Keep an eye on him, to make sure he doesn’t drink too much, it’s only 11:30 in the morning and he has already asked me if he can have a second glass.
These were the choice instructions my new boss gave my supervisor as I started working at a Christmas market in Heidelberg Germany selling gluhwein. But not just Gluhwein, the best gluhwein. And I don’s say that lightly as I have been on this whirlwind tour tasting every type of Gluhwein – and this one is so smooth it has even Steve McQueen blushing in admiration. Deciding to work at Christmas market was an obvious and calculated decision after all, two weeks in Germany pounding the Christmas markets’ Gluhwein social scene had left me as penniless as I was festive. And during the holidays, I can be as gleeful as a high school show tune . At 2.5 to 4.5 euro a pop for this sweet Christmas season crack it is no wonder I lay awake repeatedly, tossing and turning, trying to reason with the sugar come down to be gentle, but alas, my holiday Karma must have run out. The memory of the
mid day night events was even emptier than my wallet – both a sign of a great night but also of a foreboding of my future if I didn’t remedy the situation. There had to be a better way.
Enter: the Gluhwein Sommelier, or as one of my colleagues said – “Santa’s Little Alcoholic Helper”. What better way to make ends meet and get my Gluhwein fix, than to hawk some holiday cheer for the other addicts of the season by working at a Christmas market. What can I say? I like to give.
There isn’t really a title for such a job, since a lot of folk who have taken this position for a season either are so merry to begin with that they don’t care what Christmas job they have as long as there is some Bing Crosby in the air, or they have grown to abhor Christmas on some level and also can’t be bothered to think up a name. Can’t blame them really, after all what kind of holiday nutjob wants to listen to the same music over and over for 12 hours shifts, while holiday shoppers enjoy heavy doses of that sweet Christmas juice that leads to awkward office hook ups and painful sugar withdrawal: this holiday nutjob.
THE SET UP
My day started out at 11am helping to set up the stand and getting the Gluhwein ready, in other words, planning and manual labor, and I think we all know how that story ends. Nonetheless, I hung in there, bolted down the roof, so as to prevent rain/snow from bothering would be patrons (not that true Gluhwein enthusiasts would be deterred by things like harsh rain and frost bite,).
Handling the 10 liter tubs of Gluhwein was kind of like asking Berni Maddoff to help you balance your checkbook; a dangerous proposition for the unsuspecting. My eyes did all my salivating for me as my coworkers promptly stowed the jugs out of my reach.
Although I didn’t bring a whole lot to the team in terms of the my ability to set up the stand, speak to customers, count money quickly, stay on task, not drink Gluhwein before 8pm, and do general manual labor stuff so to speak, but I did manage to share with my new German colleagues the American tradition of guilt tipping.
Me: You see, you need to really lay into the psyche of the consumer. So make sure you put down “Christmas Cheer Fund” in big letters and move the tip cup in the path where the Gluhwein is served. If the guy isn’t going to tip you with at least his small change, you want to make him feel the shame pain the entire process and not let him get away without paying at least emotionally for denying such a pittance for your service.
Colleague: You don’t understand Germans. They will not be affected by this tip jar placement.
Me: Ha. We will see my friend. We will see.
I actually originally opted for “Destitute College Student Tuition Fund” or to swing the marketing train the other way and go with something more akin to what my hobo brothers from the streets would say: “Just being honest: Need money for Gluhwein Crack”, but my coworkers objected on the grounds of “honesty” and “professionalism”. Blah Blah ethics.
LET THE SNOW — SHOW BEGIN
Boss: It is snowing.
Me: I know. Isn’t it beautiful? It really makes the market feel like Christmas time. [Gluhwein gulp]
Boss: [suspicious look after the swallow] No, no. If it keeps snowing like this it will be empty tonight with all the Germans staying home because it would be too dangerous to drive on the slick roads.
Me: Yeah….that would be too bad indeed [gulps Gluhwein] Refill?
Ja, it is pretty nice. Most other gluhwein stands the workers are forced to listen to the same holiday music over and over all season long. Our boss let’s us listen to whatever we want. If I have to listen to Wham!’s Last Christmas one more time I think I will slit my wrists.
This policy actually made a lot of sense to me. I mean, if you listened to holiday music non-stop for 12 hours a day something would have to give at some point. Either you would drink yourself into a coma to numb the pain or you would go postal and get a Christmas massacre movie trilogy based on your real life story. So I thought it was a pretty thoughtful and progressive policy. It was a bit odd though when my 80’s rock playlist started playing Baby Got Back and three elderly women that were drinking Gluhwein at my stand were vibing to the beat and making out with another random old timer who had apparently embraced the
Gluhwein season’s merriment even more than I.
Eins gluwein, mit ron and miffagalinfadahfadfaaaaafffa
Yeeeeaaaa….so my colleague will be right with you.
I have always prided myself on my communication skills, and usually when pitted in a situation where language barriers persisted I have found a few drinks to loosen up is not necessarily a bad thing. Well let me tell you – it is when the entire day persists of “language barriers” and money is changing hands. Buying drinks is one thing, but when in Christmas markets in Europe, there is a deposit system, where people pay extra for their cute holiday mug. If they choose to keep said mug, no problem, just don’t come back for the deposit. But what happens when the holiday Gluhwein madness goes down with Fritz and Hans yelling they want wun more of this and eins more of that as they are sling mugs back at you huh? You think your
12 years of advanced mathematics and Calculus GED iPhone app is gunna help you then sport.
So with pleasant customer chit chat out, my supervisor thought it best if I manned the mug cleaning station. Apparently I am like an idiot savant when it comes to mug washing – 28 mugs in 48 seconds with 56 mugs means I can be done in like almost 2 minutes. Boom. Math.
So in the end did I finally find my muse? That sweet job that will provide gainful employment filled with a sense of pride and fulfillment along with a wallet bursting with cash?
Yes – I did actually. Music, merriment, Gluhwein, and inebriated fraulines coming to me to get my holiday love in a mug, it was perfect. But like many marriages, one party can be gleefully happy and busting with joy, oblivious to the troubled path unfolding ahead, while the other seemingly practical party (see: less fun) sees what lies ahead, can do the math, and plans accordingly.
Unfortunately my party can’t speakse German, do math, and say no to his best gal pal – Gluh Wien.
But luckily I have moved already moved on…
…to Step 12: Acceptance.