When Socially-Awkward People Get Invited to Company Meetings

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At my work, there are regular meetings that are large enough that you can whisper to your neighbor “look at this picture of cookies” without being heard, but small enough so that there is no catering (i.e. no free cookies).

The first couple of meetings I attended were protected by a n00b buffer; if I did or said anything stupid, no-one would really care and just chalk it down to the whimsical individuality of non-corporate-stampeded naivete. Recently was the third of such meetings, and now I had to act like a confident, well-adjusted grown-up.

Choosing a seat

In short – in a corner, in the dark, or near a door. Preferably all three.

Like a panicked moron, I ended up choosing a seat at one end of a U-shaped conference table, thinking I’d be away from the action. Turns out it was the furthest seat from either of the doors, and right next to the wall that had the projections of the video conference participants and the meeting’s presentation (at which everyone was looking).

Choosing a drink

My drink of choice of late is hazelnut black tea mixed with hot chocolate (or, failing that, Swiss Miss). I’m not a hot drink hipster, I just ordered an iced version of chocolate black tea from a bakery in Chinatown once and have been hooked on the concoction ever since (it really does need to be a strong black tea). Everyone else chose an easy-to-make coffee and cold creamer. So when I’m sitting down with a near-boiling cup of fluid in front of me, it really shouldn’t surprise me if I burn several layers off my tongue, but the trick is not to cry out in pain, much like when you’re getting a flu jab and don’t want to betray your cool exterior. Smile through the pain and just swallow it down.

Paying Attention

The trick is not to just pay attention, but make it look like you’re really, really paying attention. It doesn’t matter if you’re just a temp who was recently hired and have never, ever heard of all of last year’s past initiatives and paradigms and mission-critical optimizations, just smile and nod and act like, if you had ever had any knowledge of these things, that you would give a shit about any of them.

And it’s not enough to just nod and smile and try to co-ordinate your haughty fake business laugh with other people’s real fake haughty business laughs. You have to pick moments to squint your eyes in faux concentration as if one particular powerpoint slide or discussion topic means something to you. Just don’t choose the “does anyone have any questions?” moment as your “eureka” moment, or you’ll get flashbacks to being called on in class (although, of course, that was never an issue for me).

Managing Introductions

Inevitably, if there’s an outside speaker, you will be expected to remember which business unit/group/division you support, and be able to summarize exactly what you do in a way that doesn’t make you look like a third tit. We actually had a discussion at the end of the last meeting about our division’s sudden name change…without any of us having been told, and the quandary that resulted in not knowing what to call ourselves (again, apparently).

A best practice, if you’re running this kind of meeting, is to recommend introductions only if someone has a question. And if you choose the “introduce the person to your left” bullshit, I hope your business goes bankrupt, because that is as comfortable and natural as a bra made out of reconstituted walrus pubic hair.

Take Notes

Everyone will bring a pen and pad to a meeting, and almost everyone will take notes. If you can’t think of anything of value to note down (because, in turn, you are a temp and of no value), for God’s sake do not doodle. People will be able to tell, even if they are sat way across the room. Write down a grocery shopping list; take a word and try to make into another word by changing just one letter at a time; or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, write down anything that you might be quizzed on by your Executive Senior Vice Managing Director Partner President in a follow-up meeting.

Managing Handouts

If you’re lucky, you might get a big wad of presentation to leaf through, or some relevant printouts. This way, you can stare mindlessly at something other than the floor or that person’s shoes and feel like you’re genuinely engaged in this meeting. If you had the foresight to get a seat at a far end, then great, but if you’re near the speaker, or somewhere in the middle of the row/line of seats, you will have to take a handout and pass them on, so make sure your fingers are moist enough to separate the papers (in England, we learn how to separate flimsy materials by bagging our own groceries at the supermarket and fighting those maddening plastic bags).

If your finger is not moist enough, you may have to lick the tip to provide traction across the paper. Do so quickly and swiftly. You don’t want to get the reputation of being the Office Paper Drooler. Quite frankly, if it’s a one-pager, then it shouldn’t even be a handout. Multiple-pagers involve paper clips and staples, which will provide enough inter-stack air space to allow free-flowing thumbing-throughing to enable efficient separation and distribution.

