diamond geezer

 Friday, June 27, 2014

The Hi, how are you? lady at work has another phrase. She doesn't use it every day, indeed it's rather rarer as a rule. But it does get a regular outing, and it niggles just as much.

"Have a great evening."

Now I know this doesn't sound annoying, indeed it sounds eminently polite. But it's all in the timing of when precisely she says it, and the emphasis she gives the third word.

"Have a great evening."

ought to be a lovely thing to say at that moment when you're packing up and heading out. It acknowledges that your time in the office is over and that now it's time to reclaim the night. Work no longer has a hold on you, and you're free to maximise the intervening hours before turning up again the following day.

"Have a great evening."

also suggests a level of social empathy. There's a friendliness on the part of the narrator, a recognition that you live not to work but to play, and that you do indeed have a life elsewhere to be celebrated. Or so you'd think. But it's also possible to say

"Have a great evening."

and somehow add a bitter twist. And that's what I think I'm getting, a slight but deliberate emphasis on the word 'great'. It's barely perceptible, but repeated use convinces me it's there. And I fear this is no friendly valediction, but instead a faintly barbed jibe.

"Have a great evening."

These four words are, I suspect, a twin attack. Firstly there's the inference that while I'm about to have a great evening, the speaker isn't. And secondly a hint that perhaps I shouldn't be heading off for my evening just yet, that I've left too early.

"Have a great evening."

is something I tend to hear on nights that I've stayed late, but she's staying later. It's uttered after the working day is officially over, but when circumstances have conspired to keep us all at our desks for longer. She's putting in that extra effort, while I'm clearly not properly pulling my weight and have bailed early.

"Have a great evening."

is little more than a veiled hiss of disappointment. The phrase simmers with unspoken jealousy, as if she's aghast that I'm about to claim my freedom before her. For all I know she'll be logging off and heading home five minutes after I'm out the door. But she's won tonight's prize for self-righteous commitment, because I was weak and I blinked first.

"Have a great evening."

We don't work on the same projects, she and I, so she has no idea how busy I really I am. We also have very different terms and conditions, I think, in that for legacy reasons her prescribed working week is longer than mine. So when she sees me packing up earlier than she would, indeed could, no wonder she smoulders with a sense of injustice.

"Have a great evening."

She's not the only one. One of the big bosses says it too, delivered more deadpan but still with the unmistakeable undertone of disappointment. Last week we passed on the stairs at well past home time, and they were clearly off to another meeting, and I was clearly going home.

"Have a great evening"

they said through a gritted smile, as if a great evening was something only less important people had. Never mind that working late might be a sign of understaffing and/or overwork, and thus a symptom of mismanagement at the highest levels. If you want to get anywhere, the inference was, you need to be seen to be doing more.

"Have a great evening"

jars for another reason, which is one of over-expectation. It's a weekday night, for heaven's sake, how great do you expect my evening to be? I'm not out for cocktails, cordon bleu and the theatre, I'm off home for tea, toast and some telly on the sofa. Inviting me to

"Have a great evening"

is patronising overstatement, when "Have a good evening" would be perfectly good enough. It merely reminds me that my evening won't be great, and although it'll be better than being stuck late at work, in truth it's just another six hour filler before bed and being asked Hi, how are you? in the morning.

"Have a great evening."

I'm aware that I've said the same phrase to colleagues on leaving the office, and I that meant no genuine malice by it. So perhaps it's wrong to jump to the conclusion that when others say it they're somehow less than pleased. But tone and circumstance still suggest to me an irrefutable element of passive aggression, which I must learn to brush off and ignore.

"Have a great evening."

So tonight I think I'll aim to leave the office on time for once, which to my nemesis will look uncomfortably early, and see if I can provoke the dreaded phrase. But this time I'll be ready with a proper rejoinder, which I'll make sure to deliver with just the right degree of emphasis to make my point.

"You know what, I think I will."

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