Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Monday, July 23, 2012

Show me the money

The last part of this whole process was finding funding.  Now The Company is all for its employees furthering their education - they are currently funding the MBA's of two co-workers, and at $50,000 a pop, that ain't chump change.  But the key word there is employees.  Technically, because of French labor laws, I am not an employee of The Company, I am a contractor.  I use what's called a portage company - they gave me a CDI and bill The Company monthly thus I get all the benefits of being a French employee without The Company having to set up an office here or me working illegally.  The downside of all of this though is that I don't get any of the benefits The Company offers, in this case - their continuing education funding.

However I consider myself to be an employee and they do as well - in fact most of my co-workers don't even realize I am not.  But because of this technicality, The Company cannot get a tax break on paying for my education and thus the CEO said no.  And I gotta tell you, this made me pretty darn angry.  I love my job, but I make a lot of sacrifices for it - many nights I am on the phone in meetings until 10 or 11pm and my blackberry is practically glued to my hand.  I invest so much into my work and was pretty frustrated that they were not willing to invest in me, especially since I was wanting to learn these skills in order to better do the new job they had assigned to me.

And thus began several months of back and forth between me and my employer.  I finally ended up putting together a powerpoint showing just exactly how astronomically the market had grown since I was hired and how much money I was bringing.  My boss went to bat for me several times and in the end, they agreed to fund me if I would stick around for X number of years.

In the middle of it all though, I wasn't sure we would ever get to that point, so I started looking for other options out there, and realized I had a lot of DIF saved up.  The DIF stands for le droit individuel à la formation, and it is basically hours/money saved up for continuing education. If you have a CDI, you earn 20 hours of DIF per year, which you can accumulate for up to 6 years (so 120 hours total). People on a CDD also accumulate DIF credits, but in a lesser amount.

As a side note, your employer has to approve you using your DIF. But in my understanding of it, if they deny your request twice, you can transform your request into a CIF, le congé individuel de formation, which means you take a leave of absence from your job to do a training program. Your employer can't refuse the CIF but he can delay the start of it under certain circumstances.

Luckily it didn't get to that point with me and the portage company was perfectly happy to help me explore my rights to the DIF.  I have been working for them for a long time now, so I had 120 hours saved up. They helped me complete the application to use those and two weeks later, I received a letter saying that I had been approved and they were going to provide full funding for my masters!

So all of that arguing with The Company had been for naught....

That's part of the reason I wanted to post about it here, because it seems that a lot of foreigners working in France aren't aware of the DIF, and I wanted to give it a little more publicity.  It doesn't have to be for a long, official program either - a lot of French people use it to take English classes for example, and there is no reason we can't use it too.  Plus the application process was pretty easy - just the name & logistics of the program, the reason I wanted to do it and what I hoped to get out of it.  So if you're working in France and want to improve your French or learn a new skill, I'd encourage you to check it out - they're taking money each month out of your paycheck for it, so you might as well take advantage of it!

**If anyone wants anymore info about the portage company, just send me an email. They are a great way to start off working in France legally as an interpreter or translator (or other work-from-home type jobs), without having to deal with all of the hassle of signing up as a French business and having to deal with l'URSSAF, etc.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Where's the dunce cap?

As I mentioned yesterday, there was an entrance exam to go through. I didn't really get any kind of information beforehand as to what I could expect, besides that it was a mix of multiple choice and essay questions. So after the interview, they left me in the room with the test and said "You have 45 minutes".  I asked "Where should I go if I finish before time is up?" and they basically said "Bwahaha" and walked out.

I started flipping through the test.  The first question was "Will managing people be easier tomorrow than it is today?" Answer in ten lines.

Since the French have a very specific way to answer essay questions like this, I decided to skip that one and come back to it later.

Next page: "Which of these five cities are cities in Iraq?"
1. gobbledygook
2. gobbledygook
3. Baghdad
4. gobbledygook
5. gobbledygook

Hmm...okay, let's jump ahead some more.

If f(x) = │(x² – 50)│, what is the value of f(-5) ?
A. 75
B. 25
C. 0
D. -25
E. -75

Okay, yeah....moving on.

What is the average (arithmetic mean) of all the multiples of ten from 10 to 190 inclusive ?
A. 90
B. 95
C. 100
D. 105
E. 110

Next please!

