Friday, September 18, 2015

Swimming pool and love at first sight

Aelig loves to go to the swimming pool, so I had been wanting to enroll her to swimming classes. Unfortunately I'm someone who is not very up to date on enrollement dates, so I missed the pre-enrollment day. By chatting with my coworker I realized that she had enrolled both her girls, while I would have to fight with a bunch of people on a Wednesday afternoon. She advised me to arrive 45 minutes early in order to secure a place.

Well, I was not keen on queuing for such a long time in advance as Awena would get bored and complained. So we arrived 15 minutes before they started accepting enrollment. There was a long line outside the registration place, I was given #47. We all wondered if there would be enough place for all of us, seeing that more and more people arriving. There was a pregnant woman coming with a foldable chair. Some moms knew each other so they were gossiping about schools, teachers, activities for kids....

The registration started at 2pm. People rushed inside the gym to form another queue. We were told to go inside the swimming pool in order for the trainers to see which level they should put our kids in. We went into changing room, parents and kids were packed along the corridor. Trainers called out numbers, so there was no use to rush actually. I put Awena inside a baby carrier, she was curious and tried to get free. Aelig was proud to be able to walk from one end to the other in the swimming pool, as expected she was put into the beginner class.

Once the level testing was done, we headed back to the gym to submit all kind of documents : registration form, medical certificate, a check for the whole season, proof of our income group (you pay the fee according to your family income group), proof of our current address. We waited for at least one hour there. The gym was packed with kids so I let Awena out to play with them.

And then I met the boy, and his mother. Apparently he was one of Aelig's boyfriends. They were there for the registration too, so I chatted with the mother. She told me that her boy likes Aelig a lot, and it was love at first sight. She suggested that we choose the same time slot so that they kids can swim together. I agreed to her suggestion.

Now, the little girl is happy to go to the swimming pool after school once a week. The hard part being that she has homework in the evening and she is not keen on doing them. So, after a long day (school + swimming class), there would be dragging, threathening, yelling, crying. How I wish Wednesdays are still no school day (she has class on Wednesday mornings since sept)! At least she could stay later on Tuesday night.

Anyhow, this episod just made me realise that the "kiasu spirit" (afraid to lose in Malaysian language), exists as well in France, at least where I'm. Moms were fighting for a spot for their love one. I hope all the kids enjoy and appreciate the classes after all the hard work their moms put in. :-)

PS : Most of the public swimming pools are run by the local Town Hall. It offers relatively affordable price, that's why swimming lessons are one of the popular after school activities.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The unlayoffable

Two weeks ago there was this news reporting that for 12 years, a French railway  (SNCF) employee was getting paid 5400€ monthly, even though he was sitting at home waiting for his new assignement. He now claimed a 500000€ compensation as his career life was ruined. Apparently, he was put into cupboard after disclosing a fraudful pratice in the company.

Over the years, I have worked with several ex-government turned private companies including SNCF. It seems that some employees in these companies have a special status that make them unlayoffable, or the layoff process is tedious and time consuming. It creates an okward situation when there are no suitable positions for some of them as the skills set required change. Instead of laying them off and let them venture into other career opportunities, these companies have to or choose to keep them, thus putting them into projects without clear job descriptions. Just imagine, you are working with these companies and you are at a meeting where one member just keep disrupting the discussions, or just keep quiet as nobody knows why he or she was there. Some of them tried very hard to catch up, to integrate into the new teams, while some of them just dropped out, feeling discouraged, or even lost their selfworth in the new organisations.

And, from what I heard, civil servants in France are unlayoffable, it is a lifelong employment contract.

As for the private companies, it depends on the sectors. I heard that some sectors layoff easily, for example in the construction. Some private companies prefer to not layoff their employees, even though they arrive late, sleeping during working hours, take long lunch break...and some know how to protect themselves : they become the délégue personnel (Elected employee representatif). If you layoff employees with this status, changes are you will lost if he or she sues you in the Labor Court.

Recently, I heard some people mentioned about "rupture conventionnelle", where employee employer come to agreements so that the employee will leave the company. It is not considered a layoff, nor a resignation, but both parties wanted to be separated. With this, the employee walks away with a severance package (sometimes amounted to several months or years of salaries), and since it was not a resignation, the employee could enjoy unemployment benefits. Employers use this to:
1. Get rid of employees who were under-performend, this could avoid going through the Labor Court
2. Get rid of those with high salaries and close to retirement. A win-win situation for both : employer got rid of the older employees so that they could lower their labor costs, while employee got to enjoy early retirement while being paid the same or almost the same.
3. Get rid of employees who were not motivated. I know of real cases of those who slept during working hours, refused job assignments, they managed to negotiate a severance package before leaving.

Coming from a capitalist country where under-performed employees are fired, it was difficult to accept that the incompetent coworkers or unprofessional behaviors could be tolerated in companies. With the rigid layoff process, it was a challenge for companies to go through reform even though they might be in financial difficulties. It was a vicious cycle : companies do not recruite easily due to the inflexibility in laying off people in case business going down; employees find it difficult to find other jobs thus prefer to stay put in the same job even though it might not please them.

