Saturday, December 12, 2015

You guys, I'm like an anthropologist now!

There is an immigration phenomenon in Australia called the "work holiday visa," and it has changed the initial conversation we have with people when we first meet them.

Initial Conversation Before Australia:

"Hi! Where are you from?"
"Oh cool! What part?"
"Nashville, Tennessee."
"Country music!"
"Are you a country music singer?"
"Oh. Where else have you lived?"

Initial Conversation In Australia:

"Where is that accent from?"
"I'm from the States."
"Ooh, I was going to guess Canada, glad I didn't get it wrong!"
"Haha. No worries, Canadians are the more polite North Americans, so I'll take it as a compliment."
"[awkward laugh]"


I've been working with a catering company since November, which means I have been coming into contact with a lot of Australians, either as co-workers or as customers, and in my entirely unscientific observations I've found that 85% of the time the Australians assume I've come to their country on a work holiday visa.

Lemme explain what the work holiday visa thing is. Australia offers a no-strings-attached visa to young adults (18-30 years old) who want to come to Australia and bum around and work odd jobs for a year. You don't have to have already been hired, you don't need a sponsor, you can just move to Australia and have a roving gap year. It's not offered to every country, but the list is pretty impressive, and I'd say 90% of my co-workers at this catering company are on a work holiday visa so the thing definitely gets used.

It is my professional entirely amateur opinion that the work holiday visa has had an impact on Australian culture and presuppositions about people like me who have come to their country.

Impact #1. They assume anyone who looks to be under thirty (thank youuu!) is on a work holiday visa, so they feel no curiosity about anyone who is not Australian and also serving them food.

This doesn't just apply to the customers, I've found the same thing with my Australian and non-Australian co-workers, too. The fun part about this assumption is seeing how long it takes for people to realize that I'M A REALLY INTERESTING PERSON! my humble opinion.

If the Initial Conversation goes beyond just finding out my home country, they'll follow up with asking what brings me to Australia. That's usually phrased as:

"So you're on a work holiday?"
"No I'm getting my masters."
"Masters! Wow! In what?"
"Education. I'm a teacher."
"Oh! Why aren't you teaching here?"
"Well, my husband and I are trying to get registered to teach here, but it is a complicated process."
"Why is that?"
"We have to get background checks from all the countries we've lived in and that can take a while."
"Oh yeah I've heard the FBI check takes forever."
"It does, and one country we lived in doesn't even DO background checks for non-residents."
" many countries have you lived in?"

And BAM! I've snagged them! mwahaha

Sometimes it's the fact that I have a husband that snags them.

"Wait, you're married?!"
"For how long?"
"Seven years."
"SEVEN YEARS?! You don't look old enough to have been married seven years!"
"Thank you! [hair flip]"
"How old are you?"

And then they usually go on and on about how youthful I look and ask me about my skincare regimen---ok, that's not true, it's usually followed with

"Why are you working at a catering company?!"

Fair enough.

The post-initial conversations have many paths, but the point is that because of the work holiday visa, I think Australia is usually people's first international home, so no one asks where else I've lived. I realize that because of our profession as international teachers, the Initial Conversations in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have naturally gravitated toward inquiry into our previous experience. I just think it's interesting that no one is curious here.

Impact #2. Because the easiest jobs for work holiday visa holders to get hired for involve serving food or just working in a service industry in some capacity, it appears that the vast majority of Australians have never had to work in such positions and have NO IDEA HOW TO TREAT THE WAITSTAFF!

With 10 years of experience in 5 different restaurants of varying level of "fanciness" (it's a Michelin category, look it up), I've had a lot of the food and bev industry in my day, and I can always spot the customer that has worked in a service industry. They take note of the waitstaff, say thank you, move their water glass so the waiter doesn't have to go-go-gadget his arm to pour a refill, alert their tablemates to the presence of the waitstaff (especially if she is holding a scalding hot and very heavy plate in her hand and is about to drop it on their designer clutch that is ON THE TABLE DURING MAIN COURSE SERVICE FOR SOME INEXPLICABLE REASON), and use phrases such as, "Can you help me with..." or "Whenever you get the chance..." or "Please."

At the American restaurants, I'd say that there was at least one customer at every table I waited on that had either been a server at one time or had been schooled by a friend who was a server on how to make the waitress not feel sub-human.

In Australia I'm lucky if there is one per shift.

To be clear, the Australians aren't making feel me sub-human, but they definitely don't empathize with the waitstaff as often as I experienced in the States. I blame the work holiday visa. My thoroughly researched and evidenced hacked theory is that because the work holiday folks always take the low-paying service industry jobs, Australians are more likely to go into a career as a first job or something less in-service-to-the-public. Because they've never been a server, they don't know about things like the fact that we get assigned sections of the restaurant or banquet hall to tend to, so you can't just claim me as "your girl," flattering as that is. They also don't know about things like paying attention when food is being served at the table and maybe pressing pause on the conversation that requires you to lean over two table settings and makes it impossible to put a plate down. The most surprising has been how some people react when their conversation gets interrupted repeatedly because a huge line of catering servers is waiting to get past them down the aisle between tables. We really do try to take the path of least resistance, but sometimes it's unavoidable. I've literally had customers see me standing with arms full of plates and they just nod and smile.

I'm not saying behavior like this would never happen in America, I'm 100% sure it does. I'm just recording my anthropological observations for discussion and as a way to pass along a little bit of my experience with the natives of this strange new land.

Tee hee

Vicariously yours,

1 comment:

  1. But if it WERE true about them asking about your skincare regimen, you would tell them about fabulous Rodan+Fields and that, in the fall, they, too, will be able to obtain these wonderful products because your mum can fix them up, right? That's what you'd say, right??