The best way to learn about another culture is to try and sell its people useless shit over the telephone. Or at least this is the premise behind the Working Holiday visa. The visa, which is probably unknown to most Americans, allows persons aged 18 to 30 a chance to work in another country for a fixed period of time. The visa is most popular in the Commonwealth, where it seems to be a rite of passage for English students to travel to Australia for a year and do some fair dinkum partying. And vise-versa. The Australian visa is open to Americans as well, although we get a scant 4 months of work. Generally, visa holders travel around the country and work short-term manual labor like fruit picking. However, for me the visa wasn’t an opportuinity to see the Outback, it was the easiest way to get to Sydney and be with my girlfriend.

Unfortunately, the job opportuinities for a visa holder in Sydney are a lot more limited than in the Gold Coast. In fact, not counting a brief bakery stint I’d rather not discuss, I found the only real openings were in telemarketing. Desperate for money, I ended up in a group interview for a Surry Hills-based telesales company. The campaign for which they were hiring was a contract from a big name hotel company. I was to sell cheap holidays in “four and a half to five star” hotels (the brief we recieved later listed each hotel at four and a half). All the cutomer had to do was attend a 90 minute “meeting” (“we try to avoid the word ‘seminar'”) for the company’s holiday club. After the invterviewer informed us that he “liked to stay in five-star hotels from time to time” and gave a quick lecture on what the job would require, I was in.

At first it wasn’t so bad. I didn’t mind dialling and I felt that, in some way, by hawking holidays to Australians from Geelong to Cunnamulla, I was seeing the country. What really bothered me, though, was the discomfort my bosses instilled in me; one slip up and I’d get canned. Also, because of my accent, people I called always thought my name was “Carl”. I didn’t like that the people telling me off were adressing me by the wrong name.

I burned out very quickly. About three weeks after I started, I took a Friday off to go to Melbourne for the weekend and I never returned. I spent two weeks searching in vain for a different line of work. The classifieds were dire–apart from telemarketing, the only opening for travellers was a “Stripper Gram” deliverer.

I buckled down again and went for a trial at another direct marketing company. Instead of phoning people, we went to malls and signed people up with American Express. After an akward train ride to Chatswood (between uncomfortable silences, the trainer, upon learning I was American, asked my feelings on September 11th) and a miserable two hours at the mall, I learned the pay was strtictly comission and decided to opt out.

After a few unsuccesful interviews, I landed my current position. Although it’s still telemarketing, I feel like it’s the best job I can find with my visa. The company is also an ad agency, so the office is well designed–at least in comparison to the blank walls and makeshift cubicles of the average telesales office. Scheduling appoints to discuss home loan refinacing is hardly glamorous, but it’s a little more dignified than shilling Amway holidays. No matter how nice the bosses are and how pretty the office, phoning people and hearing “I SAID we’ll give it a miss, Carl” for eight hours a day is still mind numbing. But such is the life of a working traveller.

Despite the fact that I’m travelling less than the average visa holder, working a shitty 9 to 5 is probably a far more acurate way to discover a city.