Information in France is a precious commodity. It’s worth its weight in gold. It’s certainly not a dime a dozen. [Insert clichéd phrase about how valuable and/or hard to get it is].
Over the last five months that I’ve lived in France, and to a lesser extent, my 13 months previously spent in Europe, I’ve discovered that to do well you not only have to know what to ask but who to ask. Like most labyrinthine bureaucracies and red-taped governments, France has a lot of administrative paperwork and backlogged offices that prevent you from knowing what you want when you want. Luckily, my information-getting goals have been relatively straightforward since setting my sights on life in France. In 2011-2012, it involved figuring out how to move to France, via the complicated and long process of applying to Masters programs on the CampusFrance website. Since arriving in France, I have been trying to figure out the somewhat complicated procedures for becoming a teacher in France and finding a job in general.
With the second semester rentrée de classe underway, I began my job search in earnest, trying to pick up tidbits of information right and left. My first week back into classes, I responded to online ads for cours particuliers, tutoring, conversation classes, or homework help. By chance, I had a response to one such ad from a company that sets tutors up with potential students, in a kind of Kaplan learning center. The woman who called me the next day happened to work for such a company in Amiens and was interested in my profile in general. Despite the fact that I had applied online to work for them at least twice over the past few months, I finally had caught the attention of someone. A few days later and a couple of job applications filled out and resumes sent in, I received a phone call from the same company, offering me a one hour a week job teaching English.
On Monday, I stopped by the Center, expecting an interview or some other formality, but as far as the woman was concerned, I was already hired. She went over procedures and expectations, and I strolled out of the office feeling slightly better about myself. An extra 12€ a week isn’t much more than what I was making before, but it’s certainly a start. The only obstacle I was facing was a phone call to the potential student’s parents, in order to confirm our weekly lesson (and I have a horror of phone calls).
I next ventured over to the Rectorat of the Académie d’Amiens, a maze of a building that houses everything to do with education in the entire Picardie region. I had initially planned on getting information concerning my eligibility to take the CAFEP-CAPES, the teaching exam that allows you to teach in private schools. However, someone had previously mentioned to me that I should ask for an application to become a substitute teacher, which had slipped my mind completely. I arrived in the massive building and immediately asked for directions. The woman at l’accueil handed me a slip of paper showing a map of the building and the bureau I needed to find in order to get my answers. I dutifully took the map and went up in the elevator, crossing the entire length of the building before arriving. I gave a ten second spiel (“I’m a foreigner looking for info about the CAFEP-CAPES”), and they immediately told me to go to another office. This office indeed dealt with private schools, and they offered me a job application for substitute teaching, but they had nothing to do with the concours and sent me off to a third office. By the time I reached this office, I was convinced that I was on some weird and convoluted scavenger hunt – the third office immediately sent me two doors down. At last, I had the right people to ask about the exam. They told me, five seconds into my spiel, that I didn’t have to do anything else to take the teaching exam besides prove that I had my undergraduate diploma and was registered in the first year Masters. No need to request a casier judiciaire, a background check, or any other nonsense until I actually passed the exams. Furthermore, the “permission” to work as a teacher in France – the initial object of my search – was to be obtained at the Préfecture, not at the Rectorat. I had walked 200 meters in a circle for no good reason!
Except, I must remind myself, I have obtained some very, very valuable information.
When I met later that day with my unofficial “adviser”, the director of the English teaching Masters in Amiens who’s been helping me sort all this out, she just scoffed – “That’s France for you.”
Q: What is European heaven?
A: The Germans look after administration, the English are the policemen, the French do the cooking and the Italians are the lovers.
Q: And what is European hell?
A: The English do the cooking, the Germans are the lovers, the Italians are the policemen and… the French look after administration.