Thursday, 21 May 2015

The referendum and why I'm not allowed to vote...

In case you are living on another planet (or maybe just in another country), tomorrow is the referendum about gay marriage (and also about lowering the age of presidential candidates but no one seem to really care about that one).

Over the last few weeks, I have seen my Facebook feed filling up with articles, pictures, and opinions about the subject. From what I've seen, the majority of my friends are in favour of gay marriage. And so am I, if you want to know. I have tried very hard to avoid TV debates in fear of wanting to break my TV, and my blood just boils when I hear the NO side trying to make the whole thing about children when it's clearly not. It's about marriage, full stop. 

In France, the government legalised gay marriage two years ago and it was met with quite a lot of criticism. Looking from the outside, it seemed that some French people felt they didn't have any say in the process and it led to many protests. One of my gay friends in France even told me he thought it would have been a better idea to hold a referendum at the time. 

I really hope the YES wins tomorrow, but unfortunately there's nothing I can do to help. I am not allowed to vote because I'm not an Irish citizen. In a way, I can understand that the right to vote is something special and is the most important act that shows your integration to a country. On the other hand, I'm not sure I feel "Irish" enough to ask for citizenship, and being European, I almost have the same rights and duties as the natives anyway.

The other barrier to become an Irish citizen is more practical: Money. If you weren't aware, it costs a thousand euros to obtain Irish citizenship. One could argue I could save for a year or so, but then it comes back to the real question: Do I really want to become Irish? In fact, even if I obtain citizenship, will people consider me Irish? Will I even consider myself Irish? I'm not quite sure. 

Right now, I'm dreaming of a rule that would allow residents to vote after 10 years of living in the country. Is that a stupid idea?

Anyway, all I can do is urge people who can vote do to so tomorrow. This is Ireland's chance to show that all citizens can be equal. 

So go and vote YES!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Homework overload

I wonder why Irish teachers give kids so much homework. Do you know it is prohibited in French primary schools (although it's not implemented everywhere)?  And there's even a study that suggests homework has limited value until secondary school.

I just can't take it anymore. When you think about it, my son gets A LOT of homework. Four pages of exercise each week, two pages of a book to read, words to practice, lines of writing, preparing him for oral language topics... If I do it right everyday (which doesn't always happen, I confess) it takes about 25 minutes. That's quite long after a day at school (and at work for me!). And because Ciaran has special needs, I have to explain differently, and encourage him a lot more (and deal with the tantrum when he just doesn't want to do any work at all...)

This week, one of the exercise was about guessing and then measuring various objects with a pen. WTF? First of all, if I took a "normal" colouring pencil, the box of cereal was more than 1 pen but less than 2, width and length. The textbook was the same size as my cereal box in real life, but not on the page, so what were we supposed to do? Who invented those stupid exercises?

Then there were the crosswords. I'm not too bad at French crosswords, but in English it's always a bit trickier. I know it was Senior Infant level, but Ciaran didn't understand the concept, so it took me a good while to explain it to him. At the end, I was trying to solve them myself:  "The colour of a tree" in 5 letters. I thought "brown", it was actually "green"...And it took me a good 5 minutes to guess "It will help you find the way" in 3 letters.

Anyway, thank God it's May because I really can't do this for much longer before I lose my mind (until next year!). And when I think about Ethan who will start primary school in less than 2 years, I'm already freaking out.

Maybe I should start a petition about banning homework in Irish primary schools!!

Monday, 4 May 2015

My former life as a call-centre agent

I've been a bit nostalgic lately, thinking about the first few years of my life in Ireland. That's probably because I've been talking a lot with younger French people who are the age I was when I moved here.

So today I am writing about my call-centre experience. I used to work as a Customer service representative for the French market, in an international Express delivery company (that I will not name!). The job wasn’t hard in itself. I was taking calls from French customers who were enquiring about their deliveries, but what I really underestimated was the amount of moaning and complaining I would get on the other end of the line. The majority of customers were pleasant and understanding, but you had the occasional asshole who would just push your buttons.

There were different types of customers:

Mr. I have a job

“Do you understand that I work, miss? ” when you ask him if we can deliver the following day to his home address, where he originally asked to be delivered to.  
And what do you think I’m doing ? Having a party?

The loner

I have no family, no friends, no neighbour, no car, and I can't receive my package at work.
Why in the world did you order something on the Internet? You should just have gone to the supermarket.

The pervert

Hi, it's Eric"
What are you wearing ?
Are you wearing tights?
Err... No...
I'm looking for men... for my mother
OK... Good for you...!"

The pervert was a regular caller. Everybody knew him, and the weirdest thing was he knew most of my colleagues so well he was actually telling me about the call-centre gossip: Who was sleeping with who, which couple broke up over the week-end and all that sort of stuff...
The poor guy obviously had some mental health issues, but in a creepy kind of way, he made the atmosphere a lot lighter, especially when we were under pressure, and things were definitely not the same when he stopped calling.

The really stupid ones

I understand that some people are not familiar with Express delivery companies and when they send a package for the first time, it can lead to seriously unreal conversations.

I'm looking for a price
Can I have the weight and dimensions of the box please?”
And the third one?
The third what?
Dimension? Or is it flat?
Are you making fun of me?
“ No" (but I should, considering you don’t know a box is three-dimensional)

“My package was supposed to be delivered before 10:30 am and it’s 11, it’s still not delivered”
“I can see this is to be delivered in  New-York, is that right?”
“Yes, why is it late? Where is it? I paid a small fortune for that”
“It will be delivered before 10:30 in New-York, it’s at the destination depot. There shouldn’t be an issue”
“It’s already 11, don’t you get it???”
“It’s a pre 10:30 delivery LOCAL TIME”. It’s 4am in New-York!
“But people are waiting for this. I will never use your company again… you’re useless”

I could write a whole book just about the different types of customers and calls we were receiving. I spent three years  constantly on the phone, and trust me, it definitely built my confidence and taught me how not to take shit from other people.

Aside from the fact that I was talking to mainly angry customers (they were not going to ring just to let us know we did a great job), the good thing was I could go home and forget about it because there was very little chance I would talk to the same person again. Only that in itself was a great aspect of the job, because it meant all the stress accumulated over the day could just be let go in the evening. The other good thing about the job was the atmosphere. I have to say, during 4 years in that company, it never felt like a “real” job. It was more like going to college (or sometimes primary school). Because we were regularly confronted to stressful situations, we had to let it loose between calls. And I was one of the most serious.

Working with a bunch of French people was also a challenge. The majority of my colleagues were nice (and I kept in touch with many of them), but I will never understand the ones that didn’t try to integrate in the country and meet Irish people.

Ninety per cent of my co-workers had been recruited directly from France, so when they started, they didn’t know anybody. In fact, they ended up working and living with French people, and also going out amongst themselves. On top of that, they were complaining about Irish people (and Ireland in general).

After a year, most of the group I started with was still in the company and we had a small get together to share our experience and where we were at, after a year in Ireland.

The majority of them noticed their English didn’t improve (No…Really?) and that it was really hard making friends with Irish people. Maybe if they weren’t sticking all together they would have met locals? 

Then it was my turn. 

So, how do you feel after a year?
Well, I met a really nice guy, my English has definitely improved, and I have a good mix of  foreign and Irish friends
Oh Yeah...But you, it's not the same, you know..."

I still don’t know what they meant. Maybe I made an effort, and that was the difference between them and me.