Another issue relating to seat location is the shape of the table and position of the speaker. If you’re at, say, one of the far ends of U-shaped table and the presenter passes out two different portfolios, you are going to have to make that decision about what to do when the person opposite the room, at the other end of the other tip of the U, is patiently waiting. Don’t worry, you’re both in the same boat, because you each have to exchange your handouts. Here are some options for dealing with this situation:

  • Walk over to the other person and get in the way of the entire presentation and/or video conference participants’ projections
  • Engage in a staring match until one of you does get up
  • Loudly read out the contents to your staring partner so no-one has to get up
  • Fashion a paper plane from your handout and attempt a stealth flight when no-one’s looking.
  • Look guilty and awkward until the speaker breaks the ice and encourages the getting up and moving about and disruption caused by this non-constructive method of handout distribution.

Any Questions?

Don’t fall for this. You will most likely:

  • Have your question answered by a question (“what do you mean?”; “like the X we Xed last year?”) that you can’t answer
  • Repeat yourself because you were talking too quietly, and the panic will make you forget
  • Mispronounce something embarrassingly wrongly (“I cunt see why we didn’t use our last initiative”; “That’s testicularly important to our girth as a company”)
  • Ask a question that was already covered in the presentation when you weren’t paying attention.

Just nod your head, smile and wait until the next meeting. This usually only works for larger conferences (20+ people), where you can be a meaningless face in a sea of confident, tenured, important people who are more valuable to the company than you are (until you invent that death ray). In smaller meetings, just bluff your way through it and pray for the death ray to get you instead. For one-to-one meetings, just keep eating cookies because it’s just too impolite to talk with your mouth full. Ah, cookies. Don’t they always just save the day?

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Meme-ifying my job

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Because I’ve been forced to leave my windows open for most of the day, as it’s been a (thankfully) mild winter, it not only made me a little homesick, but also forced me to consider that Spring is indeed upon us, and it’s that mandatory period for taking stock in your life.

Looking at my job was the easiest start. I was working today while my permanent-jobbed colleagues enjoyed a paid day off in the sun, so a meme is the laziest way to express any ennui therein:

How Playing Video Games Made Me Be Like a BOSS at Work

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Not that kind of boss. Like a BOSS (and not my actual boss).

This week, the entire floor of my work moved into a new office. Tons of detailed emails from the company’s national real estate division containing instructions/reminders/move numbers/schedules, an offer to tour the new building, breakfast receptions before and after the move, and boxes upon boxes upon boxes – three different moving companies (and you had dare not use the wrong box for your shit).

We were moving down the street. You could actually see the new office from the wondrous, skyscraper views (not top floor, but high enough that balconies would be a health and safety issue).

Because I am the Office Cinderella, I was tasked with packing and unpacking/filing our team’s office supplies, helping others pack, and still trying to do my own projects and meet my own deadlines, along with a slew of new responsibilities I’d now been assigned as a result of having a new manager (in a completely different office).

Unsurprisingly, it was rather all-go around there, and around here when we moved. It’s only our second week in the office and things have been manic. Everything from making sure your things got moved over to the right place, to mapping printers and figuring out where the hell you’re even supposed to be…

Somehow, I found that I coped and stayed ahead of absolutely everything that was thrown at me. I didn’t miss a beat, and I have to say that I attribute that to a lifetime of hogging that giant old Hitachi dinosaur and playing video games ever since I was a small, gap-toothed, frizzy-haired baby-nerd:

Packing and unpacking: Tetris

Parodied in everything from Family Guy to The Simpsons, that’s a sign that it’s the easiest guess of the bunch, and why even little old ladies at the Waitrose checkout understand my feeble attempts at humour when I describe that packing the bags (something you actually don’t do here in America) is a real-live proper Tetris workout.

Everything we were packing into boxes at work was square-shaped: files, folders, old corporate gifts, leaflets, shelving units, signage and presentation packs. All blocks, slabs or tubes, it was Corporate Tetris. People didn’t believe me at first when I said I could slot things in just the right places (shut up) while still giving enough space for the lids to close. At the other office, we had been granted about one-third of the filing space we originally had, and so I had to do it all over again- Corporate Tetris up to Level 19 and slot 6 drawers’ worth of unsorted archives into 2 drawers that had already been half-filled. My gaming had paid off – it was a success. Tetris had been one of my most-played games when I was growing up.

Another favourite was Donkey Kong. But luckily I didn’t take my box-lifting cues from him. Total Health & Safety issue.

