22 June 2019 – How I ended up working on a vineyard in France

I thought I was done with Workaway forever when I was in Colombia. I truly believed the organic farm was the last one…but there was something drawing me into doing another one in France – I think it was my burning desire to see the countryside ~ because everyone I knew seemed to go only to Paris and other major cities. I wanted something different…and that’s exactly what I searched for...

I was done with hostels and desperately wanted to work on a farm of some sort…

I couldn’t help but be drawn to the romantic notion of working on a vineyard.

I mean, I was in France. The country is renowned for its amazing wine.

A couple of weeks before, I started looking for vineyard work on the Workaway website but sadly, there weren’t many available in the south of France (I mostly found babysitting which definitely doesn’t suit me)…

There wasn’t much I could do except for apply for the few which were available. One ad in particular caught my attention because the boss sounded very direct. I liked his description and found his personality intriguing. It was something along the lines of:

“No faddy eaters and you must be fit ~ I’ve had people who haven’t been able to ride a bike before…this Workaway is a good mixture of having fun and work

I felt like this Workaway was calling my name ~ having fun and eating healthy? fuck yeah! The reviews were all positive as well.

But then…my hope quickly vanished when I scrolled further down…

The boss was accepting people only after the dates that I wanted to come.

I desperately wanted the job so much that I decided to try my luck anyway and e-mail him. I mean, I had nothing to lose:

“Just a question…would you be willing to accept someone earlier for two weeks?”

Turns out he had space for me on the dates that I wanted to come!

Yes!!!

 

When the tables turned

As mentioned in my previous blog, I had horrible experiences with Couchsurfing hosts in Paris and bad luck with scabies (well paranoia of having it anyway)…

My experience also taught me that reporting someone on Couchsurfing doesn’t fly very well: the host I reported reacted to my reporting by making it his mission to retaliate ~ he messaged a host I stayed with previously in Paris (Host #1) to tell him about my situation with scabies.

The effect?

Host #1 started getting paranoid that he had scabies too. He messaged me with a picture of his arm which had a small mark…suggesting that I passed it to him. It made me so paranoid and stressed that I had scabies again (even though I treated myself twice and went over the top quarantining my things). I had no idea what to do. I was so lost… and really didn’t want to bring the risk over with me to the vineyard.

The problem was…I was already on a bus to Poitiers which was the meeting point with my ‘boss’ 

The only solution I could think of was to cancel the job and stay in a hotel or hostel in Poitiers until I quarantined and resolved the problem. I didn’t really have much of a choice but to message my “boss” with the truth…but I messaged him in a way which gave him the option of taking me on if he still wanted to (believe it or not ~ even though I was paranoid with this problem, I still wanted to work. I really didn’t want to be ‘locked away’ from the world for potentially a long period of time).

After a bit of messaging back and forth, my boss decided that he was still willing to take me on! He even offered to take me to a pharmacy to get medical advice before coming to the vineyard.

His words were magic to my ears. I was shocked, relieved and happy…all at the same time! The timing couldn’t have been more perfect (for me and my self-esteem).

I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy to be accepted, especially because the Couchsurfing hosts made me feel like I was diseased, disabled and that I couldn’t be around anyone.

 

The bus ride to Poitiers and after

I can’t remember much of the bus ride except for things like getting up at 6AM from a hosts’ apartment in the centre of Paris (he was actually a good one), almost missing my bus because I couldn’t find the entrance to the nearest metro station (due to construction blocking the closest entrance), struggling to communicate with the bus driver who couldn’t speak English and making a stopover at BP along the way (I ate a croissant and pear and had a coffee). The rest of the time I was sleeping. I also remember how my driver looked for some reason ~ he kinda resembled Vin Diesel.

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Stopover along the way

Boss (via Whatsapp): “I will arrive to Poitiers at 1.30 and wait at the clock tower for you.”

We arrived so quickly.

I didn’t expect to get to Poitiers so fast. I rushed off the bus with my things, thanked the driver and started walking in a random direction. I couldn’t see any clock tower from where the bus dropped me off but luckily my boss shared his location with me (let’s call him ‘George’ for simplicity’s sake). He gave me very detailed instructions of where he was and his car so I knew exactly what I was looking for. It was hard to miss his car ~ it was small, silver in colour and had custom plates. He was parked in a disabled area just like he explained in his message. I walked towards him, introduced myself, thanked him and shook his hand. We had to pick up another girl from Chalais who was working with me on the vineyard. It was about 2 hours away so George and I had lots of time to get to know each other. I really can’t remember what we spoke about but he seemed nice (we spoke about a lot of things….so many topics).

