Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Thanks, ET!

by Brownie Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 07:14:05 AM EST

I just wanted to say bye to all of you on ET. Soon I'll be news-, internet-, and ET-deprived because I'll be leaving Bulgaria for the States to work long but fun hours. (Don't tell anybody, but last summer while I was doing the graveyards at a convenience store in New Hampshire, my ultimate pleasure was reading the NY Times and the Boston Globe between 4 and 5 am when nobody was in there. I got to appreciate the opportunity to read news with no time and access to internet.)

I also want to say thanks to all of you because bloggers and blogs of high quality seem to be rare. I've learned a lot from your comments and diaries. They've inspired me to read - I remember, for example, skimming with a frown through paragraphs about Spanish party politics to be able to respond to Migeru's diary about ETA's ceasefire announcement. The posts and comments have also been helpful to me for the papers I had to write, especially the ones for my Middle East politics class. And Naneva's post about Bulgaria and Romania's accession prospects saved my life the other day during my comparative European politics exam.

The ET is great not only because of the amount and quality of info it provides, but also because of the politeness of its bloggers. (And their grammatically correct, well-punctuated sentences. Sorry, I don't mean to be snobbish, but nothing is more irritating than trying to get your message across in a poor language.)

All of you: have a great summer and take good care of yourselves. Hope I'll have enough time to join you in September. :)

It was good to be around, and we certainly hope to see you again on board.

I know you are leaving Europe, but you do realize they also have the internet in other, less advanced continents! ;-)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 07:30:17 AM EST
"It was good to have you around"

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 07:30:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do they have internet?:)) Unfortunately, while there, i never get to live at places that have internet. And relying on public libraries for that really sucks.
by Brownie on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 07:38:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Surely the urge to read ET, and to post, will overcome that inconvenience?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 07:42:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, Jerome, YOU have to know this: nothing can override the money-making desire.:) I work so much while in the States, 14 to 16 hours with a day off once every few weeks, that i have no time for anything. And i spend my days off sleeping.:))
by Brownie on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 08:20:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
relying on public libraries for that really sucks.

Oh well, there goes that idea.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 07:48:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]

my partner just got back from goa, where she observed that a fisherman's beach hut could be hooked up to broadband -and skype - in one morning!

and here in umbria italy, they've been dangling it provocatively for years, and never coming through...

porca madosca!  zio pane!

colour us e-dead

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon May 1st, 2006 at 10:03:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hey Brownie.  I've enjoyed your contributions to ET, and I hope you will be back.  As Jérôme pointed out, they do in fact have the Internet in the States... and most public libraries have free Internet access.  Hopefully you'll be able to drop us an occasional update?

If not, please do come back in September and do us a diary about your summer!  I'm really curious to know how it goes.

My mom lives near a beach town where a lot of students from Eastern/Central/Southern Europe work in the summers.  I've always been curious about their experiences, but I always feel like such a nosy parker if i start pestering the waitresses with questions about where they're from....

And I also don't for a minute expect them to give me a completely honest answer when I ask how they like their time in America.  (Since I rarely give a completely honest answer when an Egyptian asks me how I like living here....)

So anyway, I hope you do enjoy your three months, and I hope you can drop us a line from time to time!

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 07:47:09 AM EST
Haha, stormy present. Don't even get me started about my US work experiences. I love them and i love talking about them. I've learned so much about myself and others while doing odd jobs. And i've met some incredible, truly incredible Americans. They have all touched me in a way and helped me change something in myself.

If you feel like reading, here is a story i wrote last year about a striking experience i had in Florida in 2004. It's called "Honey, I happen to be a very intelligent man."

"Lined with palm trees, towering hotels and box-like convenience stores, Highway 98 spans the town of Destin in northwestern Florida. In the summer of 2004, I started working as a cashier in a white Shell store on this highway.  Desperately needing money, I tried hard to impress my colleagues and my manager Todd.

It was easy because I liked chatting with customers or watching them while they rummaged through their wallets at the register.

"Damn tourists, they don't know how to drive around here, that's why we get accidents every day," a customer would say as he grabbed a case of bottled beer from a shelf and looked through the window at the scorched traffic-congested highway.

Soon a tourist would come in to ask how to reach the nearest public beach.
"Go down this highway as far as Hampton Inn," I would instruct, turning then to Todd who completed the directions in a southern drawl.

Tall and athletic, Todd wore his grey Shell T-shirt tucked in and bleached his short spiky hair to cover its recurring grey roots. He repelled the other cashiers. "He's weird and he don't have a life," 22-year-old Kristy told me.

