The office is a place where we go every day to make phone calls, conduct business, and write nasty memos and notes about our coworkers’ annoying habits. It’s a place that forces a group of strangers to be civil about issues that, in their personal lives, might lead to divorce, fist fights or even manslaughter. But because it would disrupt business if we hauled out a firearm every time someone crossed one of our invisible etiquette lines, most of us retaliate with annoying memos and threatening sticky notes.
People’s idiosyncrasies really clash in the office kitchen, because it’s where we discover that, in some strange way, we’re not only coworkers, we’re roommates. It’s the place where the person who fastidiously cleans the counter after each use meets the slob who leaves it looking like he used a leaf blower to dispense the Coffee-Mate. Usually, such clashes are handled via written correspondence. "Your mom doesn’t clean up after you here," writes one. "I know. Mom would’ve had the decency to whine at me in person," replies the other. This snide fest can continue for weeks, and can end up making the feud between the Capulets and Monagues look like a campfire sing-along.
But for real note-generating excitement, there’s nothing like the office refrigerator. The fridge is where we all find out that the CEO likes fluffernutters. It’s where we try to hide our Yoo-Hoo behind the V-8. It’s the magic box where lunches turn into living, breathing lab experiments in a few short weeks.
Refrigerator notes usually start out in a civil tone but gradually become more strident as the neatniks draw lines in the frost against the slobs. "Please remove all leftover food every Friday afternoon," the first posting politely asks. "Food left in the refrigerator over the weekend will be sent C.O.D. to the owner," threatens the follow-up memo. And finally, "If someone doesn’t get that oozing fruitcake out of the fridge by next Friday, we’re going to hunt down the owner and shoot him where he sits!"
Perhaps the most direct threats come when food is stolen, an offense that’s slightly more serious than cattle rustling in the Old West. Notes about food pilfering are short and sweet: "If anyone touches my fluffernutter again, they will face early retirement," Signed, The CEO.
Although kitchen etiquette is a favorite focus for note writers, office equipment is also the subject of memo-filled frivolity. Take the copier, for example. Everyone uses it but ignores the simple note attached to it: "If copier jams, do NOT try to fix it yourself! Call Madge in accounting." This, of course, means only one thing. As soon as there’s a paper jam, absolutely everyone, including the guy who fills the soda machine, will try to un-jam the copier before calling Madge.
Usually, when the copier eats some paper, a little message appears on a tiny screen that clearly defines the problem: "Error 11: Acute media mishandling occurrence." In layman’s terms, this means it’s time to open the sucker up and try to figure out what all the little blinking arrows and cartoon characters want you to do. I find that it’s helpful to squat down and squint into the belly of the beast for a good five minutes, kind of like Davy Crockett used to stare down bears. This doesn’t actually fix the copier, but it does attract a small mob, usually of guys, who start turning knobs and giving instructions in a loud, authoritative manner. Today’s high-tech copiers have lots of knobs and instructions, so just about everybody gets to do something, until there’s a cracking sound and a little piece of plastic falls to the floor. Then everyone scatters like wildebeest in a National Geographic special. And some hapless fool is left alone to call Madge.
But hey, all these zany antics from our coworkers are what make going to work worthwhile, right? Why, without all the veiled threats and office vendettas, we’d have to settle down and actually get some work done.
Personally, I’d rather pull fridge duty after a three-day weekend.
By Mike Donlin.
Mike does technical, marketing and creative wriiting for The Write Solution, his freelance business. He can help your company wend its way through the vagaries of the English language, and prides himself on his intimate knowledge of gerunds, semicolons and dipthongs. If you'd like Mike to pen a tome on a timely technical topic, you can reach him at email@example.com or 603-889-4955.