It’s a sad situation that brought me to Paisley for Christmas. When I first arrived in Edinburgh and went on a CV-drop-off spree, I bagged a job that sounded too good to be true (hint: it was). I was hired at a five-star Italian restaurant as a server (in a hotel) on a SALARY. Meaning, I signed a contract to work 40 hours/week for £15,000/year plus tips, which is pretty good for a server. Everyone seemed very enthusiastic and friendly; the uniform looked like pajamas but oh well!
Part of my contract, however, was a clause that stated I was willing to work over the legal limit of 48 hours per week (“in case of emergency” I was vehemently told). I was also told that it was required for me to sign it to get the job – first red flag.
I soon found out that the hotel put their staff on salary in order to keep them working for as many hours as they needed. I often worked 60+ hours per week and received no overtime pay, but since we had all signed the over-48-hours agreement, we had no legal complaint on our side. I often worked 5:30am to 4pm or 5pm, but the worst shift I worked was 3pm to 4am. I never saw both sides of 4am so often in my life. It’s a horrible time of day. I still have a scar on the back of my hand from jabbing myself with a piece of loose floorboard I tried to move in a zombie-like daze.
Working this much also aggravated my knee injury, returning me to as severe a limp as three week after the injury.
I tried dealing with this in as grown-up a matter as possible. I approached the Human Resources manager and inquired about my excessive hours (and also subtly reminded him that he’d told me I’d only be working this much in times of staffing emergencies – perhaps I was just naïve). All he replied to this was: “Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about the hours.”
When I quit two weeks later, my manager and the Human Resources manager were shocked. SHOCKED. And quite upset. “Why?!” they asked. “You only worked 49 hours this week!” I don’t remember exactly what I said to them at this, but I clearly recall holding back a string of profanities.
I worked at this place for a grand total of five weeks – the shortest time I’d ever spent in employment, and some of the most physically exhausting weeks of my life. After quitting, I took a chance emailing a café that had offered me a position I’d turned down in favour of the hotel – and out of sheer luck, they were hiring again! I was re-offered a position, but the only problem was that for the first 4 weeks, it was only part-time.
This lack of funds, right around Christmas time, meant one very important thing: I was broke. My English family would have been happy to have me, but because of holiday travel prices, the cost of visiting them skyrocketed far out of my affordability.
I faced the terrifyingly lonely prospect of spending Christmas day alone.
Christmas Eve morning, however, I received a text message from a Canadian girl I’d met a month before for about five minutes (she was friends with my landlord). It was something about how sad it was to have Christmas with a lack of snow. I replied that because I was too poor to visit anyone, I was spending Christmas alone. Immediately, and kindly, she informed me she was in the same situation and that I should probably remedy that by bussing to Glasgow that evening. At first, I was reluctant to go – having just ended a very dark, moody month, I had resigned myself to the solitude and depression ahead of me. I almost turned down her generous offer out of sheer self-pitty and my dislike of things-not-planned-in-advance. But she had a cat. So I said yes.
A couple of hours later, I hopped on a bus to Glasgow to spend Christmas with a stranger.
We’ll meet Hamish the cat and Canadian Amber next time in “Christmas Alone… Almost”