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Impossible Demands? I Won’t Hear Of It!

, , , , , | Working | June 25, 2021

I’m a biologist, and my boss made me the “volunteer” audio-visual person at an international consortium of about 150 people. This was mainly because, as one of the youngest scientists at my company — I’m in my mid-thirties — I was known for being reasonably comfortable with computers. To be clear, I really have no useful A/V skills; I just know how to plug a laptop into a projector and advance Powerpoint. We had an IT person, but my boss didn’t want to pay the expense of sending another person to the conference.

None of this would be a big deal, except that the conference was in a hotel conference room, and my boss balked at the hotel’s charge for A/V rental. Instead, with just a few hours’ notice before I had to leave for my flight, my boss told me that he didn’t want to rent any A/V equipment there, and I needed to somehow acquire and take all of it with me to the conference.

We had a computer and projector but no audio equipment. On such short notice, our IT person ran out to the only place he could think of — a guitar store — and bought an amp, microphone, mixing board, and cables. He saved the receipts, knowing that he’d be asked to return it all after the conference.

He had about ten minutes to show me how to plug everything in, and then we packaged it all up into a few duffel bags that I then had to lug through the airport.

The morning of the conference, I set everything up, but it was clear that this amp — the largest he could buy at the time — was clearly too small and too low-quality for the conference presenters to make themselves heard. As conference participants entered the room, it was like I was watching a car crash at low speed. I knew no one would be audible, and I knew there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. The darned amp was balanced on a chair in the center of the room and all dials were maxed, and yet the room was just too large for this single amp to do anything. THIS IS WHY YOU PAY FOR THE HOTEL’S A/V.

You can guess what happened next. The first speaker started, and after about a minute, the room broke out in:

Attendees: “Can’t hear! We can’t hear!”

Of course, all of our international attendees looked at me, thinking I was some sort of actual A/V person and not just a biologist who got “volunteered” and wished he were anywhere else. I couldn’t fix the problem, and with my boss breathing down my neck, I couldn’t tell anyone what the problem was.

Attendee: *Pointedly* “We can’t hear!

Me: “That is accurate.”

It was a long, long two days.

At least we got a refund at the guitar store.

Make Cheesy Choices, Suffer Cheesy Consequences

, , , , | Healthy | January 26, 2020

The healthcare organization where I work is setting up an educational conference for our members, who are mostly doctors and nurses. When people register for the conference online, they have the option of customizing their name badges with nicknames and Twitter handles. 

My coworker is preparing attendee name badges and notices something. An attendee, a doctor whose last name includes the word “cheese,” has customized his nickname to “The Cheeseman.” After much deliberation, we decide to print the name badge as-is.

At the conference, my coworker meets the attendee, hands him his registration packet, and shows him the name badge. 

Doctor: “Wow… I don’t remember doing that. I must have been s***faced!”

Coworker: “We can print you a new one, if you’d like.”

Doctor: *Solemnly, and a little sadly* “No… No, I deserve this.”

He took his badge and wore it for the entire conference.

Physics-ally Wearing A Shirt

, , , , | Working | August 19, 2019

(My boyfriend works as a researcher at a physics lab. As such, he works with people from all over the world. Most of his coworkers have met me and know we’ve been dating for several years. One of those coworkers is a very sweet woman from the UK who loves to compliment people. Another aspect of his work is that the dress code is very lax, of which my boyfriend takes full advantage by wearing graphic T-shirts and shorts to work pretty much every day of the year. On this occasion, however, he is at a conference giving a talk about his findings and so is in a nice dress shirt.)

British Coworker: “Oh, [Boyfriend], you look so nice! I like it when you wear a shirt!”

(Other coworkers give them weird looks.)

Boyfriend: “I… I think I usually wear a shirt.”

British Coworker: “Oh, does that mean something different here?”

