Happy Thanksgivvukah – A Two Events Deal!

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This year was the first time since 1899 and most likely the last time until 2070 that Thanksgiving and Hanukkah fell on the exact same day. Well, to be precise, it was the second day of Hanukkah (since Hanukkah has 8 days in total). Usually Hanukkah is not one of the grandest Israeli holidays but this year it was a big deal. Why so? Perhaps because one of the most commercialized American traditions was combined with a Jewish holiday. More shopping, more sweet potato latkes, more feasting, and more reasons to call this year… unique.

And how does America feel about this? I know for some Americans (or perhaps most?) it hasn’t been too much of a big deal. New York however, with one of the biggest Jewish populations outside of Israel, has been putting up some serious advertisement and propaganda campaigns regarding the 28th of November. Bizarrely, it had become more and more of a big deal here with the date approaching fast; so that even non-Jewish people (just like me) have been sucked into believing that all of this is a great way to celebrate two big traditions in the year of 2013.

So, in the spirit of Hanukkah and giving thanks, I started celebrating last weekend already. It all started with me attending a traditional Hanukkah, which had been renamed into “Thanksgivvukah,” last Saturday in Jersey City. My friend had made me believe that there will be some traditional American foods and enough booze to keep my mouth shut and my eyes wide open. Sure enough, an ugly sweater Thanksgivvukah was more fun than expected and I even got to learn a few handy backgrounds on why and how Hanukkah came into existence. As far as I recall, it has a lot to do with temples, fast contractors rebuilders, and an ending war – composing another good reason to celebrate for 8 days in a row. Just roughly summarized, of course. Many beers had been had until this thesis formed. And since I had no ugly sweater to show, I had to take pictures of other people’s ugly sweaters. These ones being among one of my favorites!

ugly-sweater-hanukah-party

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Fast forward a few days, and I am attending the Macy’s Parade Balloon Inflation. While I had seen the actual Thanksgiving Parade back in 2010 (and do not recommend this to anyone who wants to be stuck in the crowds while seeing exactly nada because the lady in front of you is wearing a big hat), this event was much more fun to be a part of: Several balloons, including the signature Spiderman figure, being inflated along two different streets. True, the crowds were still humongous – despite the cold weather and rain. But it was nothing compared to the awfulness I had to endure 3 years ago, and seeing the balloons at night time certainly had a different appeal to it, as well. Whenever you are in New York during this time of year, I can highly recommend stopping by the Museum of Natural History and just walking over to this event. It takes part one day before the parade, right across the street from Central Park. And since Barney was massacred during the actual parade, I was glad to have seen him in one piece shortly before. By the way, did you follow his slow “death”(perhaps on TV)? Weird things happening, huh?

Spiderman in all its glory!
Spiderman in all its glory!

Now, on the actual Thanksgiving Day, I was once again invited by a Jewish friend to join into her celebrations. This time, a proper turkey was present (and also a tofurkey for the vegetarians). Aside from the latkes and other Israeli foods, everything was pretty much the same you would find on a typical American dinner table during this holiday: Mashed potatoes, stuffing, home-made cranberry sauce and deliciously warm pumpkin pie. My first proper Thanksgiving party here in New York had only been a year ago (read more on us eating until we dropped here). Compared to the one I attended 2 days ago, I was probably a lot drunker this year and the group was also a bit smaller. 4 bottles of wine had to be distributed evenly somehow. We were a total of 4 people – composing the “leftovers” who had stayed in New York since our families do not live here. It was certainly a fun group and the location was a real winner: Right in Brooklyn Heights, close to Dumbo, and an easy hop to the subway or a taxi afterwards.

Poor Turkey...
Poor Turkey…

thanksgivvukah-celebration-in-brooklyn

Now, Thanksgiving and Black Friday are both over. Luckily for the latter, as I heard some shocking news on Walmart employees getting seriously injured all over the country. But Hanukkah is still on. So in celebration of it, New York continues to show some sparkling signs. One of them being the most significant landmark here: the Empire State Building. It will glow blue and white in the colors of Israel for the next 4 days. Happy Holidays!

Where and how did you celebrate this year? Did you do it via Hanukkah or without?

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On Growing Up Bilingually, Biculturally, and Bi-Nationally

(Note: This is a post for all you who have wondered what I am and where I am from. This is also a post for all of those unaccepting people who still think I am German. But most and foremost, this is a post for everyone seeking an answer to their bilingual identiy.)

German-American-Flag

It’s said that the strongest story you have to tell is your own story. Everyone has a unique history, an original skill set, and a story behind growing up.

