The following is an excerpt from my immigrant memoir ‘Newcomer’, available on line. Just click on the book cover shown bellow:
Dressing up for a job interview is like dressing up for a funeral or a wedding. Are you overdressed? Should your suit be dark or light? Will this tie make a good impression? There are lots of questions and very few answers.
You see, fashion isn’t exactly one of my fortes, and as much as I’d want to, I’m sure I’ll never become an expert in workplace etiquette, nor in any other kind of etiquette for that matter. I’m just that kind of guy.
As a newcomer, I used to turn up for job interviews wearing modest blue jeans and a simple T-shirt. What the heck, for the kind of job I was looking for –basically one that would help to pay a few bills- I figured I didn’t need any fancy suit.
But then, one day someone told me I needed to buy a tripisoo. I didn’t ask what that was. At that time, I kept discovering simple things every day –doors that quietly opened themselves when you faced them and faucets from which water started flowing just by showing them your hands. People stared at me with a mix of mockery and compassion. What could I do?
So one morning I went out hunting for a tripisoo. The word brought to my mind one of those sweet Italian desserts, but it turned out to be something you don’t eat but rather wear. A baker in the neighborhood kindly explained the real meaning to me the day before, as he bagged the guava turnovers I had just ordered. “Three... piece... suit,” he recited, very slowly.
Duh. Only then I realized what it was.
I had seen many of those –blue, gray, striped. My boss wore a different one every day, and you could see them all the time in the movies, where the main characters were always attorneys, gangsters or tycoons. I saw them advertised in the papers, too, but they cost a fortune. Where would I get the money to buy one?
My job interview was scheduled for next week. I was shooting for a position in a radio station’s newsroom. Indeed, this seemed a bit more serious than the job I had at the time, where the only etiquette was not to go buck-naked, if you know what I mean. Someone advised me to go to a discount store located just minutes from where I lived. They assured me they had lots of tripisoos for sale there.
An employee who noticed me nosing around asked me what I was looking for, and I told him right away: A cheap, nice-looking tripisoo. I didn’t mention quality, of course, considering the measly $60 I had for that very important purchase.
The employee looked me over thoughtfully.
“A tripisoo like this one may be a good investment,” he said, showing me a light brown one that hung close by.
Usually, he would recommend dark blue for a job interview. “It shows authority,” he explained. But considering the local hot weather, as well as my personality, his guess was that a light-colored one would work better for me.
Frankly, I didn’t know what he was talking about. I had been raised on the notion that people are more than just than the sum of the clothes they wear, but judging by what he was saying, I had been probably wrong all along.
“Do you think with this suit I will get the job I want?” I asked, doubtfully.
“Why, of course,” the guy said. He went on to explain the magic properties that suit apparently had, and how the minute he set his eyes on it, any manager would want to hire me.
“How do you think I got this job?” He asked, gesturing toward the whole store, very much like a monarch would show you his kingdom.
I paid the 60 bucks and left.
My job interview was actually very short. After a couple of clumsy answers on my part, the hiring manager courteously told me he would be in touch. I never saw him again.
However, that tripisoo proved good for two or three more interviews, and one of them was a successful one. Later, over the years, it began to wear out. It just didn’t look that good anymore, so I gave it to a newcomer who was looking for a job. I don’t know if it worked out for him.
© Copyright by Manuel Ballagas. All rights reserved. Except as permitted by the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this text may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form and by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.