PARIS, FRANCE-

I leave humbled.

Humble. It’s a word I never understood as a child. A word I don’t think I ever really understood until very recently. It’s a word, like bitter, that needs to be lived before it can truly be understood.

Although I’d lived in Paris before this experience, I came here with a very naive and cocky attitude.

Gargoyle

I thought nothing could touch me. I’m an American, I told myself. If the au pair thing doesn’t work out I’ll be able to find other work teaching English. After all, I’m qualified. I have a degree in an English subject and I’m certified to teach English as a foreign language. There will be no problems.

Plus, I know this family, I told myself. They’d never screw me over. I worked for them before. The youngest son was a pain back then, but four years has passed. I’m sure he’s grown out of his brattiness. Plus, how can I pass this job up? They’re offering me an apartment, a car, and 800 euros a month in exchange for 20 hours of work per week. I’ll have enough extra time that I can even continue writing if I want to!

I was wrong about all of it. Every one of my assumptions was wrong. And not only have I not had much time to write, I haven’t been able to write because I’m so bitter and hateful I would have ended up sounding like one of those people I’ve always wanted to strangle: “France wouldn’t be so bad if they’d get rid of all the French people.”

Really, that isn’t a fair statement. It’s not ALL French people I hate. It’s only two French people whom I utterly and fully despise. Yet, somehow every time I find myself being slighted now, I think, or scream, “Fucking French!” And then I have to remind myself again that not all French people are the devil incarnate. It’s not their fault I came here thinking, “I’m American, nothing bad can happen to me.”

Um, but you’re still a foreigner here. And without a visa to be here. That makes you an illegal alien. In America we don’t treat our illegal aliens any differently. In fact, I’d say we treat them much worse, but maybe that’s me being hyper-critical of Americans.

Farmworker

Basically, let me break it down for you:

Because I knew this French family from my stay here in 2003, and had worked for them before, I trusted them. Therefore, I accepted a job from them based on their word alone. I didn’t ever get a contract or actually anything in writing.

Because I didn’t get anything in writing, they have cheated me, and continue to cheat me, at every opportunity, starting with having never gotten me a work visa so I am automatically unqualified to get any other job regardless of my “qualifications.” Trust me, I know, I’ve tried to find other work. And despite getting calls back from every single place within less than 24 hours, I’ve never been offered a job because the second the visa question comes up they say, “Oh, well, thank you for your time.”

In addition to not getting me my work visa, they have cut 200 euros a month off my salary and added 25 hours per week to my agreed upon hours. They did this from the very beginning and without telling me. I just got my first paycheck and it was missing 200 euros. Up until then I hadn’t complained about the hours because I felt I didn’t have a right. I felt like I’d accepted this job so I have to do what they ask me to do. Plus, I’ve heard of far worse situations from other au pairs, so I figured I was lucky.

I did ask my boss about the discrepancy though. She said, “I don’t remember ever offering you that much money. And the hours will even out. We’ll balance it out so it works for both of us.”

Despite several conversations since then and a number of promises from her, nothing has changed.

Oh, oh, and I’m not working as an au pair. I’m working as a personal assistant. I see the children maybe 10 hours of my 45-hour work week. The rest of my time is spent grocery shopping, going to the post office, making her coffee, picking up laundry, making photocopies, and anything else my boss can dream up. My life is essentially the life of the girl from “The Devil Wears Prada,” only I don’t get the free designer clothes to make up for my psycho boss’ attitude.

So I’m giving up. After only seven months of what was supposed to be at least two years abroad, Tony and I are going back to California. I made one last attempt to get my boss to understand my point of view and she said to me, “You act as though we’re exploiting you here.” Um, yes, that’s exactly what I was trying to say.

On to bigger and better things. And I sincerely hope that one day I can return to Paris and love it like I used to. Maybe I’ll come back here with Tony in a few years and we’ll laugh about the time we tried to live here without visas. And I’ll say, “God, do you remember that devil child and his crazy mom? I wonder how they’re doing,” and I might really mean it.

