Monday, 17 October 2011

Stupid Fucking Waitressing Job

So. The new job...

I am HATING it.

I've been back in Paris now for six weeks and every day up until last Thursday was lovely and light and fun, but since I've started this Stupid Fucking Waitressing Job, everything seems tainted and horrible.

I've had no time or energy to blog and even now I'm struggling to write this post; it's like this job is sucking out my personality, dissolving all my unwritten sentences into nothing and replacing words with table numbers. This job is stealthily killing the fairies and mermaids that normally live inside my head,bludgeoning them to death with ashtrays and plates of food and leaving in their place the faces of Horrible Customers and the Absolute Jobsworths I have found myself working alongside.

Sigh. Do you think I am being a little dramatic? I have only worked there for four days I suppose.

Let me start at the beginning...

The night before my First Shift at the restaurant, I was so worried about speaking French that I didn't have time to fret about the actual waitressing part of the job; all I could focus on was whether I was going to get caught out as a Blatant Non-Francophile, or whether my leather skirt would be deemed appropriate restaurant staff attire.

As it turnes out, the skirt didn't matter because the uniform includes a long black apron that covers most of my bottom-half and makes me look a lot like a butcher. But as for the 'language thing'- when I arrived at the restaurant we had to have a 'staff briefing' and I sat at a table with a Danish girl, a French girl and another English girl. At first we were all speaking English but then the chefs came out of the kitchen and the meeting started properly, in French. The chefs brought plates of food out of the kitchen and the English girl, who is my 'Trainer' for this week, told me that we have to taste the specials everyday so we know how to sell them. Everyone started picking at the food but I couldn't figure out what was going on. Some people had a plate to themselves, whereas others were taking bits from everywhere.

It was one of those horrible, awkward moments where you feel like a Social Freak. I froze up and didn't touch anything. Then the English girl looked at me really strangley and said "Have you already eaten?" so I picked up a fork and tried a few chips but I felt SICK because I was so nervous and confused and everyone was speaking in French and I had no idea what was going on and I wanted to run out into the street, onto the metro and back into my bed.

Throughout the meeting I tried to concentrate on what was being said but my language skills failed me. My 'Trainer' is English, from near Manchester apparently but she's one of those Posh Northerners who could be from anywhere and probably calls her tea her 'dinner'. Anyway, she explained everything to me in English but I can't work with a translator. It was becoming painfully obvious that to work in a restaurant in Paris, you need to speak French.

If you're wondering why that very obvious fact was ever not obvious to me, then remember that I'm working for a chain of English pubs. I thought I'd be working behind the bar, speaking a mixture of English and French like hundreds of American, Canadian, Irish, British and Australian people do all over Paris, but the branch that I have landed a job at is more of a restaurant than a pub and it's not in the sort of area where English tourists and expats would hang out.

As it was my first shift, I mostly had to shadow My Trainer, but the place got so busy that I was left to my own devices after about an hour. I'd learnt a few phrases like 'Vous ĂȘtes combien?' (How many are you?), 'Voulez quelque choses a boire?' (Do you want something to drink?) and 'Vous avez choisi?' (Have you chosen?) but it really, really wasn't enough. At one point a lady asked me how long she'd have to wait for her food, so I disappeared into he kitchen and then came back to tell her that in answer to her question, there was plenty of salad left so don't worry.

At the end of my First Shift I had to have a chat with my Trainer about how everything went, what I was worried about etc etc. She said that everything had gone wrong in the kitchen that day, so it wasn't normally that stressful. I was left feeling a bit hopeful that maybe all my shifts wouldn't be as horrible.

On Friday things ran a lot smoother, but I still struggled with the language and it just makes everything so much more stressful. I'm fine taking orders and things like that, but if anybody deviates from My Script, I panic. All I hear is "jeuleubahbeaupahbahleusheuourourayey, quoi." (That would make a lot more sense if you heard me read it out- it sounds like somebody speaking nonsense in a French accent.)

It's not just the language thing- there's loads of Stupid Fucking Waitressing Things that they want me to do and I just CAN'T BLOODY DO THEM. Carrying three plates at once, for example. I know Real Waitresses can probably carry eight or nine, plus a boiling hot cheese fondu on their head, but I'm not a Real Waitress and I don't want to be. I feel like I'm going to drop the plates. Surely it would save time if I ran back and forth, rather than take all the plates only to them drop them all and cause a huge scene?

