24 April 2013 – Nodding and smiling routine puts me into hot water

Location: Monaco

Franco told us an interesting fact about Monaco yesterday. The country operates under French employment laws. Under these laws, firing someone for non-performance may cost the company anywhere from six months to several years of that person’s salary, depending on their tenure.

Franco explained. “In Monaco if you hire someone, and they are no good, you have to pay them six months salary if you sack them before six months, and far more if they have been working longer.

“The law is meant to protect the worker but what’s happening now is that people work really hard for a few months, then get lazy and sometimes even stop working altogether until they get sacked. Then they retire on their payout until their next job.”

Hence, he said, staff turnover in Monaco is astronomical.

It explains everything about why Franco advertised internationally for crew, and the weird wording in our employment contract.

It stipulates that it—the employment contract—“is governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the Island of Guernsey and shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of its Courts.”

It also says, “the employee is entitled to 24 hours holiday each month, to be taken at once at such times as the Company (Franco and Brenda) considers most convenient having regard to the company’s utilisation of the vessel. And no holiday may be taken until the completion of six weeks continuous service unless the company expressly agrees otherwise.”

It ends with a final clause stating that if there are any misunderstandings between the crew and the “Company” that the “instructions of the Company’s representative will prevail.”

In other words there is no time off unless Franco says so. Franco is always right and even when he is wrong, according to the employment contract, he is right. If we want to disagree with him we can only do so through the courts of some obscure little tax-dodge island halfway between the UK and France.

Typical! But I guess if that’s the price of this job, then that’s the price of this job. It can’t be that hard to be subservient for six months, surely.

****

Top Marquest Car Show
Beautiful life size bejewelled panther

Sitting in the yacht’s salon right now trying to use Skype and feeling frustrated. The Internet connection here is a constant source of angst. It never works properly! We bought two Monaco Sim cards with €20 worth of Internet time, (several gig, claimed the man in the shop who sold it to us) but the country’s entire Internet system seems to get overloaded every evening and just won’t work.

It’s frustrating because it seriously hampers my ability to stay in touch with family and friends back home. During our Skype interviews prior to getting here Franco assured us that the boat would be “hot-wired” this season so we would have Internet on tap, but apparently “Laurent” the computer guy, hasn’t got around to doing that yet.

About now, I feel the heavy tread of Franco as he steps onto the boat for his evening visit.

“Hello hello,” he shouts as he crosses the aft deck.

I bounce out of the settee and into the galley in case he has time to stay for a cup of tea. “Good evening Franco. Tea?”

“No, no. I’m on my way home for dinner. But thank you. How are you? Is everything going well? Did you have a good day?”

“Actually, the lack of Internet is driving us crazy….”

Franco smiles and bursts in over the top of me. “Yes, yes. Laurent has promised me he will be here before we leave to fix it. He is going to install a thing that lets us hook into any wifi signal.”

I find it hard to believe he is saying what I think he is saying. His accent is so heavy. I probably misunderstood him. “So we effectively, um…” I hesitate to use the word ‘steal’, “um… we hijack or piggy-back off someone else’s bandwidth?” I ask, just to be sure.

“Yes,” he says, looking completely unconcerned.

Sounds like stealing to me. I want to ask how much this contraption costs and whether it is cheaper than actually buying our own Internet time, and why the heck you’d want to save €40 a month on a 2 million Euro yacht, but I remember that the contract states Franco is always right, even when he’s wrong, so I keep my mouth closed.

Yep. I can do subservient.

Learning to live with these sorts of moral differences can be challenging but I’m discovering there are swings and roundabouts.

For example, we had an exciting day today. After Bill admitted he was a petrol head, Franco showed up last night with VIP passes to the ‘Top Marquest Car Show” which we later found out, is actually a combined jewellery and car show.

