This Corruption Is Institutional

, , , , | Working | July 2, 2018

(In Germany, there are well-established networks that place young people with social, cultural, or environmental institutions as full-time volunteers for one year. Everyone involved knows that the volunteers are basically cheap labour, but many of the institutions, including hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and museums, would not be able to operate the way they do without them. The year after my graduation, there is an even higher need for volunteers than usual; the Parliament has decided to no longer draft young men for compulsory military service, which means the end of the alternative community service that tens of thousands of men do to get out of military duty. With no indication if enough men that would normally be drafted will volunteer for the networks without the incentive, many institutions worry. I decide to apply to a cultural volunteer network. Even though it is volunteer work, the volunteers do get some benefits. In that network, the institution pays for the volunteers’ insurance, provides either a place of living or financial compensation for rent, and give a monthly allowance of 300-350 Euros. In order to volunteer, you have to fill out an application online. Then, you get a list of institutions that match your profile, and you pick those that will be given your application. If the institution is interested in you, they contact you to set up an interview. After I submit my application, I am contacted by the network with a list of institutions very similar to the ones I chose that had gotten very few applications, asking my permission to send my application to them, too. One place I applied to is a well-known concentration camp memorial, [Institution #1]. On the second list is another camp memorial in the same state, managed by the same public agency, but way less known. I decide to apply to them, too. A while later I get a call from them.)

Woman: “Hello, this is [Woman] from [Institution #2]! We received your application and wanted to invite you to an interview!”

Me: “Great, I would love to! Since I am from another state, would it be possible to arrange something for [date]? I already have an appointment with [Institution #1] that day.”

Woman: “Sure, no problem! It’s only about 30 minutes by car from them to us! When is your appointment?”

(We agree on a time that should give me plenty of time to drive there after my first interview. On the day of the interviews, my mother drives me to [Institution #1]. The employees I am interviewing with lead me around the memorial site before settling into an office.)

Employee: “There are four volunteer spots. One day a week, the volunteers will man the information desk, after solid training, but the other four days you would work in a department of your choosing. After six months, we would like you to consider giving one-hour tours to tourists once or twice a week, but if you are uncomfortable with that, we can figure something out. We have a flat in town that our volunteers share. It’s only ten minutes by bus from the flat to us here. You would also get a public transport ticket that covers [most of the state] and an allowance of 350 Euros, as well as insurance.”

(At the end of the interview:)

Employee: “Before you leave, I wanted to tell you that we really liked your application. Yours was one of the few ones we got that really gave some insight into the applicant, instead of just standard answers, and it was a joy talking to you. There are several more people we will see the rest of the week, so I cannot guarantee you a spot, but you will definitely be on our shortlist!”

(I return to my mother with over 45 minutes left until my second interview. I really like this first place and the interview went great, so I am in a good mood. However, it soon turns out that the travel time the second place gave me was wrong. A few minutes before my interview is supposed to start, we make it to the town, but the navigation system is directing us out of it again, so I give them a call.)

Me: “Hi, this is [My Name]. I am afraid I will be late. The drive took longer than expected. I am at [Location] right now; I’m not sure how much longer it will take.”

Woman: “Oh, that’s no problem. You just came from [Institution #1], didn’t you? People are often late when they come from there. It should take you about 20 minutes to get to us from where you are right now. See you!”

(I am now really annoyed. This is clearly the same person I talked to before, that gave me the 30-minute estimate. In reality, with no traffic worth mentioning, it has taken us over an hour. When we reach the memorial site, there is nothing but fields in the middle of nowhere, with one single building in the middle. I enter and wander around for several minutes before I find an occupied office. The woman inside turns out to be my interviewer, and the person I talked to on the phone. While my first interview turned into a pleasant conversation that touched on all the topics important for both sides, this one is way more sterile.)

Woman: “Great, you finally made it. I have your application right here, so let’s get started. So, as you can see, our facilities are mostly underground in the mines below us, with a small surface exhibition here in the building. As a volunteer, you would be trained for seven to ten days before you start as a guide yourself. Only small two-hour tours for the start, but a month after the start of your training, you would lead the full-scale tours, ranging from four- and five-hour tours to whole-day programs, on your own, six days a week. I know it’s a bit more than the work at [Institution #1], but it is really rewarding to know you are really needed, isn’t it?”

