petite anglaise

February 19, 2007


Filed under: working girl — petiteanglaiseparis @ 11:00 am

I am going to the prud’hommes (French industrial tribunal thingy) today to contest my dismissal. This is rather unexpected, but my lawyer informed me late on Friday evening that contrary to everything we had been led to believe, my ex-employer’s lawyers had changed their minds about asking for the hearing to be deferred to a later date (and had forgotten to let us know).

Given that I’d been told precisely the opposite a matter of days earlier, it’s somewhat miraculous that I’m back from the UK, have childcare for the day and can attend at all. I suppose, to look on the bright side, at least I haven’t spent the last week feeling apprehensive, which might have put a dampener on my trip to England with Tadpole.

More later…

Update: lawyer obtained a deferral and the case now will be heard on 21 March, which should give me time to actually read the substance of the arguments being made against me and make sure all the facts are straight.

October 2, 2006

the office

Filed under: working girl — petiteanglaiseparis @ 3:54 pm

I think it might be the light-hearted banter I miss most.

In the mornings, as the coffee machine screeched and growled, grinding beans (or cockroaches) to make a near perfect espresso, we yawned, stretched and gossiped. On a good day, someone might have baked a cake, or some brownies, or brought in a huge bar of imported Cadbury’s chocolate. It was nine a.m. and I’d only eaten breakfast half an hour previously, but I learnt that it’s never to early for the first chocolate fix of the day.

Around one, a crowd of girlfriends fetched sandwiches and salads together and we picnicked while we moaned about the boss, or our boyfriends, or discussed the latest episode of whichever series was flavour of the month. On bad days, our collective silence was punctuated only by the occasional sigh; on better days we made each other giggle uncontrollably, and I wobbled dangerously on my high stool, tears streaming down my cheeks, secretly giving thanks to the French God of post-natal re-education, without whom I would have undoubtedly been in trouble.

The office was my main source of adult conversation; my lifeline. I don’t think I ever woke up looking forward to working – or that a single day went by when I didn’t swear at the sound of my alarm clock – but once I was there, my office friendships sustained me.

There are many things I don’t miss, of course. The distinctive rattle of a cassette being inserted into a dictation machine, especially ten minutes before I was due to knock off for the day and fetch my Tadpole. The constantly trilling telephone, which could not be left unanswered. Not only having to drag myself to the office in the mornings, but the need to look presentable, which meant tights, make-up and uncomfortable shoes. The tray used for taking coffee and tea into meetings, which was just too wide to comfortably negotiate the meeting room doorway. Photocopying; binding; typing accounts. The ducking, diving, bowing and scraping of office politics. Living at the mercy of mercurial temperaments and blood alcohol levels. Long periods of idle time which crawled by at a snail’s pace while at home, piles of ironing, dusty floors, washing up in the sink all waited patiently for my return.

As I sit in front of my computer, barefoot, clad in jeans, a mug of tea by my side, I decide that a little bit of loneliness is a very small sacrifice to make, in the grand scheme of things. Besides, I can get my banter from gmail, and bake my own brownies if the desire should grab me.

And when an email pops into my inbox from my new accountant, the irony of the situation in which I find myself is definitely not lost on me.

September 15, 2006


Filed under: city of light, working girl — petiteanglaiseparis @ 1:34 pm

We take a seat at an outdoor table in front of Le Panier – a quirky little café on the Place St Marthe – and a contented sigh escapes me. What bliss to take some time away from the computer, which dominates my living room, my bedroom, my life. The Place St Marthe is a perfect place for playing “spot the bobo” and basking in the last rays of the summer.

The proprietor sets down a carafe of water, two glasses and a menu, taking a seat by my side. My mouth twitches with suppressed mirth. I have been here before and I know from experience that he is a rather larger than life character, who often pauses to sit by his bemused patrons talking surreal nonsense until he gets bored, moves on in search of new prey. Today he is dressed in white and blue striped cotton pyjama bottoms and a scruffy t-shirt. I wonder idly whether he is going commando and peer discreetly down to see what footwear he has chosen to accessorise this charming ensemble.

“The specials today are blanquette de veau with mascarpone, sauté d’agneau and a mushroom tart,” he says, giving me an odd sidelong glance which I find impossible to read. “Personally I don’t recommend the mushroom tart, it’s not up to much…” I wonder whether this is a skillful reverse advertising strategy. If not, my overwhelming desire to order the tart is simply a reflection of my own perverse nature. In the end though, I decide against it, as I scan down the menu and something else takes my fancy.

My friend – so traumatised by our last near miss that he insisted upon picking me up today on his scooter to avoid a repeat performance – quizzes me about all the surreal things which have been going on of late and then we fall silent for a while, savouring the tender souris d’agneau (I’m very vague about cuts of meat, in French, but I’m reliably informed that no mice were involved in the preparation of this meal) which falls away from the bone and melts in my mouth.

