Open space offices are a nightmare. I am forced to live in intimacy the greater part of my day in a newsroom with people I would not even go to the café with. There are some things one should only have to put up with one’s chosen partner.
There are thirty reporters in our office which would already be crowded with 15.
Just in front of me is A-C. She is cute and short, very short, maybe 5 feet tall, with full, long and suspiciously, blond hair. She has a high-pitched sing-song voice which she pushes to sound important when on the phone — and she is almost always on the phone. When she is not on the phone she is reading her texts to herself which sounds like a bumble-bee in my head.
Because she once volunteered for ‘Doctors without Borders’, she has become our in-house expert on tropical diseases and behaves like she had the full seven years of medical training, once again giving herself lots of importance. It is a strange thing in journalism that often, if you have been in the cockpit of a plane, you become and aeronautical engineer.
There are laughs I hate. A-C has that yuk-yuk-yuk kind that sends shivers down my spine.
To my left is F. He is quiet in general but he has a lot of problems at the moment and he is on the phone constantly trying to solve them. What I don’t like is he slurps his coffee loudly through his lips to cool it as he drinks; he emits that guttural “euuuhhhh” every third word to fill the void while looking for the rest of his sentence; at the end of each sentence he sucks in air through tight saliva-filled lips which is as loud and annoying as when he slurps his coffee.
To the left of F is B who has a high strident voice which hits me like chalk scraping on the blackboard. I think she must be hard-of-hearing because she speaks very loudly. She spends most of her day talking to M, in front of her and diagonally to my left, about everything from school lunch programs for the kids to the last and next vacation.
M, for her part, only spends half her day on the phone taking care of personal problems. What annoys me most about M is she knows everything — even when she doesn’t know. There is no point making any constructive proposal/suggestion or give information. I am cut off before I even begin.
For some reason, most French hate drafts. It must date from the Middle-Ages when people thought a draft coming through the window of the house brought in the evil spirits who made you sick.
Every day, no matter the weather, hot or cold, there are fights over open windows. Lilian is cold even in the heat of summer and it takes about 20 seconds for her to turn around and complain “Somebody opened a window. It’s freezing in here.” A-C is the same even though she opted to sit next to the window! It gets so hot and stuffy I have headaches. The squabbling between those who want an open window and those who don’t adds to the cacophony of a newsroom where 30 people are carrying out individual conversations with each other or on the phone.
There is another annoying element. Something happened in 2003. Because before I left for Congo, people did the French cheek kiss discreetly. But when I came back it was a contest over who could make the loudest ‘Schmaaak’ with each kiss. I cannot figure it out. The parade of schmaaaks lasts over two hours as people trickle into the office anywhere from nine to 11:30. And don’t think they stay at work later when they come in later. This is the French public service.