Friday, March 11, 2011

The First Two Weeks: How It Went Down

It's been just over two weeks into my life as an expat. It still sounds strange to think of myself in that way, but it's accurate. 
I sold or gave away most of my possessions and pared down my life to about 25kgs (which is admittedly still too much, but does include the weight of the suitcases), sold my van, abandoned the apartment I lived in for three years, and said goodbye to all of the friends I made in Asheville, North Carolina over the last five. I bought a one-way ticket and I will not be returning. Instead I've started a life of living outside of the USA, and my first job offer happened to be in Iceland.
This was convenient because I spent two months in Iceland last year in the winter, so I knew a little of what to expect. I have friends here and I'm familiar with some of the towns and cities, so worst-case scenario, I would end up taking a nice holiday to a country that I love.

The day that my flight left New Jersey, I received another job offer, which I was very grateful for. I had suspicions about my first job in the town of Mosfellsbær (Mohs-ells-buyer) which were quickly confirmed. 
From this...

The man who hired me runs several guesthouses, which are hard to exactly pin down online. I see that he has now set up a small webpage explaining the job and it's location. But as for the guesthouse...It's a little bit of a trick for tourists. The rooms are very cheap, and when someone books one, they are not told the location, so they probably assume it is located in Reykjavik. In fact, it's located in a suburb about a 15-20 minute drive from Reykjavik. There is a guesthouse in Reykjavik, but it's more for large groups.

My reasons for being suspicious were based on the vague emails I exchanged with the owner. I'll call him Siggi, because that's his name. (It's also one of the most common names in Iceland, so whatever) When I asked him to write up a contract, he dodged me repeatedly, and send me a list of some chores I was expected to do. Mostly laundry and cleaning the rooms, spending some time speaking English with his children a couple days per week, and helping his elderly mother about the same amount. Actually...the exact words were: "doing cleaning, laundry, helping with the children and grandmother, gardening and other such tasks that will free up my time to do other things" and nothing else. When someone is desperate to find help and gives you an abbreviated task list, it's pretty safe to assume that you can expect something completely different when you get there.

The actual job involves quite a bit more than that. Which really wouldn't be so bad if he had just been up front with me in the first place. My main problem was personal. He just treats people like servants. His own home is very dirty and it seems like he never lifts a finger to do anything about it, but he expects his "employees" to be perfect and do whatever he wants while he sits on the computer. For all I know, he could be dealing with matters of national security or digitally keeping dams from bursting, or coding for NASA. Maybe he really is very busy...but it just didn't come across that way to me. To me it seemed like he was leaving his dirty dishes everywhere for me to clean up. Or yelling at his kids. Or ignoring his elderly mother when she called him for help. I received no instruction on how he wanted things done (except for a crash course on the first day on how to operate the washing machines and how to fold linens) so every day I worked as much as I could doing what I thought was a good job...and at the end of every day on inspection, I would get told how wrong everything was. It was completely demoralizing and I felt like I'd spent the day doing nothing. The best compliment I got was "This is almost not bad". Not great for morale. this.

I guess it was just a personality clash. I didn't sign up to join a family to be treated like a cheap maid (350ISK/hour). I signed up to be an au pair because I want some personal connection with a family in a different country and culture. It just didn't work out. So I met with the woman who owns a hostel in a town in southeast Iceland called Vík Í Mýrdal. At a hostel that I've actually stayed at before. The choice was obvious, so I gave Siggi 5 days notice and finished up the week.

And now here I am on my last day in Reykjavik, waiting for the ride to take me out east to start working in a much less uncomfortable environment. 
It wasn't all terrible though. I was close to Reykavik and got to see my friends, hit the town a few times, have some great meals, and hang out with some cool guests who stayed during the time I was working there. It's always nice to be next to Reykjavik and that's the only disadvantage to leaving Siggi behind. So that's an abbreviated version of my first two weeks here, and this is where I want this blog to begin.

This post was just to kick off the start of this blog, about my life as an American expat living in Iceland for a few months. A quick update for those of you who were wondering what happened (I've been being vague about it), and an intro to those of you who might have stumbled across this. It will regularly update with photos and stories, so please either follow, add to your RSS feed, or bookmark. Thanks so much for reading.

1 comment:

  1. I nannied for a lady like that. Glad you got out of there quickly. I can't wait to read your adventures in Vík!