It is hard to think that it was this time a week ago that I, sitting in the kitchen of my mobile home, was solemnly writing my letter of resignation, interchanging between sobbing, lamenting and allowing my empathic, wide-eyed roommate to feed me sips of gazpacho out of a small drinking glass.
But, I suppose I should start at the start: first impressions of work as a receptionist in a campsite in southern France, along the coast, and to my wild bemusement, in the middle of absolutely nowhere. I had good intentions: no foreigners, no English, complete language immersion with a group of young French summer workers on the glamorous Côte d’Azur… Safe to say my idealism swiftly dispersed on arrival. Disorientated by the heavy heat and thick southern French accents, introducing myself to the working team ended up being a very awkward affair. It didn’t take me long to realise that three kisses were the custom, being reprimanded on the spot, and so, like a fish out of water, I went on rather clumsily greeting all my future colleges, who in return, placidly stared at me with suspicion and mild amusement. Next, I was quickly escorted to my mobile home in the coin saisonnier, a little section of the camp comprised of several mobile homes for the workers – and left to myself. Drawing a deep breath and distractedly rubbing my wet cheeks from the whole kissing catastrophe, I opened all the curtains an inspected the surroundings. It was from that moment onwards that life in the country really hit me. I spent a good half an hour chasing the spiders out my little home (or rather being chased – a very much retreat and hesitatingly attack manoeuvre) soon after, my baguette got devoured by ants (which I found out only after having taken a big blind bite out of it), a stray cat jumped through the window leaving me on the verge of cardiac arrest, and to my disbelief, as I stepped outside in refuge, I saw a swarm of wild flamingos flying overhead.
As I turned to sit heavily with a sigh on the front steps of my mobile home, the words ‘Qu’est-ce que j’ai au monde à foutre ici’ (What the hell am I doing here), came to me, written by Nicholas Bouvier, a French travel writer, who, isolated in the Irish Aran Islands and mentally deranged from the isolation and on-coming pneumonia, had thought the very same thing.
Needless to say, my quest for friendship was a difficult one. Adjacent to my mobile home lived Leah, a complete paradox of a girl; covered head to toe in Disney tattoos and Demi Lovato lyrics but with a soul as dark as Satan. It was always a dismal start to the day when I woke up and caught her stare, narrow eyed and sinister from the shutters opposite.
And then there was Arthur, the beau homme barman who looked at every woman the same way no matter which level of authority – as if he were slowly undressing them – leaving peals of indulgent giggling in his path; and ‘Papi’ the technician who liked to zealously kiss people when greeting, with a wet open mouth, three times too many, causing many a visible wince in the office in the mornings; and Guilliame, head cleaner, who typically French, found it hilarious to respond in the negative to any question dared asked; and finally Lena, my beautiful manager, red-lipped, green eyed, stern expression of face emboldened by her high cheekbones; an expression so stuck in stone that when her face configured suddenly into a smile, I could only reciprocate with a look of confused fear. She was ring leader of the camp’s social life, and unfortunately for me, gave me the cold shoulder from the outset. She didn’t seem to know what to do with me – it was as if I had crawled out from beneath a rock rather than flown over from England to be her intern.
The social exclusion was intensive. Nevertheless, I kept myself busy, spending my free time cycling along beautiful rose salt plains leading to the sea, chasing flamencos, and at all expense, avoiding my sociopathic neighbour Leah.
There were some beautiful moments. A month in, I received a roommate, Julie, an incredible French girl, with the widest smile I had ever seen; she could have made the most embittered person feel joy in her company. We fell into an intimate friendship. My favourite moments with her were spent lying down in the hot mobile home kitchen, fan on, reading a book, and she, prancing about practicing Irish dancing for the spectacle put on every week for the clients. I eventually got used to all the kissing and the insects; it warmed my heart throughout the day to have to greet so many people personally, and I lost my timidity concerning the removal of spiders and mosquitos from my vicinity. My French soared, and I found myself communicating in this little French commune, freely, naturally.
But, as you already know, this story does not have the happiest of endings. The tension between Lena and I built itself unsteadily upon multiple threads of miscommunication, as can easily happen with even the smallest language and culture barrier. Her deliberate ostracization of me debilitated my efforts to live a happy camper life. One day, on top of many other pressing reasons, it just became too much. I decided to liberate myself from the camp. After having carefully written my letter and having said my goodbyes, I decided to confront Lena, my manager, thirty minutes before my car was to leave to go to the airport. I walked slowly to Lena’s terrace, knowing that this could be an absolutely awful conversation. However, I felt defiant, it was mainly due to her after all that I was leaving. She sat down, I sat opposite, she lit a cigarette, and we stared at each other steadily. We got engaged straight away into an intense conversation. I finally let loose my guard after all this time, and said simply that she had completely excluded me, without reason, and that that had affected my work-ethic as we were a close-knit team, and living in the same area. She said that she was angry because of the way I introduced myself to her – of course – and that first impression lay the way for continual disaster. We worked out that we were stuck in a circle of misjudgement: the more she excluded me, the less effort I made at work: and the less motivated I appeared at work, the more she excluded and ignored me. It’s funny how so many small things can wind up to form something disproportionate and unprecedented. We seemed to see eye to eye, and all that fear and resentment floated away, leaving just a hot sadness that all could have been so different if we had communicated. I didn’t want to leave the conversation, we had really connected, she had even wrapped her arms around me in mutual forgiveness – but I couldn’t miss my flight. So, there I was, wedged into Julien the camp’s sandwich maker’s car with all my hastily packed bags, speeding past the salt plains illuminated by sunset, with home in front of me, staring out the window in a state of confusion and contemplation. La fin.
-Bethany Tallulah Howard, Politics Editor