I grew up bilingual with an American father and a German mother. Most people who meet me in the US assume I am American. Most people who meet me in Germany assume I am German. I don’t have an accent when I speak either language. My identity is formed of two cultures. I belong to two great nations and wouldn’t want to give this up for a million.

Most of my childhood and teenage years were spent in Germany. But the first language I ever learned was English. My German was horrible when we were down in New Mexico. At the tender age of 4 ½ half years, my family moved over to Bremerhaven/ Germany and I must have had some difficulties in pronouncing German words and speaking it. But when I was six, I joined the local German elementary school. About 13 years later I was to graduate from the German gymnasium with the highest school degree obtainable in Germany. While all my primary education is based on the German school system, all of my secondary is not. I attended American college by choice and was able to finish with a Bachelor’s degree after 3 ½ years of hard studying.

Needless to say, I love my life. It’s said that the strongest story you have to tell is your own story. Well, I think I started off great when being raised in the way I was. In a bicultural family, life is never boring. It’s not only about the language you speak, but the excitement you feel when dreaming about a life in the other country. And just the fact that you are able to take in both without giving up one another – priceless. At a young age, I felt that my family was different than the ones we were typically surrounded by. Sure, you had the normal military families, who moved around a lot and got to see Japan and Guam. But then you also had the German farmer’s families, who were rather sedentary and settled. You also had similar families like us – one parent German, the other American – whom it was easier to connect to. But by far, we were a minority.

Being raised bilingual certainly had its advantages. Getting ahead of others in school during our English lessons, for one. But it was also the recipe for failure as most teachers expected us, my sisters and me, to be perfect when speaking the language and always turned to us when a classmate didn’t know the answer. In hindsight, I don’t know how I would have handled the situation better. It’s impossible for a child or teenager to know every single word in either of their native languages. I realize that now.

Just like learning a new language takes time and effort, so does maintaining one’s native language. So I started working on it. Reading more books, learning the vocabulary. Because just speaking it wasn’t enough, it took more than that. I also had to work to get rid of my German accent when I spoke English. Going to German schools and exclusively living in Germany had brought that out. I sometimes still have one after a longer stay in the motherland. Not so much after a longer stay in the fatherland.

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Another advantage of biculturalism is being able to work on two different continents without the hassles of having to apply for a visa. There is no real language barrier to overcome and I don’t have to pick my companies according to their sponsor ship. I suppose this is real freedom: Two continents to go to and two countries to choose from. Life is easier and less complicated in that matter.

Growing up the way I did is a part of my identity, a part of how I define myself. Interestingly enough, psychological research has shown that you can develop two different personalities when you grow up bilingual. At one point, my German one was more dominating, more in my thoughts. Now I have lived here for so long, I tend to think in English most of the time and act in a more American way.

But in a sense, this two-folded personality has preserved my ability to speak two languages. It is easy for me to switch between either one. It is also easy for me not to forget vocabulary or certain pronunciations. When I observe Germans who have lived in the US for an extended time frame, I see signs of them forgetting their native language (but they still speak English with a strong accent). My guess is that this happens because they don’t have the mental practice or because certain brain circuits did not develop in their childhood. All of these are theories of course, not scientifically proven (yet).

Finding one’s identity is a crucial part of life. Mine happens to be German-American. Like other German-Americans, I am to a certain degree more German than American, with others it can be the other way around. But overall, we pretty much form a culture of our one, taking with the best of both nations and applying it to our own cultural mindset.

While I have never seen myself strictly as German or American, other people show problems when it comes to this. It seems that there cannot be a middle way in some folks’ heads. So this question of identity becomes an “issue” when people cannot comprehend the concept and try to shove me into one drawer: Either American OR German. But life is not only black and white. And we, the German-Americans, are a perfect example of yet another gray zone in reality. My identity is not only formed by language, but by culture and a sense of belonging. If someone were to ask me what I felt – more German or American – I’d say more European. After all, I did grow up over there. But I highly suppose so would most Americans, who’ve lived abroad for almost all of their childhood years.

I look at French-Canadians and how well they handle speaking both languages (although with an accent sometimes). If they do not have a problem with their bilingual identity, neither should we.

If I were to have children, I would want to raise them in a similar way. I wouldn’t want to neglect them the privilege of a bilingual and bicultural home. Life has so much more to offer than one simple country, why not bring them closer to both? There are so many advantages when learning languages from an early age. It comes to you more naturally and with less hurdle and thought process. You just know “this is wrong, this sounds right” from deep down in your soul. And of course it also broadens a child’s horizon. Not to mention the ways it opens to living in two different countries without much legal hassle.

german-american-heart

Celebrating an All-American Thanksgiving in New York

Of course this post was a must! I didn’t get to write one last year, so suffer this year!

