Challenges

Record-breaking and wrong-doing

I seem to be surviving here in France, in fact its coming up to a month now so I thought I’d do a little update on my progress as an inept intern in a luxury boutique.

We established fairly early on that I was lacking in retail knowledge, specifically of the men’s-formal-wear-in-French variety, however, you’ll be pleased to hear that things have improved. Due to a collection of fortunate events I have inadvertently broken the store’s sales record, with a huge transaction last Tuesday morning (unfortunately I do not work on commission).

Basically a nice man from Kazakstan came in looking about as clueless and out of place as me. I was manning the shop floor alone so unfortunately he had no choice but to seek my ‘expertise’ in his shopping mission. I helped him find a nicely-fitted suit, he then went on to by the suit in another colour and found a winter coat to go with it. Four shirts and an overpriced pair of socks later and he’d wracked up 1650 euros! The nice part was that this customer wanted my opinion on every single item, he didn’t speak French so we communicated in a mixture of English and hand gestures, I nodded a lot and gave big thumbs up to express ‘wow that looks great!’ and it seemed to work. Anyway I was alone in the shop at the time and my boss was super-impressed upon his return to find me scanning through all these big items.

Unfortunately, I then rained on my own parade by making a huge numerical blunder on the till and overcharging the man by €200, however we soon sorted this out and he left the store about as patient and smiley as he entered – just with a few more bags. So maybe a career in retail could be promising! Except I don’t really like folding, or rude customers, or standing up all day….

And actually, as this little example shows, I still make plenty of mistakes. In fact I do multiple things wrong every single day. Despite breaking the sales record I am bottom of the league for the number of customer details I’ve taken (and I don’t mean chatting up the French men by asking for their numbers, although incidentally I’m terrible at that too). I’m supposed to ask each customer for their details when they make a purchase, in order to send them an electronic receipt, add them to the mailing list and all that. I hate asking as most people don’t like to give out that kind of information and I feel pushy. However last week 81% of my transactions were without customer details and apparently this is bad. I like to think I just respect people’s privacy more than the rest of the team, tant pis.

I also feel bad encouraging people spend money. Every person who enters the shop is obviously a sales opportunity and I’m told to try harder to encourage purchasing, but I find it hard to do this. Plus I’m secretly happy when people don’t buy things because it frees me of the pressure of operating the till and making an inevitable faux-pas (please don’t tell my boss).

Anyway, hopefully next month will be filled with fewer mistakes, especially as I can’t play the ‘sorry I’m new!’ card for much longer. I have a much-needed weekend off now so I’m going to explore more of Paris and catch up on sleep, à bientot!

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Monday Musings #9

Teaching is hard work. Secondary schools in particular require a lot of patience.

The first years in general are really keen, bordering on over-keen, but their excitement is encouraging and it makes for rewarding lessons. However, as you move up the school you come across the rebellious teenage years; the arrogance, the attitude and the eye-rolling.

I’m aware that I sound like a middle aged woman, but I feel that immediately after you exit your own moody teenage phase you realise just how frustrating it is for all non-teenage members of society. That’s not to say I was ever unruly myself (I was pretty much the opposite), but I do remember lessons at school in which we were collectively disinterested and just plain lazy.

Once you emerge from the traumatic teens, it seems that the students reclaim some of their original enthusiasm; the 16-18 year olds are really great. They realise just how important their studies are (I literally sound like a parent) and they actually put in some effort.

To combat one excessively difficult teenage class I have taken to throwing a small furry rabbit (toy) at each student in turn. The rules are simple – when you are in possession of the rabbit you have to talk. It’s much like the conch in Lord of The Flies except that this time the idea is to avoid the eerie silence that follows whenever I ask a question. If I remember rightly Lord of The Flies involved a situation in which there was too much talking. And they lived on a beach…

Fortunately, there’s one boy who shares my interest in the Pretty Little Liars TV series. It’s often tempting to ditch the rest of the class and gossip with him about the latest episode, but I think that would be considered unprofessional. Anyway, I’m learning as I go along – relying on initiative, experimentation and the odd bit of bribery. Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

The new way to hitchhike

BlaBlaCar exists in the UK but is nowhere near as popular as it is in Europe. It’s a website organising car-sharing journeys. You either advertise your journey and have passengers pay to join you, or you search for a journey and find a car to ride in. Being under 25 so unable to rent a car, adverse to driving in England let alone abroad and a bit strapped for cash, my flatmates and I unsurprisingly opted for the second option…

BlaBlaCar is a good way to travel because it’s about half the price of buses and trains, you get to chat in Spanish and meet interesting people. There is of course the added risk factor; getting into cars with strangers does feel instinctively scary but if you forget about the fear and focus on the convenience then it’s all fine and dandy.

