Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Hunting, Gathering

When an American moves to town, he can be cocky. At least, I was. My first job here was a revelation, and not just because I was teaching for the first time, and loving it. After so many years in New York City, I got to Vienna and suddenly realized that life and work can be quite fulfilling even if you're not living in the center of the universe. Maybe it's even better--more human--beyond the outer rim of Manhattan. The cockiness kicked in a short time later, because I thought, `Hey I'm from New York fucking City!' I thought a lot about the scene in Planet of the Apes where the astronauts land, look around at the cavemen, and say, 'Well, if this is the best they got here, we'll be running the place in six months.'

And it takes a little bit longer, but one begins to deflate a little when he realizes he lacks some basic working skills. Like being able to speak the local language.

Still later, the American starts to believe he is scurrying down the same path other expatriates took before him. 'Didja teach English at Language Borse?' 'Yeah, I did that one.' 'Try tending bar at Der Blarney Stone?' 'Yup, did that too.'

You start to think you're just not the imaginative type.

Then one day you wake up and you think, 'Judas Priest, I gotta get a job or they're gonna ship me out here for high loafing and crimes against the welfare state.'

An American friend I know here is seriously thinking about taking a job at McDonalds.

Those words have all the ominous power of an urban myth. And he knows it. He told me, 'I know it's the lowest you can go, I know it's a traitor job.' But he's got to find a way to support his family. 'One of us has got to be the guinea pig, and I guess it's going to be me.'

And I don't know what to tell him. On the one hand, I admire him for being willing to go there, to do that. I know there's lots of people all over the world who would love to have a job at McDonalds. On the other hand, I know he can do better. In America, he earned 60 to 70 grand a year making art. Here he can't find a thing. Maybe his German isn't good enough. Or maybe it's the color of his skin. I don't know.

I just hope he can hang in there a little longer.

Jeez, Mickey D's.

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