During my first years in Spain and Barcelona, I worked a range of jobs that stood me in good stead for my current profession of writer and translator. My experiences were often colourful and slightly bizarre. Here is a two-part post about working with the rich and famous in Barcelona.
One day, I received a phone call from a company looking for a receptionist. It was an industrial engineering company with only two employees in an area of Barcelona I wasn’t familiar with, and I subconsciously envisaged a tiny dark room, with a couple of men, in a backwater, in the middle of nowhere. The next morning, I was in a hurry and pulled on a shirt and some trousers, scraping my hair back into a ponytail. I knew I didn’t look a million dollars but figured the job interview was probably going to be a waste of time again, and it was with a heavy heart that I boarded the underground and took the twenty-five-minute ride to a side of Barcelona where I rarely ventured.
I walked along the streets, taking in the sounds and smells of Barcelona. Cooking scents wafted down the pavements, and the doors of bars opened and closed, belching out cigarette smoke. The raucous voices of men could be heard as they drank their morning tallat, a strong cappuccino, which literally means a "cut", a coffee cut with a tiny amount of milk.
As I reached the address, I was greeted by a series of floor to ceiling windows, decorated in bold white writing, displaying catchy entrepreneurial phrases about engineering. Lights shone from inside, casting a glow across the grey pavement. I realised that this was not the tiny backwater in the middle of nowhere I had anticipated, and my heart sank anew as I reached out to straighten my hair, regretting that I hadn’t made more of an effort for the interview. I opened the door to a reception staffed by two attractive girls in suits and glanced through some doors into a work area of around twenty people at least.
As I took a seat to wait, I reflected on the fact that nothing is ever as it seems in Barcelona. Why state the job was in a firm with only two employees when quite evidently it wasn’t? I felt mildly exasperated yet expectant at the same time. A nearby door flew open and a woman with long curly hair, big jewellery and a designer suit walked over to me, beaming. As we sat down I couldn’t help but be bowled over by this woman’s larger-than-life presence. She began talking in a thick lilting Argentinean accent. I answered her questions as I contemplated this striking woman before me, wondering how on earth she had ended up working in an industrial engineering company, even if this company were a hundred times more modern than anything I had expected.
I spent twenty minutes answering banal questions about my professional life and then listened as the woman explained what the job entailed. The first thing she said was, "This is not an interview for a job in an engineering company." Intriguing, I thought, reflecting again on the fact that nothing is as it seems in Barcelona. "I run a celebrity agency", she breathed in her soft accent, "And I’m looking for a personal assistant to help me in the office and meet and greet celebrities."
I was hearing her but my head wasn’t really processing correctly what she was saying as I was still trying to figure out why I was sitting at an interview for a celebrity agency in an engineering company. I looked around again and the writing on the walls was definitely related to engineering. As if reading my mind, she leaned over confidentially and said, "You won’t be working here. We’ll be working in my office in xx, you know the area? Anyway, it’s all being refurbished at the moment, so you’ll work here for a couple of weeks until the office is ready. This is my husband’s company. I didn’t advertise the job as working for a celebrity agency as I didn’t want to get star-struck applicants applying. What do you think about celebrities?" I pondered this for a second before answering. "Not a great deal to be honest," I said. "I mean I can take them or leave them, really." She looked at me intently for a moment or two and then stood up to show me out. As I left the building she was already talking to the next applicant, a sophisticated and beautiful African woman, dressed in a suit. “Nice one Gen. You’ve blown that then,” I sighed inwardly as I left the interview, putting it down to experience. I went home making a mental note to always dress up for interviews and to never believe what I was told in the job description.
A few days later, I received a missed call on my mobile. I was in a fitting room trying on a pair of trousers at the time and didn’t manage to yank the phone out of my bag quickly enough. Later that day, I glanced at my mobile again and saw that I had received another missed call. I absent-mindedly dialled to listen to the messages. It was Cristina from the celebrity agency. "Gen," breathed the lilting voice down the phone. "Gen, I’ve been trying to get hold of you. You made such a good impression on me the other day and I’d like you to come and work for me at the agency. Please get back in touch as soon as possible and we can discuss arrangements. Kiss, kiss, un beso". Incredible, I thought. How strange. So, I was going to start working with the rich and famous.
During my time in Catalonia and especially in Barcelona, the world of work has frequently surprised me. Little has been as I expected. At the beginning, I learned to have few expectations, to go with the flow and to view everything as an essential part of life experience. Looking back, I think this is what you have to do when you start out in the world of employment in a new country.