(The last sentence is said in a tone that sounds rather condescending. I am a bit dumbfounded, both by her tone and her demands, but even more by the fact that I have not even had the chance to say a single word, other than my name when I entered the room. I am even still in my jacket, so little time has passed. The woman waits for an answer to her last statement, so I say the only thing my stupefied brain can come up with:)

Me: *quietly* “I guess?”

Woman: “As for the benefits, we will cover your insurance and give you an allowance of a total of 300 euros a month. There is also room in a flatshare in town that we provide! I assume you have your own car?”

(I stated in my application that I have no car, and nowhere in their profile has the need for one been even hinted.)

Me: “No, I was not aware I needed one.”

Woman: “Oh, well, we are not connected to public transport, so you will have to find a way to work on your own. You can use a bike, I guess; on the road you got here on it should only take about 40 minutes from the town centre. It could be a bit problematic in winter when it snows, but I guess we might be able to arrange for someone to give you a ride with their car if it gets too bad.”

(The street she talks about was ten minutes by car, uphill, on cobblestone, only barely wide enough for two cars to pass by each other. I become even more shocked by her nonchalant voice when she says this, but manage to pull myself together enough to get through the rest of the interview. However, it does not develop into anything good. I return to my mother, still in disbelief, and tell her the whole story on the drive home.)

Mother: “Honey, if they offer you a spot, you’ll say no! I mean, I know very well that this is cheap labour, but what they are asking is insane! The other places were at least nice about it and offered you something in return; this is ridiculous! I do not know how they expect to get any of their spots filled like that, especially this year!”

(Several weeks later, I get a call from the woman from [Institution #2].)

Woman: “Hello! This is [Woman]! I would like to offer you the spot as a volunteer at [Institution #2]! Before you decide, I should tell you that [Institution #1] has already chosen their volunteers, too, and you are not one of them, nor are you on the list for substitutes should one of their picks decline, so do not wait out for an offer from them!”

(I declined, stating that I thought I was not a good fit for what they were looking for. She brushed it off, saying that she got the feeling I might not like being that far away from my family, and quickly ended the call before I could correct her on that. I never heard from [Institution #1]. I eventually decided to not volunteer at all, but went to university in the fall. While I have not regretted that choice, I grew more and more convinced that [Institution #2] wanting me for one of their volunteers had resulted in the agency that runs both places removing me from the shortlist of possible picks for the spots with [Institution #1]. When the children of family friends have applied via the same network in the years since, I have always made sure to tell them to avoid that second memorial site, and to not allow additional applications to be sent to small institutions that are in any way affiliated with any of their original pick. Doing so has very likely ruined my chance to work in a great place.)

A Marriage Of Inconvenience

, , , , , | Friendly | June 29, 2018

My husband had a best friend since school. I happened to meet them together at a festival, and my husband and I fell in love at first sight. We kissed before we knew each other’s ages and surnames. We moved in together a year later and have been happy ever since.

That was 2003. Life changes, and for thirteen years I’ve been his girlfriend, but basically we are living the married life. Childhood friendships drift apart, but we traditionally invite everybody at least once a year for a very nice Christmas party.

At 30, I decide kids are now or never, and we are soon expecting twins. As we are very unceremonial, but want to avoid legal annoyances, we want to marry before the kids are born. As I am not christened and never missed anything, we do a simple legal wedding at the town house with only our parents and the future godparents for the twins.

We don’t tell anybody, as we feel it unnecessary; I’m pregnant-brained as f*** and don’t want to deal with a big party. We also don’t want people to feel obligated to gift us stuff or money.

Cut to a year later. The twins are born and are a lovely handful. We are stressed beyond belief, but want to celebrate the occasion with friends. We invite everybody and celebrate the kid’s birthday, revealing at the party that we got married. Everybody is happy, we party, and again, life goes on. The kids grow and we are fully occupied with them.