Getting settled: MarioKart

We moved from a relatively small skyscraper to a massively oversized center that hosts exhibitions and state visits almost every day of the year. This meant that, instead of popping around the corner of your cubicle area to grab a coffee or nip to the loo, it’s a ten-minute walk to the toilets that auto-splash whenever they feel like it, and a ten-minute wait after a ten-minute walk to the cafeteria, where you compete with several other punters to get the one chef’s attention for a $1 slice of French toast that was cooked on the same laptop-sized grill as the bacon and the other bacon. In short, it’s chaos.

Movers were unloading trolleys of boxes left, right and center around me, leaving these empty wheeled death-traps all over the place. Visibility was often low depending on the time of day and the impending automatic time-outs of the lights. Being around a larger group of people on a larger floor, some people were amped up and ready to start throwing tons of work at you, and the rest would plod along at a slow pace and then get a Star or Bullet to propel them into somehow finding tons of projects for you to do on a Friday afternoon.

Moar chaos, and moar opportunities to put my MarioKart-honed skills to the test. Dodge errant moving carts and fellow disoriented coworkers like banana peels, load up on free food leftover from meetings for a triple-mushroom boost in the middle of the day, speed up on rainbow ramps through useless corporate buzz words like “paradigm” (eat a cookie) and throw a fucking blue shell up the arse of anyone too smugly far ahead of themselves to be cut down to size. A feat worthy of the 150 cc mirror levels. Thankfully no snakers (fuck you, snakers).

You can totally say “I’ve been playing a lot of time-management games” when asked about your time-management skills

How could this go wrong? Successfully playing video games requires good hand-to-eye co-ordination, and when it comes to time-management games like Diner Dash, Wedding Dash, Cake Mania, and basically every single non-Hidden Object game on BigFish/Wild Tangent (which is most of them), you’ve already built quite a skill when it comes to being able to assess priorities and act on each one accordingly and quickly.

It’s not mindless clicking, like a lot of data entry jobs/processing/call center work, which is basically glorified factory work in a pseudo-office setting. Each day is different for me – a new project, a new priority – sometimes ten new priorities, some of them to be done “asap” and some to be done in 5 minutes.

Everything going crazy, stuff being thrown at me all at once – bam bam bam – enough to make a sane person go crazy. Luckily I’m not sane. Years of ferrying around cake and wedding gifts and sushi to angry, impatient, bastard guests/customers has prepared me for having the patience, diligence, accuracy and efficiency to excel in such a high-pressure environment. Staying on top of each project and task while acknowledging the rapidly-changing deadlines was a testament to the many hours spent battling various platforms of the Dash games. Even that shitty Parking Dash one.

Things I wished I’d played more often: Maze games

Even before I could sit down at my new desk for the first time, I had to dodge other people who had never been in this cubicle labyrinth before. No-one had any sense of direction and a collision was likely, whether it was into a window, a wall, a cubicle wall, or just other people. The cubicle walls are much higher than the slightly more sociable-heighted ones of our old place, and as a result you’ve got a bunch of people working in a massive basement, at computers, like something out of The Corporate Shining.

I’ve always found maze games boring, repetitive, stressful, confusing and embarrassing – especially when you get it wrong. So continuously getting lost in the basement area of our new building, when there were a ton of people walking around who somehow already knew all the secret passageways and how to get everywhere from everywhere, was disquietingly humiliating. Rueing all the lost days I could have spent playing games like this, I missed out on the valuable skills I could have attained to cope with navigating this Death Star patio mazes in a Matrix-style Borg Cube. But all I was trying to do was find the bathrooms, which never seems to happen in any video game, anyway.

From here on in, all I have to do is keep levelling up by using the best strategies, skills and (office-based) tools, which is where my nascent interest in puzzle games and RPGs is finally kicking in. Impatient with the grinding that earlier versions of WoW offered up, and not even being able to find the damn town in Professor Layton (the precursor to the actual START of the game itself),  I finally got into a few of the LEGO DS titles and haven’t looked back. Platform games help with putting some of the monotony into perspective, and just prepares for the excitement of big meetings, big projects and big opportunities to advance/level up.

Although I have to remember NOT to kill my boss. He may be my boss, but he’s not *A* boss.

