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.

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