Monday, May 31, 2010

Times, They Are a Changin'

We had lunch at this wonderful little restaurant in Lake City. We met the entire staff, because strangely, the place was empty. The owner was an Italian, married to a Brazilian woman and he wisely spends his winters in the Southern Hemisphere about an hour from Rio de Janeiro. We didn't catch his name but he was a very friendly guy and he'd been an entrepreneur in Lake City for going on 25 years. His waitstaff and cooks were hired from abroad. Below, is a young lady from, of all places, Macedonia. She told us her name and it was a real mouthful. We stumbled over it a couple of times and eventually got it right, but now I can't remember it. It was nothing I'd ever heard before. Another young lady was also from Macedonia and they were both disappointed to be in Lake City and not Chicago or "Vegas". The owner, the Italian, told us he employs kids from all over the world, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Ukraine, China, Pakistan....anywhere and everywhere.

Our waiter was from the Czech Republic, and I didn't catch his name either. He was overjoyed when I ordered a Pilsner Urquel, from guess where? The Czech Republic. We learned that they are legal workers with permission from the U.S. government to work for around 90 days on the guest worker program. I'm sure they make minimum wage so we tried to tip nicely, and they all deserved it, for sure. The came out to practice their English and learn a little about us. They were really great kids and we enjoyed talking with them and learning about their experiences, and a little about the Czech Republic and Macedonia, birthplace of Alexander the Great.
We've run into this phenomenon before in Yellowstone Park. Many of the vendors in Yellowstone that needed lots of maids, bartenders, and waiters began using kids from Eastern Europe or Asia. After talking with a lot of the kids and the folks doing the hiring, we learned the employers began to prefer the Europeans over American kids, even with their lack of perfect English. Why? A common theme began to develop. The kids from Serbia, the Ukraine, Poland, Japan and elsewhere showed up on time, worked the entire season, were unfailingly polite, didn't complain, didn't use drugs, didn't show up drunk or hungover and were quick to learn. They were also willing to work far away from home in a small podunk town. Apparently, everything American kids were failing to do. It still galls me that the employers couldn't find quality kids to work in Yellowstone. Times have changed and it is a very sad commentary on our culture.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's interesting. Gwenda and I had a holiday in Scotland recently and we met several young people from east Europe countries (in the EU) who were happy to work in out-of-the-way places, waitering or running reception in hotels, or in shops in places like Oban. Always polite and ready to talk about their lives and ambitions. Julian (LĂ©ran)