Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Maybe I should tell people that I'm a convicted felon

I’ve got to stop telling people I’m an archaeologist. 

Other archaeologists will know exactly what I’m talking about.  It’s The Conversation.  You have The Conversation every time you mention what you do for a living.  Every archaeologist has had it at least once, usually when on a long plane flight somewhere, when you are stuck for several hours next to a complete stranger who is trying to make small talk.  I know archaeologists who have developed coping mechanisms for such.  Some immediately put on headphones and dive into a book hoping that this indicates that they do NOT want any small talk thankyouverymuch.  Others say “I’m an accountant” when asked what they do for a living (I suggest if you use this tactic only if you have some knowledge of accounting in case someone asks you about “this quarter” or something and you reply “well, if it’s flanged it may date to earlier than the Hellenistic period, but you should have someone look at that for you, wait, whut?”).  

This is how The Conversation goes:

Friendly Conversationalist: So what do you do for a living?
Ambushed Archaeologist: Uh, I’m an archaeologist.
FC: *suddenly very attentive* Oh really?  How interesting?  Is there any archaeology in [where you are going]? (and yes, this does include the time I was flying to Israel, which has so much archaeology that people say things like "another ossuary of Jesus? *sigh*")
AA: Yes.
What the archaeologist wants to say is “No, shockingly, despite thousands of years of habitation by humans, not a single human ever dropped, buried, or threw away anything, nor did they build anything or change the landscape AT ALL, which is why I'm going there to look for it.”

Alternatively the FC, if he wants to be funny (or she, but let’s be honest, only men think they are this funny), says: I thought you guys had found it all!
AA: No, there’s still stuff to find.
What we want to say “Nope, we found it all.  And keep it in a bunker away from dipshits like you, asshole.”

The FC will then ask the following questions:
  • Have you found any gold?
  • What’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever found?
  • Do you get paid well?
  • How do you guys know where to dig?
  • And will probably have a story about some artifact they found somewhere that they took home with them.

The answers are:
  • Yes, but it was only a tiny fragment, no I didn’t keep it, it would be completely unethical to keep it so no, I wasn’t tempted.
  • Dead people buried where we did not expect to find dead people buried.  (Seriously, ain't nothing like finding dead people where and when they aren't expected.  It happens so often, I should just start expecting to find dead people every time I dig a hole.)
  • No, sometimes we don’t even get paid at all.
  • Lots of research, talking to other archaeologists, GoogleEarth and sometimes, but very rarely, an ancient map.
  • Dear God, you’ve just ruined an archaeological site please stop talking now.

Okay, we don’t say the last thing, but we are thinking it!!

What I’ve discovered, however, is that there is a far worse conversation that I’ve had many times now.  This conversation happens with people who know that I am an out-of-work archaeologist living in Denmark.  And they are trying to be helpful, I know, so I shouldn’t complain about it, but OH MY FREAKING GOD PLEASE MAKE THEM STOP TALKING!!

FC: So how’s the job hunt going?
AG: Um, I’m not hunting… there are no jobs.
FC: Oh, but you said there was archaeology on your island.
AG: Um, yes, but no money to dig it.
FC: Oh, but I’m sure if you just go into the museum, they’d be thrilled to have you!
AG: Um, no, no they would not.
FC: Have you tried?
AG: Actually, yes.
FC: Oh, but I’m sure if you try again…

Rinse, repeat.

Okay, I’m going to explain this once and only once.
1) I’m an archaeologist with experience in the Near East and an education in Roman culture.  I know jack shit about the archaeology of Denmark.  Why would someone want to hire me to dig?  (Don’t answer this, you need to read reason 2 first)
2) Local museums do not have the money to hire archaeologists, no matter what their training.

I’m so sick and tired of explaining that I am not qualified for the job that doesn’t exist.  Even if there was a job, I would be hesitant to take it because I wouldn’t know what I was looking for if I was to start digging.  Hey, look ceramics!  But is it a clay sewage pipe from 20 years ago or a storage jar from the late Iron Age I don’t know.  I actually give enough of a crap that I don’t want to ruin archaeology that we have here, so no, even if a museum wanted to hire me, unless there was going to be a supervisor or other archaeologist above me who could help me with interpretation, I wouldn’t want to do it.  Secondly, how come people will just not understand that if there is no money, there is no money?  Do people suggest to out-of-work construction workers to drop into an architect’s office and say “hey, I’m here to build houses, let’s go!”  Do people really think that by going in somewhere slightly related to what you do and saying “here I am, hire me” that suddenly a job will appear?  If that worked, I could solve the unemployment problem right now!

Please, just no more suggestions!  No more “maybe you could write articles about the archaeology and then people would be interested and give money and then you could organize an excavation and do it yourself” or “maybe if you read up on Danish archaeology, the museum would want to hire you” or “you could start up your own archaeology business!”  No more "I'm sure if you just..." and "But couldn't you try..."  

It has become the center of all the conversations I have these days.  Right after “how’s Danish?” comes the discussion of what I should be doing to get a job in archaeology.  To the point where I grab my child and say some outrageous parenting thing in order to bring the conversation around to what a horrible mother I am or what I’m doing wrong as a parent, anything to change the subject.  

No more suggestions!!  Shutupshutupshutup!