Officially, this year was my third year I had the chance to take in one of America’s biggest holiday celebrations in the Big Apple: the one and only Thanksgiving Day. Informally also known as Turkey Day, Stuff-my-Face Event and under other symbolic nicknames.

The two occasions before really did not count: Last year had been quite depressing with a friend flaking out on me, leaving me stranded in a theater and with a depressing movie, and a burger meal at a local bar. The year before last year had been exclusively German as two high school friends showed up, dragged me to the highly overrated Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, and cooked a meal. Therefore, this year offered what I had waited for so long: An All-American Dinner surrounded by friends, good booze, and the chance to contribute in some sort of way.

For fellow Germans, this holiday has no great meaning other than Americans gaining yet another 15 pounds, bragging about being in the kitchen all day long, and watching TV with the whole family. For my family, it has more of a meaning, as we celebrate it regularly, thanks to our bi-cultural household and keeping American traditions alive in a foreign country. The traditions were known to me; celebrating it with anyone except for the family rather not.

I probably would have been a bit more anxious had I not received an invitation to my friend’s party well in advance: Thanksgiving Extravaganza, hosted by three people at a Crown Heights apartment. Needless to say, I was very excited! How could I not be? 10 people had said they would be there, the invite looked great, and the concept was simple: Do not show up empty-handed! True vegetarian as I am, I opted for a veggie casserole and a few bottles of sparkling wine. A reason to celebrate, after all!

Labeling my glass with name and images – hooray!

As the date drew closer, the recipes and plans became more extensive. Typical New Yorkers as they were, half of the guests decided to flake out last-minute with some really lame excuses. “I can’t squeeze in another dinner, I am invited to two others already,” one guest wrote. “If my dog is not invited, I cannot come either,” were the words of another. The list goes on, but in the end, it looked like it would only be 5 meager guests with a shitload of food that had been prepared for way more people than expected.

True enough, as I got to the apartment yesterday early afternoon, the huge turkey was baking in the oven, two sorts of stuffings had been prepared the night before, a huge dish of homemade Mac’n’Cheese was waiting to be eaten, chopped potatoes were about to be fried, collard greens were sitting in a dish…. The list of pure deliciousness goes on! And I had yet to create my casserole out of vegetables meant for more than 5 people. Somehow it all was accomplished, though, with the help of the hosts: A self-proclaimed chef, a hobby baker, and an experienced pasteles creator (this is a Puerto-Rican dish).

Wine and eggnog party

While waiting for the food to cook itself, we started off with eggnog made by one of the friends. Supposedly she had mixed it according to a recipe that was more than 200 years old (or “something ridiculous like that”, as she herself expressed it). Quite strong in taste but nonetheless delicious, this must have been the highlight when it came to drinks. And boy, did we have enough of those! 2 bottles of sparkling wine, 2 bottles of red, 2 bottles of white, eggnog, and more to come as the non-cooking guests arrived, happy to hand over a bottle instead of food.

In the end, it truly did turn into an All-American Dinner: A guy from Baltimore, two girls from Pittsburgh, and a Native New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent. Her idea were the pork and veggie pasteles according to a family recipe, which in the end were never eaten out of lack of stomach space.

Surprisingly, my casserole turned out to be quite tasty, as were the other dishes mentioned above. While the turkey of course could not be amiss, I must have missed somewhere along the line that Mac’n’Cheese is a must when it comes to Thanksgiving. And somewhere in the background, almost forgotten, two pies and home-made peanut-butter fudge cookies waited patiently for their turn to be devoured.

The one and only pumpkin pie!

After two plates I was officially full. My friends tried to squeeze more in by taking turns in lying on the living room floor and waiting until their stomach would magically empty out for the next round. We must have eaten for three hours straight, slowly stuffing ourselves until the point of no return, when three more guests showed up with, alas, more wine: A North-African guy and two French girls. So we had a multi-continental evening after this one, which turned the party around another 180 degrees.

Friend lying on floor

At 11 PM, most of us were simply exhausted. The leftovers, about two thirds of food, were packed away or bagged up, to be taken by some of the guests. Half of the group decided to end the evening in a bar, while the other half had enough. After all, Black Friday was happening and some had to work (including me).

To read more about the ultimate craziness happening during one of America’s most insane shopping days, go to last year’s post. It certainly is still valid today, especially after I carefully evaded the masses at Herald Square when walking to work!

