TESTIMONY BY A FORMER MEMBER
Alternate Names of this group: National Chemical, Envirolab, Natures Secret, World Chemical
By Davrell Roberts Tien
Â© Davrell Roberts Tien 1999
It was during a spring not long ago. I had just turned 21 and was working as a waitress in a hotel restaurant. The job was okay, but I dreamt of leaving my home town in the middle of Sweden to see the world.
Late one evening a group of well-dressed young people came into the restaurant to eat dinner. A few of them were from Denmark, but most were Swedes around my age. They drank beer and joked a lot among themselves. They told me they were having a great time on the traveling sales crew of a chemical company.
"We work really hard but we can make thousands of kronor a week," said one. I could see they really did work hard because they all finished breakfast before 8:00 and did not show up for dinner until 9:00 in the evening.
One of the managers was a handsome American man with curly dark hair named James. He was in his early thirties and all the employees treated him respectfully. One evening when ordering dessert he started chatting with me in English. He came from California but had been an international sales manager with the company for seven years. He was what you imagined a successful American businessman to be: friendly and easy to talk to but at the same time very serious.
Although I've always had guys interested in me, I never thought a guy like James would be interested in an ordinary small town girl like me. So I was happy when he invited me to join him and the rest of sales crew for dinner on Saturday night.
We went to the best restaurant in town and I sat at James's table. Afterwards we all went to discotheque together. Some of the girls in company were pretty, they joked and flirted with James, but he made me feel special. When I said I had to go, James said he'd take me home in a taxi but we ended up going back to his hotel.
James was different from the guys my own age, he was confident, masculine and experienced. He had been a Marine and now was a wealthy businessman. He got what he wanted and now he wanted me. He admitted that he had had a few love affairs with the girls on the sales crew while on the road, but said that had always led to complications. I wanted to believe him when he said it was different with me.
The company's sales crews had to leave for Norway in a week and James with them. I was in love and did not want it to end.
As we ate breakfast in his room one Sunday morning, he said that I was sweet and beautiful, but that if I wanted to achieve something in life I had to have the will power to believe in myself and escape the "lagom" life of a small town. James said we might be together if I got a job with the company. He thought I had the stuff to make a great career as a businesswoman. "My company is successful because it teaches people to think positively, you'll learn a lot," he said.
He called the head office and made an appointment for me with the director of personnel, then bought me a ticket and booked a hotel in Stockholm, where the company was located. "Go and see for yourself," he said.
I told my parents that I had met an American guy and his company was offering me a job. They didn't like James being more than ten years older than me, but said it wouldn't hurt to go for a job interview.
In Stockholm the office was big and bright, really professional. The director of personnel showed me the product line, different kinds of soap for cleaning everything. She said that the company paid for the hotel on the road, but there was no fixed salary, income was based strictly on commission. Everyone who worked hard learned how to sell and made a lot of money, she promised. It did not sound great, but I wanted to be with James.
When I got home James called and said that he missed me and hoped I was coming to Norway. I gave notice at the hotel, packed my best clothes, picked up a prepaid ticket at the station and took the train to Oslo.
James said that I couldn't stay in the same hotel room with him until I had three sales a week. It was a unwritten company rules to prevent new sales personnel who were not selling anything from pairing up and having a honeymoon at the expense of the company. So I shared a room with Sara, a girl who had been with company for a long time.
They woke us up at 6:30 the next morning, all the sales personnel had breakfast together before a sales meeting to set targets. I was assigned to a minibus with another manager and four other employees. We did not have any appointments but just walked in the doors of companies and started demonstrating how good the cleaning soap was. I was embarrassed when people asked us to leave, but Sara never stopped smiling and had answers to all their objections.
"Just make them like you and they'll buy," she said. On the fifth door Sara made a sale, a thousand Norwegian kronor for five liters. Sara was one of the star sales women and said she needed 7 more sales that month to win a trip to London.
The next morning I began going from door to door by myself but nobody wanted to buy. There was no break for lunch. Just more doors and more "no thank you's". I must have walked 30 kilometers that day. My feet ached when the mini-van met us. The Swedish guy in charge of our car that day, glared at the people who had not sold anything, but did not say much to me.
James bought me dinner and said it had been a good day for the company. He told me not to think negatively but to learn from the experience how to get the customers to do what I wanted. We had sales meeting for the new employees and those who had not met their targets. I stood up and introduced myself in English. Everyone applauded. It was just after 1:00 when we finished.
I spent the night in James's room. He was the reason I was in Oslo and the humiliation of the day did not matter anymore. I awoke from a deep sleep when the alarm went off at 6:15 to hurry back to my own room before the company wake up call.
