Monday, October 5, 2009

Living Just Enough For the City

I’ve been in London for only two weeks and already I feel like an expert. Giving directions in the streets to tourists seems like second nature to me (and you should see their reaction when they hear my {accentuated} American accent) at this point, even though I haven’t seen most of the city. Unfortunately, I haven’t taken the time to do all of the sights, though I still have the entire year ahead of me. I will see Big Ben yet!

Instead of sightseeing, I have spent the past week searching exhaustively for a job. Given my year as a restaurant manager in New York, I have some clout and had a fair chance of landing a serving gig. In fact, when I roll up to a place that seems promising, I usually spew out that I was a restaurant manager in NY before I even say my name. And the resulting effect is exactly as intended: awed silence punctuated with raised eyebrows. Right away, I have changed their perception of my possible talent for the better. Basically, they think I’m hot shit, and I'm not about to shatter their illusions.

You’d be surprised how much street cred the mere mention of New York has here. It is where everybody wishes they were. I mean, my boss came up to me and asked what were the chances he could get a bartending gig in the City for a few years. The Uzbeki bus boy pulled me aside and asked me about green cards. The guests have cousins who have lived in NY for a year and never want to come back. And no joke, I’ve been proposed to for marriage twice. Hell, I'd consider it! An US passport and an EU passport...

Enough fantasizing about the actuality of the possibility of my retiring to Bavaria-- back to my job search. After saying no to two possible jobs (and the two proposals {though one is still up in the air}), I have settled on being a bartender at a busy restaurant in Covent Garden. I am mainly making cocktails, as opposed to the pouring beer bartender-type (I scoff at thee!). Now, those of you who know me might say, “Matt, I didn’t know you knew how to make cocktails!” To which I retort, “You’re right. I don’t know what the fuck I am doing.” Truly, I don't know what the fuck I am doing. I am starting from scratch and I have no idea how I got the job. The most cocktail mixing experience I have ever had was in college, when I would pour copious amounts of Dubra vodka straight from the plastic jug (yup, plastic) into a red Solo cup and then douse it with cold Sprite (others preferred Mountain Dew, but I didn’t like the way it made my teeth yellow/green). This place is teaching me everything, from how to hold a bottle to how to pour the perfect shot (Did you know the English shot is significantly smaller than an American shot? I think an English shot is about 1oz, while our shot is 1.5 oz. Yet again, America goes big), not to mention a gaggle of cocktails, many of which are house specialties. We’re not talking about your grandma’s mojitos, but instead I am making, for example, our signature Twisted Mojito with:

Mint leaves
Stoli Vanilla Vodka
Apple juice
Licor 43

My coworkers are a colorful cast of characters. I work behind the bar with two Brazilians, an Italian, an English girl, and a Kosovar. Serving in the restaurant, we have an Irish girl, a couple of English guys, a Russian, a Frenchman, a South African, a Scotsman, a Croatian, and another American with an Irish accent (don’t ask-- I did, and the answer wasn’t logical or satisfactory). Of the three managers, one is a Danish guy with an American accent, one is an English guy, and one is a Polish girl.

The guy from Kosovo is an interesting dude. We got into a discussion about Kosovar identity today (at my instigation; I’m a history major-- so sue me!), and trust me when I say, the national pride of the people of Kosovo is not the sort of ridiculousness of the Texans where “We like things big and we’re gonna be seedin’ from the Union and make Walker Texas Ranger our President!”

Kosovar identity runs much deeper than I could ever imagine. My colleague (the Brits love that word) said that his people are Illyrian, descendants of one of the oldest peoples to inhabit the area. When I asked if he was more Grecian than Slav, he shook his head and said, “No, we’re different.” When I asked about what happened to his family during the war, he told me how he was preparing to go back to Kosovo to join the army and fight the Serbians (a group of people he “will always hate”).

He was willing to risk his life for Kosovo, but not because he was passionate about the possibility of having a country. That seemed of secondary importance. In fact, he remarked once in our conversation, completely nonchalantly, that “now we have a country.” That is not what was important to him. To him, it seems, the fight was for the the people. And that's what makes a Kosovar a Kosovar. Their identity is not ethnic, nor religious, nor national. It is historical. It is tribal. I find that fascinating.

That just about sums up my time in London so far. Working my dry chapped hands (which have a myriad of little cuts from god knows how many gadgets of destruction that live behind a bar), and not even thinking about school-- yet. That's step two.

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