Thinking about relocating abroad as a “trailing spouse”? Some things you should know.


I may use it in the title but I dislike the term “trailing spouse”. To me it describes someone who lets her or himself be carried abroad like a another piece of luggage and from there lives trapped in a semi-stigmatised existence, confined in the role of the housekeeper and the emotional supporter. It might be true that once (you know in the olden days) when couples relocated, the wife was not expected to do much other than support the husband’s career, volunteer in the local community with women in similar situation, and attend weekly get togethers with expat women so she can vent about her expat life.

Nowadays, however, with globalisation having transformed completely the international work dynamics, a spouse should be able to do better than that. First of all, finding work abroad is much easier and much more common. People can work remotely with a laptop and a good internet connection. There is much more mobility, diversity and flexibility. So theoretically the life of the “trailing spouse” has become much easier and uncomplicated.. Right?

In my experience I have met some pretty amazing people living abroad, trying to support their partner’s career while they work hard to find their own decent place in the new society. It usually takes a lot of courage, strength, and dedication to make things happens. Often it is a huge blow to the pride. But you have to work with your self and the personal issues that every one has and find your way.

I know because I am one. Having lived abroad several times for my own sake and ambitions this was the first time I let my partner’s career goals decide where I will be.

Here is the list of things that in my opinion you should consider before deciding to take the leap:

Your motto: good research.

The Country: The country where you relocate can make or break your success story. Being “abroad” in one part of the globe will not be the same as being “abroad” in another. In short, don’t just jump with excitement in the prospect before researching the place. If you move for example in Paris, France you will have a completely different life from if you move in Oslo, Norway. Which means that if Paris is what you have fantasies for and you move in Oslo to have a similar “european” experience you will be disappointed. (the opposite is true as well, desiring to live in the woods and find yourself in the middle of a big chaotic city). Of course in this example i use extremes, Parisean lifestyle is lightyears away from Scandinavian. I know that it does not depend on the “trailing spouse” where the relocation will be but I am only highlighting patterns you should avoid. At the end of the day the connection you personally have with the country and its people will determine your willingness to work hard to integrate.

The Country: Romantic Ideas vs Real facts. You may have already visited the place and find it charming, romanic, refreshing… Only because you have seen it as a tourist. You have done all the cool stuff and somehow that makes you feel that your life there will be like that, a constant amazement. Almost every place in the world can look charming when you are a tourist. But think that once you move there you might not live in the cool city centre because the rents will be just out of reach. You might find yourself in a suburb away from amenities and attractions. When the initial newcomer’s excitement fades, would you like to live in THAT place permanently? Will the transport be convenient to use on a daily basis? What do the people do for entertainment and does that match your expectations? Are you attracted to the culture, people and society?Remember you will be a newcomer there, you need all the conveniences you can get. Is this place what you think it is or a beautiful holiday memory?

The Language: This one is a HUGE HUGE factor. Do you speak the language of the country you are going? If not ,are you willing to learn it? I mean really learn it, beyond ordering “a big cappuccino please”. Your partner will probably be fine speaking in English at work but the same unfortunately will not be true for you. In certain parts of the world many people will look at you in shock,bewilderment and even contempt if you don’t address them in their language. Think that learning the language is not optional when you relocate and especially when you have not already secured a job.

The job: Getting a job in the new country might be easy or difficult. it depends on the place you are, the language, your own field and skills, and in many cases nationality, ethnicity, race etc. (Sad but true. ) If you plan to work asap try to find out what people in your shoes generally say about their experience. Don’t take things for granted. You might be hot stuff in one country and in another get constant rejections. Be prepared, disappointment might come. While volunteering at a swedish shelter I met a girl , a rather fierce go getter from Spain who had moved to Stockholm because of her Swedish boyfriend. She wanted to get a job the next day. You could see she was like a lion in a cage, she was not ready to take the blow to her pride and surrender to the new hard reality where her CV did not get her any interviews. Even the simple task of handing food to the homeless had become for her a competitive task where she had to prove herself. Only a few months later she moved to Germany to work in her field. Having said that there are many well educated professionals who endure much longer than that in order to be with their partners. The reason why I think this example is important is because many people today, especially if they have invested a lot in education and personal growth, lose their sense of identity and self worth once they are removed from their jobs and careers and thus feel lost and disorientated.

Money. This is something you will probably need to sort out with your partner. His or her salary might sound alluring in dollars or yuan but once you calculate your expenses according to the cost of life in the new place you realise that your lifestyle might actually worsen. Plus his salary, if you have no job will be used to support the whole family. Will you be happy to live in a smaller apartment, have no car and depend on your partner for pocket money?

