I started work on Monday, the day after I arrived. It was definitely a case of “hitting the ground running,” but I really didn’t need much more time to get settled, seeing as I was just staying in a hotel room for the first couple weeks.
My office is in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (still haven’t figured out why it is all hyphenated – anyone?), a suburb to the south west of Paris, very close to Versailles. In fact, I can see the palace from the train every day, though as the leaves fill in, the view is becoming slowly obscured. It is a 45 minute train ride each way from the center of Paris, but so far I have been using the time to study French or write these posts.
I am contracting for a company called Saipem, one of the largest EPIC (engineering, procurement, installation and commissioning) companies in the offshore oil and gas industry. We have tens of thousands of employees worldwide, but here in Paris there are about 2,600. Why is an oil and gas company located in Paris? I am not completely sure of the reason, but I assume that because France lacked and major oil fields that would have otherwise located their energy hub, it defaulted to the only major city, Paris. It helps, of course, that Total, BP, and other energy companies are also located here. Saipem is public, but 43 % of its shares are held by Eni, the Italian energy company, so we share the logo and have a lot of Italian management.
The office itself is very nice and modern, but not very unique. One nice thing is that all of the desks are very close to large windows, so there is a lot of natural light all the time and a decent view. The office is only about a 5 minute walk from the train station, in a small, modern, planned neighborhood. There are a few other office buildings, a park and several apartment buildings.
Although Saipem is nominally Italian, it is a very international company – as are many in the offshore industry. Because of this, the working language is English, though French is used almost as frequently, if not more so, and every once in a while the Italians will break into their native tongue. Over the course of four weeks I have overheard two or three Americans talking in the hallways, but I have yet to meet any; so it’s safe to say that we are a negligible minority. I’ve met plenty of British, a couple Australians, a lot of Nigerians other west-Africans, and then there are the guys in my group.
I am working in a newly formed group, Subsea Umbilicals and Controls, which includes integrity monitoring and subsea instrumentation – my areas of “expertise.” There are six of us in the group, and it is managed by a guy that I’ve actually known and worked with for a few years now, as he was Saipem’s representative to BMT, my previous company, on one of my projects.
The group consists of two French full-time employees who have been with Saipem for several years, and then four contractors: myself, James, Waunderson and Andreas. The four of us are all in our late twenties or early thirties, all new to Saipem, all new to Paris, and all new to France since the beginning of the year.
James is a 28-year-old Englishman from Newcastle. He is huge: at least 6’4” tall, and looks like he lives in the gym. He is constantly drinking protein shakes and using obscure Geordie slang: “Mate, the 6th is good craic – got loads of mint bars and restaurants. This weekend is going to be absolutely men’al.”
Waunderson is a 27-year-old Brazilian. I don’t know what it is about Brazilians, but I have never met one I’ve disliked. They always have this infectuous amiability and relaxed disposition about them. Waunderson embodies his national character to the utmost: he has a great sense of humor, and one of his favorite English expressions is “Why not?”
Andreas is a 33-year-old Russian, but he has been living in Germany for a while – long enough that everyone introduces him as “from Germany.” He isn’t overly fond of this. He is always really excited about something, and (like most Russian-speakers I’ve met) he isn’t too keen on the use of articles. So a typical statement from Andreas sounds something like this: “OK, who wants to do hundred push-ups before lunch?” or “Maaaaan, so last night, I found new a sound system on internet, with biiig subwoofer. In the shop down the street from my house, 400 euro. Online, only 300 euro. That’s good deal.”
All of us have about 5 – 8 years of experience in subsea oil and gas engineering; so in addition to being in a similar life-situation, we are all at about the same point in our careers. And we all sit in the same 4-desk cluster, only a few feet away from each other. I suspect that the French employees nearby are starting to get tired of our occasionally boisterous English conversations, but I also suspect that they’re going to have to put up with them for a while. I really couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to be thrown in with.
I will be working on a Nigerian project for Total for the next year or so. I will be supervising the technical side of the procurement of the systems that I was doing the engineering for at my last company. I will be writing the system specifications, evaluating bids, and reviewing the vendors’ designs and technical work once we start the job. It will also mean traveling to the vendor’s facilities a few times during the project, and then working onshore and offshore with their engineers when we go to Nigeria for the final testing and installation. We haven’t selected a vendor yet, but one of the three is my old company, BMT, in California. Another is PULSE, one of the companies that I interviewed with in Houston before taking the job here in Paris. The third is a French company, Cybernetix (now part of Technip), which is located in Marseille. So however it turns out, it should be interesting.