New Zealand Notebook 7 – Being Irish Away

The NZ Festival is a multidisciplinary arts festival which includes a Writers’ Week. With a great line up of national and international writers, I go along to an interactive poetry class with students and lecturers from the creative writing Masters’ group from Victoria University. The event is a little disappointing but the woman beside me, Meryl, is a local writer who I speak to afterwards and learn loads about New Zealand literature from her. She also gives me pointers for applying for work.

 

After updating and tweaking my CV, I hand it out to cafés and bars. Job-hunting is, for the most part, a disheartening affair. There’s a lot of vulnerability and fear in handing in a CV somewhere and then that sting of rejection when you don’t get the role or worse, don’t hear anything back. It seems to rain a lot when I walk around clutching the papers that have my work experience, education, references and contact details optimistically typed on them.

 

Some of my fellow backpackers are in the same boat, emailing CVs, trawling through internet job search engines, calling up recruitment agencies. Ian, a friendly Geordie, has been put forward by his agency for an admin interview.

He has been told to ‘show enthusiasm for the role.’

Mandy from Nottingham recommends that during it, he punches the air and declares, ‘I really love the sound of this.’

 

Gaston is in my new room but I don’t see him because he’s taken on a second job and now works 17 hours a day. When I do catch up with him, it’s on the street.

‘Will you not burn out?’ I ask him.

‘Possibly. But I’ll burn out a rich man in Uruguay.’

The minimum wage here is five times that of his home country.

 

After what seems like an eternity (though is only a few days) I get two call backs for interviews. One is for a hipster restaurant called Havana. Holly, the boss, is sound and she says despite my lack of experience in waitressing, she is considering giving me a trial. The other is in The Establishment, a pub/restaurant/night club that’s Irish owned. I’m interviewed by the owner’s sister and functions manager, Aoife, and the venue manager, Jason. Jason asks me questions about my bar experience in cocktails, shots etc. but Aoife answers for me, brushing him off, saying, ‘She’ll learn all that, it’s grand.’

I have a feeling I’m going to get the job by virtue of nationality.

They give me an immediate trial and offer me the job afterwards.

 

I’m nervous the next day before I start work properly and chatting to Ian in the common room, I spill coffee all over my dress. I hope it isn’t ominous of a future of spilling drink clumsily at work. I change and go down to the bar, get shown the tills again and chat to colleagues. Tom is running a function upstairs and asks me to come up and help. It’s a staff party for a clothing shop and at some point, Tom has to run downstairs. I’m left alone minding the bar for forty minutes and seem to have been forgotten about.

It’s sink or swim.

Thankfully, I manage not to panic and keep it going, learning quickly where everything is and pretending that it wasn’t any other way. When my bosses realise I was abandoned they apologise, but there’s no need. It was probably the best way to start and I feel more competent as a bartender after.

 

When I come home, 11 hours later, my legs are a bit cramped from the standing up which I’m not used to. A young drunken guy is playing guitar in the hall, strumming Blackbird by The Beatles and a bunch of people in Ireland jerseys are huddled round a computer, late night streaming the rugby game.

‘How’s it going?’ I ask.

‘Ireland are winning.’

Always a lovely sentence to hear.

 

Living at the hostel is fun mostly. We have an ‘International Food Night’ on our floor, with people bringing or making foods popular in their countries. I cheat a bit and buy cakes and donuts in the supermarket.

There’s a good spread: French ham cheese toasties, German potato salad and noodles, South Korean chicken soup, British roast and puddings, Canadian poutine, American hot wings, Kiwi fish and chips, Finnish homemade bread amongst other tasty treats.

 

I catch another event at the NZ Festival, this time a journalist and translator discusses the crisis in Ukraine and how it is reported in the West vs. how it is reported in Russia. She explains the different perspectives on the same events from the Western world and the communist world.

I wonder how tied up nationalism and perspective is, whether I feel more Irish in Ireland or when I’m away from home.

 

I get into the swing of working in the bar, my co-workers are patient and friendly. It’s good craic listening to the customers banter. I talk to Aoife about organising an open mic event in the bar. She thinks it’s a good idea but will run it by her brother.

 

I serve an Irish lad one afternoon.

‘Where you from?’ I ask.

‘Offaly.’

‘I only know 4 lads from Offaly, I lived with them in Perth.’ 

‘My brother and my cousin live in Perth,’ he says.

It turns out they were my housemates when I was in Australia!

 

I’m working for St. Patrick’s and feel a bit homesick. Fortunately, the whole of Wellington goes green for the day. Backpackers are in great form and the hostel runs Irish themed competitions. The bars are full and lively. The Kiwis praise our Six Nations win. People dress up and paint their faces with shamrocks. It turns out to be a great night and I’m comforted by everyone being in the Irish spirit of things thousands of miles away from home.

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