Overheard in the office


It may or may not come as a complete surprise to the reader to learn that I enjoy reading books on etiquette. That of course doesn’t mean that I’m never rude, but it does mean that I’m generally rude only on purpose and not in a thoughtless way.

The guy in the cubicle neighboring mine, for example, has developed an inconsiderate and unnecessary speakerphone habit. He just slouches there broadcasting his voicemail messages to the entire office while his hands rest idle on his desk (that is, when he isn’t using one hand to click his pen incessantly as though practicing the castanet part from the Beach Boys’ “San Miguel”). I’m sure Miss Manners and Emily Post wouldn’t have approved of my walking over, snatching the handset out of the cradle, and holding it to the guy’s ear, but that’s why they’re the etiquette writers and I’m only the etiquette reader. (I’d say it was because they were just weak little ladies, and I’m a man of action, but I’m currently reading Essential Manners for Men by Emily Post’s great-grandson Peter, and he doesn’t advise anything of the kind. Then again, he seems to have been brainwashed into caving in a little too easily on the toilet seat thing, while, as I was just explaining to my own mother, I will always maintain that this is an issue of personal responsibility and that anyone who accidentally falls in for a cold, wet midnight dunking ought to be learning from the experience rather than blaming others, so perhaps Peter Post isn’t exactly putting the “man” in “manners”.)

Anyway, in contrast to the guy above, I was quietly leaving a voicemail message for someone today, and the automated voice actually cut in to tell me I needed to speak up. I do try to keep it down, partly because I have a small awareness of cubicle courtesy, but mostly because — and you may agree that this is wise, considering some of the ill-advised things I say — I just generally don’t want to be overheard.

Not so the people of New York, I’m happy to report. I ran across a great article in Slate today about the website Overheard in New York, which compiles interesting little snippets of conversations that are, well, overheard in New York. Here’s just one of my favorite examples cited by the Slate article:

Ghetto guy #1: Who do you think is better, Bernie Mac or Mr. T?
Ghetto guy #2: Obviously Mr. T. He uses pronouns more efficiently. 

It occurred to me after looking at the site that I’ve seen something like this before. A while back, my friend Katherine forwarded me a link to a spin-off site, Overheard in the Office, which is also worth a look. Fittingly enough, while digging through my e-mail archives to find the link she’d sent me, I ran across an e-mail I sent her last January in which I mentioned that I’d just bewildered a passerby who overheard me say, “I can’t wait until I die so I can haunt people!” after I’d tried unsuccessfully to leap out and scare someone and then lamented the fact that I wasn’t a skeleton, as it would surely have worked then.

“Seriously Pet, if I worked with you, you’d get a slap at least once a week,” Katherine said. And she’d probably be justified, but boy howdy, if I weren’t doing so much reading on etiquette, I bet I’d be getting slapped at least once a day.

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