In the continuing quest to become Intermittants de Spectacles the wife and I had to register ourselves as unemployed. We went to a new place they've set up for the purpose. It's called the Pole Emploi. It's housed in a new building, a building that's been open for about a year, and in that time I don't think anyone's ever opened a window. It smelled like a zoo in there and the heating was turned up too high.
Everything was colour coded and divided into areas - zone de rencontres, zone informatique... It looked a complete mess with it's notice boards framed in carefully co-ordinated lime green and bright red tin, scattered between islands of laminated wood flooring. Just the place to enjoy being unemployed - meeting up with other unemployed people, swapping contacts, tipping one another off about likely employement possibilities, some of the more intelligent of us - the computer literate - perhaps trying our hand at un peu d'informatique on the specially installed, mismatched collection of old desktop jobs in the zone informatique section of this hell hole Pole Emploi.
We queued up with our toes on a painted line bearing the legend zone de discretion, and listened to the receptionist, a middle-aged man who probably once held down a responsible position in a municipal library, instructing a youth on preparing a dossier.
That's always the first thing you have to do in France, preparez un dossier. Then you go and attend a Stage de Formation in some dump like Dijon or Metz. This puts you under the mistaken impression that you're an important person, and once you've learned to strut, preen, pontificate and feign incredulity at anything or anybody who isn't like or doesn't do like you, then you're ready to take up gainful employment.
You can work in the post office, take annual paid holidays, get up for work at five thirty a.m. every morning with the stolid forebearance of a big brown Limousin cow standing in the pissing rain in a field full of shit, and charge a different postage price every day for indentical packets and parcels that might well not ever reach their destinations.
The municipal librarian asked us if we wanted to photocopy our dossiers, invited us to avail ourselves of the facilities in the zone photocopieur, but we hadn't prepared our dossiers so we sat on chairs covered in stained purple hessien in the zone attente, and waited to be called for our interview.
I thought the interview went well. Amy said afterwards that five minutes into it she wanted to kill herself, but I really enjoyed myself, cataloguing the changes that I would make when I became manager of the Pole Emploi. I started off with a little trick designed to put the trainer/interview person and the trainee (couldn't tell which was which) at their dis-ease. I didn't let them kick off, I got in first:
'Doesn't anyone ever open the windows in here? It smells like a zoo.'
They seemed quite surprised, as if they hadn't notice the fetid stench, a heady mix of stagnant water, stale air, bodies and hot-air-borne disease.
'You should open all the doors and windows for five minutes every morning, this place is a health hazard,' I continued.
The woman part of the sketch, trainer or trainee, I know not which, said it would let all the heat out. I made a mental note to sack her and then we got down to the tedious business of enrolling as unemployed, or possibly in my case unemployable.
It was very boring. I didn't listen to most of what was said, concentrating instead on figuring out which of the plastic clad stud walls I'd dismantle first. I struggled with the dilemma of my stance on posters and paperwork sellotaped to glass panels - they're depressing to look at but they do shield the gaze from the infinitely more depressing sight of other members of the equippe here at the Pole Emploi.
The was a problem with the computer at one point and a technician arrived, a bespectacled youngster of thirty something in designer jeans and a smart shirt. He had the stance - the leaning over and pointing, weight evenly distributed twixt hand on desk and brogue on carpet tile - but he didn't know what he was doing. I put him on window opening duty.
Eventually they showed us a hidden corner of the Pole Emploi website, which we can access with our confidential pin numbers and secret codes. Here there are lists of vacancies for female saxophonists and men who can sing Spanish Eyes and My Kind Of Town Chicago Is... in exotic places like Lille and Besancon. They were planning to split us up and make Amy learn the saxophone.
We left depressed, but thankful for being back in God's or Nicolas Sarkozy's or whoever's fresh air.
Vive La France!
Now open the fucking window.