Interview with Vincent Shaw
Interview with Vincent Shaw Turkish Annus Horriblis Turkish Annus Horriblis
I’ ve known Vince Shaw for over ten years now. He has been living in Turkey nearly a decade now. He has worked as an English teacher here but he never had the proper paperwork, meaning working permission. he says it is was next to impossible for him to get legal working permission. This is not as uncommon a situation as you might imagine. More than half of all foreign English teachers in Turkey have, at one time or another, worked illegally. The Turkish bureaucracy takes so long processing paperwork that many teachers are well into the sixth month of their year contract before they receive any reply to their working permit application. The general rule is: Don’t make waves, don’t make enemies and keep a low profile and it should be ok. But sometimes it isn't. Vince agreed to tell me about his experience only if I did not use his real name.
So, last year wasn’t your best year, I take it. Yeah, you can say that. Can you describe for our readers how you got into this mess? The mess that was last year? Well, through a friend I met this doctor and his wife. Let’s call him Penguin and Cat woman. They operated a small CRO business with about 10 employees. They wanted to offer me a job with their company. CRO? Clinical Research Organization. What they do is help arrange clinical drug trials with doctors. The doctors find patients and then they test the drugs and submit the results for analysis. The CRO is there to make sure the doctors are following the proper protocol. Got it. So how much experience had you had with Clinical research? About 0%. Still, what they wanted .. at least.. initially, was somebody to help their staff with their English, for writing emails and speaking on the phones and face to face interviews with the clients. I was on board with that. No problem. I see. But you said “initially"? About a month into it, the owner, this doctor, Penguin, I mean, decided that he liked my presentation skills so much that he wanted me to train his staff on Clinical research as well. So let me get this straight. You were asked to give training about a subject you knew nothing about to experienced staff? What did you say? I said, hmmm.. ok. You have to understand Turkey. Anything is possible. Everything is learning by on the job training. I was no more unqualified than anybody else there. None of the employees had a background in medicine, at that time. But this company is not at all unique in this way. Actually, I told them-repeatedly- that I could not do it. But I told them that I could prepare a program for them and supervise the re-training. I wanted the owner or the manager or the supervisor to do the actual training. I was fine with that. But that didn’t happen? No. That didn’t happen. The Penguin was so encouraging. Also, the person who should have been responsible for The supervisor-who was a conscious that she might not training was the supervisor. bully, by the way, loved to be doing her job according I think they called her a line shout orders at people but to the rules. She was like chief or something like that. was secretly very self- this Gorgon who behaved
Interview with Vincent Shaw Turkish like Annus someHorriblis kind of
top executive, coming an going whenever she liked. Also, she was very worried that, if the employees learned the rules they would see how she was doing things incorrectly. Even when she trained new employees she would give them meaningless or petty tasks or give them tasks without explaining to them how it fit into some kind of overall structure. This was, in fact, her idea of training. And I would imagine that
following the rules is pretty important to this line of work? Exactly. They have this thing called SOPs which means Standard Operating Procedures. And every single detail is laid out on how to do this and how to do that and what to do if this happens. But then, shouldn’t this be pretty easy in terms of training? Well, the owners didn’t
want the employees to see the SOPs. I never could figure that out but I think it had something to do with where they came from. I think the set of SOPs were stolen from her previous employer and she was afraid of the legal ramifications if they ever found out. So she kept the only copy of the SOPs locked in a cabinet in the hallway. Hmmm.. ok. So what did Penguin expect you to do exactly? Training. He wanted me to train the staff and train new employees as well. Never mind that I wasn’t qualified. I told him over and over that I was an English teacher. But he kept saying he knew this but he was sure I could do a great job. Why didn’t you simply decline the offer? First of all, I suppose I was sick of teaching. I think I needed a break. I was looking for some different kind of challenge. Secondly, it looked interesting. It had a future and also, he offered me a lot of money to start. Money is NOT a problem in CROs. Last of all, I really honestly believed I could do it. Our main – our only
