Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Faking real business to a Korean partner
When I arrived at the office this morning I found Jee Eun Kim nervously making a mess at her usually empty desk. She speared invoices and all kind of paper sheets all over the conference table as well. She explained that a Korean business partner was arriving in any minute and at his arrival I should go to the cellar and call her on her mobile several times. She also asked me to call all the company’s ancient raw material and bottle suppliers and ask for quotations. It wasn’t hard to understand the purpose was to create a normal office atmosphere and make us both look busy.

He believed we talked about the stock
The Korean partner, a thin and small gray-haired man didn’t speak any French. Therefore, our discussions about the new fashion TV channel and a broken coffee machine sounded like real business to him.
-          I can’t figure out why my nails are breaking almost every day now. I have always had hard and beautiful nails, Jee Eun Kim said in French, pretending to be interested in an old stock list on her desk.
-          Are you sure you get enough minerals in your nutrition? I asked pointing at a random figure on the same stock list over her shoulder.
-          It can also be due to stress. Can you believe Mirror Palace once again delivered the wrong product! This time the mirror was the right size but with rounded edges. I am really getting mad at them, Jee Eun Kim said, underlining a random word on the list.
-          Do you want me to call the store? I asked still looking at the same stock list and highlighting a random sentence with a yellow marker pen.

An unlucky sales man dropped in
As my boss’s business partner was not too busy to leave the office, I called all my friends with the company’s phone and tried to look as businesslike as possible while talking. I even pretended to take notes on Jee Eun Kim’s agenda while chatting with my grandmother in Finland.

Also a door-to-door salesman who happened to drop in the boutique this day had the loveliest welcome ever. He was surprised to have a one-hour “business meeting” with the owner. But he left the office frustrated by the time waste without having sold any of his exit signboards. On the contrary, the partner flew back to Korea with a strong belief in Millefleur’s blooming Paris business. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Scooter biking in the rain

Scooter biking in the rain
The Millefleur cosmetics store was four kilometers from my home. I had to make it somehow until the first paycheck. The eighty euro monthly Navigo card for public transports was absolutely out of reach. As a RSA benefits claimer I fulfilled the criteria to get 75 percent off Navigo card. The problem was, that 75 percent off  Navigos are given to universal health care claimers only and my demand had been boomeranged back several times. This is a very typical situation with French authorities. The benefits are linked together like in a cumulative nursery tale and if the first demand is blocked all the others are also on hold.  
   Despite of the wind and the rain I made my way to the workplace with my daughter’s Disney Princess scooter bike. Far too small for an adult, no doubt it made me look ridiculous but I am not very tall and I managed to use it.  To avoid the morning traffic jam I took the bridge behind Notre Dame where a fake street artist held mechanically a dry paintbrush on a finished Paris landscape. In fact, the majority of street paintings sold close to monuments and along the Seine are actually Chinese made Paris views. The Shenzhen city’s suburb, Dafen lives on these reproductions. Thousands of Chinese artists of which many are art school graduates manufacture sixty percent of the word’s knock-off canvases. They work off of photos or copies and have never seen the places in person, which explains the funny perspectives you can notice sometimes.

Please crook me
The morning was cold and it was freezing in the office. I could feel the wind blowing in through the boutique's glass walls.  My Korean boss's Sri Lankan driver parked the Jaguar right outside the front door. He started unpacking magnificent flowers from the car. I am not good at naming plants but the visitor’s card told me that Jee Eun Kim had been dealing with one of Paris's most famous and expensive florist shops. The lady had certainly spent on flowers the amount equivalent to my monthly earnings. My boss was in a happy mood. She explained that she wanted to see some flowers in the office. She said it is like that back in South Korea. There was also a two meters tall orange tree. She asked the driver to place the tree at the doorway.
   The next day the leaves of the orange tree turned yellow. Jee Eun Kim was furious and felt herself badly betrayed. She didn’t want to face the fact that the plant had possibly gotten cold in the chilly office. I could have also told her that driving a Jaguar in Paris dressed like on old time movie queen can attract scoundrels and liars. Her entire look is crying out "please crook me".

