It’s time for a new post. That last one is a bit depressing and out of date.
Since our mother’s demise last month, Ingrid and I have spent a long weekend in New York City which was excellent and full of adventures. When I say ‘adventures’ you have to remember that we are in our 40s and so we may not have taken advantage of all that the city has to offer. The latest we were out at night was 11pm and that was because we stopped off at a tea shop on Fifth Avenue for a pre-bedtime soy milk chai.
However, we were almost murdered by a madman on the 38th floor of our hotel. He followed us into the lift suspiciously clutching a brown paper bag, got off on our floor, walked behind us and then luckily for us changed his mind at the last minute and turned left instead of killing us in our suite. This scenario may also have been the product of Ingrid’s over-active (but much denied) imagination.
Meeting up with my dear friend Tish while there also got me inspired about performing at the FronteraFest fringe festival again and I have now submitted my application for next January. The subject probably won’t be hard to guess if you follow the adage of writing what you know. So even though I’ve got more to say on the story of the Armenian who used to be a swimming, reading Frenchman and all the rest of the circus monkeys, I’m saving it for the show.
The trouble with trying to write a new show is that I also have a job. This is a bit of an obstacle given that it requires me to do something other than sit at home and write. However, as this is my first job in a proper American office, which is something I have managed to avoid for 14 years, I thought I should record a few observations about the corporate environment. Far better to write about work than actually do any.
So in no particular order here is my list of things that I have learned about American office culture.
1. Beige is a very versatile shade of dull.
It can be used as paint color for the office walls and base boards. It makes a nice neutral for your chair fabric and cubicle wall and you can even get matching carpet. Essentially it goes with everything. Especially if everything is beige.
2. We all work in ‘cubicles’ but not the toilet kind.
It makes me nauseous to even type the word cubicle, given that it is the British equivalent of the restroom stall and is therefore akin to saying we all work in the bogs. I can’t speak for today’s British office but fortunately these were not used back in my days of yore. This hideous partition system is supposedly designed to block distractions but there is nothing more distracting than hearing someone’s mutterings from the other side without being able to see them. More distracting than sitting opposite an ugly person? Yes I think so. Even in prison the partition is glass.
3. People decorate their cubicles.
I can understand the desire to cover up the expanse of beige but luckily I do not have children and am therefore not obliged to pin up photos of them sitting in a pumpkin patch. In fact I do not have any personal effects around my desk. I do have a sticker that says ‘Fuck No’ but the reaction when this fell out of my notebook during a meeting means that I now keep it in my desk drawer. See below.
4. Swearing is apparently not funny or clever.
In fact according to my employee handbook it may be classed as harrassment, which is defined as ‘verbal conduct such as epithets (which fyi are not the things on the shoulders of a doorman’s uniform) derogatory jokes or comments, sexually explicit remarks, foul or obscene language, slurs or whistling’. Whilst I would totally agree that whistling is harrassment, the overall message I’ve learned is you should not jokingly call your co-workers a silly twat or a daft cunt.
Note: this applies to all friendly offensive banter which we Brits excel at. You will not realize your crime until you get called into a meeting with HR. Also do not call the HR Director a Personnel Manager because they do not like this.
5. Bagel Friday is real (not just a Dilbert thing)
Company wide emails are sent about it. People get excited. Sometimes there is more than one flavour of cream cheese. There is also ‘Thirsty Thursday’ which is annoyingly announced by the creaky opening and closing of a cooler/ice chest lid. By the fifth creak you either go and get a beer from the kitchen or smash the offending individual’s hand in the cooler lid.
6. Calendars are passive-aggressive tools.
The calendar is not just for scheduling meetings as I had naively thought. It allows you to tell other people to fuck off at times when you want to be left alone. For example, you might see a 1 hour block that says ‘LUNCH DO NOT BOOK OVER’, the use of upper case being essential here. You can also guilt your coworkers with a message like ‘IF YOU BOOK OVER THIS TIME I WILL NOT SEE MY CHILD TODAY’. I find the temptation almost overwhelming at times.
I have also found that I am very juvenile when it comes to calendar acronyms. wfh (working from home) is far too easily changeable to wtf.
7. Talking is banned
Ok it’s not explicitly stated in the Handbook but there’s no need to actually talk to people when you have instant messaging. Plus everyone wears headphones which are now so inconspicuous that you can’t tell someone is wearing them and even if you could you wouldn’t be able to see them over the top of their cubicle and you wouldn’t want to show weakness by standing up (see number 10). So if you dare call across to your neighbor to ask a question and are greeted by silence you don’t know if that means they’re ignoring you, can’t hear you or if you’ve just upset them by interrupting their ‘IF YOU BOOK OVER THIS TIME A BABY OWL WILL BE DIE’ calendar time.
8. The silence is deafening.
I thought American offices would be all rah-rah, cheerleadery. This is not the case. It is so damn quiet in my office that I want to pop a few balloons in rapid succession just to see the reaction. The only noise is from the poor person with the slightly louder than average telephone voice who now sounds like they’re bellowing and gets filthy looks from everyone else for forcing them to slightly adjust the volume on their headphones.
9. Water cooler conversation is not a thing.
Partly because the water cooler is a very small machine tucked into the corner of the kitchen and would cause an access blockage if more than two people stood next to it which in turn would necessitate the involvement of HR and a new written policy for the Handbook. But mostly because people do not seem to drink water. (See also Thirsty Thursday).
10. He who sits longest wins.
People sit at their desks for very long periods of time. They only get up for toilet breaks and meetings I suspect because both give them the opportunity to sit down again. The underachievers are the fidgets like me who have to get up and wander around every half hour or so. No-one says anything, but you can see the glint in their eye that they have outlasted, outplayed, outsat someone else. Thrombosis be damned.
I suspect I may soon find that I have more writing time than I expected.