7th Journey Update: To Quit or Not to Quit

Il faut toujours viser la lune, car même en cas d’échec, on atterrit dans les étoiles.

Always aim for the moon, then even if you fail, you’ll still be among the stars.

Oscar Wilde

September 2017

QUIT!

It’s a simple four-letter word that packs a complex punch. Quitting causes the 3 D’s: distress, disapproval, and disappointment. Nevertheless, we quit schools, we quit jobs, we quit hobbies, and we even quit people! “OMG! You want to leave xyz?,” says your friends, your family, and your mind. Indeed, it can be quite a dramatic event when we decide to quit something. Yet despite our guilty conscious, we’re not likely to pass up on a well-deserved quit.  Don’t like your job? Not happy in your relationship? No problem! Toss that stress from your life and just quit!

I’ll admit it!

I’m a quitter! In fact, I’ve quit things so often that it’s become a kind of past time. As soon as something requires too much of my time or energy, BOOM! Peace out, mothaf*ckas! To put things in perspective, I wrote a list of my six greatest quits to date and why I thought quitting was a great idea at the time:

  1. High-school chemistry class (culprit: too difficult) This was a life-changing quit for me because, at the time, I wanted to be a sports doctor and chem is a requirement to get into med school.

  2. Playing clarinet (culprit: stage fright) My grade 9 music teacher made us perform a solo in front of the entire class for the final exam, which was basically a death sentence for an introverted, OMG-my-hands-are-shaking-too-much-to-play-properly-despite-having-practiced-this-piece-a-million-times-beforehand teenager.

  3. Teaching English in Japan (culprit: lack of inspiration) There was only so many times I could stand to hear “See youuuuu” and “gween flog” from students before I started  to bang my head on the desk, questioning my impact as a teacher. o.O

  4. Running/Swimming/Cycling daily (culprit: exhaustion) I’ve always liked the idea of doing a triathlon, but as it turns out, it requires a lot of energy and dedication that I evidently didn’t have at the time.

  5. Living at my parents’ house (culprit: not enough independence) Independently owned and operated since 2009, baby!

  6. Numerous romantic relationships (culprit: all of the above) Boys are weird and stupid. Duh. ;P

Gosh! Now that I think about it, I’ve even quit this blog. Yup, a year has definitely passed since my last post. Oops! I will tell you the ‘why’ soon enough.

Just to recap for new readers:

After I quit teaching English and left Japan in August 2015, I set out on a new adventure: to learn about the world of coffee. I had this crazy idea of becoming the queen of baristas whilst living abroad and eventually opening my very own café: Kaeru Domicile. Simple enough, right? Well, a year of wild globetrotting and hectic job searching passed by in a blink of an eye, and soon, it was September 2016.

Just as I was ready to call it quits and return to Canada, I finally scored my first official job in the Parisian café industry at Columbus Café & Co.‘s newest location at Marché Rungis, a third-wave cafe called Direction Coffee. Since I signed my life over to Columbus Café, needless to say, life got crazy, and I honestly couldn’t find the time or muster the energy to write.

Now, it’s September 2017

It’s been two years since I parted from Japan, and a year since I arrived at Direction Coffee in France. My one-year Working Holiday visa has since expired and I’ve had to return to my old Canadian stomping grounds. Life has calmed down a bit since my days as a barista, and I finally have time to reflect on my first year of working in the coffee industry.

 

So, what happened this past year?

To say the least, I wanted to quit every day. E.V.E.R.Y D.A.Y. Because as much as working in France as a barista in a brand new café was my dream, it was also my nightmare, thanks to my former boss, my customers, and my overall experience.

The Nightmare:
  • My boss was, at times, very difficult to work with. You might have heard of the stereotype that the French are horribly cheeky, cynical, and a little haughty. Picture the flamboyant chef from The Little Mermaid. Obviously, this is an exaggeration, but in some cases, stereotypes are undeniably true, and my former boss was no exception to this rule. Firstly, call it “cultural differences” if you must, but he thought it was perfectly normal to make jokes about my appearance. While eating during my lunch break, he’d chuckle and nonchalantly tell me to be careful of my figure or else our customers would stop coming to our café. He said it was just french sarcasm after I called him out on his obnoxious, misogynist behaviour, but still WTF! To me, he totally overstepped our employee-employer boundaries. Secondly, JoJo* had horrible, pessimistic tendencies. He would refuse to acknowledge even our smallest of victories. One time I told him we raked in our highest revenue to date and another time I told him we sold out of our signature ice teas, but he dismissed them with a “It’s nothing!” or “We can do better.” I realize that keeping a business afloat is astoundingly stressful, and of course there is always room for improvement, but you’ve got to have a sliver of positivism, or else you’re going to drown under your own preconceived notions of failure. Lastly, the hardest part of working alongside him was seeing euro signs slowly embezzle his sight. Because of his unhealthy fixation on being financially superior, he slowly lost his love for making good coffee and became blind to its beauty of its ability to bring people together. His obsession became so intoxicating that he would keep tabs on nearby restaurants and would throw literal tantrums if he thought they were having more success than our cafe. At the end of the day, business is business, but when one’s mental stability is dependent upon doling out inappropriate quips to your employees, strangling the sunshine out of the workplace, and counting the dolla’ bills coming in, one’s mood will inadvertently fluctuate, like a middle-aged woman going through menopause, which will inevitably make you a pain in the arse to work with.