I guess I should ignore the fact that on this day, as on July 4, some friends are sensitive towards the real meaning of Thanksgiving and see it as hypocritical that America celebrates the day extermination was brought upon the Native Americans.

handmade decoration – you trace your hand and cut out the form to get the turkey

The Never-Ending Food Crisis in New York

It’s an issue I have been dealing with ever since I moved here and started buying my own groceries. The first three months were among the most frustrating as I started to realize that this issue would most likely not resolve itself in the way I had intended it to. Because, unfortunately, the human body relies on good nutrition and tasty food. We cannot just live off of crappy 1-Dollar burgers and 2-Dollar-milkshakes and expect our bodies not to collapse after such a mistreatment. High cholesterol, weight gain, heart problems, yes, even obesity – all outcomes of malnutrition. Easy enough, isn’t it? Should be common knowledge by now, anyhow. So why is it that the US of A still has not figured out how to lower their prices when it comes to edible and healthy food? Why is it that whenever I enter a Whole Foods I almost get a heart attack not from the food itself but from the horrifying prices that glare at me as soon as I want to purchase a goodie?

At first I was inclined to just brush it off and see the entire situation as a challenge. I had to either

a) get a job that pays enough to not make grocery shopping my main expense anymore,
b) find a store with less expensive prices or
c) eat unhealthy for a while.

Since a) did not come along until one and a half years later, and c) did not sound appealing to 22-year-old me (after all, we aren’t teenagers anymore, we can take responsibility for our actions), it was up to b) to make out the challenge of the day. And boy, did I grow frustrated in those first three months here. I still am sometimes, but not nearly as much as I was back then. One thing you will never get used to in your life is when the quality of food goes down (rather than up). And this is pretty much what I have been going through for the past 2 years and more.

This tasty selection of cheese costs you three times as much here than it does in Europe

My former roommate suggested Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s as a way out. So while my German friend had solved the food issue with simply going to New Jersey’s Pathmark week after week (and not telling anyone about it anymore, since people considered it the “low” end of the food chain), I dove into the challenge of finding out where good produce can be bought. For the sake of body and mind.

Whole Foods is a great store when it comes to discovering the unthinkable (imported steaks from Australia, hello?) and finding overpriced organic food. I once saw Babybels in the organic section and thought it funny if people bought it simply for this reason. Then I actually saw rich, uneducated Americans buy the brand because they thought it was organic and I wanted to boycott the store. Not enough that people only pretend they care what good food is about but they also seem to lack the knowledge of what to look out for when it comes to splurging your income spending your money on something as valuable as nutrition. After all, we are what we eat, isn’t that so?

Trader Joe’s is slightly better. They don’t solely offer organic food and their breakfast selection does not seem as overpriced as Whole Food’s. But you know why that is so? Because it was taken over by a German in 1979 (the owner of Aldi, indeed) and this influence must have carried over to this time. Trader Joe’s can be roughly translated into Händler Johann but it still does not come anywhere close to the prices a typical Aldi or Lidle or even Rewe would offer in Deutschland.

On the same token, I was deeply de-motivated to pursue any shopping activities with Union Market, an overcharged food market here in the Slope. My friend even joked about their prices when he said he had once gone to the store, bought four items, and paid 100 Dollars total. While he was slightly exaggerating, their costs are nowhere close to a bargain and have made me turn red of anger and disappointment many, many times. I now only use them if I want a piece of overpriced cheese (at least their selection is good) and salad bowl basics such as tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers.

Then, finally, after moving in with the Belarusians, a small break came along in the year-long frustration I had endured. They proposed to check out Brighton Beach Market in order to find nutritional basics that are not completely overpriced and still ok. The first winter I was here I went there a couple of times. Since I was on the F, I had to switch trains at some point in time and scurry over the platform to catch the Q going in the other direction. You can imagine that this is less than ideal when you carry two full bags of groceries with you and just want get home immediately. Their food selection was pretty good, though. It made me come back a couple of times just to try out some Russian imports and to get yelled at the cashier’s for not speaking their language. The produce was at a reasonable price (even lower than the Pioneer in Flatbush, where I had been living), so I thought the trip worthwhile. That was before I discovered Greenpoint and the convenience of living on the G train.

You will need all of your pennies to go shopping for food here!

And then the lack of fresh, green markets. The only ones I have been able to stumble upon are the one at Union Square (every other day starting Monday) and the one around Grand Army Plaza (every Saturday). Two green markets a few times a week in this big, big city? You have to be kidding me! In Europe it is a proud tradition to have one twice a week in even the smallest town buried in the deepest woods of rural areas. So what is up with only offering ten tiny stands here in Manhattan and even less in Brooklyn?

Yes, New York offers great restaurants and it’s supposed to have one of the healthiest food choices in the entire USA. I saw this when I visited other cities and was shocked at California’s even higher prices, Chicago’s so-so healthy food options, and Boston’s fattening fast-food markets.

