(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

and another thing ...

so I've also been taking an upholstery class. It has been interesting.

First off, the instructor wasn't sure she wanted me in her class because she has an antique shop and design business that includes upholstering. When I first attempted to enroll (through a local arts group), they posed a series of questions including why I was taking the course. Upon hearing I had a boutique, I was told I had to speak directly with the instructor before I could enroll.

She grilled me re: my business and motives. Would I be setting up an upholstery service? etc. etc. I was honest and even invited her to visit my shop. She told me that upholstery was considered a 'metier' and it required a 2 year course of study to become certified, which she was.

My goal is to familiarize myself with the techniques and if I come across an old chair I want to restore for myself or for resale, I would. But I don't have the time nor inclination to become an upholsterer.

She agreed to take me.

For some reason, the stars have not been aligned throughout the process. First, when she came by to 'visit' she informed me the class was to be delayed due to pending snow. Then, when she found out I was considering travelling in February, she was put out and quick to note there would not be 'make up' sessions. Understandable, but the world closes up in February for school holidays. Ahhh, she had indeed forgotten that and so then her attitude was reigned in.

Compounding matters, I ended up missing the first class ... sigh. The 2nd class (my 1st) went okay ... but I quickly saw that she really had zero English ... and made few attempts to make her French more understandable to me (e.g., speaking a little more slowly, etc.) I didn't earn any points by needing to leave early to head off for Paris.

The 3rd class (my 2nd) was cut short due to snow. During this class, she also invited me to join her sewing course. I was interested because they are making all sorts of purses and bags, including a bread bag ... which I've had an idea for ... she told me I would need to have my own sewing machine. So, I went out and bought the machine and then emailed her to check if there were other materials I needed. Lo and behold, the sewing class space was no longer open (hmmm) and now I have a brand new sewing machine. Also, while there at my class, she showed me a range of fabrics available for my chair ... (or so I thought). I then lugged the chair home to paint ... with my selected fabric in mind.

Then at my last class ... which was extended to accommodate the forfeited snow time ... I was told that no - that fabric wasn't for THIS class but another. She then pointed out a few fabrics that were available. The only one that didn't make me puke was a kind of chartreuse green, so in my head I worked through the paint and this fabric and decided okay. Later in the class I told her I would take it ... she proceeded to tell me maybe there wasn't enough and she unrolled the fabric to confirm that indeed ... it wasn't sufficient. She then showed me a chocolate brown linen that was off to the side that I could have for 25€ per meter and I'll need 2! She will only hold it through Monday so now I've got to go search fabric as I don't really want to spend 50€ on this little side chair. harumph. and oh, by the way, she told me that the sewing class is now finished! (why did she invite me in the 1st place if there was only one more class?!)

Much of it is the language barrier for sure. And she doesn't seem inclined to try and understand me. And for whatever reason, I find her manner one of trying to intimidate.

probably all in my head. I even showed up with a cake knowing the class would be extended 2-1/2 hours for make up time.

The others in the class are nice enough (4 other women), one who lives in Brantôme and seems she might be friends with Laurence (the instructor). All have been very cordial to me. I'm thinking it is more of French style thing and I regularly seem to lose things in translation so I'm giving the benefit of the doubt.

JY says she is more likely a typical Perigourdine! ha.

But in spite of all of that, I'm acquiring knowledge on a technique and that's great. Let me tell you, I now have a better understanding of why upholsterers charge what I used to think were astronomical prices. It is not easy work, it is physical and acquires a great degree of attention to detail. It is all, of course, by hand ... and the care taken can ensure a high quality result. But the time and effort combined with the cost of materials means it isn't to be taken lightly. or cheaply.

I've spent about 8 hours in the class now and am just arriving at the stage where the seat will be stuffed! Next week-end there is no class because she can't make it. but February 20th she IS holding a class, in spite of the school holiday and then taking a break until March 6th.

If I go anywhere during spring break, it means that I'll probably receive about 50% of the instruction time I paid for.


But ... who knows what might be possible in the weeks ahead...her store is lovely and her work is divine. I'd be happy to refer clients to her if I felt the relationship improved. Guess I'll just buck up and examine what is really going on ... how much of it is in my head or elsewhere! ha... but here's a few photos and there are more on the flickr page (sidebar) so feel free to check it out.

