Tag Archives: office

Porridge and Sweetcorn: the Psychology of the ‘Free Gift’

Filed away in my parents’ house I found this letter that I wrote to Father Christmas when I was 5:

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Why a little girl from a Jewish family was writing to Father Christmas in the first place is a subject for another day…

The paper is blackened with soot because it had been sent up our chimney (obviously the only way to communicate with Santa Claus) and, as my father has noted at the bottom, was subsequently retrieved from the garden.

The first thing that might strike you about this Christmas list is the paper it’s written on. It advertises:

ANUSOL: Soothes painful piles and anal irritation 

My father practised as a GP in a large Sunderland health centre and drug companies constantly tried to seduce him with freebies, including this branded paper.

Practically everything in our house seemed to have the name of a drug company on it: paper, pens, calendars, mugs…

My parents always welcomed these gifts enthusiastically. I’m pretty sure that we would have had a sofa with Amoxicillin-branded cushions or a car painted with the Nurofen logo, had they been offered to us.

I remember one of the free items was  a gadget that would cut through your seat belt if you found yourself entangled in it due to a car crash. I’m not sure what was written on it. Perhaps, “You’ll never feel trapped with Laxido”.

I think there’s a curious psychology surrounding the idea of the ‘free gift’. (Incidentally, the term itself is tautological: if it’s a gift, then you’d expect it to be free.) We have a tendency to accept things that are free, even if we have no desire for them whatsoever.

I re-entered office life last year after nine years of working from home. I was bizarrely excited about every aspect of the corporate world because I’d spent so long away from it. One day I emailed my husband Anthony in great excitement, saying,

“They’re giving away free porridge with golden syrup in every kitchen!”

“But you don’t like porridge…” he replied.

“Yes,” I said, “but it feels really good to know that if I did like it, I could have it. And for free!”

More recently, in my current office, these boxes turned up containing packets of microwavable ‘express’ sweetcorn:

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This photo was taken only about 5 minutes after they’d arrived and already the boxes are half empty. By the time the email came round saying ‘There are packets of microwavable sweetcorn in the kitchens’, the whole lot had already been snaffled.

Now sweetcorn is, admittedly, quite a useful thing. Most people like a bit of sweetcorn with their dinner now and again. But nobody could claim it was exciting. I’m not sure the fact that it ‘heats in 1 minute’ really made much difference either. I don’t generally think, ‘I would eat sweetcorn much more often if only it didn’t take so long to prepare…’.

No, the speed with which those packets vanished was, I’m sure, almost entirely due to the mysterious power of the ‘free gift’.

Anyway, back to the Anusol…

I can only assume that Father Christmas was not impressed with my choice of writing paper because, despite having requested it in my letter, I wasn’t given a Cindy (sic), and certainly didn’t receive ‘all the clothes and all the furniture’ to accompany her. Which just goes to show that presentation really matters: sometimes it’s worth ignoring the free gift and spending a bit of money.

If you would like more of this sort of nonsense, why not ‘like’ my Facebook page – or take a look at it, at any rate?
https://www.facebook.com/pages/When-Am-I-Supposed-to-Start-Feeling-Like-a-Grown-Up/389456271237921?ref=hl

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How many kisses is too many kisses?

XXXXX

When I was a brand new editorial assistant in my first publishing job, I signed off an email to one of the company directors as follows:

Susan xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The moment I pressed ‘send’ I realised what I’d done and I sat there, frozen in horror.
Once I’d started breathing again, I realised I couldn’t just pretend it hadn’t happened, or she might think that *I* thought this was an appropriate way for a junior to sign her name to a director. But how do you say sorry to someone for having put too many – or indeed, any – kisses in a message to them…?
“I apologise for my excessive epistolary affection”?
“I will endeavour to communicate via a more formal register in future”?

In the end, I put my head round her office door, red-faced, and mumbled somethig inarticulate. Given that she was far older and more experienced than me and in a position of power, this was her cue to be amused and reassuring and make me feel much better.

She wasn’t and she didn’t. Instead she was bemused and condescending, which is why I’m clearly still trying to get over to trauma 18 years later.

It hasn’t stopped me from putting kisses after my name, though, when I’m actually writing to a friend. I’ve noticed that there is a definite etiquette involved in this process. The number matters. One kiss means you’re on friendly terms. It *might* mean that you’re close, but it could also apply to, for example, a client you know well or another mum you chat to in the playground. Three kisses definitely signifies that you’re good friends, whereas an extravagant row of many kisses either means that you’re twelve-years-old (in which case you might intersperse them with circles to represent hugs), or that you’re writing to your partner or very close friend.

In an email exchange, it’s interesting that most people will copy your pattern exactly. For example, two kisses after your name will get you two kisses after the recipient’s name.

There is a gender segregation here, though. Men are definitely less generous with their rows of x’s. If I’m writing to one of my male friends, most of whom tend not to put kisses after their names, I find myself having an internal dialogue as follows: “He doesn’t, so probably I shouldn’t. But if I were writing to a female friend I definitely would. It feels really unfriendly not to. So I will – I shouldn’t let my normal writing style be dictated by someone else.” Then I do so, and immediately feel very slightly silly and childish. And then I feel annoyed with myself for being so insecure.

I write most of my messages on my phone using voice recognition, so if you see me with my phone to my mouth saying “love-Susan-ex-ex-ex-ex-ex”, this will be why. Please try not to cross the street.

Love Susan xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

PS When searching for a suitable image to accompany this post, it was noticeable that when I put ‘kisses’ into Google Images I got lots of nice pictures of pink lips, whereas when I searched ‘kisses xxx’ the results were startlingly different. It probably would have been better if I hadn’t been doing it outside my daughter’s ballet class.

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If you would like more of this sort of nonsense, why not ‘like’ my Facebook page – or take a look at it, at any rate?
https://www.facebook.com/pages/When-Am-I-Supposed-to-Start-Feeling-Like-a-Grown-Up/389456271237921?ref=hl