the smell of my desperation has become a stench

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.

  • sgpgal

    2010/07/09 at 3:21 pm

    My mother-in-law, Janice, is so not a Janice. Thank goodness.

  • emah

    2010/07/09 at 3:21 pm

    Oh, thank you! That’s a wonderful sort of description. I’m going to make my husband read this.

    Also, we know a Janice and SHE IS EXACTLY LIKE THAT.

  • sara418

    2010/07/09 at 3:24 pm

    OMG, I AM Janice.

  • lollynx

    2010/07/09 at 3:26 pm

    LOL. I know your name is Sarah, but you are such an Amy.

  • lulubell

    2010/07/09 at 3:34 pm

    My name was almost Janice. It was between that and Laurie and I am so glad my parents chose the latter.

  • luckymom22

    2010/07/09 at 3:37 pm

    I am Janice, but thank goodness I’m not a “janice”. Maybe I would be if I hadn’t waited until my late 30s to start my family; having teenagers is too humbling for me to go around acting too janicey. Except for the part about a “janice” typically being in her early 50s. I am that. Specifically 53. And every Janice I meet is also 53. Go ahead, ask any Janice you meet; she’s 53 (or just turned 54). To my horror, I’ve recently realized that the name “Janice” is now what the name “Harriet” was when I was growing up.

    The people I know who are “janices” are actually named Betsy.


  • joni l

    2010/07/09 at 3:39 pm

    This hit such a chord… but my name for this type of person is “Ginger”, because I totally worked for her!

  • sleepy-beauty

    2010/07/09 at 3:47 pm

    My “Janice” is actually a Karen. This was very funny and I have loved your posts. I do have to say though, I miss Heather. Hope you get everything in order soon so we can have you back 🙂

  • Sarah Brown

    2010/07/09 at 4:04 pm

    I just remembered, my college boyfriend’s mother’s name is Janice, but pronounced “Jah-NEECE,” so it never occurred to me that I actually do know a Janice. Jah-NEECE is definitely not a Janice, though. Very kind and not bossy.

  • tallnoe

    2010/07/09 at 4:24 pm

    Loved this one. Mostly b/c I REALLY want to be on that kind of trip to Paris. RIGHT NOW!

  • Esmter

    2010/07/09 at 4:39 pm

    OMG. I was sooo a Janice in college. So uptight and so sure i was right about every little thing.

    I wish someone would have told me to lighten up a little bit, that not reading that assignment before my art history lecture would mean the world would end.

    and i’d have had a lot more sex, too. sigh.

  • Big Mo

    2010/07/09 at 4:27 pm

    This knocked me over, because the Janice I worked with in an office like seven years ago was actually NAMED Janice.

  • Janice

    2010/07/09 at 4:35 pm

    Sigh, I seriously had no idea! I really want to be mad and indignant but it’s all so true. I thought my therapist was writing my name on the bill, I didn’t realize it was a diagnosis. And to the other Janice, I just turned 53.

  • megumphrey

    2010/07/09 at 4:38 pm

    Janice is my landlord. Really. JANICE IS MY LANDLORD. Her name is Janice, and she is A Janice. And I complain about her behind her back constantly.

    …Perhaps I’m A Megan?

  • bethbbk

    2010/07/09 at 4:42 pm

    I immediately thought of the Friends episodes with the laughing girlfriend Janice… But yes, I’ve known a few Janices and have to admit when it comes to school parking, I am the Janice. It’s a one-way, people!

  • addtova

    2010/07/09 at 4:51 pm

    That’s the nice thing about being a Tova- people never do stuff like that with my name!

    It is a bit ironic because I’m super ADD and the test for ADD in kids is the T.O.V.A. test. So next time you loose your keys while holding them you could say omg i’m such a Tova!

  • beerfoodie

    2010/07/09 at 5:33 pm

    Yeaaaaah I am in touch with my inner Janice. But I try to be cheerful about it. I just… like knowing that everyone around me knows what they’re doing, knows where they’re going and that I have helped in every way I can.
    So I dunno, maybe less martyred Janice than chronic sheepdog, nipping at heels.

    Yes- I drive myself crazy sometimes.

  • Janice

    2010/07/09 at 5:38 pm

    ..but just to be clear, it’s a cross I’m willing to bear to make all of YOUR lives better because I know you can’t do it on your own. I have to go polish my Birks now…

  • kristanhoffman

    2010/07/09 at 6:00 pm

    LOL to sara418 (post #3)!! And, haha, to this entire post.

  • teetotaled

    2010/07/09 at 6:24 pm

    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.”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    This post basically made all those years of getting harassed by various Janice types worth it. You hit the nail on the head!

    And I am now wishing I had taken a girlfriends only trip to Paris before I got married and became a mom. Sigh….

  • asunset42

    2010/07/09 at 6:31 pm

    i always feel like i have something to prove to janice, you know? like i have to make them aware of how they aren’t always right – impossible, i know – but i just can’t seem to let it go. guess that makes me a phyllis, huh?

