Awkward Moment #29: Mug-gate


The office kitchen.

A place of relaxation and a break from the computer screen, a tranquil yet delicate atmosphere is needed to maintain the balance in this breeding ground for awkwardness. Many unspoken rules command office kitchen etiquette, but the main ones are…

  • Don’t eat anything noisy or smelly
  • You burn it or accidentally eat it, you buy it
  • Never use someone else’s mug.

It was this final unspoken rule, my dear friends, that was callously broken in the office kitchen this week. And it wasn’t just any mug, oh no…

…it was my mug.

My favourite mug, no less. I can hear your gasps of horror already. I know. The nerve.

It was Thursday morning, about ten minutes before the monthly team meeting, where strong tea is crucial to making it through the three hours in full consciousness. Having attended five of these meetings since I started my job, I have discovered that timing the making of a good cup of tea right before the meeting can make or break you.

So, at ten to ten, I head to the kitchen. I go to the dishwasher, expecting to retrieve my orange penguin classics mug, denoting Jane Austen’s Persuasion, from the dishwasher.

But before I even reached it, something stopped me in my tracks. There it was, on the worktop.

Hmm. That’s weird. What’s it doing there? As I moved closer, what I saw shocked me to my very core.

Coffee granules. Waiting patiently to be bathed in boiling water and mixed with milk. In my mug. My bloody mug. My. Mug.

Oh hell no.

How can this be? Everyone knows this is my mug, my obsession with penguin classics is evident to all who know me. I collect them, I have a notepad…IT’S ON MY HANDBAG FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.

Somebody is using MY MUG?!

I’m appalled. This is completely inappropriate. That mug should be used for tea and tea only. Who is this person that insists on breaking the rules? I demand to confront this vagabond of unspoken office kitchen etiquette.

And then, there they were. They swept in, took the mug over to the urn, made their coffee and off they went. The worst part? THEY’RE IN MY TEAM.

Crap. Now what? What am I supposed to do? Should I say something? How do people deal with this type of situation?

I stood there inwardly debating my next move long enough to almost miss the start of the meeting. In the end, I reconciled to a plain white mug they keep on the side for spares, like the singles table at a wedding or those without a date. relegated to the benches at a school dance.

My tea tasted horrible.

And so, for the next three hours, in the spirit of being dreadfully British, I said nothing but threw serious eye daggers as I sat across from my mug’s captor, forced to watch as they enjoyed their coffee slowly and painfully.

After the meeting, I waited for them to leave for the day before going in search. I found it abandoned in the sink, still harbouring the last of the cold coffee dregs.

Unbelievable. Couldn’t even finish their drink. No respect.

It’s safe to say, I’m never using that dishwasher again, that’s for sure. Now that I know it’s basically a prime spot for mug crime, my mug is now washed at home and escorted to and from the office every day.

That’ll show ‘em.

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Awkward Moment #20: The Blag, A Dying Art Form.


A question for my fellow language lubbers: why is it that as soon as people hear that you study languages, they automatically presume you to have encyclopaedic knowledge of anything and everything non-English, ever?

Seriously, has this ever happened to you? Let me demonstrate.
Exhibit A:

You find yourself at a party of a friend of a friend of that guy with the hipster haircut, when suddenly, mid-mingle, you are drawn into conversation.

“So what do you study?” A young chap asks, drinking a beer with a straw. Who even is this guy?

“Modern Languages,” you confirm, with a hint of pride in your voice as you smile and nod modestly. Yep, that’s how I roll. You know it.

“Wow, that’s so cool. Any in particular?” He enquires. Honestly. Nope, I speak all languages in the world ever. Moron.

“Spanish and Italian mostly”, you nod with a casual shrug of the shoulder. No big deal really.

“Amazing. So you’re fluent then?” He nods back at you.
Wait, what?

“Um, well I…” you begin, but it’s already too late.

“Because this one time I was on holiday and this guy comes up to me and says…”

Your stomach flips.
Shit.

The unforeseeable yet inevitable is now staring you in the face. You now carry the enormous burden of understanding and interpreting to perfection whatever it is that comes out of this guys mouth, no matter how massacred the pronunciation nor how ridiculous the accent. It’s like a Mexican stand-off with a Collins dictionary.

