Work

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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Back to school, blue skies and boyfriends

My walk to school, complete with cobbles, a church and multiple orange trees!

I’ve just finished my first official day of teaching in the school. When I say teaching, I mean that I will be working for the next nine months as a language assistant; helping to teach English to students between the ages of 11 and 18. Today I introduced myself to five different classes (I talked about my studies, why I’m here, my hobbies etc) and then there was plenty of opportunity for the kids to ask me questions about England, my town, my family and anything else they wanted to know.

Today I was with 11 and 12 year olds, and, being in such a small town in rural Spain, their English was quite basic. However, their enthusiasm and friendliness was amazing. Most of them have just moved up to secondary school so they are interested by everything and very excited to learn. When it came to asking me questions, in every class, without fail, one cheeky boy would bring up my relationship status, normally in the form of “Have you boyfriend?” or “You go with boyfriend?” to which his classmates would collapse into giggles. Declaring my single status prompted a lot of laughter in one particular class, in which they’d apparently done a topic on ‘my dream partner’ the week before. A student called Pedro (who is just 12 years old) had written that his ideal partner would be a brunette between the age of 15 and 20 so they found it hysterical that I happened to be compatible with Pedro’s criteria. With the ‘ideal partner’ vocabulary clearly very fresh in their minds (presumably a fun exercise to learn conditional verbs), I was asked “what is your ideal boyfriend like” so I responded “My ideal boyfriend would be funny, kind and taller than me” making it clear that Pedro and I were not to be…

Another student then asked where abouts I was living, however the teacher quickly whispered that it’s best not to give that kind of information to students. Before I could respond to the question she answered for me, saying “Megan doesn’t know which road she lives on, she is new to Zafra and cannot remember her address”. Unfortunately this probably made me seem a bit dim but I suppose it’s good to know that I won’t be receiving any unwanted visitors.

All in all it was a great first day. The teachers were really laid back and my job is literally just to talk in English, listen to students and give them help when necessary. I don’t know what it will be like teaching the older classes but I’ll find out next week. Now, in true Spanish style, after just five hours of work it’s time for a few days off. I’m attending training days in the town of Cáceres tomorrow and then the weekend will be taken up by parties because its the Feria de Zafra – a huge festival here in the town. Did I mention that the King and Queen of Spain are coming for the occasion? I’m excited! 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

My last day

befunky_artwork.jpgI think I read it in a quote somewhere, or maybe it’s just a well-known fact that it doesn’t matter what you do, it’s the people you do it with that makes all the difference. Or something like that. Anyway it’s certainly true that working with my new friends Hellia, Stoyan and Clara has made a huge difference to my experience here in France. Last night, to celebrate my final shift, we sat on the terrace together with leftover desserts and chatted until the early hours. My colleagues have helped me with demanding guests, picked up after the cutlery I’ve dropped and supplied me with vocabulary during times of need. It’s been a reciprocal relationship; in return I have recommended British music, offered them a place to stay in England and provided amusement during my moments of misfortune. It’s been so much fun to work together and I will miss them a lot. With the help of social media we should be able to keep in touch. Unusually Clara doesn’t have Facebook, but there’s always email or good old fashioned letter-writing. They are all keen to visit London one day and I am definitely happy to be a tour guide.

My accommodation – France

It’s about time I wrote about my living arrangements here in France. I was lucky enough to spend the first week in a hotel room (a novelty I could have gotten used to) but have since moved into shared accommodation with two other members of staff. Three of us, Marie, Sandy and I, live in one of the hotel villas. It is officially called a villa, but my roommates (who are French) refer to it as a gîte. In my opinion neither word accurately describes our little abode. While villa conjures up the image of a palatial holiday home, gîte suggests a charming farmhouse complete with shutters and a vegetable patch. Where we actually live is a small one bedroomed building. Sandy and I share the bedroom, and then there’s a kitchen/living area taken up by a sofa-bed, where Marie sleeps. The fact that the living area is effectively a bedroom makes it difficult to use any of the facilities without feeling like an intruder. It’s quite cramped to say the least but we only use it for sleeping, and we all work different hours so never really get in each other’s way.

Next week however, Marie has invited one of our colleagues to move in because his roommate is having his girlfriend to stay. This means there will be four of us sharing the one bedroom villa/gîte/house which is definitely going to be interesting. Due to my experience sharing bathroom facilities with boys at university, I have researched French vocabulary for telling him to put the toilet seat down. I am assuming that male toilet habits transcend international borders so I am coming prepared.

Overall though it has been a good experience. It’s obviously very convenient to live in the hotel grounds, we have access to the pool and it takes me approximately 15 seconds to walk to the restaurant for my shifts. As much as I loved the luxury of a hotel suite for one, it’s nicer having people to chat to in the evenings. What I have missed however, is the French TV. I became quite fond of watching those programmes in my first week but it feels too awkward to watch telly here because I would have to sit on Marie’s unmade bed to do so. I would also face judgement for my choice of programme (French wife swap or similar) so I have been reading books instead. Probably more educational anyway… Here is a picture of where I’ve been living!10460524_10203103117152928_503974044353524868_n