Friends in Dark Places

It was a season of heartbreak and new beginnings, patched up with new everlasting friendships among the tears and laughter. I had arrived with my little car, stuffed full of everything I own, ready to embark on a new life with a man who I envisaged spending the rest of my life with. It was meant to be the start of something new for us. A tiny basement, one bedroom flat marked our first home together and the first step on a journey to building our lives together. Most devastatingly for me, it wasn’t to be and just 2 weeks later I found myself wandering the streets of the quiet Austrian village which I later called home, knocking on doors, looking for a place to live – alone. The immense pain which I felt at losing my best friend, who at the time I would have described as my soul mate, consumed me every day and I wondered how I was ever going to carry on and build my dream life in Austria without him.

By a sheer stroke of luck, I met 3 incredible girls who to this day, still continue to have a special place in my heart – despite the fact that the season ended and we have parted ways. They each had 3 amazingly different personalities and I take pride in knowing that I have kept a bit of each within myself, to give me strength and hope for the challenges which I will face in the future. We became the best of friends, devouring our way through the male population of the town, desperate to find happiness and belonging. From all different parts of the world, we came together as one united force to show everybody just what we were made of.

The half English, half Portuguese was the oldest in our group and she taught me that you are never too old to start over and find your calling in life. She became not only a friend, but a big sister to me. I knew I could rely on her for advice – brutally honest advice – whenever I needed, and not surprisingly there were several instances this season where I made some questionable choices. I take comfort in knowing that I was able to at least partly return the favour in her hour of need.

The blonde haired, blue eyed Kiwi was the deceptively intelligent one, beneath her stereotypical shell. She echoed my late Grandmother’s words of wisdom and taught me that it is always important to act “ladylike”. She’s a thinker and a dreamer and makes decisions based on logic, and has totally inspired me to put more effort into my studies at university. She is probably one of the most humble and grateful people I have met in my life so far. It is such qualities that I really appreciate most in a person.

The local girl with a frisky attitude flew onto the scene and filled our heads with glitter and fairies and got us dreaming about prince charming. Together we coined our famous phrase, or rather drunk pub chant of “we’re getting married in the morning”. She told me never to settle for anything less than the best and it’s apparent that she lives by her own philosophy in all aspects of life. Despite my love and respect for this Austrian diva, I still wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of her. Her tough exterior however is in huge contrast to the soft and affectionate girl inside who simply lives to love.

We were characters in our own movie of heartbreak, loss and late night unmentionable antics. If there’s one piece of myself that I can give back to these girls, it’s that we don’t ever need to worry because there’s always going to be a happy ending. Chill out, go with the flow and when the sad bit comes as with any good movie, just take out the tissues and the vodka and wait for better days.

 

 

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10 Annoying Questions Customers Ask

I’ll set the scene for you. It’s a snowy Saturday morning in the middle of February and the first flight of the day from London Gatwick has just landed at Innsbruck airport. Dr Clive Anderson and his wife, Barbara, have just arrived with their 3 children, excited to embark on their annual skiing holiday. I greet them in the arrivals hall and escort them to the waiting coach. With a few more guests to wait for, there is ample time to chat about the week ahead and ultimately to answer the long list of questions they have prepared for me…

  1. You can’t possibly be old enough to be living away from home?

Last time I checked, I legally became an adult in the UK and Austria on my 18th Birthday. That was quite a few years ago but would you like check my ID?

  1. But don’t you miss home?

As they say, “Home is where the heart is” and my heart is perched firmly on top of a snowy mountain. I do however miss my family, my friends, my dog and my favourite indulgent snacks like deep fried pizza. I don’t miss working 9 to 5, miserable Scottish weather and the bleak existence I had become accustomed to.

  1. Surely you have to be a language graduate for this type of job?

Actually no. I work for a British company, escorting British guests to an area where 90% of the working population are involved with the tourism industry. Sure, I can speak a reasonable standard of German in relation to my job but the salary of rep will rarely attract an application from a skilled language graduate.

  1. When are you going to get a real job?

This question is probably top of my list for the MOST annoying, I even wrote an entire post dedicated to this question alone! I was under the impression “a real job” was something which you received a wage for. Perhaps it can’t be “real” if I enjoy it and don’t wish the day’s away waiting for a holiday.

  1. What happens when you want to have kids?

I imagine at some stage I’ll meet a man, we’ll get funky and 9 months later little Hansjorg will pop out of my lady parts yodelling at the top of his lungs. Am I missing the point here? Or is it perhaps just unethical for holiday reps to have children?

  1. Will you stay here forever?

Well Barbara, forever is a long time. Are you going to stay in your 3 bedroom semi in Somerset forever? In all honesty, I have no idea. I try to live in the moment and in this moment, I am very happy with the ways things are.

