For This They Pay Me $30/hr? : Job Hunting in New Zealand

Wellington, New Zealand

Promoting $3 Parking

Promoting $3 Parking

When my savings dwindled and I could no longer justify or tolerate starting each day at 2pm, I began to look for a job in Buenos Aires.  At that time, I was willing to do whatever it took to stay in Argentina.  With the exception of pornography and prostitution.  All I needed was an income and a reason to get out of bed in the morning other than to go to the bathroom.  An equal opportunity job hunter, I didn’t care if the position was “black” (under the table) or “white” (on the books), stimulating or mind-numbingly boring, as long as it paid the bills.  I dropped off my CV everywhere, from toy stores to nightclubs.  But in the end, I decided to do the one thing I had vowed I would never do – teach English.

Don’t misunderstand. I have nothing but respect and appreciation for teachers.  But I’m not one, neither by training or disposition.  And just because you know how to do something, doesn’t mean that you know how to teach someone else to do it.  Most days, I felt more like an actress (or a con artist) than a professor.  Some days, I felt like a complete ass.  The way I explained phrasal verbs, prepositions, and idioms sounded a lot like the way the dad from Calvin & Hobbes explained science.

Calvin: “Why does [the sun] move from east to west?”
Calvin’s Dad: “Solar wind.”

Quite honestly, everything I know about English language and grammar, I learned from Schoolhouse Rock! Not surprisingly, my students, typically middle-aged businessmen, weren’t too keen on singing “Conjunction Junction.”  That is, assuming that they showed up for class.

I can’t recall the number of times that students simply failed to come to class with no warning.  Because their companies paid for the classes, there was no financial disincentive to playing hooky.  But even Ferris Bueller had the decency to call in sick.  And I’m fairly certain that none of my students ever used the extra hour to hijack a parade float and lip-synch “Danke Schoen” while driving down Avenida 9 de Julio. Sure, it was nice getting paid for taking a nap under my desk.  But while I was willing to do just about anything for money, I wasn’t interested in getting paid for doing nothing.

After nearly a year in Buenos Aires, I finally landed a real job (expat parlance for a stable, salaried position, typically executed in an office between the hours of 9am-5pm, for which a work visa is either required or provided).  The actual tasks I was expected to perform were dreadful.  If the infinite monkey theorem states that “a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare,” then a trained monkey certainly could have done my job, and probably would have complained less.  But it wasn’t teaching English, and fortunately, there were enough benefits, like amazing coworkers and great pay, to compensate for the boredom and soul sucking.  Not to mention the fact that it kept me in Buenos Aires.

After nearly two years, my brain had atrophied and my mood had defaulted to depressed. The real wake-up call came when I found myself awake at 2am, hovering over my computer in a darkened room, writing computer programs.  It was the most mental stimulation I had experienced in nearly two years, and it was addictive.  Fearful that I would eventually turn into a coder, I was compelled to quit my job. There was another reason for leaving – I had found my passion for writing.  And working all day as a customer service manager left me with no time or energy to explore my talent or pursue my new career objective of becoming a writer, in New Zealand.  (No, I didn’t really think that last part through too carefully.)

Unemployment has been stressful and uncertain, but I promised myself that I wouldn’t compromise my dream for a paycheck. I came to New Zealand with a specific goal – to find a job in publishing.  While I’m open to taking on any role where the principal activity is writing or editing, I’m not willing to do just any job.  So someone please explain to me how it is that I ended up spending Saturday night walking around windy, wet and cold Wellington in a two-piece leopard print outfit that resembled a “sexy Wilma Flintstones” Halloween costume, trying to convince drunken men to stop grabbing my butt long enough to sample a new deodorant body spray?  The answer’s easy, really – I got paid $30/hr.  Degrading?  Perhaps.  But let’s be honest, for $30/hr., you would do it too.

For nine glorious months, I haven’t had a boss, schedule, or professional responsibilities.   But I haven’t had a paycheck either. I’m committed to being an artist, just not of the starving variety.  And since arriving in New Zealand, it’s become clear to me that if I want to stay here long enough to make my dream come true, I need money. It’s also become painfully clear that, instead of setting up a trust fund for me and my brother, my parents have spent all of their hard-earned money on travels and expensive jars of mustard and jam.  So, when I got to Wellington, I signed up to work on a casual basis with a promotional staffing agency.  Besides, I’m the new kid in town, and having a job, any job, is a great way of getting integrated into the local community, meeting new people, and killing time.

Unfortunately, promotional work is unreliable, so I applied for a part-time job at a bookstore as well.  As far as menial jobs that pay minimum wage go, it’s my best-case scenario.  Not least of all because the manager is such a dandy that I half-expected him to pull a pair of gloves from his breast pocket, slap me across the face, and challenge me to a duel in place of an interview.  He also likes to compare retail to theater, which possibly explains the dramatic pauses he inserted into our conversation.  “Honestly, Amy,” *cocks head slightly to one side while pausing meaningfully* “the dress code here is ‘express yourself.’” I start on Friday, and something tells me that he and I are going to have great fun together.

The truth is that I’m looking forward to having an activity and income that I can count on.  I’ve even been practicing saying things like “Sorry, I can’t.  I have to work tomorrow.”  But I also keep telling myself that one day, these jobs will make great material for interviews, when people ask me to describe some of the things I did before I made it big as a writer.  (And of course, these characters and experiences will make great material for my memoirs).  I guess we all have to pay our dues.  Which seem to include a bad cold, sexual harassment, and a boss that uses jazz hands when explaining the store layout.  When it comes too quickly or too easily, you don’t trust it and you feel like you don’t deserve it.  So, if this is what I have to do in order to win a Pulitzer or become the Arts & Entertainment Editor of The New York Times, bring it on.  I’m not afraid of a little hard work.  Waking up at 7:30am on Friday morning, now that’s a different story…


4 Responses to “For This They Pay Me $30/hr? : Job Hunting in New Zealand”

  1. 1 Sun Yi April 22, 2009 at 7:49 am

    This is not the time to choose – that is what my mum said to my younger brother when he decided he was not going to start a factory job last month.

    Giving that the global economy is in downward spiral spin, one should just be glad to be doing something – and thing.

    Good luck and god bless.

  2. 2 Craig April 27, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    Again. I don’t know how you think you can get away talking about the Wilma Flinstone thing without a photo. We did a Tigre thing this w/e and you were greatly missed.

    Hope all is well dude, it sounds as if it is.

  3. 3 tommy November 9, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Hello, I wanted to tell you your blog is a great read. Ive enjoyed it… among countless other things, Youre right on about teaching english. im teaching here in BA , and sometimes it amazes me the amount of complete nonsense i hear myself inventing about the language just to kill time in class , trying to ensure that the student doesnt feel like he is wasting his time, intending to cover up my complete uselessness as an educator. I also love it when the student has to teach me about verb tenses and modal verbs….. we both get to learn a little something !!! jaja keep up the good work !!!!

    Buenos Aires, AR

  4. 4 amyfrances November 20, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    Hi Tommy,

    Thanks for your feedback, and the trip down memory lane. I remember that I used to give a private lesson to a 15-year old girl at her home after school. Basically, I listened to her gossip about her boyfriend while she got an at-home manicure. At one point, I was even asked to give a private English literature class. I assigned my student a short story to read each week, and then went online and Googled interpretations, criticisms, and explanations of the various symbols; all of which I then passed off as my own. But my lowest point was when my boss asked me to give a workshop to directors of a multinational corporation on negotiations and presentations. They were not impressed (though luckily, my boss was).

    I hope teaching English is keeping you entertained, and that you’re having fun in BA!


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