I don’t mean to sound too discouraging. At the end of the day each of us is different and will take the decision considering what they have to give up and what is important to them on a personal level. But you have to be well informed-know what you are in for.

Living abroad can be a very rewarding and unique experience. Plan your “escape” wisely.

And if you try and fail don’t beat your self up. Always kudos to you for having tried.

Thoughts on Motherhood

Lately I have spotted on the news various opinion articles written by women who confess having no regrets about deciding to stay childless. They are usually accompanied by numerous congratulatory comments from other women who have felt the pressure to become mothers for years.

I feel like this leap in human evolution has been the elephant in the room for the last decades but finally women are free to speak out the truth behind desires of motherhood. For one thing, motherhood has been regarded as a natural purpose that is manifested for every woman at some point in her life. If it doesn’t, she is seen as a person “with issues”, someone who is lacking an intrinsic part of femininity and womanliness. Women who declare they do not want children are patronizingly being told that they will change their minds when they get older and then it is going to be too late. I too know women who have regretted their decision to stay childfree. Except that they faced this dilemma a good sixty years ago.

One cannot help noticing that in today’s highly competitive world with unstable economies and relationships as well as a plethora of choices and stimulants, staying childless is something that comes naturally to both men and women and not something they have to fight off. Today’s society after all, celebrates the individual and through the social media encourages self centered lifestyles. The things you do about yourself, in short, and your career achievements are the only things you will be really congratulated for, admired or respected. Sadly nobody will ever appreciate you for the years you spend in dirty sweatpants washing bottles and cleaning like a maniac while humming the tune of Peppa Pig.

There are those of course who use children as a way to enhance their own image. These are usually women who have enough money to pay nannies to raise their children while they pursuit their careers and continue their lives as usual. In that case, the “maternity halo” make them look better in society: they make them look less self-centered and less self-absorbed, more giving and more sacrificing. But these women who experience motherhood mainly through the impression they create on others are not the women I would like to talk about.

Instead I speak of the modern woman that has too many things on her plate. Pretending career and family is an easily manageable choice, like for example my parents’ generation did with the full time voluntary help of their hard working housewives mothers and mother-in -laws is no longer an option. The new grandmas are often either still working or newly retired with little patience and little desire to babysit.

I am a mom and I would not change my daughter for the world. She filled my life with hard meaningful work, sleepless nights and despair, strength, courage and truth. She has been my comrade in this physically and emotionally difficult journey and she has rewarded and punished me with hard all consuming absolute love.

I have however only respect for the modern woman who has also made a courageous choice and has proudly declared she wants to stay child free. As a woman and a mom I understand every single why she might want to challenge the hypocritical over-romanticized idea of motherhood as a life purpose or validation of self worth.

After all that’s the kind of pressure I would never want my daughter to face.

Living Abroad: Are you an Immigrant or an Expat? Cultural Talk.


A thing that has puzzled me for a long time since I left my native country is stereotypes regarding the identity of foreigners and the popular terms Immigrant and Expatriate. In London this was not completely an issue. Every other person I met was a foreigner with a different story and circumstances. You could not describe lots of people with just one term: the human mosaic was too intricate and the relationships too complex. At the same time, like everywhere else, people often valued others based on individual judgments related to nationality and popular stereotypes related to nationalities, career and earnings, looks, religion etc.

In Sweden I find things are more straightforward. There is a well defined line between what is Swedish and what is not, and officially foreigners are perceived as belonging mainly in one group: they are Immigrants. There are of course cultural reasons why the average Swede could warm up to an expat more than he/she would to an immigrant. Also there are subconscious classifications of different immigrants that make some more desirable than others.

Let me explain.

An immigrant is described as “a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country”.
The Immigrant is different from the migrant; the latter defined as “a person who moves from one place to another in order to find better living conditions”.

Even though these two terms have a different definition they are usually used as having the same meaning. Culturally the word migrant often brings in mind images of desperate people escaping war and conflict and trying to reach a safe first world country. The word immigrants evokes more peaceful images, but still is closely linked to poverty, low paid jobs and life in ghettos.

An expatriate is a “person who lives outside their native country”. Another definition that I found online is “an employee who is sent to live abroad for a defined time period”. An expatriate therefore is not perceived as someone who is planning to spend his whole life abroad or get a pension abroad. It is rather someone whose identity abroad is somehow linked to his role in his native country.

