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Money, Get Away

One Way - Road Closed

One Way — Road Closed

This is my last week of work at school, and I’m fac­ing what is per­haps my most tricky mis­sion so far.

Last Fri­day, my boss asked my to teach a three-days class to total begin­ners in the pri­vate sec­tor. I’m pretty much the only teacher who can actu­ally speak Eng­lish so I obliged. The rea­son why the employ­ees only get three days of French? They are being laid-off and these classes are part of their sev­er­ance pack­age. Because the top employer in Ottawa is the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, and because a lot of posi­tions there are bilin­gual at some level, their employer thought it would be a good idea to get them started on their French.

I arrived Mon­day morn­ing won­der­ing how to deal with the whole sit­u­a­tion. How much French could I teach in three days, and how will­ing would the employ­ees be to learn? How would they han­dled the fact that they were los­ing their jobs?

I found my stu­dents already sat at the meet­ing table, eat­ing break­fast. All smil­ing and all friendly. Phew. I decided to not over­look the “ele­phant in the room” and asked a few ques­tions about their plans con­sid­er­ing the news.

The employ­ees were obvi­ously not happy with it. None of them can retire yet, and some had been work­ing in their posi­tions for over ten years. They are qual­i­fied employ­ees, yet not that young that they can eas­ily be retrained. And above all, none of them ever thought their jobs would be cut, because their employer is semi-public. The whole sit­u­a­tion just sucks, and as one of them said, given the cur­rent eco­nom­i­cal times and Christ­mas com­ing up, it’s not a good time to be unemployed.

I know North Amer­i­can medias tend to exag­ger­ate the news, but I can’t help being a lit­tle bit wor­ried myself about this whole eco­nomic cri­sis thing. We will be trav­el­ing for a few months, so we will rely on our sav­ings. I plan to find another job when I come back, although I could always teach again for a period of time if needed. But we have to be money-savvy.

Strangely, even though I still get paid by the hour, have no ben­e­fits and no guar­an­tee of a steady income when I work at the school, I feel bet­ter off finan­cially than a lot of peo­ple. I think I have man­aged, so far, to avoid to big North Amer­i­can pit­falls. Fist of all, I have no debts. I went to uni­ver­sity in France and didn’t have to pay tuition fees since edu­ca­tion is almost free. I don’t own a house, so no mort­gage. I pay for all my pur­chases cash, because I usu­ally save before­hand. I pay off my credit card every month and to be hon­est, the bal­ance is usu­ally ridicu­lously small. Sec­ond of all, I have never invested money in stock mar­ket: I only have a reg­u­lar low inter­est sav­ing account. It doesn’t make me rich, but doesn’t make me poor either. That’s all I ask.

What wor­ries me? Maybe know­ing that get­ting a nice job will be harder in the next few months, or next few years. Maybe know­ing that the cost of liv­ing may rise much faster than my wage. Maybe know­ing that I need to take care of my finan­cial health because no one else will: after all, banks go bank­rupt and gov­ern­ments around the world are doing a nice job of show­ing peo­ple how to get deeper and deeper into debt.

But there is noth­ing new for me. France has been in cri­sis for quite a while now. By the time my gen­er­a­tion had fin­ished uni­ver­sity, we had real­ized that hous­ing was gen­er­ally speak­ing not afford­able, that we couldn’t get a proper job with what­ever degree we had and that, on top of every­thing, the cost of liv­ing was steadily get­ting higher and higher. This is one of the rea­son I didn’t plan my future in France. I like the coun­try but I found times very depress­ing, and appar­ently, it hasn’t changed. Most of my friends there are smart, have great degrees, speak a few lan­guages and yet can’t get a per­ma­nent posi­tion. They go from unpaid intern­ships to two-months long con­tracts, from tem­po­rary posi­tions to min­i­mum wage jobs and mean­while, live with their par­ents because they can’t afford their own place. It sucks.

There isn’t much we can do dur­ing a finan­cial cri­sis (well, trav­el­ing is my option!). We just can’t con­trol it. How­ever, we can con­trol how we spend our money. Given that North American’s life is based, cen­tered and directed on con­sum­ing and that we are con­stantly bom­barded with ads and com­mer­cials to buy this and to buy that, to sub­scribe to this and to bor­row from that… it may not be easy. But maybe some­thing good will come out of this. Maybe it’s time to rethink the way we live. Maybe.

How about you? Are you worried?


  1. The amount of bor­row­ing that has occurred over the past 10 years has been amaz­ing espe­cially in the UK. Credit Cards, 100% mort­gages, huge loans, etc have all assisted and the bub­ble had to burst at some time.