Montmartre5

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REBECCA ADLER is from Sacramento, CA, where she is a grad student in applied linguistics and works as a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in Jane & Jane, Sacramento Business Journal, and Comstock's Business Magazine, among others. She also keeps a book review blog and can be found on Facebook or Twitter.

One response to “One Day I Hope to Look Back On This and Laugh”

  1. Original Comment Thread Below:

    18 Comments »

    Comment by Steph
    2008-02-09 22:06:17

    It isn’t giving up because you didn’t get what you went there for to begin with. Only pretentious douche bags would fault you for coming home early. Can’t wait to hang out 🙂
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Dawn Corrigan
    2008-02-09 22:54:43

    I’m amazed you’ve stuck it out for as long as you have, Becca, given how extensively your employers have violated your verbal contract.

    Here’s hoping your next visit to Paris will be sans both exploitive employers AND subsisting on M&Ms. 🙂
    Safe travels back to Cali for you and Tony! It sounds like you’re making the right decision.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Seán
    2008-02-10 02:53:15

    That sounds about right…my daughter Maria was given a hard time there a few years ago. It was uphill all the way, lots of tears and phone calls home. They screwed her in every way that was possible. We thought it was because they hated the englsh (and they do) but they were just arrogant swines.
    You had the added problem of a little shite of a kid…I simply do not know why people have children…load them off to someone else to look after and then they stand aghast when there are relationship problems. Whilst the rest of the world has to pick up the trouble tab when they grow up into their very own parents to fuck someone else’s life up.
    You may well look back and laugh, I would be tempted to do something more drastic, but it’s lucky I have good side to me that controls the killer in me!!

    I would give them a mouthful on the way out of the door though…
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by 1159
    2008-02-10 10:12:06

    Wow, this wasnt what I was expecting…Sorry it turned out that way but who knows – sometimes things that seem very bad turn out to be for the best.
    Vengence is not recommended but the assurance that these merdes de escargot never ever do this to another person again…
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by melissa d.
    2008-02-10 11:25:16

    Please write a book. That is all.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Jim
    2008-02-10 11:59:28

    So sorry to hear about this, and unfortunate we won’t meet up in April. Paris, like NYC, is a city easy to romanticize — in the end it really doesn’t care about you. Certainly, though, we can be assured those “merdes de escargot” will get what’s coming to them. You’ll bounce back, I’m sure.

    Travel safely home.

    Jim
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2008-02-10 13:39:01

    Hey Everybody, thanks so much for the comments!

    Steph: Thanks for saying I’m not a failure because I’m coming home.

    Dawn: I really, really hope that happens.

    Sean: Well, it seems that every country treats their au pairs about as poorly as the French. I have a friend who was in Amsterdam and was miserable and I have a German friend who au paired in the states and hated it. It’s not just the French, that’s just my sad experience.

    59: loved the merdes de escargot comment. Sorry to have misled you into thinking this story was going to be something else.

    M-Doll: I don’t think I have enough to say in a book. Maybe I can learn to do fiction one day…

    Jim: I’m sad I won’t see you too. I loved New York by the way, but I knew I wouldn’t love it if I lived there. It seems like a city that would break me down quite quickly, especially considering how poor I am already.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Richard Ferguson
    2008-02-10 17:40:01

    Paris’s loss will be California’s gain.

    It’ll be good to have you back in the fold again, Rebecca.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Chason
    2008-02-10 23:18:38

    The people you are working for are douchebags, the woman especially. I think you have been more than gracious about the situation. But because you are never going to work for those people again, you are leaving the country imminently, and they have screwed you over in pretty much every possibly way, a clever little revenge plot is definitely in order. I’m fairly sure you and Tony can come up with something that will leave those people sorry they ever dared to take advantage of you. I don’t know what it would be. Nothing criminal, but definitely something that would annoy the hell out of them for some time to come.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by rk
    2008-02-10 23:32:39

    RA:

    Man, I’m sorry it turned out this way. I wish I’d been here while you were going through all this.

