Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Learning to love the shit

Wisdom tells me that perhaps before I post this blog I shouldn’t even write it. But heck it’s 320am in the morning and I can’t sleep. Already I know I will have to proof read but although I can’t sleep I am really tired.

There is just too much in my head. So here it is. I will say this once and spell it out clearly for the world and its mother to hear and then I will talk about it no more publicly, at least not on the internet. I work as an English teacher in a foreign country that is part of Europe but does not recognise any diploma or degree from outside of it’s own borders.

I cannot get a permanent contract as a teacher; it’s a way for the schools to avoid paying the many taxes imposed by the French government. Before Christmas I earned 1200 euro a month for November, October and September, and although December and January were not great, I didn’t realise due to bad reading ability in French, that February and March would be just as bad if not worse.

I had struggled for five months to find a place to live. Due to not having a CDI, which is a Contrat Durée Indéterminée, in other words a permanent contract, no one wanted to lease to me. Apparently it’s really hard to throw people out of accommodation here in France even when they don’t pay. Six agents, and six independent owners, and one couple who really made life difficult for me by letting me down as guarantors for my rent, after they themselves suggesting it would be a good idea, I finally found a young agent willing to cut a deal and give me a three month rolling contract. Great. I managed to leave my ex’s home, and set up on December 1st 2004 in a new place, with a new found freedom. The fact that I was in the one place I could be thrown out of didn't bother me as I didn't realise what was coming.

It cost me over 2000 euros to get my foot in the door and poof, all my reserves of cash were gone. Then came the problem with reading. I hadn't understood my contracts, and most of my classes dissappeared. I worked about 12 hours in February and in March I have officially worked 22, plus the 10 that were worked illegally as in under the table, and as often happens when you go under the table, you get a kick. There are some hours from Monaco too but not much.

In January having realised what was coming I went to different organisations asking for temporary assistance, shit I have paid my European taxes for years now and it’s about time I got something back.

To cut a long story short, the social assistant didn’t really assist, the CAF, those who allocate funds, didn’t allocate but 35 euro to my plight, and the RMI, which I called Really Mired In it, told me politely to piss off. The long and the short is like this, I earned 630 euros this month, of which I will be paid only 500, and only 216 of it is official. 480 of which is my rent, that leaves 10 to pay off my 200 overdraft, my phone bill, my petrol, my printing for classes, my stamps for job applications and various letters complaining to the above organisations, oh yeah and food and water. Apart from the debts I ran up on my credit card from Ireland which is maxed out, the five grand I already owe to family and friends, and the fact I am going home next week, for my sons birthday and my parents 50th wedding anniversary, and I can’t get anything for anyone, well apart from that life is enjoyable. Besides, if I stayed here, the schools are all on holidays and that would be just crazy.

Now don’t get me wrong please. This is not a pity me piece. This is I can’t sleep and I need to get it off my chest. Because for one thing although I can no longer smell the shit, as I am so deep in it, I realise that for all the fears, life is damn good. I am firstly living in a good-looking environment.

There are people around who I care about immensely and I think they care about me a bit. Neither am I sitting on the few laurels I have left. Three new CV’s have been done up this week. More than a few job searches were done and more than a few speculative applications were made. The fact that these things take time and I don’t have it, really doesn’t help. I have not yet gone to the charities that hand out food as I am too proud and perhaps too silly and as I already told you all, I am not brave enough either.

So having gone up rather late to the two Arab sisters to try and boost my morale, (it took a while as all they did was bitch about how difficult it is and get me more depressed), I was touched by the wisdom that is H. H has I have already said in a previous post, is woman lacking in confidence and her financial situation is worse than mine. I haven’t gone days without eating yet. H is a qualified civil engineer but apparently Algerian engineering is different to French engineering and she has gone back to school at night and can’t get a day job to feed herself.