client, actually- also had a publishing company for Clinical Research. So my first step was to order training books through this company and study the materials intensively. What about working permission? Was that going to be a problem? Penguin told me that, I think, this was the first thing he said, that his company would hire me as a English teacher/advisor as a permanent position in the company. The lawyer said that this sort of thing was done all the time. It was just a formality. Did you believe them? Sure. Why not? I had no reason not to believe them. After all, I assumed that they needed me no more or less than I needed them. So what would have been point of lying? If rules were not so important to them, I imagine you saw a lot of dubious things going on. Practically every day. The first week, for example. There was going to be this auditor come in for a quick visit, I remember, and she spent the last 24 hours, faking all kinds of documents in case they asked. Fake trainings sessions, fake signatures. I thought that was pretty funny at the
Interview with Vincent Shaw Turkish Annus Horriblisoccurred time. I never
to me how important it was to stick to the protocols and follow procedures. I had no clue really. It didn’t matter anyway. The auditor- and this guy is like a mind-reading bloodless alien- he could zero in on a phony document or nonsensical excuse. He wouldn’t, like, start shouting or anything. He would ask for certain paperwork, spend about two or three hours studying every detail and then, make notes. In about a month, he would send a draft of his findings. I see. So how long did it take to set up the training program? I ordered this set of selftraining books for Clinical Research- there were like 9 or 10 of them.. and began to outline each chapter. Then, using PowerPoint, I made presentations for each of the books. That took quite a bit of time and energy. After I finished the first 5 or 6 presentations along with comprehension tests on the materials in about 2 months, I told them I was ready. But then, Cat woman reviewed my training program and wanted to make adjustments. For example, she wanted me to pair up the employees so they could prepare their own presentations as well on the materials. But.. why? Didn’t that make it overly complicated? You’re telling me. But this is how everything falls apart in an organization in Turkey. Nobody wants to follow the rules but everybody wants to make
adjustments. One person does all the work and everybody stands around and makes comments and criticizes and tinkers. Anyway, that is the way it worked in this case. The funniest part was, after the first presentation, the owners decided they did not want to participate. She wanted to go to get her hair done and he wanted to go shopping at IKEA. So how did the first training session go? The first presentation was really successful I thought. Lots of enthusiasm and people asked good questions. The more experienced members were discussing different points with the newer employees. And really in the end, after the test on the material in the book, the results were very interesting. Such as? The top level of management- the Gorgon, for example, had the worst scores on the tests. The newest employees had the highest. This probably meant that they didn’t even read the books because they thought they knew more about Clinical Research than the books did. The books came from the client so I felt I had a pretty strong argument. And then? Then we went on to the next book. That was when I started to have problems. We had this guy there- we was like a class clown in high school and totally incompetent. But Penguin
needed to have a side-kick to go out drinking and “carousing” with him after hours, so this guy had permanent job security no matter how many times he screwed things up, which was, like, one or two times a week. Not just accidents or mistakes but purposeful and dishonest behavior. Anyway, we had finished the presentations and on that Friday, when I gave the test, Penguin walked through the room and snickered and left. Afterwards, he asked me if I had seen “The Joker” cheating on the test. He thought it was very amusing. But you didn't? No. I didn’t. I mean, this guy was like 30 years old and he was acting like a kid in junior high. After all, following the rules and NOT cheating is probably the most important point of the training anyway. More importantly, the owner’s attitude was, like, isn’t that cute? So what did you do? I told them that they would have to speak to him and warn him. It was not fair to the others who had studied the books. Did they? They said they would but they didn’t. It was like they were afraid to make this guy angry. They were intimidated by their own employees, especially popular ones. I waited for some kind of action. I mean, if they hadn’t wanted to make it a larger problem then they could have told the supervisor to
Interview with Vincent Shaw Turkish Annus speak to Horriblis him. But instead,
