In many cases, people are seen only as laborers, not as people. They aren’t treated with respect or dignity. And yet employees are expected to devote their lives to their jobs.
I walked into my first day at my very first job: Local Spicery. The walls, lined with rows and rows of small jars, wafted gloriously, smelling of adventure. My boss, I’ve forgotten his name now, showed me how to work the register. When a customer comes in, make sure to greet them with a big smile. After his instructions, he left, and I was the only one in the store. It was a small shop, with only one employee needed at a time to answer questions and ring up people’s orders. Since hardly anyone ever visited the spice store, I spent most of my time doing homework or opening different jars to smell them.
I worked there for a few months. It was a pleasant job, and I hardly had to drain my social battery due to the few customers and lack of coworkers. After a few weeks, Mr. Boss had decided to spend the day with me to see how I was getting on as the face of his company. He was helping a customer, and I was sitting at the register, my phone hidden under the counter. I heard him say, Cardamom, you know, is said to help with depression. When I looked down to see who had texted me, I saw that it was my boyfriend. He had just broken up with me. A horrible lurching happened in my stomach. I felt very sick, and my eyes began to water. The customer left, and Mr. Boss turned to me. Something about my situation was evidently showing on my face. Big smile, Eve, he said sternly. Ah, yes. Of course, when you’re at work, your emotions don’t really matter. Just make sure you look professional, and greet each customer with a big smile. I spent the rest of the day with my face buried in the cardamom jar.
My next job was a bit more sociable: I was in charge of the appetizers at a small restaurant, almost smaller than the whole spice shop had been. The open kitchen was big enough for only two people: me, and the guy who made the pizzas. Mr. In Charge, let’s call him. Mr. In Charge was always in charge. I, after all, was the small girl who barely looked fifteen. I worked the lunch shift, which ended at 4:30 p.m. However, the dinner shift started at 4 p.m. Each day, that half an hour of overlap never failed to put me in my place. The big-important-dinner-pizza-bros would come in, and begin to aggressively roll each ball of pizza dough, their muscles bulging. When this happened, they would take over my station, and, not knowing what else to do, I would shrink in the corner and stand still for the remainder of my shift. They didn’t seem to bother Mr. In Charge, who, like them, was a middle aged man with big muscles. A woman’s place is said to be in the kitchen, but somehow I didn’t belong here. Not when the professional men came around. At 4:30 p.m., no one would notice that I had left.
I’ve had three other jobs. One of them was at a juice bar, a chain. Seriously the most boring place. People are only there to make money. No one is bothered to do a good job. I also worked at a grocery store. It was better here, but still boring. I then worked at a restaurant that was queer-owned, with an entirely female staffed kitchen. Everyone was nice here, and I didn’t feel like the odd one out, but I was still the youngest, and therefore felt excluded from the work social scene. I did kill about 20 lobsters a day though, so I can’t say it was boring.
This has always been the case for me. Whether it be because I generally seem to be the youngest wherever I work, or because I am the only girl, I never feel properly included. And to think I thought that the school playground would be the only time I felt like this. It feels humiliating to go to work and then go home without having one decent conversation in which I felt valued as a fellow employee. Not to say that people weren’t nice, more so that they didn’t take me seriously. I had begun to normalize myself to this. But it all changed this summer.
I did a two month long internship in County Cork, Ireland, at a renowned hotel and restaurant called Ballymaloe House. I lived onsite in a staff flat with three others. I ran first course, mainly soups, sorbets, salads, and oysters. A lot of the waitstaff were young, if not younger than I was. The kitchen was mainly older, minus the (female!) head chef’s son, who was my age and very cute. We did have a fling. He really was very cute. But anyways. At Ballymaloe, I truly felt included, valued, and respected. Maybe this was because of the Irish hospitality. Maybe it was the fact that it was family run with a female head chef. Who knows what it was. I was addressed as “chef.” I was regularly congratulated on my good work. I was included in the tea time gossip as we all took our breaks in the rose-filled garden. This general environment meant that I actually felt confident working there, which I had never really felt before. I wasn’t always second guessing everything I was doing.
It wasn’t all perfect. There were times when the (male) sous chef would mansplain things to me, saying what I was doing was wrong even when I was just following someone else’s instructions. But overall, working at Ballymaloe felt like what having a job should feel like. As an employee, you should be able to be respected. You should be able to take ample breaks. You should be able to feel confident and in the right place. You should be enjoying what you are doing. You shouldn’t stand out as the only girl, or the only something else, whatever that might be for each individual. As a society, these things should be the bare minimum at a workplace, yet sadly that is not the case. In many cases, people are seen only as laborers, not as people. They aren’t treated with respect or dignity. And yet employees are expected to devote their lives to their jobs. As we’ve discussed in class, the “work ethic” that we are expected to adopt is absurd when you think about it. But, alas, we all have to work like this, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., to live. Maybe, someday, that will change. I hope so.