Archive for January, 2010
Drinking tea in the employee canteen, my 15-minute respite is rudely interrupted by the store manager.
“John, there’s an old lady who needs help with her bags,” my manager barks. I rise, a little annoyed but hopeful that a tip lay at the end of this errand. I head downstairs to find two bags full of heavy, expensive bowls at the feet of a very old woman, cane in hand. I cheerfully pick up the bags and she apologizes for her slow walk.
“I’m having a hip replaced next month, but in the meantime I can’t walk very fast,” she explains in a thick English accent. “I live in the complex just behind your shop.”
We engage in the typical chit-chat as I walk her to the gate, and she asks if I can bring the bags up to her third-floor condo. I say yes, and I remark that I’ve always wondered what this complex looks like on the inside (they’ve got big black gates that block the driveway right next to the utility entrance to our shop), so she invites me in to check out “the best view in the city.”
She isn’t wrong. Her corner unit’s two windows give an amazing panorama of the river flowing out into the Galway Bay, the gigantic Galway Cathedral and a footpath filled with pedestrians. Then she starts showing me around the house.
“This cabinet is over 400 years old. We had it on the farm where I used to live in Devonshire,” she said.
“Oh, you were a farmer?” I ask.
“Well, yes, after I got back from India. Growing up my father worked at an English tea plantation in India. I was born there in 1925 and lived there until 1940. It was always difficult after that, living in
England. I worked on a farm when I moved, you see, but I was in the educated class. No one understood why I would work on a farm when I was educated, but that’s the way I lived, and that’s where I got this old cabinet.”
“It’s beautiful, and so old, so much history,” I say.
“Oh yes, most things here have a lot of history. That bookshelf over there is Georgian, about 300 years old I believe. This coffee table is 250 years old. I had it all shipped over here when I moved to Galway, and my sons will get it when I’m gone. They both live in America.”
I wonder if she’s making all this up. I used to work in a nursing home, and certain residents would tell a different life story every time I saw them. This woman was 84, so I wouldn’t put it past her. As if sensing my doubt, she asked me the strangest question I’ve heard in recent memory.
“Do you want to see my tusks?”
“Your what?” I asked.
“My elephant tusks, they’re right in the hallway. Come here.”
She leads me in and sure enough, there sits a bench with two five-foot elephant tusks coming out of it. Above the tusks hangs a faded sepia-toned picture of a man standing next to an elephant carcass. He’s holding a very large gun and wearing old-style safari clothing that make him seem only two steps removed from Teddy Roosevelt. Next to him were two Indian men smiling from ear to ear.
“That’s my father. He shot this elephant near the tea plantation. These tusks are illegal now, of course, so I needed to prove to the government that they’re heirlooms. I imagine these are over 100 years old by now. Look, you can even see that the elephant had some dental problems. Knock on the base of the tusk.” I do, and it makes a hollow noise. “Now knock higher up.” Solid ivory. “It seems he had a cavity.”
I’ve been away from work for over 20 minutes now, so I start toward to the door. She gives me a nice tip, but the experience of talking to her was gratuity enough. I’ve often compared Galway to that great cantina scene in Star Wars, where all the different aliens from different planets are interacting with one another, all with different stories. Galway really is a unique city that way. I spent Christmas with Australians, New Years with Canadians, last night I drank wine with Germans and today I met the coolest 84-year-old Englishwoman in Galway.
As I continue to hunt for jobs here in Ireland, I’ve become increasingly perplexed by something I thought I had down pat: writing a cover letter. Four years of college, three jobs since graduating, and dozens of job applications have taught me how to write a pretty darn good cover letter if I do say so myself. But when I showed it to my flatmates (an Irish woman and a Swede who has lived in Ireland for years) they were both turned off by it.
“It sounds awfully…American,” they said in a derogative tone.
I change my cover letter depending on which job I’m applying for, but the skeleton of the letter is five paragraphs, 350ish words long. While my résumé describes the tasks I executed in each job, I use my cover letter to concisely explain specific projects I’ve worked on in my employment history, using an appropriate amount of industry buzzwords. Some excerpts:
“My experience with strategic planning in the digital sphere is extensive … I helped develop a script and I reported any issues left unaddressed to the project leaders with recommendations for changes … The Midwest Associated Collegiate Press and the Minnesota Newspaper Association both issued our paper top honors in 2008, the year I served as editor.”
That’s generally the tone of my cover letter. My flatmates think it doesn’t tell them anything about me, who I am, where I come from, what I’m like. According to them, saying things like “strategic planning in the digital sphere” are filler and they can find out what they need about my previous employment from my resume. One flatmate even said she mentions her love for snowboarding in her cover letter. They also thought like I sounded arrogant by talking about awards I have won. I really appreciated their feedback, but I’m at a loss for how to write a cover letter for a prospective Irish employer. To me, writing about hobbies are irrelevant and a waste of valuable space, but I’ve only applied for jobs in America. There’s obviously something being lost in translation as my flatmates try to explain how to write an Irish cover letter.
So I could really use your help, readers (especially those of you with experience in Irish business). How do you write your cover letter? To me, if my cover letter is not explaining my specific achievements in my past positions, what is its purpose? Help me understand how writing a cover letter in Ireland is different than writing a cover letter in the US. Your comments below are appreciated.