Working in an office carries more unexpected challenges than I ever would have thought. The shifting alliances between coworkers, up to and including outright social warfare, was an aspect that I knew would be there, but I never expected it to be as consuming as it is. Similarly, I always knew that one should keep up appearances – but I never knew just how deep the superficial judgment of one’s coworkers went. Maybe it’s because my current office is so small, but I find that just about everything I do is noticed and commented upon. What am I eating for lunch? Oh, interesting. It seems unhealthy and/or expensive and/or cheap and/or indicative of whether I am a good cook at home. Is this the kind of pen I prefer to use on a regular basis? Why is my desk so messy? And, conversely, when I clean up my workspace, why is it so clean? Don’t I have any work to do? It also doesn’t help that the secretary has no sense of personal boundaries, and so comes in to my office periodically to shift papers around, strategically hide air fresheners (do I smell that bad?), and generally feng shui my chairs, table, filing cabinets, and the things on my desk.
Conflict is something that stresses me out more than it probably should. Even the conflict occurring between others. The ‘outright social warfare’ that I mentioned isn’t hyperbole. Two of my office mates do not get along, although their conflict is currently being couched in strange displays of friendship. These two coworkers have even taking to buying each other gifts, showily lugging pots of flowers through the front door, making sure everyone notices, and then plopping them on each others’ desks. The other will always find something wrong with the gift, telling us that it’s the thought that counts while ostentatiously batting flies away from their new plants.
But the most difficult terrain I’ve had to navigate is the social nicety of coffee. There’s a Tim Hortons down the road, and several times a week someone will go down there and pick up coffees for those who want one. I like coffee, and I often want one, but I always refuse (nicely, I hope) when they ask if they can pick something up for me. I’m not entirely sure what brings on this prim display of manners, but from the outset, it’s seemed as though I’ve been vaguely insulting those who fetch coffee by not asking for something. The worst part, of course, is that once I refuse Tim Hortons coffee, I can’t very well go and make some for myself in the kitchen, because I’ve already told them that I don’t feel like having any at the moment.
I think that what I’m most worried about is owing something to the people who get the coffee. I’m never sure if I’m supposed to produce a toonie for the coffee fetcher when he comes to my desk with coffee, or if that would be insulting. I also never carry around cash, so if the deal was that I am indeed supposed to produce a toonie, then I’d be unable to do that. I’m not sure if, once I get coffee from someone several times, I am supposed to then go and make a trip of my own to get coffee for everyone else. And, perhaps, herein lies the problem of manners. Perhaps it is unmannerly to refuse coffee, because then you exclude yourself from the opportunity the other person has to do you a favour. You’re not part of the marketplace of favours flying about the office.
Is it unreasonable of me to be terrified of owing something to someone? Or maybe I unconsciously already knew all of these things, and unconsciously made the decision to exclude myself from the office favour marketplace, because I don’t actually want to stick around here. Maybe it was my unconscious way of keeping a distance. Or conscious way of keeping a distance. Either way, I feel that it has put me at a distance from my coworkers, and I’m not entirely sure if this is a bad thing or not.
The moral of the story is that this could all be solved if we just got a Tassimo machine for the kitchen, and people could just prepare their own coffees – even with Tim Hortons Tassimo coffee disks. Disclaimer: This is not an advertisement for Tassimo; but I do believe that Tassimo is the solution. Now if only there were a solution to the gift-giving enemies, and perhaps a privacy filter on what I bring to work for lunch.