Still, I wanted to cry every time I walked into a grocery store that had a good name and looked at the price tag. 5 dollars and for a small piece of mediocre cheese imported from Europe? No wonder they can charge 40 bucks a pound for the really good stuff! Do people here really do not know how low the production costs are overseas? It seems that not only nutrition is being discussed enough but also other parts of the food circus.

And then what is the deal with not being able to scrape together a single piece of decent bread? Which does not cost more than 5 dollars for a meager loaf? I was finally able to find a good place in Greenpoint. A conservative Polish bakery happens to make breads and bakery goods fresh every single day, hurray! With 2 dollars for a huge piece of loaf, my appetite had been stilled thanks to Syrena.

But my disappointment into the American food market has equally jotted up a notch. I might be lucky to live in such a multicultural city as New York where the options to discover something healthy at a normal price are higher than anywhere else. But what about the rest of America? Will they ever understand how important it is to feed ourselves well?

Biting in the Apple

A fellow blogger asked me not too long ago if New York is worth moving to. Bummer!
While I am still pondering out a meaningful, representable, and objective answer to this question, I will give you a great blog to read. I found it through the expat community, and it was posted on Biting the Big Apple’s site (which is a really insightful blog on posts all about New York, by the way! In case you get tired of reading just my single opinion and stories, do not hesitate to switch over to her!).

So, here we go…:

“When you move to a city, you become meaner.

You are harder. Less optimistic. Tough. Do not make eye contact with anybody in the subway. Read the book you’re kind of halfway through, listen to the terrible music you hope you’re not playing loud enough to hear. Pretend you’re the kind of person whose feet doesn’t move when the train makes a turn. Don’t look up, just push and shove and move. In the city, you are the most important person you know. Dislike and accept that. Walk that way, walk so fast and eye roll when somebody slow is walking up the stairs as you are trying to switch trains. People will ask you for money on trains, drunk people will piss on themselves, babies will cry and you just have to pretend they are not there. It’s a subway. You don’t know anybody.

Strut down the street briskly when you are only getting a bagel, a slice of pizza, or a gin drink that will take the edge off of being alone all the time.

Dress like an idiot. When you end up in the suburbs or you end up home you think ‘why the fuck am I wearing so much black and where did these accessories come from?’ Take a long shower, eat your first big meal without alcohol in years, and try not to brush anything and everything off your shoulder. Find yourself afraid of trees.

Still, in a city filled with so many people, you must not acknowledge them. This becomes somewhat difficult because there are so many interesting and attractive things, most of them wearing plaid or shorts. Grumble while eating a falafel or some kind of street cart food. When somebody talks to you at a bar, coyly laugh when they are a part of the city you just don’t venture to. Know a lot of people, just barely.

Be afraid of ‘nice guys’ because you are no longer nice. Be afraid of things that last longer than two months. Get nervous whenever you enter some part of the town that ‘that guy you hung out with’ lives. The city is big, but it is small. Never see anybody again, except some kid you went to high school with. They have a new haircut and you kind of brag about your life because you are nervous. Send e-mails to people telling you how excited you are to be in the city. Be terrified of your bank account as you furiously eat money with no utensils. Bury your head in your hands when nobody is looking. Think about how stupid you were in college, abandon those dreams and make new ones. Find fog really romantic. Find employment really romantic. Drink on Tuesday nights. Meet people on those Tuesday nights that you high-five but never get their number. Make friends and never keep them. Take personal days in the tiny kitchen that is filled with jarred spices, condiments, and a bag of chips. Learn about sushi. Have a small circle you already knew before you moved here, the kinds of people you always complain about your love life to. Hold onto and love those people fiercely. Find friends of friends you think are cute, get annoyed that you meet people this way like in high school. Have numbers in your phone that you don’t need. Preface those numbers with ‘that night at (bar).’ Find it impossible to meet anybody until you do.

Roll around with that person in a small room in your overpriced apartment. Feel like this is an accomplishment until you feel restless. Feel like being restless is a thing you should feel. Try to fix it by getting a pet. Dance in a stupid club and tell everybody the next day you can’t believe you danced. Have ‘spots’ you think are ‘the usual’ except the bartenders never remember you. Fall in love with a new kind of ethnic food and fall more in love with brunch than you thought possible. Make connections with dogs on the street. Spend too much time contemplating life on long concrete walks. See the sunrise more than you should. Barely see anybody you like during the day. Get annoyed at couples grocery shopping and miss making out in your basement. Forget to buy paper towels and use napkins to clean the table. Take cabs at 3am. Pretend to clean your apartment, pretend you are going to eventually do laundry.

Meet nice people somewhere you didn’t expect. Have a conversation with somebody you never thought you would meet. Talk to somebody out of the blue. Enjoy these moments of fate immensely. Have more faith in humanity than you did when you lived wherever you came from.