An Experiment, Day 5: In Which It Is Concluded That Time and Space are Relative to the Degree of Love Being Everywhere

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This morning, no-one on my team was in the office. So, while there was the usual schedule to adhere to, the workday was going to be light (because I get things done on time and never have any leftover work) and there wasn’t that insane panic of trying to get to work “on time”. Before I started the portion of work that had me work from home in the mornings, I’d usually be in before most people on my team. Now that I’m only in about 30 minutes after they are, I find I’ m catching up on meetings that are deliberately held without me (not maliciously), and I am always unclear on the follow-up work that is assigned to me from a meeting I didn’t even fucking go to. It’s like being given comprehension homework from a book they told you not to read.

This morning’s commute was very dead. I took a later train (when you’re more likely to see friendlier commuters in jeans as opposed to sour-faced suits fighting to get to that Special Door before you do, and saw that there was less traffic on the roads, more actual people about and the sun was properly out. Yesterday I ran like a maniac down to the nearest internet cafe after hurriedly getting ready, and it was similarly dead, but still quite dark out. What a difference 90 minutes make. Anyone who is heading out is probably working shift work or mega flexi-time, so you won’t feel trampled by the commuter stampedes, feel in mortal danger whenever you’re crossing a road (no-one pays attention to the traffic lights) and could get a coffee in my local without thinking, “do I have time to ask for whipped cream?”. Well, there’s always time for whipped cream. Shut up.

It was naturally, less stressful than the standard commute. I understand the business needs for keeping the same hours as everyone else, but in a job like mine, why not allow crazily-flexible work options so the day doesn’t become that much of a grind? Everyone has to commute in, but if you’ve got a company-issued laptop and have access to the company’s network, why not fit the commute around the work deadlines (instead of saying “I can’t work on this until X o’clock) and just turn up in a reasonable early-to-mid-morning window? As long as you’re putting in the same hours, it shouldn’t matter too much if you push back your office arrival by an hour or two, providing your work doesn’t require conference calls/in-person urgency.

So there you have it. More space to do things and more time to carry them out = less stress. My roommate didn’t quite get the urgency of yesterday’s interwebz connection problems until I explained it while careening out the door at breakneck speed while she was leisurely cooking her breakfast. Like most people, she has a morning schedule that begins before work. Unless I stay awake all night or wake up at 4.30am, I have to squeeze a typical morning schedule into the 20 minutes before I’m due to log on. Every aspect of my work morning schedule is micromanaged to the minute – not by my own choice, but because of the myriad of inter-hour deadlines by which certain routine tasks need to be done. And if I am late by 90 minutes, the entire company notices and we get emails from employees around the world telling us that we fucked up.

Having the freedom to stroll downtown, leisurely grab a coffee and stand at a less-crowded station to board a much, much longer train (WHY are the rush-hour trains only half as long??), with much more room to sit, then a shuttle bus ride to the office without hitting any traffic whatsoever. This will never happen again, so I had to enjoy it while it lasted. Instead of shoving the train station doors wide open, I actually stood held the door for someone.  Unfortunately, it caused me to miss the last shuttle bus of the day (I saw it drive off) and I had to take the damn subway. But, whatever.

This experiment is supposed to run until Monday, but I can’t see any way to manifest this new-age stuff as reality unless there is some supernatural comic book power element to it. While there may be spiders lurking in my room, none of them are radioactive, and I will just have to be that person who is forced to commute in rush hour without having the benefit of getting ready for work in the way that normal people do. I have no time for myself anymore because of my job, and that’s unlikely to change until I get a different, normal job. The last person who did these duties was a permanent employee who worked closer to the train station (in a nicer office), and left earlier in the day to accommodate the earlier start. I get both ends of a shitty stick, but it helps that I am staying with a genuinely loving, calm, patient and stable roommate.

The “love” that is supposed to be everywhere hasn’t changed as a result of this experiment. Real life doesn’t bend things that way and I am too deeply-rooted in the practical, stressful world because of the things I have to do – a stressful job, expensive, stressful immigration procedures, stressful relationship issues and a life generally in constant, stressful transit, away from the friends, family and everything I left behind for…this.

