Saturday, 29 March 2008


Back to the world of the office. Back to strange fake bonhomie, unnecessary cakes and the strange stress related to tea-rounds (Do I have to offer to make him one? He's, like, two cubicles away from me, but he offered earlier, even if I didn't take it, ok I won't ask him, oh no he's giving me a funny look). Being a freelancer, as I am, is so much different though. There's that added element of really having no obligation. I'm just a body in a chair, so nothing can be expected of me. It's a good way to work. I advise all to give it a go.

It's always odd to observe the little foibles of every office. Like a fool, I made my first visit to the kitchen with a certain amount of self-confidence, having spent the last five years visiting various office kitchens. But I was upended when I arrived. No cups. No cups at all. There was a sign about cups - 'these disposable cups are for guests only'. I'm a guest, I want a disposable cup. But there were no cups of any persuasion.

So I looked for a cup, but all cupboards were locked - which was strange. Then I ventured further into the kitchen to look for a cup.

'What are you doing?' Asked one of two ladies in an aspect of appalled.
'Looking for a cup' I said like the unknowing fool I was.
'This area is for hospitality only. Hospitality' She said with anger, while her companion stared at me open-mouthed, as if I were standing there punching a dolphin. Apparently they were hospitality.

I looked around me. There was no area of demarcation. There was a kitchen, with kitcheny stuff and then more kitchen beyond. There seemed to be no obvious change in utility. But it appeared I'd strayed into an out of bounds region.

'Do you have a cup?' I asked the people in hospitality, who, in fairness, do deal with cups quite frequently, so I didn't feel it was a wildly inappropriate. Their joint expressions of disgust deepened.
'Go to the other kitchen' They ordered.
'Where's that?'
'On the other side of the building' I was told with a sigh.

I left chastised, victim of unseen, unwitting office vagaries. These things can't be taught. When you're first shown around and the bogs and the kettle are pointed out, no one says, 'And don't cross that invisible boundary in the tea-making area or the people from hospitality will be less than hospitable' That's the downside of freelancing - yes you have freedom, more money and no obligation. But you do fall foul of unpredictable cultures.

When I got back to my temporary desk, I noticed everyone had a personal cup in close contact to his or her person. As time passed I noticed they were fiercely protective of their personal cups, which were brought from home in a vague nod to environmentalism. Eventually I tracked down a disposable cup, provided for guests, which I reused frequently like a tramp. But then, that’s what we freelancers are. Tramps of the office – business hobos. Without the shivs.

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