  • My customers were, at times, unnecessarily critical. They were my ever-vigilant audience, and I, their dancing marionette, on display purely for their amusement. Predictably, this ongoing production created an unhealthy cycle of stress, anxiety, and insecurity in myself, which then inevitably effected my work efficiency. If I changed anything about my appearance or if I looked tired or, heaven forbid, unhappy, some of my customers would purposely draw attention to it. I’m sure they had good intentions, but consequently, I couldn’t dress as I normally would and I dared not show my true emotions. Basically, I couldn’t be myself. So every hour on the hour, I had to check, re-check, and then, triple check my clothes, my makeup, and my smile. In the end, I found it very emotionally taxing having to market myself in order to sell a cup of coffee. Dance, barista, dance.

  • My overall experience didn’t always live up to my expectations. Before I landed my first barista job, my mind swam with dreams of me working in a real, hipster-approved cafe making Instagram-worthy lattes, alongside fellow eager & hardworking baristas, for our pleasant & considerate clientele. In reality, I worked at a café where coffee goes to die! For those who don’t know, Columbus Café & Co. is basically the Starbucks of France. Neither the baristas nor the customers cared how good the coffee tasted, as long as it was served instantaneously upon ordering. So, there was no time to add those pretty hearts and delicate flowers on top of our lattes. Sadly, there was also no time to explain the difference between brewing methods or the difference between coffee beans, and frankly, no one cared. As for my coworkers, I watched no less than 10 recently-hired employees quit since the café’s inauguration in Nov 2016, and I don’t blame them. Working as a barista can be monotonous as hell and the pay is abysmal. If you’ve ever worked in the service industry, you’ll know that we spend more time being a janitor, cleaning floors and scrubbing toilets, than being an artist, making earth-shattering creations. We work afoot for more than 40 hours a week and come home with a paycheck that barely covers the rent. It’s a little disheartening. And then to top it all off, you have to deal with the ridiculous requests and expectations of customers: “Can I have the cheese sandwich without the cheese?” “I would like an iced coffee with an ice-cube… just one!” “Oh, are you closing in 5 minutes!?! Ok, I’ll just order an entree with an appetizer,  a dessert, and a triple-shot mocha with whipped cream… for here!” Sometimes, you had to laugh to stop yourself from crying.

Of course, it wasn’t all horrible bosses, half-ass coworkers, and ridiculous customers.

The Rainbows & Unicorns:

  • My boss,
    IMG_5517
    My horrible yet awesome boss

    despite his horribleness, relied on me to keep the café running even when he wasn’t around, and after 4 months of hard work, I was promoted to assistant manager. From taking inventory to balancing the cash register, JoJo* took the time to teach me almost everything about operating a café. Another awesome thing about my boss was while other café owners were afraid to hire a foreigner and debutante barista, he gave me a chance, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity.


  • My customers, despite their ridiculousness, taught me about true French culture, and I don’t mean haute culture and hors d’oeuvres. The French, like most Europeans, are quite social, and in fact, they seek out ANY opportunity to gather amongst themselves. While working the morning shift, I would witnessed their longing for community come to fruition. Every day without fail, neighbouring laborers would come to our cafe with one or two colleagues for a coffee and a chat. They would talk about their families, last night’s game, and the latest political fiasco. This interaction would last only 10 or 15 minutes, but nevertheless, they always took a moment to connect with each other before being engulfed by the stresses of the day. Despite their negative stereotypes, there’s a real sense of community among the French, and within this shared connectivity is where I believe the fantasized ‘happiness’ truly exists.

  • My overall experience, despite its disappointments, was nothing short of extraordinary. In essence, it was a culmination of lessons learned the hard way. From acquiring a barista certificate from the Canadian Barista & Coffee Academy to job searching in Paris to interning at Caffe Ficini in Rome to working at Direction Coffee in Marché Rungis, I’ve had the pleasure of jumping head first into the revolutionizing world of coffee. Now with millions of espressos pulled and thousands of lattes poured, I’m left to ponder how incredible and once-in-a-lifetime these experiences actually were. I mean, I was even on a billboard at one point! 😀

Quicker than I thought…

my roller-coaster of a time in France has come to an end, two years of nightmares, rainbows, and unicorns. And now I’m left with the question: do I delve deeper into the café world in hopes of realizing my 生き甲斐 [i·ki·ga·i].

… or do I QUIT?

As always, thank you for reading and joining me on this #internationalcoffeejourney

*names changed to protect the privacy of the individuals

Quitting will never subtract experiences, skills, or knowledge from your life.

They will always be a part of you.

Anonymous

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