The only way to slog through it is to hope that this is just a temporary, due-paying crapfest that will be over soon, because, in this country, nothing is free, nothing is easy, and you have to lower and debase every standard you have before you can get your life to be even 1/10th as good as you used to have it. That’s the reward. Enjoying these lazy days when they come around is like having a holiday. Just ask this brat:

 

An Experiment, Day 4: In Which It Could Be Asserted That Stress, Not Love, is Everywhere

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This morning, a daily newsletter that goes out to the entire company (in multiple countries) was delayed by about 15 minutes. Although that might not seem like a big deal, in a relatively conservative, corporate setting, it was grounds for mass freakouts. The first part of the process for creating the newsletter was delayed by about an hour and a half because I couldn’t connect to the internet. I ran out the door, and my poor roommate, who was calmly and leisurely cooking breakfast, had no idea how stressful other people can make the stress of this situation stressful for me.

 

The more people you have focusing on a daily task that is often at the mercy of technological temperament, the bigger the freakout if something goes even the tiniest bit wrong. Instead of actually focusing on fixing the problem and/or adjusting the pace of your work to compensate for the delay, you have to waste additional time sending out emails to advise people of the delay, and field confused phone calls from people concerned about the delay but who hadn’t bothered to read the email about the delay.

It brought back childhood memories of being late getting ready for school and my mother shouting up at me to hurry up, then me  going to the top of the stairs to shout down that her shouting up at me wasn’t going to slow down time so we could have this pointless shout-discussion. Ultimately, it was my fault for not realizing that the WiFi card they gave me required me to inexplicably be connected to the fucking internet to set the damn stupid thing up.

Luckily I had the chance to blow off some of that steam in an informal meeting with a potential new manager. He liked to swear a lot and had surprisingly white teeth. It was a little weird. He kept asking me about the things I didn’t like and instead of reverting to the phoney “I work too hard is my weakness” crap, I said I hated the back-and-forth regarding our tech issues, because it was stressful that they couldn’t be fixed, yet I was constantly somewhat expected to without being psychic about file corruptions between versions of MS Word and hacking into everyone’s systems and force-installing some more universal programs.

Aside from the husband, the single biggest source of stress in my life is work, and it isn’t even that stressful. I feel like I have to LOOK stressful about it, but I explained to Potential New Manager (PNM) that I’m never terribly worried about anything being unsolvable because I have a disproportionately curious, naive enthusiasm of “what does this button do?” to see if it will fix it.

If that air of discomforting delusion I have is the key to minimizing the stress at work, I’m not sure how healthy or mature that looks when it comes to actually retaining this job long-term, beyond the tempness of it all. There have been hints and suggestions that it may happen, but I’d hate to be stuck in the dead-end, paycheque-surrendering hell that is American temping. I could play the waiting game and just wait for the stress and uncertainty (which are never mutually exclusive) to dissipate, rather than continue my roommate’s well-meaning experiment.

She tricked me into feeling love again today. Damn hippie.

 

An Experiment, Day 3: In Which It is Determined That Ignorance is Bliss

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According to my new positive affirmation (or at least for the week), love is everywhere, and I am loved and lovable. Well, sometimes that really isn’t the case. In fact, this being New England, it’s hardly ever the case. A lot of people on the North Shore are are a little bit rough around the edges, like old-timey fisherman who no longer beat their kids but are still a bit sexist, enjoy simpler foods made with local ingredients and try to act against the liberal type in fairly nice suits.

Today was actually full of stress. From the technical issues I faced in the morning to the commuter’s version of hitting every red light (you just miss the train; you just miss the last shuttle bus so you have to take the subway; you miss the subway while putting money on your subway card), today was a complete disaster. Husband being an insufferable, twattish, inconsiderate, lazy moron (he is a hippie, after all); people completely fucking up beyond ridiculousness at work with huge deadlines looming (and me almost getting blamed for it), and an incompetent bus driver driving a bus with brakes twice as old as he was, forcing me to spill hot coffee all over my not-very-protective-and-brand-new- white gloves. You can kid yourself all you want, but with a day like that, stress is everywhere, and unless you want to chant yourself into delusion, there is no avoiding it.

You can do all you like to convince yourself that there is love everywhere, but there are some days when you have to be realistic and react to the madness around you by, at the very least, acknowledging that it exists. I recited (in my head) the affirmation a few times throughout the day when things started to get a bit mental at work, but if you are surrounded by incompetent, sloppy, changeable, irritable and contradicting people in both your professional and personal lives, there is no way in hell you are going to convince yourself that you can salvage it. Scarf some ice cream, sip some tea, start a blog, relax, unwind, whatever. You might not be able to “heal” your life today, but at least you can feel it.

