Saturday, 16 July 2011

The land that political correctness forgot

A long, long time ago, I worked in an office. It was a magical office: a place of great achievements, of growing empires and a veritable smorgasbord of mischief and mayhem that would never be tolerated in today’s more politically correct, professional corporate world.

As you may have guessed, I spent my formative working years in Hong Kong, that bastion of bad behaviour, where every move you made was up for ridicule and you hadn’t made it until you had an offensive nickname.  

I’m sure this will have my feminist friends shaking in their flat, shapeless shoes, but I’ve been given countless decidedly sexist monikers over the years: from princess to juicy, bar wench, and – my personal favourite – pleasure model. I rue the day I taught one American employer the phrase dappy moo.

To be fair, I wasn’t exactly what you’d call averse to dishing it out in return. I called one boss Blobby for years, until I settled on the much less flattering pet name, the Hindenburg. One co-worker responded to the name FUB, which stands for fat useless bastard.

It wasn’t all affectionate yet inappropriate nicknames however. We also indulged in a host of high jinx that would have done Just William proud. There was the time we gaffer taped a particularly hairy workmate’s arms to a desk, the time my boss peed in a pot plant in the office of a rival business head, and the time we tortured a colleague of ours by defacing his beloved Canadian flag, which flew proudly above his workstation. Hang on; we did that every time we worked late.

Friday afternoon was office cricket day, where we pulled the metal arches from our workstations and used them as bats, firing stress balls around the room, taking out cups of coffee for five points, phones for ten, and – well – the Canadian flag to take the game.

It wasn’t just us either, and behaviour such as this was common all over the territory. Walk into almost any financial institution back in the day and you were likely to hear screams of, “Get your fat arse over here and make me a cup of tea,” bellowing through office doors. It was equally common to hear responses like, “Make it yourself you feckless twat,” hurled back by beleaguered yet good-humoured assistants.

One banker I knew, who shall remain nameless, used to send himself faxes because his secretary, who always wore short skirts, had to bend over a table to retrieve them, and another offered me USD20k to sleep with him. Who am I kidding? That happened three times!

But one of my all-time favourite examples of inappropriate behaviour came as the handover approached. With the reality of Chinese rule fast approaching, one of our regional leaders – let’s call him Bill – flew in to town to deliver a presentation addressing the impending political change.

Bill was a small man with just the slightest hint of a Napoleon complex. Just replace the bicorn hat with a pair of high-heeled cowboy boots and you’ve got the picture. What he lacked in height, he more than made up for in humour and charm, and wasn’t averse to a smattering of inappropriate behaviour himself.

The PLA:
We'd never have seen them coming
The entire company trundled down to the Foreign Correspondent’s Club to hear his thoughts on what would happen when the Chinese took over. “So, what do we think will happen?” he asked rhetorically, and we all listened eagerly as he continued. “Business will be conducted as usual. Nothing will change and we will continue to operate as normal.” The acronym B.A.U. slowly filled the screen behind him, reinforcing his statement.

“However,” Bill continued, “We could wake up on 1 July to find tanks in the street.” Given the PLA had moved a large number of troops down to the China Hong Kong border, this was in fact a possibility, however the seriousness of the situation was perhaps lost on us given the word T.I.T.S. had just flashed up on the screen behind him. To this day, I don’t know if it was a genuine mistake or a tongue in cheek demonstration of his sense of humour.

Either way, yesterday’s culture of teasing and boyish pranks has long since been replaced by political backstabbing as the workplace modus operandi, but back then the office was a place for fun, where nobody took themselves too seriously. We worked hard, had fun doing it, then celebrated our successes with far too many glasses of booze in Petticoat Lane before doing it all again. I have to say, while I am all for a professional working environment, I do miss that magical office.

I can’t possibly be the only person who had way too much fun at work back in the 90s. If you have a tale to tell, email it to me. If it makes me drop my bacon sarnie from laughing, I’ll publish it. Anonymously of course J

1 comment:

  1. Portia, I have a story which I shall describe to you in person. All I can tell you now is it involves porn, drugs and Versace with a smattering of Eastern European intrigue and Western European mafia.
    Its a tale which needs to be told and of course it took place in Hong Kong. See you in Minger's! you know who I am ;-)


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