Don’t get me wrong; I love a good moan. I wouldn’t pretend otherwise for even half a paragraph. In fact part of the reason I came to Britain was to live where moaning was at its best. Antipodeans tend to think every sun sets on a barbecue, everyone has a special gift and that we all deserve a third chance. Up in the sub-arctic things are a little different. Every morning the commuting crush reminds Londoners that it’s every underground mouse for himself, there’s no such thing as sun and there aren’t enough chances to give one to everyone, let alone let people back for extra helpings. Londoners live under a grey sun and don’t mind reminding one another about it.
The English are berated for being monolingual, yet so much of the population are so well-versed in cynicism and irony this shortcoming is more than made up for. Other climates may be easier but I’ve found few places where one experiences all four seasons in a day, all of which are enthusiastically complained about. This land of the whingers is my ancestral and spiritual home, but even the Brits need a standards check.
In normal everyday street conversation, ‘how are you?’ is a way to start a conversation. Often people will reply with the same non-question and then you’ll proceed into the real meaty small-talk.
In offices, however, you daren’t risk anything so open-ended. Moaning is more often than not the default and the whole conversation. After you’ve met someone a few times, ‘how are you?’ is no mere rhetorical devise: it’s an invitation for the other side to serve first. Early rounds will be based around the day of the week, moving on to the state of the kitchen (a messy kitchen being essential to any well-functioning office). It may not be the general manager’s PA’s job to do the dishes, but it definitely is their job to remind everyone of that fact.
Moaning is a great way to bond. In previous employment I’ve found temp-soul mates with kindred haters. A shared dislike of petty bosses or shiny apple-carrying suck-ups can bond the unlikeliest of colleagues.
However, there need to be standards. Just as there ought to be standards and strict controls regarding happiness and smiling, we need to regulate our downers. I would rather we thought at least once before putting the boot into the IT/PR/HR/Senior management teams’ backs. Apart from anything else, if it’s work-related, chances are it won’t be amusing.
If it’s weight, clothes or hairstyle related, then the ‘observation’ is either too petty to be worth sharing or too obvious to be worth it. A gifted observational comic notices that which was under everyone else’s enormous collective nose, but which they hadn’t quite spotted yet. If the target in question is wearing a hectare’s worth of polka dots then you’re probably not the first to spot it (‘scuse the intentional pun).
If your complaint is sexist, racist or gayist then you’ll probably be keeping it to yourself anyway these days, lest you find yourself permanently out of office. That said I’ve never understood why people take greater offence at having their group attacked than themselves. I’ve always felt men as a collective can handle being called dicks better than I can.
My first suggestion is to attack fresh targets; moan about those seemingly unworthy of being moaned about. Those punctual types deserve having their backs stabbed just as much as the smelly guy who never stops nose foraging. The pricks who come in clean-shaven every morning and are still going strong when you roll in in after lunch; jerks who hold doors open; people who wear long-sleeved shirts, quiet eaters and water drinkers, babies, puppies, kittens and everyone called Michael or Julie.