My crazy work experience in France
I accidentally moved to France in 1998, straight after graduating, and I had some seriously weird and wonderful work experiences in the following 12 years of living on the French Riviera. So many people have told me I should share these crazy French jobs on the blog so here goes….
Crazy work experience in France Number 1:
The one where I got paid £2 an hour to clean up vomit
My first job in France was waitressing in a bar in Nice for two consecutive summers (pre and post final year at university). The job earned me (some) money and gave me days off to go to the beach, and a bit of drinking/dancing time in the early hours of the morning.
I worked 6 days a week, from 6pm until about 3.30am (with a half hour break at 7pm) for the princely sum of…..£20 a night! To put this in context, the previous summer my UK-based office job earned me £40 for a standard 8 hour day. (Just in case you are wondering, our tips would net us an extra £5 a night on a very good day.)
We got paid so little because we weren’t “declared” workers. It was legal for us to live and work in France, but the bar owners didn’t want to have so many employees, officially, on the books as they would have been heavily taxed for each employee. This meant that whenever the “inspecteur du travail” came round to check that each employee was accounted for, at least half of us were told to sit down, grab a beer and pretend we were customers.
A couple more high points of this job were having to wear an orange crop top to work in (fortunately only the first summer), and the joy of cleaning the vomit-covered toilets at 2.30am when the bar closed. However I did make some amazing friends whilst working there, and I did love partying afterwards with our bar friends, and meeting them to hang out with on the beach during the day.
Crazy work experience in France Number 2:
The one where my boss was a mafia criminal
When I decided to stay in France I thought I should get a “real” job and leave bar work behind me, so I applied for various jobs, not really sure what I was qualified/wanted to do with my degree in French and Spanish.
And then I hit jackpot, I was employed on a CDI (Contrat de Durée Indéterminée), a permanent job contract which is like gold-dust in France, as it’s almost impossible to fire someone from such a contract. I was going to be the trilingual secretary in a brand new company, based in Nice.
The job itself was fairly boring, but I worked with a half English/half French woman who I got on well with. I was getting good money for France (i.e. a pittance for the UK) and everything seemed to be going well. Until one Friday evening when I was watching the local French news. And I saw my boss, in handcuffs, being led into the Palais de Justice (local courthouse), by the police.
I had to wait until the Monday morning to be informed by a colleague, who’d worked with my boss before, that this was just archived footage, there was nothing to worry about, and all was well with the company and my job…..but oh, by the way, our boss had been arrested for fraud and wasn’t legally allowed to run a business in France, which explained why the company I worked for was in his mistress’s name and officially registered in Luxembourg.
That in itself was fairly shocking, but it got crazier. A couple of months later I found out that he had links to the Russian Mafia (they are very prominent in the Nice area) and money-laundering, and that one of his former employees had received death threats when he suggested he might reveal too much about the company to investigators. That was enough for me and I quickly handed in my notice before I knew too much to be a risk! (I’ve not named him or the company online as he and his company still exist, and seem to be as dodgy as ever from what I can tell.)
Crazy work experience in France Number 3:
The one with the secrets
I moved on from the Russian Mafia job to working in a language school, teaching English to adults, in one-on-one and group lessons. I taught all sorts of people, from CEOs of international companies, to unemployed chambermaids, from Russian ballet dancers to numerous IT developers.
I loved this job and the people I worked with, although I did teach some absolute crazies! Whenever I had one-on-one lessons, the students always seemed to feel the need to treat me like their shrink and to share their secrets with me.
So there was the self-confessed sex addict who was trying to get an employee to have an affair with her. She used to show me text messages she sent him, signed from “la bête de sexe” (sex animal).
Then there was the “poor, abandoned” husband, who I used to teach from 7-8pm in the deserted school, on my own, who would tell me “my wife doesn’t understand me, but you, you do”, to which I would reply, “now shall we compare the past simple and the present perfect?” Ignoring him seemed to work fortunately.
I remember the Russian ballet dancer who kept wanting to kiss me “hello” on the lips as “that’s what we do in Russia”. And who professed his love for me in Russian, which believe me is not the most romantic language!
But after working there for several years I decided it was time to move on….
Crazy work experience in France Number 4:
The one with the boss who was fired for fraud
So this new job was great. I was working with some really fun people. The job was interesting (I was the bilingual PA to the global Vice-President of an international company), and it also happened to be really well-paid. Well in comparison to teaching anyway.
Just when I thought nothing could go wrong…..a director from the company, coming back from a trip to the company’s head office, informed us that my boss (the global VP) was being put on gardening leave while they investigated him for fraud.
What is it with me and dodgy bosses? But it gets worse as my bosses turn supernatural….
Crazy work experience in France Number 5:
The one with the boss who was a self-professed witch
Fast-forward a few years and I got an interview for a job that sounded great, working for a woman from the Balkans, doing marketing and PR in the film industry, which included organising a launch during the Cannes Film Festival, at the spectacular Majestic Hotel.
At the interview my future boss explained to me that she was a witch and was burned at the stake in a former life. OKAY. By this stage I was quite used to working for strange French Riviera folk, so I thought what the hell and took the job.
I used to work at her house two days a week, and from home the other three days. The days that I worked at hers she would “provide” lunch, but as she was constantly dieting this would consist of a minuscule salad and water, I remember how she would serve me this tiny portion and say “that’s enough for you” (I shrank to a size 8 working for her).
But the funniest was the things she would come out with, such as “I’ve found a cure for cancer, but I can’t tell anyone as the Illuminati are after me, and they don’t want me to share what I know”. She then proceeded to explain how we needed to eat the inside of fruit stones, to protect ourselves from cancer, as she made me eat one “I will check the bin to make sure you’ve not thrown it out”!
I stuck the job out for 6 months before getting out for the sake of my health and sanity.
And then not long after we decided to leave France for the bright lights, big city of London. And I got a normal job. With normal people. Who were not witches, criminals, mafioso or sex addicts.
Whilst not all jobs/companies in France are like these ones (I have lots of friends who had/have perfectly normal jobs there), the above are true stories of my bizarre work experience in France. (I think the French Riviera is also probably the centre for weird people and jobs!)
I wonder if I’m the only one out there who’s had crazy jobs in France. Or anywhere else come to that. Care to share?