They have these black trays as well, for carrying drinks on. They are the exact same trays that we used in my Aunty's cafe when me and my cousin worked there for a summer. (When I think back to that summer, it could be a bit stressful when it got really busy, but I never once didn't want to go into work.) We used the exact same trays and we'd carry them to tables with TWO HANDS because they are heavy and you don't want to spill scolding coffee on someone or smash loads of glasses. But at this restaurant we have to carry the tray balanced on one hand because 'it looks better'. Will it look better when I drop pints of beer and stupid little cups of espresso everywhere? Will it look better when I run out of the restaurant, crying and swearing and covered in hot chocolate?

Non.

When I finished my Second Shift on Friday, my Trainer told me that the next day I would be given my own 'section'. Everyone acted as if this was a good thing but I wanted to quit right there and then. I didn't want my own section! I wanted to stay in the back folding napkins. That was the best bit of the whole day: I love being asked to carry out lengthy, monotonous tasks like that; my mind is free to drift into Fairyland and there is a nice satisfaction about seeing the pile of unfolded napkins grow smaller and smaller until you can smile to yourself and think 'Ah, job done.'

But there would be no more napkin-folding for me: "We'll get your till key sorted and you can do the back section tomorrow!"

Then the manager came in and said: "It will be fun tomorrow, I'm bringing my dog in."

I wondered when people would stop expecting me to be thrilled about their hideous, disturbing news.

So, Saturday came and with it, yey, my own section! It was as disastrous as expected. A few times I 'sent tables' down to the kitchen without putting a table number on the order, because I didn't know it could even send without a table number, so I didn't notice that I hadn't pressed on the till hard enough. I was scared to approach customers because I didn't know what to say to them and when I had them in my section there were many awkward moments where I had to guess what people were saying because you can't just keep saying 'Pardon?' forever. After the twelfth time it's easier just to nod and smile and bring them a coffee and then make sure another waitress is near when the shit hits the fan so she can translate the shit for you.

I really did not enjoy Saturday. Everyone kept telling me what to do and I was left running around with no idea what to prioritise, with not a thought in my brain apart from shitshitshit. I don't really like the other staff. I've done that thing where I go into a new situation and because I'm anxious about the job and naturally quite paranoid, I don't speak to anyone so they assume I'm a rude bitch who also happens to be incredibly dull and ditzy. But they all talk French to each other and I can't speak French! There is one English girl who works there who is really nice, but I've only seen her when we've been swapping shifts.

It's not fair. Normally in every job I have a group of people that I secretly call the 'A Team' and it consists of all the 'best people' and obviously I am always right in there. But at this restaurant I am not in any team, never mind the team with the 'best people.' The 'A Team' isn't even good at the restaurant, they all love their job and take it proper seriously and it's WEIRD. Who takes their Stupid Fucking Waitressing Job seriously? It's not that I think I'm above waitressing; I think waitressing is above me and I'm seriously considering quitting.

It didn't help that I went out on Saturday night. Me, Julia, Olivia and Abby finally made it to Favela Chic and Kayt, Georgie and Oliva's friend Cleodie came along too. I had an exellent night and managed to be in bed by four am, but I still felt like shit the next day.

When I got to work, the chef asked me what I wanted for my meal. I looked at my Trainer and I explained how I had been confused by the eating thing. She basically looked at me like I was an idiot, but I've never had a job before where everyone gets sits down for a meal before they start work and now I know that the extra meals they put down on the table where the specials, so everyone is supposed to get a meal each and then try a bit of the specials. But I don't know what the meals look like and what the specials look like! I don't know these things. In this job I feel like I don't know anything about anything and that I'm just a Massive Dickhead Idiot.

Anyway, on Sunday the chef asked me what I wanted to eat and I said a salad because I thought something fresh and green would be good for my hangover. He asked me in French if I wanted anything on it, like cheese or meat, so I said "No, just salad", but I forgot that when you say 'salad' in France people think you mean 'salade vert'... I ended up with a plate of green salad leaves and nothing else.

As I picked at my salade vert, two people I had never seen before sat down at the staff table and started speaking in French. They said 'hello' but then ignored me, so I followed suite and just stared at my food as I ate it in silence. After they left the table, one of the chefs said "That was the manager you know!" and then shook his head at me.

I thought this other woman was the manager- the one who hired me and who frequently snarls friendly advice in my ear as I work like 'We never arrange the forks like that!' and 'Don't ever let me see you carry an ashtray like that again.'

Well. I'm not really arsed because if the manager thinks I'm a Dick and a Weirdo he can fire me and I won't have to work at his stupid restaurant again.

I'm just thinking... is it worth it? If I work twenty hours a week, I'll get paid about €180, but I get taxed 20%, which make it about €148. If I get that job looking after the little baby, which I'll find out about in a couple of weeks, I'll get about €100 a week, but I'll only be doing ten hours and it will be soooo easy. I'll be able to take the baby out for strolls in his pushchair and I might even be able to go with the parents for weekends away to London, Corsica and Cyprus.

