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A day in the life of a waitress

My day begins when most people have finished theirs. I enter the misty old pub which reeks of stale cigarettes and unwashed cutlery. Before people come to amuse themselves and have a good time and one hears the cheerful clinking of glasses, the place has to be scrubbed clean. So, I roll up my sleeves and pick up the broom. Guests start filtering in one by one. There are the regulars -the guy with the pipe and a newspaper. He comes in and nods as a greeting. Even before he says it, I know what he wants. He gets his cold beer and dives into his newspaper. Then enters the lawyer after a presumably hard day at work, goes to his regular table, flips his laptop open and orders his regular pint of beer.

And then there are other kinds of customers, the alcoholics who start drinking straight after work and go home when I finally throw them out 8 hours later because I need to close the pub.
There are delightful groups of young men and women who are there to have a good time and then the worst kind, single middle-aged men, most of them divorced, who hang on looking for a conversation, or a flirt. After months of experience I still sometimes fall into the trap.

I come from a regular middle class family in India, but we still had a maid to do the dishes, a helper to clean the car every morning, a watchman for the colony we lived in and a driver. Together their salaries were not more than 300 Euros a month. I think of it wistfully as I wash the glasses, sometimes up to a few hundred.

I don’t regret it. I had to muster a lot of nerve to tell my family that I had chosen to do what was considered to be a not so respectable job in India. On top of everything, I am a woman and women from good Indian families don’t just become waitresses and clean dishes and scrub tables.

There is also a lot more to it than just the chores. The job also involves pleasing your guests so they drink more and leave a handsome tip behind. My first tip was zero. The customer wasn’t very pleased. I was new and still had to find my way around, so between the many tables and innumerable customers, I was late with his drink. He was furious. He banged the money on the table and left cursing that I was such a stupid waitress. That was hard to digest.

My boss reminds me at every chance, “Don’t be so cramped, smile and be pleasant, Even if you don’t feel like it. That’s part of your job.” So, I toil and smile while I toil. Not all evenings are bad. There are good ones with pleasant customers. I’d never said thank you or please to a waiter in India. Here, I hear it every time someone orders a drink. And they are so grateful when I bring it. That’s the good part of being a waitress in Europe.

When business is slow, I even have meaningful conversations with interesting people from all walks of life. Above all, I have learnt to be humble. My sore feet are planted firmly on the ground again.

Roma Rajpal

Roma is a freelance journalist and student at the University of Bonn.


07.08.2012 | 9:42