La Vie en Janice

This is Sarah’s next guest post — yes, I’m still having her do a few guest posts here and there because everything in our lives is in such disarray that I need some time to hunker down and get things organized. I’m not kidding, just yesterday I found soap. I’ve been using Jon’s male body wash for the last week, and honey, I’ve been smelling like a square-jawed hunk on the cover of a paperback romance. Totally wanting to make out with myself.

Also, by having something new posted, no one has to email and ask if I’m dead yet.


A few summers ago, I went to Paris with my friend Anne. It was my first trip to Europe, and I celebrated my 30th birthday while I was there. I’d spent the previous week without Anne in London doing lots of touristy stuff, which was a lot of fun, but by the time we arrived in Paris, I was a little burnt out on sightseeing. Anne had been to Paris several times before, and she was more than happy to not spend all of our days at famous landmarks or crowded museums.

We spent our days in Paris sleeping until 10 or 11 am, then finding a croissant and a latte and an Orangina and sitting in sunny parks, gossiping and people-watching. In the afternoon we’d go find a shop or gallery or restaurant a friend had recommended, and then head back to our hotel to clean up and go out for pre-dinner drinks around 9. After dinner we’d go for after-dinner drinks. I realize this sounds a bit lush, but we managed to maintain the perfect equilibrium of delightfully tipsy for hours on end, and really, what more do you want from a night in Paris in June? The fact that we happened to be in Paris and not sightseeing felt decadent, and in that respect, it made it feel so appropriate. It was one of the best trips ever.

One night, the last night of my 20s, our pre-dinner bottle of Sancerre and shared bowl of fries turned into actual dinner, and then we went in search of a cool bar we’d read about. We crossed over a little bridge on our way, and I looked down and realized we were passing over a cemetery. We got really excited about this, straining to make out the tombs below. It was so beautiful, and so surprising, and we both were suddenly very happy and decided that if anyone ever asked us where we’d like to be proposed to, we’d say here, on this tiny little graffiti-covered bridge over Montmartre Cemetery with the busy highway whizzing past on the other side. It was a life-affirming moment, being delightfully tipsy on a tiny bridge over an old cemetery in Paris with one of your best friends on the last night of your 20s. And then we met Janice.

We came to the end of the bridge, and there was a little map of the immediate area. We knew where we were going, but Anne and I both love a good map, so we paused to look and say, “Oh look, we were there earlier,” and the other preschool things you might say in this situation. It was more of an enthusiastic breather than any sort of fact-finding mission. But then suddenly, there was a woman beside us, a solid, 50-something woman in linen capris and athletic socks and sneakers.

“Okay girls, where do we need to go,” she said, with an expression on her face like we deserved a scolding but frankly, she just didn’t have the time.

Anne and I looked at each other, surprised and amused. We made noises like, “Ahh, wha?”

“Where do we need to go, girls,” the woman repeated. “Tell me where you need to go and I’ll tell you how to get there.”

“Oh!” we laughed. “We’re not lost, we’re just looking at the map.”

This didn’t sit well with the woman. “You’re just looking at the map,” she said, eyebrows raised, in the same tone of voice your dad would say, “It was broken before you touched it. Right.”

“We… just… like maps,” Anne offered cheerfully.

We noticed that a few feet away, a couple was waiting, presumably for this woman. They were holding hands. You got the feeling they were embarrassed for their intrusive friend but too timid to abandon her.

The woman still stood there, frowning at us. For a minute I thought she might ask to see our IDs, and say, “Aren’t you Dale and Pam’s girl?”

“Really, we’re fine,” I said. “We’re good, but thanks.”

She reluctantly rejoined her friends. I have never seen anyone look so deprived of the chance to tell someone else what to do in my life.

Once she was out of earshot, Anne laughed. “God, thanks but no thanks, Janice.”

This made both of us burst out laughing. Neither of us knew a Janice, but she’d tipsily reached for the best definition of that woman, and I knew exactly what she meant, just by that one word.

Everyone knows Janice. Janice is the volunteer hall monitor for the world. Don’t you know nothing would get done around here without Janice? The world owes Janice a favor without even realizing it, and Janice loves it that way. Janice tags along on her timid friend’s romantic vacation to Paris because you just don’t know about men, Susan. You never know what they’ll try. How long have you known Gary? Are you certain he isn’t a human trafficker? Janice is the woman in your office who never smiles, even if you just paid her a compliment while a baby coos at her. Janice is too BUSY to smile, because Janice spends all her time covering for all of your sorry asses. Janice sends out mass emails about how if people don’t remove their things from the office kitchen by Friday, Janice will throw them away, even though no one has given Janice this authority. Janice likes to come to your desk while you’re on the phone, wave a manila folder full of things you didn’t request in front of your face and sigh, “You’re welcome.” Janice bought a birthday card for a co-worker you don’t know and signed your name for you. “You probably forgot Barb’s birthday is today. I signed your name. You’re welcome.” Janice isn’t smug or put-upon so much as she’s a invigorated martyr, in incredibly sensible shoes. You wouldn’t know know about that; you always wear those heels. Well, Janice did that when she was younger and it messed up her feet and it’ll mess up yours too. Don’t think it won’t! Janice can give you the number for her orthopedist. You’re welcome.

Anyway, we got to the place we were going just fine, and had a great rest of the trip, without once getting pickpocketed, abducted, or even lost. And to this day, Anne and I use “Janice” to describe people. “Eh, she’s a bit of a Janice,” one of us will say. “Here, you’re welcome!” the other one will bark.

I love this sort of relationship shorthand. She’s a Janice, you’re serrated knife people. Instant understandings like this make me happy to be alive.

I do wish the Janices of the world the very best, though, because god knows I have no intention of throwing away that yogurt in the office fridge. Not when it would mean depriving them of so much joy.