Not An Industry-Standard Greeting

, , , , | Working | June 14, 2019

(I am a woman in my mid-20s. In February, I go with my company to my first conference focusing on our industry. The first day is wonderful. I am meeting peers from other states and countries and learning a lot about the goings-on of our business. The second day, I am walking around with a coworker who is also a woman, in her 60s. She also happens to be part of the LGBT community.)

Me: “I love how they have all the vendors set up in the ballroom so we can check the booths out on breaks!”

Coworker: “Yep! It’s a great way to see what everyone else is working on this year.”

(We approach a vendor booth and start looking at their brochures when one of their reps, a man who I assume is in his late 40s or early 50s, comes over to talk to us.)

Company Rep: “Good morning! Let us know if we can answer any questions for you!”

Coworker: “Thank you! We’re just looking around before the talks start.”

Company Rep: “Which company are you with?”

Me: “We’re with [Company], from [Southern State].”

Company Rep: “Of course! I know exactly where you’re located.”

(My coworker begins to walk down the line of booths, and I move to join her when the guy stops me.)

Company Rep: *looks at me expectantly* “So, are you originally from [Southern State]?”

Me: *thinking maybe he’s visited there* “Yes, born and raised. Haha…” *looks to see my coworker has already moved a couple of booths down* “I should go join my…”

Company Rep: “[Southern State]’s had a lot of trouble with [slang, derogatory, term for LGBT people], huh?”

(I stare at him for a second. It’s no secret that many southern states in the US have had rocky legislation and communication with the LGBT community, but I am of the opinion that things are starting to move in a more positive direction. I try to deflect the subject because this is a business setting and this man’s job is to make our company want to hire his. Plus, he has no inkling of my opinion on this subject, so why would he bring something like that up?)

Me: “Well, I haven’t been a fan of many of the state’s decisions in recent years, and I have friends in that community, so…”

Company Rep: *interrupts me and cranks the topic up 100 notches* “Well, you know, there was a kid in [Other State] who was assaulted in a bathroom by a man dressed as a woman.” *smug look*

Me: *barely keeping my voice calm* “I had not heard that. Was it an actual transgender person, or was it a predator pretending to be one?”

Company Rep: *looks panicked for a second that I actually asked a real question about his comment* “Well, uh, he had a wig and stuff on.”

Me: “I see. Well, it appears I’ve lost my coworker. Excuse me.”

(I walked quickly away, found my coworker, and told her what happened. I was so angry I had to excuse myself for a few minutes to calm down. We both sat down with our manager that evening and told him what happened. He is also a staunch believer in professional behavior between businesses, and made it a point to contact the rep’s superior to let him know how his employee was talking to potential clients. Turns out, this guy had gotten in trouble for bringing up touchy political topics with strangers before — apparently, he liked to get a rise and arguments out of people — and was already on the superior’s radar for disciplinary action. He thanked my manager for letting him know this was still going on. I was so glad that my manager stood up for me, and for our coworker, instead of dismissing my experience as something this guy “just does,” or something that “wasn’t a big deal.” It doesn’t matter what side of a topic like that you fall on, or if the other person agrees with you or not; don’t ambush a stranger in a professional environment to get a rise out of them, especially a stranger who could potentially make the decision to spend thousands of dollars with your company.)

[Citation Needed]

, , , , , | Learning | May 29, 2019

(I’m at a conference for school librarians, attending a discussion about disinformation on the Internet.)

Speaker: “It’s amazing how often educated teachers will blindly believe something they’ve read on the Internet without bothering to verify it. One district banned the Amelia Bedelia books because of something false they read online.”

Me: “What did they read?”

Speaker: “I’m not sure.”

Me: “When did this happen?”

Speaker: “I don’t know.”

Me: “Could you give us the URL of your source? I’d like to read this.”

Speaker: “I can’t; I saw it on a friend’s page.”

Me: *thinking* “So, you just read something on the Internet and blindly believed it without bothering to verify it?”