An expatriate is usually culturally perceived as someone whose financial potential abroad could well exceed the financial potential of many locals of the country he visits. The word expat brings in mind popular images of white people socializing while sipping gin tonic in membership clubs. Expats don’t really need to learn the language of the country they live in as they work in another formal language and can leave the country whenever they wish. They are very mobile too. Another stereotype about expats is that in majority hold strong passports from financially and culturally “important” countries: the locals can indeed benefit from their presence. (As opposed to the presence of immigrants, whose “foreign cultures” could be seen as a nuisance rather than a benefit).

These silent classifications no matter how inaccurate, superficial and stereotypical underlie the relationships of people. As a foreigner in Stockholm I have been surprised by the various classifications of immigrants and clichés that I have encountered. For example, when I first got here, I was talking to a friendly Swedish woman who was once married to a Portuguese man. When I identified with her experience being married to a foreigner myself (and one that comes from another continent too) she retorted: “But it is not the same! You two are both Latin!” (I am Greek, he is Mexican).

“Latin” therefore is perhaps another definition for the “darker colored Christian immigrant coming from a poor country/hit by crisis with nice beaches to visit on holidays”.

Or maybe it’s much more complicated than that. I never take offense in these observations as I believe we all have our subconscious classifications of people whether they have to do with wealth, career and prestige, gender, beauty and looks, nationality, religion etc. I have seen people in China stop the traffic to let the Scandinavian looking boy pass, staring in awe.

It is a very real and sad aspect of human existence.

The time that it does bother me however is when it messes with my right to compete on equal terms. When I had the job coaching with Arbetsförmedlingen I was promised to be treated like a professional and in the end the person doing the coaching saw no harm done suggesting I became a cleaner. I have the utmost respect for people who clean to make a living a have friends who have done it. But I am not going to enroll myself in a four month job coaching program just to be told in the end that my options are reduced to that. If I need this type of job I can very well get it without fancy ipad coaching.

So even though I absolutely abhor stereotyping I asked myself one day:

“Am I an expat or an immigrant?”

The job coach who read my arbetsförmedlingen post replied in an angry message that I am the latter and came here to steal Swedish jobs. (Ironically she was not Swedish!)

But I, just like so many other people I have met here, I am a number of conflicting things. I am this and that. I am a traveler, a visitor. But I don’t live in a ghetto. I don’t socialize only with people from my country. I am married to a foreigner. Am I here to stay forever? No. Do I have a cleaner and a nanny? No. I live in a one bed 55 square meter apartment.

Living in Sweden as a foreigner you may ask yourself who you are and where you belong. I tell myself I am a hybrid, and other hybrids can feel my identity.

Commenting on the Comment War: The superficial age of outsmarting (dedicated to the Matt Walsh post)

Lately I have seen a number of interesting yet provocative and controversial online posts about different aspects of motherhood. I say controversial because they attract a plethora of online reactions, apparently from people who, judging by the context of their comment, shouldn’t be interested in reading in the first place.

“Motherhood simplified your life? OH PLEASE!!! All my friends became selfish self centered and boring after having kids!!!” on Lauren Laverne’s Having a Baby will simplify your Life or on one of my all time favorite posts by Matt Walsh You are a stay at home Mom what do you do all day? “OH PLEASE!!! I work full time and STILL have to take care of my kids when I go home!! In fact I work all day!!!” or “B***hit My parents are both successful psychologists working full time throughout my childhood and I am SOOO normal!!”.

Of course open comments are meant to do just that, allow people to express their personal views and opinions and thus create and ongoing debate. But very often I do wonder how people read and comprehend an opinion article. For one thing both pieces mentioned describe life lessons learnt, and life discrepancies observed and they are all drawn from sincere personal experiences. And there is something more. In Matt Walsh’s piece for example I love how obvious and yet intangible is his love for his wife. How noble is his desire in his writing to protect her from obnoxious people and defend her against social madness that sees her role as a mother as an obstacle to being someone. And by doing the above declare how invaluable is her contribution to his life and the family. His intention behind his post was sincere and true.

And yet there were numerous comments accurately reflecting the kind of negativity the author observes in his post: Women berating other women and bragging about how busy they are, exactly by doing what he described as confusing being busy with being important. It is their right to do so but it just sad. How can you really reject a piece written with honesty and love that reflects the soul of the writer?

Ernest Hemingway had said about writing “All you have to do is write one true sentence, write the truest sentence that you know.” What can be truer than a reflection of one’s soul? Because today we are continuously being drawn to the idea that one version of truth does not exist. All our thoughts and beliefs can be refuted. Even though that applies to many essential philosophical questions, it sadly also applies to moral responsibility. We have seen it in politics, society, tv shows. Being the bad guy is socially acceptable, even desirable. There are after all always two sides of the same coin.