As for this SNCF employee who sat at home for 12 years doing nothing but still received his paycheck every month, surely his career life was ruined. I presume he did try to find other job, but he probably didn't find any that would give him the same salary and benefits. These semi private semi public companies often offer abundant of paid vacations, interesting working hours and attractive retirement schemes. He actually has the courage to disclose his situation to the world, some in his shoes would maintain it until retirement.

What would you do if you were him?

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Why French women don't buy Louis Vuitton

I do not know of any French woman who owns a Louis Vuitton bag.
I seldom see anyone carrying one in the streets where I live, except in Paris, where tourists are everywhere at anytime.
I wonder why?

Yesterday I thought of these reasons:
1. French women do not get invited to wedding dinners as often as Malaysians or Asians in general. In Malaysia, you invite everyone to your wedding, including those that you have not seen in years. But in France, weddings are for close friends and relatives. And weddings, are time to show off in Malaysia, so every lady dresses up with luxury accessorries. And LV bags are seen often. So, less wedding invitations = less show off opportunities = less need for LV bags.

2. In general, French separate their work life and social life. In this case, you do not need to bring your girlfriend / wife to company gatherings. Less gatherings = less show off opportunities = less need for LV bags.

3. In general, French women are financial independent, they do not have the mentality to marry rich in order to get the golden bowl for the rest of their life. French men buy small gifts, romantic activites to win the heart of their girlfriends. And, French women could be the one taking the step when they are interested in someone. So, there is no need to buy LV bags to show that you are genuine in the relationship.

4. French women do a lot of sport. They bike, they run, they go hiking, they swim...It goes better with a backpack than a LV bag in these situations.

5. The most importantly, showing off is not in the mentality in general in France. Less showing off = less need for LV bags.

There are of course exception.

Going for a trip. See if I can think of more reasons. Have a nice weekend!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Summer camp around a Castle

Last summer I read on our community newsletter that they were having a summer camp for kids of 4-6 years old. I immediately contacted the Town Hall, but I was told that all camps were fully booked.

Around March this year, a friend told me that the Town Hall was organizing different activities for kids and we could get all the information during an exhibition in a castle. We went there to check out, and Aelig was intrigued by the camping coordinators who dressed as a queen, a fairy, a knight and an elf (lutin). So, on a Saturday morning, hubby set his alarm clock to make sure he woke up on time to enroll Aelig to this camp, as we were told that the spot would be gone within the first 20 minutes. The enrollment went through, Aelig was going to her first summer camp.

We chose the first week of July for her camp, right after her summer holidays started. We brief her about the camp, she realized little by little that she was going to sleep in a tent with people that she didn't know. But, she was brave, she didn't protest. So off we go. On Monday and Tuesday, she got introduced to new friends and got used to the new environment. She still came home in the evening.

Starting from Wednesday, she slept in the tent, we only picked her up on Friday evening. On Thursday morning, we got an email from the organiser, who gave us some news of what was going on in the camp.

Friday evening, we went to pick her up. Her first reaction was crying in hubby's arms. After hugging us, she calmed down and started showing us what she did.

We were invited to a performance where some of the kids (total 18 of them) describing what they did during the one week camp. They drew castle, forest, tent, queen, elf and knight to show us the adventure they went through.

Before we left, Aelig was surrounded by her new friends. They hugged her and said goodbye.

Overall, it was a good experience, for us and for Aelig. I was worried that she would be scared to participate in this camp since she knew nobody. Most of the kids enrolled with their friends and asked to sleep in the same tent. But, she did well, and she enjoyed it as she was so excited she wanted to join the camp again. Well, 120€ well spent.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

School year end performance : The Little Prince

The last Saturday of Jun, we went for Aelig's school year-end festival. I learnt that if it is a private catholic school, it is called "Kermesse", and if it is a public school, it is called "la fête de l'école", meaning the school festival. These year-end festivals are meant to mark the end of school year while raising some money to finance the school activities including field trips.

Around March, the kids started having rehearsal for their stage performance. This year, the dances were designed around the theme "The Little Prince". It is such a clever idea, as the film will be released this summer, now parents could tell their kids that the film is related to their stage performance.

The woman raising her right arm was the dance teacher. She designed all the dances and the costumes. Not very school has the budget to hire a dance teacher, some schools have their teachers handling the performance. In the photo, the kids dressed as The Little Prince, with green shirt and orange scarf (in our book at home The Little Prince is more wearing a yellow scarf than an orange one, maybe every book is different?).

 Then come the pilot.

 This is the scene where The Little Prince asks the pilot "Please draw me a sheep?"

His rose. While these roses were beautiful, it was painful for the kids who had them around their head.

 The Little Prince ventured outside of his planet, he met the king.

Aelig's class was splitted into two groups: one as snake and one as fox. She was in the snake group. She already showed us her dance at home. I almost told her The Little Prince died due to the poisionous snake, but I figured it would be better for her to figure it out herself.

