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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Looking for Work is Work

And things are looking up.  I've been a little more absent the past week because I did succeed in getting interviews - five, to be precise.  One was via telephone with a company in Bruxelles and the four others were with French companies here in Paris.

I enjoy interviews.  I like the human contact (something you really miss when you are unemployed).  Since I've been around the block a few years in this part of the world,  I find that I almost always have former colleagues and companies in common with my interviewers.  Getting the latest news is always interesting and I come back home with ideas for people and places to contact.  It's never a waste of time even when I'm pretty sure I didn't get the job.

As I said before it takes me about an hour to get into town.  There is the short walk to the train (RER) station but I know the schedule by heart so I always arrive just in time.   From there it's a 20 minute train ride through a very long tunnel and then the train then pops out at Meudon le Fleury and follows the Seine into the heart of the city.  Nice view of the Eiffel Tower.  I usually get off at Invalides and then I take the metro to whatever neighborhood (arrondissement) I need to be in.

First order of business when I arrive at my destination is coffee.  I was really rather startled when I read some people's comments about my having an expresso at a bistro in a previous post.  Just goes to show you that context is everything.  Let me explain what that means here.  Go anywhere in the city, any neighborhood, and there will be small restaurants and bar/tobacco stores.  How nice they are really depends on the prosperity of the area.  When I was in Neuilly I had coffee at a very tony little place, very clean, nicely dressed waiters and (oh miracle) very clean restrooms.  Now that I'm interviewing I am out of those areas and in places like Saint Denis and the Silicon Sentier.  Different world in these neighborhoods but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Yes, the western side of Paris and her close suburbs is very pretty but it's almost too pretty to the point of feeling sterile.  You can actually find a Starbucks or a McDonalds in that part of town.  Nothing against either of those things but, between you and me, I find both expensive and not much value for money.

The place I went to yesterday, on the other hand, was a lot rougher but that was kind of irrelevant because what it lacked in amenities and tourist traps it more than made up for in sheer vibrancy.  This neighborhood was hopping with lots of people in the streets (many of them immigrants like me), shops, gaming parlors and little restaurants/bars/tobacco stores.  I found a bar next to the metro Château d'Eau in the 10th and sat down to talk to the owner and listen to the conversations going on around me.  At the table next to me was a group of musicians.  Older men, probably in their late 40's or 50's, talking about possible gigs.  Two were African-Americans from the U.S. (sounded East Coast to me), the others were French and African.  The conversation toggled between English and French and one other language I didn't recognize.

The owner of this place was a Frenchman of North African origin and he was the sweetest guy.  The bar itself had seen better days - the door was repaired with some sort of duct tape and the windows were dirty.  The bar itself was impeccably clean. And this is where I had my coffee that morning as I killed 30 minutes before my interview.  A couple of remarks about the context.  First of all I ordered an expresso because that was all they served.  No lattes, no mochas or anything like that.  Just a small cup with very strong, very hot, and very black coffee served with a little stick of sugar on the side.  So when someone describes to me a world where "expresso" is something you purchase in a tony little cafe in a nice part of town, I have a little moment of dissonance.  What?  Here, an "expresso" is just standard coffee and it is the cheapest coffee you can buy wherever you are.  This place was particularly cheap - 1,4 Euros a cup (less than 2 US Dollars).  You can drink it at the bar (something I used to do when we could still smoke inside) or you can sit down.  I sat down because I was wearing my "grown-up lady shoes" and my feet hurt.  Another thing - at no time on the street or in the bar did I feel unsafe and I couldn't even begin to tell you why.

I try to imagine going into a place that looked like this in one of Seattle's less prosperous neighborhoods and, to be honest, I probably wouldn't.  Latent racism on my part?  Maybe but when I walked into that bar in Paris yesterday, I was the only female person of European origin there and I didn't get any vibes that I was unusual, unwanted or out of place. Frankly, I've had more hassles in nicer parts of town with the Français de souche trying to pick me up and getting downright pushy about it.   I re-read my CV and the job description, slowly sipped my coffee, exchanged smiles and a few words with the owner, went to the bathroom to comb out my hair, came out, thanked him and went about my business.

It was a good interview.  The only problem with living in Versailles and looking for work in the city is the commute.  One interview means half a day in town  - two hours of transport plus two hours of interviewing.  This means less time to send out CV's and make cold calls.  I'm home today and have to make up for lost time.  I did do some late night reading in bed and I'll post later on the day about the new ILO report on global employment.  Very interesting reading.

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