Someone stole my mug at work this week. I should make it clear upfront – I appreciate this is not a problem of epic proportions and that, given the civil unrest and natural disasters that the world’s populations are dealing with at the moment, this is not exactly a priority. So – I now have carte blanche to be completely self-involved and express my concern at the mug’s safety, right?
It was a present, from my sister. A beautiful union jack mug which I have in the office to remind me of lovely sunny happy Blighty, whilst I’m over in Eastern Europe. During the days it brightens my desk. During the evenings it lives with the other mugs in the office kitchen. A few days ago I went to the kitchen to make my morning green tea (which would be virtuous except that I always down it in one as quickly as possible, just so that I can get it out the way and move onto the serious caffeine) and it wasn’t there. This cannot be an innocent mistake. It has the Union Jack on it. It is the same colours as the Czech flag but a completely different pattern. Is this some sort of workplace race-hate crime?…
I was unsure of the etiquette. In the UK, sending an email saying ‘please can someone return my mug’ is enough to ensure that people think you’ a weirdo and won’t talk to you for several weeks. In general, I think ‘all office’ emails are best avoided. Sending an email to over 100 people is surely the easiest way to ensure you make an embarrassing spelling mistake, completely misjudge your audience, or accidentally offend your boss. Sharing jokes, non-essential information or just general ponderings is best kept to friends, not an email list of all of one’s colleagues.
Anyway, I was not sure of what to do. What is acceptable here? My office in Prague here is quite different to what I have experienced previously. There are often quite random emails flying about the place. Reception send all-office emails wishing members of staff a Happy Birthday, which I think is rather lovely. A crazy lady sends emails every now and then to all female staff asking them to keep the toilets tidier… We laugh about it behind her back. Point proven that if you send even a well-intentioned email to a large group of colleagues, some of them will think you’re a lunatic.
People dress much more casually as well. Some of them wear slippers. Seriously.
Slippers are pretty big here actually. People wear them with absolutely no sense of irony at all. Croc-style ones with socks underneath.
Czechs wear them all the time in their houses, to the extent that lots of people we have met have spare slippers in a range of sizes, just for guests. I went to a house party soon after arriving here. As we arrived at the door of the apartment, I saw about 30 pairs of shoes lined up. Once inside I saw men and women wandering about in socks, tights, or slippers. Women with really nice dresses on, wandering about in slippers. Some of you who know me will remember that I am a bit vertically challenged, so this sort of thing does present a bit of a problem. It is much harder to look willowy and glamorous if you are wearing crocs. I also had a flashback to that episode of SATC when someone steals Carrie’s Manolo Blahnik’s in exactly the same circumstances. Stressful.
I am not really a slipper person. It’s not like I come in every day and traipse mud across my house. But I have a door mat, use it, and will then happily wear my shoes inside if I want to. And would never dream of asking my guests to take their shoes off. It’s one of those weird cultural differences as Czechs are not implying that you or your shoes are dirty. They are just extending bit of homely comfort, which I suppose is quite nice. Although, without being too rude, Czechs (Eva Herzigova aside) are not widely known for high fashion, which is another reason why they might not mind being at a party wearing slippers.
Anyway, there are a couple of people who have slippers in the office. They sit at their desk in suits, with socks and slippers on their feet. I’ve been here months and it still makes me giggle. I myself keep quite a few clothes at work. Lots of shoes, a smart jacket, and a number of scarves and a gilet, to keep me cosy if it’s a bit nippy. Someone once said I looked homeless, with my shawl pulled all around me, which I thought was rather rude. Or maybe it’s just a ‘slippery’ slope. (Sorry…)
I took the coward’s way out in the end. I snuck in to work quite early and whilst everyone else was busy changing into their slippers, I raided the kitchen cabinets and retrieved my mug, which is now safe and well on my desk. Panic over.