Each day passed the same way. Time became a blur. To my surprise some customers bought from me. Show that the product worked, smile, chat and joke and 20 minutes later some of them would sign orders for thousands. Then in the mini-van there were smiles and congratulations. Even before we got in, the managers and drivers knew by the way we walked whether or not we had sold.
But we did not always sell, and then it was hell. Some of the managers used to hit the dashboard, pound the roof and swear. "Never take it personally," they used to say. But you did. Some of the girls were crying in the car, but they didn't care. I never dared ask James about it. But he must have known since people quit or were fired all the time. There were always newcomers to take their places.
Everything was so expensive in Norway. The company paid for the rooms but every meal in the hotel ate up all the commissions I earned. You had to go out with the gang on Saturday night and drink, so some of us were always short of money. James always had thousands of kronor in his pocket paid for many of my meals but I told him to stop because I was afraid the others who did not have money would be "sour."
When the summer came James said that he wanted me to go abroad with him on holiday, but thought we had better wait till I had more sales. He thought I would have a good chance if I went with one of the mini-vans up to Northern Norway where at lot of money floating around and customers were "guppies", the company's word for people who would buy if you flattered their egos.
I did not want to leave James, but I went and walked up and down the hills for a month. The fjords and nature were beautiful, but that just made everything stranger since we never had time to stop and enjoy it. I lost kilos and I was not overweight to begin with.
Once, when I came to the car one day without a sale, one of the bosses, a Swedish woman, asked me 'Why didn't you sell?'
"I don't know," I said.
"If you say you 'don't know' one more time," she replied, "I 'm going to slap you."
I felt sick and weak inside.
When we joined the others back in the south, I told James that I was not certain the job was for me.
"Come on, you can't give so easily. I'm always here if you need help," he said, looking into my eyes. I promised to stay.
The next day a girl who had been with the big group while I'd been up North, said, "you ought to know James been sleeping with Eva, while you were away."
I did not want to believe it. Eva was an attractive blond girl from Stockholm who started at about the same time as I did. From the way she looked at him during dinner I thought it might be true. Had James been with us both at the same time?
All the time in Norway I had told my parents that everything was great with James and the job was cool. If none of it were true and I did not want to go home and tell anyone what had happened, besides I did not have any money to go home and no job to return to.
I stayed on with the company to prove to James that I was better than he thought, that I did not care, that I could make money, then leave with my pride. Maybe I thought James would come back to me and say he was sorry. I stayed, all the time wanting more and more to go home.
But it was not easy to leave. The company never allowed us to be alone, we had no time for a personal life or private thoughts. If you got sick, they did everything to try and get you to go out, even if all you did was sit the van. When you were on the telephone you never knew if your roommate would listen and report to the managers. It was like the school mobbning, only worse because it went on 7 days a week.
We had Sundays off, but at 10:00 in the evening we had to dress up in our best clothes and attend a big sales meeting, during which we had to put all our positive goals for the next week in writing. To begin the managers gave out diamond rings to the top salesmen, then they criticized the underachievers. Once a guy yawned in the meeting and they made him squawk like a chicken as punishment.
They got everyone to make jokes about what had happened on Saturday night, prying into your personal life. If someone picked up someone at the disco, they always wanted to the know the details. It was supposed to be funny, but it was sick.
But there was no one with whom I could talk, because the company rules did not allow negative conversations.
Every time I tried to quit, the more the managers yelled. 'No you can't stop, you're so good.' They told James. He came to me one night and I told him I had to go because I missed my friends back home. He got really angry. "You don't really have any friends back there, all your so-called friends are whores and losers, if you back you'll be just another loser working as a waitress for the rest of you life." I stood there sobbing, hurting with all my soul, then suddenly he took me in his arms and was tender. I gave myself to him again.
Nothing had really changed though. James did not love me and never had. A few days later I told him to send me a bill for any money I owed the company. I was leaving. This time he went crazy, threw me on the bed and said he did not know why he should not hit me. I said I would stay, but it was only because I was afraid.
In the end I had to lie to get home. I said my grandmother was sick in the hospital. I don't think they believed me. James and the Company took three months from my life. I lost 8 kilo's and came home feeling terrible inside. My parents mother and father do not understand what happened to me.
At the end of my time with the Company I met a regular guy who was just there employed just three weeks. We were happy together for a short time. He lives in another part of the country, so we cannot meet. But we still talk on the telephone sometimes. It helps to have someone who understand a little of the nightmare I went through.
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