Monday, 24 February 2014

The Pitfalls of Parisian Shopping

The shop assistant’s eyes were on me. They’d been on me for the last five minutes. I tried to ignore her bored gaze and come to my own conclusions about the dress I was trying on. She didn’t look like she, personally, liked how I looked in it. Twirling around in the mirror for the hundredth time, I wasn’t sure that I did either. Regardless of how very clearly she couldn’t care less about whether I bought the dress or not, it didn’t stop her from telling me that, ‘it’s made for you, honey,’ and, ‘you look like a model.’ I doubted her sincerity. The fact that there was no mirror inside the changing room made the decision making process all the more difficult, and I was beginning to sweat. Working out how you feel about a potential new addition to your wardrobe is quite a private task, as I’m sure you’ll agree. You need to have the freedom to stare at yourself in it, uninterrupted, for a good few minutes, then see what it looks like from the back for a similar amount of time, then move around in it to see how it feels (a lunge or two is always quite useful for this.) Once you’re sure that the piece of clothing in question has passed these initial tests you can then move on to trying your own jacket over the top of it, tying your hair up, or taking your hair down, depending on how you had it in the first place, and possibly taking a few pictures to send to your American friend (who has very similar tastes to you) for a second opinion, which will only come through once she wakes up, which is very often a few hours too late, but is always welcome nevertheless. Not only did my lack of privacy mean that I couldn’t subject the dress to all these essential trials, there was the added trouble that I’d already been in this shop twice this week to look at the same dress, and now I felt as though I really should commit in some way. If not to this particular garment, then at least to a garment. I couldn’t possibly leave empty handed again; it just wouldn’t be right. I’m not sure who dictates how many times it’s ‘right’ to go into a shop and not purchase anything, and in fact, I’m pretty sure that you could go into a shop 365 times in a row and nobody would be able to ask you to leave simply for browsing, but if we didn’t follow unwritten protocol then we’d all be cavemen, clubbing each other over the heads, with no real need to find the perfect dress anyway. My indecision rising to almost tangible levels, I tried to get the scowling assistant back on my side by shooting her a friendly look that said, ‘what am I like, ey?’ She chose to ignore it, and me, and moved over to another customer who seemed like they had some intention of actually spending their money. I smoothed the silky material (probably polyester moonlighting as silk) down over my hips, and got onto my tiptoes to get a look over my shoulder. It looked alright. It was in no way a head turner, it was in no way the Parisian LBD that I’d promised I’d find myself, and it was in no way worth the €95 price tag. But living in Paris since October, I've long since lost all concept of an item’s real worth.
I went back into the comfort of my changing room and drew the curtain, just to buy some time. I slowly got undressed, and hung the dress back on the hanger so I could get another look at it. I couldn’t stay in there for long, so I made a snap decision. It was definitely nothing special. I could find something better, I was sure of it. I wasn’t buying it. I instantly felt a sense of relief at having found the sensible solution. I climbed back into my jeans and jumper, and feeling like a frumpy fraud, made my way back into the shop, dress in hand. Heading towards the rail to replace the dress, I caught the shop assistant’s almost imperceptible I-knew-it look. Her stupid, smug face made me feel ashamed and vindictive in equal measures, which is a dangerous combination by anyone’s standards. Before I knew what I was doing I’d made a sharp 360 turn and was placing the unwanted dress on the till. I could always bring it back when there was a different assistant working.
‘We have a no returns, no refunds policy, madame,’ the assistant said, in perfect English, as she made her way over to the till. (I hate it when French people assume - quite rightly - that I’m English.)
‘Pas de problème,’ I replied, my heart sinking now that I knew I was stuck with this dress that I almost definitely didn’t even want.
‘That will be €125 please.’ (I hate it even more when you speak French to a French person and they reply in English. I’m trying; humour me!)
‘Errr... N'est-il pas à prix réduit? Je croyais que toutes les robes étaient à €95...
‘Sorry madame, this dress is new season, it’s €125.’ (There she went again, answering me in English.)
‘Okay, great, I’ll take it.’ (And there I went again, giving in and answering in English, and spending money - that I didn’t really have going spare - just to save face.)
I can’t wait to wear my new dress (and by ‘wear’ I mean ‘put in the back of my wardrobe, and look at resentfully every now and then.’)
On my way home, the carrier bag containing my boring dress banged annoyingly against my shin, and I spotted the most beautiful black dress in the window of Zara. Against my better judgement, I  stopped to look at the price. It was €45.
Hurrah for my polyester delusion dress.  

