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Office Workers are Fascinating

Us And Them
Us And Them

I’ve always found office workers fascinating. I used to see them in public transportation, early in the morning—guys drinking their daily shot of black java in some kind of fancy spill-proof cup, women awkwardly applying another layer of make-up on their face. They looked busy. They looked like they had a goal and shared a common culture of which others were excluded.

At least, this was what I thought before I joined them.

After a few years of flexible part-time jobs, I got a nice position. I wasn’t to work in an office per se but I was going to work with office people. Here I was, choosing my clothes in the morning, getting there on time to start the day with a can of Diet Coke in my bag full of colourful folders. I was in, part of a workplace for the first time in my life, enjoying every single gossip that landed in my ears and making full use of my morning, noon and afternoon breaks.

But office life also has its drawbacks that I’m now clearly seeing. My stable job is slowly turning into a golden jail where change is scary and boredom praised.

One thing I’m now realizing is office culture is based on recurring events and stable people.

Like, there are three highlights of the day every day.

  • Morning cigarette break with coffee (don’t forget to mention cigarettes’ high prices and coffee’s poor quality).
  • Lunch break (comparing lunches, reading the paper, complaining about the fact time goes by quickly at noon but is slow during the afternoon).
  • Afternoon break (plans about the night where so-called life actually begins).

Don’t try to change anything to the routine or people are lost. Otherwise, you might hear things like

– Hey, we have a new microwave!
– Are you sure? I think it’s the one they had on the 7th floor, they must have switched.
– Yes, ours didn’t have the scratch on the left side, by the door.
– But why would they have switched? The one we had on the 3rd floor worked fine.
– Well, it did tend to overcook lunches…
– No way, my coffee was always perfect with it.
– If you like burning hot coffee, that’s your problem…
– At least, they could have cleaned it.


Note that the same is true for people. Change one little thing (wear a skirt for the first time of the year, get a haircut, etc.) and it will be commented by 500 of your co-workers. Then, of course, they will say what they actually think of it behind your back at lunchtime.

Office life is also strongly based on hierarchy and privileges attached to it. Note to self:

  • The closest parking spot is basically reserved for the old woman who has been there since WW2. Even when she doesn’t drive to work.
  • Managers get to warm up their lunch first in the microwave. Even if it included leaving the meal in for 25 minutes “because it’s not quite warm enough.”
  • You just don’t do the daily crosswords in the paper. Or you do it mentally, cause there has to be a crosswords lady in the office who loves her crosswords at lunchtime. Same goes with Sudoku.
  • If the manager jams up the copy machine, you’ll get to fix it. Also, note that people passing by will think you’re the idiot who tried to make 20 copies of the big book with thick glossy pages.

Enthusiastic at first, I also realized that 50% of office workers hate their job and were dreaming of anything but ending up in cubicle 719D. The other half is the people who have no life outside their job and bring family pictures in order to say a virtual “hi” to their kids once in a while. Working in an office is a vicious circle. With a job sucking up all your energy, you don’t feel like doing anything else on the side. Since you already have no life, you take your job even more seriously. That’s how you end up with a “25-year loyal service gift” from your directorate.

I just wanna go travelling…

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French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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