Samantha David is a freelance journalist and writes for various publications including BBC Online, the Sunday Times, the FT, Living France, everything France, and France Magazine

Samantha David, writer

Le Dernier Mot - articles by Samantha David


DERNIER MOT - Orientation 

      "We've got orientation next week," announced the oldest Junior Member.  "So I'd better decide what to do."

      "Don't you just read maps?" I asked.

      "Doh!" said a younger JM, her eyes rolling heavenwards.  "It's only about life, Mum!"

      "Sex education?"

      "No Mum!  Honestly!  It's deciding what job you want when you leave school so you can get trained."

      Naturally it was Marie-France who clarified matters for me.  "Orientation", she explained, takes place during the final year of collège (middle school) and helps kids decide whether to move up to the lycée and do a "bac", or to apply for day-release schemes and other vocation training courses.

      "I could be a hairdresser," said the oldest JM.  "Or a plumber.  I don't have to go on with school if I don't want to..."

      "Yes you do!" said the Senior Partner.  "You're only fourteen!"

      "But even if I go to the lycée next year, I still have to be orientated.  I've got to know what my métier will be so I know what job I'll do..."

      "What's a métier?"

      "It's a profession!  And I've got to choose one so that I know what bac to do because you can only get certain jobs with certain bacs.  You can't be like... a philosopher with a science bac, can you?  So I've got to decide my future."

      "What right now?"

      "Yes.  I have to tell the teacher on Thursday morning."

      I had no idea what to advise.  In a world which looks increasingly uncertain - particularly on the employment front - how can a teenager possibly know what job they'll end up doing?  My feeling is that by the time the JMs leave school, employment opportunities may well be a case of any port in a storm. 

      Take most of the other British people we've met since moving down here.  Almost all of them have ended up earning a living in unexpected ways.  Take Joyce and her hand-made greetings cards.  They're beautiful little works of art, all made of dried flower petals.  But she was a geography teacher back in Chester, and intended to do translations when she arrived in France.  And look at Simon.  He was a classical musician but he's teaching English now.

      "So what am I going to say?" demanded the JM urgently.

      "Jack of all trades?" I suggested.

      "What are your friends doing?" asked the SP.

      "Old Cheekbones is going to Aix-en-Provence to train as a beauty advisor.  She's going to be living-in and doing make-up lessons every day and she does like a week in a shop, or something.  But anyway she's like really old; nearly 18, because she's done so many school-years twice.    Lydie is going to a big lycée in Montpellier where she can learn Chinese; and Luc is going to work with his father..."

      "The baker?" 

      "Yes, but he's really old too.  Like you know, he's already 16 so he can leave school the lucky slug."

      "Well you are not leaving school," interrupted the SP with impressive finality.  "You will go through to the lycée where you will do the first year and then we will look at your results and decide together which bac you will do.  You will then read Sulking, Protesting and Argumentation at some unfortunately French university and hopefully by the time you've finished reducing your tutors to ashes, the "crise économique" will be history and you'll be able to get a job in the Ministry of Problem-Creation."

      "Everyone gets orientated, Dad.  You have to, so you know what to do with your life."

      "But I'm over 50," objected the SP, "and I still don't know what I'm doing."

      "Doh!" said the JMs. 


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