But there is something true. It is what comes from your soul. I don’t believe all people have a soul, even though in theory they are supposed to. But to write a “true sentence” you have to have a reader that will read it with “truth”. A reader with soul. One that will not seek to destroy it with popular punch lines that reflect what is socially acceptable.

I do enjoy writing and reading comments as well as online debates. But I do wish fellow readers and writers to always read, think and write with truth.

Arbetsförmedlingen: How to not get a job in Sweden

As an English speaking job seeker in Sweden I got acquainted with Arbetsförmedlingen  , the official governmental employment agency.  To be honest some non local friends had warned me against registering for Job Coaching, as it would be a waste of time. But having recently obtained my Personal Number in Sweden and being an active job seeker, I thought it would not do any harm exploring all my options. Besides, an acquaintance recommended a career consultant who, once I were successfully enrolled in an employment program, would help me with my job search.

So it works that way: Once you have your Personal Number you have the right to go to any Arbetsförmedlingen office in town, create a CV on their database and then register as a Job Seeker.  In this application you include the name and details of the professional you wish to have as a Career Consultant or Job Coach, and that person is being contacted by Arbetsförmedlingen  to sign up an agreement with them that he or she will help you with your job search. They are paid by the State to do so, regardless of the outcome. They are paid for the coaching.

Before I tell you my experience I want to make something clear: I applied for the program as an English speaker and having no knowledge of Swedish. I do not claim that it is supposed to be easy for a person that does not speak a country’s native language to compete with native speakers in the local job market. Very much the opposite. But English is the official language of many companies, and in the healthy Swedish economy there are multinationals that do not formally request knowledge of Swedish.  Surely knowing the language of a country helps a lot when you apply for a job, but I repeat, multinationals are happy to employ people fluent in English. So basically it depends on the company and the role.

Day One: I have an appointment with the woman who in the next four months will be my Job Coach. She is a typical Scandinavian woman in her middle to late 40’s, blonde, cheerful and really pleasant to be around. I will call her Ingrid here. You can literally speak to her for hours; she has a very charming personality. She gives me a few tips about how to apply in Arbetsförmedlingen  and urges me to go there as soon as possible to sign her up as my Job Coach. She enthusiastically explains that we will be very busy once she is my career consultant and we will work very hard towards the end goal: getting me a job. She has after all tons of contacts in multinational companies that she could introduce me to.  International people like me are in demand if you know the right people.

“Don’t forget to like us on Facebook” is her motto.

Day Two: I finally have the Personal Number in my hands and I am entitled to register with Arbetsförmedlingen  . I show up at my local branch and I tell the blonde girl at the reception I am there to register as a Job Seeker. The girl asks for my Personal Number and I show her my little precious recently obtained ID Card. “Do you have Clearance from the Migration?” she asks. “But I am an EU citizen” I reply,  ”Sorry you need clearance from the Migration to sign up with us”. “But in order to get my Personal Number I need Migration Clearance and here I have my Personal Number.” I try one last time. “Sorry but unless you show us a paper that gives you Migration clearance we cannot help you.”.she replies.

Not feeling disheartened (I grew up in Greece after all) I decide to take the train and try a more central branch.  My decision is correct: They show me in, no questions asked. My application is handled by a very polite smiling fluent in English Swedish guy.

“So is it hard for someone with no Swedish language skills to find a job here?” I ask at some point to initiate a conversation.

“Not really, it happens, especially with people with good education” he replies kindly and makes a compliment on my CV.

He prints a document with the details of Ingrid as my Job Coach for the next 4 months.

The following four months:

My appointments with Ingrid start shortly after that. She appears to be constantly on the go and super busy with her coaching appointments. Every time I go to meet her she dashes in the room with the air of a businesswoman jumping from meeting to meeting, always looking immaculate in her black fitting suits, and very sophisticated looking holding her fancy MacBook.

Ingrid always has a story to tell. It is either about the good times she nowadays has vacationing in Greece with her Greek tycoon friends or her daughter’s professional skiing achievements. Or her daughter’s Italian vacations on a yacht with her Italian tycoon friends.   Difficult times as well of course. Like when more than 20 years ago she got a cleaning job in a restaurant in Greece. Or her wasted potential and her missed opportunity to become a prominent politician.

Ingrid one day unfortunately is feeling unwell. I show up to find her unusually gloomy and serious looking. She asks me if instead of our coaching I can join a seminar next door introducing Social Media as useful tools in Job Searching. She says the seminar is in Swedish, but would I be kind enough to join just this time and try to understand the basics. Besides, It would be such a good practice of Swedish, she adds. I reluctantly agree to join a group of people who have never heard of LinkedIn before and they appear to listen to the speaker in awe.

