I work on a high-profile assignment in an important product line for Dream Job. The work I do-while not being something that will save the whales, end world hunger, or get those awful velcro-closing shoes to be banned-is interesting, fun, and something that my past experience with Company X gives me the perfect background for. Weirdly, I was cast loose from my old job and fit right into the puzzle of my new one. I'm not saying I am the only person in the world who could do this work, and I am not saying that I am fabulous and indispensible. I have learned otherwise, trust me.
But the biggest difference between my old job-besides me not being so paranoid about losing my Dream Job and me not living in Sweden freezing my ass off-and my new job is that once I worked for customers, tirelessly racing into presentations and taking the blame if things went wrong. I would sometimes be shipped from Stockholm to remote offices to take a pounding, to help the local offices save face, or because I was a shmuck and couldn't tell when I was being set up.
And now...I am the customer.
What a change.
And, in general, I get along great with the people that I am supposed to be the customer to. I am the only woman in a team of about 40 men, all of them telecoms flunkies that are pretty good guys. Some of them, ironically, are Company X employees that I never dealt with before, but like very much now. And some of the people for whom I am the customer come from another telecoms company I will call Teledick.
You can maybe see where this is going already.
One rep from Teledick, a smarmy, tall doughy character with the desire to be posh (you wanna' be posh, son? Don't advertise your love for Essex, m'kay?) in particular has gotten right up my ass. He did from day one, and then with an explosive effort on Tuesday he drilled himself his own private enclave for one in my anterior passage.
He took over the role as a salesman/programme manager from someone I got on great with, a guy who used to be able to joke with me and whom I respected. This guy, apparently, thought there was some coat-tail sailing that could be done, when the truth is, with me? In the busines environment, you have to earn the right to joke with me like that, I only do it with friends.
Day One, when we meet.
Him: Hello, Helen. My name is JOFF-rey.
Me: Confused, I look at him. "I'm sorry. What was your name?
I still didn't get it. He gave me his card. And there, on the card, was his name: Geoffry Von PettyPumpkin (English last name and all).
Me: Oh! Geoffrey.
Him: Right, it's pronounced JOFF-rey.
Me: JOFF-rey. I repeated this, feeling like a complete fucknut.
Him: (pulling his upper lip slowly back from his waxy teeth) Right. But I already heard about you. You need to be controlled with an iron fist.
I decide to let his last comment slide, and determined not to ever feel so stupid saying a first name again, I decided just to address him as Von PettyPumpkin. Somehow, that seemed less embarrassing. But only just.
I had to call Von PettyPumpkin about a conference he has booked last week. Without consulting with me or the team I "manage", he moved the meeting location halfway across the goddamn country, making it a more than 6 hour travel-time trip, extending the agenda to a 2-day meeting therefore necessitating an overnight stay. My team were not pleased. Neither was I. We needed the meeting moved back as my team simply can't participate if it's not, and because baby, I got a man. A man with a warm body that I should be with in my own warm bed. Overnight trips away from my man-unless John Cusack, some champagne, and some milk chocolate body cream-are simply not of interest.
I rang him up.
Me: Von PettyPumpkin? This is Helen. I need to talk to you about your meeting next week.
I hear him breathing on the phone, and I imagine his blond nostril hairs.
Him: What about it?
Me: The thing is, the venue was changed without consulting half of the team. You moved it to a location that is difficult for any of us to get to.
Him: It's booked. Done. That's the way it is.
I am put back a bit.
Me: Ri-iiiiight. Well, perhaps you can consider moving it again. None of the team can make it, and their participation is crucial.
Him: (rudely) Look, Helen, I've booked it. Understand? This isn't worth discussing with you.
Back the fuck up.
Isn't worth discussing with me?
Me: I beg your pardon?
Him: I just think you and your team need to get yourselves into gear and get some work done.
The inner beautiful black woman that I have always wanted to be just put one hand on her hip, snapped her fingers in the air, and with perfect precision, just elocuted the words I have always wanted to say as perfectly as I hear on tv:
Oh no, you di'uhnt!
Unfortunately, I am a tall white chick with slightly bucked teeth, but one can dream.
Me: Really, Von PettyPumpkin, I don't think you should be speaking to me like that. You don't know the work my team or I do. I don't appreciate your tone, at all.
