What Not To Say To The Unemployed

May 5, 2012 12:07 pm

When I graduated from University last year, I really thought that the hard part was over. I thought that I could literally waltz my way into a great career and live happily ever after. I mean, I knew I was intelligent and generally fantastic so surely it was only a matter of time before prospective employers worked this out too? Unfortunately for me this dream was swiftly shattered about a month later when I realised that finding a job, any job, was slightly trickier than anticipated. And by slightly I mean ‘a lot’. So instead of living like a young Carrie Bradshaw, swanning around the city, funded by some vague, glamorous career, I became just another unemployed graduate; one of the many faces of our economic crisis. In the space of nine months I have devolved from an optimistic, bright-eyed young thing to a cynical, scowling beast of an unemployed youth. Casual human interaction has slowly become a no-go area for me because even a general, well-meant comment has loaded potential to cause weeks of hurt and offence. I’m very sensitive about my ‘situation’ you see. So from the shadows of my hermit’s cave, I have decided to compile a list of my worst triggers, for the use of anyone who knows me, or anyone else currently dealing with a tetchy unemployed (and I know for a fact that we are everywhere).

“So, what are you up to these days?”
This is my number one loathed question as it is the one which causes me the most pain and humiliation because the real answer to this is, ‘nothing’. And there are only a number of ways you can dress this up. Inevitably it becomes awkward. It’s like when you casually ask someone if they are alright and receive a ten minute soliloquy about their relationship troubles/noisy neighbours/disappointing bowel movements. Nobody wants to hear news that is depressing, all people want is lighthearted, superficial small-talk. I then feel as though a joke is owed to alleviate the mood and before I know it I’m making light of something that I normally cry myself to sleep to. “Unemployment? Oh it’s just like Uni but without the hard work! Ha ha ha!” Not.

“Are you out this weekend?”
This one serves as a weekly reminder that although my social life has ground to a devastating halt, the world continues to turn without me. It’s hard to believe that I too was once a glittering creature of the night; queuing to get into clubs, paying through the nose for watered-down drinks, dancing until my feet were sore, vomiting in alleys…ah those were the days. Not only does this question depress me, it is also ridiculously stupid. If I told you last week that I have no money and since then have neither obtained a job nor won the lottery nor found money in the street (all of which you would have definitely heard about through Facebook), then clearly my answer is still a bit fat no. Another weekend with the family it is.

“We’ll just book your next appointment at the Job Centre in for 9am, is that alright?”
No it is not alright. Not alright at all Lorraine you cow. Why must you always insist on robbing me of the one luxury I can actually afford? I will never ever again get the opportunity to lie-in everyday until I am retired and that doesn’t even really count anyway because old people always wake up early. This is literally my only chance, a golden opportunity so to speak, and here you come along with your big fat arse and your flowery blouse and Snoopy pen trying to ruin my already tattered life. Why? I must have done something to really upset you because I’m looking over at your appointment sheet and I can see plenty of free slots after 12pm. And don’t even bother phrasing this as a question, we both know I can’t say no. You have my money and I really, really need it. So yes, I’ll take your bloody 9am appointment and I’ll see you in hell.

“You don’t seem very driven”
This one both offends and confuses me. How does one go about appearing ‘driven’ in their everyday life? Shall I race to the table to eat my dinner first, throwing Nana out of the way, smashing my empty plate on the floor in triumphant passion? Should I run everywhere instead of walk? Shout instead of talk? Or do you mean driven in terms of my work experience? Because I tell you, you too would find it hard to leap out of bed for an unpaid day of photocopying and tea-making. It’s not like in the movies you know; there is no bounce-back montage sequence in which I vow ‘enough is enough’, before burning my sign-in book and confidently striding into the nearest shop to deliver a rousing speech about why they’ve just got to give me a chance goddamnit, to be met with applause and cheers and a job offer from the boss as he wipes a tear from his eye. This is real life and if you want to see driven, I suggest you carry on with your idiocy and watch me as I am driven to the brink of insanity.

“I got a job!”
A particularly awful one; you really want to feel happy for friends who have achieved the seemingly unachievable and landed themselves a great job. Yet even as you force a smile and vomit out a “congratulations,” the jealousy has already started to seep in. It starts small, the odd text message goes unanswered, you start avoiding them so that you don’t have to listen to stories of them living a life you desperately want; soon you cannot even mention the person’s name without muttering dark comments under your breath and reaching for the voodoo doll. Unfortunately in the world of unemployment, where bitterness and jealousy is rife, it is most definitely a case of ‘them’ versus ‘us’.

“I hate my job”
Saying this to me is the equivalent of going to an African orphanage with a family-sized bucket of KFC, stuffing the chips in your mouth, rubbing the chicken skin on your face, smearing the BBQ beans in your hair then throwing it away and declaring that you hate food.

“Have you lost weight”
Duh. I can’t afford to eat.

“Just hang in there”
While this could just be nothing more than bland encouragement, it is hard to ignore the sinister undertone to this statement. Hang in there? I wasn’t aware of having any other option. As far as I can see, the only routes out of being unemployed are employment or death and while the former seems only marginally more likely than the latter, it is still, at this moment in time, my preferred option. When I hear ‘hang in there’, what I really hear is, ‘please don’t kill yourself, I know for a fact you haven’t put money aside for a funeral.’ What I would like to say here is that we, the unemployed, (and yes I have self-appointed myself as spokesperson) are not all hopeless, defeated creatures, reduced to Gollum-like dependency. Since being unemployed I have been more politically engaged, more opinionated and more self-motivated than I have ever been. Being unemployed doesn’t make me want to kill myself, it just makes me angry and anger leads to power (I think Yoda said something along those lines). How else could you explain this limitless energy I have to rant?

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