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宁可做擦鞋匠 不去做银行家

Last Thursday, for the first time in my life, I had my shoes shined. I sat on a stool outside St Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside and a man crouched at my feet and got busy with the Kiwi polish, rags and brushes.

上周四,我有生以来第一次请人擦鞋。我坐在切普赛街圣玛丽勒波教堂(St Mary-le-Bow)外面的一个凳子上,一位男子蹲在我脚边,用奇伟(Kiwi)鞋油、擦鞋布和鞋刷忙碌起来。
It had never occurred to me to do such a thing before. This is partly because I don’t notice scuffed shoes until they are shamefully tatty, when I generally turn to and polish them myself. More than that, there is something disagreeable about the idea of someone prostrating themselves at your feet.
擦鞋匠 不去做银行家

When I worked on Wall Street in the early 1980s, I remember seeing lines of men in suits sitting on high chairs loftily reading the Wall Street Journal while men in dirty aprons toiled away below them. My liberal north London soul winced at the sight.

上世纪80年代初,在华尔街工作的我看到很多西装革履的男士坐在高椅上高傲地读着《华尔街日报》(Wall Street Journal),而身穿脏围裙的擦鞋匠在他们脚下卖力工作。我这颗北伦敦的自由心灵真不愿意看到这一幕。
But then last week a colleague told me he had just had his shoes shined by a man who struck him as one of the most contented workers he’d ever met. Intrigued, I decided to pay him a visit.
Earlier that week I had been at a formal dinner and sat next to a woman who held down a senior job in a large City bank. I asked her if she liked being a banker — and got an earful of disillusionment and misery. Anyone planning on a career in financial services, she said, was quite mad. First, the weight of regulation was making life impossible. Then there was the politics, and the endless need to show off. Sexism was endemic. And bureaucracy and the culture of back covering were so entrenched that change was impossible. She had made enough money in her two decades in the job never to have to work again, and was feeling gleeful at having just handed in her notice.
At around the time she joined her bank, a young French graduate turned up at a church barely 100 yards from the glass and marble headquarters where she worked, and sought permission to shine shoes in its courtyard. For nearly 20 years he has turned up at 11.30am each day, put up a green umbrella, and applied himself to the shoe leather of the City lunch- break crowd.
This work, you might have thought, would be as bad as it gets. Shoe shining is what children in Mumbai do when they have lost a father and need to do something to avoid starvation. It is even worse than going up a chimney — that doesn’t require grovelling at the feet of another person.
But Marc tells another story. When he came to London in the early 1990s he was hoping to work in media. But as the company he interned for paid nothing, he financed that work with shoe shining. After a while he discovered that the media company was phoney; he found greater satisfaction with a can of polish and a brush.
As he rubbed and scrubbed at my black ankle boots, I asked precisely what it was about the job he liked so much. “I don’t have to be clever,” he said. “I can be as dumb as I like. I’m not trying to impress anyone.”
This is an excellent point. I spend half my life trying to impress people — and it’s exhausting. The only thing worse than pretending to be clever yourself is working with people who are pretending even more effectively than you are. Which is what my dinner mate was up against.
The next good thing about the work, he said, was the satisfaction in the job itself. You take a pair of dull shoes and eight minutes later they are sparkling. I can relate to this too. One of the great things about being a journalist — as opposed to being a banker — is the satisfaction that comes from producing work that is finite and that you can see.
Third, and possibly most important of all, is that shoe shining, in marked contrast to banking, gives its customers pleasure. As I walked off with my boots gleaming, I felt better, smarter, more in control. Making someone else feel good is always a reliable source of happiness. That is why hairdressers and beauticians are higher up the list of happy professions than management consultants and corporate lawyers. As a journalist, I try to give readers pleasure too, but I never witness people enjoying my articles. With the shoe shine the pleasure is instant and right under your nose.
Fourth, the chat is nice. According to Marc most people in the City are starved of decent conversation, and longing to tell their shoe shine man all sorts of interesting — and sometimes scurrilous — things.
Finally, he chooses his own hours. So he shines shoes at lunchtime when trade is brisk, and works as a translator the rest of the time. There is no management, no politics.
There is only one thing that is better about being a banker than shining shoes and that is the money. Marc charges £4.50 for a shine, which means he gets about £30 an hour.
He hasn’t made enough money to retire. But that is OK because he doesn’t really want to.




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