Unlike him, she did have a life. Every day she arranged her long blond hair in a bun, powdered her plump cheeks, perfumed her throat with cinnamon-scented cologne, and stuffed her fat cumbersome body with burgers. Telling stories from her life constituted an integral part of Kristy's customer service.

"My husband can drop dead. He cheated on me with a neighbor," she informed.
After the customers left, she would turn to me:
"My Mazda fell off the bridge the other day."
"But didn't you come to work with it today?"
"Oh, they fixed it," she replied matter-of-factly. "Speaking of cars, when he's off, Todd parks his Mustang in front of the condos across the street. I seen him a couple of times"
"Oh! Does he see a girlfriend there?"
"No," she responded serenely. "He goes to a condo to observe the store with binoculars. To make sure we're doing things even when he's not around."

Hopefully then Todd could see through his binoculars how I smiled to customers and kept the bills in my drawer organized. When I stayed overtime or helped with stocking the shelves, he praised me lavishly - from "good girl" to "fabulous person". I did it because I needed the hours, but I felt flattered nonetheless. And it proved wrong my mother who called me lazy and unreliable. Now I had one more incentive to work diligently: retaining Todd's approval.

Meanwhile, I learned why Kristy found him "weird". Once, when we were stocking the shelves with soda, he said:
"If these'd been stocked yesterday when they were supposed to, we wouldn't be doing this extra work now. Americans are lazy. They don't realize how many opportunities they have. But you gotta accept people's ignorance and laziness and not take anything personally. When I was 18, I'd punch anybody I was mad with, but not today. I don't get mad anymore. Taekwondo's taught me that. I been teaching it for 15 years, every evening after work."
"Wow, taekwondo!...But can it always keep you calm?"
 "Honey, I'm 42 and I happen to be a very intelligent man," he replied with a smile starting from his blue eyes wreathed by wrinkles and moving to his lips to reveal crooked sparkling teeth.

His smugness amused me.  As I later saw, it contradicted his actions driven by existentialism he had acquired through mental and physical taekwondo training. It was the same existentialism I had learned by reading Dostoevsky and Vonnegut. Our sameness despite our differences fascinated me.

I was glad when I soon started working the graveyard shift by myself because we had more time to talk between 4 am, when he arrived at work, and 6 am, when I left. During the torpid and humid graveyard mornings, in the company of the Gulf Coast Rock Station, I would mop the blue linoleum floor, wash the coffee machine, or wipe the blue veneered counter. Eager to impress Todd upon his arrival, I worked meticulously and with pleasure.

Around four, just after the cleaning spree that left an aroma of pine in every corner, Todd would stride in briskly, smelling of musky perfume.  Sleepy-eyed, he rarely replied to my cheerful "hello!". His morning sullenness disappeared only after he gulped down a cup of a brownish liquid with a distant taste of Arabica called regular American coffee. "The store looks perfect," he would then say. After calculating the night's profit, he would start talking. Taekwondo was a favorite topic.

"You see, it's about cushioning your attacker's negative energy instead of hitting back. It's about sensibly using your power to hurt." Extending his arm, he lightly rubbed with a finger the side of my neck and elaborated:
"I can make you collapse or even die by just touching a part of your body. But I've enough self-control to do that only in extreme situations, if you're a real threat."
"Wow... I never suspected it involves so much mental discipline."
"Yeah, that's why it's not for everybody. I myself am still working on it. But 21 of my students've become world champions! They even showed us on ESPN. You heard of this famous sports channel? I been to Latin America and Asia, at taekwono tournaments."
His glorious stories inflamed my imagination - I visualized myself achieving more of my dreams - so I didn't care if they were completely true. I wanted to hear more.
"So how do you make your students champions? What's one crucial thing they have to know?"
"Trusting their instructor unquestionably. Even when they don't understand completely, they gotta trust me and do as I tell them.  If they don't, I punish them - and I don't accept excuses. They gotta say `I'm sorry Mr. Fullington; next time I'll try better,' and they gotta keep their word."

On another morning, Todd told me about his female companion Snoopy - a sleek white spaniel that could easily switch from playfulness to obedience depending on Todd's will.
"She's trained very well. I spent all my spare time teaching her manners. Sometimes she gets belted though."
"Belted?! That's cruel."
"No, that's discipline. She needs to understand she can't always have things her way."

But Snoopy' faithfulness did not suffice.
"I'm looking for a woman who doesn't drink, smoke, or curse, is good at conversation, ready to travel with me and able to understand me," he recited, emphasizing each quality from his list by folding an outstretched hand's finger and raising his eyebrows. Then, stone-faced, he added with a level voice:
"But I know a woman doesn't wanna be seen with an ugly guy like me. So if I don't find such a woman, it's ok. I've other important things to sustain me."

