Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Think it over

I believe everyone (in employment) has a job to do, and no one's job is more important than another's. Nor should anyone be treated without respect on the basis of the perceived status of their job. But sometimes, I can take this to extremes.

I have been working late last few weeks - not very late mind, just a wee bit. The cleaners come round while I am at my desk, typing or dictating (or ocassionally just surfing the net). The bin & vacuum guy looks in at my door and turns away because I am in. If I am fast enough, I wave him in, apologising profusely for being in his way while he apologises for interrupting me. I am of the view that he should not apologise to me - after all the cleaners have about two hours to clean a two storey building and I am messing up their system by still being at my desk. I go for a quick walk along the corridor and return: he usually takes no more than a few minutes to empty the bins, clear the desks of forgotten mugs and vacuum. I make a point of thanking him if I pass him on my way back to my office.

Last Friday I forgot to wash my coffee plunger (French press / cafettiere - the other names the English call the humble plunger). When the cleaner came round, I leapt out of my chair, reminded that I had left it sitting beside the kitchen sink, and rushed into the kitchen in order to hand-wash it. Horrors of horrors, I had not even emptied the coffee grinds. I don't think the cleaners should have to wash my plunger. All they do is load the dishwasher with the random collection of dirty mugs from a day of lawyer-inspired caffeine intake, let it run and put everything into the cupboards once the dishwasher is done. In the firm I am with now, the only coffee choice is instant and I am a declared and unapologetic coffee snob. I therefore bring in my own ground coffee, and my own coffee making implement.

A woman cleaner was in the kitchen, loading the mugs and teaspoons into the dishwasher. The kitchen is very narrow. When the dishwasher door is open, you cannot get past it to get to the kitchen sink. It is also a small kitchen: two people makes it feel crowded. I was moving too fast to turn around when I saw her in the kitchen, so I opened the door and looked stupidly in.

"Um, hello," said I.
"Oh - sorry," she said "I'm loading the dishwasher. I won't be long."
"Oh - don't be sorry. I'm just after that thing there," I said gesturing towards the offending plunger.
She looks across at the plunger, and then back at me. "I will put it into the dishwasher for you."
"Oh, no need. I'll -"
She interrupts me: "Oh! Handwash only? Okay, I'll handwash it for you."
I gasp at her."Oh, no, please don't. You don't have to. You shouldn't have to. I'll just, um, take it into my office."
She smiles at me and says "Are you sure?"
"Oh yes!" I cry confidently and march back towards my office with the dirty plunger.

I am now in my office with a dirty coffee mug and a dirty plunger. If it was not-Friday, I would just shove both into a drawer and deal with them the following morning. The thought of leaving my precious plunger dirty for an entire weekend does not sit well with me. On top of my letter out to opposing lawyers that must be sent first thing Monday morning, I now have a dirty plunger to worry about. Naturally, the dirty plunger takes precedence.

After about five minutes, I get up and try to look from my office into the kitchen to see if the cleaner is still in the kitchen. She is. I sit back down and finish my letter off. I stand again and contort myself to stare into the kitchen. She is still there.

I decide that I will rinse the plunger out in the bathroom sink, hide it and my mug in a drawer and go home. To get to the bathroom, however, requires passing the kitchen. I do not want her to think that I don't trust her with my plunger - after all I only think she should not have to wash something out of the ordinary which is only present because of my own peculiar caffeine proclivities. This is now going to sound really stupid - but I thought it a reasonable solution at the time: I put on my coat, in order to hide the plunger as I walk past the kitchen and into the bathroom. I then successfully rinsed the plunger and manoeuvered my way back to my office in the same silly fashion. I then picked up my bags and went home.

After thinking about it, I should have just let the cleaner put my plunger into the dishwasher along with everything else. One machine wash would not have hurt it.


A similar incident occurred many years back when I worked at another office. I had a special ceramic tea cup inside which was a ceramic strainer so that I could have brewed tea leaves rather than tea bags. I can be a bit precious about my hot beverages.

One day I arrived at work to find my tea cup in pieces and with a post-it placed beside it: "Sorry. I broke your cup. Please let me know how much to pay."

I thought it was very lovely and generous of the cleaner to offer and to apologise for breaking my cup. But it was, after all, only a cup (albeit a birthday gift) and in the routine cleaning of offices, things get broken.

That evening I stayed late at work to wait for the cleaner. I wanted to thank her for the gesture but did not want to leave a note. When she turned up, she looked shocked to see me sitting there. I did not intend to be menacing, but she quickly scrabbled around for her purse. I stood up and put my hands out, in what I hoped was a conciliatory gesture, and started speaking too quickly, "No, no. I'm sorry. I just wanted - I didn't mean to -. Um. Er. Thank you for letting me know you broke my cup and your offer to pay for it. But honestly, it's just a cup. I'll buy another one, and no need for you to worry about how much. Okay?"

She was now holding out her purse to me.

It dangled there between us making me, and possibly her too, feel foolish.

"Sorry to startle you. I should not have waited."
"Okay." She said and left.

I slumped down into my chair, thinking I had completely misunderstood and misread the situation. And to top it off, I had offended the cleaner, giving her the impression that I was some kind of heavy. And I worried that I sounded a bit flippant, and as if the cost of a mug was nothing to me. I phoned a friend and relayed all of the above. The friend is a psychiatrist and she just laughed at me, saying all the right reassuring words.

I should have just left a note.


I am surprised, sometimes, that I get anything done with the analytical contortions I go through during my daily life.

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