Friday, June 24, 2011

Shocked and awed

Long & dramatic post ahead! You may recall that I hated my last flat, specifically being rendered miserable by a flatmate I couldn't stand. So it was a great relief to quickly find a nice flat in Tours with someone around my age, in a good area, for a reasonable albeit not cheap cheap rent, and as time went on, we became friends and hang out together often. Well, well, this week brought a lesson that things are not always as they seem...

On Wednesday evening I went round to my friend Liz's place, feeling a tiny bit hungover after la Fete de la Musique the night before, to help her move flats, where we were joined by my flatmate & Liz's boyfriend. After a couple of hours, we had her moved in, and decided to go straight home as I was pretty tired & my flatmate Géraldine was intending to meet up with her sister to celebrate the end of her exams.

Liz's new place is only about 5-10 minutes away on foot, but G had her bike and thus made it back to our place faster than I did. I had my key in the front (street) door when suddenly it flew open, G ran out and slammed it behind her, and she rapidly said to me "I'm not Géraldine, you're not Gwan, we don't live here, we're here to feed the cats for our friends". No sooner were the words out of her mouth than the door opened again, and there stood a businessy-looking woman who I'd never seen before. She immediately started asking if I was G or someone else, who I now know was G's old flatmate. I said no, and then she started asking who I was and if I lived there. I sort of gaped at her and looked at G, standing next to her, who shook her head. I sort of half shook my head as well, but the woman responded something along the lines of "I think you do".

It's a bit blurry, but I think the next thing she said was that we were in serious trouble and if we didn't 'fess up and talk to her, she'd be calling the police. Bear in mind that at this stage, I still had no idea who this woman was and what she was doing in my house. She asked to see my ID, and I said I didn't have any on me, at which stage she realised I wasn't French. Somehow I think this helped convince her that I had no clue what was going on - the ignorant foreign type, I suppose. I think it's about now that she revealed that she was there because my flatmate had not been paying rent for more than a year. I presumably gaped even more at this news, and as we made our way upstairs, the threats of calling the police having convinced G to come clean, I said to her that I had no idea, and she replied that she was pretty sure where the blame lay in the situation.

Anyway, to cut the rest of a long story short(er), up we went and I had to show this woman ID, my chequebook, bank account, payslips etc. to back up that I had indeed been paying rent. It's complicated, but it turns out that G had not only not been paying rent, but that recently she'd been living off my money to boot. Eventually, the woman had me write an 'attestation' that she dictated, declaring that I had been paying rent in good faith, and G and I both signed it.

She threatened to pretty much kick us out, but G asked whether, if she could pay back the money, we could start at zero and stay in the flat. She agreed to set a deadline of the 11th July to receive all the back rent, around 8000 euros, took a lot of her details and set a meeting the next day, when they were to ring her parents together to check whether the money would be coming. I wasn't saying much through all this, but the woman wasn't holding back about how G had defrauded me & put me in a bad situation, plus of course the landlords (she was some sort of agent I suppose, I never did get her name or job title) etc. etc.

After she finally left, G apologised and explained that she had been unable to cope with her student loan debt and said she hadn't meant for any of it to happen, and she was sorry she had been lying me (this whole time, I may add). She said that she expected her rent guarantee deposit would be covering the rent, which neither I nor the woman believed. I believe that she probably started out thinking that she could let it slide for a couple of months, the deposit would kick in, and she would somehow be able to get back on track. Then as time went on, of course she just got further behind with everything, quit her job, and started taking my money as well (at first she wasn't cashing my cheques, as they were made out to the agency - long story). But she's a smart girl, and I don't believe she thought her guarantee would cover the rent for an entire year with nary a peep, she just closed her eyes to the situation and hoped it would go away.

At the moment, it looks like she is going to be lent the money from her family. But of course that doesn't make the situation go away. I'm really hurt that someone I consider(ed) to be a friend would treat me like that - even if I don't think she had a grand plan to defraud me, she lied to me this whole year, and actually escalated the whole affair by taking my money after I was no longer just a stranger to her. Then there's the issue of whether I can trust her from now on. Even if I think, intellectually, she's unlikely to do the same thing again, I imagine this probably would cause tension and awkwardness every month - would I be always wondering if the rent's been paid? Even beyond that, I don't know how, given the problems she already had, she can add on a debt to her parents and suddenly be magically able to cope and pay the rent in the future.

On the other hand, I'm in a bad situation because, not only do I like where I live, I can't afford to move. I didn't pay a deposit here, because I'm not on the lease, so I don't have money aside to pay for rent in advance and a deposit elsewhere, which would probably run to over 1000 euros. I also have a reasonable amount of furniture in my bedroom, but nothing else - washing machine, microwave, pots and pans, etc. etc. So I have too much for a furnished place and not enough for an unfurnished one. And of course furnishing a flat with all that kind of stuff would be thousands more, a particularly significant investment when I only have a one-year contract guaranteed. I've had a look at available flats, but haven't seen any where it's not either sharing with about 4-5 others and/or living with young students, neither of which I want to do. But if she moved out - which I think, regardless of my own situation, she probably really should, since she obviously can't afford this flat and there are definitely cheaper options - and I stayed here, I might end up having to cover all of the rent while finding a flatmate, which I can't afford to do either (plus I would still be left with the furniture problem). Tours is a student town, so summer is not the ideal time to try and fill a vacancy - I don't want to live with a student anyway, but that means the market is flooded with options and would likely make finding a flatmate at this time difficult.

