deus ex macchiato

Fabian Bazant-Hegemark's blog

To serve and kick out

If you think your job sucks, try selling newspapers on the street for a day.

Working in service is something that I really like to do as a job. It keeps you grounded, grateful and usually feels like a better investment of my time as, say, working in a call center might. It fuels my extroverted streak and basically means I get paid for bantering and flirting. But not all people who enter a café are nice. I have no problem with “annoying” guests, even though I sometimes wanna shoot them slightly past the moon, but I usually see it as a challenge to try and make someone’s shitty day a slight better. It doesn’t always work. Some people insist on being stupid fucks, severely annoyed by the fact that they have to interact with a waiter to finally get their food and drinks. You can’t please everyone, I guess. But there’s another kind of people who enter the places I worked at, who are less easy to deal with.

I know this exists in other cities as well, but in Vienna there are several groups who organize magazines and newspapers, the best known being the Augustin, which are then sold on the street by registered associates. They are allowed to pocket half of the selling price, and are mostly found outside of grocery stores, greeting the people who buy their bread and butter. But while most people in Austria weren’t hit that hard by the economic crisis that started a couple of years ago, the less fortunate were of course those who already didn’t have a fortune to begin with. And in the last couple of years, more and more of these newspapers appeared to pop up, and more and more people who otherwise might be beggars started to sell Augustin, Mo, or other magazines. Some of them are more aggressive in their sales tactics, not idly waiting for someone to drop a coin in their hat, but now, actually having a product to sell (the magazine/paper), would approach you on the busy Mariahilfer shopping street, or while you’re sipping your Crappuccino at Starfucks. And there are so many by now, that you will find a person in front of every grocery store, in many subway stations, and on most busy streets. Many of them have the same routine, they first ask you to buy whatever magazine they have, and if you’d decline, ask you for change or a cigarette. They can be quite insisting and annoying, and, I know that because I witnessed it, a very few of them would use this opportunity for pickpocketing.

While I never worked in this particular job, I very well worked shitty jobs, and I know that I never did so for the fun of it, but because I couldn’t find an employment that was better paid, or less annoying. I no longer have to live this way, but I am quite aware that nobody works a crap job for fun. They do it to pay their bills, to feed their children (or, in my case, buy donuts). If the country I live in had a working social security system, and in my eyes it doesn’t, at least not in full (where it still might be one of the best in the world for all I know), the folks selling those papers wouldn’t need to do this job. I highly doubt they do it for the glory it brings. The everyday racism in Austria always can’t be fun to endure, and many of these salespeople are immigrants.

But from a host-perspective, letting people steal stuff from your customers is quite the liability. And many owners have decided to not let people who don’t have an official ID by the organization that produces the newspaper in. They are simply kicked out, and obviously, as apart from being embarrassing, this is hurting their potential sales.

I understand the point of an owner: at some places in Vienna, you’d be asked for change about three times an hour if every salesperson would do their walk around the tables. And in the worst case scenario, afterwards you have to call the police because someone’s iPhone is missing. As a waiter, I become something of a bouncer. I don’t care about your shoes and shirt, but if you carry magazines or newspapers, I am not allowed to let you in. (By the way, wouldn’t it be nice if bouncers at clubs would also make coffee? “I can’t let you in with this shirt, but here’s a cappuccino for your trouble!”)

I experienced, as a guest in other cafés, that waiters would verbally abuse the person trying to make a living (e.g. at Café Tirolerhof in the 1st dist.: “I told you to fuck off, we don’t need your shitty newspaper, we get the papers with the mail in the morning”), and this is more than shameful to experience - and if you think it’s embarrassing for me to witness, imagine how fucked up it must be to be the guy who wants five € for a lunch.

While I have to stop them from entering and kick them out if they do, in order to “protect the peace of the patrons” — do they have a right to not be bothered by someone less fortunate? — as a waiter I am maybe one or two steps higher on the socio-financial ladder. I would never be disrespectful against them, no matter how annoying they’d be. At least I hope so. I try. Because nobody works shitty jobs for fun.

What are your thoughts on this?

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