This place has strange rules and conventions - they jive with mine completely. For instance, there is no receptionist, even though strangers and delivery men are always coming in and out for a variety of reasons (like on my first day, when people were coming to apply for work).
Earlier today, a man with a red bag on wheels rang the doorbell. A girl got up casually and pressed the automatic button, then waltzed back to her seat. As the man entered he looked around; she stopped halfway and said: are you looking for someone? He mumbled that he wasn't sure, he was here to do a first aid inspection.
Not once did she ask for his credentials or proof of employment (not even his name). She left him in the centre of the room, and walked towards another woman, and asked her who the first aid respondent was. They spoke softly, then walked towards the door to the factory floor. I guess they must've found him right there; he spoke in a loud and plaintive voice, but I didn't fully understand his words or the issue. It might not have been related to this at all.
During this time the first aid inspector has made his way further inside the office. I'm on edge, paranoid and a little angry. How do we know he's really an inspector? Why are we letting him scope out the place? Why are you people so freaking nonchalant?
They bring him onto the factory floor, and that ended the sederunt.
Shortly after, a Chinese woman comes in from the lunchroom and looks at my desk. A white man rushes past her to his seat. There! That lady has your mug, she shouts at him. I look at her, waiting for them to engage with me. They say nothing.
I did in fact, grab a mug from the lunchroom, a mug of water. My first day, I came in and looked around for the bland white mugs we have at Head Office. I didn’t see any. Here, they were all of different shapes and designs. At head office this usually signifies that the mug is someone’s personal property and that you shouldn’t use it. An Iranian (or Arab?) woman was making herself tea. I asked her, is it okay if I just grab a mug? Yes of course, she answered. They're communal.
So today, in my comfort zone, I grabbed a mug after my fumey walk across the bridge.
So they say nothing and both return to their respective places—she back to the lunchroom, he to his desk. I do some work. Shortly thereafter, the man he casually walks over to my table and picks up the mug (still full of water!), without saying a word to me. Programmed to do this, I apologize. I'm sorry, is this your mug? Yes, he says. He walks away with it into the lunchroom.
I'm not actually sorry, and in fact I'm a little annoyed at myself for apologizing so quickly. He returns ten minutes later, without the mug. I don't want to confront him but I don't like feeling like a foreigner. Excuse me, I ask loudly (he's walking very fast towards his desk). He turns around. I don't work here normally, I tell him. I thought those mugs were communal? His face, previously taut and cold, softens. Ah no, it's ok, he says in accented English. So how does it work? I ask.
There are bland white mugs in the meeting room there for visitors.
Ah okay, thanks, and sorry again.
It's no worries, he says, walking back to his desk. I just thought if it's gone, I need to bring another one from home.
The rules of security and identification are lax, but the social conventions are strong and implicit. There is no sign anywhere in the lunchroom that says the mugs are personal. They sit on drying racks on the sides of the sinks that line the far wall of the lunchroom. Some of them are kind of ugly, with rose patterns or slogans on them. This one was light brown and looked more my style. On the other hand, every visitor is supposed to sign into the visitor’s log. We make a big show of our industry secret machinery; when outsiders come, the machines are covered with canvas so that the settings are hidden, so they can’t be stolen and applied elsewhere. But it’s all talk—the factory employees care more about their mugs than their competitive edge. It seems impossible to meet such juxtaposition so regularly anywhere else.