Afterall, the film is coming out on 29 July, she could have chance to watch it. I told her about this film, she has been waiting for it. We brought her to cinema yesterday, she thought she was going to watch it, but instead if was another movie. Since then, she has been asking, when are we going to watch The Little Prince?

Jun was the month where most of the schools have their year-end festival. We went to tour around town one Saturday and attending two of them. One school had Disney characters dance this year.

 Those in green dress must be Thinker Bell? I was not sure.

This one was from a public school, their performances were simpler, but they had more interesting games.

Back to Aelig's school. Beside the stage performance, the school also prepared some stands (at the far edge in this photo).

Schools sell coupons to parents, they can then use them to play games or buy food (sponsored by parents). Some games are simple yet creative, for example on the photo, Aelig was using a broom to push a round shape thing into holes at the other edge. They would win something if they succeed.

Overall a fun day for the kids. It is also a good way to raise money. I think Malaysian schools could use this model. Instead of asking parents to directly donate money to the school, they could raise money through students / school / parents participation.

PS : The stage performance continued on The Little Prince theme, but we went for games (hubby was holding a game stand), so didn't have photos for the performance after Aelig's.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Asian cliché

Around once a week my coworkers would bring over something to share at coffee break hours : croissants, chocolate breads, brioches (sweet bread)...Most of the time is for their birthday, or someone leaving the company...

I only go when I really know the person. I'm not a big fan of these pastries especially I have already had my breakfast at home. One day a coworker brought over something and he was asking everyone to join him. It so happened that I was walking back to my office so he stopped me and invited me to go. I reluntantly joined them as I had tons of work to finish.

When we were in the office pantry, he asked me why I never join them for breaks, and I really do fall into the Asian cliché as someone who works too much. And this relatively show that French work less in comparaison. I was taken aback when he threw this question to me. It was not my purpose to show that I work harder than anyone. I do not take break because:
- The vending machine proposes a bunch of coffee drinks except one type of tea and tomato soup. I do not take coffee.
- Most of the time people spend like 30 minutes to chit chat, two breaks/day meaning one hour's gone. Since I need to respect a certain amount of working hours per day, I prefer to spend time enjoying my lunch break, then go home early.
- Sometimes the conversation topics bore me, a lot of bitching, complaining, I prefer conversations that give me positive energies :-).

Frankly it is just a matter of habit. My pace is set at working, lunch break, working, go home. Some people would take several breaks because they couldn't stand to sit down for too long, or some need to go out for a cigarette, everyone is different. Having said so, generally I like my coworkers in the company. I enjoy working here because most of the coworkers are easy going, friendly, there are less office politic... As for Asian cliché, I'm fair from it, I know many Malaysians who work long long hours, I'm more on the French rhythm, 37 hours / week, and I'm so eager to be on summer holidays! :-)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

She wants 5 kids

One day, my 5 year old told me that she would like to have 5 kids.
She would have three pregnancies.
First pregnancy would bear boy girl twins.
Second pregnancy bears a boy.
Third prenancy bears twin girls.
Total 3 girls and 2 boys.
And her sister would have 7 kids.
That means I will have 12 grandkids. Wow.

I then had an interview with her, to let her know that having 5 kids demand a lot of works.

Me: How do you handle the bath? The bathtub wouldn't be big enough to put 5 in at the same time.
Her: They would take turn to go in one by one.
Me: With 5 kids you will have to do many loads of laundry. During the evening after work, you would have to fold them, iron them, and then you would need to go inside 5 rooms to put clothes for each kid in their closet.
Her: No! There will only be one closet with 5 levels. Each kid would have one level to himself, the oldest at the top, the youngest at the lowest. When the clothes are too small for the older one, I will put them to the lower level so that the younger kids can wear them.
Me: With all the housework, most likely you will finish around midnight. You are exhausted, you go to bed, but at 5am, there is one crying and this wakes up the other 4. Now you have 5 kids crying, how would you handle this?
Her: I would tell them to go back to sleep, if they don't stop I would let them cry.
Me: But they would wake up the neigbors!
Her: But there won't be neighbors around since we will be living in a house.
Me: If all of your kids ask to have a hug at the same time, what would you do?
Her: I would ask them to make a queue, then I hug them one at a time.

It seems that she has it under control. But, life would be so simple if we could simply ask our kids to make a queue or shut up just go to bed.

I only have two kids and I have hard time handling them. 
I was cooking dinner in the kitchen while the kids were having their bath. I heard them laughing together, then at one point the younger one crying. 
Cooking interrupted, I went to the bathroom to calm them. Helped one washing her hairs, took the other out and dressed her.
Back to the kitchen, both kids were playing / messing in the living room.
Both kids crying because the younger wanted to throw everything on the floor, including what her sister was playing.
Cooking interrupted, helped one brought her games to table so that the younger one wouldn't be able to mess up her game.
Cooking resumed, the young one crawled towards me and started crying and yelling (see photo above, she would move her legs each time she protests). She wanted me to hold her. Took her with me and used one hand to cook, as soon as I put her down she cried. 
Cooking interrupted, I heated up her food and fed her.
While she was eating her bread, I finally managed to put food inside the oven.

5 kids, I couldn't imagine how my life would be.