Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Don't blink, or you'll miss me

These next six weeks are going to be absolutely insane for me.  I'll be gone a few days this week to the Loire Valley, then I'm home for one day.  Then I leave for Morocco for three days, where I will be presenting at a conference (eep!).  Then I'm home for three days of class on Strategic Analysis (meh).  Then C & I head off to Thailand for a work trade show and a few days of fun in the sun afterwards (yay!).  Then I'm back for two days of class, after which I head immediately to the US again for two weeks because my boss is moving to China (yay for going home, boo for more work for me after his move). In the middle of that trip, I will be flying to Montreal for a mini-Bretagne reunion with the girls (woohoo!). And then it's back to France once again for more class, and all of the sudden, it's mid-April and I'm all "Whoa, where did spring go?".

I'm telling you, it was tiring just writing all of that down. But on the days when I get annoyed with living out of my suitcase, I try to remember that I am fortunate to live this crazy life.  To be able to travel the world and to have free trips home to see my family.  For example - SuperBowl Sunday, I was in Minneapolis, surrounded by my family - aunts, uncles, cousins, my bro & his girlfriend - and I was absolutely bursting with happiness to be able to spend that time with them. I mean what a normal American thing to do - be with those you love on SuperBowl Sunday.  Having a few drinks and eating nachos and other nibblies while gossiping about the commercials and the half-time show.  All things I had given up on doing when I moved to France.

Of course there were tinges of sadness in there - I mean, they all live about 20min apart, so they can get together at any time and I miss out on a lot of family dinners. But I am still so lucky that I can be there with them at least four times a year. It's enough that the little ones are starting to recognize me, and if I think about, I am back in MN even more often than most of my friends who actually live in the US. 

2013 is shaping up to be one of my busiest years ever - between the work changes, loads of travel and the work my masters  requires - but I'm still trying to keep the big picture in mind and remind myself that all of these things I'm doing are actually pretty cool (if a bit much all at once lol).  And I do have to admit that I do not mind all of the 1st class upgrades the frequent travel is bringing my way....though I have yet to live out my dream of flying 1st class on an international flight.  A girl can still hope though, right?

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A dollar will make you hollar

I have been so impressed with these new Paris bloggers who are just going out there and making things happen.  People like Kristen at The Kale Project who did the impossible and brought kale to France or Edna at Expat Edna who is making her dreams a reality on a daily basis. Way to go ladies, seriously!  But today I want to give a particular shout-out to MommaExpat. She is getting ready to leave on an amazing adventure to Tanzania, where she will be running the Kilimanjaro Marathon to raise money for 13 different charities.

As you all know, I am a big believer in the power of one, ie that one person really can make a difference, and Jacki is the perfect example of that.  She is (or I should say was!) a non-runner, but wanted to do something big to help out, and 13 for 13 was born.

I have been following her along this journey and have been so inspired by her commitment to this project. I mean, how many of us say "Oh, I wish I could run a marathon" or "I would love to raise money for X charity" - but then we leave it at that. But not this woman - she is actually going out there and doing it.  It's pretty darn impressive.

So I'd like to ask you guys to consider donating to one of the charities.  There is a great post here talking about how you can help out, even in a small way.  Donating doesn't have to mean a large sum - every dollar really does count, and your small gift could make a world of difference for a child, a woman or a family somewhere out there...

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Monday, February 25, 2013

A real eye-opener

This past weekend's classes were on the Droit du Travail (French labor laws), and while it sounds boring, it actually turned out to be very interesting.  We covered everything from hiring to firing, and all the hiccups that happen in between.  For example, we learned about "droit d'usage", which means that if you, as a company, provide your employees with something (like a bonus) on more than two occasions, but then you don't the following year, your employees can claim it is a hardship and take you court (and will most likely win).

*As side note, this principal also exists in the countryside, so be careful if you have land and your neighboring farmer asks if his animals can graze on it....if you let him do it, it will be almost impossible later to reclaim that land back for your own use!  I saw it happen with my own two eyes in Bretagne....

We also talked about things like CVs and resumes, and whether or not nowadays people still needed to put things like their picture, marital status, age, etc on them.  A few of the larger, foreign companies have moved away from this, but most French companies still want access to this info.  It was actually quite funny to see my classmates reactions to this -like "If you take away all of that information, how are you supposed to evaluate a candidate?"  And I was like "Um, how about on their actual skills?"   There is still a phenomenal amount of discrimination in France when it comes to addresses (avoid le 9-3), being a woman of child-bearing age, having foreign names and different skin colors, etc.  This is slowly changing of course, mostly due to lawsuits, but it definitely still exists. 

And I don't know how many of you have run it to it, but when I first moved to France, when you applied for a job, you had hand-write your cover letter, mainly so that they could do a hand-writing analysis on it.  I used to find that so crazy - and even more so that some of my classmates said their companies still practiced it today!