   I spent the whole week solving the dead orange tree problem. The florist didn't give any money back but we got more flowers for free. As the store was full of flowers, something unusual happened. A client dropped in. The very old lady – in her eighties I supposed - was not interested in cosmetics but wanted to purchase one of the porcelain flower pots in the window. I explained that this was supposed to be a cosmetics store.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Shop keeping is a raw deal in Paris

Millefleur company’s empty bank account bothered me. Especially, as my payday was getting closer. I was also worried about the store’s colossal one quarter rent, social charges and gas and telephone bills. Jee Eun Kim said not to worry because South Korea was about to send money. And so it happened. I understood that the owner proceeded in this way every month.
I soon realized that the French owned businesses in the neighborhood were more or less like ours. A nicely dressed lady in her fifties sat in the jewelry shop next to us. I never saw any clients coming in or out. The nineteenth century’s antique dealer on the other side of the avenue was not busy with the customers either but furiously typing on his laptop computer.
Real estate is more lucrative than real business
In fact most of Paris’s charming small traditional shops are inherited family owned business properties with no real obligation to gain money. Or whenever there is, the family capital is burned bit by bit, to keep the coulisse. Apartment prices in Paris have increased almost by two hundred percent during the last fifteen years. Therefore, real estate is more lucrative than a real business.
The rent of any stamp-sized boutique in the city center is so astronomic that even a genius business idea can hardly bring enough money to cover the charges. In addition the tenant has to pay an important amount of key money to get the commercial lease. Those facts partly explain the famous “Paris prices” of the products. The shopkeepers respect the two-and-a-half rule, which means that the price of any object purchased from the manufacturer will be multiplied by 2,5. That’s how a ten euro teddy bear becomes a twenty-five euro Paris teddy. It goes without saying that a far more important margin is made with Chinese made gadgets.

Macarons at  5 €($ 5) each with no profit

After all, in spite of the “Paris multiplier” shop keeping can be a raw deal. For example, selling expensive brand macarons at five euros each in the smallest store ever sounds like an easy deal. But your bakery becomes profitable only in the case that you sell more than two hundred of these desserts every day. If there happens to be a metro strike or a terrorist attack and you don’t sell any, you should compensate your loss by selling four hundred macarons the next day and so on. Even with the April tourist flow it can be hard. A few rainy November afternoons with no clients and you’re done.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Got hired by a South Korean millionaire

Millefleur was an immense cosmetics store close to the Eiffel Tower. Entering the store there were no other persons other than the South Korean owner Jee Eun Kim. Later I learned that this young lady wearing a woman’s suit and Chanel sun glasses was in her late sixties. I also learned that her father was a general during the military dictatorship and his picture had been printed on one of the South Korean banknotes.
   The Millefleur brand had been established by a famous French makeup artist and had had its glory in the fifties when movie stars and show -business people were using the products. The previous owner had gone bankrupt and this Korean millionaire had taken on the company. The store’s high round mirror walls were still there as reminders of the old time luxury but most of the window spotlights were broken.Some out-of- date lipsticks were still lying on dusty display stands.
   Jee Eun Kim was not like the tough human resources professionals I was used to dealing with and I got the job, wow! However, she was tough with money and only willing to pay me a minimum salary, not more. It was not much but together with the RSA income support benefits it would do. In order to keep the system going I was then obliged to report the earned salary to the Family Allowance Fund every three months. The complementary RSA would be paid accordingly.

No clients showed up
At the end of my first working day I was surprised that not a single client had shown up. At the end of the week I was fully aware that no money was coming in. A ten year-old stock of cream bottles and lipsticks was lying in the arched medieval cellar. The cabins behind the store were crowded by half empty cartoon boxes. Nobody came in and nobody called except the owner. I still got some rare requests from the old clients who didn’t know the previous owner was bankrupted. I was advised by Jee Eun Kim to tell them that the product will be available again next month. But this was a short-term solution as some tenacious clients called me again after a month had passed, and were kindly invited to call again in one month. And so on and so on. That’s how we maintained that some illusory business was going on.

   I already understood that Jee Eun Kim had no knowledge about economics or business strategies. She considered that being a heavy user of cosmetics herself made her capable of easily running this business. And a heavy user of cosmetics she was. She never showed up before eleven a.m.in the office, in order to execute the complicated makeup routine, which made her look young.Instead of any productive work, I was occupied by Jee Eun Kim’s personal problems like late Tax Free payments from the Vuitton and Chanel store or missed appointments with a home decoration deliveryman.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Benefits claimer’s VIP entry to Louvre museum

I had sent so many job applications that I didn’t manage to keep records any more. I was surprised when a South Korean cosmetics company contacted me for a half time sales person position. I fixed an interview for the next day.
   I had no metro tickets left and the weather was fine so I decided to walk to the company, which was called Millefleur. I had some extra time to drop in the Louvre museum to urinate for free as public toilets are gradually giving way to privately owned chic shopping and peeing areas for tourists. At the same time a French institution dame pipi, a kind of a toilet attendant is becoming an endangered species. Those severe looking elderly ladies with a coin cup in front of them were council employees until a private company purchased the Paris public toilets. These ladies were supposed to be kicked away as they don’t have neither the right commercial attitude nor the looks.
   Nowadays even a toilet attendant needs to be young, pretty and a polyglot. But this is France and they went on strike, which was hard for tourists having an urgent need in the Eiffel Tower or at railway stations. The good news was that tourists didn’t wet their pants in vain. Some of the dame pipis kept their jobs, others were transferred to another position within Paris council.
   As a RSA benefits claimer I had free entry to most museums as well as to their loo. The first time I was ashamed to request the RSA benefits claimer’s free entry out loud. However, I soon realized that poorly paid vigils treated me like a VIP and often let me pass the waiting line. Once they even let me pass but stopped a Senator for further questions. Like RSA claimers, Senators also have free entry to Paris museums.

The guy wearing crow’s nest hat
Once inside I passed by the Italian Renaissance collection. Tourists were rushing through the corridors towards the Mona Lisa. Carefully avoiding to notice by mistake any other paintings on their way. Guides tried to catch their own visitor group’s attention by holding closed umbrellas over their heads.

Surrounded by medieval Saints and Virgin Mary’s I immediately felt my blood pressure go down. I must have got caught by the Virgin Mary effect, the more or less scientific fact that seeing a baby in the arms of his mother generates happy feelings. I remember bringing my daughter to see the collection when she was about four. And it was worth it: back at home she proudly announced to me that now she knows who Jesus is. “He is the guy wearing a crow’s nest hat,” she declared knowingly. I preferred her idea to the cruel thorn crown story.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Left handed Peruvian humanoid with fluent ancient Greek

   I had sent my fake CV to several temporary work agencies as well. One of them contacted me to verify my language skills and typing speed in order to place me as a secretary or an assistant. The language test was easy but typing some other person’s text was something new to me. My writing speed depends on the speed of my thoughts. I now needed to read a letter written by somebody else and try to retype it as fast as I could. Since it was not my own text I made plenty of mistakes. Still I was surprised I could type so fast and I had a feeling that I did it all right. However, I learned that I was far below the required fifty words per minute score.
The most difficult was when they asked me to read a handwritten draft and then type it. It was in a doctor’s handwriting, chosen on purpose of course. I guessed most of it. The agency also tested my audio typing, which means having a headset covering your ears and typing what somebody is dictating. The recorded voice was an unpleasant high-pitched male voice some French men have when they get angry. Also, in my opinion, the sentences needed to be changed into something more fluent, which is what I actually did. The agency let me know they don’t have anything right now but they will call me.
   I started even wondering whether it is finally more difficult to get a poorly paid whatever job than a real job. It had taken me years and some hundreds of job applications to get my first serious communication position in Paris. The city of lights attracts talent from every continent. Even poor countries are now losing their educated youngsters who come to Paris full of dreams believing in brilliant career opportunities. Consequently Paris employers can be extremely exigent knowing that if they are willing to hire a left handed Peruvian humanoid who speaks fluent ancient Greek they will find one in a week. Instead of a juicy apple better life seekers find just a stem.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Five minutes as a fabric cutter