  1. What will you do when Britain leaves the European Union?

That’s a bridge I’ll have to cross when it comes. Let’s keep it light, the transfer coach is no place to discuss politics thank you very much.

  1. What did you study at university?

I have studied at university twice but to date, I don’t have a degree. *Cue the looks of horror*

  1. What do you do once the snow has melted?

Funnily enough, tourists descend on Austria all year to enjoy the alpine terrain. Rain or shine, winter or summer; other activities include hiking, biking, paragliding and various water sports. I guess there are many people out there who prefer to do something other than lying on a beach in Benidorm sipping cocktails and scoffing a full English breakfast.

  1. What do your parents do for a living?

Most of the time, I feel people only ask this question to gauge how “middle class” your upbringing was. Sometimes I’ll tell them my mother was a banker and my father had his own business. Other days, they stacked shelves at Asda. I’ll never understand what difference it makes. That usually brings the conversation to an abrupt end and I can get back the job I’m paid to do. Finally!

Gummy Bears

*Names have been changed to avoid an awkward phone call from my ex

Afternoons spent looking around art galleries, dinner in upmarket restaurants and weekends away in European cities – were all part of the allure which fueled my teenage fantasy of dating an older man. A worldly, charming and educated gentlemen to satisfy the 30 year woman, living inside my 19 year old head. It’s a common stage in many teenage girls lives; the feeling of being more mature than our male counterparts. In fact it was my immaturity that led me to believe I was worth more than a McDonald’s Drive Thru at 1am followed by a quick snog in a souped-up Corsa on the way home. It had nothing to do with money but rather the sophistication which I so desperately craved.

That’s when I met Larry.

During my first season working in an Austrian hotel, I became fascinated by a traditionally handsome ski instructor who came to play music in the bar one evening. We hit it off straight away and before long the season had ended and I found myself back in dreary Scotland desperately searching for a cheap flights back to the country I fell hopelessly in love with and to the Lothario who was 12 years my senior.

Over the next few months, I enjoyed countless weekends away to Austria; exploring the country, meeting various distant relatives and embracing what I thought was a much more mature relationship.

During one particular trip, Larry’s boss and his wife invited us to dinner in Innsbruck. They were a lot older than Larry, perhaps in their late 40’s and were very traditional, professional type people. It was a modest, yet classy restaurant where we tucked into a traditional Austrian meal of roast pork and chatted mostly about politics and current affairs; my limited German and lack of knowledge on these subjects meant I had little to offer, however I played the part of the attentive girlfriend well, for a while, until my insecurities of feeling like a child at the adult’s party culminated in several empty bottles of wine on my side of the table.

What happened next is a bit of a blur…

I remember leaving to use the bathroom, when I spotted a giant jar of Gummy Bears on a table by the door, presumably a small offering for the children. I picked up the jar believing that a few sugary sweeties would sober me up a bit and proceeded to walk towards the ladies with it under my arm.

“What are you doing? Please stop!” I suddenly heard from across the restaurant.

It was the waitress who had seemed to be keeping a watchful eye on me for the best part of the evening. I wondered why.

Without so much as a moment’s hesitation I began to run at speed, through the restaurant, knocking down coats and elderly gentleman on my quest to return to “base” (our table) with the jar safely in my possession.

As I sat down, I was probably too drunk to notice the 50 pairs of eyes which were now upon the drunk English girl and the deadly silence which filled the restaurant.

“Who wants a Gummy Bear then?” I asked proudly.

The look of disappointment on Larry’s face is one that I will never forget. Better still, after having my prize jar ceased, I soon fell asleep underneath the table in a pool of my own vomit as the “grown-ups” quickly settled the bill and made their apologies.

At this point, a hamburger from the McDonald’s Drive Thru at 1am would have suited me just fine. But then perhaps even that would have been too sophisticated for silly little girl like me.

Sparks

Regret is not a word I like to use too often. It has negative connotations of wishing away what were once beautiful memories and lusting after the unattainable. No amount of will in the world can change the past. Admittedly, I don’t have many regrets in my life. I’m told there is no need for such desires.”Everything happens for a reason” as my optimistic friends tell me only too often. We are on a journey, through the scattered fortunes of day-to-day life in search of our true passion – the elusive “dream”.

5 years ago when I set off for Austria, I never imagined that this beautiful mountain paradise would become my home. A place which feels more comforting than the town I was brought up in or the cosy home where my family live now. Home is where you make it and for me, I made it together with fellow alpine enthusiasts and escapists who helped make this journey everything it is today. It is all utterly surreal to the existence I knew back in the U.K.

The only regret I have is not realising this life sooner. I spent much of my late teenage years and early twenties waiting for my life to begin. Waiting and wishing for that spark to guide the way and take me where I needed to be.

