Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Learning new skills in accepting a new life

I'd really hoped it wouldn't come to this but it has. After almost five years of struggle in France but having found a little oasis of 'temporary stability' (aka my apartment) in my precarious existence here  it's already the end of an era. Three years ago I needed to escape a dark, damp, unhealthy studio rented to me by an abusive boss. I'd received a small pay increase (my first and only one in France) and I used it to good effect. Though the process of securing a decent habitation as a foreigner was in the hard basket, with Jean-Claude's help I eventually found a place I could call home: warm and dry, well insulated and better constructed than most homes in NZ, in a town with charm but modern facilities, right beside the train station. A little slice of heaven in a world that was sometimes scary and often lonely.

Since that move I had to change jobs to  escape the boss but I ended up going back to my original very modest salary yet now paying a higher proportion in rent (almost 50% with taxes still to come out of the other 50%). That second job had a limited shelf-life of a maximum of two years. I knew how to manage on very little; to not have takeaways or trips to the movies, to never eat out or visit a part of France for the weekend. I knew the benefits of always buying the same ingredients for the same meals so I could keep within my budget, and if I needed to buy some ink cartridges for my printer it meant delaying replacing some aging underwear or often taking home leftovers from my weekends with my boyfriend. All perfectly do-able but just not fun. This tactic didn't have a future because there was no way to save for any fun or emergencies or retirement. Still, being able to live independently is a strong need/urge/drive for me so I hung on as long as I could. I liked my little life in Epernon.

Change. That great certainty of uncertainty. As many of you will know, my time in France is dependent on getting work and years of serious job-hunting in France and NZ have resulted in zilch, nada, zip, zero. My best survival option was to convince my employer to create a job for me. After intensive and nail-biting lobbying against a context of down-sizing staff and institutional bankruptcy with a bailout from the government (a bit like Greece) I've been informed I will be given a new contract for a year, and it's technically renewable. The downside is that I have to teach double the contact hours for the same base salary and if I want more money the extra hours required will be double that required previously. It means no time for planning, preparing and marking. Travel time across regions will also increase.

Most tenancy agreements in France state you must give your landlord 3 months notice. By the time I was told I could have a new contract only two months remained on my old salary. Without the maximum extra hours it would be impossible to live in my apartment and those hours weren't immediately forthcoming. Finding a cheaper apartment would not have gained me much in saving; not enough to make a difference and there would have been costs in moving back to a dark, damp bedsit somewhere. JC said I could move in with him. He said he'd seen it coming for a long time and that, given my circumstances, it was inevitable.

Did I jump at it? No. I agonised and struggled to find ways around losing my independence - I don't want to be dependent on someone else for my existence. In private I railed against having to live a mode of life not of my making or choice in a tiny rural village in the back of beyond. No train station, not even one shop. I shed tears for  the loss of my furniture and some of the few belongings remaining to me from a life of 60 years and too many shifts. And then, quite quickly, I set my mind to being practical and reasonable... and jumped. Sometimes it's better to jump a few seconds before the last minute.
Immediately, the registered letter was written and sent to the landlord. No going back. Change was coming whether I wanted it to or not. The details were now my choosing. Time for action-woman.

I continued to look for extra work. An engineering school in Paris was interested in meeting me but before I could interview with them my uni said it would be better to stay with them and maybe I could find some hours on another of their campuses. That's probably going to happen. So, I'll be working for the same employer, exact annual income unknown but less than now, teaching courses I've never done before (massive learning experience ahead) and living in JC's house located in a tiny village a bit closer to Chartres but further away from my work. I've got a lot of adjusting to do. I'll be adjusting my 'needs', my lifestyle, my attitudes, my behaviours and my brain cells.

There are positives despite the significant losses and adaptations needed. At last I will have an opportunity to save a little for a 'rainy day'. I  have a Question Mark over my future beyond next year rather than an exclamation mark, so things could turn out even more positively, even if I can't see exactly how right now. I can't plan ahead with anything in my life but I can have hope it will end up better than the worst scenario. I'll never realise my dream of living in a little house near Aix en Provence but I can travel to Paris for the odd bit of 'civilisation' if I want. It'll be easier to work in my garden at JC's. I'll have more human interaction in my daily life than I do now (even if it's limited to French). I continue to have a nice man in my life who seems to like having me around though he does acknowledge (as do I ) that he's going to have to make some adjustments too. Like me, he preferred his independent life but I may just have gotten under his skin despite his auto-protections, as his tender side comes out more and more. At those times he's an adorable person.

The final plus is staying in France long enough now to be able to apply for naturalisation as a French citizen. If I am successful (two years and hundreds of dollars later in the future) I don't know if it will be all that useful now (given my working age), except in eliminating the highly unpleasant yearly visit to the Prefecture to renew my residency card and right to be on French soil.  I don't know if I can ultimately stay in France as I have no resources to do so but I still feel, somehow, it might be important to have dual nationality so I'm gearing up for that process.

The next few months will be challenging, life-changing as I dissolve one life (yet again) to begin another; let's see how I get on with putting it all together. The roller-coaster continues. Come along for the ride!
Photos show me in my garden at JC's, scenes from my apartment (note the Monet impressionist painting bed linen - francophile me), JC's place.

Here's what was happening exactly five years ago