July 12th, 2006

Get a Visa and Get a Real Job

Posted by natdavauer in Around the World

It’s not that Europe is any less fascinating than Asia… ok, it is sorta, but stay with me while I make my point. It’s not that I haven’t had any posts since Asia because Europe isn’t interesting, there are just different financial obligations for the long term traveler here.

Approximately 20 days can be spent traveling in Asia on a day’s wages from the U.S. (See cost of living), while here in Scotland, a days hard earned wages might, might get you some fish n’ chips and you’d still be left without enough shrapnel for a pint to accompany it. In other words if you aren’t working for a living here, you are basically camping and foraging, or to be less forgiving, sleeping on the street and begging (there are some people here who have gone this route by the way. Probably recent arrivals from Thailand). So what’s a jack of all trades to do? Draw up a CV and hit the cobbled streets of course.

First, let’s have a goal so we know what to shoot for. The minimum wage of 5.05 pounds per hour should be sufficient. This is almost ten dollars an hour after the exchange rate so things are looking up… oh yeah, the fish and chips thing. Damn. If only I could work here and eat in the U.S. Anyway, 40 pounds a day is more than enough to cover housing and food which come to about 15 pounds a day on the shoestring.

Next, let’s see if there are any restrictions on working here. Just one: it’s illegal. Hey, my kin came over to Wisconsin not too long ago and pulled the same stunt so I figure it’s pay back time… literary. All Commonwealth and EU nations can get a work visa but I can’t? Kiribatians can work here. I don’t even know where that is! I’m sure I can wash a dish as well as any of them though. Heck, I can even make a dish. So, let’s pass the Midwestern accent off as Canadian and try to fly under the radar.

If they have a sign in the window, apply for that job. That was my method of job searching. Here is a list of some of prestigious jobs I offered to render my services for:

Get a Job Dishwasher
Art supplies salesperson*
Travel writer
Sword salesperson**
Web designer
Online marketeer
Car parker***
General laborer
(I am happy to say that I did not apply for any jobs appearing on the same page as the words: Earn 500 pounds a week while working from home!)

The only jobs I actually landed, car parker and general laborer (dishwashing being scooped up by Rachel the very day she applied), are easily the lowest-skill jobs requiring little beyond non-comatose brain function and at least 3 moveable limbs.

Applying to be a manual laborer turns out to pretty simple. Get yourself a pair of steel-toe boots and a hard hat and make sure you’re in the line-up at seven a.m. This felt a little more like the ethnic trade-off with my ancestors than I anticipated. Standing in line blowing on my hands (June in Scotland is not summer) surrounded by hulking men in their steel-toes muttering to each other in Polish was less like an interview and more like a Steinbeck novel. Fluent English turned out to be a skill in high demand considering the company so after a full week of early morning line-ups, I was able to put bread on the table. “Honey, it’s a tough world out there, but we can make it. Jimmy will have a roof over his head if it’s the last thing I ever do.” (Jimmy is our laptop by the way.)

Turns out, speaking English wasn’t as straightforward a skill as say… chewing as I hoped. Have you ever heard the word polyurethane pronounced in a think Scottish accent? Well, I’m here to say even after having it repeated five times, it doesn’t get any clearer. The first job was to figure out exactly what words were being said by Davy the foreman who would have had a good chance at landing the part of Mel’s ginger bearded, rock throwing friend in Braveheart. “Ok I got it, I’m supposed to put the bin in the skip. What the hell is a skip?” Luckily, I was watching the World Cup at our hostel every night so was able to pass, although somewhat suspect, in general conversation. Once over the spoken language barrier, it was much easier to integrate into the universal construction worker language of exposed bellies, pack lunches and the occasional wedgie.

On a somewhat related note: when I was picked out of the line to help a rigging crew set up one of those big music festival tents, I came to realize that rigging crew are just narcissistic construction workers. These are the people who follow around bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers and bolt together all those beams that they hang the lights on. They don’t set up The Chili Peppers’s gear, they don’t even set up the lights, they just build a temporary structure in which The Peppers will occupy for a brief moment in time. Your average construction worker on the other hand can’t realistically believe that The Chili’s will ever set foot in whatever it is they are building. Being able to associate yourself with a well known band’s literal stomping grounds is the difference between going to work with the same pair of “durable” clothes you wore five years ago and an unshaven face, and going to work with three different outfits, a hard hat that accommodates your dreads and an unshaven face but in that really cool way.

So I made my money. I paid my bills. I built something The Chili Pepper’s might stand in. I even learned a new language. But as my forefathers’ would be saying in the U.S. of today: “It’s all in a day’s illegal immigrant work.”

*Having a degree in art and not even getting a call back to sell pencils n’ stuff was a little humiliating.

**One requirement of this job was to wear a full Scottish kilt outfit. Um… yes!

***Don’t confuse this with being a valet. That would be a dream job. These are the guys that stand in one place with a day-glo orange vest on and wave their arms usually to point you in the direction you obviously would have gone anyway. Basically, a traffic cone that is rented for minimum wage.

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