Odd Jobs Around the World
Have you ever dreamed of getting paid to binge-watch Netflix, or to eat your favorite foods in front of a virtual audience? Or how about being employed to direct traffic while dressed as a zebra — or to hang out with a flock of ravens all day?
While it's easy to think these jobs could only exist on the pages of a great fiction novel, they're all legit. Right now as you're reading this, people, around the world, are getting paid to do all of these things and more.
Here's our list of some of the wackiest and most interesting jobs the world has to offer. But beware: What you're about to discover may inspire you to leave the ordinary behind.
Traffic Zebra - Bolivia
For years, it’s been a nightmare for both motorists and pedestrians to navigate the streets and crosswalks of La Paz, thanks to narrow roadways and a population boom. In 2002, a government employee came up with a wild and ingenious idea to combat the issue: traffic zebras, aka cebritas.
Dressed in full-body zebra costumes, cebritas direct traffic while wielding lollipops and colorful flags, giving out high fives, and helping pedestrians safely walk or dance their way across the street. And that's not all. In addition to saving lives on the road, every zebra hired is an at-risk youth. Working part-time as a cebrita gives each kid a chance to earn an honest wage, and through additional training programs, they can develop skills to become leaders in their local communities.
Happily for tourists, a project called Zebra for a Day makes it possible for curious and adventurous visitors to slip on a zebra suit and join the fun.
Traffic zebras aren’t the world’s only flamboyantly dressed traffic controllers — the Bolivia initiative was inspired by, yes, traffic mimes in Bogota, Columbia.
Subway Pusher - Japan
Tokyo’s trains are notoriously crowded; an estimated 8.5 million people use the city’s subway routes every day. To maintain efficiency, the city employs oshiyas, or “pushers,” who literally cram as many bodies as possible onto the trains, like sardines in a can, while making sure nobody gets caught in the closing doors.
As it was described in CNN, “It's like if you had a big laundry basket that overflows and you have to push the clothes down to close the lid. That's what they do.” To ensure cleanliness, the pushers wear white gloves.
The job helps the city maintain its famous punctuality; this is a place, after all, where a train conductor once apologized for departing the station 20 seconds early.
Mukbang Jockey - South Korea
If you love eating and can attract a massive following online, you could become a famous and well-paid mukbang jockey — someone who live-streams themselves devouring copious amounts of food.
The mukbang, or "eating broadcast," trend began in South Korea around 2013, and quickly became a phenomenon. One popular mukbang personality, Park Seo-Yeon (or “The Diva”), reportedly makes up to $9,000 a month through advertising and sponsorships, just to sit in front of a webcam and binge-eat while chatting with her virtual fans.
While the online trend may seem a bit bizarre, it’s born of specific lifestyle elements in Korean society. As Serim An, the public relations coordinator for the video-streaming platform Afreeca TV, told CNN, "We think it's because of three big reasons — the rise of one-person households in Korea, their ensuing loneliness and finally the huge trend of 'well-being culture' and excessive dieting in Korean society."
For fans following strict diets, watching their favorite mukbang jockey inhale fried chicken, chocolate cake and bowls of noodles allows them to enjoy diet-derailing foods vicariously.
Ravenmaster - United Kingdom
Regarded as highly intelligent and known to be a bit mischevious, ravens are an integral part of the Tower of London’s past and present; a longstanding superstition holds that if the Tower’s resident birds leave, the Tower and indeed the entire kingdom will fall. To thwart that bleak outcome, the birds are cared for by a Ravenmaster — a coveted and notoriously difficult job to land.
To even be considered for the position, you must be a Yeoman Warder, or an official guard of the Tower of London. A minimum of 22 years military service is required, along with a spotless record and a ranking of warrant officer or above.
Currently, the Tower's Ravenmaster is Chris Skaife. He begins each day at sunrise, cleaning the raven's cages and preparing their meal of mice and chicken meat. Once the birds (there are seven) have been set free from their cages, Skaife spends the day watching them glide over the Thames River and nick bits of food from unsuspecting tourists. Once it's dark, the ravens return to the Tower, where they are tucked back into their cages for the night, marking the end of the Ravenmaster's day at the office.
Gray Hair Plucker - Vietnam
Thin hair, thick hair, curly hair, kinky hair, it doesn't matter. If you have gray hairs of any kind that you want to get rid of, you can pay to have them plucked from your head in Vietnam by a professional gray-hair plucker.
Traditionally, in Vietnamese families, children pluck the gray hairs of their parents, grandparents and other elderly family members. But over the years, shops have been popping up in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City offering the service for a fee.
