By: Anina Belle Giannini
Article first published on Renatahaidle.com May 26 2020
What started out as a 3 month study exchange program to the French Riviera…
I was 23 years old when I arrived in Nice for my university study exchange. My expat experience began as most study abroad experiences do. I made a great group of friends (Swedes, English, Dutch and a few French) and we spent every possible moment in the Old Town of Nice. We went to the beach during the day then drank Rosé on the Cours Saleya and danced at expat bars at night.
2 months into my exchange, I met “Le Chef”, now my husband. We met in the most extraordinary of circumstances. I came to interview him for a school project at the 5 star hotel where he was Executive Chef. We sat on the vine-covered terrace of a medieval chateau overlooking the hills of Cannes and I knew, from our first meeting that this was different, he was different. Within one week I was back at the hotel enjoying a 12-course gourmet meal that he cooked for my mom, who was visiting at the time, and I. He swept me off my feet, and I suppose I swept him off his. (More details of our romantic encounter are described here in my blog).
I changed my routine, spent less time going out in the old town of Nice and more time waiting up for Le Chef to get off work. He would drive 1 hour to come see me after his shifts at the hotel.
Building a life together in the South of France
Only a few months later we were engaged and began to build a life together. What was I going to do for work? I was young and ambitious and dreamed of using my marketing degree to work in Luxury brand marketing. I grew up in the wine country of British Columbia and my eyes sparkled at the idea of working with brands like Dom Perignon or Louis Vuitton.
Through the connections of the school I was offered a 3 month internship (paid 300 euros a month…) at Le Palais de la Méditerranée, a 5 star hotel in Nice. The internship turned into a short term contract and then, the big prize, a permanent contract! Like all expats I suffered the trials and tribulations of obtaining working papers in France, but once it is over you truly don’t think about it anymore.
My North American ambition plus my go-getter attitude and ability to speak English fluently gave me a leg up in the hospitality industry. Back in 2005, before the introduction of social media, French college graduates were not that strong in English so my ability to communicate clearly and professionally with English speaking guests from all over the world helped me to stand out.
Life of a Hotelier
I spent 8 years saying yes to every opportunity. I worked as a revenue manager for 2 boutique hotels on the Cap D’Antibes (The Belles Rives and the Hotel Juana) and then as a Sales Manager for Le Meridien Monte Carlo before becoming Director of Sales of Le Meridien Nice. The more I said yes, the more opportunities came my way. While many were heading home for dinner, I would say yes to an additional client event where I could network, or a sales trip that would take me on a multi-city tour of the US.
Cultural lore has it that the French work much less than North Americans and have a more relaxed attitude towards their careers. My experience in the hospitality industry was just the opposite. There was a true sense of respect and value towards each person’s “métier”. Servers were not students trying to work their way through university, they were career service professionals that knew exactly how to orchestrate the French Fine Dining experience.
In the sales and marketing team, it would not have been acceptable to leave the office before 6:30 in the evening. There was also no question of earning overtime pay even if you were at a client dinner that lasted until 11pm (dinners don’t start until 8pm anyways so you know it will be a late night). What I did appreciate however was the attitude towards vacation. If you were on vacation, you were on vacation. And you could be on vacation for weeks at a time with no interruptions from work and still have a job when you came back. Bliss.
Working on the North American and UK market while based on the French Riviera was a dream situation. I spent 2 weeks out of every month living an idyllic reality in Nice, (fresh fruit markets, seaside dinners, weekend escapes to Provence, Paris or to Italy) and then 2 weeks on the road with my colleagues from hotels across Europe attending client events and doing sales calls. I always tried to squeeze in a trip to see family on the West coast or in the UK whenever it was possible.
Through it all Le Chef supported me. His extensive work hours as an Executive Chef made it easy for me to work as hard as I did. We married in 2010 and spent our honeymoon in Greece at one of the hotels in our brand, taking full advantage of our employee rates with Starwood.
When a headhunter called and offered me the job of Director of Sales and Marketing for The Ritz-Carlton Montreal, it was an opportunity I could not turn down. An iconic hotel, a return to Canada, and a new adventure for Le Chef and I who were both 31 at the time.
Most people dream of the South of France as an escape from their busy lives, but for me it was a launch pad. I built my career there, a career that propelled me first to Montreal and now, to Washington, DC.
Though we have set down roots in DC, a huge piece of my heart remains in on the French Riviera. Starting Le Chef’s Wife blog has been my way to remain connected. To bring the beauty, the light and the joie de vivre into our daily life. We speak French at home and my husband is a constant source of inspiration for me…even after 15 years together.
While I dream of our next vacation in France and long to drink Rosé and eat Cavaillon melons in the sun, I am so grateful to the French Riviera for what it has taught me about work. Be proud of what you do, work hard and enjoy the simple, beautiful moments of life.
Le Chef’s Wife
Anina Belle Giannini is Canadian/American hotelier and writer. She lives with her husband, Chef Sebastien Giannini, and their daughter in the Washington, DC area. They are expecting their second child in September 2020. Follow @lechefswife on instagram or at www.lechefswife.com for easy to make French Recipes and tips for living a French Riviera inspired life wherever you are.