Small Talk: What Isn’t Being Asked or Said

By UL Study Abroad Student Madison Snaith

Recently, I interviewed international students about working in school, and in their jobs. I asked the question “How do you work”, rather than “Where do you work”, like most people would bring up in casual conversation. After I read the article, “Reinvigorate a Conversation by Asking Someone How They Work” by Patrick Allan, I found that most people were confused by this question. Most of the responses were,“Do  you mean what I do?” or “wait…what?” After explaining I meant exactly what I said, that I wanted them to tell me exactly what they did, to do their job, they began to understand what I was asking.

Meet my interviewees, Gaelyn, Micaela, Bailee, and Amber. Gaelyn, is a graphic design study abroad student from Berlin, Massachusetts who enjoys hiking, the outdoors, as well as music and the arts. She has grown a love for traveling since coming to Ireland, especially being exposed to the many different cultures. She hopes to travel all over the world which will expand her horizons. Micaela is a first year study abroad student from Pelham, New Hampshire. She enjoys traveling, being adventurous, and trying new things, She also enjoys losing herself in a good book and  getting to know her housemates. She hopes her traveling will bring her closer to her calling in the working world, and has found that studying abroad has led her to discover new things about herself, and is the greatest adventure yet. Bailee is a tourism management major from Brentwood, New Hampshire. She chose to study abroad for her first year because it allowed her to become more independent. After becoming comfortable in a new country, she was ready to travel more and has since traveled to Germany and Scotland, but plans to continue to travel throughout her lifetime. Amber is a criminal law and psychology major from Atlanta, Georgia. She is an international student who loves traveling and has previously been to many countries, including a mission trip to Haiti, where she helped paint orphanages. She really enjoyed this because it helped her meet new people and get to know the culture. She plans to spend her whole life traveling. She also enjoys playing sports, and participates in three seasons of them.

While sitting and enjoying some tea, I asked all these girl what they did back at home for work, and what their job was. They all answered the same way, saying what their official job title was. Gaelyn is a hostess and busser at a family restaurant in Massachusetts. Micaela is a barista at a cafe. Bailee is a busser and expediter at a family restaurant called The Galley Hatch, and Amber was a hostess and a waitress at a local establishment in her hometown. When asked how they work, they all were a bit confused, asking, “Didn’t I answer that already?” I then asked for them to tell me exactly what is was they did at their job, and they each answered quite differently, even though many of their jobs were similar. “I greet people at the door and take them to their seats” said Amber, “ After seating them, I tell them about our specials and deals of the day, as well as their waitresses name. I help the waitresses deliver food, and I occasionally bus tables. At the end of the night, I clean the windows, the door, and sweep around the tables.” When asked, Bailee said, “Bussing is part of the wait staff, and expediting is part of the kitchen staff. With bussing, I help the waitresses by clearing the tables. I wipe them down, reset them, and I clear the trays and take them into the kitchen. I do the laundry, which is washing the placemats and napkins. I sort the silverware to be washed, and put them in their right places  after. I fold napkins that we set the tables with, and put away the glasses that are washed. I also bring the dirty bar glasses to the bar dishwasher, which is different than the usual dishwasher. For expediting, the job is that I work on the other side of the kitchen at the different food “stations”. I basically put all the side options on the plates, and then buzz the waitresses to pick up the plates to be brought to the tables. When all the trays are organized, meaning all the meals go out to all the right tables and waitresses, I stock all the “garnishes” on the plates. I also make the coleslaw and potato salad to put on the plates as sides. I need to make sure everything is stocked for busy nights when we have to refill things quickly. As for the sides, I have to portion those out into two oz cups, cap them, and then put them in the fridge. I’m in charge of the whole “front line” for when the waitresses pick up the food.” Out of my own curiosity, because this seemed like such a busy job, I asked what she liked about it. “I like the people, and my position, mostly expediting. It allows me to have communication with both the kitchen and wait staff. I like that I’m able to know everyone, and the environment is very family oriented, as it is family owned. Even outside of work everyone is friends.”

After a short break, I asked Micaela about her job. “I take people’s orders and ring them out. I make coffee, smoothies, frappes, scoop ice cream, make sandwiches, I clean my area, close and lock up.” She also commented, “I like my bosses, and the people I work with, as well as the customers I serve. I like the products that we sell, and that they offer healthy options, as well as Ice cream and stuff that’s not healthy.” I then asked Gaelyn about what she did for her work. “My job is to make sure tables are reset on time for upcoming reservations and to make sure everyone has an equal amount of tables. I also package food and have to make sure everything is clean and the customers are happy. I think being positive is very important, and even though it’s a low wage job, I make the most of it. I’m overly nice to people because It’s what I need to do for my job. I like the people I work with, and I’ve met a few of my best friends there.”

After talking to these four girls, is has made myself more aware of how I’m asking different questions, even just when making small talk. I’ll use this tactic for future reference when talking to people, especially ones I’ve just met.

This blog is run by the UL International Student Ambassadors, read more about our  student bloggers here

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