Held at the unique glass-domed Grimaldi Forum, named the best congress centre outside London for the past ten years in recognition of its huge exhibition space and luxury function rooms, the car show was located on the top floor and the jewellery show on the bottom floor.

A personal Jet-pack with pillion seat.

I loved it. I was particularly taken by a 22kg €30,000 lightweight Segway, which I thought would make a nice gift for my 83 y/o mother (if I was a millionaire—but it’s the thought that counts, right?), a priceless jewelled full-scale black panther sculpture, which I thought would make a nice gift for my sister, and a personal Jet-Pack which I thought would make a nice gift for me, not to mention about a trillion Euros worth of stunning-looking jewellery, which I thought my daughters and friends might like.

Sadly, I walked away with nothing more than a free luper (magnifying glass to look at diamonds through) and several magazines.

I actually became the recipient of the magazines by accident when I was wandering around the VIP lounge, in a function room upstairs from the car show, trying to figure out the protocol attached to getting some food. There was heaps of it lying around on the bar but absolutely no one, and I mean no one seemed to be helping themselves to it, although to be fair, there was hardly anyone else there, apart from some well-dressed staff.

A young lady standing next to a desk caught my eye and asked if I was interested in the magazines on her desk, or she may have asked if I was interested in the desk itself because she actually spoke in French. I smiled and nodded, my international response to anyone when I have no idea what they’re talking about.

I looked for a place to sit where I could surreptitiously watch exactly how the locals got fed here.

Therein lay the next challenge. Were those two very ornate armchairs facing the window, part of the display, or were they actual seats? I walked towards them and immediately felt several pairs of eyes following my every move from a line of waiters, all standing, stiff and starched next to the buffet. I took a quick peek at them over my shoulder and their eyes guiltily darted away.

Yep. They were watching me. I turned to Bill.

“Do you think these chairs are decoration or for sitting on?” I whispered, trying desperately to smile casually.

“No idea, but I’m off to find the men’s room,” he said, then walked away.

Great! Only one thing for it, so took a deep breath, walked over to the chairs and sat down as if I owned the place.

This sparked a small flurry of movement amongst the waiters. One of them immediately sprang into action and dashed over with a small side table which he placed beside me while offering me a menu and telling me in English that he was just going to get me a selection of hors d’oeuvres while I made up my mind about what to order to drink or eat.

Just a little bit scary but successful nonetheless. I happily hunkered down and by the time Bill joined me I was cheerfully munching into a dainty selection of miniature biscuits topped with a variety of ornately carved and folded cured meats, olives, mushrooms, anchovies, and various cheeses, while sipping lovely chilled white wine. He sat in the chair beside me, took the wine I offered and grabbed a couple of appetisers.

“How’d you score these?” he asked through a mouthful.

“They just magically appeared when I sat down.”

“How much did they cost?”

“Nothing. They’re all part of the VIP service.”

“Great.”

“You bettcha’!” I laughed.

Bill cringed. “Probably not a good idea to talk like that around here,” he cautioned quietly. “Everyone seems to speak English as well as French and they’ll think we’re a pair of plebs.”

“Sorry. I am a pleb?!” I said to make him smile.

We munched and sipped in silence for a while, then Bill ducked off to the toilet again. Typical man. His waterworks were playing up but he refused to go to the doctor so there was little I could do.

I became engrossed in typing an SMS to one of my daughters, when the hairs on the back of my neck started to rise. I slowly stopped typing and looked up, straight into the eyes of the lovely young lady who had earlier offered me a magazine. Beside her was an equally handsome young man, and both of them were looking at me intently.

“Madam, this is Alex,” she said in perfect English. “Alex is Monaco’s representative for the furniture you were interested in.”

What the..? I spent the next 15 minutes pretending to be a rich person interested in buying exorbitantly expensive bespoke furniture from a series of thick glossy magazines, which for some reason at the time, seemed simpler than just telling the truth.

Note to self—stop with the smiling and nodding when you have no idea about what it is that people are talking about.

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