In Her Words
She’ll Take Manhattan!
After failing to find a job in New York City, a Scottish girl learns to enjoy what drew her to the city in the first place
It was Easter in 2006 when I embarked on the trip of my dreams. Living in Scotland, I’d decided I had enough of seeing Manhattan only at the movies and wanted first-hand experience as a working girl in the fastpaced environment of New York City.
I’d saved hard for months, quit my secure job at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and leased out my beautiful Victorian seaside home. Then I boarded a flight to New York, certain that with my university education and work experience in the human resources field, I’d have no trouble finding work and getting a green card.
But nothing could have prepared me for the legislative hurdles of trying to secure work across the pond, and I couldn’t find one company willing to sponsor me for my work visa. As a trained triathlete, I enjoy competition, but this was one of the hardest races I’d ever started.
With my optimism waning, I found myself walking down Fifth Avenue one day, and turned to see my unhappy reflection in Versace’s store window. My demeanor was now more like Sylvia Plath’s dim outlook of New York in The Bell Jar; I had lost the conquering stride – think Claudia Schiffer on a catwalk – I’d arrived with.
Nonetheless, I continued to put my best foot forward – and did so in my best killer heels. For a few weeks, I took an illegal job answering phones at a fire-safety-equipment company. For anyone who’s brave enough to try working in the U.S. illegally, you can look forward to the following benefits: No contract of employment, long hours for little pay, and no health insurance.
By the end of my first working week, I was in despair. I felt completely alienated from the Manhattanites enjoying drinks on the sidewalk cafe tables in the West Village. I remember watching an incredibly glamorous, pink-lipped blonde girl walking down the street with the ultimate fashion accessory peering out of her Nancy Gonzalez purse: a toy dog wearing a diamond choker and a black Lycra Armani T-shirt. The dog blinked at me helplessly in the sunshine and whimpered, looking completely displaced – and I couldn’t help but feel like the dog and I were in the same hopeless situation.
That weekend, I decided to cut my losses and spend the remaining time I had left on my visitor’s visa enjoying my stay and experiencing the city. I quit my illegal job and joined the Lucille Roberts fitness center to combat all the calories I had gained from eating ridiculously huge New York portions.
I also became the ultimate tourist. I finished a whole pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Delicatessen, walked every corridor in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, took in the breathtaking view from the Empire State Building at night, toured Ellis Island and investigated some of my favorite movie haunts – and I even found Grace Church, which is featured in the novels of one of my favorite authors, Edith Wharton.
Back home in Edinburgh, I now work for the government in an employment law role. I am contracted to work 37.5 hours per week, with no expectation of overtime. I get 30 paid holidays a year – take that, New York – and earn around 35,000 euros (equivalent to $70,000 in the U.S.). When I weigh up the benefits, working in Edinburgh doesn’t seem bad at all.
Recently, I went to see the Sex and the City movie, and I recalled my own Manhattan wanderlust. But I’m happy where I am for now. When I finish work, I walk by the gardens near Edinburgh Castle, and go home to my seaside cottage, where I fall asleep listening to the gurgle of the river at the bottom of the garden. I now know that, for me, the grass is not greener in Central Park, and I’m happy to have my sweet dreams in Edinburgh. I just hope that the little doggie in the purse is having contented dreams somewhere too.