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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Moez the Tunisian at Starbucks

In crowded European cafes, normal people try to pretend they can't see or hear the person sitting right next to them, but I'm not normal.  I still say "Bonjour" every once in a while.  When I got to Starbucks Friday morning, I muttered a "Bonjour" to a youngish guy sitting at the next little table as I pulled out my laptop.  This time was different, as he smiled broadly and said "Bonjour" and we shook hands.

He asked where I was from.  He told me he'd been to New York and liked it a lot.  He was from Tunisia.  As we talked, his iPhone rang and he took it out.  When he hung up, he said it was bad news.  His mother in Tunisia had called his wife to tell her that a relative had died.  Not a close one I think. He seemed only mildly upset.

After that, he showed me the photo on his phone home screen, which was his 13 month-old girl.  She was really cute.  He opened the album and there were about 30 photos or more in a row of her.  He asked how his English was, and I said it was very good.  He had an accent, but he was easy to understand.  He said he was looking for a job in a hotel.  I mentioned the "International School of Hostesses" right around the corner from the Starbucks, and he said he'd just applied for a job there, but wasn't accepted.  He'd worked at hotels in Tunisia, which is where he'd learned his English; talking to guests.  He said he was really shy at first, but learned eventually.  Very impressive to me, since I'm making little progress on French.  He was resentful that there were people working in the hotels here who didn't speak English, when he speaks French, English, and some German.  

Then he asked me how much I made, guessing $10,000.  At first I thought he must have no clue about how much people make, but then he said "per month."  He asked what my wife was doing, and I said she had a job here in Paris, and she was the reason I moved here.  He looked pretty shocked.  And I told him she's making more than me at the OECD.  As usual, I had to explain what the OECD is, but when I said it's like the World Bank, he immediately got it. Then he asked if she made $30,000, per month.  He was a bit off on that one.  At one point he asked if there were still prejudiced people in the United States.  "Of course, but it's certainly better than it was a few decades ago."

He asked if I could help him find a job.  I wished I could help him.  He said "I don't sleep at night, in my house.  I apply for jobs every day.  I'm 29, almost 30.  I have a daughter and a wife.  You're settled. You have a job."  Again, he asked if I could help him find a job.  I told him I just moved here, I don't work for a French company, I don't know anyone here, I don't speak French.  "You can help me.", he pleaded.

We talked a bit more, then he stood up to go and said he might see me there again.  I'm there every weekday, so it would be nice to see him again.  I wonder if I will.

In every kiosk in Paris this week, there's a magazine cover that says "Are we in 1789?" in huge letters.  Ever since the riots in the Paris suburbs ("banlieus") a few years ago, I've wondered about the masses of low income, high unemployment immigrants surrounding Paris.  Unemployment in France has been rising for the last year, reaching about 10.5%.  That's higher than the peak of the crisis in the US, when we reached about 9.9% in Oct 2009. It's been generally trending down since, to 7.9% now.

I hope Moez finds a job soon.  I was too uncomfortable to ask him if he qualifies for French unemployment, so I'm not sure how he's surviving right now.

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