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5 things to know before applying to be a waiter (in Moldova)

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Hiring someone in Moldova is so hilariously convoluted and difficult that we have actually had to hire a professional HR manager as an employee of our company simply in order to file the paperwork to employee the company's founders (technically we also have an accountant and 1 employee but this would literally be just as hard hiring only ourselves). This woman has been working on site now for 2+ weeks and we are still not through the daily stacks of paperwork. Keep in mind we are 6 people (including the HR manager who is now also tasked with figuring out how to hire herself). This is all the subject of a future post I'll be writing but as a primer, I wanted to introduce you all to the world of Moldovan employment bureaucracy in the context of getting a job in the food service industry. 

While our team's collective western food service expertise is encompassed in Matt's 2 weeks at Taco Bell in high school, I have enough friends who have waited tables to know a few things. Namely, it's a hard job, but it's not necessarily a hard job to get. You walk into a restaurant, ask about openings, apply, and get in dependent on whether or not they see you as a fit. 

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no experience? that's fine! no, no we don't want to hear about any "record" - just sign on the line!


I'm not trying to oversimplify things but basically if you get the job you show up to work, they train you and you start. Hopefully by the end of the cycle payroll has you entered in and you get your check. Done and done. This is not the process in Moldova. If you want a job in food service (waiter, bartender, cook, whatever) in Moldova you need to know that...

#1 It's not the restaurant's job to train you, but the government's (but also the restaurant's?)

In order to be hired in food service in Moldova you need a health department issued little blue passport from the health department (no not THAT blue passport). This certifies a number of things from your personal hygiene to your basic knowledge on health topics. If some percentage of you are saying "that sounds reasonable" read on.

The point here is that the government has a declared responsibility for these things which they make you re-up on ever 2 years. As owners of our restaurant who plan to stand behind our own bar and serve customers legally we went through this process with the masses of teenage waiters and elderly babushka cooks. All the way through Vlad kept asking "so if my employee is found to have [name the disease of the day] and gets someone sick you're going to be legally responsible?" to which he received the reply of "no." This is also true if they cross contaminate food or outright poison someone. This basically means that there is a huge bureaucracy (spanning at least 3 offices in Chisinau) that certifies and trains people in a way that legally must be duplicated by their employers as a means to ensure that their staff are in compliance and because, at the end of the day, it's on the company's head. Needless to say there is a lot of needlessness here. If you are an employee entering the process expect a LOT of redundancy. 

#2 The government certification process was hilariously long and difficult

Go to this office and get a stamp certifying that you are you. They will print you a document with your picture and name and you will take that to another office who will stamp it. Then go to your doctor who will certify your health and stamp it. Then go to a radiologist who will give you a full torso x-ray (needed every year - sounds safe) who will also stamp it. Then go back to the first office and get them to stamp that you were at the 2nd office. 

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Getting the point? (source)

If you're lucky your company will have someone doing some of the legwork or at least telling you where to go (in our case we had Vlad who put a LOT of time in). In most cases that isn't the case though because cafes don't want to even consider people without the stamps. That means this is on you - 16 year old Moldovan teenager getting your first job. Good luck!! Consider it an "introduction to bureaucracy 101" class or a practical lesson in "how little Moldova cares about your time or theirs." In another practical lesson as to their views on privacy brace yourself because...

 

#3 There will be numerous indignities along the way

"bend over and spread your cheeks" - always fun words to hear in a government office. If you want to wait tables here you will hear them because Moldova wants to swab your ass. Twice 

 

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provided without comment

 

Dependent on how "lucky" you are that isn't the end of it either. At one office we were split into 2 groups, Vlad and Matt in one and myself and our employee in the other. They were assigned to room 7 and we were assigned to room 6 (supposed to be identical). They got their blood taken. We got our blood taken AND an STD test. For anyone who has never experienced this google it at your peril. Women get a pap smear. 

What does any of this have to do with serving tables or pouring beer at a bar? who knows. Certainly the people performing the test don't. Short of their fear that I will do unmentionable things to the food I can't imagine the need for tests of this type. Furthermore, the whole thing is endlessly silly because if I get certified an immediately contract something terrible and wind up getting someone sick the Moldovan government isn't going to so much as respond to comment. It seems like the most likely case is that they just wanna see your junk. 

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Moldova is like that one weird kid in every school who swears he isn't looking but everyone knows totally is...

#4 There will be a 7 hour health class with no point whatsoever

This past thursday I got to attend my state mandated health certification class. It was 7 hours long and I didn't quite know what to expect except that Vlad and Matt had attended the day before and said it was the most boring, senseless, soulless waste of time in the history of the world. In a sense I guess I did know what I was expecting. 