Sadly, much of our conversation was small talk.

 

Next stop ~ Chalais

We were only about 10 minutes late.

It didn’t take long to find the girl. Her name was ‘Katie’. She was intensely looking down underneath her table when we arrived. I had no idea what she was looking at but presumed she was glued to her phone like most people these days. George stopped his car at the front of the cafe she was waiting at and yelled: “Katie!”

She didn’t flinch. I don’t think she heard him at all. She was too fixated on what she was doing. He tried yelling her name again several times but no luck. We had no choice but to park the car and fetch her. Once we were standing in front of her and called her name again, we finally got to see her face. She was a young, blonde haired, blue-eyed American with a fashionable pink leather-looking shoulder bag, along with what I call a small trolley-luggage case.

Me: “Do you need help?”

Katie: “No I’m ok. It’s just an organised mess.”

I was happy that another person was working with me. It’s always nice to have company with someone who isn’t your boss.

During the ride, it was mainly me and George talking. Katie remained quiet.

George: “Are you alright Katie?”

Katie: “Yeah, I’m just messaging my mum to let her know I’m on my way.”

George: “That’s very important.”

Yay! We were finally on our way to the vineyard!

At the time, I had absolutely no idea what events I would witness in the coming days. I had no idea that I’d be stuck in the middle of two polar opposites ~ one person loved living a luxurious and glamorous life filled with fancy food, bars, restaurants and cafes. They were “searching for a better mentality” in some ways. The other loved to focus on being positive, eating healthy, keeping active and loved to talk about their life, travel and work stories. They were certainly content and confident with the way they thought. 

Can you guess who is who?

It didn’t take long after working with each other before the tension started to build and before their prejudices towards each other emerged. I guess they were just from such different worlds…

Unfortunately, things spiraled out of control pretty quickly.

 

The first few days of work

When I woke up, I saw that it was 9:30. Wow, I slept in so badly….my body must have been so tired.

Not long after, I remember hearing George yelling my name:

“Mei! Mei! Are you alive?”

I quickly got out of bed, flustered.

Shit I was late on my first day of work (even though we didn’t set a start time).

I opened my door and George was standing there…

Me: “I’m so sorry I only just woke up”

George: “That’s ok, you deserved it. There’s croissants and some fruit in the fridge. We’ll be out in the vineyard when you’re ready.”

I felt like I needed to hurry ~ I could feel that he wasn’t impressed.

It was really hard to let go of the idea of not having a coffee but I felt like I really didn’t have much of a choice but to get to work as quickly as possible because I was late (AlsoI couldn’t figure out how to turn the stove top on to boil the kettle….) I quickly scoffed down some food, changed and joined the others in the vineyard.

I’m not going to go into the details of the work but George quickly and vaguely explained how to prune the vines and left us working on our own accord after staying with us for the first few trees. We had to work together, rip off the really big leaves, tuck any vines which were growing too far in the wrong direction and cut any vines which were too long.

That’s when Katie and I started getting to know each other. We had plenty of time to talk and that’s exactly what we did. George kept making remarks about how much we talked (looking back, he was subtly telling us to shut up and judging this as a bad thing).

The work was pretty uneventful and slow ~ it took ages to finish even one row. I think we had a long lunch break after doing the first row and then continued working until dinner time. George cooked us a magnificent meal and gave us some beers to finish the day.

Day 2 and 3 were kinda similar, except we had the extra task of cleaning a bunch of old, second-hand wine bottles…

Working on the vineyard ~ such a hard life…

 

The beginning of the end (day 3?)

After we finished lunch, George told us to come back to work at 5:30 so we had all afternoon to do what we wanted.

Since we started working on Day 1, Katie complained to me a few times about her frustration about George’s personality and having to spend so much time with him instead of having time to herself (even during our time off). It led me to suggesting:

“Did you want to go for a bike ride?”

I thought it’d be a nice way for her to escape and have some space away from George.

Katie: “Sure”

When we told George of our plan, he pumped the tires of two old bikes for us to use.