Besides his stories and praises, I appreciated Todd's patience with my coffee and oil spills. The former flooded the counter and happened because I put too much coffee in the machine. The latter almost flooded the parking lot and happened because I accidentally turned on a pump.

Thus inured to adversity, the store weathered several days later, right after my departure, Hurricane Ivan's lightnings, floods and gales. But it lived on only for a while, I learned when I recently phoned there. "That's no longer a Shell," a muffled female voice explained.  "I don't have Todd's or Kristy's number. I don't know these people.""

by Brownie on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 08:16:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
NOW you HAVE to come back and post another story!!! :-)You are very observant and you story is very colorful, I sure hope you will write more.

Have a good summer and I am looking forward for you to come back to ET.

by Fran on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 09:55:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
:) Thanks, Fran. I was thinking of writing about a Vietnam veteran i worked with this summer, a grumpy 62-year-old with an indecent sense of humor. You'd tell him you're pregnant, and his response would be, "do you know who's the father?" But i never had the time to do it.

And maybe next time i should deviate from the truth a little bit and avoid the first person. Nothing more boring than writing autobiographical stuff. :)

by Brownie on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 10:09:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Are you kidding - I mean the boring autobiographical stuff. :-)I have an impression is not so important on what your write, but that you write.

You know, your story made me think of 'The Peaceful Warrior' by Dan Millman.

by Fran on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 10:29:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Haven't read that book though several people have recommended it.
by Brownie on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 10:32:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Seconded!  Please write more, Brownie!
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 11:08:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks.:) Unfortunately, for a year i haven't had the time to write similar stuff - only papers and short reviews for my journalism classes. And in journalism, you're only as good as your last story.:))) But i promise i'll have a story when i come back.:)
by Brownie on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 11:25:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Can you tell us where you're going to be?  I have no idea how the process works -- do you arrange your summer job through an agency?

I actually have about five million questions.  I don't know whether to ask them here or wait till you get back...

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 12:04:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll be in North Conway, New Hampshire, where on a clear day you can get a spectacular view of Mt Washington.:) I was there last year. And yes, an agency in your own country helps you apply for a visa. The agency can also help you find a job. In my case, they haven't helped me because i am going back to the job i had last summer.

And feel free to ask. I'd love to answer.:)

by Brownie on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 12:11:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wow.  That is considerably further north than I've ever been in the U.S.  Spending three months in New Hampshire would be quite the cultural exchange experience for me, too.

So I guess I'll start with logistical questions, and then move onto the more abstract ones...

Do you (and/or the company that hires you) pay a fee to the agency that helps you get the visa?  How much is it?  Does someone help you find housing, or do you have to sort that out yourself?  You say you work long hours -- is that by choice, or is it expected of you?  Does the company that hires you pay you the same salary as its American employees?

How do people generally treat you?  (I mean everyone, from employers to landlords to customers to random folks on the street.)

Why do you go to the States for the summer?  (E.g. for the money, for the experience, for some other reason, or for some combination of those?)

Since you're going back again, you've sort of answered another question, which is would you do it again?  Would you recommend the experience to a friend?

Does living in the States make you appreciate some things about home more?  Or want to change things about home?  Or want to change things about the States?

Do lots of people ask you questions like these?

Thanks for your patience, and feel free to ignore any question that annoys you....

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 12:51:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The companies i work for in the States don't pay anything to my travel agency here. But maybe that's because i find the jobs myself. I pay the agency about $600 to help me with the visa documents. (With the plane ticket and some other secondary expenses, it all adds up to about $2000.)

Housing: sometimes the employer offers it. They know ahead of time that you'll be there, so they promise to provide you one (and usually keep their word). In my case, i'll go back to the housing from last year, which i found through friends who had been in the same town. The agency or my employer are not involved in any way.

I work long hours because i have two jobs. And that's a choice. If i have only one job throughout the summer, i won't be able to make enough money to cover my expenses for going to the States and living there. I also need money, actually most of what i make, for my university fee and for supporting myself throughout the year. I work in the States because in Bulgaria i'd never make that much money. Maybe working somewhere in Europe could be equally lucrative - haven't researched.

I've always received the same salary as my American counterparts. I've always been treated nicely by collagues, employees, and most of the people i've met. But that must be because of my charisma.:) Some customers are jerks, but i don't take it personally - i mean in the cases when it really isn't my fault.

I don't know if i'll go after this summer. (This will be my fourth summer there.) Probably yes if i get accepted to grad school - again to make some money. If not, i'll start working in Bulgaria, hopefully as a journalist, what i'm studying for now.:)

At the beginning of my first visit - to Yellowstone, in 2003 - i thought it was all going to be about the money because of the long hours and the hard work. But i was wrong. I learned to enjoy the work. And honestly, most of the time i had fun at work - because of the people, whether customers or colleagues. Listening to the stories of people so different from me is so enriching! Plus, working for the hospitality business has taught me some more manners and other useful things.:)) And the feeling that i can be financially independent from my parents is so great!

