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Oh... My... GOD!
Well, today was the first day. Rise at 3.45am (after not falling asleep until about midnight <sob!>), into work for 5am. There I am given a white outfit to put on over my clothes (because it is a cold environment) along with a dopey tissue face mask and disposable blue hair-net.
As promised, I am put on a production line placing frozen raspberries into little cup-cake-like things. I'm okay at that, but after about half an hour it is all done, tagged, wrapped, and put into the freezer for boxing up and eventual dispatch.
That's when the problems started. Is it because I'm the only male working with two dozen women (the other men do the packing and the kitchen work), is it because I'm foreign, or is it because really they probably didn't need to employ me? I don't know, but I kept hounding down this poor floor manager asking "now what?". She'd say "take that trolley to the wash area" or "sweep the floor over there" and I'd go, do it, but I tell you moving rack trolleys around and sweeping the floor isn't going to fill a 7½ hour shift. I'd have been much better if I was said "here, you put raspberries in like this" and be left - along with eight girls - to make twenty thousand délices. I've never felt like a spare wheel so much in my entire life - and this is including those times in nursing homes when the own staff made it clear that they had issues with agencies and that you weren't wanted - because in this instance I am supposed to be another employee.
I rather suspect that I will be used for all the cleaning/sweeping/picking up jobs because I'm a strong man (haha! have you, like, seen my photo?). Well, what got me through today was "think of the paycheque" over and over. I hope I can put today down to "first day chaos" and maybe when I pick up the routine it will be more sort of "okay, next we do this" and with a little luck I'll find a niche or a rhythm where I'll have some semblence of a clue what I'm doing instead of feeling forever like the clueless Brit tosser which is kinda how I felt.
The staff themselves seemed quite nice, those that I spoke to. They smiled, they asked random questions about England, how long I'd been in France, which I preferred (duh!), and the first-aider girl who was making the eclair things had some English that she seemed happy to use.
The people in charge asked "do you understand any French", and my reply was "yes, if you speak slowly" knowing full well that they probably will have to repeat themselves several times as slow doesn't seem to be a concept the French understand. Our pig-farmer neighbour, ask him to slow down, he says the following sentence like he is talking to a child (about my speed) and then it's bubu-buh-bluhbuhbuhbubuh-aih? bubu-bu-buhbubuh-aih? and you don't know whether to say "excuse me?" or just nod like you understood; only here I didn't have the "nod, it isn't that important" option because if you'd told to take this tray and freeze it and you take it to the oven instead, that's not good.
The production. Well, stuff is made on big semi-automated machines. It's all itty-bitty things for a range of, I believe, petits fours. A machine squirts mix into bakeable-plastic trays (cup-cake sized). These are baked, then cooled, then stuff is put into them, then they are - I think - chilled. Some are extracted and laid out on sheeting before the staff add bits and pieces (jammy stuff, fruit, etc) while others are made in the moulds and are extracted by being roughly punched out of the back of the mould. It was astonishing how much crap ended up on the floor (I know, I cleaned up a lot of it!) and also it was interesting for me to think of yuppy-types across the Atlantic enjoying these creations while seeing the reality of how they are produced. I could say it is several dozen minimum-wage workers on hellish shifts (I just did 5am-1pm; what's the other, 1pm-9pm?, plus a night shift) but to be honest I think that is the reality behind an awful lot of stuff. At least it is a legally regulated minimum wage and at least there is a social system, healthcare (via state health services) and possibly some sort of employee support if anything should go wrong. That's a lot more than workers get in some countries!
I know it isn't just me. I am aware of one Brit who walked on their first day. I have a suspicion somebody walked this morning and I overheard another saying this wasn't quite what she was promised. So when my manager-person said "We, um, will be seeing you tomorrow?" I knew exactly what she was referring to. So I replied, "oh course, I'm here for four months!" and then "what a bizarre question". She gave me a big smile so I think she probably knows that I know what she is referring to; perhaps tomorrow my clocking-in card will work?
If all else fails, it isn't worse than a 12-8 at Abercorn with the staff that didn't like you much, and, well, "think of the paycheque".
1 day down, 79 to go.
I am stopping the "Today's word" for the time being, at least when I'm on the 5am shifts. I feel like somebody hit me over the head with an empty wine bottle.
Don't worry, the word-of-the-day will return, just think of it as being 'on holiday'.
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Last read at 10:09 on 2021/01/24.
© 2008 Rick Murray
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