Job

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!

Untitled

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!

Untitled

Bye bye France (for now)

IMG_6365

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