But thank God it is nothing serious, her feeling sick was a false alarm and she is back being her old self soon.

Time passes and I have more appointments with Ingrid. Our session usually goes like that: We meet in a private room and then she googles jobs in her sophisticated MacBook computer.  She then recommends roles for me. As a proficient Google Search Engine user I wonder when will we reach the Meet My Contacts part.  She now insists that I enroll in a Swedish language course. “It will help tremendously with your job search” she insists. I agree to do so but at the same time I try to make clear to her that I am not planning to wait around until I become fluent in yet another language in order to find a job. (In the past I have studied around six other foreign languages)

At some point she suggests I meet a girl, a fellow job seeker. “You have the same UK Masters education and you apply for the same International roles! You should definitely meet!” she says one day excited. I do not see how this would help me in my job search (especially in such a small pool of English speaking jobs) but nevertheless I meet the girl in question during one of my sessions. She is a Swede of African origins who is planning make some kind of official complaint for discrimination in the hiring process in Sweden. The girl claims that after submitting numerous job applications she cannot get a job because she is black. As Ingrid admits with honesty,” it is difficult in Sweden for a colored woman”.

I walk with the girl until the nearby metro station. As I expected, applying for the same roles does not exactly make us want to become best friends. “it must be easier for YOU” we tell each other.  I am thinking that if she could give me some of her Swedishness and I could give her some of my rather yellowish skin tone, both of us would have a much a better chance of landing a Swedish job. I am about to share this thought with her when she says goodbye and we part.

More time passes by. Ingrid still googles jobs for me. Our time is almost up now. Using the key word Greek in the search engine, Ingrid shows me a job post hiring a fluent in Greek waitress in a Greek Taverna in Stockholm.

Nothing better than have a nice Greek girl like you serve the food!” she encourages me and adds:

You should not be afraid to try waitressing or even cleaning jobs! It’s a good way to practice Swedish and make useful contacts!” she said one day near the end.

The day of our last session is here. It is almost summer and people already are talking about their Summer vacation plans.  Things have slowed down quite a bit as well.

Ingrid encourages me to keep looking and not lose faith. “Wait a minute, I have something for you” she says and goes to fetch her bag. I then realize that Ingrid is not only a talented PR person, she actually somehow likes me. Coming back she gives me a tiny box.

“A small goodbye gift for you”

And she hands me an eye shadow, silver color.

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook” she reminds me for the last time before I leave.

So folks, that’s my experience with Job Coaching in Sweden .  Definitely not worth the trouble but worth recording it as I just did. The bottom line is there are English speaking jobs in Sweden but a Career Coach is not the way to find them. Nor perhaps is any conventional job searching. Remember you are competing with locals, so you have to apply very smartly  and  only for certain roles and companies. It might seem impossible in the beginning but eventually you will come across the right job posts or even better the right contacts.

Good luck to ya all.

My experience with NGOs and “institutionalized” Help

In the past I have spoken a bit harshly about Ngos. I intend to keep it that way. I suspect that the last thing the human species needs right now is somebody to pick up the pieces. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t support turning a blind eye to pain, loss, or grief. Quite the opposite. I just think that the whole concept of humanity and humanitarian action can no longer be isolated in strict institutional frameworks, manipulated as a political instrument to keep things on an even keel.

Personal virtue, morals, kindness and integrity. These are principles that do not interest anyone anymore in politics or in most professions as a matter of fact. Somehow they are seen as dated principles, linked to dying religious beliefs and truth is they carry an innuendo of embarrassment as well. Yes, embarrassment, because kindness is seen as a form of weakness. Try writing in a job application Cover Letter something like “I am an honest or just person” instead of the equivalent of “I am a corporate slave”. You don’t like where this is going? Ok, let’s move on.

My experience working for a prominent Greek NGO which in this blog I call The Public Sector for obvious reasons has been an interesting one. Its rampant bureaucracy and shocking deliberate isolation had created a surreal Orwellian landscape where extremes of Kindness and Evil existed side by side, making no pretenses. At the same time there was a total absence of grey zones in which a somehow healthy, productive, professional environment can contain the beast inside of us. In there you were likely to meet the most benevolent souls, often ordered around by the ones whose personal demons had found the most fertile ground to run wild.

The good people you met in there were almost definitely good by nature, and their goodness in this restrained and isolated environment was maximized perhaps analogically to the levels of the inhumanity of others. These kind people were kind in all aspects of their lives and obviously treated their friends, spouses and colleagues with respect. Their work helping people in this sense never ended. It was not a mission, a project or a plan but essentially a way of life.