Come home late smelling like smoke. Wonder how that happened, but really you know exactly how that happened. Promise you won’t spend too much money, expect free drinks but really only get shitty weather. Send texts to everybody you miss who is not in town because you are nostalgic for everything. Be single, ‘kind of single’, and ‘sort of single’ for months. Find somebody you like enough to watch movies with. Send bills in late. Revel in the fact that this is what youth is. Barely eat fresh vegetables anymore. Loathe the summer because it is too hot and miss it when it is gone. Get to know yourself and be surprised by it. You’d never bite your nails, you think, until you bite your nails. Forget all the great reasons why you moved here, fall in love with the reasons you didn’t think- cool breezes, car honkings, and knowing how to get places. Revel in being alone, revel in learning a city. Hate every job you have. Hate every bar you go to. Love both of these. Love everything. Have really, really good days. Stare at the city like ‘I got this.’ Swear you will eventually leave.

Then you stare at the skyline. Hate it. Be satisfied.”

 

Re-read the post on its original site, published by the original author here. All these people have moved here for various reasons. I am, therefore, still surprised to meet like-minded people when it comes to certain topics. New York is definitely one of these. I am glad that I am not the only one who shares the love-hate relationship to the City, which is so hard to explain to people who have never been here or only visited for 2 weeks.

NYC Job Search Craziness (Part 1)

I went to an interview yesterday. A job interview. My first one in May and one of my first ones of this season. Actually I have been on a constant, enduring, never-ending job search since I came to this lovely place. I remember my crazy first 6 weeks here and the time it took me to sort out less than a handful of (unserious) interviews until I decided to go be a waitress for a while. This lasted for 2 months – waitressing really sucks in New York! After this episode I have been on a long, long, long search for that one lucky spot that will end all of my problems in my life, and leave me with a feeling of eternal happiness and satisfaction….
Well, a job that would get rid of my financial problems, let me live out my creativity, not bore me to death, and not make me work unfair overtime hours would be a good start for now. I haven’t found what I am looking for – yet. The New York City job market is just chaotic, over-flooded with cheap labor, and competitive to a degree that will swallow all your credentials and school degrees if someone else shows up who is willing to do the same job for much less than you could ever afford to haggle down to. And, believe me, it appears that these mysterious phantoms show up just at the right time.
But, to be fair, most of the issues I have seen when being on job interviews can be led back to the actual employers and also the companies that are looking for new employees. I have never seen so many scams and dubious job opportunities than in this city. It did add up to my out-of-failure-you-learn mental image and I feel I have become enriched in the experience of being scammers’ best ping pong ball ever.

I had this time in August and September, before I luckily ended up at my current work, when I literally send out 20 resumes or more each and every day, went on interviews two or three times a day, and even got invited to a second or third round… which I readily declined on most of the occasions. Most of the times I really felt like turning around and just running out of the office, but I put a smile on my face, made it through the tedious process, and now I can share some of the best stories with you! I knew it would pay off eventually!

This one time, I made the acquaintance with a company that was looking for administrative assistants and/or sales people. I thought I’d give it a shot, sent them my resume, and ended up being called in for a so-called interviewing opportunity scheduled the same week. As soon as I popped my head in, I was surrounded by 20 other fellow job seekers, who were eagerly filling out a standard application form in the same room. Boy, did I feel stupid! But I also felt that if I never went through this, I wouldn’t have experienced real American competition. A young man slightly younger than I (and still a college student, I suspected) handed me the same form and I sat next to an expectant-looking girl in a suit who was fervently scribbling down her answers. The form seemed like one of those ordinary ask-question-give-answer-ones and definitely nothing that would get to know me better. After answering some questions about my personality and giving the standard information of high school and college degree (pah, way to go Europe!), I waited for another 20 minutes to pass and until everyone seemed to have finished. The forms were collected and brought to a room right next to ours. After some time a man – an entrepreneur I was guessing – showed up at the door and called two people into his office. One was a tall and competitive-looking Asian guy, the other was a 17-year-old high school student. Both of them were never seen again, so we figured they didn’t meet the company’s “criteria.”

