Friday, 15 February 2008

Puttin' on the Ritz

Early this morning I’ve been to a breakfast business presentation. It’s one of those events where you sell your soul to a company for an hour or so in order for them to be able to comfortably pour you over with their marketing pitch, and in return you get breakfast and a token gift of the like you’ve never had before (it’s almost always a cheap pen, although once – in Sweden – I got this excellent Ballograf that I’m still using today).
These meetings are essentially a congregation of people who don’t know one another, don’t have much of a relationship with one another, and generally speaking don’t have that much in common with one another other than the will to have someone else pay for their breakfast (and, to one extent or another, a shared interest in the product being sold). It is therefore very interesting to observe some of the social elements on display at the meeting.
First for the dress code. Today’s a Friday, and almost every company has a “casual Friday” policy. However, I was the only casual person in the room (denim shirt, cargo pants) whereas all the rest wore their usual uniform – suit and tie. I’m not talking about the presenters who try to sell you their stuff, I’m talking about the guests that are there only to have breakfast and to have someone else try and impress them. My theory, therefore, is that people are essentially so insecure that they need the defence of their suit and tie even for the least demanding social interactions. This theory of mine certainly explains other phenomena recently explored on this blog, such as misleading baby handling guidebooks and the way people dress for weddings; if people are so insecure at breakfast, no wonder they’d be insecure when they get married or raise a child.
Second on my list of observations is the food. No one has asked us anything about our preferences, but shortly after we were sat we had attendants from this very prestigious Melbourne hotel we were at serve us breakfast. The breakfast included bacon, scrambled eggs, toasted white bread, fried mushrooms, a fried tomato, and a hush brown. It’s your typical "continental" breakfast, but by giving it away no questions asked you can see what the hotel thinks of the average Australian’s preferences: the average Australian is not a practicing Muslim, Jew or Hindu, so it’s fine to serve them with bacon; and the average Australian is not too fussy about the healthiness of the food they eat, hence the fried ingredients and the white bread (which, personally, I find as boring as heaven is often described by the religious (that is, a pretty pointless and meaningless affair); I prefer wholemeal bread not only because it’s healthier, but also because it actually tastes of something; it has character). The point I’m trying to make here is that by ignoring people whose requirements might be different to the “norm”, the hotel is telling us that by failing to comply with the norm we will remain hungry; you’re expected to go with the flow.
The beverage department wasn’t that great, but that was more to do with health. I was offered coffee four times, and the tables had jars of a sugary liquidy substance that was obviously colored to look like orange juice. Everyone around me galloped the coffee while I was left wondering where the water was.
The third and last item on my list is to do with climate control. One of the presenters, who wore the obligatory suit and tie, was obviously very uncomfortable and kept complaining about how warm the room was. Thing is, it wasn’t warm at all; he was warming himself up through his anxiety as a presenter, but he was also keeping this self generated heat inside himself by wearing a suit and a tie. The simple act of removing his suit’s top would have addressed his anguish, but never did he think of this simple maneuver for even a second. It says something about the vanity we humans have accumulated over the last hundred years or so, the way we think of ourselves as the masters of the natural world. The guy had no issues pursuing hotel staff to ask them to beef up their air conditioning even though no one was forcing him to dress up and even though a business shirt and a tie alone would have been perfectly acceptable by all involved. Some chance we have for fighting global warming…
In conclusion I have to say I find it rather sad that the observations I take out of this encounter are mainly negative. Us people have a lot of work ahead of us if we want to live in a nice world where every person can enjoy their fair share of the niceties.

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