petite anglaise

February 22, 2005

breaking point

Filed under: misc — petiteanglaiseparis @ 1:07 pm

I woke up this morning at 6.30 am to the sound of Fun Radio. Tadpole had evidently been re-tuning the radio again. I don’t know which is worse, shouty disc jockeys playing French RnB (pale and rather dodgy imitation of American RnB) or Mr Frog’s preferred news channel. Someone should conduct a scientific study into the long-term effects of waking up to the word “war” or “corruption” every morning.

I realised that Mr Frog was now beside me, although he hadn’t been when I fell asleep shortly after midnight.

“T’es rentré à quelle heure, finalement?” I mumble.

“Vers deux heures trente” he replies, sheepishly.

I open my eyes. He looks terrible: pale and drawn and ten years older.

I choke back tears of pure rage and bury my head in the pillow. I realise this reaction is not going to make the poor guy feel any better, but I can’t help myself.

I have never been introduced to any of Mr Frog’s bosses at the Agency, even if they are English speakers and we could well have a lot in common. This is, I suspect, because Mr Frog is worried I might bare my teeth and growl at somebody. Or launch myself at them, fists flying (ineffectually).

I simply cannot stand to watch the client walk all over their team, making demands which become ever more unreasonable, basically amounting to “can you just bend over a bit more – yes, that’s right, the angle’s just perfect – so I can shaft you more thoroughly”. (Pardon my French, but I did warn you I was angry.) No-one dares to stand up to the client, to defend their right to a life outside work, to say, “no, what you are asking is just plain impossible, and we cannot do a U-Turn this late in the day.” But no, instead they just line up and drop their trousers.

For the last two weekends Mr Frog has worked. Both in the office, and using a borrowed laptop at home. Almost every morning he has been long gone before Tadpole and I awoke, returning hours after Tadpole’s bedtime. The way things are going this week, he won’t see her until Friday morning. Five days later.

It tears holes in my heart when I wake Tadpole in the morning and one of the first things she says is “Va voir daddy?” in a hopeful little voice. I explain, sighing, that daddy had to leave early today. She nods, but toddles off in her pyjamas to check the bathroom and the bedroom anyway. Once she’s sure I am telling the truth, she says flatly “Daddy gone. Office.”

Yesterday she blew some kisses at the front door. For daddy. Wherever he might be.

This morning was the last straw. Mr Frog had worked from 8.00 am until 2.30am. He was taking the 07.55 Thalys to Brussels, to give a powerpoint presentation about strategy to the client. On four hours sleep, after working 16 consecutive days. I heard him coughing this morning in the bathroom in a telltale way . Nerves.

I have to get him out of there, whatever it takes. Forget buying a flat, forget financial security.

Otherwise they will chew him up and spit him out and I’ll be left picking up the pieces of my broken frog off the floor.

February 21, 2005

who's your daddy?

Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaiseparis @ 9:30 am

Tadpole suddenly started speaking in phrases this week. French ones mind, which are not nearly half as gratifying to me as English ones. I am not yet ready to admit even to myself that French will be her dominant language, while my mother tongue is likely to be relegated to second language status.

Overnight, everything she pointed at was suddenly accompanied by a “c’est … ça.”

“C’est mummy ça”, “C’est daddy ça”, “C’est teddy ça”, “C’est quoi ça?”.

Or with a triumphant “there it is”: “Il est daddy” “Elle est mummy.”

Accompanied without exception by exaggerated finger-pointing and arm-waving. As far as gesticulation levels go, Tadpole most definitely qualifies as a French person.

Pushing Tadpole plus wobbly trolley around the supermarket (no security harness, this is France) on Saturday evening, stocking up on edible provisions for the week, (which now include various additive-laden but child-friendly snacks that I hitherto swore I would never feed my child, including fish fingers, which I am currently rediscovering), Tadpole gets it into her pretty little head that a complete stranger, who looks absolutely nothing like her father, and is at least a decade older than he is, is her daddy. The only plausible explanation I can find for this is that she was confusing the word “daddy” with the word “man”.

“C’est daddy ça!”, shouts Tadpole, loudly, with extended arm and pointy index finger.

“Er… no sweetie, that’s not your daddy. It might be someone else’s daddy though.”

We turn into the next aisle, and I begin my search for a breakfast cereal not containing ten times the recommended daily intake of sugar. A toss up between porridge oats and cornflakes, again: Rice Krispies are like gold dust in this city.

“C’est daddy ça” cries Tadpole earnestly, volume turned up a little higher. I start and look up hopefully from the packet of ‘Honey Smacks’ I am examining, wondering if daddy has actually deserted his powerpoint presentation and elected to join us in the supermarket. No such luck. Just the same man, who is not, never was, and never will be Tadpole’s father.

“Don’t be silly, it’s not your daddy,” I repeat firmly, wishing that it was, because I’m unsure how I am going to get both shopping and Tadpole home on my own, even if it is only 200m from the local Franprix to our own door.

I swing a hasty left, and pounce upon a packet of Jacobs crackers. Not because I actually like them, you understand, but because they are a brand from home, and Franprix don’t usually stock them, so I feel I have to seize the opportunity. I have an unopened bottle of HP sauce in my cupboard, also purchased at Franprix. They can keep each other company.

We take up our position in the queue.

“C’est DADDY ça, il est LÀ daddy.”

I lose my patience.

