NaBloPoMo Prompt #2
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
When you are speaking with someone, do you prefer to look them in the eye or talk over the phone?
A few years ago, I worked for an Australian company. Most of the junior positions at my office were filled by Canadians, but they brought in actual, for-real Australians to fill the senior positions. This worked out all right, as the Australians seemed to like Canada just fine (although they found us a bit too politically correct for their liking, and they hated the cold so much that they counted their time here in winters, rather than years).
After I’d been working for a few months, a new head honcho came over from Australia. He was, like, my boss’ boss’ boss, but for some reason he and I got a kick out of each other and he would often come hang around my desk. One day he came by and announced that his birthday was coming up.
I’ll bake you a cake – what’s your favourite? asked one of my co-workers.
Oh, you wouldn’t know it, said my boss, mock-pouting. No one in Canada’s ever heard of it.
Tell us, tell us, we begged him, desperate to prove him wrong.
A pavlova, he said, smirking.
The girl who had volunteered to bake for him quickly rescinded her offer.
I know what a pavlova is, I said, rolling my eyes in what I assumed was a very blasé way. I’ll make it. I’ve made one before.
First of all, let’s be perfectly clear: yes, I did know what a pavlova was. I’d even eaten one. But I’d never made one before. And I am pretty terrible in the kitchen. It’s just that when people assume I don’t know something, not only do I have to prove them wrong, I have to go one step beyond that and, like, extra, extra prove them wrong. Plus, I maybe wanted to suck up to my boss just a little.
I didn’t expect him to actually take me up on my offer.
Not only did he take me up on my offer, but he recruited another girl in the office to bake him a carrot cake and announced to everyone that we were going to have a bake-off for his birthday.
What the hell had I gotten myself into?
The night before my boss’ birthday I set out all the ingredients for the pavlova on my kitchen table. I tried to pretend that I was in a cooking show. If I was in a cooking show, everything would turn out just fine, right?
I separated the ingredients into cute, colourful bowls just like they do on tv. I put on a kooky apron. I practiced my charming smile for the camera.
First, I said to my audience of cats, first beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on high speed until foamy.
Both cats bolted at the sound of the mixer.
The next direction said to beat in sugar one tablespoon at a time. Now, I’m not going to go into detail here, but let’s just say that I fucked it up. And there was sticky, foamy egg white everywhere.
It was nearly midnight. I sat down and cried.
What was I going to do?
I thought about just flat-out telling everyone that I’d failed.
I though about calling in sick to work.
Then, like the adult I am, I stopped crying, got up and made another pavlova.
This one was perfect. Thank you Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
I tried to sleep afterwards, but I was too nervous. I was afraid that the pavlova would crumble over night. I ended up sleeping on the couch and getting up every hour to check on it. Finally, morning came, and the pavlova was still fine. I wrapped it up and took a cab to the office.
I’d been too nervous to eat that morning, and I was exhausted from not sleeping, so my solution was to down cup after cup of coffee. After about the millionth cup I had to take the what was maybe the worst call in the history of calls.
It was a Russian truck driver, and he didn’t understand why we’d sent him a notice of intent to cancel his insurance. I tried, patiently, to explain to him that he had missed a payment. He swore up and down that he’d replaced the payment last month. I tried, still patiently, to explain that he had to make a payment every month. That was just too much for him. He totally lost it on me.
He screamed at me, called me stupid, wondered aloud what was wrong with me, threatened to have me fired, and told me repeatedly that I was ugly and no one liked me. I mean, you know, the usual. His pièce de résistance, however, came at the end of the call:
Do you know what I do with your notice of intent to cancel, he hissed in his thickly-accented English, I shit on it. I put it in the toilet and I shit on it.
Let’s be perfectly clear here: I am a person who is absolutely terrified of being yelled at. It just flips a switch in my brain that sends me right from “totally normal” to “gibbering mess”. But still, even after that phone call, even in spite of my lack of sleep and my concern for my pavlova, I managed to hold it together.
Right after that was the bake-off. To calm my nerves, I had a glass of champagne. On an empty stomach. And then I had another one.
At first everything seemed to go well – people praised how pretty my pavlova was, all covered in whipped cream and berries. The girl who had made the carrot cake hadn’t even bothered to take it out of the pan.
Amateur, I thought to myself.
But then came the taste test. The judges each had slips of paper on which they wrote comments, and then my boss read all the comments out loud at the end.
” … not as good as an Aussie pavlova…”
” … needs passionfruit, just not right without it … ”
” … pavlova is nice to look at but tastes too one-dimensional … ”
Oh no, I thought, feeling the sting of tears in my eyes, oh, please no, not now.
I tried to discreetly wipe my eyes before anyone noticed, but it was too late.
Are you crying? my boss asked, kindly but incredulously. Are you crying over losing a bake-off?
I tried to explain about how I’d ruined the first cake, and then couldn’t sleep, and hadn’t eaten all day, and then the Russian man had yelled at me, and how I’d worked so hard on that God-damn pavlova and it was just mean to say that it was one-dimensional. In my heart of hearts, though, I knew it was no use.
I would now forever be known as the girl who cried because she lost a bake-off.
And you know what? That would never have happened if I’d been talking to the Russian man face to face rather than over the phone. Because if there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my years of customer service, it’s that people go bonkers when they’re on the phone. It’s like they forget that they’re talking to a real, actual person and think that you’re some kind of robot on which they can unleash all of their fear and anger.
So, yeah, I’ll take face to face over talking on the phone anytime.