Thursday, 19 March 2015

Into the void: searching for a hen's tooth

It's not like me to write my blog so infrequently and regular readers may be wondering what has happened? Well, life has become rather tedious because everyday is consumed with work or searching for a way to save myself in France. No jaunts to Paris, no money to do anything because every centime must be guarded for what blackness may arrive this year. Get a grip Frances, you say, just keep persisting. But a little voice says... haven't I persisted enough yet?

I recognise this feeling. I suffered it for too many months in my last employment in New Zealand, when I knew I was losing my job yet couldn't find another one. That sense that things would change and not as I wanted them to, but I had no idea what effort on my behalf would result in a positive result. That sense that everything was unravelling and a large amount of loss was on the way. It's back!

It's a feeling of emptiness with no sense of direction. Sure I know what I want but it seems I can't have it, and all alternatives have a significant dark side.

There are days when I feel paralysed by this feeling, desperate to take action to move myself forward but where is forward? What we do usually depends to a large extent on what someone else does. Will a person give me a job? It's as simple as that. Unemployment is not an option for me here in France, even if I'm legally entitled to a few months of it, because without a good enough contract I won't be allowed residency for another year and I certainly won't be able to go through the nerve-wracking, expensive and time-consuming process of applying to become a French citizen - an opportunity tantalisingly close now (end of September) but given my current carte de sejour (expires mid August), and contract situation (also August) - no cigar.

I'd love a CDI contract, the holy grail in France. It gives you a permanent position: regular income and stability and the right to continue living in France and become naturalised. Getting this is unlikely though miracles could happen. Dream job? Doing PR and Communications in English in France. Super-dream job? Making a positive difference to (non-rich) people's lives while giving myself a financially stable future.

The only other option for me is a CDD. This is a short term contract, usually for a year, which can sometimes be renewed on a yearly basis, and is what I've been labouring under since I arrived. For a non-EU resident like me they are guaranteed to give you permanent anxiety with a dash of hope that you might find another somewhere. Well, my CDD has come to a permanent end.

Under my visa category I can only be a salaried employee. I cannot be self-employed or anything else. In France jobs are given by order of priority to French citizens, then EU citizens and then, if they can't fill the job, to non-EU seekers of employment. This usually mean zero chance. Under the National Education limitations, for someone like me I cannot work in most educational institutions in France because I'm not French and I haven't won a competition (the CAPES) for a right to teach English by writing hours of exams in formal French. Most French contestants don't succeed. I don't even have the right to try and why would I? There are limits to even my masochism.

Another option would require me to get a CDD and then work additional hours as a vacataire (in order to meet minimum income requirements for naturalisation) at a university - even the one I'm currently working at, but I'd need a primary job of at least 900 hours per year and an agreement from the employer to let me work as a teacher elsewhere during the week for some hours. A vacataire can be dispensed with at any time, has no contract, doesn't get paid for travel or lesson preparation (class contact hours only) and usually has to wait 6 months to get paid. As the uni's vacataires complain to me - they feel like slaves. But I'd take that if I could get the right CDD. Being a French citizen would give me the right to take any sort of work I wanted, that's what I want.

Right now I am forced to consider the likelihood I may lose my apartment and my possessions as a minimum, even if I find a little job. Further, with no job at all I would be kicked out of France with no possessions other than key personal items, no job anywhere and nowhere to live. It's scary. It's paralysing. Next month I turn 60. Last time I spoke to the unemployment office here, they said I was too old to be employable. I ask myself where paying taxes for more than 40 years in one country, taxes for 5 years in another and 9 years of tertiary study have got me? And before you tell me to go back to NZ, it's not that simple.

I've had some rich experiences here in France but you can't live for the rest of your life on those, or pretty scenery in NZ. Will I find a way to survive subsistence-wise somewhere? If I must. I'll do what it takes even if I'm unlikely to like my choices. None of my current choices offer any kind of permanence or long-term financial stability. And there's a voice inside me that says I deserve better than poverty somewhere.

I was trying to explain NZ's introduction of zero-hour contracts to my economics students this week. They looked aghast, such a cruelty would be unthinkable here. Even McDonalds can't do that here and they seem to get by OK. I'm shocked at how difficult governments can make life for folks just trying to make a life for themselves. Honest, hard-working folks. I'm grateful I don't have one of those sorts of contract and I'm ashamed of the employers in NZ who use them. Worse than being a vacataire, it seems. Yes, there's always someone worse off in that moment... but that doesn't help. I prefer to focus on more positive possibilities even if they turn out only to be dreams. And hope like hell!

I'll keep you posted on my efforts to extricate myself from the void.
Graph shows unemployment in France.