    I hope you find nicer people to work with back in Sacramento, and that the next time you come to Paris, it turns out better.

    RK
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Lillerina
    2008-02-11 03:44:28

    I doubt anyone would fault you for coming home early. I for one have enjoyed reading your accounts of your life in Paris very much, but hopefully your posts will have a happier tone when you’re home 🙂
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Seán
    2008-02-11 05:11:48

    Yes, you are right Becca, it’s not the french as french, but there are a “class” of french who are almost quite unique, and when that “class” is manifest as amployers of au pairs they are a particularly nasty breed. Yes they do come like that in other countries, because thet “economic” mentality has spread. You find them in Switttzerland and parts of Spain and Italy. What I would say is that I find no other country treats people from outside better than my own!! That is the UK as a whole.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Colin Matthew
    2008-02-11 17:18:35

    Did you ever see that episode of The Simpsons where Bart is a foreign exchange student and France but is forced to do all the chores and make wine? This kind of reminded me of that. Sorry it didn’t work out.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2008-02-12 06:19:24

    RK: Well, maybe we can meet up once more before I leave and I can give you all the gory details. I’m bummed that I didn’t get to see more of you and the lovely Isabelle.

    Lillerina: I’m glad you’ve liked reading my reports from here. I can’t wait to have happy things to say again too. It’s going to feel so good to smile and know I mean it.

    Colin: No, I never saw that episode, but I’m going to hunt it down on youtube or itunes now. I bet it’s hilarious.

    Chaz: Oh don’t worry, they’ll be sorry for sure.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by maureen
    2008-02-12 07:42:05

    yikes. not good at all. If you want to come back to France, not necessarily Paris, you would do yourself a service by applying for an english teaching job through the french embassy. You’ll be teaching kids 12 hours per week in french public schools and be paid by the government so you won’t be cheated. The application for 2008-2009 is at this site:
    http://www.frenchculture.org/spip.php?article396
    or email: [email protected] for details

    I did this job for two years. You will also have the all important carte de sejour, carte vitale and 8 weeks vacation. the better posts are outside of Paris, however.

    Perhaps you will have a different taste for France if you are living outside of Paris. It is a big country, after all, explore.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Josie Renwah
    2008-02-12 17:43:27

    I love this story Rebecca!
    How dull would it have been to have some perfectly romantic, all worked out as planned kinda story after the fact. What you’ve ilved in Paris is just “life” plain and simple.

    Your reference and insight into prejudiced thinking was wonderfully honest, valid and beautifully battled.

    What a glorious learning experience this has been for you – you will look back on this as one of the greatest times in you life one day – without a doubt.
    Awesome
    XO
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by reno
    2008-02-13 05:41:56

    horrible. so sorry a million times. not a good story. anyhow, come back home. red, white and blue! it’s a little shaky over here right now. politics. but even worse: football’s gone and i’m depressed. but come back anyhow.

    happy hour.

    in n’ out burger.

    magic mountain.

    rich f teaching lil’ boys about the future of their peckers…

    keep punching,
    reno
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2008-02-14 12:58:32

    Maureen: I definitely plan to do that. Thanks for the reference site. I’m going back to grad school to get my master’s in “Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages” (it’s a mouthful, I know) and hopefully that will also help in finding “real” work. Also, I def think I would have had a different experience in a small town. I’ve said it a lot lately. Maybe the big city mentality just doesn’t work for me.

    Josie: Thanks for the positive spin on things. I really could use some positivity right now. And I know what you mean about it just being life. I think about that all the time. I think about how when I came here I thought I was going to get to leave real life behind, but realized it doesn’t matter where you live, you still have to work. And it sucks anywhere.

    Reno: Thanks! I’m especially looking forward to Mexican food and cheap alcohol.
    Reply to this comment

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