Welcome to Fabulous RotoVegas
This blog comes to you from a newly employed waitress! I don’t really know how it happened because I don’t have any restaurant or bar experience but the manager said that I – and I quote – “seem like a pretty competent human being” (!!!!) so obviously she saw something special in me. Waiting tables in New Zealand is a lot like waiting tables in America except that the waitstaff doesn’t work for tips but instead gets an hourly wage, in my case $15.00 an hour.
It’s crazy what the absence of tipping does to the whole restaurant experience. There’s no real incentive to work the busy shifts because why serve 15 full tables over 3 hours when you can serve 2? There’s less motivation to make sure everyone feels taken care of. Even customers seem to expect less attention because they’re truly only paying for the food and nothing more. I love this set up. Not working for tips takes some pressure off and saves me the exhaustion I would force upon myself of replaying each table and interaction to figure out why I was given a good/bad tip.
Learning to be a waitress of the first time in a different country has caused some internal freak outs but luckily only one panic dream in which I forgot to take any orders on my first shift and instead sat cross-legged on the floor of the restaurant and played “telephone” with my manager.
What if I mess up an order? What if I can’t understand someone through their accent? What if I trip and drop all the dishes? What if I serve alcohol to a child because what is the drinking age here anyway? What if I give someone the wrong change because coins actually mean something in this country? I’ve had three shifts and it’s hard to say how well I did. On one hand I was tipped $30 dollars from a table of American tourists but on the other hand my co-workers are constantly asking if I’m okay. Apparently my ‘waitress’ face looks like my ‘brink of an emotional breakdown’ face. But I just chalk this up to my ‘I’m too chill’ face getting lost in translation.
I was hoping this job would make me seem like a Rotorua local but I still stick out. It could be my accent or the fact that of an entirely female waitstaff I’m the only one who was given a men’s crew neck t-shirt. Maybe they want me to stand out, maybe I’m an attraction of sorts.
Step right up, folks, come see our American waitress freak show! Look at how she puts ice in her coffee! See her saggy athletic leggings because she didn’t pack black jeans and can’t afford to buy a pair here! Listen to her try to pronounce our equivalent to the sweet potato! (Is it kumara or kumaro? Kumero?) Before I even opened my mouth one of the other waitresses knew I was a foreigner. She said it was my shoes but I don’t get why.
She also said my haircut made me I had a “vegetarian haircut” something she swears wasn’t an insult but I’m finding it hard to take it any other way.
This job is going to be a great experience. I already have a better appreciation for the service industry and a slight hatred for almost everyone. Shout out to the woman who complained about her cajun chicken pasta saying, it “wasn’t too spicy for me but could be for others.” There’s this really nice ‘I don’t give a fuck-ness’ to starting a job that you know is temporary and not necessary for you to survive. Wouldn’t it be great if none of us had to work to live but instead worked for blog material?
We’re settling nicely into Rotorua. It’s quite the happenin’ place, some people even call it “RotoVegas” because it’s so similar to Las Vegas – everything is open until 5! Just in Vegas it’s AM and in Rotorua it’s PM. But it’s becoming home very quickly nonetheless. We’ve started cleaning our hostel for our accommodation and live in a staff caravan that we’ve named CaraVan Morrison. The windows don’t open and every slight movement is like an earthquake but we love her.
The cleaning staff is made up of the two of us, another American, and two Brits and we’re all best friends. We’re poor, living in a town that shuts down at 5, with no TV and poor internet so we spend our nights drinking 2 dollar German beer, playing cards and listening to music on the floor of our staff quarters. It feels like we’re in the 70s.
The people who own the hostel love us. They have us over for dinner, take us to their son’s Rugby games and throw birthday parties for the staff. They’re our bosses, our parents and, with their extremely open marriage, sometimes even our pimps. For the most part it’s not aggressive and it’s pretty innocent, mostly saying things like “why do you need to know their name? It’s just sex” or “what is a threesome if not a team building exercise?” or, in regards to a beautiful zit blossoming just under my lower lip, “you need to stop kissing the wrong boys in the wrong places.” One of the Brits has been propositioned several times to sleep with the wife, the husband even offering to film it. A unique memento compared to the monotonous tourist junk sold at the 70 identical souvenir shops in town.
It’s a funny three pronged relationship we have with them. We’re never sure if we’re going to be asked to the change the laundry, invited over for ice cream or verbally molested. But you’ve gotta hand it to them, if you’re going to have an open marriage with the ability to sleep with anyone, you might as well open a hostel so the pool is constantly being refilled.
Living and working in a hostel has some major perks. We get free laundry, any of the food left behind and discounts on tours and activities. My only complaint is that we aren’t meeting very many New Zealanders. We’re meeting mostly travelers and almost all of them are German. I swear there are more Germans in New Zealand than kiwis – the people, the animal and the fruit.
All the travelers we meet seem to know so much more about America than I know about their country, which fuels my fear of looking like a selfish and greedy American. I’ve been trying to avoid becoming that stereotype but even deciding how I say where I’m from is a struggle. Leading with “California” or “Colorado” assumes that people know my North American accent could only be from America and that we are so well studied and beloved that everyone knows all the states. Saying “America,” “The US,” and “The Big One” give off the same pompous vibe.
“The States” was decided to sound the most casual and least self-involved but I keep panicking when I’m asked and rarely end up saying that. Sometimes I black out from the stress of the question and can only hope that I’ve never responded with a proud, “The United States of America” and a salute.
But I am becoming a more cultured and well rounded person, that kind of thing is inevitable on a trip like this. All the time I’m spending with these Brits has given me a much more refined way to speaking. With the exception of calling a restroom ‘the toilet,’ which could not sound more red neck-y, their slang and common phrases are delightful and I’m happily adopting them.
Good on you = good for you
Quite shit = shitty
Proper cute = very cute
This town, our jobs (Kyla sells dumplings at a night market), our hostel and our friends have really brought us some normalcy. I feel less like a traveler and more like a person living in New Zealand. But don’t worry, I know my American habits are idling in the back of my mind because I drove on the wrong side of the road yesterday. Luckily it wasn’t during the peak RotoVegas traffic hours of 10am to noon.