  • GrandRGrand

    2010/07/09 at 6:43 pm! Thank you for making my day. I loved this post!

    Not Janice (thank you very much!)

  • kimba

    2010/07/09 at 7:41 pm

    Sarah, you are fantastic. Ohmigosh, I know SO MANY Janices!

  • bellacantare

    2010/07/09 at 8:00 pm

    I think I may be Janice. I hate that. But I hate the people that seem to be turning me into her more.

  • mommyoffour

    2010/07/09 at 9:35 pm

    I SO needed a new word. Thank you. I can’t wait to try it out!

  • TropicalPopsicle

    2010/07/09 at 10:34 pm

    Oh Sarah Brown! You said it just how it is and it sounds like we all know exactly what you’re talking about. That lady was Kathy for me at my version of The Bank.

    P.S. I think you should TOTALLY have a potato bar at your wedding. I hope you get your way, as you should, since it’s your wedding and all.

  • Honey

    2010/07/10 at 1:02 am

    Oh hell. I’m probably a Janice. Ain’t that about a bitch?

  • luckymom22

    2010/07/10 at 4:03 am

    To Janice:

    See? See? We’re all 53! I thought I was born in the Year of the Monkey but it was clearly the Year of the Janice.

    My favorite Janice was/is the lead guitar player on the Muppets. She’s the epitome of cool, definitely NOT a janice. But I’ll bet she’s 53 now, too.


  • Janice

    2010/07/10 at 6:15 am

    Oh Janice – Muppet Janice was my favorite too!! And for the same reason, she was so cool in so many ways I was not.

    I bet she’s 53 too AND still awesomely cool.

    I swear on my beloved birkenstocks, I will never send out a mass email again 😉

    Perhaps we can start our own blog for all 53 year old Janice’s.

    I’ll send an email.


  • Plano Mom

    2010/07/10 at 7:17 am

    I’m the one that Janice hates. I’m hopelessly disorganized and I DON’T CARE.

  • tdotjen

    2010/07/10 at 9:30 am

    ahahaha! before I reformed my serrated knife friends, I brought my own knife to their houses if we were cooking together because I was not going to mash another onion with their serrated knives.

  • mjameson

    2010/07/10 at 3:09 pm

    Janice! JANICE!
    The world would stop spinning without the Janices of the world, wouldn’t it? Or at least that’s what Janice secretly (and smugly) thinks and hopes.

    God, I haven’t stopped laughing since I read this. JANICE!

  • Jenni

    2010/07/10 at 3:16 pm

    Genius. I’m visiting my aunt Janice (my mother’s sister) tomorrow. Ya feelin’ me?

  • JetLime

    2010/07/10 at 3:37 pm

    Ha ha! Hilarious post! It makes me feel much better about swearing at my Janice who isn’t called Janice but just as annoying. I don’t often lose my cool and I hardly ever swear but being talked to as if I was a 5 year-old found with my hand in the cookie jar by a co-worker is way past my tolerance level. And Janice really doesn’t like swearing. She also doesn’t like the question “who the f*ck do you think you are?” Now I know. JANICE! 🙂

  • Mandy

    2010/07/10 at 6:02 pm

    First thing I love about this post. I’ve been having a major nostalgic trip to Paris and Rome where I too turned 30….10 years ago (god, they’ve gone fast). Like you I avoided all the tourist traps and ‘decadent’ is the perfect discription of how I felt. It felt great blending in and feeling like a local – and treated like one. We were there for months so I thought I’d do all the tourist things ‘one day’ but didn’t even see the Sistine Chapel ceiling when we were in Rome – despite living within about fifteen minutes walking distance for about three months.

    Second thing the Janice thing! I met one too in Paris in exactly the same way!! I can’t remember whether she was British or Australian (like me) but I was looking at the Metro timetable and she actually helped me – although I remember I wish she hadn’t because she was so smug about it. So I guess she walked away a very satisfied Janice unlike yours who, left unsated and desperate, probably started to harrass even Parisians ‘Come on! Where do you need to go!’

  • CatLady

    2010/07/10 at 7:09 pm

    I was really enjoying the blog until you started going on and on about “Janice.” Seriously? The woman just thought you might need some help and tried to offer you hand. The blog would have been better if you’d just gone on to describe your vacation in Paris.

  • ohsnap87

    2010/07/10 at 8:30 pm

    My sister is Janice. I am Susan. Janice is 3 yrs older — the organizer. She is a Federal Bank examiner, I am a graphic designer. She was married by 25 and had her first kid before 30. Right On Time.

  • Bryony Boxer

    2010/07/10 at 9:11 pm

    I know a nice, fun janice… but yeah, generally true. 🙂

  • adequatemom

    2010/07/10 at 9:45 pm

    What a great story! Made a bit weirder (for me) by the fact that I actually have a friend named Janice, who is the exact opposite of the Janice defined here. Still, I know the type!

