My chance, my new life and the red lips
Faith, Trust & Injustice
The red lipstick stood out like nothing else at the front desk. Her glaring mouth was almost frightening - nothing and no one should be able to compete against it; many hurtful words would come out of there. There was history to it: unknown to me.
Neither the plain uniforms of the other employees, which at most allowed a white blouse or a white shirt to peek through here and there, nor the employees themselves—the people—were able to shine. They weren't allowed to. Only the bright lipstick of the line manager should stand out from all the simplicity around until the end. Be seen. And survive. At least that's how it seems to me.
At the very first meeting, my job interview in early December, the bold red was already screeching at me, making me uncomfortable. She wouldn't like me, that line manager. She wouldn't want me - I could tell right away; that was what the spot of colour in the middle of her face said to me. It sat there like a warning signal.
She had always applied it evenly. An opaque paste that didn't reveal anything of the reality. Whether in the morning, in the evening or directly after lunch, the mask always adhered equally tightly and the fresh, youthful red cleverly distracted from the wrinkles around her mouth. There were already sacs of sagging skin on either side, yet her pale blue eyes and cute nose suggested she had once been a beautiful woman. Externally.
The line manager did not want to have me in her team. However, it was my future boss (also the boss of the team leader/line manager) who liked me from the start. She had also been there for the interview in December and must have seen and appreciated me for who I am. And it was her who ignored the team leader’s initial opinion and instead took a step up. She stood up for me, marched up to the highest-ranking person and got me the chance for a second interview. “You will rise to the challenge, I am convinced of that,” she wrote to me the night before.
I prepared myself very well again. Read even more about the company and the highly ranked senior person I was going to meet. I tried to memorise everything useful that I could find.
In January 2023, I started as a receptionist in the Red Lips team. I thought I made it. My Switzerland dream seemed almost complete. I only needed a B-permit instead of my G-permit, but I would get that automatically as soon as I moved from southern Germany to Switzerland. So just a formality.
And so I found myself at the beginning of my new life. The awfulness of my debilitating, life-limiting OCD would be history.
How I have worked to rid myself of this shit for the last ten years! To such an extent that I can finally live, not just exist. That I can work, not just part-time, but full-time. And now I had the reward for my courage in moving away from England and starting another new life (at the age of 46) on a silver platter: a wonderful job in my beloved city of Zurich, in my beloved Switzerland, close to the lake and mountains. Hooray! And my Neil, my husband, was now able to follow me from England. We would apply for his family-reunification visa as soon as possible (because of Brexit, he is not allowed to move to Switzerland independently of me, an EU citizen). Everything seemed perfect.
I had worked for this goal for 23 long months.
I started putting on lipstick myself. For a neat and professional appearance. For an attempt at a self-confidence boost. And for the manager. I started with a subtle pink, because really no bright accents were allowed. We weren't allowed to wear red fingernails, for example. I don't know why bright red lips were allowed on the manager’s face.
On the fifth day of my new job, a Friday afternoon, I stormed into one of the restrooms and locked myself in there. I couldn't hold back my tears any longer. At first, I had a big lump in my throat that stopped me from speaking. Then the pressure behind my eyes had increased terribly. I had fought, truly fought, because I didn't want anyone to see me cry. And no one who works at the front desk in a 5‐star establishment is allowed to cry. What would people think...
I squeezed my eyes tightly, actually knowing that crying on the toilet wasn't a good idea either. It would mess up the make-up around my eyes and my face would swell red. And yet, after a few seconds, everything in me relaxed and the tears just streamed down my cheeks.
“Sometimes you should think before you ask,” the Shrill Red Lips had said to me at the front desk a few minutes earlier, while slapping me on the back of my head with a piece of paper at the same time.
As if I hadn't already done a lot of thinking during this first week in my new job, on the fifth day, late in the afternoon.
Two or three days earlier (i.e. on my second or third day), I had been pulled aside in the back office: “Katja, you have to stop your naive way. Can you do that?”
I stared back at the shrill lips and suddenly felt hot under my suit, as I often did, especially during the first week when I was sweating with stress. What? What naive way was she talking about? My way? The way I am?
I didn't understand at all what the manager meant by that. What exactly was naive about me? The way I dealt with guests and visitors? What the hell was naive about that?