knife set

Then the entrepreneur came back into the room, introduced himself as one of the owners of this outstanding business, and told us that the young guy handing out the forms was the manager of one of his offices. We got a demonstration of how great their business was (it was a firm selling cutlery, specializing on knives for the most part), how far they had progressed within coming into existence (They had supposedly been around for 50 years! Wow, why do Americans think this is a long time? Maybe I should have told them to go compete with our 150-year-old standard businesses we have in Germany!), and how many locations they were able to open up due to their growth due to their outstanding success, of course. I have to admit that the demonstration and speech were both very professional and I was impressed at how many candidates they won over just because of their social skills. Then the older man left us with the college student who knew how to present himself well in front of our gullible group and who was giving us the gist of our future work: Selling cutlery and especially a kit of knives by knocking on random peoples’ doors and doing a demonstration. This method would insure ultimate success because if we were to win these random people over (given the fact they would let a stranger with a kit of knives enter their house), they would refer us to at least ten other people who again would refer us to a list of people and so on and so an. The harder we worked the more people we could meet and the more commission we could earn. Splendid idea! And how to determine which peoples’ doors we knock on? Well, it would depend on where we live and we could go practice in this area. I was residing in a pretty ghetto and not too safe area Brooklyn’s back then; one of those Haitian neighborhoods that scowl at white “intruders” and don’t make you feel good when walking their streets as a stranger. Just imagining the situation of me trying to sell some poor Haitian families quality knives in a socially disadvantaged area really made me laugh!
Then I looked around, noticed that I was the only white person left (there had been another white guy present who had made his way out by pretending he was looking for the bathroom), and formulated an excuse that made me get out of that place as soon as possible. Needless to say that during the entire demonstration no word was mentioned about simple administrative help, but that’s just how they get you lured into their net.

Another time I was invited to a group interview consisting of five candidates and an enthusiastic manager of a well-known insurance company. The interviewer was pretty much alright, but this was my first encounter with those wicked first round/second round interviews they pull off on you. I was the only female next to four male candidates, who just couldn’t formulate their answers right or were anything but convincing in their self-presentation. This was for a job selling insurance over the phone (I know I am good at telemarketing but this is not what I came to New York for) and the manager assured us that our salary would be mainly based on our performance, meaning we could determine our own income without having to deal with asking for pay raises every once in a while. Mhm, doesn’t that just sound like…too good to be true? Well, I ditched this job offer, too, even though the guy invited me for a second round interview only one hour after I left this dubious group situation.

(continued in Part 2)

NYC Job Search Craziness (Part 2)

(continued from Part 1)

There was one point in time during which I had this chaotic week crammed full with 6 interviews – sometimes even two a day. It was nearly as crazy as it sounds. Some were funny, such as when I was invited into the office which seemed to employ exclusively overweight people and where the interviewer was asking me questions so fast I could barely keep up and eventually mocked her by responding in an overly slow manner (I’m guessing she was on a time limit to bring in the next goose). Some were icky, such as when I entered the room which smelled like cat piss and which would have been the place I would have worked at (heck no!). Some were just tedious, some were discouraging, and some were not too much fun.

Many thoughts were rushing through my head after such scam interviews, and the main thoughts were: “Why did I come to New York, what happened to the dreams I wanted to pursue, why is it just so hard to make it over here?” I keep hearing from many people that I came at a bad time, and that it will take a while for the economy to improve. But aside from this I do know people who have found a decent job, who were able to pursue their dream, who have made it here in their own little way. So why does it seem so hard for especially me?! No answers to this…
I thought it would be of advantage to speak two languages fluently, to have experienced both Germany and the States as a home, to be acquainted to both cultures. It seems like New York makes it unbelievably difficult to make this your advantage, your one light you can sway around your head, and to become noticed. Every time you offer your skills, talents, and education, someone finds a point against you. Be it your lack of work history, be it your lack of work history in New York (This is a biggie over here! If you don’t have New York job experience on your resume, you are in a hole you have to dig yourself out first!), or be it the salary issue. This is another point which really aggravates me: So many people are willing to work on minimum wage or beneath even though they could earn well over $18/h. And so many companies offer you a salary you would have laughed upon under different circumstances but now… well, you’re willing to suppress your anger and consider this kind opportunity.

I do have to admit, though, that most of these dubious job offers I found were on…tada… craigslist! Not the most serious platform on the job market, I know. But hey, I even went to interviews for jobs I found on monster and careerbuilder and was not blown away by what they had to offer, either. But in the end I found something the first day of October; I still work there, and I am once again on a job search.

By the way, the interview yesterday was okay. It was for a proofreader position at a translation agency. They invited me to come in for a couple of tests, which were supposed to take less than an hour but which took up one and a half hours of my time. The interviewer was barely interested in my personality and went straight to the testing center. At first I thought they were trying to use my German language skills to get something out of me, maybe a free translation, but, in hindsight, it might have been their usual testing procedure. Either way, I am not too interested in their position anyhow, because it would have not been on a full-time basis and they would have only needed me for a three-month-employment. However, I might have held a door open by emphasizing that if they were to need a translator, I would be willing to chip in whenever they were in the midst of a project. We will see how this goes; I think the interviewer was quite fond of me.