I have a Tiger, a Lion, a Bunny, a Sheep, a carrot and a cabbage. The bunny and the sheep will eat the cabbage or the carrot, the lion and the tiger will eat the bunny or the sheep, and the lion will fight the tiger. If I have cages that can fit 2 animals/vegetables each, what’s the minimum number of cages I need to fit all of these without any fighting going on?

3: lion and tiger, sheep and cabbage, bunny and carrot

4: lion, tiger, sheep and bunny, cabbage and carrot

3:lion and carrot, tiger and cabbage, sheep and bunny

3: lion and tiger, sheep and bunny, cabbage and carrot
Crap, these aren't getting any easier, I better just go back and start at the beginning.

I also didn't dare use my iphone calculator in case they were secretly watching, but seriously folks, when the last time you did long division and multiplication by hand??  It took me a few minutes to get back into it.  Luckily I had stuck some scratch paper in my purse at the last minute, so I was able to at least do all of my scribbling there rather than on the test.  Especially since the French have a different way of multiplying and dividing than we do, so I probably would have lost points had they seen my work, even if the answer was correct (this has actually happened to foreign students before).

Which brings to mind another dilemma I had - if I wasn't 100% sure about an answer, should I give my best guess or leave it blank?  You see, some French tests knock off points for wrong answers....but there were no instructions on this test, so I no way to tell and I didn't want to leave half of them blank either. In the end, I just decided to go ahead and answer them all to the best of my ability, hoping that there would be a balance in them being impressed enough by me finishing the test (take that Mr Bwahaha) and the amount of wrong answers. I guess I must have done okay since I got accepted, but too bad they don't share the scores, I would love to know how on Earth I did...


Thursday, July 19, 2012

More changes in our lives

I have some big news of my own to reveal (and no, not baby news)...this fall I will be starting a Masters in World Domination (ha, almost, but not quite) at Paris Dauphine University. I'm a mixture of excited and nervous about this new undertaking...the whole thing is quite intimidating as it's a selective program and I'm still not sure how I got in.  You have to be a minimum of 30 years old to apply (check), you have to have a masters (nope), you have to have been a cadre for five years (nope) with five years of managerial experience (nope).  They also only accept on average two foreigners a year (out of 20 students) and less than 30% of the participants are women.  And based on the list of past participants they handed out, the average age was at least 45 plus.

Not looking too good for me then, right?  So why on Earth did I apply?  To be honest, I don't know - I guess I figured qui ne tente rien n'a rien, and it was the only program that had everything I was looking for, in the length that I was looking for and at an okay price.  And there was no application fee, so I figured I didn't have anything to lose besides a bit of time.

It was a bit of a strange process - first I had to send in my CV + a letter of motivation for why I wanted to do the program.  Once I made it through that round, they sent the application and I had to collect a whole bunch of documents, including a letter from my employer saying they agreed with my participation in the program.  And then once they approved that came the scary part - a 45 minute interview with a jury and a 45 minute entrance exam.

I'm telling you, that interview was bad.  They were so rude to me, saying things like "Wait a minute, explain to us again how YOU are able to do your job?" as if they couldn't believe I was actually capable of it. They were also really confused by my parcours, not really understanding how I had gone from a dietitian in the US to an interpreter in France, and then moved on up in my company to my current role.  I get that my job history can seem strange in France and that it is fairly rare for a woman to be doing what I'm doing, and that it is even more rare for someone my age to be in the role that I am now (again, in France anyways), but still, I really didn't appreciate their attitude, it was almost like they thought I was lying.

And then there were the questions like "Well what does your husband think about this?  You travel a lot already, how will he feel about you being even busier? Who will do the cooking and cleaning?"  Well geez, I suppose attitudes like that are the reason there aren't many women in this program!  I mean, it's true that this is going to be a big time suck, but normally I will be traveling less once the program starts.  And for the record, C is perfectly capable of doing the cooking and cleaning and does so willingly, especially when I am on the road.  He is also super supportive of my doing this and he would have actually liked to have done the program with me, but hasn't been at his company long enough. So in your face interviewers!

Anyways, after 45 minutes of grilling and a crazy entrance exam (more on that tomorrow) I walked out of there thinking I had about zero chance of getting in, especially since they told me they had already approved two other foreigners.  One of whom was the uber annoying Eastern European chick who sat next to me at the info session...yippee.

