Tuesday, May 22, 2018


For me it was the second most worst job I ever had, although compared to working in a cold mine or at slave labor it was fine. Part of the problem was I hated sales, although once I opened an account I loved working it.

My boss was the best and worst I ever had. Best because he was ethical and drew clear lines of expectation. Worse because of his demands. When I interviewed he had me talk to a previous employee who could warn me about him. That's ethics

I was living in Boston and desperate to move to Europe. I'd fly to Europe to get want ads. I used directories to send CVs (resumes). I would handwrite the cover letter where required. There were nibbles, but slightly after my 800th there was an ad in the IHT for a sales post in Switzerland, the land where working permits were next to impossible to get..."Someone who is familiar with Digital Equipment Corporation and speaks French and German. We'll get working permits."

Ok my French was barely at French-restaurant ordering level. My German was rusty. I sent a fax and within an hour I had a phone call.

A long phone interview followed. Then a reference check. One of my references became a company joke. The reference was glowing but when my referee was asked if he could say anything bad about me, he said, "She's not very tall."

The deal was the company would pay my expenses to fly me to Switzerland. If they turned me down or I turned down an offer, I would reimburse them.

I was on a plane as fast as I could book and after two days of intensive interviewing, I was offered the job and spent three years hating my job despite living where I loved and meeting people that I liked.

Last weekend, there was a 30th reunion of the company bringing together staff. Some of the people I worked closely with were going. Of the staff, I'd stayed in touch with only a couple.

I didn't want to miss it.

So glad I did. There was a lunch at the Grand Pin, which had been a gourmet restaurant next door to the office, which we toured. I almost felt if I should be on the phone arranging meetings as I stood by the desk in the place of my old desk and looked out the window. The kitchen where I brewed cups and cups of tea for the staff, for no one was exempt from these chores, had a more modern sink and fresh white paint.

The afternoon was on our own. We chose to go to Môtiers, where I'd lived in the company flat.

Changing from a city, Boston. to a village of 600 people and 6000 cows was a greater change than changing countries. But I loved village life and unlike threats I'd heard about the unfriendly Swiss, the owner of the building were I lived took me to village fêtes and invited me to dinner with other locals.

One of our stops in Môtiers was the cave in an old monastery that produced a local champagne although they could only call it method champagne. When I had dinner guests, we would go to the cave, sample and select the champagne to drink with dinner. It was also my duty to take champagne into the office for celebrations coming under the other duties as signed category.

If the cows were country, the villagers did not lack sophistication in their own right. Jean-Jacques Rousseau lived there for three years and was visited by Voltaire, an event acted out in a locally-produced play with the audience walking from place to place where they'd been.

The fabled absinthe that had been created there which had been illegal when I lived there was now legal. A distillery took the place of the former mini market.

I had been intrigued with the mystique of the blue fairy and the posters marking its end. The Swiss one was severe, but across the border, when absinthe was outlawed, the blue fairy was dainty and walked behind her coffin gracefully in the posters marking the end of absinthe (officially--it was made illegally constantly).

Our room at La Maison de Prussien, where dinner was to be held was in the 19th century former brewery, a combination of old and modern among trees and waterfalls.

The meal was a degustation, a few mouthfuls of delight after delight. 

The real delight was having the time to talk with those that I had once been so professionally close to.

It was also a chance to offer my condolences to the wife of the financial head who died much too young at 63. Even when he was behind a glass door I could tell if he was speaking French or English by the movements of his face.

My former co-workers looked like their older brothers and sisters. The most common phrase was "Do you remember...?"

Some of those memories were funny, some sad. Different people had information about other employees or contractors:
  • She has five sons now
  • She lives in Fiji
  • He is now working in the US
  • The time you checked his passport with his luggage and was he mad
My old boss, who I dreaded seeing, had mellowed in his old age. Life had been both bad and good to him. His voice no longer startled me. He has a few health problems, but his attitude is positive. 

I had always respected his ethics and his clear demarcation of how to handle any problem.
  1. The contractor
  2. The client company
  3. Our company
Say you followed the rules, and all would be forgiven, although why you didn't know a problem would occur required a secondary conversation. 

Even though I was midway through my working career, I learned things that I will use to this day in alleged retirement.

And when I had another job, they kept my working permit, allowing me six months of employment until my new company could get me a new permit.

And if because I was an immigrant at the mercy of my employer, I have sympathy for those immigrants with similar problems, although what bothered me, scared me was nothing like a Mexican tomato picker in Florida.

Because of this company, I am Swiss leading a wonderful life. Whatever bad there was, the good overrode it.

One of my memories of the reunion night was how many times I heard, "And then he said, 'she's not very tall.'" 

Is five one really that short? Yes if so many of your co-employees are all tall. But when I walked through the door for that interview so long ago, expectations were set--another thing that was stressed those three years of my life. Set realistic expectations.

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