It took me a while to get used to the prospect of either falling for every unserious advertisement out there or to come up with a concept of how to differentiate between serious and false offers. So, to come to an end, I have included a list of things you might want to watch out for when job searching and which might help when you are looking for decent work. It is geared especially towards craigslist, but can also be used with monster, careerbuilder, and other sites.

This is what some words and symbols mean:

Located in Times Square = biggest scam ever
Located in Midtown = probably a temp agency posting stuff like this every day to fulfill their weekly head hunter quota
Looking for recent college grads to fill in numerous amounts of admin positions= see the above point
Pay dependent upon experience = you will start out with the bare minimum, around 10 bucks an hour (sometimes it falls below – I have seen job offers advertising work for crushing $8 (!!!) per hour); and by the way, the expression “pay will accumulate with experience” means about the same thing
Temp-to-perm job = you will be employed for one or two months and then they will substitute you with another candidate; or: they will start you off hourly and then you will have a hard time asking for an annual salary with benefits
No pay raise for another year = we are too cheap to pay you what you are worth and therefore our work mentality sucks
Great benefit package included = you might have a few benefits but for most of the services you will have to pay a high share out of your own pocket; also, most benefits are only available to you after 3 to 6 months or even longer
Salesperson job based on commission = the percentage of what you see on your bank account compared to what you actually sell might be as low as 5 per cent – not very promising, huh?
Job in New Jersey not far from New York = great, now you have to deal with paying taxes for two states, if you reside in New York. Don’t do it if it doesn’t pay you more than enough!
Assist your superior with meaningful tasks and being used to fast-paced environments = you will be doing your supervisor’s job, be paid less than him, and probably scoop in lots of overtime
Occasional overtime might be the case = 12-hour-days or more are the norm, leaving you with 8 actual hours paid per day

A Dozen Roses, Work, and Facebook

My coworker sent me a bouquet of a dozen red roses to my work place the other day. It was awkward.
I guess he was really trying to make a lasting impression, I just wished he wouldn’t have made it with me.

You cannot just walk into the suite we call our office, but you actually have to pass two serious-looking security guards and sign in with the receptionist before they accept a visitor. This coworker of mine had the “splendid” idea to send up a messenger from a random flower store and to let him hand the gift to me in person. So when I got the call that a delivery was waiting for me outside, needless to say, I was very surprised. When I opened the door all I saw was a small Latin guy holding up an oversized bunch of flowers. Too surprised to even think about giving the man a tip, I walked past almost our entire office and was very perplexed as what to do with something I did not expect. A small card was inserted, on which only my name was written out. I had a weird feeling that it was someone I worked with since I had not given out my job address to anyone else. The end of this little story is that everyone who saw me with the bouquet wanted to know who had sent it and it ended up being a slightly embarrassing situation for me because I couldn’t give away the source. The coworker came up to me two days later and admitted that the flower thing had been his idea. His confession was something I had feared all along and something I had been desperately trying to avoid.

I’m not sure what kind of signs I had been giving this person to mislead him in a direction completely steered clear of a platonic friendship. On top of this, instead of being able to enjoy the gift from a so-called secret admirer, the roses just made me feel uncomfortable and not rightfully earned. I hate it when the hopes of someone else get heightened without any deep or romantic intent from my side. Maybe I am seeing this too narrow, lacking a necessary dose of humor, but I work here and I have to see certain individuals on a day-to-day basis.

Something similar awkward happened when I was gone on my trip to Vegas about two weeks ago. I had showed up for work late because my flight to JFK had been delayed for a few hours. A different friend from work had texted me about this absence and I had tried a joke by saying I was still in Vegas, got married to a guy and would be moving back to Europe shortly. She had totally taken it the wrong way and blurted out the story to everyone who wanted to know. I had befriended two girls my age on Facebook who sat two rows ahead of me in the office. What happened next was something I would have never imagined: One of the girls popped open the front page of my Facebook with two of my bosses standing behind her and trying to figure out where I was. This incident crossed the line completely and when I found this out, I deleted both girls right away. It is one thing to be friends and meet up on private opportunities, but it is another to intentionally show a superior a too personal page for his or her eyes.
Is it unprofessional to blog about your coworkers? I don’t know. I know I learned a lesson by letting them too deeply into my personal life and having added them to a Web Site considered my most personal one at present time.

And back to the “romantic” coworker:
We used to have nice talks with each other, now I pass him with my head turned to the other side. It is awkward. I have a feeling that some things should be left undone, some words should stay unsaid. And I cannot avoid thinking that somehow this has ruined a perfectly nice friendship that was just starting to unfold.