The title pretty much sums it up. This is the story of how I went from corporate ladder climbing to world traveling to intimately knowing the inner workings of a dishwasher at a sketchy cafe run by a Lebanese family. And I assure you my days were packed with a daily dose of self-aimed criticism in Arabic, family quarrels and making terrible jokes with the dreadlocked, pierced and tattooed punk-emo chef who could really care less about his job (oh you know the type of person I'm talking about). At least we could relate on one level-our jobs were treacherous and everyone else at the joint was a bit, how do I put it nicely, "off."
I can't help but think of the poor Mexicans, Cubans, Chinese, etc who are respected doctors, businessmen in their countries and magically turn into taxi drivers and checkout clerks once stepping foot into the land of the free. There's something about wanting to make it so badly in a country that you are willing to sacrifice all self-respect and stoop to a new low just to survive. And there I was, lamenting over my downfall, covered in dishmuck watching business people chattering over lattes, experiencing life firsthand as an immigrant.
I felt shameful. No one could know my true identity as a dishwasher. "Actually, maybe I should tell the truth," I thought, "what if I exposed life as an immigrant, from corporate to cafe, and the battle to make it in a foreign country almost identical to my own." I didn't have a language barrier to worry about, no one could tell I was foreign just by looking at me, I was here legally and still stuck in a rut. Once I explained the situation to my friends, I realized that all immigrants had to pay their dues and it's not uncommon to start somewhere ridiculously low. One of my American friends started out as a fellow dishwasher before he scored a job at the Apple Store, and another Canadian friend swept floors at Safeway from 5-8 A.M. just so he could scrape by before getting a position as a head hunter in Melbourne. Finding a good professional job as a foreigner was anything but easy.
"Ember, you just have to hang in there a few weeks. At least you have something in the meantime, be patient and you will land a good job," was the general consensus from my friends. I started to accept my life elbows deep in dishes and actually thought I could manage for a max of about two weeks-at least that would get me another month of rent. That was, until I got promoted to Sandwich Maker.
I consequently received a dramatic cut in my hours and an endless stream of criticism for my terrible sandwich making skills and lethargic cash register operation. How is an amateur focaccia artist to cope? By the end of my first day, my boss threatened to fire me. I countered saying we could probably agree that cafe life wasn't for me and subsequently walked out, never to return again. And yes, I did get paid for my four days of work, and yes, I did just score a job as Campaign Manager for a creative marketing agency. Take that dishwashing job!
Oh the joys of job hunting. I'm scouring the Internet, revising cover letters and glued to my email 24/7 for any slight glimmer of hope, response, inquiry...? in search of the perfect job. I am not a lazy person, but when it comes to job searching I get this really queasy feeling in my stomach and simply wish I could call in sick for the rest of my life. And, contrary to previous conceptions, trying to find a job in Australia as an American is proving to be quite a toil. The employment industry in the United States is quite a mysterious and unique creature, which the rest of the world rarely experiences, so I’m here to shed light on why foreigners should be stoked (or think twice) about hiring Americans.
Well Known Facts about the Average American (which make us exceptional employees):
· Never take vacation (because we are so committed to our jobs)
· Addicted to smartphone (so we’re at the beckoning call of our boss 24/7, of course)
· Constantly sacrificing personal time ie: relationships, family dinners, etc for corporate time (we love the office so much)
Yes, we can all laugh these off, but they’re kind of true in retrospect. How did we get this way? Behind our corporate ladder loving nation is a set of social factors that have been at work shaping the lifestyles, personalities and motivations of almost every American for the past several decades.
Take our decrepit economy, outsourcing of labor, newly overeducated generation and massive debt and you’ve got a tragedy better than Shakespeare himself could have written. We pride ourselves on freedom and the American Dream, but is it possible to achieve that dream under these circumstances?
Making it in America is a game; part survival of the fittest, part luck and a whole lot of hard work. Compared to the rest of the developed world, many would argue that we are severely lagging in social services such as health care, public transport and welfare programs. Instead, we're left to our own devices to put it simply, figure it out.
Take college for example. The majority of Australians attend university on a loan from the government which they only start paying back when they make over $55,000 annually. Some of my Aussie friends even get PAID by the GOVERNMENT to go to school! I would happily take up a career as a college student!
This is happening while American students are shelling out upwards of $40,000 a year in tuition, living off Top Ramen and drowning themselves in a pool of debt they will most likely spend a good part of their lives paying off. Job or not, the loan bills keep coming. And of course, it is pounded into our American brains from the age of toddlers that if we don't get an education, we will never amount to anything, so every mother, child, sister, brother and dog attend a four year institution. With a national minimum wage of $7.25 it is almost impossible to make it without working two jobs or achieving some form of specialized training or higher education.
In Australia the waters are calmer. Yes, they have their corporate circle, but many Aussies can live happily earning somewhere in the $20 an hour range working at a café or in retail (their minimum wage is $15.51, but I’ve never met anyone making that little). With a non-dilapidated economy, finding a professional career is anything but cutthroat. Here, the wages are decent, the pace of life is slower and people can spend their lives leisurely waltzing down career lane rather than racing to the top.
Americans, on the other hand, have been conditioned by the policies of our country, job shortages and economic state to become a bunch of 60 hour a week working, sleep deprived, corporate ladder climbing enthusiasts all in the hopes of achieving our coveted American Dream. And that is precisely why foreigners should be dying to hire people like us. We're crazy! We are willing to compete for what we want until the bitter end. If we can make it in America, we can surely make it anywhere!