they simply laughed about it. And what did you do? I told them I was not there to teach children and suspended the training program. I waited and waited but nothing happened. During that time, so many other things were happening. In fact, Penguin hated one of the key principles of company organization and structure. Job Descriptions. He hated them. He thought they were unnecessary and restricting. He wanted all of the employees doing whatever he asked them to do. Including me. So when were you given the job of Human Resources in a Turkish company? Well, I can’t say. Every other week my position would change. It depended on her moods [Cat woman, the owner] and his bright ideas [Penguin, the owner].. or what he had promised somebody else. I think I was Business Development officer at the same time as I was Human Resources. I get the impression that you didn’t think much of the owner’s business practices. Am I correct? It was like some kind of MBA study of how NOT to run a company. I suppose the biggest.. or should I say, over-riding problem- was that the husband and the wife , the owners and directors-used the company as a battle ground for their crappy marriage. They got to a point where they
didn’t want to even be there at the same time. He would make this big announcement – his latest “ great idea”- and then she would come in and tell everybody to ignore it. This kind of thing kept happening. Example? I remember one time reminding them that, according to Turkish Labor Laws, the employees were entitled to some kind of vacation time. A few had been there something like two years without having any real time off. She was, like, annoyed. He told me to make the arrangements. So, I checked back to starting dates of each of the employees and determined if they had worked a year. To see if they qualified for a paid vacation. Right. She came to me and said. “No. No. This isn’t right. You will give all the employees a vacation before the end of this year.” I tried to tell her that some of the employees would not have completed a full year before the calendar year would end. But you could see the light in her eyes kind of fade. She said, I mean, really sharply, “This is HOW major companies in Europe do things!” And what happened? Well, I gave everybody a calendar and asked them to arrange their holidays to be used before the end of the year. Which they did, even though some of them had started like 6
months before. And this was in October or so. Anyway, they had not completed a year. So after the vacation dates were coordinated, Cat Woman comes in, takes one look at it and says, “I didn’t approve of this. No way. You will have to tell them this will not be acceptable.” You mean, after you told them they could have vacations.. you had to go back and tell them they couldn’t have one? Exactly. She denied that she had insisted on it and tried to blame me for it. But, as I said, this is just a small example. She was always doing things like this. But her dishonesty was much worse. Also she had this very destructive love for gossip with the employees. What about “The Penguin”? First of all, it was an open secret that he was cheating on his wife. I mean, everybody knew about it because he liked to brag about it all the time. That made things pretty uncomfortable, of course. Also, he liked to undermine company rules. One time, we had an employee that like press the limits of office dress. You know, very low tops without a bra, very high skirts. Now this is a very touchy subject for a lot of women and a dress code is like a nightmare for a Human Resource office. Anyway, sometimes it was her hair. Sometimes it was her top. Sometimes it was her skirt. One day, Cat
Interview with Vincent Shaw Turkish Annus Horriblis woman, who had
been noticing this, came and said, “Well, bingo. Today ‘s all three at the same time.” I have to say, it was a bit embarrassing. What did you say? I asked her to go home and change into something more suitable for an office. I have to say, we were having guests that day. so it was pretty important to give a good impression. She handled it ok and left and came back looking a bit better. Problem solved? No. She immediately went to Penguin and complained about the dress code. He told her to ignore it and that I must have been in a bad mood or something. One thing I don’t understand. Obviously the conditions were bad. Why did you stay there? Good question. First of all, every day was not a nightmare. Some days were pretty rewarding. And I suppose I have worked in some pretty crappy jobs in the past. Penguin kept telling me that I was doing a good job and he appreciated my input. I always felt like I was making slow progress. But, by Christmas time, I was about finished. What happened then? We had had a audit from the client which was, like, a super big deal. We had been informed about it about 3 months in advance. I had drawn up a schedule so that by the time of the audit, we could have checked and double checked everything. It gave us plenty of time to