 

Riding around the area

We made our way down some route he recommended. Unfortunately, the seat on the bike I was using was extremely uncomfortable ~ it put so much pressure on the crotch region. I was also way too short for the bike. It didn’t help that the route we went on was really bumpy. We ended up walking most of the way through what seemed like endless fields of grass among the farms. The view was stunning and weather was amazing.

 

 

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Picture from the ride around the area

While we walked, Katie decided to seek my advice about George. She wasn’t enjoying his company and wanted go back to Bordeaux leave sooner:

“I’m thinking about leaving to Bordeaux this Sunday. What do you think?”

She was essentially asking me how she should approach George about leaving earlier ~ should she be honest or make up an excuse? 

Katie: “I like the work and the place but I don’t like how he is going on bashing me for being American and I don’t like how I feel like I have to keep him company all the time. I need space to myself. I’ve worked really hard for this and I don’t need to put up with this. I worked hard to enjoy my trip.”

There was definitely truth in her words ~ life is too short to put up with shit. Maybe I’m a little too tolerant of problems (I don’t know). I agreed with many things she said but still didn’t think the situation was bad enough to warrant quitting so soon.

Me: “I’m probably not the best person to ask because at this stage in my life, I’m focusing on telling the truth because if you keep things in, you end up having resentment and wasting a lot of energy.”

Katie: “True. Although I don’t think it’s worth going through that especially if I’m not here for very long. The only thing is if I finish this sooner, I might have to book a hotel if I don’t get a Couchsurfing host and it will blow my budget.” (again, those weren’t her exact words but they were something along those lines)”

We decided to make our way back to the vineyard…getting lost on the way back of course. Halfway through our ride home, I lost balance and fell off my bike with a beautiful backside landing onto the grass on the side of the road.

After traveling for such a long time and experiencing my fair share of minor injuries, I was used to experiencing pain. Normally I would just get up and soldier on but I landed on something which made me feel like I’d been stabbed in the butt. It was excruciating.

I slowly stood up but felt like I couldn’t move any further because I was too scared the pain would hurt more.

Me: “Ahh, fuck I’m in so much pain. I feel like something has stabbed me in the bum.”

Katie: “Are you OK? Do you want to show me.”

Me: “Yes sure but I don’t want to move at the moment.”

Katie: “You’re going to have to turn around to show me so I can check.”

As much as I didn’t want to move, I turned around, lifted my shorts and showed Katie my bum.

Katie: “It looks fine.”

When I touched the area, I could feel some small bumps. I had no idea what could cause such a reaction. It really felt like I’d been stung by something. My whole upper leg and bum was tingling. I was so worried I’d been stung by something poisonous but was determined to get back to the vineyard. Just as we were about to start riding again, a car pulled up in front of us with a concerned driver. She offered to drive us back but we gratefully declined her offer.

 

Back at the vineyard

The ride back wasn’t easy but we made it with 2 hours to spare before having to get back to work. I decided to have a shower and have a nap.

After waking up, all I remember was waking up and bumping into Katie on the way down. She looked a little shaken.

Katie: “Did you read my message?”

Me: “No”

Katie: “I’m actually leaving tomorrow.”

I was shocked.

Katie: “I asked George if he’d mind if I went on Sunday instead because my heart was in Bordeaux but then he told me that he’d prefer if I left tomorrow and then went on about how I was doing a bad job and just costing him money.”

She didn’t say those exact words but they were something along those lines. The main point is…she ended up telling him the truth about how he made her feel (she felt that he negatively judged her simply for being American). And he ended up being brutally blunt with her ~ he criticised her and asked her to leave as soon as possible. 

Based on her demeanour, I’d say that she felt a mix of shocked, upset and angry. To be honest, I was also shocked that George spoke to her like that. I didn’t agree and thought it was unfair… but I had no idea how to handle the situation. I didn’t feel like I could do anything and they both already agreed she was going to leave. I felt so bad for her.

Katie: “I ended up booking a hotel. It was expensive but oh well.”

The rest of the evening was extremely awkward. I felt like a medium between the two. Katie even skipped dinner to avoid being around George. To be honest, I probably would have done the same thing if I was in her shoes. I had dinner with George and managed to say goodbye to Katie before going to bed but it was such an uncomfortable night.

By the time I woke up, Katie had gone and it was just me and George. I had faith that my experience would be fine for the remainder of my time at the vineyard…but little did I know that I would end up end up experiencing almost the same as Katie.

I hope you enjoyed my story. Stay tuned for the sequel!

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