Religious issues were also brought up.  How do you deal with an employee who needs to pray several times a day?  On one hand, you want to respect his religious beliefs, but on the other, if he's praying out loud in an open space, he's potentially bothering other employees and creating a disruption.  And prayer times usually don't correspond to break times, and you can't take away his break times in exchange, so the other employees will be upset because he gets to work less than they do for the same salary. 

Another one of my classmates brought up the case of an employee who was on extended sick leave, and at what point could they fire them.  The answer was - if the person can do a job that is easily replaceable (secretary, salesman, etc), then you basically could never fire them.  But if they do a job that is quite complicated and that a temp worker could not do, you could eventually fire them after a few years, after showing that it was hurting the company by not having a person in that position (though in the mean while, all of that work is being split up amongst the other employees in the company and putting additional stress on them).

There were also other questions about firing people, and how extremely difficult it was. For example, let's say you have a horrible employee who is not doing their job (of which you have repeated evidence), so you fire them for faute grave.  But if you word things wrong in your lettre de licenciement, the employee could take you to court and a judge could rule that the firing was illegal and then make you pay all of the things that come with laying someone off (= mega bucks).  Our prof says that this happens way more often than you'd think....

The craziest thing I heard however was about the French version of Temptation Island (the reality TV show).  Apparently the participants from the 2003 season took the producers to court because they said they should be considered employees of TF1 instead of contestants.  Their reasoning was that they were "kept" onsite and could not go home at free will, they were told what to say and wear, they were housed and fed, they were on camera for 20 out of 24 hours a day, and they should have had rights to unemployment afterwards  And they won!  TF1 ended up having to pay them (including overtime), and the poor guy who actually won the show had to give the prize money back since he was now considered an employee.

My main takeaway from this was that as an employer, you have to be super careful about what you do. Even hiring a contractor can come back and bite you in the butt because if the contractor can prove that you have any sort of authority of them (be it by telling them what to do or by 'sanctioning' them for poor work), they can ask that their contract be re-qualified as a CDI, and then you're stuck with them and all the costs that come with having a full-time employee. It definitely makes me understand why so many French companies are hesitant to make changes or hire people long-term.  And it also explains why so many unions exist - the laws are so crazy that there is no way that a single employee could know all of their rights, and employers often take advantage of that. Which leads to constant distrust between the two and strikes and all the rest.

Either way, after all of this, it's definitely made me rethink my idea of opening up a European office of The Company in France.....


Saturday, February 16, 2013

TB or not TB, that is the question

This morning, C & I got up bright and early to walk over to the International Vaccination Center at l'Institut Pasteur, in order to find out if there were any particular vaccines recommended for our upcoming vacations.  I got quite a slew of them back in 2001 when I went to China, and C got a bunch free with his last military physical, but I figured it was still good to check in and see if the recommendations had changed.  (I ended up getting the Typhoid vaccine and C got Hepatitis A).

But I was inspired to write this post as a PSA because the doctor we spoke with said most people don't even think about vaccinations before traveling.  And she recommended going to a specialized place like the Institut Pasteur because your regular GP might not know about recent outbreaks in certain countries or that certain vaccines are needed at certain times of the year, etc.

Their vaccine center is open:
  • Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday & Friday from 9am-4:30pm
  • Thursday from 10am-4:30pm
  • Saturday from 9-11:30am

It's all first-come, first-serve, and they recommend arriving early if you're coming on a Saturday.  We got there at 8:45am this morning, and we were the ninth in line, so I don't think there's any need to arrive too early.   (Unless you are coming during the busy period - June, July or August).

You'll get a ticket with a number on it at the front desk, and then be ushered into another waiting room.  From there, you will be called up to a desk and you will be asked for your ID card and the list of countries you'll be traveling to.  Then you sit back down again, fill out a short questionnaire, and wait for your number to be called again.

The doctor will run through your questionnaire and ask a few more questions about what you will be doing on your trip, and then you'll get the vaccines right then and there.  To me, that's the second big advantage of a center like this - they have everything on hand, and there is no needing to see your doctor to get the prescription, then go buy it at the pharmacy, and then either go back to your doctor or a nurse to get the shot.  (Which often means paying for two visits too).

At the Institut Pasteur, unless you want a special (longer) consultation, the doctor's visit is included in the price of the vaccine. Here are the prices of a few of the more common ones:
  • DTP: 39€
  • Hepatitis A: 43€ (x2)
  • Hepatitis B: 26€ (x3)
  • Typhoid: 35€
  • Rabies: 40€ (x4)

In total, the whole thing probably took us an hour max, and now we should be all good to go for our trips this year!

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Friday, February 1, 2013

Three things

1)  This week I went from 70°F temps in Atlanta to -40°F temps in Minnesota.  And no, that is not a typo, I really did experience a 110°F temperature drop. I think that is an all-time record for me.  (That's 22°C to -40°C for you European folks).

2) Here is a tidbit of the day for you: -40° is exactly the same in Fahrenheit and Celsius. Unfortunately this knowledge dates back to previous experiences with these (literally) mind-numbing temps.

3) This audio clip has been making the rounds in Minnesota.  It is possibly only funny if you are from Minnesota, but check it out anyways: