"Europe 2004-05" story # 31

Andorra la Vella, Andorra           December 19, 2004

We come to Andorra. "El pais dels Pirineus" (The country of the Pyrenees) goes its motto in the local Catalonian tongue.
     We come to the little capital town, Andorra la Vella. Its crowded streets are full of angry cars and pedestrian tourists and the most modern commerce selling electronics and cell-phones and jewelry and perfume and cigarettes and alcohol un-taxed. The one thing you can´t find on the town streets is charm, but we come there anyways for cheap hotels.
     From there, we come through and up and over the Pyrenees mountains to the country´s high ski villages. We come to places like Pas de la Casa, which lies in a hole amid a ring of mountains. Brilliant, vision-blinding-white slopes flow uphill to gray rock heads mostly suffocated.
     We come for ski jobs. Andorra must be one of the only countries where non-Europeans can show up and work legally.
     Most of us come from Argentina. The guys have fluffy, poky hair and beard stubble and are dark and cool and silent. The girls are slim in light-blue jeans, and they call everyone, "Che", in that cool Argentinian voice that seems to be reaching for something without actually being so grace-less as to show that it wants. With black, needly hair and light-colored faces that look five years more baby-ish than they ought to, Argentinian females have the world´s most electrifying looks* without even caring to have them.
     Many of us come from Chile. These of us have brown, round faces, black hair, and more Indian features. The Chileans seem more playful and happier than the serious Argentinians.
     A few of us come from Brazil, a few come from Ecuador, and at least one of us comes from Michigan, U.S.A. We´re in our twenties and early thirties.
     Wearing coats and holding job applications, we line up beside the Andorran roads to hitchhike to the ski villages. Some of us have been doing this for a month straight. Many of us have found jobs; many haven´t.
     One smily Chilean guy handed out fifty applications and bought himself a cell-phone, expecting that employers would call him. The job he eventually landed was from a guy who glanced at his application, handed it back, and said, "You start Friday." Another Chilean guy has handed out two-hundred applications with no luck.
     We wait for jobs to want us. We wait for the stingy Andorran drivers to lift us as we hitchhike. We wait for the Andorran school-children and other work-seeking hitchhikers in front of us to get rides so it´ll be our turn. We wait to receive copies of our police records from home and other paper-work so we can begin to work legally. We wait in our cheap hotels for the shared bathrooms to finally become open.
     We wait in line for three-and-a-half hours to talk to Javy Perez, the personnel manager of a big ski slope. We joke, "Él debe dar todos nosotros trabajo." (He ought to give all of us jobs.) And, "Es el menos que puede hacer. Debe llevarnos a nuestros hotels." (That´s the least he can do. He should give us rides to our hotels in ohis car.) Then, we´re told we have to wait another week to see if we get jobs, and we hitchhike home in the dark.
     Above all, we wait for it to snow. Many of the ski villages haven´t gotten much snow yet, and the companies won´t start employing people until the slopes get more snow.
     My Chilean hotel-roommate told me many of the South Americans come to Andorra because they want to "make a change in their lives, for the better." Sadly, some of them have already had to go home, empty-handed.
     I hope it snows. I love hitchhiking job-seeking foreigners!

Each hitchhiking job-seeking foreigner has his own tale.
     I came to Andorra on Tuesday, hitchhiking here from France. It was a very enjoyable day of hitchhiking. Ten rides carried me, and I was excited to have good conversations in beautiful French. One brown-haired, brown-eyed woman, Marie, spoke French in such a singing and bird-delicate and "douce" (sweet) way that it enchanted me like the thermal waters in the area which she was telling me about.
     My drivers and I traveled through villages in the French Pyrenees. These grayish, orange-hued, old, stone villages perched on mountainsides and traced mountain streams. Rectangular towers meagerly challenged the mountains, geometrically-creative village sculptures captured looks away from white-washed mountain passes, and one formidable village was fortified by a thick polygonal wall. The French Pyrenees retained all the charm the Andorran towns lack.
     Nevertheless, it was in Andorra where I began looking for work. On my first Andorran day, I hitchhiked around the country with a short Chilean named Sandra. She was very friendly and talkative to the drivers who gave us rides. She and I talked about everything, as we did a looot of waiting on the day.
     Like many Chileans, Sandra is a very wholesome and Catholic person who really values her family. One ski company has promised her a job, but she has to wait until it snows. Of the eight South Americans who share her apartment, only half have begun working. I often visit them to take "mate" (a social hot-water-in-herbs drink) and laugh away the fact that we have no money.
     I told one of the roommates, Jorge, that I´m from Michigan. He replied, "Ahh, la calle de Alf!" (Ahh, the street Alf lived on!) That was the best response I´ve ever gotten.
     On a more important note, my job search has gone okay. I´ve concentrated my search on the ski village, Pas de la Casa, because it has the most French influence and I wanted to be in France now. Pas de la Casa also has many English, Spanish, and Portuguese tourists, so the language skills on my application have made my search easier than those of the mono-lingual South Americans.
     Unfortunately, I still have to wait for my police record to be sent here from Michigan. If you don´t have a copy of your criminal record, Andorra won´t grant you a temporary work permit. And if your criminal record says you´ve murdered five people, Andorra won´t let you work here either, I don´t think.
     Some employers are interested in me. One of them, "Mr. Manzano," has even given me a place to stay while I sort out my paper-work. Employers usually provide their workers with places to stay during ski season. I´m living with four of Mr. Manzano´s English employees, in a house on a ski slope.

Talk to you later. Merry Christmas to everyone back home in Michigan, and to Alf too! Hope for snow! - Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to Lionell; Marton; Olivier; Fredre; Alvarez husband & wife; Marie & Paula; Josianne; Francois; Hamid & Pablo; Nikola & Rudolph; Jauma; Manel; Felipe; Angela; Anna; Ingrid; Rafael; Kevin; Javi; Daniel; and Abel for the rides!

* - footnote: I haven´t been to Italy yet.

go to the previous story                                                                                   go to the next story

J. Breen's modern-o.com