July 8, 2008


I am back in Paris after a stint in the US to be with family for our national holiday. And back to work - actually my last month teaching English (proclaimed with glee - a big, fat smile on my face. One can teach auxiliary verbs, contracted forms, pronunciation, etc. only so long before she feels rather downcast and futile...not to mention before she begins to use misplaced prepositions and spellings in her own language, absorbed by her French students...). I begin my new job, teaching for an American study abroad program in Paris, in September.

Bref, I arrived at work yesterday and was given a very lovely, exclusively French surprise. A manager at the center handed me a white envelope in the same shape as other envelopes, which have, in the past, held good and bad news. So, I was curious. I looked at her as I opened it and she watched me with anticipation. Weird. I could never have expected what was inside: 10 certificates totaling 100 euros to be used at various shops around Paris. I thought to myself, I arrive at least 15 minutes late for my prep hour, I am rather apathetic about this place and its money making objectives, in fact, the only time I am enthusiastic is when I am standing in front of students (which, by the managers, is never even noticed), surely I am no candidate for some strange form of a bonus...

But no. It had nothing to do with me. It was a gift from la France - the country for the worker. The 100 euro prize was doled out to all employees who had worked at the center without air-conditioning. I was delighted, but couldn't help feeling totally confused. First of all, is it stipulated in my contract that I would work in an air-conditioned environment? And more pressing, the temperature in Paris has yet to hit 80 degrees this summer (it is currently 70 degrees and raining, comme d'habitude). Lucky me.

The protection of the worker is really an important theme in France. Hiring and firing is a thorny process for French companies, since most contracts include at least three months of guaranteed pay regardless of the reason for being fired or for leaving. As a worker, you also have to give two months notice to quit - so, in June I approached the center director to deliver the news that I would like to quit and be finished by August. I handed him the letter I had written for the occasion. He shook his head no. He informed me that I needed to send my letter of resignation by mail. Where? I asked confounded. He was standing in front of me. I could touch him if I extended my arm. I jabbed the letter into the air, attempting to place it into his hands again. He added that it needed to be sent recommandé, which means certified. I just stared at him until I finally said, No.

He took a deep breath and went into an explanation of how this process helps to protect workers in France. If there is a documented trail of the letter and a signature for it, no employer could claim he had not received the resignation letter. What boss would claim that? I demanded. I insisted that I just wanted to give him the letter (after all, we remember that the women at the post office are not fans of mine or of me). After he had briefed me entirely on the risks of not sending the letter by certified mail, he took the letter and wrote a formal, 'I hereby declare that I have received the resignation letter of Emilie Johnson on June 1, 2008,' asked me to make another copy of the letter, wrote the same words, signed and stamped it and gave the copy to me ceremoniously. Frenchies.

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