I have decided to write an extra blog post this week as I have lots to tell you about that is very useful to any of you who spend time abroad in the future.
My last post was all about my first day working at reception alone. As that went well, I am now working on my own often which is fantastic for my language skills and confidence in the work placement. This past week, I have worked Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday 'tout seul' as the French say which I really can't believe happened! It was all absolutely fine (even the millions of phone calls each day!), but there were some hair raising moments that very much highlight the difficulties of working in a foreign country.
The first little incident that occurred was incredibly embarrassing! Every day, the receptionist has to take payments from all clients who have a meal in the restaurant at lunchtime. As I was the receptionist yesterday this was my job. It was all going very smoothly until about the 10th customer in line when I stupidly put a reduction card into the card machine as I had taken it from the customer whilst looking at what I was doing on the computer. As you can imagine, this made him and his friends laugh which was very embarrassing for me and one of those moments where I just wanted the ground to swallow me up :) However, as I had a job to do, I pulled myself together despite feeling useless and carried on with what I was doing. But wait!! It gets worse......
So you may think the credit card incident is cringey but you wait! The next mistake that I made during my shift yesterday is perhaps one of the most humiliating things that could happen to a foreigner. I am not sure quite how to put it but I had better get on with it as I am sure you are probably wondering what could be so bad :)
Basically, once my lunch break had finished, I went back to reception and started working on some advertisements that I had been given to do in between serving customers and taking phone calls. Whilst I was doing this, a man came to the desk and started speaking to me at the speed of light. Up until this point, I had always been able to understand what clients were saying to me even if I had to ask them to repeat more slowly. However, I could not make any sense of what this man was saying to me so I smiled at him whilst he was telling me about something that seemed to take quite a long time. At one point, he laughed briefly so I decided to copy him in order to try and be polite and look like I was understanding him. At that very moment, I realized that I had done something wrong as another member of staff who was working in the office behind reception came out suddenly and started talking to the man. It turns out that I laughed at the very moment that he told me that he has been fired from his job and is currently looking for somewhere new to live. When I was informed about what I had done by another receptionist I was incredibly embarrassed and felt like giving up on my year abroad and going home. I was so worried about it that I asked the receptionist if he had been offended and told her that I had only done it because I had completely not understood what he was telling me and was just copying him to look polite. Luckily he realized that I am a foreign intern and took it very well and the other staff were very understanding which I am very grateful for. As you can imagine, I felt, and still feel very bad but I am very glad that people accept that working in a foreign language is very challenging and that things are likely to go wrong every now and again.
After my first three days of working independently I decided to do some more sightseeing today (thursday) as it is my day off. I therefore went to visit the historical town of Chambery which is located about 50 minutes away from Grenoble. Whilst I was there, I looked around the city, the old town, the cathedral, and the castle, and had a lovely tarte de legumes for lunch in a little French cafe along a narrow cobbled street. Perfect! However, the point at which language difficulties came back to haunt me was when I went to look around the castle. This is because I did not understand that there was a protest taking place in the city today and that the castle gates were to be locked for security reasons during the march. Therefore, as I was walking around the castle grounds, I heard lots of shouting and chanting going on on the other side of the castle wall. It was only then that it came to my attention that there was absolutely nobody else looking around the castle. Once I got back to the gate to leave I realized that it was locked and that I was stuck inside! I panicked for a moment until luckily, a woman who had been working in the museum saw me and called somebody to let me out. It was a bit embarrassing but the main thing is that I got out :) It would have been pretty scary being stuck in there all night!
So although I have got myself into a few embarrassing situations this week, I surprisingly think it has been my favorite week of the work placement so far! This is because despite having humiliated myself a few times, I have proven to myself that I am able to work eight and a half hour shifts in a job where I have to do things that are completely out of my linguistic comfort zone such as taking business phone calls, serving numerous customers at the reception desk, and doing paperwork all at the same time. I was inevitably annoyed at myself when the language barrier got in the way but it has taught me that the most important thing about the year abroad is to look back at everything with a smile. I will admit that I do not find speaking French easy and am somebody who seems to always learn the hard way. However, I honestly think that this is what is topping off such a fantastic life experience as it is making me more determined to learn as much of the language as possible and to therefore forget about these errors and move on straight away.
So, to all of you who think that you might study languages in the future and do a work placement on your year abroad, I guarantee you that you will get the best possible experience if you use every mistake you make as a source of motivation to launch yourself into the next challenge that awaits you. I am somebody who does not have too many issues speaking French but finds understanding more difficult. Therefore, I am more likely to end up feeling stupid than somebody who understands French well. However, it is the challenges that are making the placement all the more rewarding!
Thanks for reading and please do take a look at the newly added photos of Chambery on the 'Photos-Grenoble/Rhone Alpes' page of the blog.