But for whatever reason, they decided to take me and I will be signing my life over to them for the next 14 months.  Or I guess not my life, but two Fridays and two Saturdays a month plus the study time.

Little did I know that getting accepted was the easy part, and that getting the funding to do the program would become a three-month long process!

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Monday, July 16, 2012

The Big Reveal, part 3

You see, his superiors didn't really think he'd go through with it. It is so rare for anyone to leave a civil servant job, and they thought they could intimidate him into coming back. And man, did they try.  But C held strong, signed his new contract and began working.

I will be honest and say the first weeks were tough. The job as it was described and the job it actually turned out to be were completely different. Not in a bad way, but in a way we just weren't expecting. But that meant instead of being able to come in as the expert and use his previous skills, C was having to start from scratch and learn everything from the ground up. And I'm telling you, that is not something my dear husband enjoys.  The reason he is always so prepared for everything he takes on is because he likes to be the best at what he does.  He's a man after my own heart - I mean, if you're going to do something half-assed, why bother doing it at all?

But combine that with the fact that he got zero training and you get one unhappy C.  And a worried ksam. I started doubting myself and wondering if I let my American-ness influence him too much?  Like maybe just because this kind of switch would work in the US didn't mean it could work here? Maybe hard work and motivation really weren't enough to have it all work out in the end?  All I knew is that was so hard on C to be the newbie at work and the one who knew the least. He literally looked like he was suffering. I mean, that was the whole point of his plan the past five years - to become an expert at something and then be that expert in the private sector (and get paid more lol), yet here he was starting from scratch.

He spent a long time completely consumed by his new job, morning and night.  He didn't check out of our marriage at all, but he did from basically everything else - he even stopped running, which is something he's done religiously four times a week since we've met. He was so focused on his new job that I could rarely get him to go out during the week for the life of me, and the weekends weren't much better - the man was eating, breathing and sleeping his job. (Though I guess if I was given $20 million contracts with no training, I probably would have done the same - that's a lot of dinero to be in charge of!)  It was frustrating for me though, because I could see just how much he was learning on a daily basis, but he couldn't see it himself - all he could see was how much there was left to learn.

Luckily now the tide has changed and C is starting to resurface again. I don't know why - maybe enough time has gone by for him to feel like he has a handle on things - but I came back from three weeks in the US to a happier man, and to one who seems like he is actually enjoying what he is doing. 

The hours are certainly a lot longer - C's company is located in Versailles, so he has a long commute and he leaves early and gets back late.  The days of sleeping in are long gone and there will certainly be no more accumulating four months of vacation, which is something we will both miss. But the extra money is definitely nice and they promote on merit, two things which were clearly lacking in his civil servant job.

What is slightly ironic about this all is that we now have the exact same job title. One of our goals in the switch was to get him into a sector that could be easily transferable to the US (not the case with his old job), should we ever decide to move there one day. So voila - even though in the end it ended up being a lot more difficult than I thought for C to leave his fonctionnaire post, we survived it and are living proof that it can be done.  And I am hoping this is the start of a great career for him!


Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Big Reveal, part 2

So where was I yesterday?  Oh yes, that's right, C's big decision....

He decided to call their bluff and quit.

Let's leave a moment of silence for all the dead fonctionnaires who just turned over in their graves.

And another moment for Cs family, friends and co-workers who all thought he was completely insane to leave a job that is guaranteed for life with great benefits.

Their reaction was basically why we didn't tell anyone else. It was like with the viager thing - everyone's reaction was so negative that it was hard to stay positive about the project.  So C wanted to keep it on the DL for a while.  It was not easy for me since it was a big event in our life and I am an oversharer, but hey, there are two of us now and I needed to respect his decision.

C had four months of vacation saved up, so he decided to take it all and use that time to study English and any other skills he would need for his new career.  I was slightly worried that would entail him just sitting around at home all day and distracting me (since I work from home), but I needn't have worried. He got up every single day of those four months just as if he was going to work and went to study at the UNESCO library.

During that time, we talked a lot about rules for successful job hunting in the US - things like tailoring your resumé to the job description, sending personalized cover letters to each company and thank-you notes.  These may seem obvious to the young Americans out there, but they are still things relatively unknown in France. Most French people just send out mass-mailings of a standard CV+lettre de motivation.