The next try was in a textile company based in Le Sentier the well-known neighborhood around rue Aboukir and rue Cléry where nothing other than Jewish textile wholesale companies can be found. Several years ago a famous French movie “La vérité si je mens” was made about the Sentier textile business. About fifteen Sri Lankan men were waiting on a street corner with empty trolleys to propose their help to carry delivered boxes from the van to the company door. Foreign fashion buyers roll trolley bags up and down the twisted streets with a map. More than one was lost and asked my help.
The owner of the textile company was called Monsieur Jean-Paul. He was wearing an untucked white shirt with denim pants, a Sentier textile business owner’s uniform. To hide a belly, I thought. I was appointed to an international sales position but Monsieur Jean-Paul gave me scissors. Being a small family owned company, he explained, it is important that everybody can do everything. He conducted me behind a cutting table. Five layers of black woolen fabric were superimposed and I was supposed to cut five pants at the same time. I remember having faked some experience in textile business on my CV, which I now sincerely regretted. But I had just followed the advice given by the French employment office: lie, fake and falsify. Only the goal matters: to get an interview. The employment counsellor even gave tips about how to camouflage an unemployment period into a round the world trip.
Some other employees working in the same room kept looking busy but gave curious glances while I stood still behind the cutting table for a while, without touching the scissors. Even though big and heavy, the scissors were dull. I tried to follow the chalk line as well as I could but after cutting, the fabric looked like it was gnawed by a mouse. I couldn’t help thinking of candid camera. Or that reality TV show on which people try to work one day as a baker or bus driver with no previous experience.

Sentier's screaming method
Monsieur Jean-Paul didn’t find it funny at all. All five layers of the fabric were now wasted. His face turned red and he started screaming like a mad man. Or like any Sentier’ Sephardic Jew, as their whole textile business is run by a loud voice. By contrast, in Ashkenazi Jewish textile companies you can hear a needle drop to the floor. Sephardis originally come from Spain and Portugal whereas Askenazis have established their communities throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Both management methods seem to work as Sentier’s textile companies dominate the whole French prêt-à-porter business. I left the man screaming and exited the company as fast as I could.
Monsieur Jean-Paul’s assistant called me the next day. She said her director had now calmed down. He was still not willing to hire me but he thought that I might be in some kind of financial trouble and asked me to drop in to collect twenty euros. He had seen right through me. Our situation wasn’t anything else but financial trouble. However, I still had something left from my dignity. I didn’t return to Sentier.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Pyramid scam job
I made sure that the next job interview was in the center of Paris. An obese lady with diamond ring on every finger received me in her rococo decorated apartment with the view of the Seine. The job announcement had talked about marketing. When she started describing the activity I understood it was nothing else but the good old pyramid scam.

To simplify, it is based on selling goods to other persons who then sell more of these goods to people in their surroundings. The money earned by the second ones comes back to the first ones and so on, until the last comers won’t find any new clients any more. The lady asked if I had friends and relatives who were interested in buying relaxing mattresses and then selling more of them to other friends. I said that I don’t have many well-off friends. Most of them are like me. We didn’t talk about the job any longer. She held me her hand full of rings to say goodbye. Due to her overweight, she avoided any unnecessary moving so I gained the door all alone.

Why not to sell beach metal detectors?

I didn’t lose my faith and was soon contacted by a company who commercialized French made beach metal detectors. Those which treasure hunters use to find ancient or less ancient valuable objects buried on the ground or under the sand. It was a commercial position and they were looking for someone who speaks several languages to do prospecting abroad. I entered in the second floor office and introduced myself to the secretary. She announced me to the director by interphone and then disappeared. So did all the other employees I had met at my arrival. The office had gone silent. I was suddenly all alone in an empty space. Then I heard some whispering and realized that all the employees were hiding behind a wall panel. They were peeping at me. The director entered and everything became normal again. Except me. Until now I had considered myself a quite average looking European woman. For the first time I was asking myself did I really differ that much from others? When discussing with the director I understood that I was the first non-French candidate they had ever seen in the company. I didn’t get the job. Since then I carefully avoid postulating for companies of which the name contains the word “international”. Running shoes international or accounting international, all whatever-internationals always turn out to be the most franco-français ever with no intention to become more international than their name.