Br(u)no: Holiday Fishmongers

Photo credit: TD.

I spent many years in Seattle. One of the stereotypical Seattle scenes is the way that the fishmongers at Pike Place Market take fresh salmon from an icy display case, toss it several meters through the air and land it perfectly into the packaging that one of the awe-struck observers will take home with them.

It is dramatic and unique and, dare I say, cool. It makes you proud to be connected to Seattle.

Nevertheless, that job has got to really suck.

I’ve been to that fish-throwing counter when there are no television cameras around. To their credit, the guys are always chipper and theatrical. But, really: standing around all day, handling cold and scaly fish, dealing with annoying tourists and performing like a trained monkey? That doesn’t sound like a great job.

They get tips. So good on them.

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I often think of the Pike Place Market when the local carp sellers appear in the days before Christmas. Would these guys get hundreds of crowns of tips if they worked out a routine: one guy pulls the live carp out of the pool, throws the fish several meters across the makeshift booth to his buddy and into the packaging?

I suspect that would get some oohs and aahs, but, given the local cultural morays, not a lot of tips.

I find the fish sellers to be fascinating. It is a nice part of this country, even if the fish they sell for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner is not near as good as salmon. The fishmongers sprout up for a couple of days in December, do their thing and then disappear.

I once had a student of conversational English who, in the antiseptic environment of a company meeting room, reminisced about how he loved selling carp on the streets of Ostrava for three days every year of his university studies. It was cold, yes, but it felt like real and meaningful work.

It told him: That’s a beautiful story. The job would still suck.

I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life: babysitting and mowing lawns when I was a teenager; running lights in a theater during high school; writing for newspapers, working at the Tacoma Art Museum and helping at the Tacoma AIDS Foundation during college; starting my journalism career in my early 20s; moving into horse racing as a publicist and website administrator; and finally getting to Brno to teach English, and, now, also work as a copywriter, proofreader and part-time journalist.

I am proud to say that I have been paid for some kind of work every week of the past 32 or so years. That is approximately 1,660 weeks since I was 15. (For the record, I missed only five weeks: one week when I drove across the country from a job in Seattle to the next one in New York City, and four weeks while I was in Prague to get a Teaching English as a Foreign Language certificate.) 

All of my jobs have been great to a large degree, but all of them have also sucked to a not insignificant degree. If I had to pick, I’m not actually sure which job would be the worst. The only real issues have ever been with incompetent bosses.

That, of course, makes sense: who would stay at a job that they hated?

Nevertheless, I always wonder what it would be like to work in retail, use a cash register or flip hamburgers. Would those jobs suck or would there be redeemable aspects? Would I look back on them with fondness, like my former holiday-season fishmonger student?

In any case, I am glad that the fish stands are here again. They represent Christmastime and family time and, at my present career phase, time away from the office.

I just hope they don’t start throwing the fish.

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Have you ever had a terrible job? Manning an assembly line? Selling knives door to door? Cleaning up after a holiday party? Please share in the comments below.

I hope that this column will provide thought-provoking observations of local life that will be interesting for a Saturday-morning read. If you have any suggestions or comments, please pass them along to

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. The publishing of this article does not constitute an endorsement of or any other expression of opinion by the management of Brno Daily.

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