Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Long days

"All my life I pack/unpack
But man I got to earn this buck
I gotta pay representation
To be accepted in a nation
Where after efforts of a hero
Welcome start again from zero"

-- Gogol Bordello, "Immigraniada"

It's been awhile since my last update, but I have a good reason: a temporary job this week!  It's only a 10-day contract; seasonal work for a company that sells corporate swag.  In this case, of course, it's large companies ordering vast quantities of Christmas gifts for their employees, customers, and partners.  I've spent this week assembling chocolate- and wine-filled backpacks for what must be every DHL employee in Finland (tomorrow we should finally wrap up this order of 1200 pieces).  I'm only one of at least five other temp employees to help them with their workload, and though it's only a week, I'm working like I mean it and hoping that they might remember me the next time they need some extra help.

It's a warehouse environment, and the atmosphere as well as the other employees are pretty similar to the warehouse I worked at in the States.  Except, of course, that it's heated and quite comfortable even though it remains around -15 C outside.  Everyone I've worked with has been really nice, and almost everyone speaks English to some extent, which is great, though I try to use my Finnish when I can manage with my limited vocabulary.  Actually I think they were told that I only spoke English, because I apparently surprised some people by understanding and speaking a little Finnish.  So much for the secret code language!  One older lady told me in Finnish that she was in the US last year, and is taking and English course - I told her I was taking some Finnish courses, and that we could practice with each other, of course.  The days are long, and start early, but most days allow for some extra hours beyond the standard 8.  I've been staying as late as I possibly can, which means I really don't have time to do anything this week except work, go home, sleep, wake up, and go back to work.  The work is repetitive and tiring, but I'm pushing myself as hard as I can since I know at some point I'll be glad I got the extra hours in.

I feel really lucky to even be working at all: the university's career center, which has been entirely useless so far, as well as the local company JobCafe and the temp agency Adecco, all more or less wrote me off as an illiterate immigrant - despite the fact that I'm actively and perhaps obsessively learning the language, and that I've only been here for four months, most of the experience I've had so far indicates that unless you speak perfect Finnish (how would that even be possible for a foreigner before actually moving here?), your job hopes are pretty bleak.  Scrubbing toilets on a cruise ship seems to be the usual placement for international students.  However, Manpower was different.  I went there because I recognized their name from the States, and figured that a temp agency would be my best bet for a rinky-dink little job to hold me over and help me save up money for my trip to Germany.  The lady there actually gave me a short interview on the spot, and encouraged me to put my CV and info on their website, which I could then apply for with just a click.  She didn't seem to think that my limited language skills would be a problem, since most of their clients are office/clerical environments, which often operate in English.  I immediately went home and applied for this packing job, figuring that I really wouldn't need that much complicated Finnish to put stuff in a box, and hey, I know warehouse ops like the back of my hand.  A few days later (along with some calls to the immigration office, HR, and the university to clarify some details about the number of hours I was allowed to work when on holiday from school).  She has absolutely been an angel in helping me, even calling ahead to this client to ask if my English would be a problem.  And then at some point, I signed a contract, read some employee handbooks, and bam, I've got my own little spot in the economy - for one week and change, at least.

Much of the contract language is similar to that in the US, except the tax situation is a little different.  I had to go to a tax office and procure a document that specifies my tax bracket.  Without this document, my wages end up taxed at around 60%, ouch!  Luckily, if you make under 1000€ in a year, you apaprently don't have to pay taxes anyway, and I'd be hard pressed to earn that kind of money in the next month and a half.

Being in the right place at the right time seems to be how I get most of my jobs.  Thankfully it worked out again this time, and once I get some school projects out of the way early next year, I'm going to have to set my sights on something I can do part-time while taking my Finnish courses.  We'll see how that goes, and if things keep looking up.

"It's a book of our true stories
True stories that can't be denied
It's more than true it actually happened
It's more than true it actually happened
It's more than true it actually happened"


  1. I love that song! It's among my favourite newer Gogol Bordello songs. (I went to see them in Helsinki recently and they played it!)

    I really dislike the "foreigners don't know Finnish durr hurr" thing that you occasionally get from employers and bureaucrats over here; I don't know if it's the recent influx of Chinese and various East African folks (the former in particular seem to have an awful lot of trouble with Finnish structure, and a lot of them are students) or just that the "Finnish is incomprehensible" meme is so deeply rooted, but you do see that whole attitude floating around every now and then. It's such rubbish, and I'd love to see everyone just dispense with it already, because it's entirely unfair.

  2. Ohhh lucky you! I wanted to see them but my friend had this Independence Day celebration instead. That song was enjoying some radio play in the States during the summer and a coworker got me into the band after I got her into Korpiklaani. Similar energy, but with gypsies instead of lumberjacks. It was a nice trading of bands, I think.

    As far as the attitude goes, what I'm seeing from the bureaucrats is way different than the attitude I'm getting from, well, the real actual people at the job. I feel plenty comfortable around them, either speaking English or fumbling around in Finnish. And except for the nearly constant interviews about why I'm here in the first place and what I think about this or that aspect of Finnish life, I feel like I fit in pretty well.

    However, whether I completely lucked out in all possible ways, or whether this actually is the norm around here, I don't have enough info to say quite yet. Either way I feel pretty great about having any job at all.

  3. nice blog. i had one of these when i was visitin finland in the summer last year. now that i'm living here i dont blog at all. keep it up. glad you found work, i got a few looks myself asking for work around lohja this past weekend.