So what do you do for a living? It’s a question most of us have been asked at one stage or another – it’s small-talk staple, after all.

Most of us have easy-enough answers: we work in an office, we’re teachers, physiotherapists, bookkeepers, shop owners, whatever. But there are people whose jobs are rather more unusual – and in certain cases downright bizarre.

Take Jen Glantz, for instance. Her job? Professional bridesmaid.

It all started when Jen, who’s American, spotted a gap in the market. Weddings can be great fun but they can also be hard work, she reasoned – including for bridesmaids who have to do a lot of running around.

Some brides don’t want members of their party to miss out on the fun. Which is where Jen steps in.

“Brides hire me because they have five or six bridesmaids but they’re looking for a professional to handle all the dirty work so their bridesmaids can get to the open bar a whole lot faster,” Jen says.

She takes all the stress away from the bridesmaids – organising the bridal shower, the hen party, helping with the seating arrangements, the speeches and so on.

Things took off when Jen posted an ad on U.S. classified ad website Craigslist and received hundreds of responses within 48 hours. She now does up to 40 weddings a year and has had more than 10 000 applicants trying to join her burgeoning business.

Still, unusual though her job may be, it’s kind of low down on the weird- work ladder. Check out these others.

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Pet-food taster

Hands up – how many of you have watched your dog lick their lips after they’re done eating and wondered what their food tastes like? No one?

But digging into doggie dinners is exactly what Patricia Patterson in Kansas in the US has been doing as her nine-to-five for more than a decade.

As a professional dog-food tester,  Patricia would, for example, help  companies determine which brand tasted beefier so they could boast about the beefiness on their  packaging.

Fortunately, the job doesn’t require her to swallow the canine cuisine.

“You leave it in your mouth for a certain amount of time, maybe moving it around, maybe chewing it. Then you spit it out,” she says. Rather her than us. 

Odour judge

By any standards, Betty Lyons’ job stank.

For 35 years she worked as a professional odour judge at U.S. researching company Hill Top Research, adjudicating the scent of soap, shampoo, skin products and underarm deodorant.

It doesn’t sound that bad until you learn she sometimes had to smell people’s breath to determine whether or not a particular brand of mouthwash worked, or stick her nose into a man’s armpits to check whether  a deodorant was effective.

Betty, who died last year at the age of 88, even nuzzled her nostrils into cats’ litter boxes  to judge which products best neutralised the odour of cat pee. Brave lady. 

Paint namer

Ever marvelled at the names on the swatches of paint in the hardware store and how there are dozens of names for  the colour white alone?

It’s serious business – just ask Dee Schlotter and Misty Yeomans of Pittsburgh in the US, who’ve been naming paint colours for 20 years.

They believe every colour has an emotional association and it’s their job to help connect people to these shades with words.

“Calling a colour mocha instead of brown, sky instead of blue – these words evoke an emotional response to the colour, increasing its emotional connection which is always a positive thing for selling,” Dee explains.

Neutrals are the hardest to name, they say. 

Face feeler

Ever wondered how shaving brands and skincare companies can claim their products give you the smoothest skin?

Enter the professional face feeler – also known as a “sensory scientist” – whose job it is to test how soft and smooth a person’s skin is after using a product. In other words, they hang around all day touching test models’ faces.

Training takes about three months – and a prerequisite for this position is a hands-on attitude to your job. 

Dog surfing instructor

Teevan McManus of the Coronado Surfing Academy in California has been teaching mutts to surf since 2005.

He teaches people to ride waves too, but the dog part of the business started when his pet, Murphy, showed an interest in catching waves. “It was just a matter of time before I started to allow him to catch his own waves,” he recalls.

Teevan now charges customers $80 (about R960) for a private lesson for dog and owner on one of the beaches around San Diego, and business is booming.

According to Teevan, he uses a reward system to get pups to sit on the board, walks them out  to waist-deep water and away they go! 

Full-time TV watcher

Alas, his job isn’t all PJs and popcorn, says Greg Harty, one of the first taggers hired by movie and series streaming giant Netflix.

This professional couch potato’s job is to watch all the content streamed on the site and assign tags that ensure viewers find what they’re looking for when searching for something to watch.

While he knows it’s what many would consider a dream job, he’s at pains to take it seriously. “I keep in mind that I’m working and not slacking off,” he says.

Greg’s “office hours” can be eight to 10 hours a day, in which time he can view and tag three to four movies. Any occupational hazards? Sometimes his butt goes numb and his eyes get blurry.

But he isn’t complaining.

“I come from a blue-collar family and watched both my parents bust their humps every day,” he said. “I’m not going to complain because I have to watch My Little Pony.”

 

Chicken sexer

Chicks huddle together for warmth at birth which presents a problem at commercial hatcheries as the fluffballs need to be separated according to gender – so trained  professionals are brought in to distinguish the sex of chicks.

A common way to do this  is called “venting” – gently squeezing the bird until it relieves itself, providing a good look at its genitalia.

Royal chewing gum scraper

Queen Elizabeth’s office issued an official advert for a vacancy at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh a few years ago.

The successful applicant must “arrange for the removal of chewing gum from historic and state apartments”, the ad stated.

“Individuals leave chewing gum at the royal palaces and it has to be removed.” The salary for this part-time job? Nearly £16 000 (more than R272 000) a year.

Not bad if you’re in a sticky situation work-wise.