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August in pictures

It’s been a while since I last posted on here but I’ve been a bit caught up in the routine of working and writing my university essays. Whilst on my year abroad I was given two projects which I’ve had the past 14 months to write, however I have typically left them to the last minute and most of my free time in August was spent at my laptop hastily hashing together coherent sentences whilst regretting not working on them sooner. Anyway both are finished now which means guilt-free free time!

To update you all, just two weeks remain of my work placement and I’m beyond happy about this. I feel like I have now mastered the fine art of selling expensive cotton shirts and I rarely make mistakes at the cash desk, so things are definitely less tense, some days I even enjoy myself. Having said this, I’m more than ready to stop folding cashmere v-necks and measuring body parts. Also, it’s been eerily quiet in the store recently as most of the French population are off on their summer holidays. This usually means I am left alone to supervise la boutique whilst my boss gets some work done in the office. If there are no deliveries to deal with or customers to (attempt to) help then I mostly just polish the displays obsessively and rearrange the ties in colour order. I find myself messing things up just to give myself something to tidy and I don’t know if these habits are healthy if repeated for 35 hours a week.

Luckily I have enjoyed some time in central Paris over the past month or so and the weather has generally been perfect (I’m tempted to say ‘insufferably hot’ but I’m about to experience a winter in Durham so I will not complain about warmth). Below are some of the sites of Paris that I have enjoyed recently…

The beautiful funfair at Les Tuileries and views from the terrace of Galleries Lafayette

Jardin de Luxembourg

Montmatre, including Le mur des je t’aime – a wall of ‘I love you’ in multiple languages ❤

Exploring the Île de St Louis, one of my favourite parts of Paris

I haven’t been able to watch the Great British Bakeoff but a visit to Ladurée is sort of the same thing…

And finally, the Eiffel Tower. Just dreamy.

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Happy September!

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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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Paris

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For my first two days off I headed into central Paris for some sightseeing. I’ve been to Paris a few times before, on family holidays and French exchanges with school, however it’s such a huge city that I don’t think you could ever really see everything. Luckily I’ve got all the weekends from now until September to explore as much as possible. Yesterday I got the train from my suburban home straight to the Arc de Triomphe, where I was greeted by the most terrifying roundabout in history, I then walked down L’avenue des Champs-Élysées to the Eiffel Tower to meet a friend for a picnic. From here we walked along the river all the way to Place de la Concorde, through the beautiful Tuileries gardens to the Louvre. To finish the day I then hopped on the metro to Place Monge where I met another friend for some Moroccan tea (I can’t get enough) at La Grande Mosquée.

I should also mention that it was 37 degrees this weekend in Paris. It’s been boiling all week and let me tell you, the metro is the last place you want to be on a hot day. It’s basically a furnace packed full of sweaty tourists, sweaty Parisians and probably all the sweaty people in the world, and their children. I don’t think anyone quite knows if its better to walk for miles in the midday sun just to avoid the cattle-transportation experience. I was weighing up sunburn and blistered feet against extreme armit-to-face proximity and limited oxygen. A tough call. In the end I settled for the metro because at least the pain is short-term. Anyway it’s beautiful in Paris so I should stop complaining.

Here are some pictures of my day… As I only photographed the pretty things it’s like the metro never even even happened!

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Back to France!

Remember that impromptu telephone interview I had whilst half way up a mountain in Spain? Well, I got the job and, after a lovely few weeks in England, I hopped on the Eurostar and I started work in my new temporary home – Paris!

I’ll be working as a sales intern for just over two months. The internship is at a men’s clothing retailer which specialises in workwear, bringing the ‘English Gentleman’ style to France. It’s a British company with a Parisien store and I’m the sole British ambassador so my colleagues seem excited to have me here.

My first day went about as smoothly as I could have hoped. I had to learn many new skills, such as how to take mens’ measurements in order to advise them on the correct size shirt. This is an intimate and difficult experience which I am frankly TERRIBLE at. I have told many customers a particular shirt size based on my measurements and more often than not the shirt they then tried on was either comically big or embarrassingly small. I have the excuse that i’m learning on the job though and the fact that my previous retail experience involved potted plants and garden furniture.

The store is located in a luxury shopping village in which the footfall is primarily very, very wealthy people, fortunately almost everybody so far has been patient and friendly to me despite my incompetence. I also get to wander around during my break and lust after designer clothes that I’ll never be able to afford based on my intern’s salary!

Whilst I’m here i’m paying ridiculous amounts to lodge in a very pleasant family home. I have a beautiful bedroom however the etiquette of the lodging situation is taking some getting used to; I don’t quite know how sociable to be, whether to eat with the family or not, whether I need to label my food – there are many unanswered questions. Also I keep speaking Spanish…

Anyway this is the third and final part of my year abroad! You’d think I’d have it all figured out by now but you’d be wrong.. So i’ll continue to record my mishaps here – à bientôt! 