Interestingly, in the United States there's been an ongoing debate as to whether or not it's a good idea to remove gray hairs. Some believe that plucking causes the hair to grow back thicker, while others think plucking one gray will cause two or three to appear in its place.
The Vietnamese, however, believe that gray hairs trigger headaches and induce stress, and that removing as many as possible can not only improve your look, but potentially boost your health.
Panda Cuddler - China
We have found, without a doubt, the greatest job on Earth.
The Wolong National Nature Reserve in China’s Sichuan Province employs professional panda caretakers who, no joke, spend their days cuddling up to and playing with adorable pandas. And there's a twist: They wear full panda costumes while doing so, because human attachment can make it more difficult for the animals to later acclimate to the wild.
When the Giant Panda Protection and Research Center once posted about a similar job opening — one that would require people to “act as carers for adorable panda cubs” — more than 100,000 applicants threw their hat in the ring.
Bomb Diver - Cambodia
The Vietnamese invasion of 1978, years of civil war and relentless carpet-bombing campaigns by the United States have left the waters of Cambodia littered with unexploded ordnance, or UXOs — explosive materials such as cluster bombs and landmines that failed to initially detonate and still pose a risk for explosion.
Since 1979, it's been estimated that there have been over 64,000 UXO-related injuries in Cambodia and over 19,000 deaths. To combat this life-threatening issue, the Cambodian Mine Action Center, or CMAC, created an elite team of bomb divers who are trained to de-mine the rivers and lakes of Cambodia.
From a group of 40 applicants, a team of nine divers were hired. In a demanding military-style training camp, the men learned how to swim, dive and locate UXOs at the bottom of Cambodia's black rivers, such as the Mekong and Tonlé Sap, by touch alone.
The ultimate risk associated with bomb diving is death. One wrong move and even a bomb that's laid dormant for four decades can explode. While each member of the team accepts this grim reality, they believe making the waters of their country safe is a patriotic duty.
Tusk Force - Bangladesh
UNICEF estimates that as of January 2019, over 730,000 persecuted Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar. Within the border area, acres of forest have been torn down to make room for refugee camps. Not only has this negatively impacted the environment but the wildlife, especially the elephants, have suffered as well.
Once a year, elephants from the Southern region of Bangladesh migrate east, and a portion of their migratory path cuts through the refugee camps. Given their genetic memories, elephants are hard-wired to follow the same route every year. And unfortunately, since September 2017, 14 Rohingya refugees have been killed by migrating elephants.
In response, the UN’s refugee agency and the International Union for Conservation of Nature created and sponsor the aptly named Tusk Force. The group is comprised of Rohingya refugees who teach their community, especially the children, how to calmly deal with the elephants. In addition to working in newly built watchtowers throughout the camp, members of this specialized group use a life-sized puppet elephant to demonstrate how to interact with an elephant on the move.
Since its inception, the Tusk Force has proven to be highly effective. According to Aljazeera, "The number of elephant deaths has plummeted from 13 between September 2017 and February 2018 to just one in the past year.”
Professional Churchgoer - North Korea
According to Open Doors USA, a watchdog organization that supports persecuted Christians around the world, North Korea is ranked as the most hostile country for Christians. Unfortunately, in the hermit kingdom, the only person worthy of worship is the supreme leader, Kim Jung-Un. As a result, Christians, if they dare, are forced to worship in secrecy. And if caught, they could be dragged off to one of North Korea's notorious labor camps or murdered.
Despite this hostile and dangerous environment, Pyongyang is home to four public churches (one Roman Catholic, one Russian Orthodox and two Protestant). The catch? Their pews are alleged to be filled with hired churchgoers pretending to worship while surrounded by bibles and hymn sheets. The state hosts bogus religious ceremonies, complete with a choir, to give the impression of tolerance and religious freedom to foreign visitors and tourists.
Roadside Dentist - India
In many of India's small towns and villages, alongside rows of barbers, bike mechanics and street food vendors, you can find roadside dentists.
Experts in tooth extraction and dentures, these dentists offer a cheaper alternative to people who can't afford the high costs associated with a traditional dental office.
Interestingly these roadside dentists don't have to complete formal training or receive an education in dentistry. Most practitioners learn their trade from generations of experienced family members. And while the tools they use streetside are cleaned, they're typically not sterilized, and all procedures are performed without anesthetic.
In 1948, the government made roadside dentistry illegal, but despite the law, the profession continued to thrive. Only recently has there been a crackdown in India's major cities such as New Delhi and Mumbai, as the government doesn't want to soil the image of these tourist-favored cities.
