Monday, July 27, 2009

Honest work

I recently heard a radio interview with Anna Sam. If you haven't already heard of her, I suspect her book is going to be a corker. I'm looking forward to reading it. To quote The Independent,
she

was part of a legion of 170,000 French women who are, in her words, “omnipresent but invisible”. She was a “beepeuse” (a woman who beeps) or, more officially, a “hôtesse de caisse” (till-hostess). In other words, she was a supermarket check-out girl.
She began to blog about her experiences, and, when her blog gained stellar popularity, this was repurposed as a book which is about to be translated into seven languages.

Her experiences should have us all playing closer attention to the way we treat the 'invisible people'. During her interview she shared how mothers often tell their children without attempting to lower their voices, that, unless they work harder at school, they're going to wind up stuck in a dead end job like this.

My children encountered similar snootiness at their previous school, where teachers frequently told kids that, unless they put in more effort, they would wind up flipping burgers at [insert franchise name here].

All over the UK at the moment immigrants from Latvia and Poland (among other places) are stacking supermarket shelves and picking and packing in warehouses. They are diligent and conscientious. Relieved to be working when so many are out of work. Some of them suffer abuse from their neighbours who hurl insults (and worse) at them for "coming over here and taking our jobs." Trouble is, said neighbours didn't want those jobs to begin with. To accept work of that nature would be to take on a label they were too proud to accept, because their parents and teachers told them that those jobs were beneath contempt.

Surely the burgers need to be flipped, the bins emptied, the shelves stacked and the merchandise picked and packed? Why should there be shame associated with providing this service? Admittedly, these are not highly paid jobs - they are not particularly highly skilled. But what of that? It's an honest day's work, which is more than can be said for some of the wheelers and dealers in the world of blue chips.

It's an odd society which doesn't want to do the work, but doesn't want any outsiders coming and doing it, either.

2 comments:

Charles Jennings said...

Very good point, Karyn.

Most people don't know it, but the two countries with the highest number of ILLEGAL workers in the UK (as opposed to legal immigrants, which is the case with the vast majority of low-paid jobs you've mentioned) are:

1. The USA
2. Australia

The main reason is because they are 'overstayers' - i.e. came on on a time-limited visa and stayed.

And these people DO tend to take jobs that UK nationals are prepared to do.

However, we don't hear howls of abuse about them. They're usually caucasian and speak (a version of) English, rather than being 'nasty foreigners'.. Are the British xenophobes? Surely 'non'!

Karyn Romeis said...

@Charles I didn't know about those illegal immigrant figures. Thanks for that.

Mind you, like the people you mention, I'm caucasian and speak '(a version of) English'. Unlike them, I am a legal resident with indefinite leave to remain. But I have occasionally come in for abuse. I have been told more than once to go back where I came from, and that it is a shameful thing to do to have taken a job that should have gone to an English person.