They have just turned three. At their birthday party, one of the godparents asks us what we are doing about the wedding of my husband’s childhood best friend, mentioned earlier. We didn’t even know he was engaged, but we say, “How nice! No, we did not get the card yet! Do tell, when is the wedding?”

He pauses and then very carefully tells us the invite came six months ago, and the wedding is next month. The friend was being childish and wanted to pay us back for not telling him personally about our wedding before we married.

He seriously planned to have the wedding and just tell his wife, sister, and our whole circle of mutual friends that he gave us the invite personally while he just threw it away. He, and I quote him here, wanted to have his wedding and send us a picture afterwards to “see how it feels.”

As our godparent-friend was close with the friend’s sister and future wife, he got a very stern talking to and now we are invited. As we want to make his day special — as he values his wedding day more than we did ours — I am painting something for their special day and we will give some money for their honeymoon.

Still, amazing how petty a man in his forties can be.

Fighting The Cold War With Ignorance

, , , , | Learning | June 29, 2018

(We’re in history class, learning about the Cold War.)

Ditzy Girl: “Wait, wasn’t there already a cold war? Like, they invaded Russia and everyone froze to death?”

(We determined she was talking about Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. Well, it was definitely cold!)

It’s Not Just The LED That Is Dim

, , , | Right | June 22, 2018

(As a second-level line technician at this ISP, I get a call from the first level about a customer who can’t get online; after that, the customer, a nice older lady, is transferred to me, as well. The troubleshooting begins…)

Caller: “You know, this morning I could still talk on the phone with my nephew. He called me at 9:30! And about 20 minutes after that, I tried to call him back and I couldn’t, and then I saw that the Internet is down, too.”

(This customer has upgraded to VoIP, which must be installed everywhere in Germany by 2017, so her phone conversations use the Internet.)

Me: “All right, ma’am, let’s see what caused this. Can you tell me the model of your router, and which LED lights are on?”

Caller: “Yes, it’s a [Company Brand] router. Only the power light is on, but the link light is on-and-off, and when it’s on it’s very dim!”

(This is the first time someone has told me their light is “dim.” After almost an hour of troubleshooting and establishing that there is nothing wrong with their connection or signal:)

Me: “It seems it’s a problem with the device itself. Hold on, and I’ll transfer you to a device technician to take a look at it.”

(This ISP has call centers all around Germany, so it’s the norm to get coworkers from other ends of the country when transferring someone. This time, however, I happen to get a coworker in the same office as me, who sits a pair of rows away.)

Me: “Oh, [Coworker], so glad I got you on the phone; I know you’re up to this. See, this old lady can’t go online anymore. Her line is all right, but her device behaves weirdly. Somehow the whole home network is down. Can you please take a look? Thank you.”

(I then go on about my business and forget about the entire thing. About 40 minutes later, my coworker stops me as I walk by.)

Coworker: “I’m so mad at you for that call! Do you know what happened?”

Me: “Um, no?”

Coworker: “Turns out the old lady’s husband tried the ‘reset’ button on the router because he thought that would update his device!”

Me: “I… I need to sit down.”

Coworker: “Yes… and I’m going for a smoke, because I need it.”

It’s All In The (Lack Of) Delivery, Part 5

, , , | Working | June 21, 2018

(I am waiting for a delivery at home. I live on the top floor with no elevator. I have some problems with my prosthetic and have to use crutches.)

Delivery Man: *on speakerphone* “Your delivery is here.”

Me: “Okay, bring it up, please. It’s [Name].”

Delivery Man: “No, I can’t bring it up. Come down.”

Me: “I am unable to carry the package. Could you please come to my door?”

Delivery Man: *rather rudely* “No, you’ve got one minute to pick it up.”

(I walk down. He looks at me, then at the package, and then back at me. I take the slip and sign for it.)

Delivery Man: “Are you able to carry this up the stairs?”

Me: *with a grin* “No, that is why I ordered it to be delivered.”

It’s All In The (Lack Of) Delivery, Part 4
It’s All In The (Lack Of) Delivery, Part 3
It’s All In The (Lack Of) Delivery, Part 2

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