When I was 15, I got my first job at the local Dairy Queen – a job that would continue on and off for the next 8 years of my life (by which I am equally proud and embarrassed).
In those 8 years I ate more blizzards than one should in a lifetime and never, ever got sick of them. To this day I crave an Oreo Cheesequake blizzard on average every day. I am equally proud and embarrassed by this, too.
I dipped cones and sliced bananas and cleaned sticky tables covered in melted ice cream. It was shitty but it was awesome, and it was such a weirdly fun time in my life. But as all things do, the DQ days came to an end and I, somehow, moved on.
I proceeded to do a whole bunch of shit. I graduated Uni. I interned in Africa. I fell in fake love with a guy I met on a trip and in real love with someone else. I started investing in my face moisturizer and stopped investing in my eye shadow collection. I grew up and changed and got a big girl job. I wore blazers and heels and even wore lipstick to brunch a couple times. I lived with people and I lived alone. I discovered Java House and it forever changed my life.
And now, over a decade later – after all of these life changes, both major and minor – I’m right back where I began.
I’m taking orders and making change. Service with a smile. Mopping floors and washing dishes. Over a decade has passed, and I’m back where I started: wiping down high-chairs and correcting my mistakes on the til.
My day-to-day is essentially the same as it was when I was 15 and wearing spindly glasses and high ponytails. Only this time, my glasses are cool and my hair’s in a bun. And this time, I’m working in New Zealand.
But once again, it’s so weirdly fun. Well, for the most part. There are obviously moments that have zero sense of enjoyability. But more often than not, I love that this is what I’m doing. That I’m in New Zealand and scraping by on easy jobs so I can stay here and keep writing.
I’m cleaning a lovely, homey hostel kitchen in exchange for free accommodation. I’m waiting tables and serving coffee at a downtown cafe.
And no, I’m not proud of the work I’m doing. I won’t be adding these positions to my LinkedIn profile anytime soon. But I so appreciate what this experience is.
I love talking to all the hostel guests who are cooking while I’m cleaning. I also love how often they take pity on me and give me free food.
“We have extra?” They say, dangling a pot of veggie pasta in front of my face.
“Want a slice?” He’ll offer, holding open his pizza box.
“I’m SO SORRY we’re in your way! Here, have some curry.”
I mean, who am I kidding? This is hands down the best part of this job.
As for the cafe gig – I love the vibe. I love the people who come in; the people I work with; the Kiwi eye-candy next door. But most of all, I love the coffee culture in NZ.
People enjoy the shit out of their coffee here. They order their flat whites and lattes and long blacks with a jug of hot milk on the side, and then they sit. They sit down to drink it. They don’t take it in a paper cup and drink it on the way to wherever they need to be. They drink it and catch up with their neighbour; they do their crossword puzzle; they simply sit. The morning rush isn’t a line of stressed out business folk heading off to their morning meetings. It’s a line of people who simply want to enjoy their coffee. It’s so nice, and makes me appreciate the coffee I’m sipping behind the counter in between orders. It also makes me kind of homesick, because there are so many people back home I would love to sit with to enjoy a coffee. And it makes me look so forward to doing that again someday soon.
When I first settled in Taupo and started working, I honestly felt kind of sad about it. I felt borderline pathetic; a bit like I had taken ten steps backward instead of one baby step forward. I felt like I had reverted to my 15-year-old self, accomplishing little more in a day than upping my daily step count and mastering the art of small talk. I felt like I was better than this.
But a few days in, I quickly realized that it was actually quite the opposite. I had followed my heart to NZ and was simply embracing all the weird opportunities I was able to have along the way. That my desire to stay here outweighed the fact that I was, perhaps, “over-qualified” to be taking breakfast orders and emptying garbage. That I was definitely not ‘better than this.’
I mean sure, I can do a lot more than this. And I will do a lot more than this. But fuck man – customer service is hard, and makes you so appreciate the importance of being a good human being.
Like, it’s so simple. Just be nice to each other. Everyone here is just nice to each other. They are patient and kind and willing to wait. They aren’t on their phones and they don’t think they’re better than you. They’re just living their lives and letting you live yours. And it’s so fucking nice, and I feel like this is just how I want to live. I just want to be nice to people. And I wish it weren’t so easy to get caught up in my impatience and stress about getting back to whatever I was doing. My phone. Did he text me back? He obviously didn’t. And why the eff didn’t he text me back? And that is so much more important than kindly understanding when the barista gets your order wrong.
So my point is this: I came to New Zealand. I did not know what to expect or where I’d end up – and yeah, in a sense I’ve landed right back to where I was when I was 15. But I’m so different now, and my life is so different now, and I appreciate everything in a new way and for a new reason. I am learning and growing and meeting the nicest old couples who greet me by name and pretend they’re on the newest, trendy diet and the joke is so endearingly funny every time. I have a job that I’m not proud of, but I feel proud of who I am. Of the fact that I know I’m not ‘better than this.’ That maybe it’s okay to appreciate this life that has zero competition and zero stress and zero anything other than busy days with cool people and free scones. I appreciate how happy I am instead of how productive I’ve been.
And most of all, I appreciate the importance of being a good person and really, really, really enjoying my coffee.