#12 // Life in Aus- The worst job interview ever
Torn between jubilation at being back on the Sunshine Coast with Lorrae and Phil and crushing humiliation at having underestimated just HOW HARD it is to get a job in Australia/ both of us somehow missing the existence of a 'low season' (winter) throughout the two months of planning this trip, Nat and I return to Coolum, ready to renew our efforts of job hunting.
After a two hour flight from Cairns to Brisbane, then another two hour connection bus we are back by 10.30 AM and head pretty much straight into town to hand out our CVs. These aren't our normal CVs, oh no, these are specially tailored CVs which cast us as barista/bar-tender/waitress/[insert hospitality-based role here] prodigies. As our situation becomes progressively dire I have been steadily updating my CV to include more and more 'experience' in hospitality, stretching an already tenuous truth into something quite desperate. It is true, I DO have hospitality experience from my gap year five years ago (turned out to be more of a management and communications role though- I think I made about one cup of stir-in coffee and the bar was generally self service) but at this point I am playing this all up as my golden card. I find myself yapping away to several different managers: "It may have been five years ago, but muscle memory is an incredible thing. Once you learn how to pour a beer or make a great coffee you never forget". NOTE: The 'muscle memory' I'm referring to is making instant coffee and pouring a beer from a can into a glass (not that I mentioned that). NOTE TO SELF: Don't mention muscle memory at interviews again.
One manager asks me if I have a lot of experience in making coffee. The one stir-in I made five years ago was probably the last coffee I made, to give you a scale of just how much I DON'T make coffee - I really wasn't joking when I said I am a tap-water connoisseur. I find myself cheerfully panic-responding "Sure I do! I haven't had a professional JOB making coffee, per se, but my boyfriend's family have a very fancy coffee machine which I find myself using all the time!" 'Using all the time' is probably the overstatement of the decade. I have prodded and poked the machine out of curiosity once or twice (under Nat's careful supervision) but once I found out that Lotus biscuits were stored in the drawer below my interest was irreversibly relocated. I also now wonder if I didn't get a lot of responses to my applications because I kept getting confused between bartending and barista-ing, thinking there was a catch-all phrase - so I introduced myself more than once (with a chortle) as a "barista and a barista - a double barista!" (especially ironic seeing as I'm not a barista).
On our second day in Coolum we are back in town and handing out more CVs. Coolum isn't very big. It's got one main street with shops and cafes set a little back from the beach. We are handing out CVs to the same places we've just been less than twenty four hours ago - the only way I could look more desperate would be to tape my £50 bank statement to my forehead. That's when it happened. The inevitable. After another "double barista"-and-chortle introduction, to my utter horror I am invited into the coffee and smoothie shop to "just make a few coffees for customers". I had been hoping that I would get hired before any employers could test me.
I say to Mara the manager "Really? Right now? Are you sure? Looks a little busy! Wouldn't want to get in your way!" (nervous laugh). Mara insists. I say "Uhm just to warn you Mara, it's been a little while since I've made coffee!"- sounding desperate now -"Do you want me to refresh myself and then come back?" Mara laughs and reminds me of my muscle memory comment. WHY CHANIA, WHY? I make my way around the counter to the enormous coffee machine by the till. The moment I see it I know I'm doomed. There are so many spouts and buttons and THERE IS A QUEUE OF PEOPLE WAITING TO BE SERVED. Mara tells me she needs a skinny cappuccino and two flat whites ASAP. It is difficult to articulate the hysterical, hilarious, delirious panic I feel. A small detached voice in my head stands back and muses contemplatively "HUH, so this is what it's like to wish the ground would swallow you up". I have absolutely NO CLUE how to make a skinny cappuccino or a flat white. Not an inkling. I'm not even sure coffee is involved in a flat white. What is that?? A cup of milk poured levelly? I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO. I'm not sure why, but something in me decides that bravado is the only way to handle this. I step forward, loudly commenting "Hohoho! It's been a while!" Apparently my version of bravado involves adopting the laugh of a jovial rotund middle-class man. I want to look busy so I grab a mug, put it under the spouts and press the button which has a steaming cup label next to it. Light brown water comes out. I'm no expert, but this really doesn't look like coffee. By the time the cup is full it looks like water from a slightly muddy ditch. It's not coffee. I furtively look at the other attendant standing next to me and watch what she's doing: she unscrews the small saucepan looking thing with the spouts and empties it into the bin. She rapidly refills it with mushed up coffee beans from the grinder machine and then presses it down with a stamp looking thing, weighs it, and then screws it back into the main machine. This is all done in the space of about fifteen seconds. "Ahar! That's not quite right!" I comment loudly on my own cup of discoloured water. I quickly push it to the side and bustle to try and copy the other girl. It takes me a little while to work out how to disengage the saucepan thing (I am later told by Nat that this is called a portafilter), I get rid of the compacted old powder and refill it with some new ground coffee from the grinding machine.