make sure every last detail was correct. So..? Cat woman ignored it. Forget about Penguin. He generally refused to take any active part in office operations, despite being the director of operations. So weeks passed and I did everything I could to get her interested. At least so that I could have my own department ready. In the end, she waited until the very last day. She made bad fakes of training sessions that had never happened and bogus job descriptions and slipped them into my files on the morning of the auditors’ visit. I had no idea until we had to bring the files to the auditors. When the auditors saw this, they immediately called me in for an interview. They asked questions about the training and I told them the truth. I told him that I had no idea where those documents had come from and they, as he could see, I had signed none of them. He asked me,”You don’t have any background in Human Resources or Business Administration, do you? What makes you think you are qualified to do this particular job?” Talk about degrading . What did you say? I said, “Hell if I know.” Seriously, I told him that it had never been my decision in the first place. But that was when I decided that, unless they pay for some serious training in Human
Resources, I would have to take my final bow and leave. But you never got a chance to resign did you? No. Well, not as I had planned anyway. I’d like to go back a bit. Now you had had problems with obtaining working permission, is that correct? When I first started at this company, I kept asking the owners and the company lawyer whether they were sure it could be arranged. I told them that from my understanding, it is not exactly easy for a foreigner to get working permission unless under special circumstances. The lawyer was a real clown. A round man with fat face that was always sweaty. When he did the Turkish kiss thing, it was like somebody pressing a cold slab of meat on your face. Let’s call him, Blimpo. He kept assuring me that this was a minor problem. I wasn’t a lawyer so what could I say, but I remember having my doubts. I even asked him, how sure he was.. out of a hundred percent. And he said?
99% In the end? It never happened. Blimpo came back and said it couldn’t be done. There were new labor laws- a lieand this made everything harder. So that was when I made a counter offer. I asked the lawyer if I were a partner,
Interview with Vincent Shaw Turkish Annus Horribliswould say 2% share,
that make any difference. To my surprise, the owners thought this was a good idea too. So this is the way it went. And when was this? This was much earlier. I think it was in that first summer. I was only there for a year. Started in January of 2007. The time I am speaking about is around July of 2007. Got it. So you became a partner in the company? No. Not exactly. I guess Cat woman, Penguinâ€™s wife, objected to it. Penguin came to me the next morning and suggested that we could start a new company. The strangest thing. I never had to put any money into at all. Penguin arranged the start up money. So you were now a partner in a company. Well, only 10 percent. He had told me that the company was a real one.. meaning, a profit making enterprise. But whenever I suggested ways of trying to make profit, he would change the subject or agree and nothing would happen. So, like, what was the point? Besides giving you the right to work. I think he used the company as a kind of tax dodge. Something slightly shady, I guess. Or maybe he was billing the client to his main company for services we were supposed to be giving his main company. I do know the one time I was able to see the books, I found a lot of
things he would have trouble explaining to the tax man. Curtains and home furnishings. Of course, he kept the books under lock and key most of the time. I kept asking for a copy of my contract and an itemized list of expenditures and profits. But he would always make up some excuse. You have to remember he and his wife, Cat Woman, were never there. Or she would be there and he would be gone or the other way around. But then, how did the company function? It didn't. The employees were generally allowed to do whatever they wanted. I did my best but it was like playing chess with about 7 people at the same time. It was crazy. The worst employees were always given special treatment. For example? Example, this was a small to middle-sized company and yet he had company cars for four of the employees. He had bought them and they were allowed to drive them as personal cars. Taking them home every night and he even paid for gas. I asked him if it wouldn't be better to lease a car or maybe two and have them share the car when needed. He said, no. This is normal for a company. It makes the employees happy. He was always interested in making people happy. It was like our company mission. One time he even made a bar on the roof of the building. It was really
surreal. Indeed. But how did he afford it? Credit. Everything was put on credit. He had this stack of maybe 50 credit cards that he would flip through every time he bought anything. It made you dizzy to watch.