I am thinking that, in fact, this is the only way to go ahead. You simply cannot “help” people 9-5. You can certainly try, but in the long run will not get very far. And once you try to institutionalize kindness, compassion and humanity then you are more likely part of a society that has devalued humanitarian principles.

Another simple example can be drawn from my experience in first world Sweden. A few months living there and I took up a Language Volunteer role for an Ngo helping Immigrants coming from EU countries.(not necessarily EU citizens). At that time, despite my legal rights as the wife of someone who worked full time in Sweden, the bureaucracy was preventing me for months from getting a Personal Number. (The Holy Grail of Survival in Sweden).The majority of Language Volunteers had similar profiles and stories to share: they were mostly well educated multilingual South European (and not only) women who had moved in Sweden to be with someone, either that someone was a husband, a boyfriend or family in general.

They all had more or less the same legal issues that caused great frustration and strain in their lives and relationships. In fact, many of them were not much better off from the immigrants visiting the Center to get food, shelter, clothing, Internet, Communication and legal advice. However what they needed most was a piece of solid legal advice about their pending cases and the shady laws that supposedly covered their rights as EU citizens. I for example turned to the Human Rights lawyer in the Center to ask a simple routine question about how I can deal with my inexplicably pending case. Instead I received no reply. The irony was that, as volunteers, we were asked to perform a number of such phone calls to help visitors to the Center. But we could not get further support for our own cases if we did not give up our status as volunteers and instead ask support as immigrants. Instead we were strongly encouraged every week to attend Free Counseling that was offered to all volunteers. Ironically, venting about our problems for an hour every Tuesday was fully funded and guideline approved, while getting a 5 minute practical advice about how to solve them was not.

Which leads me again to where I started. Personal virtue, morals, kindness and integrity. Can you really be humanitarian by the book? Or does the sole act of helping others conflict with the way our whole system works? Education, experience, planning, funding are always very important. But they are useless when people-leaders especially- lack charisma and integrity.

I don’t object to systematic efforts. But please bring Goodness back in the field and people who genuinely want to help others.

Does your name on your resume matter?

In the last decade various studies and individual experiments have proven that yes, names on resumes do matter when it comes to job hunting in Western countries. Resumes with ethnic, unusual or long names are less likely to be shortlisted and more likely to end up in the trash bin.

A number of jobseekers testify on the web that after months or even years of fruitless job hunting, it took a simple experiment of changing their name on their CV-and only their name- to start getting calls for interviews. Taneesha became Tiffany, and Mohamed became Michael just to find out that the US and Canada workforce need more Tiffanys and Michaels, just as Sweden cannot get enough of Annicas and Svens.

One has to wonder why parents are still inspired by celebrity culture and “uniqueness” if they are not well connected millionaires themselves. Surely when celebrities give their child an outrageous name they don’t expect that this child will ever sit across an HR Manager, sweating under rigid work clothes and hands clasped in mental agony to be asked:

So, your name is Apple?”

Not that it would get that far anyway.

So how do names matter in job search? Given that they imply things about a candidate, which cannot be proven if an interview does not take place, unfortunately they match cultural perceptions and stereotypes. In these short 4 to 6 seconds that a HR megabrain takes to decide if it is a yes or no there is no time for any equality and fairness or “see the big picture” thing at all. In fact there is no time for thinking-period.

Discriminatory as it may be, it is only one in the long list of things that subconsciously or not might matter in the workplace.

The recession world has become the cause for jobseekers to struggle to rationalize their inability to land a job by scrutinizing all their professionally irrelevant traits.

Thus , “Does my skin/eye/hair color or hair thickness and/or height/weight keep me from getting an interview , landing a job or getting a promotion and a salary raise?” Not that this futile self reflection can lead to any real self improvement or any professional and personal confidence for that matter. Instead, realizing how unfair and predictable this world can be will only make you feel paranoid and bitter.

Ignorance after all is true bliss.

Ignore your guilty suspicions and good luck in your job search.

The Perfect Transplant

Skywalker thinks I should make more effort to involve my parents in my pregnancy.

“Ask your dad to touch your belly” he told me the other day.

“That’s not a good idea. He doesn’t like touching people that much.”

“Maybe you can go near him and let him touch your belly by accident.” SW insisted who believes that my dad’s aura is weakened by touching sick people all day and could use some positive energy coming from the baby.

My mother on the other hand touches my belly all the time. She is very happy to caress my belly and speak to it. However when it comes to sharing information and having long mother/daughter conversations, she is not that good.
Lost in her transplantation journals, my mum gets really excited only when a conversation turns scientific. Trying to have the regular chit chat about morning sickness does not really work that well between us.

“So mom, how was it when you were pregnant with me?”