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Granada

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I have now visited all the sights on my spring travel list! Last weekend I concluded my travels by celebrating my 21st birthday in Granada.

Granada is famous for the stunning Alhambra which sits in the centre of the city on top of a huge hill. It’s recommended that you buy tickets well in advance (we bought ours in March) because they sell out about as quickly as a One Direction concert.

The Alhambra experience was very special, and worth the planning. There are palaces, towers and gardens to visit – all with spectacular panoramic views of the city below. Like a One Direction concert there were plenty of people, however the site is so vast that other tourists are dispersed amongst the various buildings and foliage so it doesn’t feel too intense.

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You can easily enjoy many hours exploring the Alhambra, I was there all morning and I’m pretty sure I still didn’t see everything. The highlight is undeniably the Nasrid palace which is probably worth the entrance fee alone. it’s just as pretty as the alcazars in Sevilla or Córdoba but on a much bigger scale, I loved it.

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The rest of the weekend was spent eating and drinking in Moroccan style restaurants and tea rooms (another great thing about granada) and it was all kinds of wonderful. I enjoyed frozen yogurt, my favourite treat, and even had a wild night out (complete with mojitos, crazy dance moves and 5am hostel return).

I now have just two weeks left before it’s time to say goodbye to Spain..

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The Spanish summer has begun

photoExtremadura is known for it’s extreme temperatures (as the name suggests) and I am finally appreciating why. We are currently experiencing spell of extreme heat and its almost unbearable. It was 40 degrees today, it is also May. The locals are wearing shorts and all conversations begin with ¡Qué calor!, so you know it’s pretty serious. I checked the weather and it’s currently hotter than Morocco, Greece and Uganda. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the school classrooms were hotter than the Earth’s core.

The main problem is that it’s very dry and desert-like here; there’s no nearby beach, no lake and very few trees around the town. Unfortunately I walk to my students’ houses for private classes at around 3.30pm each day and I’m fairly sure I’m the only human braving the sunlight at this scorching hour. Everyone else is sensibly en casa with the shutters down. I actually have to apply sun cream for my ten-minute walk down the road, I also have to arrive an extra two minutes early to allow for cooling-off period during which I lurk outside the students’ house for necessary brow-mopping and water-guzzling.

I’ll try to find some silver linings to avoid sounding too whiny and spoiled: I’m lucky to be getting a healthy glow, I am grateful that this town is not at all hilly and I am pleased to have quite a decent deodorant.

But madre mía, any increase in temperature and I’ll have to be forcibly removed from the town fountain. Seriously.

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Half way

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It’s incredible to say that I’ve passed the halfway point of both my time in Spain and my year abroad as a whole. All in all, although of some individual days and weeks do drag (lessons with 15 year olds often feel like lifetimes of pain), it has gone really quickly. Over the past few months I’ve established myself as a private English tutor, I’ve become familiar with plumbing vocabulary and I’ve finally adapted to Spanish mealtimes. I have built solid friendships with the eight other language assistants here and I’ve made plenty of Spanish friends too. Bizarrely, one of my closest Spanish connections is a seventeen year-old student with whom I’ve bonded over a shared interest in Harry Potter and One Direction. My other closest connections are fellow teachers (mostly middle-aged) and my language-exchange partner Maria (aged 35), with whom I enjoy weekly cups of tea and life discussions. It seems that I have bypassed integration with people of my actual age and so the whole Spanish party lifestyle has alluded me so far. I’m very happy though and I always feel like my head is simultaneously younger and older than my 20 years anyway. Having said that, just last week I made a new friend – a 22 year old local girl called Ana, she invited me out with her friends and we were chatting in a smokey bar until 2.30am. Perhaps my granny lifestyle may be set to change after all!

In September I was really terrified to come here and the whole first term flew by in a blur of settling in and mild panic. I got through any moments of sadness with the thought of Christmas and my impending flight home. Luckily, since returning in January everything has seemed much more familiar and relaxing. I’m now witnessing lighter evenings, easier conversations and I’m enjoying everything a whole lot more. I’ve got through January and I’ve started planning trips for the remainder of my time here, I’m off to Madrid next weekend, Morocco the week after – it’s all going far too quickly.

Now though, for memory and comedy’s sake, let’s reflect on my lowest moments:

  1. Tripping over and falling flat on my face in front of a group of students whilst on an afternoon jog. Knee severely grazed and pride dented.
  2. The power cut in out apartment on cold November morning, which lead to icy showers and a day without internet (tragic).
  3. Getting stranded on a broken down bus and watching in dispair as fellow passengers were, one-by-one, rescued by family/friends with cars. I had to wait for three hours with the driver and a few other abandoned folk, I cried silently and felt very abroad and alone.

However, as bad as these experiences felt at the time, they’re hardly terrible. I’ve had so much fun, so much sunshine and I’ve visited so many beautiful places. These can be summarized in the picture montage above.

Here’s to the rest of my time in Spain and thank you (once again) for following my year so far.

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