  • KatR

    2010/07/11 at 1:19 pm

    Can I hire Janice for special projects? Because my cubicle sits right near the break room fridge which no one ever cleans out and THE STENCH, THE STENCH.

  • Sylvhar

    2010/07/11 at 4:24 pm

    Sigh, my name is Janice, but I’m not that lady! I’m 26, and…kind of a lush.

  • chasethefirefly

    2010/07/11 at 6:00 pm

    I knew a Janice, her name was Rita. She was a coworker at my first office job and she would get upset if I used the stapler the “wrong way”.

  • adventuregirl77

    2010/07/11 at 7:10 pm

    I will always thinks of this fart-related Blind Date video when I hear the name Janice. It fits pretty well with your description too.

  • i.delia

    2010/07/11 at 11:54 pm

    early on in our marriage we were waiting for a flight. My husband was eating a snack as we waited and I asked “How’s your blueberry muffin?” to which he answered “Love you too, babe”. I was mildly offended to realize he wasn’t listening to a word I said, but 13 years later, whenever we go through a bout of miscommunication, it always is referred to as “how’s your blueberry muffin?”.

  • lynnie

    2010/07/12 at 5:46 am

    The Janice you describe is so bizarrely like a woman I worked with at a law firm a few years ago – so officious. You describe her appearance perfectly (in fact I wonder if the woman in Paris was her.) She did everything you describe – I was looking for a form one day and did not ask for her help, I would have found it on my own. But she asked briskly, “What are you looking for, Lynn?” And leaned past me, came up with the form and handed it back to me over her shoulder with a superior look. She called out, “You’re welcome!” as I walked away shaking my head. 🙂

  • lynnie

    2010/07/12 at 5:47 am

    The Janice you describe is so bizarrely like a woman I worked with a few years ago – so officious. You describe her appearance perfectly (in fact I wonder if the woman in Paris was her.) She did everything you describe – I was looking for a form one day and did not ask for her help, I would have found it on my own. But she asked briskly, “What are you looking for, Lynn?” And leaned past me, came up with the form and handed it back to me over her shoulder with a superior look. She called out, “You’re welcome!” as I walked away shaking my head. 🙂

  • InfamousQBert

    2010/07/12 at 7:53 am

    ooooooh, i have a strong urge to janice sometimes, but i’ve learned to keep it in check pretty well by now. it’s particularly bad in the office kitchen, i admit, because that place can get funk NASTY sometimes. i don’t think i would EVER approach a stranger and demand they let me help them with their map, though. that’s beyond my janice-light tendencies.

    the one thing that i will unabashedly janice the hell out of you is your dishwasher, though. i will unload and properly reload your dishwasher at the drop of a hat. YOU’RE WELCOME. 😉

  • InfamousQBert

    2010/07/12 at 7:57 am

    “CatLady said:
    I was really enjoying the blog until you started going on and on about “Janice.” Seriously? The woman just thought you might need some help and tried to offer you hand. The blog would have been better if you’d just gone on to describe your vacation in Paris.”

    CatLady forgot the proper ending here.


  • jennyfromtheshwa

    2010/07/12 at 8:12 am

    I am laughing so hard over here. I toooootally work with a Janice ‘cept her name is Carla but I will refer to her as Janice here.

    My Janice and I job share. Pretty cool to job share with Janice because Janice is like your own personal secretary. She never lets me forget anything. I rely heavily on Janice to get t’ins done. For example, since we job share we also share a desk. We each have our own drawers for our supplies and such. Mine is filled with tampons, sppons, candies. Hers with tape, extra staples, glue. One day Janice cleaned out my part of the desk and left everything that she thought wasn’t needed in there wrapped in an envelope with a nice note attached saying “I cleaned out your desk. Here is everything that you can take home. You’re welcome.” Ah, thanks?

    And Janice emails me all the time. To remind me to do things that I am pretty sure I won’t forget to do but she emails me “just in case”. For example:
    “Don’t forget to bring your chick peas for the office salad potluck tomorrow. Never mind, I will pick them up for you, just in case. You’re welcome.” Just in case of what, a fire at all my local grocery stores? Little did Janice know, I had already bought my chick peas but if I had forgot them, Janice would’ve felt like it was all her fault for not reminding me. Again, thanks?

    As I said before, Janice is like my personal secretary. I don’t even have to listen at staff meetings because Janice is sure to take all the notes needed, including dates that pertain to me and not her and then promptly email me to remind me of everything going on at the office. I am Janice’s antithesis. Or dare I say the “Jantithesis” of her. You can use that if you want to. You’re welcome.

  • JennyBeans

    2010/07/12 at 9:46 am

    Yep, every office has one!

    I turned 30 in Paris too. It’s a great city to celebrate one of those milestone birthdays.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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