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The Periodic Table of the Middle Class
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    Entries in Maddie Y (130)

    Wednesday
    Feb102016

    Workplace offenders: the excessively theatrical sneezer

    A guy I once worked with had the loudest sneeze I had ever heard. It was a proper, full-body, unrestrained, loud and distinctive ach-oo, and every time he did it – two or three times a day, I'd say (people sneeze a hell of a lot in offices, don't they?) – it brought an aftermath of awkwardness. There would be some offended frowning (me) and some embarrassed laughter (also me), and a flurry of comments from his surrounding colleagues: 'Wow, that was a bigun', 'blimey, that was quite something', 'that deserves a round of applause'. 

    I felt so outraged by these comments because a loud, theatrical sneeze should not be celebrated. It is bad manners. It's nonsense that humans have no control about the way they sneeze. The discreet, embarrassed 'pneu' sound I make when I sneeze in public ('like Tinkerbell from a distance', one colleague told me), compared to the normal, more relaxed 'kknn-chh' I do at home is evidence that a sneeze can be adapted to suit one's environment. It's just some people have gone through their lives doing a particularly distinctive sneeze and have come to almost forget that what is actually happening is an expulsion of air and mucus and therefore it should probably be reined in when you are in public.

    So, I'm sorry if you've grown up being told that your sneeze is characterful and delightful and you think of it as part of who you are; it's not OK to let rip at work. And, those of you who encourage this behaviour with comments like 'I really felt you put your full weight behind that one' (yes, someone actually said this), you need to zip it too.

    Thursday
    Feb042016

    collaborative consumption: how to offer sweet treats around the office

    It's lovely when a colleague brings treats to work, but you can't get away with only ever being on the receiving end: eventually you have to step up and bring something in yourself, and it can be quite a fraught experience. You need to approach it strategically, otherwise you will a) make everyone uncomfortable and b) miss out on any of the treats yourself. Here are three ways to go about this to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible:

    1. Leave your biscuits or whatever – and make sure it's a plentiful supply – on your desk. Send an email to all saying people should come and help themselves. Include a fact about where the treats came from (eg. put 'Italian holiday biscuits' in the subject line) – this will give people a nice talking point for when they come over. Of course this might not work and only about three people will come over because people don't like to look greedy and some don't enjoy talking to others; in which case, you could adapt this method and email everyone saying you've left the chocolates or cake or whatever in the staff kitchen. Or, try method 2:
    2. Pass the treats to the person next to you and tell them to pass them around. There will be people who haven't paid any attention to your email and mutterings of 'oh how nice, who are these from, what are these in aid of?' will be heard. Try not to seek glory or validation at this point. Be cool. If you are worried that the treats will get stuck and not everyone will get one – including you – you might take greater control by following method 3:
    3. Actually walk around the office and deliver treats or slices of cake to people in person. It will take quite a while to get round everyone so make sure you have time. If you can do this and make a bit of small talk and make sure the treats are evenly distributed, you should feel very proud: this really is the pinnacle of achievement in social interaction.

    Flickr: massdistraction

    Tuesday
    Jan262016

    Lunch at work, part 2: the lunch debrief

    “What did you go for in the end?” people ask when you're tucking in to whatever you've brought back from your “Pret run”. It's a strange part of having lunch at work, this debrief that so many of us seem to enjoy or, more probably, feel too awkward not to engage with. When people eat at their desks it seems like you have to acknowledge it in some way, make a little bit of small talk around it. Especially if you've all been caught up in the pre-lunchtime chat about what you're going to have (more on this, here). It would feel rude and unsatisfying not to follow up.

    The debrief session seeks to establish answers to three questions. 1) What did you get? 2) Is it nice? 3) Should someone else get that for their own lunch (either right now, or tomorrow)? There might also be questions about what the weather is doing outside and if it was busy out there.

    The lunch debrief is the end of a little journey we go on with our colleagues each day. We keep each other company as we consider our food options, make a decision, and then evaluate our choice and help others in their own decisions. It might be mundane, and infuriating at times, but it's rather nice.

    Flickr: Ambernectar 13

    Wednesday
    Jan202016

    Lunch at work, part 1: the pre-lunchtime discussion

    It would seem it's impossible to have lunch during the working day without there being some sort of chit-chat about it. Everywhere I've worked there's been an increase in chatter from about 12 noon, in the more extreme cases as early as 11.30am, as people begin pondering their lunch options.

    The comments can be incredibly tedious and detailed, as people go through their options, hopes and justifications. They think they'll get a hot wrap, it's one of those days, they hope Pret's doing the chicken one... That said, yesterday they had quite bad heartburn all afternoon and were really sleepy so maybe actually hot food is not a great plan in the middle of the day, maybe a salad...

    And as the morning marches on the chat gets less theoretical and more strategic: they ask around to find out who's been out, has anyone been to Pret, what's the soup today, is it raining? The culmination of all this is they either finally head out at about 1.30pm to get their lunch, or they wait until someone else looks like they're heading out and cheekily ask them to pick them up a burrito because they just can't get away from their desk. It's a relief when they finally have something to stuff their face with and stop talking.

    Flickr: Ambernectar 13

    Thursday
    Jan142016

    Middle-class office-speak: 'I'll raise it in the 3.30'

    The word 'meeting' is over, it would seem. I'm lucky enough not to have had to go to many meetings in my career. But everywhere I've worked I've heard people around me talking about them – arranging them, fretting about what to say in them, then fretting about what was said and moaning about how pointless and/or long they were. And these days they tend to refer to them just by the time at which they are held: 'David was saying in the 11...', 'I'll raise it in the 3.30'.

    I quite like this format in its brevity and plainness. Everyone understands that a meeting is being talked about; the word doesn't need saying and nor does the agenda need referring to. The world of work has come to realise that saying 'I'll bring it to the resource strategy meeting' is pointless because everyone knows meetings never stick to their agenda and usually fail to achieve anything. So you may as well just be honest about it being nothing more than some people sitting down in a room at a certain time with the aim of feeling a bit more useful by talking about some stuff.

    It's the sort of office speak that's actually an improvement on communication at work – a rare thing indeed.