I would rather focus on the tangible things that make me happy. Other than my friends and family, there are holidays and events to look forward to (Christmas; the Olympics), places I’d like to visit, foods I enjoy eating, TV shows and movies I like to watch, and a cat or two I very much miss. Rather than try to blame my sinus problems that suddenly manifested themselves a few hours  before some drizzly weather (for the fifth time in a row), I’d rather think about the lovely cumin-scrambled-eggs I just made, or the warm Slanket I’m all snuggled up in, or the very funny TV show I’m currently watching.

How to Stay Warm in an Air-Conditioned Office

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I am not used to the cold, either indoors or outdoors. I have only worked in one air-conditioned office in my entire life. At my last job, you got a dinky little fan in the summer which had open blades and plugged into your USB slot. It didn’t hurt if you caught your hand in it. Yes, I caught my hand in it. Deliberately. Repeatedly.

It’s comfortable enough without the A/C on in the winter, and if it ever gets too stuffy, open a damn window instead of recycling everyone’s germs. The weather isn’t even that bad at the moment (well, until next weekend – see above), so I will be an even bigger cow when it starts to snow.

Surviving the A/C is actually much easier in the winter, since they tend to turn it down a bit. But Massachusetts is just close enough to New York that everyone is snobby yet liberal and stylish, but close enough to up North that they talk really funny and have a down-to-earth, “you asshole” way of saying “hello”. Therefore, it’s cold – so very cold – in the winter, and yet everyone still has to be stylish. Thankfully, there are ways to survive this corporate idiocy of always having cold air blasting through our systems to lower our morale.

The following are a list of tips I accumulated myself from myself:

  • Down plenty of hot beverages and hot food. If it’s not hot, then zap it in the microwave, even if it’s meant to be served cold. Don’t underestimate the tastiness of nuked chocolate cake and fresh blackberries.
  •  On the subject of food – when consuming something hot, try to create a hot draft of air by protruding your lower jaw and exhaling the hot steam emanating from the food towards your face. If you already have an underbite, you’ve saved valuable energy already from not having to fashion it yourself.
  • Find discreet ways to keep warm while still looking nice and corporate: try headbands made of wool; ear muffs to match your hair colour; hand warmers that stop just below the mid-point of your fingers (much in the way that pulled jumper sleeves do); two pairs of tights (a smart pair over a woolly pair); a heavy scarf that can be worn as a smart shawl
  • Hold food in your hand while eating. Any warmth helps, and it’s better than blowing hot air into your hands every few seconds.
  • Frequent hot drinks = frequent toilet trips = frequent trips to an area with no air conditioning. Toilets never have an a/c blasting. Also, the fecal contaminatants from years of improper office loo cleaning render this a haven for heat.
  • Don’t make a mistake of sitting near a window, cat-like, ready for sunbeams. First of all, remember this is New England (there is no sun). Second, windows are prime spots for a/c vents.

  • Declare yourself eskimo. This will warrant a significant yet convenient cultural wardrobe change
  • Walking around will get your blood moving, so think of reasons to walk to the printer for important document revisions, such as that comma you put in that paragraph, but then changed your mind about, but then you changed your mind again.
  • Think fitted layers, not necessarily just one comfy, thick, soft but baggy sweater. That cold air is going to get you no matter what.
  • Wear long hair down; cut layers and fringes to use your hair as a stylish winter hat. If you are a man, then tough titties.
  • Bring in one of those microwaveable oat stuffed animals things that keeps you warm (the ones that can also be cooled to use for hangovers).

Contrary to popular belief, cold weather does actually play a part in both developing and prolonging a cold or viral infection. Of course, it’s worsened by the fact that, during the cold winter months, people are going in and out of the cold, sharing confined spaces with others, and more people are in schools/work etc, so there’s a better opportunity for the virus to be spread. Especially by those disgusting people who do not wash their hands.

There are too many important holidays (Thanksgiving; Christmas; my birthday; New Year’s) to be thwarted by a virus that you can’t even see, so the best defence is a good defence.

The upside of the a/c is that the gentle whirring is soft enough to lull you to sleep when no-one’s around, and loud enough that you can eat moderately-textured food items without sounding like a pig.