At this point I can't really remember what the other girl did, but the ground coffee is nearly overflowing the saucepan thing and I don't think hers looked like that. I bang it on the side of the counter to try and even it all out. I am banging pretty hard for a while when Mara looks over my shoulder and says "what are you doing?? We don't bang it like that!" and I notice a tiny indent on the metal counter where the two spouts have hit it. Again, my unexpected bravado swoops in "Whoops! Hoho - must just be a UK thing!" I screw it back into the machine and press the same button as before. This liquid looks WAY more like coffee, and I'm feeling pretty good about myself when I remember that I'm meant to be making a skinny cappuccino and two flat whites. I find the skinniest looking cup (looks like a milkshake glass) and put that under the spouts. Deciding to keep going with the UK-Aus cultural division thing, I ask the attendant what the methods of making a cappuccino here in Australia are. She gives me a funny look and says that you add warm frothy milk, gesturing to ANOTHER spouty thing, except this one is long and attached to the coffee machine. I think this girl is starting to pick up on my incompetent vibe, because she grabs me a metal jug, pours milk into it and then holds it up against the long spout. She gives it to me to take over and I just hold it there until suddenly the jug burns my hand and I get a creamy whiff of bubbling burnt milk. Looking over my shoulder to check Mara hasn't seen that, I add a bit of it into the tall thin glass which is almost full to the brim with dark coffee. That'll have to be the cappuccino. Then I grab a mug and pour the rest of the milk into that. The same musing voice from earlier enters my head, tapping her chin with a finger - "flat white. Hmm... predominantly milk? Milk is white?". I see the other attendant hand over her order of a flat white and notice that it's not entirely white - it's definitely got coffee in it. Damn, hers looks so professional. Panicking and not wanting to go through the motions of making another coffee again, I grab a teaspoon and spoon out some of the coffee from the cappuccino glass into the mug with milk, and then stir that. I get a third mug and splash a couple little teaspoons from my cappuccino cup into that one too. I'm just about to start making more warm milk for my third cup when Mara appears next to me and tells me that that's probably enough and I can go now.
As I'm walking away I look back at what I've left behind - a cup of murky water, a dark brown milkshake glass, one mug of milk with two spoons of coffee and a mug with a teaspoon in it. "It really has been a while Mara!" I laugh loudly as I leave, looking around and noticing that I put the cappuccino in a smoothie glass. "See you around" says Mara with a tight smile. I meet back up with Nat and we head to the beach, where I sob and laugh hysterically at the same time.
Luckily, Nat and I did both manage to find jobs pretty quickly after that. I found work at the local Beach Restaurant waitressing (if you want an amusing read on my lack of suitability click here) and Nat has been working at the local Bowls Club. We have also both been sharing a job at the local fish and chip shop (the irony is not lost on this vegetarian). To equal things out, whilst crumbing the calamari I sometimes like to quote collapsing fishery statistics. I am a bundle of laughs. But in all seriousness - the people we've worked with have all been so friendly, and everyday we have been waking up with huge smiles on our faces because life in Coolum is a bit of a dream. A MASSIVE, humungous, colossal thank you to Lorrae and Phil who have let us live, eat, adventure, have fun and explore with them this entire time. To describe the past two months is just to say that it REALLY has been la dolce vita, involving a lot of delicious meals, beach walks, cycle rides, reading, swimming, movie nights and all of the other good stuff.
or maybe here . I hope you enjoy!