Linguistically Challenged Architect Seeks Benevolent Bureau!

image of Elbeuf and surroundings thanks to
image of Elbeuf thanks to Landry Lechevre

The simple stone exterior of the building just before the Pont de Guynemer in Elbeuf hides a chic bureau des architectes. I know so because I went there yesterday.

Several months ago a friend in the school playground had handed me a piece of paper with the web address of the ‘Ordre des Architectes’ in France. I have procrastinated for quite some time, and finally one evening last week I took a look. Why the procrastination? Well it all comes down to a case of ‘self-registration’ of disability!

After my post on the availability of Tiers Temps, I have had a few comments expressing disappointment that it is necessary to register oneself as handicapped in order to gain any benefits. However, if I self analyse, I can only come up with one diagnosis – that fundamantally, in the absence of fluency, I, and anyone else in the same position are indeed handicapped and opportunities in the working world are limited. My view is that one has to be honest about ones limitations and do whatever one can to overcome them.

And so it was with that in mind that I placed an advertisment on the ‘annonces’ section of the website – for a ‘handicapped’ Architecte Anglais, never imagining that anything would come of it! I did of course divulge that my handicap was linguistic. Two days later I received two replies to my advertisement, one of which, having forwarded my CV, resulted in an entretien, or interview.

I have had four interviews in France. My first and second as part of a group for mundane unskilled work, and all that I couldn’t understand (essentially everything – it was early days) was conveniently provided on a flip-chart. The hardest part of the interview had been the phone conversations before hand trying to decipher the addresses. My third interview was for a job that I had already pretty well decided I didn’t want. I was asked to meet the prospective employer at a garden centre in Rouen where I was being interviewed to be their Normandy representative for stock supplies for all garden  centres in Normandy. The employer was half an hour late, and without a word of explanation,  proceeded into a half hour interview of which I understood nothing at all thanks to the interviewer’s incredibly ‘thick’ accent and ability to merge all words together at such a break-neck speed that each sentence came out in a meaningless jumble of words. I was relieved to withdraw from the post, and he was most likely relieved not to have me on the team.

There was a 50/50 chance that my linguistic ability was going to let me down this time, and ever conscious of the excruciating garden centre interview, I kept realistic as to my chances of success, leaving the preparation of my portfolio to absolutely the last minute with a  blasé esprit of nonchalence that would have left my husband (if he’d been there) in a complete state of shock. Such lackadaisical approach backfired of course when I turned a page during the interview to reveal an upside down photo!

The architects bureau was a fabulous example of turn of the century french architecture;  decorative mouldings, parquet, panelling and superb marble fireplaces beautifully modernised and offset with modern furnishings and chalky traditional paint colours. Where interior and exterior design was concerned – jackpot!

Preliminaries over, I found the director clear, informative, frank and interested in fresh ideas and directions. Things have moved on since my last days in a practice (other than my own) – for one thing, half of the architects were women and the bureau youthful. The director found the idea of a portfolio very unusual, the french have ‘le book’, which is an individual  bound representation of all their work. A ‘must’ for the future!

Thanks to

So what had I advertised for? This is the reality. Getting a foot in the door of a professional enterprise in France is nigh on impossible, the French mistrust the qualifications of other nationalities and rely heavily on contacts, kudos of universities – or rather the superior ‘grandes ècoles ‘, as well as merit. What one forgets in moving overseas is that the the same profession has a different game-plan, rules and method and without knowing what it is, a foreign professional is at a severe disadvantage in addition to the linguistic handicap. I requested a ‘Stage de Decouverte’ – essentially an unpaid entry into the architecture profession, the value of which will be unknown until I start – because yes, thankfully I was sufficiently competent to appear lucid and comunicative in an interview situation and the director was prepared to give me an opportunity. So what is my salary –  ‘CPD’ training in communication and vocabulary,  in french architectural building regulations, and in french ‘informatique’ (Computer Aided Design systems) and of course the ever vital methodology. The  future? The bureau has an opening for an architect and i’ll have a foot in the door.

If I make it, it cannot fail to be another window into French life.

If not, at least I can leave all those French women architects knowing that English women architects have great taste in handbags…..

‘C’est mignon’ they said all gathering round – who cares about the portfolio!

Just Desserted! – Je Viens d’être Désserté!

Version Français

This morning, at 4am my husband left for Nigeria again.

Barely had his plane taken off from the tarmac – if indeed it had, than I experienced my first set-back of the year.

At 8.30 my son arrived at my bedroom door declaring that a man was at the front door. Not quite ready for visitors I sent him back to tell the man to go away! The man, however was very persistant. Reluctantly I went to investigate to find the ‘homme de ramonage” at the door – the chimney sweep. Fortunately I was ‘up’ on the word having received the day before from the lettings agent a demand for the ‘certificate de ramonage’ along with the ‘attestation d’assurance’ with  January’s rent.

The ‘sweep’ declared that he had been sent by the lettings agent, and since the chimney in question was the boiler flue, and it was under a ‘entretien’ or maintenance contract, and he had already gained access to the building which is securised by a locked access door he seemed to be legitimate. I asked if it was absolutely necessary and he assured me it was obligatory under a legal statute.

Accordingly he set to work. On completion he then suddenly demanded 80 euros to which I replied that as it was covered under the maintenance schedule he must direct the bill to the agent. This he persuaded me he was unable to do as in order to have my name on the certificate I would have to pay myself and deduct the sum from the rental charges.

He must have thought Christmas had come again when I first came to the door with my english accent. Of course it was only after I had parted with my cheque, and completely woken up that it occurred to me that something was not right. Immediately I drafted off an email to my excellent neighbour downstairs to ask her opinion regarding the need to pay for the maintenance. Her reply stopped me in my tracks: fundamentally i’d been ‘had’.

The ‘sweep’ had of course called on her before me, having been let into the building by someone else and she had refused to let him in to her apartment. She will be amused at my attempts for damage limitation – first a call to the bank to see if it was possible to stop the cheque – not so; and then a visit to the local gendarmerie to see if I could lodge a complaint.

I take my hat off to the gendarmerie who were excellent, contacting first the lettings agent to see if they had indeed organised the maintenance call and then checking the maintenance company was ‘bona fide’. The answers came out unfortunately in the wrong order, a ‘NO’ and then a ‘YES’, and reluctantly I had to return home knowing that a weasel of a man had just twisted his tale to relieve me of 80 euros and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it!

So the moral of this tale is – never believe anyone who hasn’t booked in advance with a specific service call, check and double check before you agree to any service, remember that in France, unlike the UK you cannot cancel cheques and finally if I never have my cheque returned, I shall reveal the name of the enterprise so others can avoid the same scam.

The outlook for the rest of the month –   if it ‘s started off this badly, its time to turn my back on our gorgeous local patisserie, tighten our belts and bake my way out of a very meagre January.

watch this space!