For almost twenty years, I’ve worked in the catering business. Kitchen, service, bakery production lab, wine bar, trendy sandwich shop, organic local food lunch restaurant, hotel restaurant, Iranian British bistro… I’ve done quite a varied selection of activities. I’ve loved it all. My passion for food and for service has kept me busy for all these years and I never grew bored with it. I’ve never been properly trained for anything and always learnt my tasks with a sense of emergency. Loved the rush. Loved cooking. Loved the customers.
Then I moved here. And the restaurants look like nothing I knew. There are a lot of “restaurants ouvriers” – I couldn’t find the perfect term in English. They are eateries, mainly open just for lunch, and the targeted type of clients are workmen such as builders, and local farms working force. The food is usually filling and cheap. The decor is traditional and there always seems to be curtains to hide the inside from the street. No Liberty fabric cushions, no jazzy music atmosphere, no gluten-free option, no world food composition… And I don’t see myself working there. Hence I lost my mojo!
So last year I wondered how I was going to pay for my living – bare in mind I have never been able to do a job I don’t enjoy. So options such as working as a cashier at the local supermarket / at Burger King / in a pig farm was out of question.
I applied during the winter for a seasonal job at the ferry company which connects Brittany to England, Ireland and Spain. After a long recruiting day (undergoing psychological tests and interviews in two different languages), I was invited for phase 2 (a three-day security training to master the rescue plan used on board and emergency procedures).
In May last year, I became a stewardess. A sailor!
I did one season with them which ended at the end of September. It left me with quite a lot questions about my professional future. Would I stay there, knowing there will not be a long term contract before a while, meaning no guarantee, no work during the winter…? Meaning there won’t be cooking anymore.
But… I have never earned that much money! We are far from the waitress minimum wage I was used to! And I get to speak English daily – my heart tongue language! And I get to enjoy some of the stopovers for an hour or two…
Having not found the answers to my questions, I decided to re-enlist for a second season. Last Friday I embarked for my first seven-day sail of the year. My first reaction was : will I ever stop feeling lost?
- Lost in vocabulary :
Les sabords, la potasse, les coursives, la bannette, le bosco, la calette… so many words that meant nothing to me when I started this job. Some sentences seemed in a foreign language and I would only get the gist of it – if lucky!
- Lost in the ship :
How do I go from deck 2 to deck 9 via door D when I have to stop on deck 3 which hasn’t got a door D? On the first day when getting on board a new ship, I would stay away from the passengers as much as possible in the stairways and aisles, too scared I’d be asked questions! I was happy enough to be able to get from my cabin to my job, via the carré (the crew area) unassisted! The transit to the information desk / account office / the bridge / any of the garages required so much concentration! It gets easier every day and each question help me to improve my knowledge of the ship geography. I still end up regularly at stairs A when I perfectly know my cabin is on stairs E!
- Lost with my personality :
Rule 1 : if too strong, sweeten your personality! Living and working with the same people for 7 days in a closed environment is a tricky business. A part from the time spent alone in your cabin (IF you have an individual cabin!!) you either work / eat / watch tv / use the internet with your colleagues. I quickly realized my sarcastic sense of humour had to be toned down if I didn’t want to be rejected by la meute (the pack). Just like with wolves, the older ones or the dominants lead and you ( you, young 45 year old padawan!) should be careful before you speak. Especially if surrounded by females!
- Lost with my diet :
Are you a big fan of homemade granolas, buddha bowls, healthy vegetarian slow cooked food? Good luck! Welcome to a land where meat + potatoes/pasta/pizza can be served twice a day! Guaranteed 100% non organic of course…
- Lost in the world :
The date, the route… it takes me a few seconds every morning to remember which day it is and where we are sailing to… But what about the connection with the world around the ship? Whether you’re watching the news on tv or not, you may as well live in a space station! Yes the world still exists outside (the strikes, the conflicts between nations, the politics, the celebrities, the royal weddings…) but being at sea feels like living in a parallel universe. You are a citizen of the sea : half French, half sailor.