The Sweetie Snafflers

One aspect of learning to write more authentically is learning to listen and observe what goes on around.  I didn’t realise until I consciously started to do this, just how little I used to notice.

I’ve turned up the volume on the jangling hubbub of everyday life; the station, the train, the pub, offices and shopping centres, the park, the ubiquitous coffee houses.  All have become astoundingly rich sources of real-life dialogue.  Strangely, much of this, when you write it down, sounds, well, almost…. unrealistic.  Truth being stranger than fiction perhaps.

I work on occasion in a client’s marketing department.  Here we keep a table from which the salespeople are invited to help themselves to an assortment of sales aids:  brochures, DVDs, and few freebie giveaways and – most popular of all – a large bowl of mints in branded wrappers.

In my pursuit of observations on everyday life, it’s been fascinating to notice how people help themselves – for they do, all day long – from the sweetie bowl.

Some are surreptitious, not wanting to be noticed by the occupants of the four nearby desks.  They grab in passing, but it snares them no more than one or two mints at a time.  A slightly slowed pace past the goodies table, a quick flick of the wrist and –  success! – a mint in hand and nobody noticed.  Except they did.

There are the entitled. They stand directly in front of the bowl and engage in a bit of chit-chat.  They are in fact paying for their sweets with a few minutes of polite conversation.   Having passed the time of day with the marketing minions they have earned their dip in the bowl, and they do it with an, “I’ll just have a few of these whilst I’m here” – then they’re away.

There are the apologists – they are the opposite of the entitled.  They believe they should not be dipping into the bowl, but are tempted beyond their best behaviour by the sight of a pile of free sweets.  They pull twisted, apologetic faces and sheepish grins, expressing faux-innocence and helpless guilt, as they pocket one or two, or maybe even a greedy handful, of treats.

Lastly, there are the Alpha Sales – deserving of their capitalisation.  They are the double-plus entitled – the ones who don’t have to bother with the polite conversation to earn sweets.  For these dippers, it’s not about earning, it’s about there for the taking.  It’s about abundance and indulgence and an unquestioning self-belief.  Their pockets shamelessly loaded, they brazen it out with a charming smile and a wink, because that’s just what they do, every day of their lives.

Is it overly-simplistic to draw meaningful conclusions about individuals from the way they dip the bowl for mints? I confess our little team does it all the time.  But when you’re looking for ways to show-not-tell something about a fictional character, the  sweetie bowl snaffle is a delight.

4 thoughts on “The Sweetie Snafflers

  1. In my last office job, I came home and reported that next to my desk in our open plan office, there was one table set aside exclusively for junk food. Supporting a constant supply of cakes, biscuits, sweets, crisps was its only occupation and it was usually added to at least every other day by someone in the team.

    Eventually I changed desks so that it was not within permanent arm’s reach!

    1. I admit I’d be tempted by crisps and maybe even biscuits, but believe me, you can easily and quickly have too many cheap mints. It’s a bit like working in a chocolate factory and being allowed to help yourself – after a few days you never want to look at another chocolate bar….

  2. Alas we have no sweetie bowls or food of any kind available to help ourselves to in our open plan office, hence my observations of those passing through are necessarily limited to non-gastronomical activities. An interesting one that can be made whilst appearing to be totally engrossed with work is the way people walk. You only have to look up for a split second to check the identity of the walker. It is no suprise that there are those with brisk and confident strides, those whose steps are equally quick though less self-assured, those whose casual amble shows they are in no hurry and those whose almost silent passing seeks not to draw attention to themselves. The interesting part is the matching of personalities and roles within the organisation to the walkers.

    1. Yes indeed, I like that. The purposeful and resolute, their walk more of a march, giving you perhaps a 25-yard warning of their impending arrival; the timid, apologists, scuffing the wiry carpet fibres under their feet. But what of the ones who seek to catch you fiddling with Facebook when you should be working? Their arrival is signalled only by absence – the absence of conversation, which ends with their approach; a vaccuum in the room, but for the silent breath which catches the back of your neck – and by then, it’s too late.

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