Friday, 7 February 2014

Allergic to money

Fresh graduates aren't usually rolling in money. Au pairs aren't usually rolling in money either. I am a fresh graduate. I am also an au pair. Funnily enough, I am not rolling in money.
The people I work for on the other hand... Let's just say that I once witnessed a (small) €36 cheese being consumed chez E.V.P.'s mum. Not for any grand occasion. Not even particularly as a big blow out or a luxurious treat. Just on a school night. Just on a very ordinary school night during a very ordinary meal. (And not that this enhances the story in any way, but I genuinely prefer the €2 brie from my local Franprix.)
Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is this: my employers are hardly strapped for cash.
And yet... I act as though they are in the exact same boat as me - and in that boat we count coins and scrimp at every turn. And for this (entirely fabricated) reason, I can never bring myself to ask them for money. I'm not talking monetary gifts, I don't mean an outrageous pay rise, I'm simply referring to money that they owe me.
It's a disease really.
Before I arrived in Paris there had been vague talk of a contract of some sort, but what with one thing and another, and moving into P.P.(E.V.P.'s daddy)'s spare room, I just never bothered insisting. Silly, silly, silly, spineless Silv. A.V. (E.V.P.'s mummy) once told me, quote, 'we have a very organic attitude towards these things.' So.
Organic or not, it initially took me 5 weeks to muster up the courage to nervously remind A.V. that she had yet to pay me my first month's wage.
'Why was I having to remind her?!' I hear you ask.
'Because she is the most scatterbrained professional business woman I have ever encountered. She loses her house keys twice a week, never pays with cash, and doesn't believe in carrying a bag,(not sure that this is an appropriate place for atheism, but...)' I answer you.
Now, for some wildly inexplicable reason I was wracked with guilt when I had to ask her to pay me this money (money that she was late in giving me, let's just remember.) I asked her once, and she assured me that it was on its way. Another few days passed and it seemed to gave gotten lost on said way. The second time I had to ask her for these basic wages I was almost apologetic. Yet she wasn't. She'd merely forgotten, and would give them to me the next day. But then the next day she unexpectedly went to Mexico to shoot a film, (yeah, bitches be cray) and I had to more or less insist via email that I genuinely couldn't afford to live in this city for one more day unless she found a way to give me 'some' money (I'd long since abandoned the idea of her paying me the lot. Desperate times...)
She found a way eventually, (P.P. handed me a stuffed envelope on her behalf) and I relaxed for the next couple of weeks.`
But then another pay packet was due, and the whole charade started again.
The thing is, I don't blame her. She has a lot on her plate or whatever, and I understand why she would be in no rush to pay me unless reminded. Which is where I come in. Or at least, should come in. But I often don't. Because of this aversion to talk about money. C'est ma faute, but I don't know what to do about it.
I've only been here since October, so I've only had to beg to be paid three times up until now (the last time being two days ago.) 
But luckily for this blog post, the fun doesn't end there.
My tiny tot has grown accustomed to certain luxuries during his short, privileged life. To mention but a few, he expects a snack to be waiting in the paw of whoever meets him from school (which is me, 9 times out of 10), and he often can't be fucked walking when he can take a taxi. So. These things cost money. And it's me who pays for these things. A few weeks of daily pain au sucres and rides to his house around the corner soon add up. A.V. once told me that I should tell her how much I spend on these little things so that she can pay me back. She hasn't mentioned it since. Neither have I.
There's ways around that though. I soon learned that. Now I simply run E.V.P. home to the fridge before he has a chance to notice that I'm empty handed and that we're using our feet to get to our desired destination.
But the plot thickens further.
My working hours are as follows:
Mondays- 4.30-bedtime (his)
Tuesdays- 3.00-bedtime (his)
