One morning, I wanted to treat myself to a hot drink. I considered awarding my patronage to Gloria Jeans, Hudsons, Coffee HQ or some other coffee chain store but then I decided to support local business. I walked into a new coffee shop near the train station. Staff there had been trying to woo me in for weeks with their free raisin toast samples and mo’aves.
“One soy latte please,” I said to the attendant.
“Sure,” she said brightly. She tapped a fellow staff member on the shoulders to pass on the message. He got to work straight away.
“So,” she said in a friendly way, “What do you do?”
I was a little surprised by the directness of her conversation starter (What happened to ‘How are you today?’) but I proudly said, “I’m an environmental engineer.”
“Where do you work?”
“Just over there, in that building.” I felt the need to add something. “I only started a few months ago.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed. “So you did one of those degrees that actually gets you a job.”
Whoa. I stepped back a little.
“Um. Yeah. Environmental engineering. It’s quite vocational…”
“I did Arts. Lucas here did Graphic Design.”
Lucas stiffened and continued making my soy latte in uncomfortable silence.
“Oh.” I tried to nod understandingly. Quick! Say something not condescending! “…Do you find yourself using your skills now? This seems like a pretty… funky place.”
“Nah. Not really.” She looked at me expectantly.
(Cautiously) “Is that disappointing?”
“Yeah. I guess. But we all knew when we were at uni that we weren’t going to get jobs. We were expecting it. Now I want to do Education so I can get a job.”
“Ah… Some of my friends who did Arts have done that and they love Education now.”
“Yeah,” she nodded enthusiastically. “But, you know, I kind of look back on it and think, ‘What was the point of those three years?’ “
“Surely it wasn’t a waste of three years, though…” I murmured.
“One soy latte.” Lucas had spoken for the first time. He pushed my take-away cup towards me.
“Thanks.” I wrapped my fingers around the insulated hotness.
“See you next time!” she called as, stepping back onto the street, I walked towards my professional career.