Someone always leaves their cereal bowl in the sink, the microwave is filthy and there’s never any forks. The case is clear: the modern office kitchen is the closest us cossetted Kiwis get to hell on earth, says Greg Pritchard.
In the last 50 or 60 years the New Zealand workforce has changed massively. Back in the 60s the economy was entirely made up of government deer cullers and office workers whose job it was to pay the deer cullers, plus a few teachers and tractor mechanics (who were interchangeable). It was an idyllic time when everyone knew their place and workplace harmony was at its peak.
Since then though, there has been a huge shift in the structure of our economy. These days upwards of 80 percent of us work in offices, trapped in close proximity to other people. This hellscape of year-round air conditioning, ergonomic chairs and sushi delivery is a brutal environment that, rather than making us soft, is actually keeping modern urban Kiwis as tough and resilient as our predecessors.
I know that most of you sense deep down that society is witnessing a historic battle, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. Well lucky for you, I’ve identified the battleground. It is the office kitchen. This is where we see the very best and the very worst of humanity on display. Us modern office-dwellers are not soft and privileged, lacking in empathy or perspective; we are proud people and we’re doing it tough. I’ve done a lot of historical research here to put office kitchens in perspective. I’ve done the hard yards, crunched the numbers, dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s, and at one stage I even put it all on the line. Just believe me when I say that my facts are irrefutable and undeniable. Probably.
Firstly, let’s just all agree that most office kitchens are a horrorshow. It’s clearly not as bad as, say, the Western Front during World War I, but it’s pretty close. Unfortunately all the brave soldiers from that awful time are gone now, so there’s no possible way we can compare or check my claims here, but I think anyone who has tried to scrub a bowl that’s had muesli remnants drying on it all weekend can honestly relate to what those brave soldiers went through. I don’t think I’m overstating things at all here.
You might think that being shot at is pretty bad, but if you take a minute to think about the risk of working near someone who eats cereal and then just puts the bowl on the kitchen bench without rinsing, I reckon you’ll see it’s a fair comparison. I could understand that behaviour from a child – children lack the psychological development needed to empathise with others, which is why they like pineapple on pizza, for example – but when an adult does this it’s tantamount to a declaration of war. It’s a very specific and deliberate Fuck You crafted from dried almond milk and chia seeds. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that this is why the Geneva Convention was needed. People are terrible.
The type-A organiser
The response the we as a society seems to have developed in response to this aggression is best explained by quoting that great historical tome, The Bible, or my favourite film version of it, Pulp Fiction:
“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness.”
What they’re talking about here is, obviously, kitchen rosters. Luckily just as every office has at least one psycho who thinks that not rinsing a cereal bowl is acceptable, every office also has at least one passive-aggressive Excel-junkie who will type up a sheet saying who has to do the dishes and when. Don’t underestimate the value of this busy-bodiness. The kitchen roster is the paper, much like the Magna Carta, that brings peace and order to offices spaces across the land. Just as the Magna Carta meant that everybody, including the King, was subject to the law, the kitchen roster means that those jerks from Sales & Marketing have to do the dishes when it’s their turn and no more bloody excuses. It’s exactly the same situation 800 years apart. I think that’s pretty realistic and definitely not an exaggeration.
The fish eater
Another brutal front in the battleground that is the office kitchen is smelly food. Much has been written about the streets of medieval London, piled high with offal and excrement, teeming with disease and vermin, but I defy anyone from that era to sit near Ryan from Accounts while he eats that fish casserole without thinking that maybe the Black Death would be preferable. The value of the kind of deep historical research I’m doing for you here is that everybody, most people, well everyone except that dick Ryan, now know that the horrors of stinky lunches is a problem as old as time.
Now, as we all know, the main thing that has been driving us from our traditional roles as hunter/gatherer/actor/writer/ producer is the onslaught of technology. Our brains just can’t evolve fast enough to keep up with all the new things that go “Bing!”. Previous wars have been fought over religion and land, and are predicted to happen soon over water, but is it really inconceivable that one could start over someone going into the lunch room at 11.59 am and putting something in the microwave for 11 minutes? I mean, I’m something of a pacifist but surely that’s a declaration of war? Right? Read the history books people. You know I’m right. Before too long there’ll be reports of Gary from HR doing a whole baked potato in the microwave one time too many and it’ll be the Night of the Long Knives all over again. History lurks around every corner people. Don’t be naive.
The dishwasher incompetent
The last thing I want to explain to you people is something about which I could honestly write a thousand pages. I researched this exhaustively and can quite comfortably say that my technique is unbeatable and I’m not even skiting. I’m talking about loading the dishwasher. Broadly speaking, those of you who load the dishwasher in a methodical manner and don’t put filthy items in there are good people and you are quite entitled to judge and deride the loons and ne’er-do-wells who put randomly put unrinsed dishes into the dishwasher as if they’re summoning the apocalypse. Even though there’s really only one totally right way to do a dishwasher it’s still OK if you’re trying to do the right thing. I accept that. You should be reassured though that the people who don’t care are going straight to hell. The only apt punishment for putting a mouldy coffee cup on its side in the top rack would be an eternity of damnation. Or reincarnation as a PR person. Anyway you get my drift: do it right or suffer the consequences.
So there you have it. The suffering and anguish you all feel when you have to spend 30 seconds wiping up someone else’s toast crumbs is real and it has historical precedent. Don’t let people diminish your suffering with their talk of famine, warfare, poverty and pestilence. The modern office kitchen is a house of horrors on par with anything we’ve seen before. The struggle is real my friends, and don’t let anyone tell you it’s not.
More by Greg Pritchard:
The Society section is sponsored by AUT. As a contemporary university we’re focused on providing exceptional learning experiences, developing impactful research and forging strong industry partnerships. Start your university journey with us today.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.