Where I thought I needed to be.

For too long I lived for someone else, pursuing other people’s dreams like studying at university and applying for corporate jobs I had absolutely no interest in. I made myself very unhappy believing that I was worth more than the wonderful life that I was already living. It suddenly became apparent that I had to stop waiting and start living. My life had already begun, a long time ago and I was quite simply squandering it doing what I felt was expected for a girl of my age, academic skill or social background. We have to create our own path regardless of the one we started out on.

The sparks appear every day, tiny little sparks that grow into opportunities when nourished. I just regret not noticing them sooner.

 

 

 

When are you going to get a real job?

 

“I’ll laugh it off and simply say “We’ll see what happens”, because I’m far too polite to burst their corporate bubble”.

Over the years, I have found myself working a variety of different jobs to keep the dream alive and fund my “extended gap-year”, as I hear it labelled all too often. Despite common misconceptions, it’s not all sunny powder days on the mountain and wild après-ski parties. Life as a British expat in Austria can be tough. Evidently, the language barrier one way or another contributes most, in my opinion, to some of the hardships of living in this foreign country. Admittedly, I could almost certainly have tried a lot harder to speed up the learning process but the bone idle part of me has become too comfortable socialising with other English speakers and thus having little need to become fluent in German. I have worked for my fair share of British travel agencies, pulled pints in countless shady bars and offered my knowledge of the area to hapless English visitors as a tour guide. Turns out, the latter of which I actually demonstrated quite some flair and offered a slightly more valuable experience for my clients other than “if you look left you will see Austria; and if you look right, you will also see Austria”. Result! Unfortunately English speaking tour guides in Austria aren’t paid quite as high as say a Prime Minister, Doctor or even a Cashier at the local supermarket but it was progress and an important part of immersing myself in the culture and perhaps gaining more of a true sense of what it’s like to be a working member of the Austrian society.

Despite the trials and tribulations of my lifestyle, I wholeheartedly acknowledge that I am a far cry from impoverished nations all over the world nor am I relying on food banks to feed my 6 hungry children. You won’t hear the “life is hard because Daddy didn’t leave me a trust fund” speech coming from me.

That being said, the classic image of spending a season in the mountains suggests nothing of the low paid work, dreadfully early starts and disgruntled customers demanding a refund on their holiday because “the snow is not as white as the pictures in the brochure”. Or the empty feeling experienced as soon as the snow begins to melt and you’re on the first plane back to England. Or deciding you’ll just “wing it” for the summer, knowing anything is better than being back home, only to realise there aren’t so many ways to afford such a lifestyle whilst the tourists are recovering from their ski trip on a beach somewhere in Spain. Least of all, searching for an affordable apartment with limited language skills which in a luxury ski resort, amounts to a filthy sofa in the basement of a derelict building on the outskirts of town.

Yes, you’ve guessed it. I’ve been there, done that. Got the T-Shirt, put it in the bin and fished it out again because I was a penniless seasonaire who couldn’t afford another. So the next time someone, in that distinctive condescending tone I am all too familiar with, asks me…

“When are you going to get a real job back in the UK?”

I’ll laugh it off and simply say “We’ll see what happens”, because I’m far too polite to burst their corporate bubble. Unbeknown to these self-righteous darlings, I know only too well that the view from a chairlift at 8am looks a whole lot better than the inside of their boss’ office.

 

 

The Great Escape

My escape from the mundane reality of 9 to 5 took place around 5 years ago. Fed up with the confines a traditional administration job in an office brought, and undoubtedly the miserable Scottish weather, I stumbled across a seasonal job in the Austrian Alps. As fate would have it, I was fortunate enough to be selected for such an opportunity after another candidate dropped out at the last minute, leaving my soon-to-be new boss in desperate need of an additional front of house member of staff. This ‘prestigious’ position was that of a Waitress/Housekeeper. At least scrubbing toilets and serving boiled eggs to wealthy snobs was surely better in the idyllic setting of the Austria, right!?

And so it was, I packed my bags and set off for 5 months living rigorously by the “work hard, play hard” philosophy together with 10 other young adults; we became a team, living and working together to run an English style Austrian Hotel. Shamefully intoxicated for the majority of the season, days were spent making the most of the perfectly groomed slopes and glorious sunshine before stumbling back to work, ready to serve dinner. For me, it was an experience unlike any other. A chance to embrace my new-found independence as an 18 year old, fortunately a far cry from the prying eyes of my parents back home. Little did I know at the time that this experience was to shape my future, for better or worse, I set off on a path of self-discovery amidst the Austrian Alps, living season to season with no great plan and motivated solely by the desire to escape the ordinary.  A “normal” life was not on the cards for me.