Awkward Interviews: London Edition
I’ve had a lot of jobs, so it makes sense that I’ve been on a lot of interviews. Most of these interviews have been your garden variety, “Why do you want to work here” and “Tell me about your last job,” that kind of thing.
But they’re not all like that. Some of them have been decidedly abnormal.
Here is the story of one of those interviews.
Kensington Rooms Hotel, London. December 2004
Steve (not his real name) was the general manager. He looked to be in his late 30s, had a shiny bald head and spoke with an accent. I later learned he was Lebanese.
Another foreigner. I’m in.
Steve ushered me into the lift. Our ‘chat,’ as he called it, was taking place on the second floor.
As soon as the doors closed, we both descended into elevator silence. After a pause that was almost too long, I finally spoke the only words that came into my head.
I immediately had the distinct feeling that this is what it must be like when weird, lonely men are accompanying call girls to their hourly rate rooms.
He took me to a dark lounge area, where we sat on opposite sides of a long rectangular table. There was dust on the furniture and orange cables strewn across the floor.
So. Tell me about yourself.
So. Tell me about yourself.
I started to talk, but was interrupted by a loud crash.
“Yes,” he said. “They are doing construction on the second floor rooms. Go on.”
Foolishly, I let it slip that I was only in London for six months, as per the terms of my visa.
“Hmm,” he said. “The training period for receptionists is three months. We usually only take short-term visas if they are willing to extend their stay.”
I’ve never been a good liar, and I wasn’t about to start then. Hopefully we could just wrap this up and I could get to my next interview.
“I’m going back to the US at the end of June.”
“Ah.” He nodded his head while I jumped at a loud explosion of hammering. “You must miss your parents. Do you talk to them often?”
When I’m uncomfortable, I tend to talk. A lot. This usually results in me giving away unwanted personal information.
“Well, sort of,” I said, “they’re deaf, so I don’t talk to them on the phone. We e-mail a lot.”
He sat back in his chair, totally stunned.
“That is amazing,” he said. “Simply amazing.”
I opened my mouth to speak, but I wasn’t fast enough.
“I am sorry for you that they are deaf, but I am happy that you still have them and talk to them, in whatever language you can.”
Again, I opened my mouth, this time to protest – look here, Steve, there’s nothing to be sorry about, and sign language is a recognized foreign language – but he kept going.
“My parents, they were both killed on the same day. I was in University, and there was an accident.”
He paused to draw a breath. This was about to get weird.
“Imagine,” he said, clenching his fist. “Imagine not one, but both of your parents, taken, on the same day. Imagine getting that phone call while away at University.” He shook his head in despair.
“Some of my British friends, I hear them screaming on the phone to their parents, and I say, ‘Yes, but at least your parents are there to scream to. Me, I have no parents left.’ Even though it happened in 1995, when I talk about it, it feels as strong as though it were yesterday.”
I hadn’t prepared for this part of the interview and was extremely glad for the long table between us.
“Wow. That must have been terrible,” I mumbled.
He was lost in his fugue and didn’t seem to hear me.
“I am only 26 years old,” he continued.
I stopped listening for a second because I was completely floored by his admission. He looked so un-26 that I actually tried to figure out if he was lying.
“I own two hotels, three homes, many cars, a big TV, but still – I am not happy because I cannot give anything to my parents. I do not have them in my life.”
I focused on nodding my head at the appropriate times, appearing sympathetic and hiding my confusion over the direction the ‘chat’ had taken.
“I like you,” he said. “I appreciate your honesty. You did not have to tell me about your parents, but you did. You were open and honest. You chose to tell me that, and I am very thankful.”
I wanted to tell him that it wasn’t a secret. I tell anybody and everybody that I have deaf parents. It’s something that has enriched my life, not something I keep hidden away.
Steve put on a mournful expression. “I would hire you today, and tell you to start tomorrow, if not for the six months.”
Thank God. Now can I go?
“If I need another receptionist in the future, you are first on the list. I pay good wages, 5 pounds an hour. But if not, I still want us to be friends.”
What? No. No, no, no. And seriously? Five pounds an hour?
“Any time you want, come into the hotel and ask for Steve. You can ask for the manager, but Steve is fine. The staff all call me Steve. If I am not here, they call me and say, ‘Steve, where are you?’ It is not like other places, where people are happy that the boss is gone.”
He puffed out his chest while I again tried to determine how much of this was truth.
“Anyway, you don’t have to have a reason. Just drop by, say you want to chat, and we will go for a coffee. If you have any questions about London, do not hesitate to contact me.”
“Wow. Thanks.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“One day, I may go to America,” he said. “It would be nice to have an American contact to talk to and learn things from.”
I’m sure it would be nice. But Steve, I’m not your girl.
He shook my hand and walked me to the elevator. We were both waving and grinning when the doors closed, but this time I rode down alone in peaceful silence.
The job hunt was definitely still on.