So let me get the time line straight. You started giving classes. Then you became the Human Resources Officer but as a partner in a completely different company. How did that work? I was called a consultant. So the main company hired me as a Human Resource Consultant. But even that didn't make much sense. He had printed out business cards with the main companies name. I was also Business Development Officer too. I liked that a lot. But then he would lie to every potential client and badly. What was his problem, do you think? Well, he couldn't tell the truth. He would lie to his wife, he would lie to employees, to his girlfriend, to his client. Many times, it wasn't even necessary. He just liked to lie. It was some kind of ego thing, I guess. Weren't you ever suspicious?I mean, if he is telling lies all the timeI was. Of course, I was. But then he told me about all his lies to other people so for some stupid reason, I thought he was not lying to me. Also, he and his wife
Interview with Vincent Shaw Turkish Horriblis took Annus so little interest
in the company, I supposed that I had some kind of importance at the company. I worked my tail off in the company. By the end of that year, what with the stupidity of management position, the sliminess of his business practices and his hostile wife, I was definitely ready to give my notice. I was fed up and stressed out. Not sleeping at night and waking up angry every morning. I just wanted to walk out.
But..? But then the tax man came. What.. was this a regular inspection or..? I doubt it. All I know is this guy suddenly appears and everybody goes nuts. Some old guy like Boris Karloff. Cheap polyester suit. Brown. With stripes. gray mustache and smelled like the cheapest brand of cigarettes.
scared. I didn't think I personally had anything to worry about. Everything I had signed was legit as far as I could tell.
What exactly was he looking for? It didn't matter. Knowing Penguin and his wife, he was bound to find something. Anyway, those guys can always find something. It's their job. Penguin just made it real easy. The first thing the Tax man said was that I shouldn't be in the office. I was a foreigner and I wasn't allowed to work. But.. you were a partner in the company, right? Yep. You were not allowed to work at a company you were a partner in? Shocking isn't it? As a matter of fact, his report didn't actually say I was working. I was merely in the office and suspected of working. But if you had asked me, I would have said that I was working. I thought.. I mean, I was told that it was all perfectly legal. Why would I lie about it?
Let me see if I got this right. You were allowed to be a partner. You are allowed to invest your own money in a company. But you are not allowed to come to the office? According to what he said. But that's the funny thing Scary image. about Turkey. There are no Actually I wasn't all that laws. Nothing is fixed. It
changes depending on who you speak to. Today it is like THIS. Tomorrow you learn it was not like THIS.. who told you that? It is really like THAT.
So what did you do about the tax man? According to what he said, I would have to pay a fine. I mean two fines. One for me personally. And one for the company. Since the company had hired me illegally. Your company you mean? Right. I was plenty upset. Penguin and his wife were upset. In the end, Penguin paid the fines. After all, it was his mistake. Or the lawyer's, I mean. I was told over and over that I was legit. I wasn't a lawyer, I wasn't an expert in Turkish law. How could I know? If Penguin paid the fines, then what was the problem? Was that the end of it? Not quite. a month later, the foreigner's office called me. The police, I mean. They said I was to report to them the next morning. Very business-like and official. Why? They didn't say. They wouldn't tell me. But I asked Penguin. And he said..? Well I asked him if he knew why they might be calling. And his answer was, "No, not really." I just looked at him. Not really? Either you know or you don't.
So you think he must have known? Of course. Also he kept making excuses why he couldn't pay my full monthly salary. He could only manage half. So I guess he knew something
was about to happen. For me, it came out of the blue. And that was when my problems REALLY began. The conclusion of the interview will be posted in the next edition of the magazine, due out in the next month.
