Office politics and Machiavellian tricks are often hand in hand in the modern office - even if you work from home, and having the 'right' mug is a key area. Stephen Lowe learned the hard way. Office etiquette is, by a large margin, the most complicated and fraught human dynamic any adult is likely to face.
There are many serious issues that could be played out here, there, and across the globe (that's a deliberate oxymoron before you flat-earthers come for me) - and displayed among these very ciphers and keys but today we (at least I) am going light-hearted, if not headed.
You see, without giving away too much info with this peek into the magical circle, RTL's towers are steeped in subterfuge and chicanery.
Cloaks and daggers are not a required uniform but if the emperor/empress were to don new attire he/she could do worse than lifting some clobber from Kirchberg.
There are a number of kitchenettes on the various floors. Tucked away into numerous nooks and crannies, these little units are rife for meetings. Less surreptitious than you may think, as they are fairly open and often partially walled with glass, but areas in which small battles are waged and won.
There are myriad mugs in various states of wash and capacity. Some are loved and cherished. Others are forgotten relics of a better day.
Most are jealously guarded.
You can tell a lot about a person from how they take their coffee, then you can tell a whole lot more by what they take it in.
For many coffee (and, yes, Tea) lovers, whether they enjoy their coffee at home or at work, their mug is an extension of their selves - for better or worse. It sits on their desk and is raised every so often, carried around the office and sipped on occasionally and seen by co-workers, friends, family and for the risk of sounding last decade...frenemies.
Have you ever thought about what your coffee mug says about you as a person?
Mugs as status
Nowadays it is commonplace to want that 'special' mug to compliment our brands, our identities, and our often regrettable lifestyle choices. After all, what’s the point of drinking expensive coffee (yes, yes, we know, Tea), if you can’t Instagram your mug?
You've got the worn in mugs. A sure sign of a long-standing pro. Someone who has seen and done it all. They WILL tell you about this. A lot.
You've the Best Mum, Best Dad mugs. The 'bring these to work to please your munchkin' kind. They represent the homely types. But also house a darker secret. These are the mugs most likely to be swapped for a tumbler. Owners of these mugs are the ones to be wary of at the summer party - lest they really cut loose.
You've the comedy mug - the one with the sweary owl is a personal fave - preferred by the nudge, nudge brigade. The braggadocios, the ones for whom the latest catchphrase is already passe on their ironically printed vintage t-shirt.
You've novelty mugs. Seasonal, often reserved for the 'Office Clown', these are the wannabe understudies of those mentioned above. They told a joke once and got a laugh and now they all about the 'funny'.
I'm more woke than you slogan mugs. These bore-some zealots are the ones who'll tell you why and where the newest big-cat pooped coffee bean slow roast is and the safest way to stay expensively caffeinated. They will also tell you that the machine coffee pig swill you are supping on is for philistines.
There are artisan, look at me, I'm amazing mugs. These are the refined culture vultures. They read books by authors you can't pronounce correctly and listen to music from posh folk producers that's so incredibly nuanced, it's barely even there.
You've generic, corporate mugs. The most commonly left to house mildew and mould in the corners of some forgotten hot-desk that a temp or an interns used for a couple of weeks in the summer. Or used by the by the books 'go-getter'.
And there's the techy mug. So modern, it 3D prints the coffee via an app created in a San-Fran attic, the MO of the scary ones who weave computer magic.
If there are more, please feel free to let us know what you've seen.
Mugging yourself off
Putin recently raised eyebrows when, during a special G20 Summit dinner, he toasted with his signature white thermos mug featuring a double-headed eagle, Russia's national symbol.
As media reports on the mug went viral, hundreds of e-stores opened online windows where customers could order their very own white thermos mug through Taobao.
"This is because he is constantly drinking tea from that thermos," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov explained to Russia's RIA Novosti News Agency.
Putin reportedly is a prolific tea drinker and carries the white thermos everywhere.
Cups, mugs and politics are strange bed-fellows. Donald Trump drank some Brown Sugar Juice (TM) from a wine glass recently. So there's no accounting for taste.
However, choose your drinking device poorly and you are doomed. Both socially and professionally.
You can size up your would be foe from pulling together the requisite info on their personality from a mere glance at the beverage container. You can know their weak points by working out their kinks and kooks from taking notes on the way they look after their coffee chalice.
[twirls moustache] You could, if one were so inclined, nab said hot liquid holder and ransom it...but that makes you the sociopathic nut job and not them.
The coffee/tea run
The coffee run (yes, as before, we get it...also TEA) is also a personal and professional minefield. Ask your bosss(es) if they want coffee and you're a nebbish suck-up. Forget them and they may forget you come 'bonus' time.
Ask your crush one too many times and you go from 'coffee pal' to 'stalker' and that tag does not wash off on the easy rinse dishwasher cycle.
In fact, if you are the type to always ask everyone what they want for imbibing, then you'll be classed as the try-hard. Ask too few times but accept too many offers and you're the skinflint miser.
Go rogue, well, then you're really playing with fire. It's ALWAYS the quiet ones. (see below)
The Cupboard Combat
Not only can coffee mugs go for unexpected walkabouts but there can be jostling for place. Office kitchen cupboards are commonplace grounds for warfare. IF you've annoyed someone by nabbing the last parking spot or indeed taken the last bagel...it might be that your cup slash mug gets a chink slash crack completely by 'accident'.
You might think this is going a step too far and this is pure preposterousness on the behalf of a writer struggling to meet his quota for words. And you'd be half right. But I have seen it happen.
On only my second day at RTL Today I was warned by a colleague, whose eyes blazed with a red as fiery as would befit a man who'd sipped Ristretto with Hades in the depths of hell, to never, ever, under any circumstances, take their mug from the cupboard.
A week later I was warned to not leave my preferred sipping device unguarded, lest it be whisked away by some light fingered mug collector.
And what should happen if you, god (other deities are available) forbid, accidentally break someone's favoured cup? Are you going to 'fess up? Or are you going to rely on the security camera being the one that's off cycle right now?
It's a quandary, sure.
But the first rule of Coffee Club is...
What are your options?
- Give up tea and coffee. You can tell people you're detoxing and thus hope to avoid the situation altogether. An added benefit being that people are very unlikely to ask you any follow up questions. The sacrifice is, of course, that you won't have any tea or coffee at work, but is that a price you're willing to pay to avoid trying to carry multiple mugs of scalding hot liquid across the office as they burn off your fingerprints (maybe Putin was doing the very same)?
- Accept your fate. At the heart of accepting your fate is understanding that you're doing a nice thing for other people; sometimes the offer of a cup of tea/Joe can turn a bad day into a tolerable one for someone. Yes, it means you'll have an encyclopedic knowledge of teammates' drink preferences. Sure, that may also mean scalding and being broke but that's a small sacrifice to potentially make someone's day, isn't it?
- Go rogue. As mentioned above, this is risky. Get out while you can and remove yourself from the beverage-making/fetching system, only occasionally offering to make a round as a gesture of goodwill. You'd become the embodiment of chaotic good. And in chaos we reign.
My mug of choice? Funny that you should ask... it's a Wolverine (original yellow costume) mug with '3-D Arm'. It was a gift and I love it.
If the mug fits....
Stephen Lowe is a freelance journalist, editor with RTL Today, a freelance DJ on Eldoradio and a short film director/producer.