Ignore the previous statement if you do not work in a cubicle. I’m still sick, so I am going to use the typical New England remedy of whisky and yelling at people. Now excuse me while I sneeze the sky:

Thanksgiving: Bigger Than Christmas

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I was told that tomorrow would be an “early release day” at work. Even though it sounded like some prison inmate lingo, it was really cute corporate speak for the possibility of us getting a half or quarter-day off. People really use the extra time to try to avoid rush hour traffic to get to wherever it is they’re going (if you’re driving 5 hours, best to get there the night before; if you’re staying local, it’s probably because you’re cooking for everyone).

Being a temp, of course, I wasn’t going to get the perk of being paid for sneaking out of the office like everyone else, and my manager knew that. Especially since I’d been out sick for a few days – he told me I could stay later and work but that I totally didn’t have to (aww).

Thanksgiving seems to be the bigger holiday, here. People make more of an effort to go home to their families, and most of the activities are very family-centric (e.g. that thing they call football).

That unwritten rule about leaving work early the day before doesn’t seem to apply to Christmas, and the day after Thanksgiving is viewed the same way as the day after Christmas is in England – recovering from your excesses and shopping on the biggest ever retail sale day of the year. Only over here, you do not get the day after Thanksgiving off work (unless you book it off), and Boxing Day simply does not exist. You get one day off, and one day only.

We’re spoiled in the UK with multiple days at Easter and Christmas and sometimes even New Year’s. We have so many Bank Holidays there’s pretty much one every month. Not so much here – it’s a rarity, so it deserves more of an effort to celebrate it. Maybe that’s why at the train station, I saw so many people with huge bags of luggage, so anxious to get home to their loved ones:

"but mom, doing my entire semester's worth of laundry will make you feel like i'm your cute little baby again!"

I wasn’t terribly prepared for the holiday, and decided not to bother going food shopping this year. There are too many awesome, cheap catering options  (Coven; New England Soup Factory) and local markets (Winter Market; Pamplemousse; Milk & Honey) to go all the way to the supermarket to battle with some selfish cow for the last packet of rosemary.

Unfortunately, I forgot to order from any of those places on account of being sick, so I will either be wandering around town wondering what’s open, or eating a Beef & Tomato Pot Noodle and a Toffee Crisp for dessert while finally watching one of those Charlie Brown specials. Which doesn’t sound so bad.

The Smoothie Thief

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Someone at my work is a filthy, thieving bastard.

Look at this beauty. “Mighty Mango”. It even says on the label that it’s good for you. I actually prevented my husband from drinking any of this so I could hoard it for myself. And that could have gone on indefinitely, as the use-by date was sometime in November.

A couple of weeks ago, I brought it into work. It sat patiently in the fridge door, next to countless other delicious-looking pieces of pillageable treats. And yet, Monday morning, I trudge into work, sneezing like a fucking baby panda, very sick and craving some vitamin C, and find that it’s gone.

Who? Really? Why???

I can’t believe that, even in this day and age, we are still doing this ridiculous office cliche. I’m trying to get into the mindset of the fucker who just swanned into the break room (it’s really more of a hallway filled with K-cup boxes), opened the fridge, had a nice look ’round and then just fucking helped himself to my smoothie! I picture him looking a bit like Bill Lumbergh, braces and all, but a bit fatter, older and lankier-haired. He scratches his arse, grabs the bottle, pushes his glasses back up his greasy nose while he squints at the ingredients (all while leaving the fucking fridge open), then finally decides that this delicious mango nectar is good enough to drink for free. And then he just fucking takes it!

And then I bet it’s so good, too good, that he can’t even finish it. Never mind that it’s not even his, and that the actual owner would have drank all of it, and needed it, or that there are starving kids in space, but no, he probably throws this amazing happy tropical serum AWAY. My smoothie. MYY SMOOTHIE!?!!??

I didn’t even know how to bring this up with my manager. So I asked if there was a fridge-emptying schedule other than the one that was posted on the fridge, and she said no. I then pretended to meekly deduce right there and then that someone had nicked it. I made sure to put on my extra sad face (the one that got me a penthouse room “and a cookie” when I had to be transferred from an oversold hotel once). She seemed bemused by the whole thing and jokingly accused her boss (and my boss) of stealing it.