  1. Brilliant post! I get this all the time too. Except as a classicist in Greece, it's , "But Greece is full of classics stuff, there must be tons of jobs!" Yes, well, there aren't, and 100% of the jobs that exist are only allowed to hire EU citizens, which I am not. "Yes but your husband is Greek, so you can become a citizen!" Yes, sure, after I've lived here for 10 years and MAYBE proved I'm worthy. "You should teach private lessons!" Yes, I've tried that. They pay €5/hour and the government takes €400/month off the top plus expenses of starting a business in Greece are insane. It costs more more to teach than to sit here and talk to people who have no idea what they're talking about. "Oh well, whenever you want to, you can just take your husband back to the US with you." LOL. Et cetera. I love this post!!!

    1. I get asked why I don't go back to the US all the time. I now tell them that I'm here for their welfare and mooncakes.

  2. When I was an astrophysicist my conversations would go one of two ways
    1) Oh you must be clever to do that! (So, I am finding out *sadface*)
    2) What's that? (Oh, the physics of stars and that..) GO TO 1)

    I'm fully employed so the unsolicited suggestions *I* get are how to improve my health/diet. I just answer Yes'm, No'm now.

  3. Aren't the helpful people actually the least helpful people in the freaking universe? I don't get job suggestions. I get magical pill, fruit juice, dietary supplement, or exercise suggestions that healed their cousin's neighbor's friend's dog who had the exact same illness (what was that again?) that I have.

    People suck

    1. Have you tried standing on your head while drinking the juice of prunes pressed between the thighs of vestal virgins? Because my second cousin, twice removed, on my mother's side, that is after my uncle married the goat - surely you remember, it was the wedding where I wore that cute blue dress? Anyway, she totally had lupus, or maybe it was chicken pox, but anyway it cleared it RIGHT UP!

  4. Anonymous1:34 PM

    Or maybe people really want to take an interest in YOU (yes, you, the one with the nose in the middle of the face) and are scrambling to find a way?
    I get the annoyance, as a translator I deal with it constantly "oh but you should go get a job" "no shit?" "yes, translating stuff" "well, why don't you hire me?" "oh I speak English good enough to do my åwn translation" "*facepalm*".
    However, I've learnt to understand that people ask because they're interested, even if they choose shitty ways of doing it. Cheer up, at least the first question out of my mouth, if I sat next to you, would be: "oooh! I plan to torture my children so that they will die sobbing "not another Roman hypocaust!".

    1. I would probably be more forgiving if they actually asked about what I did, where I did it, what I liked about it, and what do I do when I'm not doing that digging thing. But they don't. Everyone wants to know about the gold. And they won't take "there aren't any jobs for me in my particular field where I live" as an answer and keep telling me what I should do. I have really come to hate the word "should." If I say "there aren't any jobs for me in my particular field where I live" then maybe ask me "well, what do you plan on doing instead?" and we can talk about my hair-brained schemes. Waaaay more fun than once again suggesting that I should just talk to the local museums because they should totally hire me to do that thing that I do with the shovel.

  5. Heh...when I was 17, I wanted to be an archeologist until I read that approx. 1% of newly graduated archeologist in Denmark actually got to dig, so yeah...I won't be the one asking job-questions.

    Btw. be weary, very weary, about telling people you are writing a novel. You will then get brilliant questions like "When are you going to send your novel to a publisher so that it can get published?" - because you know, it's easy peasy.

    And good thing you aren't writing fantasy because the responses to that tend to be in the range of "Faaantasy? Hehehehe....fantasy" Luckily Harry Potter and LOTR has gone a long way to educate the general public that fantasy doesn't equal ADULT fantasy...and then of course, I have yet to to figure out how to describe fantasy to a non-fantasy loving person without sounding like a complete twit. :p

    1. Anonymous8:21 PM

      Ooh ooh ooh ooh! I have a suggestion for that!
      Say that fantasy creates a fantastical world in which to juxtapose and examine non-fantastical issues! Like Ursula K. Le Guin's Earth Sea Treelogee, wherein Ged unwittingly unleashes a shadow unto the world and is haunted (and hunted) by it until he realises that he must face it (lesson: "face yer fears to overcome then"), whereupon he realises that it is a part of himself, thus taking away the power it has over him (lesson: "you are evil, acknowledge that and then you control it"). See!?

      And oh goddess of all things witty, I totally do get your annoyance at people's responses to your chosen occupation. If it's any consolation, my first reaction would be "Squeee! Found any good Roman hypocausts lately?" as well as "come round to excavate my garden, I'm sure there's Roman treasure in it". And me planting gardenias and carrots in the exact spot of your excavation is purely coincidental *nodnod*.

      Cheers, the Not-So-Divine Miss M (also as known as Anonymous Poster, Poster no.7 or the obnoxious-cheerio-type-commentator)

    2. Ohhh...very clever! I'll pull that one out of my sleeve next time! :)

  6. Anonymous8:25 AM

    Hi from a lurking archaeologist.
    The worst ones are "oh, I need a hole dug in my backyard, you can do that for me" and "oooh, like digging with a teaspoon"
    Answers: "yes, I can do that for you. That'll be just short of 400 kr. an hour. The museum will send you a bill" and the second one doesn't deserve an answer at all except from *facepalm*


Keep it clean, don't be mean....