Bicycle Fisher - The Netherlands
In Amsterdam, incredibly, there are more bikes than people. On the plus side, this ensures the city is sustainable and healthy. On the downside, it means a lot of bikes that end up in canals, with many locals using the waterways as a giant trash can despite numerous attempts to thwart the practice.
To solve this uniquely Amsterdam problem, full-time employees use giant hydraulic claws to fish out bikes from the waterways, retrieving an estimated 15,000 bikes each year. By all accounts, the job is held in high esteem. "I love my job," a bicycle fisher told Public Radio International last year. "You're standing outside with a lot of freedom around you. So it's a nice job." Indeed.
Dog Mayor - Rabbit Hash, Kentucky
The town of Rabbit Hash, located along the Ohio River in Northern Kentucky, is known for its landmark General Store and its mayors — who for the past 20 years have been dogs.
In 1998, Rabbit Hash's 300-plus residents hired their first canine mayor, a mutt named Goofy Borneman-Calhoun. For years the job was dominated by the boys, but in 2008, Rabbit Hash inaugurated its first female mayor, a border collie called Lucy Lou, who unfortunately passed away in 2018. Today the job belongs to Brynneth Pawltro-Bamforth, or Brynn, an American pit bull terrier, who was elected in 2016.
Brynn, like her predecessors, donates 100% of her income to local charities. And when she's not busy fundraising, Brynn spends her downtime chasing tennis balls, hiking with her human and mingling with the people of Rabbit Hash.
Charmingly enough, Brynn isn’t the only animal to lead a U.S. town. There have been dog mayors in Idyllwood, California; Cormorant, Minnesota; and Sunol, California, among others. Stubbs the cat was the beloved mayor of Talkeetna, Arkansas, until she passed a couple years ago; Lajitas, Texas, was run by a beer-loving goat for nearly a decade; and before electing a dog this year, Eastsound, Washington, counted Alice the Cow as its mayor.
Iceberg Mover - North Atlantic Ocean
As anyone who knows the tragic story of the Titanic could tell you, icebergs can pose a serious threat to ships. Moreover, they can also cause significant damage to oil rigs. To keep icebergs from wreaking damage, the International Ice Patrol employs contractors to locate and tow away potentially dangerous icebergs using special tug ropes and boats.
The process can reportedly take up to 72 hours.
Olive Oil Police - Italy
In 2008, Italy's National Olive Oil Association graduated its first class of olive oil police — an elite group of 20 law enforcement officers trained to taste and detect fake olive oil.
For years, Italy has struggled to contain the proliferation of the Agromafia, organized crime groups that exploit migrant workers and export cheap versions of Italy's most prized food products. This includes wine, cheese and — the Agromafia's favorite — olive oil.
To produce a knock-off, chemicals and flavorings are added to pure extra-virgin olive oil or the oil is mixed with lower-quality oil versions such as sunflower or soybean. The end product is shipped to places like the United States and sold as real-deal Italian extra-virgin olive oil.
According to a 2016 CBS News report, the unique expertise of these trained tasters has helped law enforcement bust many olive oil scams. As Major Sergio Tirro, considered one of Europe's top food fraud investigators told CBS, the tasters’ "skill is so respected, Italian courts will accept taste results as evidence.”
Traffic Lady - North Korea
Rumored to be handpicked by their supreme leader Kim Jong-Un, the traffic ladies of North Korea manage the roadways of Pyongyang, the country's capital city.
To be considered for employment, a candidate must be physically beautiful (as determined by Kim), unmarried and precisely 5'6" tall. She is also required to relinquish her position when she turns 26 years old, the age when most women in North Korea get married.
Before stepping onto the busy roadways of Pyongyang, the traffic ladies must complete a rigorous training program, where every movement is precisely choreographed and rehearsed until executed with perfection.
Eternal Employee - Sweden
Imagine a job where you're required to do absolutely nothing. And in exchange, you receive a salary with annual raises, paid vacation and a pension. Sound too good to be true? Thanks to Swedish artists Simon Goldin and Jakob Senneby — the winners of an international public-art competition tied to the redesign of the Korsvägen train station in Gothenburg, Sweden — it’s not.
Goldin and Senneby's winning project is called Eternal Employment. In 2026, the artists will hire a lucky someone whose only tasks will include clocking in and out at the Korsvägen train station every working day. The employee, hired indefinitely, is free to do whatever he or she wants — take a nap, hit the gym, binge-watch Netflix, whatever — while on the clock. According to the “Washington Post,” the employee's proposed salary will amount to 21,600 Swedish krona, or about $2,312, a month.
The Eternal Employment project will begin accepting applications in 2025. And yes, according to the job description, international candidates are encouraged to apply.