Him: (extremely curt tone of voice-and it's not my paranoid mind imagining it, he really is being unkind) I have a more important conference call to attend in about 6 minutes, this isn't worth discussing. It's done. It's booked. You and your team should just try harder to make it. I-
But I didn't hear the end. I broke one of my own mantras, one of my own rules, and with a head on fire I snapped the clam lid on my mobile phone shut, hanging up on him.
I never hang up on people, I find it the height of rudeness.
But I did it to him.
I get it that nothing could be done about moving the meeting. I understand that. I am not full of myself, I don't think all my whims should be catered to. But when you are dealing with someone in a company that you hopefully want to milk for more cash in the future, you can be direct without being rude. Hem a little bit, be sympathetic. And when I was with customers in the past? Nothing was more important than when they had questions, not even if the Pope had wanted to host a conference call (which is ok, since both my Polish and my Italian need work).
All that, and I hate sales.
Ballistic, I rang my manager, and ratted Von PettyPumpkin out.
Me: And if he thinks he can talk to me like that, he can fuck right off!
Manager: I will talk to him. He can't talk to you like that, I totally agree. You will get an apology out of him on Wednesday. But please try to refrain from hanging up on people. (I came clean about that to him-I felt I should be as honest about the conversation as possible, even my mistakes).
So I steamed about it. I was livid. I wanted to ban Von PettyPumpkin to fucking NeverNever Land, having Michael Jackson offer him a sparkly purple M&M and a glass of wine and then do the naked funky chicken with him. I had visions in my mind of telling him (in an icy tone that Alexis Carrington would be impressed with) that his services would no longer be required and to please leave our meetings. Forever.
I was furious.
Wednesday, I woke up with an angry satisfaction. I wasn't in a bad mood-far from it, I felt alive!-and I looked forward to my apology. I wanted squirming. I wanted him to pay. I got ready for work.
Mobile phone? Check.
And off to work I went.
Von PettyPumpkin comes up to me.
Him: Helen, can I talk to you outside? Have you had anything to eat?
Me: I've eaten, thank you.
We go outside the room. I am filled with rage but determined to be professional. I want to make him crawl on glass, but I will not give him ammo.
Him: (smiling that smarmy smile) I think you need to get to know how I work, Helen. When I say "It isn't worth discussing" it's simply because I feel other things should be addressed.
Me: I think you need to get to know how to talk to customers, Von PettyPumpkin.
Him: My job isn't really customer service focussed, Helen.
Me: I beg to differ, Von PettyPumpkin. I have worked towards customers before, too. And I would never in a million years speak to them the way you have. It's not acceptable. At all.
His mouth gapes open. He expected me to melt, I think. And I have yet to hear an apology. And this "understand how I work and talk"? Yeah-you don't get to dump the blame on me. This isn't like all of my past relationships, where the man who should apologize weasles out of it in favor of making me suck up the blame. Oh no-those days are past.
Him: I really think you need to just understand how I work and talk.
Me: I don't "just have to" do anything, Von PettyPumpkin.
Him: Listen, mate-
Me: (interrupting him) I am not your mate. I am here to do business. I will attend a part of your two-day meeting, the rest of my team will not be there. And in the future, if you want my team to be there, then you run it through all of us before going off and deciding to book something outrageously difficult to get to.
Him: Helen, really, you just need to understand how I talk.
Change the record, jabberwocky. Bored of the conversation, I start to walk back to the room. I open my mouth and realize I am about to say: I eat salesmen like you for breakfast, when it occurs to me that I should stop channeling Dirty Harry for a moment, because:
A) It's not going to be productive.
B) I am more of a bagel person at breakfast anyway.
C) I have never even seen a Dirty Harry movie, and it hurts my throat to talk like him.
Instead, I reach into myself and come out with a grown-up.
Me: Von PettyPumpkin? I'll see you Monday. We can be colleagues and work on this project, but I am not your mate, I am not your buddy. I am your customer, so please address me as such. (I pause at the doorway, one hand on the cool steel and my heart racing like a hummingbird. I may look tough, but inside I am a jumpy chick.) And you know what Von PettyPumpkin? It's not me-it's you.
And I swish through the doorway, patting my banshee on the back and feeling outrageously alive, ending the personal relationship the way I have always wanted to.
PS-Umm....while attempting to be cool, I walked back into the room, went to sit down at my seat, got my foot tangled up in the cable to my laptop and *BANG!* the laptop went to the floor. After administering mouth-to-mouth, I am sorry to say it was pronounced dead at 12:38 pm GMT. So if I am not commenting much in the next week, it's because I am waiting for a new hard disk. Sorry.