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well said... but presupposes that time wasting is a problem. We need to start a little more basic that that here (source)

Anyhow, it was that and more. Let's start by noting that this is done in the Soviet education style. There are no books, materials, visual aids, discussions or interruptions. A teacher will regurgitate from memory, at an incredible speed, the lesson that they have given 1000x before, verbatim, and you must hastily write notes. In our case the first hour and a half was a listing of all the possible fines you, your employer, your company or your suppliers might incur during the course of your work along with the sums which vary according to many factors. Basically it was a list that was read for an hour and a half. This was completely without context and was, essentially, a list of the punishments that will be visited on you for messing up various parts of that later lesson if you fail to learn them then they are taught to you.

The second part was a knowledgeable, if irrelevant, run down on "health." Basically it was a 2 year high school health curriculum crammed into 3.5 hours. I could comment on how silly it was that we all had to sit there and listen to the fact that smoking causes cancer, etc as a prelude to being allowed to work in a restaurant but honestly I haven't the heart. Most of these people had literally never heard this before and had LOTS of questions. As my class was Russian and therefore much older this was quite amazing to see (explaining this is a talk about demographics here but people who only speak Russian generally belong to the older generation). This would be a good time to say "great work" or "I appreciate your service" to any of the Peace Corps Volunteers or their Partner Teachers who work tirelessly, and in the case of the partners without official appreciation (or often pay) to teach Health in Moldovan schools. A subject that is neither taught nor appreciated at any official level. From me - big thanks to you all. I hope there was at least one person in the Romanian language room who could tell the others how and why to wash their hands because they had been exposed to that information before by a PCV (because it's unlikely otherwise literally ever in rural MD).

 

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shameless plug well deserved

Ok, enough of that. The final part of the class was a 1.5 hour session on actual kitchen and restaurant rules. Sadly these were less "helpful" and more "crazy." How many cutting boards must you have? Multiples of 9. yup, you heard that right. 9 is the minimum and they all have a specific purpose. If you want more of one you need another set so it must always be divisible by 9. Sinks? lots (post coming soon on kitchens). Want to clean with chlorine? we can tell you how to dilute it properly. Actually, we'll do better! we will read you a dilution table for 20 min so you can copy it down. 

In case you didn't gather as much this entire class could have been accomplished by 15 cents worth of handout paper. 

#5 At last half of you fail the test the first time

The test for this 7 hour class is conducted the following day. It is a verbal quiz on topics covered during the terrible lecture. If you fail you can come back the next day up to 3 times in a row. Sadly, you will not be admitted to the test unless you can prove you attended the whole class. 

Ok, so ~1/2 of everyone fails the test - must be hard right? Not really. I'm not saying it's easy, especially if you weren't exposed to health topics much in school, but it isn't hard. Honestly, the failure rate staggered us until we started looking at things from a slightly different context. Education is different here. As a product of American high school I know that when the teacher says "this is important but won't be on the test" it's a cue to sleep.

 

 

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don't even pretend that I'm alone here

 

Furthermore, while dozing if I hear the words "make sure to copy this down" or "pay attention to this point" or "THIS WILL ABSOLUTELY BE ON THE TEST," I subconsciously jolt awake and start writing (strangely this mental training carried over to Russian perfectly). Criticize me as you will but this got me through college and does for most Americans. Call it tactics

This is not well understood in Moldova. As I said before that classroom was full of people hastily scribbling notes for 7 hours. That means when the teacher said "this will not be on the test" people kept writing with just the ferocity of the key points section. This yielded a MASSIVE pack of notes for most of the students to hastily crunch in the hallway vs a few short bulleted lists my colleague and I put together on the drive over to the test. Just as the teacher said, the key points section was quizzed - the multi page chlorine dilution table that was dutifully read to us was not. 

This all gets to a much more interesting talk about education and educational systems that we don't have time for today. Suffice to say I'll end on the advice, to a fictional audience member who read this post and thinks "oh yeah - I'll go sign myself up for a little blue medical passport tomorrow!" and comes to the test - study smart, not hard. 

 

 

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David is a native of the great Commonwealth of Virginia and lived there through high school in Fairfax County. After high school he pursued a degree in Electrical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta Georgia. During his studies his traveled to Singapore for a semester and gained a respect and love for traveling and immersing in different cultures. After graduation David joined the United States Peace Corps and was posted first in Kazakhstan as an English Teacher and later in Moldova as a Community and Organizational Development Consultant.

When not working on his startup David can be found maintaining various web based side projects (check out: salutmoldova.org) and working on his 1986 Lada Жигули 2101 named Надя (Nadia).

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