If this was in England, there would have already been a sternly-worded email sent around by a senior manager making this a huge issue. There would have been outrage, and maybe even disciplinary threats.  But I forgot that I now live in the land of the passive-agressive note. I suppose in this country, you defend yourself with guns (since the police are mostly useless), and you defend your food with borderline psychotic Post-its. Unfortunately, the company I work for is fairly conservative.

So how am I supposed to foil this thieving twat? I didn’t think that there was some unwritten rule that stated, “if you keep peering in the fridge and see the same thing for long enough, it’s YOURS”. If I leave a gruesome note saying I sprayed my food with AIDS, they’ll know it was me, because I’m the only one in the office with a zombie eye-popping stress toy and an ever-growing collection of Hallowe’en drinkware.

Maybe I could buy a locked box or just bring in something unappetizing, but I just can’t believe that in an office full of grown adults, there’s somehow a tosser who just thinks he can help himself to whatever he fancies, never mind who the original owner was. Like it’s a fucking free-for-all.

And they call us a “communist country”….!

How to Look More Like Corporate America

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Yesterday, the shuttle driver asked me if I worked at Dunkin’  Donuts. I have no idea why, because he’s seen me so many times before, and if I were a Dunkin’ Donuts employee, then I would not be getting on a shuttle bus that goes directly to my work, which happens to own the damn shuttle bus company. He only said it to me, then laughed.

Needless to say, I was embarassed, but couldn’t quite figure out why. There’s nothing wrong with Dunkin’ Donuts. There’s nothing wrong with working there. I think it was because I was being singled out like that, and, true to form, it would probably have been an insult to anyone else sitting on that bus.

And I was right – a couple of people looked at me, but while trying to pinpoint how I looked like a Dunkin’ Donuts employee, rather than, “why is this man saying this to her? She’s clearly not a Dunkin’ Donuts employee”.

I was so inexplicably annoyed by this that the driver was made exempt from my parting “thank you”, which I usually mumble while trying not to fall over the steps on the way out.

It was raining that morning. I sat down, and took off my raincoat and rainboots.

Everyone else on the bus was wearing black or grey. Black suits, black shoes, black umbrellas, black coats. It was like beingin The Matrix, only dressed as a clown. Could that really have been what prompted him to say that?

If it made any difference, my trousers were black, made from a good fabric and had a smart centre-pleat. My office dress code is business-casual, but everyone looks quite well put-together and I do often see people wearing bright colours.

Luckily I had decided to make an extra effort today. Underneath Joseph’s LSD Technicolor Nightmarecoat, I had on an exquisite purple, silk kimono blouse and a comfy but fashionable grey shrug cardigan. In my opinion, I looked rather spiffing.

I had also brought a brand new pair of shoes with me (ported over from England, but, as of yesterday, never worn). Yes, every woman has a shoe obsession. Because, men, much like your formal attire, your shoes are dull and have almost no variety.

"tha SHOES-ah!!"

I had tried them on for all of five seconds and had decided that they were the absolute most perfect shoes of all time and the cushioned insole was like being hugged with a spring in my step. Plus, they were perfect for my new Corporate look.

Then, much like that episode of the IT Crowd, I realized that there was no way in hell I was going to be able to walk properly in these things. Stumbling around like a first-time, half-drunken tranny, it soon became clear that these stupid heels just did not compute with my feeble chicken-legs, ruined by years of flat-footed Batman-logoed-Converses and purple glitter spiderweb wellies with no arch support.

Every time I had to get up to go make a cup of tea it was like being on an episode of Gladiators. The pain was bad enough – I could never understand how the women I see on the way to work run in these things. They must have been born without calf muscles.  But the main problems were:

a) balance

b) keeping a normal face through the pain

c) maintaining a straight trajectory from A to B.

d) balance

As you can see, it is much easier when wearing sensible shoes:

I could not cope, clodding around without the slightest hint of grace, my arms flailing and flapping in my fashionably oversized grey shrug in a manner that matched my chicken legs. Thankfully, my weak attempts at all of the above were largely hidden from the rest of the office. I could tell this because the shoes were so unbelievably tall I could see over the cubicle walls of the entire office. Despite this excellent vantage point, the experiment had failed.

As a non-practising Goth, I’m comfortable wearing all black. I even have a black umbrella, just like everyone else on that shuttle did this morning.

But, hey, Corporate America, can your umbrella do THIS?

it lights up in different colours!