“Say who you are first, and only then say hello to the person when you call someone in the house. Not the other way around,” she had already suggested to me. Was the order I said things on the phone naive? Or what else was it?
I had no idea. And still I had smiled back at those terrifying lips when they’d asked me if I could change my naive ways: “Yes, I can.”
So I was able to hold back my tears on the second or third day of the first week. However, on the fifth day, after taking so much criticism that got under my skin, I couldn't withstand the pressure behind my eyes.
And so it went on. And on and on and on. It even went so far that I expected criticism at all times for whatever I was doing. Even for maybe touching a cupboard door in the wrong place when opening it. Or for the way I might scratch my head. I wasn't even allowed to rest my hand on the side of my head while reading and thinking at the front desk. It was immediately interpreted as ‘lounging too much’.
I don't know why that was - why our manager was picking on me. Perhaps she used me to release her own pressure ‘from the top’. Maybe I was a valve for her.
But I don't care why it was. Fact is, it wasn't okay. Everything seemed so unjust. So very unjust. *I* hadn't done anything to anyone!
Eventually, I took to a brighter, red lipstick myself. My manager noticed straight away and commented: “Oh, you have a different lipstick today. Usually it's a pink one.”
I met a colleague on the tram late one evening on my way home. She worked in another team, not at the reception. “So how do you like your new job? Have you settled in well?”
Was I allowed to tell the truth? I just did it. And the colleague seemed shocked when I told her that I had cried and that the manager had hit me on the head with a piece of paper because I’d asked a ‘stupid’ question.
“Whaaaat? You mean the one with the red lips?” the colleague asked.
“Yes, exactly, that's the one,” I replied.
“But she's always so nice?!”
“That's just on the outside. If you knew...”
It made me particularly sad that my manager was able to deal with guests, visitors and her bosses in a professional and above all polite manner. Of course she knew how to treat people with respect. The job as a receptionist alone entails that; teaches you that! But she couldn’t do it with me. Again and again she criticized my way, made exaggerations that got under my skin. Until I couldn't take it any more and had to give up. My dream was over.
Being unemployed is hard enough anyway, but it’s particularly difficult for me now because I can't get a B-permit without a permanent job in Switzerland.
Sadness came first, then anger mixed in. The feeling of injustice nagged and still gnaws at me. Also, there is something else that makes it difficult for me to let go. After a few weeks of thinking I have realised what it is:
“You will rise to this challenge. I am convinced of that.”
From my perspective, there is a lot behind these words: faith and trust.
Why did my boss ignore the Shrill Lips and march up the ranks to get me this position at the front desk? Why??
Didn’t she have another candidate for the job? No one who could do better than me? After all, I’m a career changer, not someone with many years of experience as a receptionist!
The Red Lips had already made history before I got there - many other receptionists had come and gone. But maybe my boss didn’t even know at the time that this had happened because of that line manager.
Why did she want to hire me against the wishes of the Shrill Lips? Had she listened to her instinct - her gut feeling? Could she not find anyone better? Or did she really think I was the right person for the job?
Anyhow, and even if I overstate it slightly, she still took some responsibility for her own belief in me by going up the ranks to the senior person. She went with conviction and stood up for me!
All my life, nobody has believed in me like that. Let alone stood up for me. No one.
Yes, I have surprised people in the past, several times, with what I have achieved. In sports, at school, in old relationships and maybe also in my marriage. But these were reactions to things that I mastered unforeseen. However, nobody has ever believed in me in advance, given me the confidence that I can live up not only to myself but also to the other person.
That’s why I can’t let go.
Maybe my now ex-boss is disappointed in me. After all, she was wrong about me, wasn’t she? Because I was too weak for the job; too weak for the criticism I received, which no longer felt constructive but destructive.
But the trust she built and represented in me created an invisible bond between her and me. She may not be able to see it, but I could feel it. And now that bond is broken. An open wound is left in my heart that I don’t yet know exactly how to mend. Similar to after a romantic relationship, only without the romantic-sexual part, but still with a kind of love and gratitude. And the fear of having failed her; not having been good enough. It hurts.
People say time heals all wounds. Yes, I think that it will also be the case here. Someday I can let go. Maybe even soon. I shall let go of the pain of my old job, my ex-boss and especially the red lips.
On to the future.