Skip to My Loo
Most of us have heard the expression, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” For younger folks who may not have heard these words before, it is a cliché used to advise people to adapt to the culture of places that they visit and not expect an entire culture to adapt to them. Nowhere is it more difficult to adapt to a culture than in the workplace. And the hardest part is discovering exactly what that culture might be.
When I first started in the office in which I now work, the staff was comprised mostly of women. Well, let me rephrase that. It was the women who were in the building 90 percent of the time. The men we worked with were usually out and about with clients or on sales calls. Over the past three years the dynamic has changed for a number of reasons. The gender ratio of those who stay in the office all day long versus those who go out on calls to clients or sales calls has evened out. It’s now is a nice mix of people and personalities that has given rise to interesting conversations and an entirely new and refreshing dynamic. Since all the available space and nooks and crannies are being filled with desks, cubicles and the jockeys and warriors that fill them, the expectations and the culture, while not changed, has become rather flexible. Each new person enters the fray with her or his own ideas and preconceived notions of how it all should work.
In a previous column, I told you about the ongoing feud at my office over the newspaper. It’s not that there is not enough newspaper to share on the contrary, there is plenty. The problem occurs when some of the men use the “men’s reading room” after their morning coffee. When said guys emerge refreshed and ready to take on the remainder of the day, they return the newspaper to the kitchen/break room. This is something that the women find gross and disgusting. I have found the verbal exchanges as interesting as the paper on any given day and a hundred times more entertaining. I expect that these kinds of conversations go on in many homes too. Despite that, what I find the most heartening is the need to read, whether over coffee, lunch, a snack or simply to pass the time in the necessary room. These discussions have remained, to this point, good natured.
Until recently, I never realized how much of an impact this had on the middle-aged Korean man who cleans the building. He has tried to tell me his name which sounds something like “waa whoa.” Though he speaks little English, he is ever courteous, greeting everyone with a smile and a cheery “good morning” no matter the time of day. He is diligent in his job: the glass on the doors shines brightly, the brass gleams softly in the fluorescent lighting and the wood is polished to a high and dust-free gloss. I consider him a craftsman with the attention to detail he maintains day after day. Nowhere is this attention to his job more evident than in the bathrooms. Every surface sparkles. When I see him, I always ask how he is and thank him for what he does whether or not he understands me, because what he does is important. The intent obviously comes across because whenever he sees me with my arms are full of training materials or boxes, he drops what he is doing to hurry ahead and unlock the door to the training area. He is observant and sensitive, and I appreciate that.
I didn’t realize the extent of his observations and his level of understanding until one afternoon a few weeks ago. I had to use the loo, but it was in the process of being cleaned. Mr. Wo hurried out, raising a finger indicating for me to wait a moment. He hurried over to his storage closet near the restrooms. Unlocking the door he fumbled around on some shelves and came out with a few magazines and newspapers. He sorted quickly through the stack, and with a laugh discarded the newspaper into the waste bin. Finally, Mr. Wo made a decision. With a smile and a courtly bow he handed me a magazine called Men’s Health. A buff, good-looking man dominated the cover. Mr. Wo pointed to the restroom indicating in no uncertain terms that I now had everything I could possibly need.
What else can one do but accept as gracefully and gratefully as possible a gift of such kindness and appreciate the intent. After the fact and away from the venerable Mr. Wo, I laughed and found great pleasure in the things that Mr. Wo has observed in his year’s tenure cleaning the building. It is obvious that the esteemed and gentle cleaning man is endeavoring to adapt to the Rome in which he lives and has come to appreciate, like many other American men, the value of a good read in the bathroom. I love the irony.
At age 10, Anne realized she was never going to get to be Miss America since reading a book was not an acceptable talent. So she went on to get a job and raise a family. Along the way, she fixed meals, picked up toys, helped with homework, and collected a drawer full of rejection slips for her “great American novel.” It was not all bad, however, since she ended up wallpapering a closet with them. She currently designs and creates greeting cards for her tiny company, The Frog Prints, LLC, and also works full-time as a Training Specialist. Anne is currently tethered to reality by a loving spouse, two dogs, one cat and the occasional hurricane that blows through Florida, although falling headlong and happily into a book is still her favorite “talent.” She can be reached at