If I could wrangle my old ladies back off Kayt as well, I'd be getting
€125 a week. I told Kayt to tell the old ladies that my au pair family had forced me to work afternoons, so now they are all outraged on my behalf and think I am being exploited. I got the loveliest voicemail message from them this week:

"We are sorry to see you go, you will be greatly missed, have a wonderful stay in Paris, we all thought you were very good, if you get the chance to come one day again to see us it would be very nice, enjoy your year here."

Ahh. I feel like they think of me as an intelligent, nice person who has things to teach them.

In contrast, on Sunday I had one family in my section who were the horribliest cunts I have ever met. The dad got more and more infuriated at life as the meal went on. To be fair, they did have to wait a while because I couldn't put their order through at first, but at the end of the meal the dad was paying by card and he said "We've waited for a long time and the food wasn't good. We're not happy."

Then when he was paying on his card I asked him to put it in the machine. His face reddened and he said something like "You want me to put my card in? Have you worked in a restaurant for long?"

It took me while to understand him and his wife said "She can't hear very well, she has a problem with her hearing."

Then she laughed in a really mean way and I wanted to grab hold of her disgusting blonde bob and smash her head repeatedly off the table, all the while telling her not to judge people who can't hear very well. I fucking hate the type of people that live in the area where I work; some of them come in and you can just tell that they spend their weekends lynching homeless people and spitting on wheelchairs-users.

I don't understand Horrible Customers. If I went to a restaurant in England and the waitress could barely speak English, I would speak extra slowly and point to the menu in a nice, helpful way because I'm not a RACIST, HORRIBLE BIGOT. If I went into a restaurant and my pudding didn't arrive and I had to remind the waitress to send down to the kitchen for it, I wouldn't go red in the face and ask her how long she'd been a waitress for. Even if it meant I had to leave without my pudding, I'd just say 'I've actually got to rush, can you cancel the pudding? Thanks.'

Then I'd pay for my meal, I'd thank the waitress, I'd walk out into sunshine and think 'Ooh what shall I do now? Something nice and normal because I'm a nice, normal person who isn't a waitress-abusing bastard.'

Hmm. I am aware I have been ranting for quite a few paragraphs now.

I need to go to bed, I'm working again at the restaurant tomorrow. I just don't know what to do. I'm very unhappy and I don't like being unhappy. However, if I stick at it, it might really help my French. That is the only thing the Stupid Fucking Waitressing Job has over the Nice Baby Job. Oh shit what shall I do??? I might not get the Baby Job anyway. I kind of hope I don't because then I won't have to make any more decisions.

I might get fired tomorrow anyway, because I can't work next week- I have to be available all day and all evening for my au pair job, because it's half-term and the mum doesn't know when she'll need me. Obviously my au pair job comes first, but I don't quite know how to break it to the restaurant...

To end on a nice note, last night after work me and Kayt went to Georgie's for tea and we had Marks and Spencers sausages that Georgie had brought back from London. We had them with sweet potato mash and red onion gravy and it the nicest thing I have eaten for a long, long time and it wasn't just because I had only eaten half a plate of salade verte all day. It was SO NICE and I wish there had been French people there to enjoy it with us because they would have seen that the typical English meal of 'bangers and mash' is not the Richmond sausages and Smash they are imagining. I went to bed smiling and hoping the night would be bring dreams about thick and tasty English sausages.

In other news, today I finally got a contract phone, I got a Blackberry so I can download apps and things which enable me to chat with people back in England for freeee. I don't know how to use it yet, I've always, always had a shit brick phone, it feels weird to have something 'technical' and 'modern.' The only problem is not I'm sure how I am going to pay for it now, as my French bank account has been blocked because I went overdrawn by 24 euros, even though I specifically didn't want an overdraft. Now they are going to charge me 50 euros and my credit card is going to charge me about forty quid this month and so is my English overdraft. I am internationally fucking up my finances, again!

Shit it's nearly 1am. I have to be up at nine, which seems like the middle of the night after six weeks of not starting work until the early evening. Although, I was up at 7am this morning because I had another drama lesson. It went quite well this time so that's Something to be positive about. Also, I have all my limbs, I don't live in a tin shack in a third world slum, my eyebrows are looking quite good at the moment... many, many profound things to be grateful for.

I can't believe that on Monday last week I had my job interview for the restaurant. If I knew then what I know now...

9 comments:

  1. Hey! Just found your blog through Keith (A Taste of Garlic). Good luck with the waitressing job...I can speak French but I don't think I could handle working in a restaurant! You are a lot braver than I am, and you should be proud of yourself for sticking it out thus far. Can't wait to read more!

