Thursday, February 01, 2007

Sad Duesseldorf Experience and Thoughts on the current work situation in Germany

I had an interview in downtown Duesseldorf* today and had quite a sad experience.

As background information, let me just say that the general work situation here is very different from that of the States. German employees are more protected than American employees in the sense that it's difficult for an employer to lay someone off. Because of these employee protection laws, employers are much more reluctant to actually hire people because they know that once someone's on board, it's next to impossible to get rid of them. Although it's much more difficult to find a job here than in the States, at least you know that when you do have a job, you're relatively secure. Ok... my situation is different** in that the company went bankrupt and doesn't exist anymore. But as long as the company exists, it must take care of its employees.

As a result, there's been a practically exponential growth of temp-agencies*** over the past decade or so. Of course, this is great for the employer: they can test people out before hiring them or can hire someone temporarily. And it's great for the temp-agencies, as they deduct a hefty chunk of your salary. And for your Average Jobless Joe? Not so good, folks. He's gets a temporary position and earns half his salary.

Back to the sad moment in Duesseldorf today. With my suit and high-heels, I must've looked half-way grown-up and professional because I was approached by a sad-looking and somewhat shabby lady.

Lady: "Excuse me, mam?"
Mary: "Yes...?"
Lady: "I'm looking for work... do you need help with cleaning or taking care of your household?"
Mary: *not sure if she's heard correctly* "Excuse me?"
Lady: "I'm just looking for work and am wondering if you have anything I could do."
Mary: "I'm sorry, but I really don't..."
Lady: "Do you have sweet children? I could help take care of your children."
Mary: "No, I'm sorry, I don't... I don't have any work..."
Lady: "I'm just a musician, looking for something else to do as well..."
Mary: "I'm sorry... I can't help... I'm really sorry."

What do you say in a situation like that?

I was so taken aback that all I did was apologize.

When thinking about it later, I realized how deceiving outer appearances can be. She assumed I was older, had things together, was somehow established, had a house, maybe had kids, would be able to hire someone, could somehow give her a job. No! Wrong! Just because I can parade around in a stupid stuffy suit in the downtown business area doesn't mean I have things together. Not at all. I'm young (well, age is relative), don't have things together, am not established, am frequently confused, am not a homeowner, don't have kids, don't have the means to hire someone, and am looking for work myself.

I wanted to give her a hug and tell her that we're on exactly the same level and that I wasn't actually on my way to work, but on my way to another interview... but I was so taken aback and then she disappeared. So I just stood there and could have kicked myself.

Life is so freaking sad and weird sometimes.

*a huge German city with an international airport, about 35 km away from my little town

**as always... me and my situations being weird/different... the Story of my Life. But hey, at least it's rarely boring.

***Zeitarbeitsfirmen, Personalberatungsfirmen

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