Sunday Independent (Ireland)
‘This hard work is worth it to see my dreams come true here’
Brazilian-born Anelise Zanoni Cardoso says she can understand why people want to be in Ireland
IWAS sipping a cup of hot chocolate in a coffee shop in Dublin last week when I heard voices coming from the kitchen. The voices were loud so I could not help hearing, but what struck me was that all the participants in the conversation spoke with foreign accents.
Just from looking at them I could tell that the waiters were all foreigners as well. It dawned on me that there was probably not a single Irish person working in the place, with the possible exception of the owner.
In the last few years, Ireland has become a prosperous island attracting an army of workers from abroad. People dreaming of earning a decent living, looking for an experience abroad or only anxious to run away from their own countries and start a new life. Maybe they plan to be here for a month or two, but end up staying much longer.
I came here last September from Brazil to improve my English and to experience life away from home for six months. Six months away from my parents’ house, learning how to survive without my mum’s cooking, my siblings’ weekend programmes and my job.
I am perhaps atypical in that I did not come primarily to make money; nor do I have ambitions to become an Irish citizen.
But when I first arrived I did take a job in a fast-food restaurant. The money was enough to pay for my rent in Dublin and it mean that my savings would not run out.
As a shop assistant I worked for two months behind a food counter, and it was interesting to be a foreign employee. There I learned how Irish customers are. At first they asked the usual question when they had noticed my appearance and accent: “Where are you from?” The next question was always: “What are you doing over here?”
And when I told them I was a post-graduate journalist, they invariably asked, “Why are you working here?”
I could only answer that it was a life experience.
And that is true. Even if you are middle class and have some support from your family for your trip, it is still worth getting out and finding out about the people you are living among.
Two months preparing sandwiches was enough to learn about the relationship between (mostly Irish) customers and (mostly foreign) shop assistants.
Most of the time, they were friendly, though they do try to talk to you as little as possible; and they do not, as a rule, give tips.
Those who do talk show concern, asking how many hours I had to work and whether I was homesick. And they mostly were polite, saying “please” and “thank you”.
Other people asked funny questions, like, “Do they have monkeys and lions running around the streets in Brazil?” (We don’t.)
But I have to confess that I found people, too, who were, shall we say, assertive — some to the point where I almost wanted to run away.
They would complain about the size of the bread, the size or colour of the cheese; they might wait until you had made and wrapped the sandwich before asking for extra ingredients or to have the sandwich toasted.
One day after I had been working for about six hours, a guy ordered five sandwiches and asked to ‘seed’ six slices of tomato. At first I didn’t understand what he was asking for. Afterwards, I couldn’t believe I was removing seeds from slices of tomatoes to make him happy.
I met a Slovakian girl who has been living and working here for about one year. Helping to stuff 12- and six-inch bread rolls with vegetables and meats in a fast-food shop, she moved to Dublin with her boyfriend to earn enough money to go back to her birthplace.
They want to build their own house in Slovakia and have chosen Ireland as the best place to earn the money to do it. So she must get up early spend the day smiling at the customers while working very hard.
There is no such thing as a ‘sick’ day because if she does not work she does not get paid, she says. And the hours are long. When I asked if she is happy, her eyes filled with tears and she said: “Sometimes, I have to work standing up 10 hours a day. It’s difficult to smile because I’m tired. However, I try to do my best because in the end of the week I get my money. It is worth it for a few months more to see my dream come true.”
When you are away from home it is an adventure, it is fun. You are young; you are learning. Mostly you work hard without grumbling.
You miss family, the food you like best, your friends, partners and all of the home comforts. But this can be a challenge too. Thinking about going home to Brazil helps to keep me going.
But when I think about it — the warm weather, the family, the familiar things — I also think about all the people there who are unemployed, and I can see how it is tempting to try to stretch a working visit of a few months into a year or even years.