Not Just for the Money

After an extensive yet incredible vacation, everyone started to get into their daily work routines. It was then that reality hit: living here will surely not be the same as vacationing here. Because classes have yet to begin, I decided to get myself a job in the meantime. After coincidentally eating at a restaurant called Tribeca Standard one afternoon, I not only walked out that day with a delicious lunch behind me, but also with a new waitressing job. The training for the next few days consisted of memorizing all the ingredients of each meal, learning all the regulations and procedures of the restaurant, and getting comfortable with serving food and drinks.

I was incredibly nervous when I first started. I remember my first few tables would look at me as if I was completely insane when my hand couldn’t stop shaking as I served their coffee. I don’t know what sparked my nerves so intensely but luckily my Parkinson’s tendencies have rubbed off! The biggest difference to me is how long I work for such a small amount of dollars, which is due to the fact that the gratuity requirement here is only 10%. On an average day, I make about R300 after working from 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. This is equal to about $38.00, which ends up being $3.75 an hour. At first thought, I decided I was wasting my time. Yet, after getting into a regular lifestyle here in South Africa, I realized that I can do a lot more here with R300 than I can with $38.00 in America. Everything is so much less expensive here, especially the food. When I go out to lunch here, I pay about $5.00 for a meal that I would pay about $12.00 for in the States. Therefore, I’m becoming more and more thankful that I can earn that cash each day for extra spending money.

It’s been quite an interesting experience getting to know all my co-workers. They all have such diverse backgrounds and it amazes me how so many different ethnicities and backgrounds can come together under one roof. Because South Africa has 11 different languages, including English and Afrikaans, you can find someone who speaks Sotho, Zulu, Tswana, Ndebele, you name it. Kyria, the bartender is from Congo and can speak French while Mitchelle, one of the waitresses, is from Zimbabwe and speaks Portuguese. At the beginning, there were many times when I felt out of place, especially when everyone would speak their native language to each other, and I couldn’t understand a word. It was the first time in my life that I felt in the minority. I remember they would all talk and look at me, wondering who this new white girl was with the strange accent. However, over the last few weeks, I’ve really gotten to know and love the waitresses and to me, the opportunity to hear their stories every day is much more valuable than making money.

The first few days, I got frustrated with the competitive atmosphere that would erupt when each waitress would quickly approach the customers to lead them to their specific section. There were even a few verbal fights when one waitress stole the other’s table. Yet after really getting to know most of the waiters, I realized that these few tips is what they need to survive every day that they have to jump at each chance to get extra money, even if they have to fight for it.

My favorite part about the job is when people hear my American accent and want to know everything about the United States. Their first question is usually, “Why would you move from America to here?!” I even got into a political debate one day with one of the customers about Obama. People are dumbfounded at the fact that I’ve lived in the States for the past 14 years and can still speak Afrikaans. That’s when I feel grateful that my parents pushed me to continue speaking Afrikaans, when they told me it’s in my blood, and although our residence changed, our heritage didn’t.

Although some days are long and frustrating, this job is one of those unexpected experiences that I’m sure happened for a reason.

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