“Good grief [Tadpole], give me credit for some taste! That man is not your father!” I snap.

Tadpole is stunned into silence by my tone.

And I spend five minutes in the queue praying that the man in question isn’t an English teacher by profession.

February 18, 2005

upgrading hiccups

Filed under: misc — petiteanglaiseparis @ 9:41 pm

If you have eagle eyes you will note that this site has travelled back in time to approximately 1am Friday 17 February. This was due to a little glitch in my upgrade to the newest version of wordpress (which I didn’t need to have, but it has so many new features how could I not?) A tiny little problem that with my heavy handedness I managed to turn into a major fiasco, deleting my blogger posts from July to September in the process.

The good news is that it has been rescued and my old posts are back where they belong.

The bad news is that I need to fiddle a bit to make it look right, and I lost all your comments from today on the last 3 posts. Sorry about that. I might paste some of them back in again later, I saved them in a cunning word document and I especially liked the anonymous declaration from a ‘mystery admirer’. (I have your IP address anonymous, and I’ll track you down eventually!)

I will be tweaking a bit this weekend. I’ll try not to break anything this time, promise.

And thank you podz. I don’t know if you go around rescuing damsels in distress like this all the time, but in any case, this one is truly grateful!

As the main problem I was trying to solve involved comments, I’d be grateful if when you stop by this weekend you could drop me a line to show that you can! I can’t test this function myself, because as site admin I am treated differently to you mere mortals…!

February 17, 2005

driving a hard bargain

Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 3:07 pm

The main reason for my erratic posting this week is that I have been busy ‘negotiating’ with the childminder. A fraught process which has left me a couple of kilos lighter (a not unwelcome but sadly temporary state of affairs) and cheated me of many hours of beauty sleep.

It all began when we learned that a new Convention Collective (collective bargaining agreement?) covering Assistantes Maternelles had been brought into force on 1st January 2005: a booklet outlining the childminder’s rights, our rights, what should be in our contract and on her payslips. It was supposed to simplify our relationship and bring employment law for childminders into line with the rest of the French workforce.

This was not intended to change how much we actually pay her for her services, as she earns far in excess of the minimum wage as it is, but it does alter, on paper, the calculations used to reach this amount. She is now to be paid over twelve equal months, for example, whereas before she got a bit extra every month and was not paid during her holidays. We also have to come up with an hourly rate for a nine hour day, as opposed to paying her a daily flat rate under the previous system. On paper this all looked fine.

Of course two people can read the same document in many different ways, and human nature being what it is, the childminder sought to inflate her salary as much as possible by interpreting the document in bizarre and illogical ways. Tata (short for tante or auntie, which is what most children call their childminder) demonstrated once again that she can be a formidably tough negotiator. Her tactics are very simple: talk at the same time as your opponent until they get flustered and lose their thread, pretend not to understand any reasoned argument, and use a smattering of meaningless phrases like “but everyone else does that” and “at the meeting last Friday they definitely said that was right”. She also brandished various bits of paper (of obscure origin) at me showing ever increasing “recommended hourly rates”, when ultimately the rate was supposed to be something we agreed upon, based on what we paid her under her old contract.

On Monday she presented me with an amended version of our contract, which she had drafted, using the highest rate I’d seen to date. I went home and did the maths. And realised that she had managed to find an hourly rate which gave her exactly the same monthly salary as before, but paid over twelve months. A whopping € 700 per annum rise, equivalent to a month’s salary.

The panic attacks started again (and I’d only just thrown off the computer-related ones). You see, it’s a very delicate situation when you have to negotiate with the person who looks after the apple of your eye, in a city where demand for childminders far outweighs supply. On the one hand, she loves Tadpole and has been looking after her for almost a year and a half. Of the childminders we interviewed she was the only one we warmed to, the only one who seemed to genuinely love the children she helping to bring up. So we can’t afford to lose her. But, if we refuse to pay what she demands, there are ten children queuing up to fill Tadpole’s shoes. On the other hand, I do not want to be held hostage by this woman, who is seriously pushing her luck and, deep down, knows it. There are times when you have to stand firm, stay calm, and try to beat her at her own game.

On Tuesday I spent hours crafting the mother of all spreadsheets to demonstrate in the simplest possible terms (because she plays dumb, even if she isn’t) that what I was proposing to pay her was fair, that she wasn’t going to lose anything, but she wouldn’t be getting a huge pay rise out of us either. I also cast some doubt on her odd interpretation of the clause stating that her daily allowance (for food and equipment) was payable for each day the child was present. She had decided that this was payable for each day the child should theoretically be present. I had to spend a great deal of time hanging out on French nanny internet forums asking questions and sifting through reponses littered with an indecent number of smilies (there should be a legal limit in my opinion) and signed with hideous animated signature gifs to do battle with her assertion that “in the meeting that was what they told us to do”. A painful process, but one which eventually bore fruit as a member of the nannies’ union replied that what we were being asked to do was both wrong and illegal. I printed it out.

I took my sheaf of papers, asked her to look over my sums and played the role of ‘concerned mummy who is worried about putting something illegal in the contract’ . She promised to call her local representative to clarify a few points.

The next morning she backed down.

I still can’t believe I’ve managed to out-barter a North African nanny. But I’m left wondering what is the point of the unions thrashing out a collective bargaining agreement if the result is that we then have to go through a new round of bargaining of our own?

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