à bientôt!

p.s. the last class involved some heavy-duty pulling and tightening of the cord that secures springs, etc. this morning I awoke to pains in funny places (muscles in the front of my underarm!!!) ha! so I'm getting the free benefit of that as well! I must factor that into my investment...


La Framéricaine said...

This is an absolutely fascinating post. It reminds me of the psychological and cultural underpinnings of the film, "Jean de Florette." I am really delighted that you took the time to write it all down.

For a U.S. citizen, born and raised, it is fascinating to hear about, and watch in action, that small-town, fearful-of-lost-wages and scarcity mentality/psychology in action.

You told the story really well, too, it is painful to sense your confusion, both linguistic and cultural in this situation. Coming from a culture in which the notions of "Freedom of information" and "continuing education," not to mention "reinvention of one's self" are as common as breathing, it must be quite astounding to have someone who wants to make money from you as a student in a class also want to make sure that you do not intend to excel at what you learn, nor become competition for her.

It is "not in your mind," any more than her passive/aggressive, intimidating "master" posturing–un metier is a 50 year deal, not a 2 year (junior college certificate) gig. Even if you never learned a thing about upholstery, this experience seems to me to be worth its weight in gold on the cultural front!

Congratulations on the new sewing machine, I'm positive that you will make very good use of it in France! I admire your style, as usual. I am positive that you will develop very nice workarounds as concerns the fearful natives;>)


H.Peter said...

"I now have a better understanding of why upholsterers charge what I used to think were astronomical prices."

I think that may have to do more with supply & demand of (inexpensive) labor....

While residing in Las Vegas with ample of workers from south of the border, all my imported antiques were reupholstered and repaired very very affordable.

However, since moving back to Canada, I have yet to retore an antique item, it's just hard to justify their prices.

And no, you cannot tell the difference in workmanship. My upholsterer in the States was incredible.

Maureen said...

It's not you! That woman is a perfect wench!

If it were just her attitude it would be one thing but the nonsense with the schedule, the fabric and sewing class. I would tell her to mange la merde.

jonnifer said...

You show a lot of fairness by not jumping to conclusions over whether the lady is truly evil or if you are misinterpreting things due to the culture/language barrier. It is hard to be sure - even after you know the language culture is a huge source of misunderstanding. Just don't refer any customers to her until you are sure!

Non Je Ne Regrette Rien said...

laF~when are you going to actually GET here?! :P I need someone with your wisdom and crosscultural savvy across the table from me with coffee and galette ... solely American or French friends are lovely but are missing that truly unique one foot on each side of the fence experience. get a move on, won't you?! xx

H. Peter~well, another way of looking at that might be you weren't paying your wonderful artisans enough ... lol, I doubt anyone would want to pay me what I'd want to charge for the effort it takes. It will need to be a time to time thing for me. As it is, most everyone tells me I don't charge enough for my furniture work ... I'd have to draw the line at upholstery. I will also say that, while in the states, some of our best work was from artisans that came from south of the border. They took their craft very seriously and had so much pride of workmanship.

Maureen~tempting to say the least, but I've found that many times my first reactions (similar to the ones I would have had in the states) are not as accurate as they should be. That advice to 'trust your 1st instinct' doesn't seem as sound here...given the many things I don't understand.

jonnifer~thanks and good advice ... I don't want to turn off my clientele through my own ignorance. I'll take it slow on this one.

Rosie said...

Beautifully written blog. I am so with you trying to be patient and 'maybe it's a language thing'. When actually you want to scream BITCH. Looks like you are acquiring a real skill though that one day will make you smile every time you respring a chair and think of her :-)

PS Have you changed something, all the usual links to your blog failed?

the fly in the web said...

My cousin trained as an upholsterer, but that was many years ago, when it was by being apprenticed.
The physical side of the work meant she retired from full time work early, but was always happy to take on private projects.
However, that being in the U.K., she wasn't worried about such things as not being allowed to work on the black, etc., so her prices were sensible.
You know the woman's attitude was wrong and indefensible, but you want to be fair minded.
Don't fall over backwards doing so.

Non Je Ne Regrette Rien said...

rosie~yes I've felt those 'wanna scream moments'...and no, I don't think I've changed anything other than the color scheme. strange!

fly-welcome. I think in every country, expats & immigrants are subjected to more scrutiny ... human nature requires it. oh and no worries, I'm not accustomed to falling over backwards.

unless it is because I tripped over my feet. again. :-)