Her face gets an agonized hard expression as if she recalls life in the battlefield: “It was difficult” she says “A day before I delivered I had to sit for my University Exam at Med School. I had so much studying to do. It was such an important exam…” Blah blah blah, she goes on about the exam.

“Did I kick a lot?”

“It was such a long time… I don’t really remember now”.

One last effort:

“So mom, how do you wax the bikini when you are pregnant when you cannot really see down there?”


Finally she finds a way to relate, her eyes light up and her expression changes into that of a happy child that realizes that Christmas is here.

Do you know that the fetus is the perfect natural transplant?” she says with excitement. “It has 50% completely foreign DNA and yet your body does NOT reject it. It is an unexplained miracle of nature.”

The miracle of nature and its scientific dimensions have finally triggered a conversation. I try to adapt and ask more questions or get more involved practically into Science. Like that time I made my family take a pricey DNA test to find out where our deep ancestors come from and how we are genetically related. The only two people that resisted the test were my sister, who believes human DNA could be similarly compared to the DNA of rats, and my dad who could not give a rat’s ass.

“So is it possible to save the umbilical cord after giving birth…? For the future health of the baby…?” Or something like that.

Her eyes light up again: “You can save the umbilical cord blood for the benefit of Science” she gasps “It is very unlikely your baby will ever need it.” and adds:

“It can be arranged.”

So how much you want?? Job Interviews at the Greek Shipping Industry

This is a question that all Prostitutes and Serious job seekers hear way too often. Although certain employers offer a fixed salary that saves people the stress of negotiating their skills and assets, others unfortunately do not. And even though this is a perfectly legitimate question to ask a potential employee, in the age of unpaid labor and in many fields gradual replacement of paid staff by eager interns, I wonder if this is the right question to ask a potential candidate anymore.

In my career in Job Searching I have been asked to give a price many times. As with asking everything else in life, asking for a price can have a positive or negative result. Just ask nicely and no damage is done even when the numbers don’t match. Like that time in Shanghai when I was interviewed by a young American born Chinese entrepreneur. He asked for a number, I gave him one. He kindly and straightforwardly replied this was outside his range. Our interview ended in a dignified way and all I remember now is his beautiful face and not an uncomfortable conversation.

Having been interviewed many times in the UK, China and Greece my experience always varies. My worst experiences have been by far in my native Greece and both times it was for two different Shipping companies, which represent by far the most prominent industry in Greece. For both jobs I was referred by someone, so bear in mind this might also had something to do with it.

Interview A and I am there for an Executive Secretary vacancy. Executive Secretary for the Big Boss, to be precise. I show up in time dressed in my most professional looking clothes: black trousers, white shirt, black blazer and heels. I have flown in from London for this interview and I have covered my own expenses too.  I realize I am to be interviewed by the Big Boss’s daughter as the first part of the interview. I hold my resume nervously as she opens the door. She looks very young, wears jeans, a simple jumper and ballet pumps. She looks bewildered to see me all dressed up. We discuss a bit about my CV. When we finish she tells me there is a number of other people I need to see as part of the process. From her positive attitude I feel like she gives me the ok to move to the next stage of the interview.

For the next 2-3 hours I am sent to see at least 4 or 5 other people. In fact I am thrown like a ping pong ball from office to office and I am asked to repeat everything from the beginning. I do so but in the end I feel sick. My mouth is dry, I have a headache and I feel like fainting. I meet lots of people in high positions that belong to the close circle of the Big Boss but not the BB himself. A blonde plump woman in a high position tells me that the previous Executive Secretary left the company because she had a bad attitude. “She had worked in Shanghai and thought she was better than anybody else.” she says.

Last stop: the HR office. By then I have already realized that these people are not going to hire me. They are just inspecting me like a rare plant during their coffee breaks.

So how much you want?” asks the HR man.

I leave the company almost 3 hours later. At the exit I run into the Big Boss’s daughter waiting for her driver bring the car. There is a sad and somehow frightened expression in her eyes. “Good Luck” she whispers as we say goodbye. There is a national strike and there is no transportation to go home. I sit on a bench in an empty bus stop for a while and try thinking my experience through.

Interview B. I am referred to a prominent owner of a Greek Yachting empire (not so prominent as the first guy though) by a very kind dear friend who wants to help out. This second guy is different from the first one: He is not the conservative “old money” type but rather a “liberal leftist past” guy.  You get the picture.

This guy is trying to open up his business in China and is looking for people who have relevant experience. I know nothing about specific vacancies or needs that the company has. The liberal past personality begins to manifest itself very early. I get a number of phone calls on my cell phone from the Big Guy himself. After introducing himself on the very first phone call he asks directly:

“How much you want?” (Greek Πόσα θες?)