Wednesdays- 11.30-bedtime (his)
Thursdays- 4.30-bedtime (his)
Fridays- 3.00-bedtime (his)
And a few late nights when his parents fancy having a laugh.
So I have quite a bit of free time, not to mention that I'm not exactly enhancing my CV with my current 'career path', (if we can call it that) being as I have absolutely no intention of working with children (or even hanging out with any for any extended period of time until I have my own.) So, I help P.P. and A.V. out with fun shit that needs doing for their work - editing, transcripts, translating, letter writing and the like. It's alright, actually. Oh, apart from the fact that I am so far doing it all completely FOR FREE.
A.V. has a sneaky way of calling me into her office and making it seem like we're hanging out as gal pals rather than me doing her a favour. So I've just made an internal decision to never mention the money that I was promised. Just because... I'm really not willing to bring it up. So I guess I'll just carry on working for free until further notice.
With P.P. it's not so easy to avoid the subject. This is because he is painfully professional, and when he asks me to do stuff for him, it'll be full projects- shit that takes a good few days to finish. He suggested that I make a note of how many hours I spend doing whatever it is that he's given me, and then to let him know. So I did. (Well, I made a note of my hours. The letting him know part was another story...)
I painstakingly kept a little tally of the time I'd spent doing research for this new film he's doing, and it came out at a neat 15 hours. I emailed him all of my findings and various book summaries, and he was happy.
However, the next time I saw him in person, we had to have that conversation that I so dread, that conversation that makes my blood run cold and makes my eyeballs sweat. The Money Conversation.
It started out kinda okay.
'Silvia, I need to pay you for the project you just did.'
'Oh ha, yeah... erm... ha ha, well, I mean, yeah, I just... ha!'
At this point I backed away and started to put my coat on.
He followed me and said, 'we really do need to sort it. How do you want to do this?'
'I don't know... erm...' And I backed away more.
After lots of stuttering and avoidance I said that I'd made a note of how many hours I'd done, so maybe we could do it hourly. He was on board (as I knew he would be.)
'How many hours did you do then?' he politely asked.
Well that you can answer at least, Silv! We all know I did 15, because I worked it out and wrote it down that I did 15. Remember? I did that little tally. There was no mistaking how long I'd spent working on his project.
But shit that should be straightforward is never straightforward with me. Instead of just uttering the two easy syllables, 'fif-teen', what did I do? I lied. Just completely lied. Made it up.
'Ten and a half,' I said. WHAT. What the fuck is wrong with me?! Not only did I lie, but I lied to my detriment. I give up. I don't even deserve to be paid.
The poor man even insisted, 'we need to be professional. How much do you charge per hour?'
EUGH!! I don't charge anything, I have no idea about anything, I'll pay you if you want!
He's asked me a number of times 'how much I charge.' And every time I blush and mumble something unintelligible and then scurry off with my tail between my legs. I always try and turn it around by saying things like, 'well, how much do you pay?' When that fails (which it obviously always does), I then desperately say, 'whatever you think is fair!', and hope that he doesn't think €1 an hour is fair.
Last time I left with promises of researching how much others charge. I've looked. But I don't feel right asking him for the pay that I've seen EVERYONE SINGLE OTHER PERSON WHO DOES THE EXACT SAME JOB AS I'VE JUST DONE asks for.
The thing is, as much as I would be mortified if I accidentally asked for too much, I'd be equally mortified if I short changed myself. And yet, at this rate, I'm going to get nothing.
In conclusion, I will never be rich, because I am utterly incapable of even saying the word 'money.'
My future looks bright.

Oh yeah, I should probably take this opportunity to urge you to contact me if you have any odd jobs that need doing. I charge very competitive rates. (And by 'very competitive rates' I mean that I'll work for free. And thank you for it.)