We also spent a lot of time talking about the interview process and the need for preparation, something else that is often lacking here. So C went back to his flashcard route and basically wrote up every interview question possible and then practiced his answers to them.

And then came the job hunting part. He spent so much time researching companies, salaries and careers, and all of his efforts paid off.  He got tons of interviews and was offered almost every job.  I was so proud that his hard work was paying off.  I mean, how often does that happen in France?  I wanted to shout it from the rooftops and be like "In your face all of you naysayers! See, it is possible to find a new job if you really try, even in this economy." But C as usual wanted to stay discret. (He is obviously better at being the bigger person than I am, lol). And anyways, most of those jobs paid just barely more than his civil servant job, and we were holding out for the big lot, so the hunt continued until we came across two job offers, both for foreign entities, that actually had more than decent salaries.

I will say that the one thing that we hadn't taken into account in all of this is that the hiring process in France takes time. Unlike C, most people don't quit their jobs until they find a new one, and there is often a 2-3 month notice period they have to give, so they don't actually end up starting their new job until a few months later. The hiring process has adapted to this, so when he came across these two amazing jobs and was raring to go, they were moving along the French timeline and going slowly.

The downside was that all of this was coming to a head at the end of his vacation period, which equaled the end of an income, so the stress was starting to filter in.  And even more so when his boss sent him a letter saying that his démission had been denied and that he was to report back to work on Monday.  And I was all WTF?? How can they say they refuse his quitting?  Is that even possible?  If you quit, you quit et basta! But wait, maybe the French government can do that?  *cue panic attack*

What I can say is that there was a lot of back and forth, which included the police coming to our house and buzzing at the door in order to get him to come back to work (and me telling them through the intercom that they should be ashamed of themselves)...


Friday, July 13, 2012

The Big Reveal, part 1

Around this time last year, C took an exam in the hopes of entering into a program that would lead to a year of additional study.  C is a man with a master plan, and he had planned on taking that test, at that time, every since entering into his chosen domain. And he aced it - he got the best score in the Paris region, so he should have been a shoe-in for the available spot right?  Except no.  Because the unions stepped in and said that the number 1 person last year got that spot, so this year it should be based on seniority.  And because the French administration does anything they can to avoid reasons for striking, they agreed and poor C was told to try again next year.

C just sort of took it in stride - after all, in his line of work, getting things based upon seniority is extremely common. But I'm telling you, it made me ANGRY.  The man memorized the entire French penal code. Do you have any idea how long and complicated that is?  I watched him study for this test on a daily basis for 9 frickin' months. NINE MONTHS. He had stacks and stacks of flash cards that he studied during his daily commute, and it got to the point where you could say "What's law 422-25?" and he'd tell you in a heartbeat. He studied so much that he ended up writing a 1000+ page study guide for this test in order to help future candidates because one didn't exist. But yet some dude who didn't study at all and barely got a passing score got the spot.

Now C's original plan was to get accepted, do the course, get another year of experience and then move on into the private sector.  But then the unions put a kink in that plan, and we had to decide what to do. Sit around in a job that didn't really interest him anymore for another year and then wait and try again and hope the unions don't intervene?  Or change tactics?

C went for the second option, and decided to ask for a leave of absence.  As you may or may not know, French fonctionnaires can take an up to ten year leave of absence and still come back to their same job at the same pay.  So instead of waiting another two years to do that, he decided to do it now and put in his request. For a multitude of reasons, but mainly because there was a hiring freeze in his department = no new employees coming in, his request was denied.

So we were back to the drawing board again.  At this point, I was feeling pretty darn frustrated with The Man.  I was just so tired of seeing people who came to their job with excitement basically ended up as worker drones because showing any kind of initiative or progress was discouraged by the masses. There are so many inefficiencies in the French government, yet any attempt to change that is seen as disobedience, not progress.  "We have always done it this way, so we will always do it this way." And the fact that they usually promote based on seniority and not capability was my last straw.  So under my influence (something I still feel guilty about to this day), C decided to.......

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Red light, green light

I came across this stop light the other day while driving to visit a customer - luckily the light stayed red long enough for me to snap a picture!

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