It could be in any dialect from any part of the world meaning absolutely anything. If you don’t perfectly understand every single world of the following and in doing so, decipher it with confidence and flare, you are deemed useless. You’ve let your family down, your friends down and worst of all, you’ve let England down. You are a pitiful excuse for a linguist, now away with you.

Voices begin raging inside your head as you try to concentrate on what he’s saying, almost certain that the universe has chosen promiscuous pronouns, vile verbs and toxic tenses to form the bulk of the phrase, not to mention throwing in a cheeky imperfect subjunctive, nestled comfortably between false friends (frightfully fiendish, those false friends).

So what do I do? I hear you ask.

You, my friend, must do what every great linguist since time in memorial has done before you in a woeful situation such as this. You make that shit up.

Narrowing your eyes, you listen carefully to what he is saying, attempting a pensive expression as if your mind were meandering the forests of genius and wordreference.com…but the words tumble from his lips and land on the floor in a puddle of confusion. Was that even a word? And what was that? Chinese?!

Beneath your cool, reserved exterior, your interior, with clammy palms, fumbles for a sentence – any sentence – to pass off as a decent translation.

“I see, right…well, it sounds…um, where exactly were you when you heard this?” This looks like a blag…might as well milk it.

“Just outside of Naples,” he says. You continue to mentally scratch your head. The silence is growing, he’s on to you. Stall him.

“Ah, yes of course, it does sound rather…Neapolitan.” Oh, good work. His eyebrows rise slightly. He’s intrigued. Keep going.

“…yes, and I think the emphasis on that last expression could mean that…” Pause, but remain pensive. Calm, cool, a cucumber…

“…yes? What could it mean? Was it rude?!” The tension is building, the anticipation is killing him. Go for something scandalous. Make him want it.

“It sounds like, ‘I need somewhere to hide the body…'” Nailed it.

“What!?! Surely not, I mean…” He laughs nervously.

“Don’t look at me; I don’t know what you get up to on holiday! After all, what happens in Naples…” Turning the tables on him, nicely done!

“You aren’t seriously suggesting…” He looks incredulous now. Quick, separate yourself from the situation.

“Of course not, after all…I just speak the language”. OOOOOOOOHHHHH. Take that!

You see? Handled with flare, confidence and even a few idioms. Like a pro.
Your tutors would be so proud.

Awkward Moment #19 : Fisticuffs with a Fir


So there I am, returning to the Sydney Jones library with a clear case of Stockholm syndrome after having already spent the entire day there. I went home for dinner, obviously – one great lesson the Italians taught me, there’s always time for a pasta break – but back to the grind I go. I blame my personal tutor, who also happens to be the head of the Italian department and resident slave driver. I’m not even sure I can speak the damn language.

Having belted it out to Adele in the car journey here (and being laughed at by a guy in a Volkswagen Beetle at the traffic lights – really dude? In that car?), I cough as I walk through the wet leaves that gloss the pavement.

It’s a Monday-bloody-evening. Monday-bloody-evenings are for chocolate-bloody-biscuits and David Attenborough (no bloody for David, the lad). Not Sydney-bloody-Jones. And then it hits me.

Literally. Right in the face. A nearby tree launches a three –branched (weeey) on my head and face and manages to entangle itself in my hair. “Arrrgh…shit-what-th-bastard-” is all I can manage I struggle with my leafy foe, he isn’t letting go without a fight (or a clump of my hair). My glasses fall to the floor and i’s game over. I have lost my sight. I flail my arms around in an attempt to disentangle myself but only manage to get smacked in the face. My bag starts slipping from my shoulder – I’m so glad it’s dark and no-one is around – and I feel a sharp scratch against my neck. Good god, I’m going to lose my head to a Horsechestnut!

Finally I break free. My hair is in a sorry state and my dignity lies in tatters at my feet. I locate my glasses and push them back up my nose. I take a deep breath to recover from my near-decapitation and pause for thought. I fumble for my follicles – still intact, but only just.

I’ve had enough, I can’t live like this. Never again will I look at that tree in the same way; never again will I feel safe when the wind blows. My options are few – and I get really bad hat hair. The everyday danger posed by coniferous criminals must be nipped in the bud – Henry VIII styley.

It’s off with the hair.