A Balcony View of Entropy One morning several years ago I was sitting on my balcony, having my coffee in my sweat pants and T-shirt like some kind of Chaplin aristocrat. It was my day off and I had made no plan but to be as lazy as a house cat all that day. The birdies were a twittering and the coolness in the air was just beginning to fade into what was sure to be another smothering late summer day. Just out of reach was a lemon tree with a few surviving fruit. Life, it seemed at that rare but rapturous moment, could hardly be much improved upon. However, that morning was not as glorious for others I noticed. On one side of the parking lot, I saw a man attempting to restart his car. The fading circular grumbling sound told me that his battery was dead. Coincidentally not too far away, I spotted another neighbor similarly distressed. During the night, his right front tire had gone flat. Added to that, apparently his spare tire was also flat. (My father would have torn him to shreds for allowing such negligence.) I watched them both grow increasingly angry and frustrated until each one called a mechanic for help. Their mornings clearly were off to a bad beginning. Eventually, of course, they managed to solve their individual problems and arrived to their prospective offices a few hours late. Later, after some idle deliberation about what I had seen, I realized something. At no time did either of the two men look past their own difficulties and make commiseration. How hard it would have been to make some kind of neighborly greeting, if nothing else, to share the aggravation? I have seen it often enough in Midwest. If one man had a car problem,a committee of husbands would be formed and some makeshift solution would be arranged. It struck me as a bit odd that it hadn't happen in this case, as well. After all, nobody can fault Turks for not being social. And if either of these men had made the least little attempt at sharing and empathizing, they might have quickly solved their own problems. The man with the flat tire could have used his car as a jump for the other man, and the first man could have, in exchange, driven the second man to the gas station to air up his spare tire.
Pain shared is pain lessened; joy shared is joy increased. Thus do we refute entropy. Spider Robinson
Encountering Politics-Turkish Style
Due to their close proximity, each bar is obviously in direct competition with each other and, if the truth be known, there is hardly much difference between any of them. The same menu, the tired and dazed faces behind the bar could be interchangeable, the same service and inflated prices (and yes, that is not an accident) and the vulgar decor is hopelessly predictable- dizzy, spinning lights and dark nooks. There is, in fact, no real variety between them and one bar is no better and no worse than the other. In the end, it all works out because, as there is little real variety, the clientĂ¨le- which is, in fact, the only variable here- tends to shift easily from place to place. A stroll down a bar street can be a fairly nerve-frazzling experience. A young man with an open shirt and a goatee/piercing/ tattoo or silly hat, generally a very VERY
extroverted type with great English and hip to the point of being on the other side of dodgy, attempts to lure the unsuspecting and gullible into the bar. The music is set on LETHAL-(The Greatest Hits of Eurovision, for example) and your chest vibrates like the top of a drum. Campaigning in Turkey is a lot like a walk down any bar street. Unlucky you if you should be caught on the sidewalk as a campaign bus ( speakers on wheels, actually) comes driving up beside you. It is like being hit with intense X-rays for a few shuddersome seconds. An over modulated yet somehow screechy woman's voice screams deliriously about the [insert your own three letters here] Party which hits you like a ton of incomprehensible bricks. On the sides of these "noise-mobiles" are the grosslyenlarged faces of the smartly dressed
politician with smiles and that dreamy glint of optimism in their whale-like eyes. And, then, as if God has heard your prayer, the van passes by and you are surrounded by
others pedestrians with benumbed scowls and disgusted sour expressions. It must be how a vampire feels when caught in a beam of sunlight. When a politician comes to a city to rally his supporters, he or she will inevitably hang an enormous- (and I mean, building sized) poster on the side of a tall structure of himself next to Attaturk, looking gallant and dignified as ever. There is a lot of mindless
flag waving and, a week later, another politician comes and makes his noise, flies his banners and makes his promises. And somehow, poor Attaturk's face appears next THIS pole's face as well. Can they ALL have the same political ideology as the founder of the Republic? Is that possible? The local elections are to be held on March 29th and local issues seem to be taking a backseat- I mean, how else can you explain nobody talking about city arsenic poisoning (AND shortages) in the city water supplies of the largest cities in Turkey? Instead, this election appears to be more of a referendum about the ruling AKP party. There is here in Turkey a deep-seated cynicism and general indifference to the outcome of any election. I still haven't figured out whether it is a realistic view or whether it is merely a selffulfilling, self-defeating way of seeing politics. I will let you know.. but on the other hand, who can blame the voters for not having much faith in a system based on a bar street mentality?
This magazine is a trial run. Please forgive me for any mistakes- I am sure there are plenty!I am sure it will improve as I learn more about layouts and how to do more things with the program. I hope you will take a couple of minutes and drop me a note on my blog to tell me what you thought. Thanks for reading. http://nomadicjoe.blogspot.com/