It didn’t take long to realise that I would have to find a job. The speed with which money was leaving our account was truly frightening, yet we seemed to have little to show for it. As I once had done in the UK, comparing the cost of a Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose grocery shop, I did a dummy online Sainsbury’s shop and compared it with my most recent bill from Carrefour Supermarket, using my receipt to find as close to “like for like” items. The results were scary! With the exchange rates at parity there was a 30% increase in the cost of grocery shopping in France. Even with the exchange rates at the 2005 values, French bills were substantially higher. The same applied in other areas, clothes, shoes and particularly electronic equipment.
Each week my mail box down at the gate is loaded up with brochures and flyers advertising the bargains available at my local Carrefour and Lidl and numerous others. I often browse through them hoping for a bargain deal, though often resort to saving the paper for lighting my fire in the evening (its glossy pages do not burn well!) However, tucked amongst them is the local “Top Annonces”, a nugget of a little paper with houses to rent or buy and the Job Vacancy page! Normally there are few jobs, an opening for a qualified butcher, an estate agent (I am not yet up to the sales patter) and numerous “hostesses” for city centre clubs!
But suddenly, one day lurking amongst the rest in a bright yellow box was an advert for “Pages Jaunes”. I perked up, for this was none other than the French version of Yellow pages ready for its annual distribution, and looking for unlikely candidates prepared to brave all weathers to get them distributed. And I was the unlikeliest candidate of them all! An English Architect!
The first step of course was to apply! For most French this would be a “walk in the park” but for me it entailed making a phone call, the one aspect of living in France that filled me with dread! It took me about three days to decide to actually ring to apply, partially because I knew I would succeed in making a relative fool of myself, and secondly because it was a job that I wouldn’t have considered in the UK. But needs must and I had plenty of time on my hands and I had nothing to loose. The phone call of course was as I predicted. The receptionist had a strong regional accent, and despite the fact I had rehearsed my speech, I was thrown when she requested my postcode first, since French numbers are notoriously difficult once into the thousands.
My postcode typically was one of the wonderful hybrid numbers, 76230, the seventies being marginally easier than the eighties and definitely easier than the nineties, but whilst already written hundreds of times, had not been practiced by me aloud. A big pause therefore before I launched myself into it! Immediately afterwards she asked for my coordinées. I was a little disturbed by this, not knowing the map reference to my property, but guessing that a simple address might be adequate, I launched ahead, only to be stopped swiftly, as a telephone number was all she required. Since French phone numbers are always given in doubles, I was forced to gather myself again before proceeding. It is quite interesting how in the UK phone numbers are given using single digits and noone gives it another thought, but if you try to do the same thing in France, you feel utterly stupid. Breathing a sigh of relief, and believing the worst was over I was completely off guard when she announced I would need to go for an interview and proceeded to give me an address. I was to turn up to “Pole Emploi” she said in her regional accent. I caught the “Pole” but missed the emploi, and asked her to spell it, and there found myself tangled in a web of “E”s sounding like ur’s and “I”s sounding like “E”s, and embarrassed after two repetitions penned some letters down and hoped the street name might later throw some light on the destination! My appointment was in the afternoon, I knew that because she used the 24 hour clock, something that we never do in the UK, and the French always do. It is something to master later on as for me it entails a double translation, and my brain simply won’t work fast enough!
Thanks to Google Maps I located my destination and found the office at the appointed time. I entered and introduced myself and went to wait in the waiting room. Within a few minutes the waiting room was “plein du monde” – full of the world, and shortly afterwards some thirty of us were ushered into a conference room.
Monsieur “Pages Jaune” proceeded into his presentation, and approximately 60 percent of it went over my head. I reckoned on working it out as I went along! This was to seriously back-fire later! Reams of forms were handed out and we sat in silence penning our way through them until I reached an obvious problem – The form requested my French car insurance details and Social security number. There was nothing for it but to ask a question. I considered my options, I could launch my question into the deathly silence of this conference room or sidle defeated towards the door. I considered I might be stopped as I sidled and would have to own to my foriegnness, which up till now had gone un-noticed, and having got this far I might as well continue. As luck would have it, the female assistant, wandering the room was slowly approaching my seat. I waited, biding my time and stopped her to ask if my questions. Pleased with myself, I waited for her reply, only to mortified when she turned to the rest of the room and Monsieur “Page Jaune” in the far corner, declaring “this lady has a question!” There was nothing for it – my Britishness was “out” –
“ I have a British registered car and British insurance” I said “and have so far been totally unsuccessful in gaining my social security number despite my best efforts- is it going to be a problem?”
“You don’t live in Britain too, do you?” he replied laughing and on my reply to the negative he assured me the job was mine if I wanted it! He wrote down on a piece of paper the address of the storage depot, complete with a little hastily drawn map and the start time, and crossed a box with regard to the social security and sent me on my way wishing me “Bonne chance”, one of my favourite little French phrases to date – and so applicable and necessary to me!
I was silently delighted with my first major success in France – I had joined the working population – it was a major coup!
I can honestly say that the job itself was fun to do. I arrived at the depot to have my car loaded to the gunwhales with directories. The weather was superb and sunny, and I had four weeks to deliver as much as I could to maximise my income! I explored, as much as worked, my own district on foot, discovering what lay behind normally closed gates. Tiny cottages, manoirs and chateaux, reclamation yards, restaurants and garden centres. I discovered the lot and had interesting and quick conversations with people as I passed. But the joke was on me when one lady, irritated that I had not simply left the directory in her mail box, demanded why I hadn’t been given a master key! And so I had, the key I’d been carrying around with me for the last 700 distributions, which I had mistakenly confused for a master key to a block of flats, was none other than the master-key to all the mail boxes in France, and thus doubling my efficiency!
Meanwhile the kids reached their first milestone – their first half-term and a major excuse for celebration and relaxation. So far so good – all alive and well and enjoying the Indian summer with trips to the local pool, and our first trip out westwards to Trouville and Deauville, the popular sandy beach resorts with their 1920’s Casino architecture.
With weather like this, one can hardly believe we are only a month away from christmas!