We order dessert, coffee, a beer, whiling away the afternoon until it is time for me to collect Tadpole from school. As I draw close to the throng of waiting mothers around the doorway, I reflect on how privileged I feel, right now. If things had been different, I would still be scurrying to the office every morning, never sure what kind of atmosphere would reign. A stranger would pick up Tadpole from school in the afternoons, and mind her until I got home. I would brave the rush hour métro twice a day.

Instead, I pad through my apartment barefoot, clad in my favourite jeans and power up the computer. I take a break when I feel I’ve earned one, or when my head becomes dull and heavy and words no longer flow. Grabbing a book from the pile, I head for the Parc de Belleville, sit cross-legged in the grass, my hair ruffled by a gentle breeze.

Every day I pass the steps where a plaque reads:

“Sur les marches de cette maison, naquit dans le plus grand dénuement celle dont la voix, plus tard, allait bouleverser le monde”

A song echoes in my head. I regret nothing.

July 31, 2006

two months' notice

Filed under: misc, working girl — petiteanglaiseparis @ 6:59 pm

It is a Tuesday morning in early May, four days after my dismissal interview. An interminable bank holiday weekend alone, fretting about the future, has left me drained and exhausted. Luckily Tadpole is with Mr Frog’s parents for two whole weeks, a stay which was organised long ago to coincide with the childminder’s holidays.

Fortunate timing, I will admit, as I am in no fit state to care for anyone else right now. This logic does little, however, to take away the dull ache that her absence provokes.

I fire off a short email to my soon-to-be-ex-boss, enquiring as to whether my dismissal letter is ready. I have a deadline to respect for my apartment purchase, meaning that I must pull out or confirm the loan within the next five days. The very last thing I need is to wait for the postman deliver a letter sent by recorded delivery snail mail.

Rather than spend the next few hours on tenterhooks, pacing and willing the phone to ring, I watch several episodes of “Lost” back to back, still clad in my Miffy pyjamas. Focusing on suspenseful television is a helpful displacement strategy: my own stress is put on hold, temporarily, while I worry about mysterious monsters in the jungle instead.

The phone trills at 2.30pm.

“Allô?” I answer, pretending I do not know to whom I am speaking, despite the fact that the caller ID is clearly displayed on my handset.

“Catherine? How are you?” my boss stammers awkwardly.

It is a shame it has come to this, because despite our differences and occasional fallings out, we did get on pretty well, as a rule. And now we don’t quite know how to speak to one another.

“Oh, you know, I’ve been better,” I reply breezily, making a supreme effort not to betray my nervousness.

“I think I should be in a position to give you a copy of your dismissal letter this afternoon,” he continues cautiously.

I sense a “but”, and am not proved wrong. “It really depends on whether you agree to write a letter asking to be excused from serving your notice period…”

Notice period? My mind races ahead. If there is a notice period, that means that I am no longer being dismissed for “faute grave”. My suspension will be transformed into paid leave, I will get my holiday pay, and a small amount of severance money. This is all good news.

But, if my suspicions are correct, writing the letter he is asking for would mean waiving my right to a paid two month notice period. Not good.

I mumble something about mulling things over and arrange to drop by the office at the end of the afternoon. I replace the receiver, and when I look down, realise that my hands are visibly shaking.

A rapid telephone consultation with a union juriste confirms beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is out of the question for me to write any such letter.

It occurs to me that my ex-boss seems to be playing the role of the good cop, who has, against all odds, negotiated the best possible deal he can on my behalf, whereas, in fact, the real aim might be to make me feel so pathetically grateful that I will willingly sign away my rights.

This impression is confirmed when I arrive at the office.

I sit, opposite my ex-boss, in his glass walled office, only a few metres from the desk where I once worked. He seems dismayed when I decline to write the letter, and makes a great show of consulting fellow partners (running up and down the stairs, taking calls from a nearby meeting room) while I wait, trying to keep a lid on my panic, and, through a supreme act of will, refraining from taking a peek at the letter of dismissal left tantalisingly on his desk every time he vacates the room.

At one juncture he returns to tear up a copy of the letter with a theatrical flourish. A dramatic gesture; but I note, with an inward amusement I take pains not to display, that the original copy remains intact on his desk.

“Well,” he says, “I don’t know what to do now… I’m going to be away for a few days … and it doesn’t look like we can resolve this today…”

I say nothing, motioning as if to pick up my bag.

“Wait, stay there, I’ll just try one last time,” he says, and heads down the stairs once more. When he returns, he picks up the letter, and takes it to the photocopier.

I appear to have won a small victory.

He walks me to the lift, a manila envelope clutched in my clammy palms, my legs decidedly wobbly.

“Of course, I can’t promise that I won’t take my case to the prud’hommes.” I say, as the lift doors begin to slide closed.

Because this is far from over, as far as I’m concerned.

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