So right now I don't know what to do. Obviously we have to have a proper conversation, but I was too shocked on Wednesday, yesterday I went round to Liz's until late at night because I didn't want to deal with it, and today I'm here shut up in my room, because I still don't know how to respond to this situation. I don't want to 'punish' her, despite what she did, and I do sympathise despite everything. At this stage, I do still wish that we could somehow work things out, but I just don't know if we can. I also feel really stupid, like I've been duped. Looking back I can think maybe there were some signs I should have paid attention to (I wondered how she was managing financially after she stopped working, but didn't like to ask; the whole deal with my cheques being 'sent back' by the agency etc.) but I suppose there's no point beating myself up about it. Perhaps it isn't such a good idea to trust a stranger, but I definitely didn't think she was lying to me a year in, you know?

On a happier note, I am going to Strasbourg from tomorrow morning till Monday evening, which is an even more welcome break after the stress of this week. I'm hoping I can just put these anxieties to one side and enjoy some flammekueche and try sauerkraut and see the famous cathedral clock and people-watch in Petite France and all the rest of it. (And I got return tickets for only 60 euros, thanks to a friend of a friend who works for SNCF - saving about 120 euros on what it would otherwise have been, at least at this short notice).

Friday, June 10, 2011

Work woes

Just had a little cry in the toilets at work, so hopefully won't repeat that shortly. Thing is, I have to have an annual review at work, starting with filling out a form saying everything I've done this year and my future objectives and followed by an interview with my boss. So okay, that's kind of stressful and unpleasant for everyone, but not usually crying material. But it's just upsetting me that everyone seems to be completely oblivious and insensitive to the fact that this is actually really hard for me to do, and that it's much harder for me than them. For example, I just asked a colleague what I should put for 'position in the structure' and he answered 'ha ha I don't know - ground floor?'.

Then I got to a bit that said you should answer this section using the information in your job description. I was looking through my emails to find the information the secretary had sent me about the assessment and I found out that there is no job description and she expects me to go to this (not very helpful) website and fill it out myself. To be fair, she did email me that information weeks ago and I've just put off dealing with it because it's stressful and I didn't have time, so that's my fault, but I just don't think it's fair to expect me to fill out my own job description. I don't have a single clue how to fill in the 'political, strategic, legal or reglatory framework' for my job, for example, and I don't see why I should have to. Surely it's their job to lay out all that information for me from the beginning?

Still, maybe it wouldn't upset me that much if it just didn't bring up wider issues that I feel like people don't take the time to explain things to me clearly and help me with this sort of thing. Don't get me wrong, I'm good at my job and I know what I'm doing, but I feel all the time like I'm doing my own thing and I end up disconnected from everyone else. Like there'll suddenly be a meeting that no-one told me about - it's possible that it was vaguely mentioned between themselves, but I need them to actually say "Gwan, there's a meeting about such and such on such and such a date" and they never do. Or technical things are never clearly explained - like they'll throw around acronyms to do with IT stuff I don't understand and never say what they're talking about. By the way, it's not just me who feels this way, the girl I eat lunch with also often says she doesn't get what x or y is, but obviously it's 10 times more difficult for me to pick up on stuff.

Then, and this is a bit different, there's the feeling that it's not fair that I have to do everything there is to do in English whereas they can pick and choose what they're good at or what interests them amongst themselves in French. But I mean that's just intrinsic to the job, there's nothing I can really do about it.

I don't really know whether to bring these things up in my assessment. On the one hand, I don't want to come across like I'm calling my colleagues out on something. I just think they genuinely don't get it, and I can understand that. I remember about 5-6 years ago working with a foreign library assistant who used to screw everything up all the time, and we all just used to sigh and call her useless instead of trying to explain and help her. It was really annoying because you'd go into the shelving room after her and everything would be misshelved (which, I dunno, isn't really a language issue anyway but...) and so you'd end up having to re-do all the "work" she'd done, which obviously puts you offside with her. Obviously no-one's having to re-do my work, but I don't want my colleagues to similarily feel like I'm this burden on them if they're having to take extra time to explain stuff. At the same time though, I do understand if they just speak directly to me and say things clearly instead of just making vague allusions to stuff across the desks to each other while we're working.

I know that it's my choice to take a job in a foreign country and language so in a way maybe it's not fair to expect special treatment. But at the same time, it's a post for a native English-speaker, so I do feel that if you're going to specifically look to hire someone foreign you should be sensitive to the fact that they may need extra assistance and support, including for things that are really obvious to you like labour laws or whatever. I just find it really hard as well to admit I don't know something and ask for help, which again is my fault. I think they could be meeting me halfway though. :(