My flatmates and I have booked two BlaBlaCars to get us to and from Seville this weekend. Choosing our driver was quite a fun experience – we typed in our desired journey and were given a selection of people to choose from, each with a profile showing their name, age, car type, and other info. Deciding between Juan, Manu and Jesus became a tricky decision as we weighed up the creepiness of their picture with the suitability of their time of departure. Would we rather leave at an ungodly hour with normal-looking Juan? Or depart at our preferred time with pony-tail-sporting, cowboy-hat-wearing Jesús? Luckily all drivers have ratings and reviews and we eventually opted for Elena, who has forty years of driving experience and was described as ‘chatty and flexible’ (presumably referring to departure times rather than gymnastic ability).

So far we’ve used the service once – to catch a lift to the town of Cáceres. It didn’t start off too well; we were due to meet ‘Mabel’ driving a SEAT Ibiza but what we did not realise was that Ibizas are very common Spanish cars. After shouting ‘Mabel?’ at a rather confused looking woman who pulled up at the correct time in an SEAT Ibiza, and practically climbing into her car before she shooed us away, we eventually found the right person. Incidentally the real Mabel was great, she drove us right to the door of our destination and was friendly and chatty the whole journey – perfect.

I’ve been in Spain three weeks today and so far so good. As predicted, there has been a lot of embarrassment and confusion but I’m now beginning to feel settled and I’m actually lot happier than I’ve been all year. I hope everyone’s having a good Tuesday!Untitled

So I’m moving to Spain

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After a year of planning, paperwork and emails the day is finally here and I can’t quite believe that it’s actually happening. It’s time to fly to Seville and then make my way to the town of Zafra, where I will be working and living for the next eight months. I’ve packed my bags, checked-in online and said farewell to family and friends – there’s no going back…

As exciting as the year abroad is, I am a bit apprehensive. I wasn’t as nervous about my summer job in France because it was only a short placement, I’ve also been learning French for years and have visited the country multiple times for holidays, ski trips and language exchanges. In contrast, I’ve only been to Spain once and I’ve been learning the language for just two years. As a result, my confidence is pretty low and eight months feels scarily permanent.

My current mindset is a mixture of terror and excitement because I have absolutely no idea what to expect. The concept of a new home, new friends and new experiences is brilliant but overwhelming. The pessimistic side of my brain contemplates a year of misunderstandings, confusion and loneliness whilst the optimistic side imagines sunshine, fluency, and Enrique Inglesias lookalikes. In reality my experience will probably be a mixture of the two, although less loneliness and more Enrique would be ideal.

For now though it’s time to get some sleep in preparation for the big day, because tomorrow I’ll be setting off on my new adventure with an open mind and a whole lot of luggage!Untitled

Six hours in Nice Airport?

Yesterday I spent six hours in the airport. I decided to take the first bus from Roquebrune at 8.51am, despite my flight not being until 6.40pm, just incase of delays (I’m cautious when it comes to French buses). All went perfectly smoothly however and I arrived at Nice airport at 12.15, a whole four hours before check-in opened. It was obviously my own doing, and I didn’t mind too much at first – in my opinion airports are quite fun places; plenty of shops, cafés, big open spaces… Unfortunately, I soon found out that being stuck in an airport with luggage is a whole different story. As check in was closed I had two huge suitcases with me, plus hand luggage, and, as the lady on the tannoy so frequently reminded me, I couldn’t leave any of it unattended. So wherever I went, my bags came too. How did I pass the time? Well my heavy load limited the options significantly. Shopping was risky because the suitcases tended to knock things over, it was also physically exhausting to drag them round. Going to the toilet was another challenge. The suitcases had to come with me into the tiny cubicle which left little room for me to stand let alone use the facilities. After a while I accepted my immobility and got out my laptop only to discover a very temperamental WiFi system. It wasn’t going well. I felt like Tom hanks in ‘The Terminal’; the airport had become my home. In the end I adopted a position on a bench by the arrivals entrance. It was a prime people-watching setting with fancy Côte d’Azur residents being greeted by their chauffeurs and the time eventually passed. I am now alarmingly familiar with both the layout and contents of Nice airport. In the future I will continue to be prompt when it comes to travel arrangements but I admit that a 6 hour buffer is a little excessive.