    Luck­ily I’ve got some sav­ings and am in a secure job, but there are many who are not in this sit­u­a­tion and are fac­ing ruin.

    A les­son to be learnt.

  2. @Linguist-in-Waiting — Euro­peans are pretty fatal­is­tic too… we have been through a lot in his­tory so I guess ups and downs are expected.

    @Bluefish — I work for pri­vate sec­tor as well, and since we depends on gov’t bud­gets, work is pretty unsteady too. But even in pub­lic sec­tor posi­tions can be cut so…

    @Celine — I think tak­ing con­trol of our finan­cial health is the best thing we can do so far.

    @Scarlet — Did you get the job, by the way?

    @Agnes — Well, being debt-free was prob­a­bly eas­ier for me than for most North Amer­i­cans. As I said, no stu­dents loans needed in France, and I don’t have a house, so no mortgage.

    @Guillermo — I feel the same. This is vir­tual money we are talk­ing about most of time and I find it hard to grasp the real­ity of it. Even stock mar­kets are weird for me… I’m too down-to-earth for that kind of finan­cial game I guess.

    @Gutsy Writer — It can be dif­fi­cult… I know most of my friends in France had to move back with their par­ents at one point because they just couldn’t afford rent.

    @Caroline — We should see things like you do, no point in wor­ry­ing after all. Maybe you haven’t been brain­washed my Amer­i­can media yet ;-)

    @Gail at Large — I know a lot of my stu­dents who grad­u­ated from uni. at the same time as you said they went to Japan to teach Eng­lish, or to Europe for fur­ther edu­ca­tion. They came back right on time when things picked up again. Good point!

    @Khengsiong — I hate being paid by the hour but I have never expe­ri­enced some­thing else… so I’m used to it. I only have 4 sick days… per YEAR!

    @expatraveler — I’ll be look­ing for a job too when I come back from trav­el­ing, hope­fully I won’t search too long. Good luck!

    @RennyBA — I under­stand what you mean. But it’s a vicious cir­cle too, the more gov­ern­ments tell us we are in deep trou­ble, the less peo­ple want to invest, the more the econ­omy is down…

    @Brenda — Peo­ple are more fru­gal appar­ently, but hey, this is North Amer­ica. I don’t have high hopes. This con­ti­nent was build for consumerism…

    @NewWrldYankee — I’m stay­ing pos­i­tive and it is a great time to go trav­el­ing after all!

    @Adem — I heard the hous­ing mar­ket was crazy in the UK, sim­i­lar to France’s. I can see peo­ple get­ting into debt… I’m not surprised.

  3. Hey Zhu. Inter­est­ing thoughts here. I feel bad for those peo­ple you’ve been teach­ing, but (don’t call me heart­less) they’re just more sta­tis­tics really. Already in my home coun­try Britain there have been lots of lay-offs announced, and two fairly big retail names have gone into admin­is­tra­tion. Here in France things are look­ing shaky. It’s not quite as bad as the US or Britain yet, but in another cou­ple of months it will get worse I feel.
    Maybe I’m just cross­ing my fin­gers and hop­ing I’ll be spared, but I don’t feel imme­di­ately con­cerned for my own posi­tion. I am con­cerned about the plans Hubby and I had been mak­ing though. Now is not the time to be look­ing for a new job, even less to be think­ing of sell­ing our house and mov­ing!
    I guess we’ll just see what the next months bring. I’m not too wor­ried for you though, you have your head on straight and both feet on the ground!!

  4. I’m con­cerned, but not pan­icked. My finan­cial situation/habits are very sim­i­lar to what you described as your own, how­ever, as a prod­uct of US uni­ver­si­ties, stu­dent loan pay­ments do loom over my head.

    I tend to view the whole eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion and frenzy sur­round­ing it as overkill. The econ­omy goes and up and it goes down — has for as long as “economies” have existed. Humans have short mem­o­ries. When it goes down, we think it’s the end of the world. But in real­ity, it’s nor­mal. And it will go up again.

  5. Just some months ago I real­ized what finan­cial cri­sis means… peo­ple are obliged to take vaca­tions for sev­eral weeks, pro­duc­tion sites close down, I see peo­ple loos­ing their jobs. Actu­ally I’m not quite sure if I will keep mine next year due to the fact that my com­pany doesn’t win projects to the same extent as they did in for­mer times. The bad thing about the cri­sis is that I will have to post­pone my plan to move to Canada as find­ing jobs won’t be eas­ier at the other end of the world I sup­pose. So let’s see what hap­pens in 2009 and maybe there’s a chance to move in 2010. Can’t wait to expe­ri­ence a new country…

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