France

Disneyland

I am currently working just one train-stop away from Disneyland. As a result of this, each day on my morning train I see excited families with backpacks full, push-chairs laden and mickey ears ready. In the evening I then see exhausted parents, sleepy and/or screaming children and, 4 out of 5 days a week a minnie balloon will get caught in the sliding doors.

I have been to Disneyland when I was younger, however it did seem a shame not to re-experience the magic when I’m living and working so close to it all. The main problem was that I didn’t want to go to Disneyland alone, Disney is definitely an experience to be shared. However not only do my work colleagues work weekends, but they’ve all been millions of times due to living so close and are about as indifferent towards Disneyland as we are towards our local leisure centre. The novelty has definitely worn off for all nearby residents, and I was starting to think I’d have to settle for living vicariously though other train passengers.

Then a miracle happened!!

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My bestest friend Emily spontaneously flew over last weekend and we were able to experience a WHOLE DAY (we were literally there for 14 hours) of DISNEY MAGIC! It was amazing, unforgettable and every single other good adjective. The sun came out and the castle looked beautiful. We donned our Minnie Ears (£2.44 from Amazon because ain’t nobody got time for £15.99 authentic ones) and enjoyed every minute.

Emily and I love a good theme park and we have spent plenty of birthdays together at Legoland or Chessington. It was very surreal to be at Disneyland together though; instead of rain ponchos we were applying suncream because it was 33 degrees and sweltering. Conveniently we like all the same kinds of rides (nothing too spinny or with a queue longer than 60 minutes), also being a two is great as you often get to jump ahead of large (in every sense of the word) families to grab available seats on lots of the rides. We also planned our day to fit in the maximum amount of attractions, ensuring enough time to nab a perfect parade-watching spot whilst being sure to keep hydrated and stay out of the sun at the hottest parts of the day (regular intervals in souvenir shops to enjoy the air-con are recommended). This all paid off and we went on the big roller coasters like Indiana Jones and Thunder Mountain (my absolute favourite), as well as lots of little fun ones like the carousel, the teacups, the Snow White ride, the Autopia car driving, the Buzz Lightyear ride, the Haunted House… basically everything – it was great.

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There was however one little mis-hap that affected our perfect plan. Our ideal day did not include getting stuck on the pirates of the Caribbean ride for an hour.

We were gliding along quite nicely in our 12 person boat, enjoying the enchanting music when suddenly, for some unexplained reason, the ride came to a complete halt. We were then floating around aimlessly in the darkly-atmospheric jungly waters for a few minutes before blinding florescent were switched on and the magic was all broken. The music stopped and an announcement apologising for technical difficulties, thanking us in advance for our patience and understanding (in four different languages), was played repeatedly for the next 50 minutes. I suppose everyone involved will now be able to say ‘technical difficulties’ in english, french, spanish and german, so we could say there was an educational perk, but in reality everyone was quite bored and ready to get out of the plastic boat they’d queued for 30 minutes to get into. Eventually, our knight in shining armour, in the form of a pirate dressed in waders (literally), came along and helped us out of the boat. We made it onto dry land and were directed towards an emergency exit, though a back door and emerged in a sort of car park with large metal bins. We then had to walk for about 10 minutes around a backstage area of concrete studio buildings, down a very normal looking tarmac road, and finally though a passage that released us back into ‘Frontierland’ where the Disney experience resumed. It was very unglamorous and the magic was slightly ruined, fortunately we received a fast pass to come back later, so we got to do the whole ride again in the evening and it was entirely worth the wait.

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The parade in the evening was even better than I remembered. All the characters come along in their incredible costumes sitting on their amazingly decorated floats, they wave at you and the excitement is contagious. In fact, I’m pretty sure being waved at by a Disney princess is magical if you’re any human between the ages of 2 and 102.

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Finally, the highlight of the whole day has got to be the Disney Magic show and firework display at closing time. All the best disney songs are played, the castle is beautifully illuminated and images are projected onto it, there are fireworks and special effects and it’s 20 minutes of amazingness that I cannot begin to describe. I cried happy tears and everything was good in the world.

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Until next time Disneyland!

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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

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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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A French fiasco in the mountains

I am currently organising part three of my year abroad. I need to spend at least a couple of months in France improving my language skills because I definitely need to broaden my capacities beyond the waitressing-specific vocabulary I mastered last summer.

I’ve been applying for jobs and I’ve even had a few Skype interviews. What I’ve learnt from this is that Skype interviews are the WORST. There’s almost always an awkward sound delay and the screen will inevitably freeze, capturing the most unattractive expression and allowing potential employers a three-minute screen shot of your ugliest angle.

For one particular job, the employer and I scheduled an interview time of 10am on a Monday morning. I spent the whole weekend preparing; I listened to French podcasts to get in the zone, I complied a list of questions to ask and, most importantly, I set up my laptop to ensure the best internet connection, the most flattering lighting and the perfect screen angle. I’d done my hair, perfected my makeup and I was ready to go. I then sat for about thirty minutes with my practiced professional yet approachable smile, in an optimal seating position, sitting not too close but not too far from the screen (to convey keenness without looking creepy), waiting for the call. Sadly, after all my excessive preparation, the call never came.

I’d been stood up by a French employer. A new type of rejection – international AND virtual, blimey.

A few days later I received an apologetic email and the promise of a call later in the week, no day or time specified. I went about daily life and, after about eight days, assumed I was never going to hear anything and decided to recommence the arduous task of ambushing French companies with my CV.

Then, one Thursday evening I decided to go for a run in the countryside. It was a sunny day and I chose to run up a rocky mountain path for some pretty views. Taylor Swift was blasting in my headphones, blood was pumping, I was sweaty and exhausted – a great workout. Then, just as I was reaching the top of the steeply inclined dirt track, my phone rang. The number was unrecognised so, with no idea whether to answer in English, Spanish or French, I settled for an out of breath ‘Hello?’. Who was it? Monsieur Olszak. He was calling to discuss the French job.

Picture the scene. I am up an ACTUAL mountain, wind howling, dogs barking and chickens cooing in the background (due to the farm ten metres to my right). I was breathless, literally panting, and my mind was a useless jumble of Spanish adjectives and Taylor Swift lyrics. To put it mildly the timing was awful.

I had no choice but to think on my trainer-clad feet and get on with the interview. The signal cut out twice due to the rural setting, however, by the end of the interview I was just about forming coherent sentences. I managed to answer most of his questions and ask a few of my own, but all in the entire scenario couldn’t have been much worse.

Bizarrely (miracles do happen) I got offered the job. It’s with a menswear company in Paris and I’m in the process of confirming things now. I think that maybe the animal noises in the background distracted from my poor French, or perhaps the company needs to fulfil an equal opportunities quota and ‘asthmatic farmer’ ticked a necessary box.

Anyway, I jogged home laughing to myself at the absurdity of what had just happened. At least the whole experience set the bar very low for all future job interviews. Now, if everything falls into place (and my envelope of documents survives the perilous Spanish postal service) I might just be spending a summer in Paris – yipee!

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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