Monday, October 22, 2007

Linguistically unemployable?

well dear sisters, another reality sets in. It always does. After a whirlwind year of unexpected travel (often amazingly paid for by others) it is now time to cultivate some stability both in personal affairs and in terms of some structure by which to survive. Not just financially, but also in terms of time economy. You cannot forever restless be.

I applied for a job. I can imagine you do not see me in clinical business office surroundings; nor do I. So it is no surprise that I felt a tad out of place at the equity firm on the fifth floor of a tiny, but shiny, office building, where everything was in gracious, spacious white. It felt like I had wandered onto a film set. It seemed to float. It smelt of nothing. The windows made the space feel like a very well aerated fish tank. I was given a clear bottle of water (and a glass, which was 100% full of something)and entered into conversation with the two interviewing staff members, who must have been the investors. In itself the conversation was not unpleasant. They were friendly. They looked over my CV as if I had just descended from outer space. I felt in fact as if they had just lifted me into space. Like that scene in A matter of life and death, one of my favourite movies of all times, where time stops and heaven is populated by office clerks who really want to be there.

I think I scared them when I mentioned I didn't like frilly designs. Yet their website was anonymous as can be; so straight and classical as to be...unoffensive. There were moments I had to try to stop myself laughing during the interview. I think the burst out laugh was successfully downsized to a hint of a sparkle in my eye. It takes self control. I detected some sparkles in their eyes too. They were not unfriendly. It felt like a grown up, respectful conversation. Still, it felt like I was pretending, whereas I was just trying to be myself. Myself. Is that hard to place? I don't think so. The job would be...scanning bills, emailing them, opening doors to people, answering the phone. Being polite. Serving drinks. That's a hard one.

"So you don't mind doing menial tasks like this?" "No, I'd want nothing better, it makes sense in the overall picture I have in mind" You know, balance. Work for three hours, and then paint. Every day. They'd get the translation skills -and believe me, they don't come cheap- for free!

We wandered about the office; we saw the kitchen, which looked just like the meeting room, except for some apples, oranges and bananas in a bowl; we saw more gleaming white offices pictures on the walls. White streamlined cupboards. The only, shall we say, decoration, were some plexiglass plaques with the emblems of the companies they invest in emblazoned upon them lined up like behind each other like gleaming, see-thru, miniature tombstones (core interests lay in aging populations, please note, which is a cunning one) in the most anonymous way possible. It if.. they were selling AIR. I say this with the upmost respect of course. The world needs investors, too.

They didn't take me. The woman at the temping agency said it was for two reasons, although their impressions were overall positive: 1. she comes from another sector. Well, fair enough. Might as well say another planet. and 2. she has.... now get ready for this....a slight English accent!

Now I told the lady, fine for point one, but point two doesn't exactly come out in the wash, see? Now if I were making grammatical mistakes all the time, perhaps, yes, I'd understand, but my Dutch is often better than many native speakers in terms of spelling and things. I said to the lady, "don't you think that smacks of something?", the lady said, "no of course not, we are very politically correct".. I said... "would they sell that argument to a Moroccan candidate about their accent?" "Yes, they probably would".

Interesting. In a country where women are not allowed to wear headscarves to many instances of work, (which I think is a crying shame), I get told, for this is not the first time, that the precise hint or flavour of my deafeningly exotic accent might scare clients away. The last time that happened it was for a job answering the telephone for a company selling coffee near Brussels. "Yes, she participated very well in the interview, no we don't want her because she sounds slightly Dutch and that might scare the customers away"...and this was a famous Dutch coffee company speaking, by the way, our favourite family home brand if you see what I mean.

So. Back to the drawing board. Or shall I say, back to the canvas. Socially all kinds of things are blowing up in my face at the moment too, so this little alienette is going to lie low for a while. Just.. wait till the full moon has passed, hide under the covers, and remember, there are more serious and important things to be sending positive energy to right now. It comes as some consolation to know that even a double pHd and a stellar career behind you won't get you a basic job when you really need one, just because the path you have chosen to take is not the most conventional one. Or it is worrying, more worrying still.

Belgium has given me many brilliant opportunities, and I am sure it still will. It probably is for the best! Wouldn't want me getting stuck in a withering white specialised in aging space vortex now would we? I think I shall lap me some white dollops of paint on some paper and let it all run out...

Love to you both, strength for the process tomorrow, dear sister uno, thinking of you! And sister two, thanks for the postcard from Venice! I must get back into paper writing sometime.



scatteredsisters said...

you are too highly educayed. they proably think you will not stay for long. They are probably right. You would go crazy, even if if photocopying may sound ideal at this moment in your crazy life.

And you always did talk funny... but we like that!


Anonymous said...

Gee. Thanks sis. I'll keep that in mind.