Working for the government takes some getting used to, and it’s not just because the microchip they planted in my arm keeps getting infected. Despite living in the most bureaucratic city in the world (Washington DC, not Sana’a) I managed to avoid being too engrossed in the inner workings of the government. I’ve been working in the private sector — which is full of its own quirks — all of my working life. (I had one job where we had to memorize the “pillars” that laid the foundation of our company. If I recall correctly, they included “running towards criticism” and “limestone.”)
The top things I’ve had to get used to while working for the U.S. government:
Military Time: Do all government agencies use military time? I’m not sure, but embassies have lots of military-type folks and they like using this 24-hour time telling method. Despite having a Marine father, I never really got on the military time bandwagon. I can see how it saves a person saying those extraneous two syllables “a.m.” and “p.m.,” but isn’t the time saved from saying what time of day it is lost by having to subtract 12 from anything after noon? The answer is likely “No, because subtracting 12 isn’t that hard.” But my maths are not so good.
Creating a Paper Trail: Your word, and the spoken words of others, are not good enough. Every meeting must not only be spoken aloud, but a summary of it must be transcribed, emailed, and saved to a computer drive that might as well be called: (G:/Graveyardforboringdocuments). I could tell my bosses what happened in given meeting in a much more entertaining way if I spoke and re-enacted it. “I kid you not, Larry both spilled his coffee and farted at the same time. Like this. The question is: Did the fart cause the spill or did the spill cause the fart?”
I will literally ask someone for something, have them agree to it, and then be told to write this request down, re-submit, and then wait for a written agreement. We’re not talking contracts here, people.
Acronyms: One of my first jobs was being the weekend secretary for a real estate company. Sometimes I’d spend hours and hours on slow days playing this game online called Acrophobia. I don’t think it still exists but basically it was a chat room setting and in each round, an acronym would pop like “OHGA” and you’d have to quickly enter what that could mean, like “Oklahomans have giant asses” and then everyone playing would vote on who had the best answer. I never won because I was 15 and probably playing against some retired English professor who developed agoraphobia so he was too scared to leave his house and literally did nothing all day but play Acrophobia against 15-year-old secretaries.
Anyways, my point is I should be decent at deciphering acronyms. But I’m not. Because how would I possibly guess that the FYCRTD stands for the Fiscal Year Close Report on Targets and Deliverables? And why would I want to? The best is when I ask someone what it is they do here, and they tell me their job position in acronym, I respond by saying “What is that?” and they use complete words to tell me, and I realize that I had a better understanding of their job was when it was described as random letters.
Reverence for Higher Ups: Having covered Congress, I have been exposed to this one. I was a reporter, so Congresspeople were not my bosses or anything, but on my very first day of covering the Hill, I was told by another reporter that if an elevator opens in the House or the Senate, and there is a member of Congress on it, you should step back and wait. Unless they say “Come on in.” It’s kind of like the vampire rule — how a vampire can only come into your home if you invite them in. Same for Jehova’s Witnesses. I was immediately fearful that I’d screw up this Vampire/Jehova/Congress rule because how the heck was I supposed to remember what all 535 members looked like? Safe bet: Old, white, male, navy/black suit, pin on lapel. One day, an elevator opened for me in the dark basement of the Senate. And there stood Sen. Hillary Clinton who was all like “Hi, come on in.” And then I drank her blood.
At my most recent job, I worked for small company and generally spoke to my boss while not wearing pants, working from home and all. And pants being extraneous loungewear and all.
So coming here, and having there be these “VIPs” who both work amongst us and visit…it’s kind of weird. My feeling is they are just regular people who maybe should be called “sir” or “ma’am” out of respect for their life experiences, but should I really be clapping when they finish speaking and putting those little paper booties over my shoes when I walk in their offices? I think not.
WLFRYO (With Love from Yemen, obvi),