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Snakes and Ladders

Before becoming a writer and translator, I tried my hand at a variety of jobs in Barcelona. They gave me an insight into the employment world in Catalonia and helped me learn Spanish and Catalan. Some of my experiences were better than others but, more than twelve years later, I still enjoy pulling them out of my wardrobe of memories to have a chuckle. I thought you might find them entertaining too. This is the first.

My phone rang and I picked up with the customary greeting “Sí?” (yes). A woman on the other end introduced herself as Mireia from an employment agency in a neighbouring town of Barcelona. “We received your CV and think you’d be a good candidate for a publishing house in a city near Barcelona.” I was not overjoyed at the prospect of working in the area, as I had worked there only recently, but decided to go to the interview.

On arriving, I followed the directions I’d been given but couldn’t see anything that looked remotely like an office building, so I called into a nearby bank and asked the man behind the counter if he knew where the address was. Immediately, a smirk flashed over the man’s face, and he answered, “It’s just around the corner. It’s a little hidden from the street but if you look closely there’s an alleyway that goes towards a door, and you’ll find the company there.” I thanked him and he winked at me as I turned to go away.

I found the alleyway, buzzed on a plain white door and was let into a sparse stairwell. I climbed the stairs and pushed open another door into a small and immaculate room. To my left was a huge screen with a naked man and woman copulating frantically. What? My mind did a double take and I stopped, frozen, not knowing where to look or what to do. The receptionist sat at a desk directly opposite me and smiled, pretending not to notice my awkward stance. She said, “Bon día, good morning”. Haltingly, I explained that I had come for an interview. She smiled, “És clar, of course” and told me to sit down on a chair that faced the porno screen.

After a few seconds I realised that, although people were writhing naked on the screen, it was soft porn. There were no close-ups. I glanced around, taking in my surroundings and saw row upon row of soft porn films and magazines. As the reception area was also a throughway to reach different areas of the building, people frequently passed by, glancing surreptitiously at the sex screen. The atmosphere was charged.

An overly formal girl of around my age escorted me upstairs to an office and invited me to sit down. I had an ominous feeling and towards the end of the interview I looked at her squarely and said, “Tell me, how do you feel about working for a company like this?” She looked unimpressed that I’d felt the need to ask but defended her job within the company as a job like any other. I suppose if you work there you must just get used to it, carrying out your professional role or selling products, the same as any other company. But I knew this place wasn’t for me and I told her so, after which I left quickly. Later that day, I phoned the agency and told Mireia in no uncertain terms what I thought about her lack of clarity regarding the job description.

I have never regretted going for the interview. It was an eye-opening experience that forced me to evaluate exactly what I wanted from a job at that time. Interestingly, it took me five seconds to understand that I had absolutely no interest in working there and another ten to openly communicate my decision to the interviewer. I felt good that I was able to make a choice. For some, the experience might have felt like landing on a snake and being forced to go backwards, but, for me, it felt like climbing up a ladder to a new place from where I had a clearer outlook. I’ve never looked back.

About: Genevieve Shaw has been working as a freelance writer and translator since 2006, specialising in health, culture, travel and marketing. To find out more about the services she offers, please visit her website.

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