Long before they won elections, shaped foreign policy, or presided over massive economies, these heads of state wielded their influence on a much smaller scale, earning a living (or just pocket money) in bars, restaurants, and more. (World leaders: They really are just like us.)
1. ANGELA MERKEL // BARMAID
As a student of quantum physics at East Germany’s University of Leipzig, the research scientist-turned-chancellor worked as a barmaid. “I got an extra 30 pfennig for each sold glass,” Merkel told a biographer. “That added up to 20 to 30 marks a week, which almost paid my room. ... At 7 a.m. classes began, the disco lasted until midnight. In between I was always on the run to get cherry liquor, because that was the drink of the moment.”
2. BARACK OBAMA // WAITER
In addition to scooping ice cream at a Baskin Robbins in Honolulu—a fact he would share with future wife Michelle before they kissed for the first time outside one of the chain's Chicago locations—Obama worked as a waiter at an assisted living facility. “It was a great job, although the folks there sometimes were cranky because they were on restricted diets,” he recalled to Parade last year. “Mr. Smith would want more salt, and you’d say, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Smith. You’re not allowed.’”
3. JOHANNA SIGURDARDOTTIR // FLIGHT ATTENDANT
Iceland’s ex-prime minister held a job as a flight attendant on Icelandair before she shifted her focus to labor rights, working as a union organizer for the airline.
4. SILVIO BERLUSCONI // CRUISE SHIP SINGER
The (now-disgraced) former prime minister of Italy credits his days performing on cruise ships with teaching him, as The Telegraph put it, “everything he knows about working a crowd.”
5. DMITRY MEDVEDEV // STREET CLEANER
The Russian prime minister likes to boast that he made just 120 roubles, including bonuses, cleaning streets when he was a student. “I loved this period of my life,” he said in 2012.
6. STEPHEN HARPER // MAILROOM ASSISTANT
After dropping out of the University of Toronto in 1978, Canada’s current head of government landed a job at Imperial Oil. Later, his boss there would remember Harper as a bright, hardworking young man, eager to make an impression. "My office boy was Stephen Harper," he said. "He did very well in a very entry level job. He sort of checked the cash, delivered mail and that sort of thing. He wasn't above doing anything."
7. MICHAEL HIGGINS // WAITER
Ireland’s president was born into a poor family, but hoped to attend University College Galway. Against his family’s wishes, he relocated to Sussex, England, where he worked as a wine waiter to save money for school. A journalist friend who knew the young Higgins at the time described him as “a very pleasing, radical, clever and intelligent sensitive person.”
8. ELLEN SIRLEAF JOHNSON // DRUGSTORE CLERK
At the age of 17, the current president of Liberia—who had been an ambitious and accomplished high school student—stunned her family when she wed a man seven years her senior. She followed him to Madison, Wisc., where he was enrolled in a graduate-level agriculture program. Johnson, meanwhile, signed up for undergraduate classes at a local business school and worked in a drugstore to help pay the bills—something her husband, who by then had become increasingly violent, didn’t approve of. (Johnson divorced him several years after the pair returned to Monrovia.)
9. POPE FRANCIS // NIGHTCLUB BOUNCER
Yes, you read that correctly. The leader of the Catholic church worked as a bouncer in his native Buenos Aires. What’s more, he used to go dancing—and had a girlfriend. "She was one of a group of friends I went dancing with,” he explained to his biographers in 2010. “But then I discovered my religious vocation." It’s a shame, because we would have loved to have seen him do the tango.
All images via Getty