Please, if you have more questions, feel free to ask.:)

by Brownie on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 01:33:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for your answers and your patience!

If i have only one job throughout the summer, i won't be able to make enough money to cover my expenses for going to the States and living there.

That's sort of what I suspected.

I work in the States because in Bulgaria i'd never make that much money.

That's pretty much the same thing that a Russian woman told me last summer while I was visiting my parents.  I have to admit, I found it rather astonishing that she could make more waiting tables in a Chinese restaurant in a suburb of a third-rate beach town than she could back home.  Especially since most of her customers were skinflint... er, frugal retirees like my parents.

I have to admit, my gut instinct has been to assume that there's something exploitative about these agencies and summer work visas.  So I'm glad to hear that you're earning the same as American employees, and that you're treated well.  But I wonder... does the agency that helps you with the visa application make any promises about getting a visa?  Does it seem like they have some kind of influence with the US Embassy people who grant the visas?  (Like... does the agency make some kind of guarantee that you'll return to Bulgaria at the end of the summer?)  Do you know of anyone who's applied for a summer work permit without the help of one of these agencies, and were those applications successful?

Thanks again... and I hope you have a good summer.

p.s. I think you're going to make an excellent journalist.  You have a wonderful eye for color.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 02:19:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, the agency does not guarantee you'll get a visa. If you're denied one, they just refund you some of the money. Actually, you can apply to for a US visa on your own. But i guess the procedure is more complicated.

I have heard of employers abusing their foeign employees by not paying them on time, for example, or trying to pay them less than they deserve. But on the whole, from my experience, those seem to be rare occasions. I remember i was so surprised at first how easy it is to work for Americans - in the sense that most of the rules are clear from the beginning, you know what to expect and most of the time people keep their promises. (Not so in Bulgaria.)

I do realize that most of the employers that treated me nicely did not care about me: the smiles and everything were just a front. But then, i've smiled them insincerely too - i guess that's how it works.:)

Part of the reason why it seems like we make a lot of money in the US is the price difference: services here, as well as almost everything else, are so cheap. For example, you get a haircut for about $2-3 and you don't tip.

by Brownie on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 02:32:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I do realize that most of the employers that treated me nicely did not care about me: the smiles and everything were just a front.

Well, that's certainly not unique to foreign employees. :-\

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 03:25:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
yes, be back

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 08:22:54 AM EST
Thanks Brownie for your presence and contributions...and it is nice to hear some very positive feedback about the ET community too!! Y'all come back now, y'hear!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 08:42:41 AM EST
Did you expect anything else but positive feedback about ET? It's amazing how you guys are managing to keep the quality and the good tone. In a way, this is a place of like-minded people. They're not so easy to find in everyday life, you know.
by Brownie on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 09:44:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I certainly hope we haven't seen the last of you, Brownie.  Have a fun Summer in the states, and don't work yourself to death.

I hear you on the comparative European politics class.  I wish EuroTrib had existed when I was taking that class.  (I earned an A, anyway, but it would've made life easier.)

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 11:10:30 AM EST
True, good blogs do make studying easier. I don't think i'll get an A though.:( But i absolutely enjoyed the course and i can still tell you off the top of my head the diffrence between the French and the German constitution.:)
by Brownie on Sat Apr 29th, 2006 at 11:20:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, have a good summer, Brownie!

I will be one of the few students who is not going to the US this summer (I was among the losers who did not get a visa :)). So I'll keep hanging on the EuroTrib and post updates from the Bulgarian sea coast.

And I also wanted to thank gradinski chai for introducing to us the magic of blogging and the EuroTrib in particular- this indeed is an incredible source of knowledge, and an excellent opportunity to talk to people, who really know and want to know even more!:)

I can resist anything but temptation.- Oscar Wilde

by Little L (ljolito (at) gmail (dot) com) on Sun Apr 30th, 2006 at 04:31:10 AM EST
Yes, please post Bulgarian updates.:)) And yes, gradinski chai is to blame for everything. See ya:)
by Brownie on Sun Apr 30th, 2006 at 10:23:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
i loved your contributions, brownie.

your perceptive deadpan style is....

amazing, totally natural, or exquisitely honed i'll probably never know, but whichever, please come back, and keep writing!

hopefully my irreverent parsimony with caps has not stopped you reading this.

good luck on your disingenuous journey into 3d updike!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon May 1st, 2006 at 10:16:02 PM EST

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