anticipating. That's the moment, despite the generally rotten pay, one is glad to have chosen this metier.
Here then are the surprise results of what happened when I posed the same questions to French men as I did to French women last week:
1.) If you could have anything you wish -- money is no object, this is a GAME, what would it be?
2.) And, same rules apply, what garment or accessory do you long to own?
Most of the men approached the choices from a completely different mindset, thus making this one of the most interesting interviews I've done since this blog debuted one year ago.
"No," I said gently, "no one can buy happiness."
"Well, it's all I want. What can I say?"
"I don't know -- there must be something. . ." I pleaded.
"In that case," he said, "I guess I would like my own island where I could build the house of my dreams. It would be big enough to invite a few friends from time to time, but mostly I would go alone."
"And what about clothes?"
"I don't care about clothes, I don't need anything."
Alexandre: "If I could have/do anything I would like to write, direct, compose and play the music for a film. It would be about love and why for some it is so complex and impossible and for others so evident and natural."
And clothes? "I don't know, maybe a couple more Pringle cashmere V-neck sweaters in my drawer. It's comforting to know they're always there -- only in navy or gray -- but I don't need or desire any clothes really."
Louis: "I would like a collection of beautiful fauve paintings -- Derain, Braque, Van Dongen, Dufy." (Paintings above: Kees Van Dongen and Andre Derain.)
"As for clothes, my wife buys most everything for me. I think she does an excellent job so I would continue to leave it to her."
Jack: (I thought his name was "Jacques" until he corrected me. He explained his father was so moved by the bravery of the Allies during the war he decided to spell his son's name "the Anglo-Saxon" way.)
"I have pretty much everything I want or need."
After several minutes of contemplation, he said: "If I could have absolutely anything, I think I would want to 'buy' experiences. I would take my wife and travel around the world for one year. In every major city we would stay in a legendary five star hotel to make the memories have a present and past feeling to them."
Clothes? "A few pairs of J.M. Weston shoes -- they're the only ones that fit me well and if you insist, I would find a meticulous Italian tailor and have him make a new wardrobe for the trip."
Daniel: "I desire absolutely nothing more than I have." (Of course at this point, I stay on message and start to insist, "surely there's SOMETHING.) He pauses. "All I can say to you is if I could have all the money in the world to do whatever I like I would do whatever would make my wife and family happy. You see, I am a very happy man."
Clothes? "I can buy whatever I desire now and I can't think of anything I want."
Oh, 0h, I'm thinking. "No, mon cher, you can't buy love anymore than one can buy happiness; you have to give me, I'm sorry to say, a material answer."
"In that case," he said with a sigh, "I would buy a huge property somewhere in the middle of France, build a house, have all sorts of animals and live there by myself. I would always hope someone I love and who truly loved me would come along to share it with me."
Clothes? "A beautiful navy blue cashmere coat from Charvet for the rare occasions I might go into Paris."
Now I'm convinced this exercise is veering completely off track. I try again: "O.K. you are rich beyond imagination, you can have anything, absolutely anything your heart desires; what would it be."
He's looking at me like I'm crazy. "I am rich and I can buy anything I want and I already have everything I could ever desire," he said with just the slightest hint of exasperation in his tone.
"Surely that can't be completely true," I gently insist one more time (I've been well trained in technique).
Finally he relented. "Alright, I would buy one of those magnificent chateaux in the Loire, do whatever renovations necessary, live in it with my family and make certain that it remains not in my family, but part of the patrimoine of France."
"Merci," I say meekly.
Clothes? "As I said, I am rich and I can certainly buy anything I want in that category so therefore I have everything I want."
And now you see why this was such a touching, unexpected, lovely experience for me, and I hope for you.