In the world of flea markets where things are not always what they seem, I like to think that my training as a global readiness consultant comes in handy as a flea market fanatic . I rely on something called the 5D Cultural GPS that helps me demonstrate what makes the other guy tick. I end up connecting (some very unlikely) dots that reveal much more than “the find” at the f l e a s. The flaneur (that’s French for “people watcher”) in me ends up doing a kind of freakanomics of “why” people do what they do based on where they live. Nope, I don’t cure cancer, but isn’t the clash of civilizations the cause of conflict, from racism to war? Call me crazy, but I think that intercultural insights are something everyone could all use during our encounters with everyday culture, at the fleas, or at work, right?
So stay with me on this, the other day, I was cleaning out my cache of pics for a line of framed book covers I make called Literary Masterpieces (yes, on my Etsy shop) and I came across a picture I saved from Bazaar Magazine that was written last year by Nan Talese recalling her relationship with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
As I re-read it, I realized why I saved it. It didn’t just explain Jackie’s Frenchness, it prompted me to explain the French national character when Americans seemed to be perturbed with them (remember Freedom Fries?). American foreign policy with France during the Bush years (when we were, regretfully, bush) was strained because they were against our hasty rush to war with Iraq. They wanted more time to let allow UN weapons inspector Hans Blix actually find the weapons of mass destruction. Turns out the French were right. There were none. More like weapons of mass distraction.
So why are we so at odds with the nation that gave us the statue of Liberty and very principles that make us American like liberte, egalite, and fraternite? If we’d taken their advice, we could have avoided all that death and destruction in Iraq. But in our “need for speed” and the time-is-money mindset, it cost us lives and world respect. I can’t help wonder, if we’d been more “French” in our approach– by thinking and taking our time — maybe we could have saved more lives.
Re-reading that article again, I realized how French the new Green economy is that prefers to upcycle and reclaim over dispose and pollute. Digital flea markets like Etsy are at the forefront of this French retail legacy; we’re flea market fanatics going Green, Slow, Global. As Nan Talese thinks back on her friendship with Jackie, what struck me was what an Etsy state of mind Jackie had, which is well, kind of un-American (in a good way) and here’s why:
• Relationships preferred over deals and transactions
• Beauty trumps practicality
• Slow over fast
• Manners, above all
Relationships (or people are more important than business)
Nan recalled Jackie told the restaurant not to bring the bill to the table, a subtle gesture I admired and adopted. I still do it to this day. Taking money out, means she puts people first (Suze Orman supports this) and thinks the relationship with the author is more important than the business dealings. If you think this is antiquated or charming, a whopping eighty five percent of the world conducts business this way. Deeda Blair rhapsodized in Vanity Fair about the exquisite atmosphere of restaurants and you felt that there were delicious conversations taking place at every table. Now you go into a place and everything looks transactional. Bingo.
Aesthetics over Practicality
I always admired how hard she worked and how devoted she was to her authors. She was also able to balance publishing books that she knew had an audience with books that were for her own reading pleasure. I remember once when we were both on a break, getting coffee in the little Doubleday kitchen, and I congratulated her on having just signed Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. She said, “Well, every once in a while, you have to do something for the soul.”
Etsy-ians aim to empower people to change the way the global economy works. We see a world in which very-very small businesses have much-much more sway in shaping the economy, local living economies are thriving everywhere, and people value authorship and provenance as much as price and convenience. We are bringing heart to commerce and making the world more fair, more sustainable, and more fun. Sounds the Green Rebellion of the 60’s, which was characterized by the love of nature (“flower children”) and it’s verdantly ingenuous ideals. And so far, I have personally experienced the feeling of a safe, supported community place.
Love of The Absurd (or why the French think Jerry Lewis is funny)
But Jackie never expected to receive any special treatment, and she would line up just like the rest of us when seeking a few words with the publisher. Though in the outside world she was always known as Mrs. Kennedy or Mrs. Onassis, in the office she was just Jackie. She walked to work through Central Park every morning wearing slacks and a T-shirt or a sweater. She sat at a plain old gray metal desk. One day on the elevator, someone approached her and said, “Oh, you’re Jacqueline Onassis, aren’t you?” She said, “No, I’m not!”
I love the predominantly whimsical nature of so many of the Etsy items, yet they are also imminently useful and well made.
She never wanted to eclipse her writers, and her first concern was raising her children well . . . so we were very much on the same wavelength as far as bringing up children with manners and having serious intent with what they would do with their lives.
This is a very French mindset. Children should be seen and not heard. I parent this way (and like the French, I don’t apologize for it) because if your kids think they are the center of the universe, then they don’t think you have an emotional life of your own. Consequently, they, being naturally outsized egomaniacs, you have to offset that struggle by standing your ground to stabilize that tendency.
Now I don’t think that Etsy-ians are ego maniacs, but I do think that as far as digital flea markets go, they’ve eclipsed EBay, bien sur!
*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etsy: While much speculation surrounds the meaning behind the name Etsy, one story is Etsy got its name because Robert Kalin “wanted a nonsense word because I wanted to build the brand from scratch. I was watching Fellini’s 8 ½ and writing down what I was hearing. In Italian, you say ‘etsi’ a lot. It means ‘oh, yes.’ And in Latin, it means ‘and if.’ ”
** The word “etsy” in Greek means “this way” or “like this” so I think it means things made “like this” the (handmade) way.