How much I want to do what? In my knowledge accounting is different from translating as is serving coffee while lap dancing.

At some point he asks me to meet him briefly one afternoon at a central 5 star hotel where he gives a speech at a conference about the Future of Shipping in Greece. Five minutes before I arrive for our 13:30 appointment I get a text from him: “I am the guy giving a speech at the podium right now”. After his speech I meet him briefly and we have a short but friendly chat.

On the same afternoon I get a serious call from a professional sounding secretary that informs me that I have an appointment with the guy’s son in law at their central offices. I show up at 7pm for my interview, it appears I am the last appointment of the day.  Sitting comfortably on the leather sofa among the matching dark leather walls, I can hear him in his office chatting away in English with a client.

The Big Guy’s son in law is famous not only as a businessman but also for his prestigious career passage at Goldman Sachs, as well as frequenting the social columns with his handsome fat free physique.  He finally appears showing his guest out, and after shaking the other man’s hand cordially, he glances at me and with a nod shows me his office door. I follow him silently. He does not say anything and does not shake my hand.

Sitting smugly at his glass desk and pretending to inspect my CV, he starts quoting the reasons why my experience does not look suitable for the role. (What role is that exactly?) “We have one person working at our Shanghai office right now” he says “It is a Bulgarian woman, we are happy with her services and are not looking to hire anyody else”

 I stare at him pissed off. I am not sure if he realizes it because he is just so full of himself. Ignoring his arrogant speech, I try to show him I am tired and just want to hit the road.

“That’s me” I say staring at him expressionlessly. This time I know better.

He finally understands and the smug expression disappears from his face. “Where exactly did you meet X?” (Our common friend) he asks curiously.

“I met him in the street by chance.” I lie taking my revenge.

He shakes my hand and we say goodbye relieved to get rid of each other.

And somewhere here comes my experience in the Greek public sector to give a happy note to it all. A couple of weeks into the job and I still could not get a clear response from anyone about how much I earned.

Whenever I went down to the HR and asked that question it was like I was asking people the color of their underwear. People went pale and looked at me like I was crazy. Their expression read

“You got the job, now what do you want?”

A colleague of mine finally gave me the solution:

¨I was like you when I started; I got no replies about my salary from anyone. My mother advised me “Give it time daughter”.

Finally at the end of the first month I went to the bank and checked my balance.

And I was so thrilled; it wasn’t that bad after all…¨

Who you have to screw to get a job around here…

If you sometimes worry that you look too civilized at your job interviews you are probably right. Professional ability in many parts of the world nowadays is measured with one’s levels of aggressiveness and despair. You have to bark and bite, you have to be ruthless.  Your jaws have to drip blood.

An interesting link on LinkedIn the other day caught my eye.  It was titled “Why are women reluctant to enter the Labor Force?” The article was more a platform to encourage debate and opinion sharing, and it posed questions rather than offered answers. The general assumption was that in the recession world demoralized and mainly young women are afraid to enter the labor force.

My problem with this article begins in the title. Women, as well as men, are not reluctant to enter the Labor Force. The Labor Force is reluctant to hire them. Women don’t “fear disappointment” as the article presumes. They are already disappointed after years of fruitless job searching.  True, the entries in the Labor Force have significantly decreased. The HR cats can wave away ironically to the hundreds of disillusioned job seekers on the other side of the shore.

From all the people I know, and not including of course all those people who got jobs through personal connections (and hardly ever admit it), it is the ones that appear hungry, assertive go-getters that have more chance of landing a job than the rest.  In fact being “too civilized”, respectful of others and even pleasant to be around will not work at your favor.

Like my friend who slaved away for 6 months in an unpaid internship, and after being praised numerous times for her work and was even promised a full time paid job, was shown the door in favor of someone else. I can’t help thinking that it was my friend’s modest and laid back character and not her surely excellent work, intelligence and integrity that had something to do with it.

Which leads me to this: The problem of leadership skills as a cultural stereotype.   Leadership is culturally seen as a skill related more to aggression, arrogance, pathological self-bragging and inflating one’s skills, than respecting and inspiring others, as well as comprehending   the unique skills of every person and putting them in work.

Of course not all places in the world are the same. Here in Sweden for example I am not that sure that aggression and self-assertiveness will get you very far. Instead, as one HR expert with touching Scandinavian sincerity suggested: “Put a photo on your CV. HR In Sweden is often unprepared to see a black or Asian person entering the room”.

Thankfully my yellow tone skin never scared any Swede. It was rather my lack of Swedish language skills that did.

I will hold on to this thought dearly.