Our vendors: Nikola Babic (Surprise, Langenthal, Switzerland)

Interview by Georg Gindely, Surprise

I think I’ll stay with Surprise until I retire. I’m so happy I found this job. Before this job, I filled in so many applications that I lost count – and all I got back were rejections. I moved to Switzerland five years ago from Vršac, a town in north-eastern Serbia, near the Romanian border. As time went by, my pay became less than enough to live on, and there was always one political problem or another going on in Serbia. In my home country, I worked as a financial economist in an accounting department. I’m finding it very difficult to find a similar job in Switzerland. Although I have been learning German since I arrived here, I don’t know enough to work in my specialist area. And when I applied for other jobs, I kept being told that I was too old or that I didn’t have enough experience. I think it’s only fair to say that I have no talent whatsoever for working with my hands. I don’t see any way that I can work either in catering or the service sector.

So, in May last year, after seeing a good few people selling Surprise, I decided to contact the office in Bern. Now I sell the paper for a few hours most days and in all weathers outside the big Coop supermarket in the centre of Langenthal. When I’ve had enough of standing and selling, I sometimes go jogging, cycling or just for a walk. As a financial economist, I find it exciting to see how variable my sales are. Some days there are lots of people, but I don’t sell many copies; whereas on other days there aren’t many people, but I still manage to sell a lot. You can never predict what will happen.

Photo by Susanne Keller

In my first year, I managed to build up a large number of regular customers. I would often hear people say: “I buy the paper just because of you. You’re here every day”. People seem to like the fact that I’m there selling the paper on such a regular basis. I talk to a lot of customers, and some even buy me a coffee from the Coop restaurant. As a thank you and a good luck charm I give them a small statue of the Virgin Mary or St. Anthony, the patron saint of children.

I have two daughters of my own, as it happens. They’re 29 and 30. One’s got a young daughter of her own. They all live in Vršac and, if I manage to put enough money aside for the trip, I’ll go and visit them in the summer.

Thanks to SurPlus, the Surprise Support Programme, which I was recently introduced to, I’ll also be paid during the holidays in future. I’ll get the average amount that I earn in the few months beforehand. I’ll also get financial support to get a monthly travel pass and, if I need it, I’ll be given sick pay. I’m very grateful that I was included in the programme. I’m really glad that I found my way to Surprise. I’m not constantly having to worry about how to find a job with my qualifications and my German –and at my age. I’d prefer just to do my best every day until I retire.

Translated from German by Sean Morris