There Must Be Easier Ways To Earn A Living

Single Woman Abroad is in Ibiza. Her new column for ER begins here

On Thursday night I did a trial shift in a restaurant in Figueretas. For those of you who have never been to Figueretas, it’s a gaudy beach on the outskirts of Ibiza Town. One of those lurid little resorts, littered with souvenir shops that sell t-shirts depicting women engaging in various metaphors for fellatio (licking lollipops, peeling bananas etc) and bars which sell cocktails with names like Sex on the Beach, Cock Sucking Cowboy and Slippery Nipple. My trial shift was in one such establishment, a restaurant with a menu comprised of a hodgepodge of international cuisine, all prepared in the time honoured tradition of either microwaved or deep fried. Of course, the premises was decorated with the mandatory assortment of decorative Buddhas that are de rigueur here in Ibiza and are sold in every garden centre on the island with absolutely no regard for Zen philosophy and with the highest regard for ‘Elle McPherson welcomes us to her Ibiza hideaway’ in Hello! magazine.

With my bumbling English manners I fluffed through meeting the other staff, unsure of who to kiss on both cheeks and who to greet with an aloof handshake. My Spanish is still rubbish and although I’ve been a waitress for many years, I was consumed by a mixture of nervousness and embarrassment. No matter. Courage is my keyword at the moment. My whole body just wanted to run but I had no choice but to persevere because I need to earn a living somehow. The Head Waiter greeted me with a mixture of belligerence and disdain.

My cognitive behaviour therapist taught me not to ‘mind read’ but I couldn’t help guessing what he was thinking:
You can’t speak Spanish and you’re past it, love. If you were young and fit the language wouldn’t be a problem, but you’re a wrinkly old bitch.

I know. I know. I need to stop projecting.

Just do your best, I thought to myself. Be brave, be polite, do your best with the language and keep going. You need this job.

The Head Waiter talked me through the menu, the tables and the till.

‘I’ll do my best to remember all the table numbers,’ I said cautiously
‘Well, if you can’t remember them you’re no good to us,’ he barked back.
I was hoping for some gentle reassurance like, ‘Don’t worry – you’ll be fine.’

Fat chance.

I spent the night whirling around like Ginger Rogers on speed. Luckily, most of my tables were English-speaking so the language didn’t prove as much a problem as anticipated. The customers were kind and encouraging.

A gay Greek couple called me over to the table as they were leaving.

‘I need your advice: which do you prefer – the gold or the silver?’ one of them asked showing me two pairs of dangly earrings, glitter gold and silver.‘They’re both cute. Depends who they’re for. What sort of colouring does she have?’
‘Similar to you.’
‘In that case, silver.’
‘Actually,’ he admitted, ‘they’re for you. Thank you for the great service. We had a lovely evening. We are on a tight budget but we wanted to leave you a tip. I know it’s a bit unconventional.’
‘I love them! Thank you.’

A pair of mature Spanish ladies were super-lovely and reassured me that I would learn the language and be fine. I messed up their order though and got them the Spanish tapas instead of the Asian tapas because we had been talking about speaking Spanish and I had Spanish in my head (and anyway, the sheer ridiculousness of ‘Asian tapas’ ! What next? German sushi with a little bratwurst rolled in stick rice and nori?) They were very understanding about it and even came over to wish me luck before they left.

Head Waiter was not so lovely.

‘You made a mistake. Didn’t you?’
‘Yes I made a mistake. I’m sorry.’ I could tell he hated me.

Later, I grabbed a couple of plates from the pass, ‘Quickly!’ bellowed the head chef from inside the kitchen. I walked briskly towards the correct table.

‘Don’t put it down!’ commanded my old friend Head Waiter. The waitress who took the order had forgotten to set the table, so there I was standing with a scorching plate of prawns in my hand. I could feel the flesh of my palm slowly searing.
‘Where is it going?’ I asked. No answer.
‘Where shall I put it?’ No answer.

I placed the prawns on what I thought was the correct table.

‘I said don’t put it down!’
‘But my hand is burning,’ I whimpered.

Eventually he let me put the plate down and I sucked up the pain of the scalded palm and continued. So the night progressed, me running around, and Head Waiter barking orders at me. I didn’t even know whether I would receive remuneration for my efforts. After all, it was a trial.

All the time, all I could think over and over in my head was,

What am I doing with my life?

Waitressing can be a fine profession if it’s what you enjoy doing and it’s what you want to be doing. When you’re young and you’re travelling it’s the perfect way to earn money. I enjoyed it for many years, but now I have different aspirations and I’m struggling to fulfil them. Plus on an image-conscious island like Ibiza I’m constantly made to feel all of my thirty-five years. Over here looks count for more than skill and experience.

At the end of the night when my body ached and my soul was sapped my old friend Head Waiter handed me some white paper and a bottle Windolene and pointed me in the direction of the toilets.

‘Um, do you have gloves?’

He looked at me like I was a precious little princess.

‘No gloves.’
‘Ok, no problem.’

I smiled and sloped off. I’m far from a princess and have no issue with cleaning toilets but I do have a problem with things that are unhygienic. Again though, I sucked it up because I needed a job.

My real ambition is to become a writer. A writer who earns a decent living from her words.

For some reason I have always perceived that writing as a career is impossible for me or beyond my grasp, but as I was standing outside the gents toilets waiting for an intoxicated Dutchman to finish his massive coke shit so I could go in and clean before Head Waiter shouted at me again, it occurred to me that writing isn’t a hard profession.

Waitressing is a bloody hard profession. I’ve been doing the hard work every damn day of my adult life. And that’s why I sat in a cafe with a beer and began writing this. It was comparatively easy.

(In case you’re wondering, I didn’t get the job. It went to an ebullient 21-year-old German who bore more than a passing resemblance to Marilyn Monroe; in fairness though, she spoke much better Spanish than me. I also got paid for the trial so it wasn’t a complete waste of my time.)

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