Last week she went to a Catholic organisation that fed both the girls for the week. This week perhaps with some shame of going back again, they tried another place, another religion, and another street. H walked in with a friend from one of islands in the Indian Ocean. The conversation from the two volunteers in front of them went along the lines of How dirty Arabs are and how dirty Tunisians in particular are. How Tunisia itself is full of Mosquitoes and how rubbish and filth line the streets. One woman in particular didn’t see why they should help these filthy Arab people only to see them bring their dirt to the streets of France, Mais non, suremont pas.
Noticing the two young ladies who came in they then engaged them in a conversation about hair, as H’s hair is beautiful and after months of being badgered by a friend and I, she has finally relented and wears it loose over her shoulders. Then of course the lady who didn’t like dirt and mosquitoes asked H where she was from. H said Algeria, and she pointed out that she had been to Tunisia several times and it is not how the lady had described it. In fact the lady who didn’t like Tunisia had never been there. The odd thing this time, is that the lady didn’t even flinch and complimented her on her skin. This is unlike the old woman who H helped across the road one day. The old lady was blind. H took her to the supermarket and helped her do her shopping, and brought her home. At her door the blind old lady mentioned that H had a nice accent, there was a little something in it, non? “I am Algerian”, said H and the blind old lady was visibly perturbed. See I am in the shit but I don’t have to go through what H gets here every day cause I am not Algerian, I am Irish. Still it doesn’t make it any easier and I don’t know how I am going to cope. And fuck it to hell I want the whole world to know.


Steve said...


Wow, that was quite a rant. Bet it felt good.

Luckily I have never been in the same financial straits as you, but I am a foreigner in the same country, so maybe my suggestions will resonante with you.

1. Move off the côte d'azur. I know your son is there, but in the rest of France, with the possible exception of the Paris area, life is a lot cheaper, friendlier, less flashy, less in-your-face, etc. Have you been in Cannes yet during the film festival? (it's coming up in May.) Even a person without your financial problems can be disturbed by the extent to which he feels excluded. To me the film festival is a microcosm of the côte d'azur.

2. Target private language schools. Maybe you are already doing this. While I was changing careers from bank credit analyst to translator, I had a period during which I taught English. I had no trouble getting work, legally, from private language schools (including one Irish-based one in Paris called Nations). True, I had a diploma from a prestigious American university, but it had no "value" per se here in France. I could fog up a mirror, in English and French, and that's what interested them. Which brings me to number 3.

3. Learn French cold. This will make you a lot more credible when you go out looking for work. It's amazing how people associate language fluency with intelligence. Nowhere (in my experience) is this truer than in the US, where the he-doesn't-even-speak-English mentality sums it up, but it exists here too. Become exemplary in reading, speaking and writing French. You'll be amazed at the diff. All of a sudden people will start admiring you, rather than treating you as just another foreigner. Forget about slang, except for understanding it; never use it.

That's all for now. Feel free to e-mail me if you want to chat.


Madame D said...

Oh, honey, that's awful.
While I'm not even pretending to be in the same situations as you, because I am at least in a place where I know the language, I'm definitely in a bad situation, and know how much stress that causes. I hope that some of what Steve said helps-he obviously knows what he's talking about. I haven't the slightest idea about France. 2 years of high school french left me able to say I don't speak french, and I speak french a little. In french.
Drop me a line, okay?

Supernaturally Sagittarius said...

Safe is what you feel when you have a routine in life ~ sure things, clockwork. Safe is what lies underneath the boredom and resentment the frustration and restlessness of life. Safe is why you stay still when you feel the energy crackle inside of you, just under your skin ~ because Lord knows you cannot walk away or change direction. Not without a well thought out plan, not without the correct budget or the necessary means. (I should include here that when I use necessary in that sentence I meant it in the way that it has come to mean in the “civilized” societies of today; necessary means ~ all those things which make life comfortable and easy.) Safe is nice and I guess well enough for most, only on the other side of safe is ALIVE.
Alive is when you step, or get knocked, outside the proverbial comfort zone of life. Alive is when you are stark raving mad with fear, up all night with worry, have not only hit rock bottom but have smashed into it face first and you lay there, tiny broken bits of who you thought you were, consumed with questions. Alive is after you stay at the bottom for a while, when you start to heal and you stand yourself up to have a look around. Alive comes from having all of those fears realized and yet, still breathing, still smiling over some silly child hood memory. Alive is unleashing all those self-imposed regulations, embracing the electricity and focusing the restlessness. Finally, alive is after you’ve taken the fall and you begin to find your way, thinking that you are wondering aimlessly, and then you get the answer to one of your questions ~ you look ahead of yourself and you see that all of the answers are there, just waiting to be found and you know ~ KNOW ~ that this will turn out as it should be. Not knowing what it should be, well yes that causes some stir of insects deep inside your belly, and that is just lovely!
Welcome to the living, it's beautiful!

Kerri Rachelle said...

Collie, I believe you have the superb spirit of an artist. Your story reminds me of a book called "A Thing of Beauty" which you would seriously enjoy reading. If you feel you should stay where you are, be a scoundrel and use every available resource until YOU get ahead. If you want to return to your home, do it with pride. I think you're wonderful. Maybe I should send you some cookies?

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