On a positive note, my flight was a breeze and I had an exit row all to myself; my legs and I were very happy.Untitled

Bye bye France (for now)

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It’s the end of my summer job here in France. The experience has been full of highs and lows, but I have learned a lot and the constant presence of sunshine has definitely helped me through.

Some parts of waitressing were incredibly tedious. Setting and clearing countless tables, wiping up mess, carrying plates and sweeping floors – all in thirty degree heat – was repetitive, physically challenging and sweaty. However, chatting to guests and working with my colleagues made the hard work worthwhile. It has been great getting to know different people and I have experienced first-hand how the French appreciate the effort it takes to learn the language. Some of the guests have been so keen to find out about my studies, offered tips with pronunciation and recommended parts of France that I need to visit. Fortunately, my French has improved a lot without me even realising it. In terms of speaking there is always room for progress but my comprehension is pretty good now; I am pleased with how much I have absorbed.

The great thing about working for a hotel has been the variety of people passing through; you get to witness all sorts of different characters coming and going. There was the man who dined in speedos and a t-shirt, the little boy who routinely ate 6 yogurts for dessert, the lady who moved tables three times a night… I suppose in that sense there hasn’t really been a dull moment.

Having said all that, the highlights of my stay have undoubtedly been my days off. I’ve tried to make the most of my spare time by visiting as much of the region as possible and I’ve been spoilt for choice when it comes to destinations. This area is jam-packed full of beautiful beaches and charming villages and I am pleased to say I have experienced plenty of them. Frejus, St Raphael, St Paul de Vence, Ramatuelle, Bargemon, Cannes, Theole-sur mer, Cap Taillat, St Aygulf and Les Issambres to name just a few.

I would definitely return to this area, not to be a waitress (we’ve established that it’s not the career for me), but to discover even more of the region. Clara has offered me a place to stay, and judging by how kind her and her family have been I would love to take her up on the offer.

As well as my initial aims of learning the language (and earning some money), I’m proud to say that I’ve mastered the bus-service, tried local cuisine, rented a pedalo and got a suntan. It’s back to England for now though and I’ve got lots to do because year abroad part two in Spain is just three weeks away!Untitled

Monday Musings #5

I’ve started to forget English words. That is not to say I have only been speaking in French, or that I am fluent, far from it. But I get so used to serving the guests and explaining the food options in French, that if I’m suddenly required to speak English it completely throws me.

There haven’t really been any English guests so far (except from a keen visit from my parents in week three) but the odd German couple will pass through and English is required. When explaining the ice-cream flavours the spiel is so ingrained in my head (vanille, cassis, pomme, rum rasin, menthe, framboise, citron vert et café) that when asked to translate into English I spend far too long hesitating and stumbling over my words that the guests tend to glance doubtfully at the British flag on my name badge. Similarly, last night my colleague Clara wanted to practice her English so tried to talk to me en anglais the whole service. She asked the names of all the utensils and when it got to une pince (tongs) I completely blanked. In my defence pince does seem a more logical name (like a crab’s pincers?) tongs just makes me think of underwear. ..

The confusion continues if I have to speak Spainsh. I have been studying Spanish for two years now and I really love it, but inevitably the more French I speak, the more Spanish I forget. A Spanish family is here this week so I have an opportunity to practice but I feel like when I eventually arrive in Spain I’ll be back to square one. I will also face the challenge of maintaining the progress I’ve made with French when I spend eight months speaking Spanish… It’s a case of too many languages and not enough brainpower at the moment. Let’s hope I can eventually master all three!

Update on the injury: I am sporting a large bruise on my back and the transition from sitting to standing is very painful. Other than that I am fine and I am grateful that it wasn’t worse. I have also been given an extra day off next week (possibly out of sympathy/guilt)!