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  2. Aw thank you soo much!! That has really made me feel a lot better! I'm sure you have a blog too I will have a read when I get back from the dreaded job...

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  3. LBM my dear, quit the stupid restaurant job, it doesn't sound like it's worth it for the bits of bitchy French you'll pick up working there! I HATE waitressing with a passion and am so impressed you are sticking in there! Those customers sound like they should be thrown off the Tour Eiffel. xx

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  4. Hey Tabs, its Chlo! Sorry I haven't replied to your email yet, just wanted to write you a quick message to say QUIT QUIT QUIT QUIT QUIT! I worked for the same chain, and I don't know if you remember my horror stories of telling the manager to go f*ck himself and nearly getting fired, but leaving anyway, but it really isn't worth the money! That chain is worse than wetherspoons and it is better to leave now, than to get dragged deeper in. I found my french improved alittle working there, but not by much - who cares if you can ask people in perfect french whether they'd like to supersize their burgers?!!! It's not useful language, you'd be better off stripping or looking after a baby and finding a nice French boy to do a language exchange with - FUCK THEM!!

    I promise I will email you soon babe, take care of yourself! And I'm visiting next month, so I will see you soon too :-) xxxx

    p.s. They were absolutely hideous to me when I told them about going away with our au pair family, even though I'd explicitly told them about my other commitments in the interview. If I were you, I would use next week's au pair commitments as a reason not to continue working. They have a 2 month (?) policy where you can leave without giving any notice, so do it, just try be amicable, cos that guy who sat down next you is a nasty piece of work, and he will make it difficult for you to get your wages if it ends badly. Just be honest, 'it's not for me, my au pair family have upped my hours as of next week, I'm sorry, I just can't commit. Goodbye!'

    Be happy! xxx

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  5. Oh my goodness - just found you through Taste of Garlic. Okay, this post pretty much describes my worst possible nightmare. I think the stress would make my hair fall out! I got flustered just reading it - bonne chance!

    -fellow napkin folder

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  6. Thanks for all the comments everyone!

    Clo you have really scared me now, I knew that guy was a wanker he had wanker vibes floating off him... Maybe I should quit, I've told them about next week and they didn't really understand, so hopefully I will use that as an excuse. I'm really bad at quitting jobs!! Eeek.

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  7. Babe, I'm sorry, I didn't tell you to try and scare you but was telling you to warn you, because they are HORRIBLE! But don't worry, people come and go all the time, hardly anyone (except the jobsworths) stay longer than 6 months, if that! And we all filled our bags to breaking point with stolen vodka and cigarettes to get back at them anyway (I recommend you doing the same thing!) so don't feel bad about leaving, or caving, or not being able to do the job properly - it's A PUB! IN PARIS?! Nobody gives a crap if you can carry 4 plates on your head while walking backwards, I don't! And you shouldn't either! They all take it too seriously, especially Mr Wanker, who you met the other day, who is the King of all the Wankers in the world - he's pompous, arrogant, irritating and I swear, he thinks of bullying his staff members as a competitive sport. Don't take him seriously, he's a knob!
    When I told my floor manager to go f*ck himself, he told Mr Wanker, and I ended up having a heated email debate with him, which I won! And he also had a HUGE argument with my friend Hannah (who you met), which she also won too. If I were you, on your next shift, go speak to the person in charge of the shift, explain that you are unable to commit due to other commitments which have come up, but would be happy to work the rest of the shifts you're rota-ed down for, in order to avoid letting down your fellow co-workers, work until the end of the week, collect your money and never dwell on the situation again!
    They'll make you feel bad, but so what? Do you care what they think of you? Just make sure you get paid!
    How's everything else going? Hope things with the family are going well! I am very excited to come, and happy to hear that you made them cottage pie, (I made them shepherds, maybe that's why they claimed I never did, although up until your email, I thought cottage and shepherd's pie were basically the same!) haha, anyway, take care ok? Don't let the bastards get you down, you're better than that! xxxx

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  8. I wish you well I am from Ontario Canada and I have been a waitress for over 25 years. I do not know French and I do not care to learn it. I was watching a show recently on waitresses and there was one part of the show where they were in France and the man are more dominant in this field and the female is under them. Cannot say I believe in that male or female we are just as good as man if not better.

    Cannot say I enjoy waitressing like I use to, too much bullshit with customers and owners. Trying to get my beauty business up and running that is my true passion.

    All the Best
    Marilyn

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  9. I really want to work in Paris during my gap year. to earn money and hopefully learn some french. I would really appreciate some tips on how you got your jobs, how you got cheap/good accomodation etc. Im @CatrinEve on twitter so any advice, really appreciated.

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