As I trudged up the stairs to our office this morning at 9.07 am, wearing my habitual pre-espresso blank expression and grunting at colleagues who unwisely attempted to engage me in conversation, for some reason I was reminded of My Most Embarassing Office Moment.
Rewind to a couple of years ago, when I had been working for my current employer for six months or so. Our office is in an old Haussmannien building in an historic, chic part of town close to the Louvre and the old Opéra Garnier. It consists of two floors which were originally separate offices, linked by a staircase which was added by our company. The staircase looks perfectly normal: carpeted stairs with a metal lip (a nez de marche in French, although I am unclear about what noses have to do with anything), with a 180° turn at the halfway point and some triangular steps around the corners.
Despite their innocuous appearance I have watched and heard many people fall up and down these stairs. Most just stumble noisily, often as they run up too fast. Quite how anyone can muster enough enthusiasm to run anywhere whilst at work is beyond me. Unless an announcement has just been made that there is cake or chocolate to be found in the upstairs kitchen. My desk looks directly onto the staircase, so I am often to be found trying (and failing) to supress a snigger as yet another colleague falls flat on his/her face.
One fateful day, when I was wearing rather high heels and was asked to take some documents down to a meeting on the floor below, I too fell victim to the curse of the stairs. I think I missed one step altogether, and I found myself plunging forwards in slow motion. For some reason my instincts were not all about self preservation, because instead of dropping the papers and using my hands to grab a bannister, I hung onto the papers for dear life and just fell headlong. The documents, unsurprisingly, did not break my fall. Result: two shins gashed open on the metal stair edges before I came to a halt on a wide triangular stair. Although I don’t remember hitting my head, I fainted and was out cold for a couple of minutes. In the meantime, a gallant colleague had rushed to my aid and it was his face I saw as I came to my senses and started pulled at my skirt, my first thought being that I might be flashing my knickers. And I couldn’t remember which pair I had on.
I was half carried downstairs to the kitchen where sweet tea was administered and a doctor called to take a look at my legs. The senior partner popped in to see me, but whilst he was talking to me I became I aware that his gaze was drifting under the table. Apparently it wasn’t the gash on my leg he was inspecting, it was my frivolous choice of footwear. Just in case I might be contemplating suing the firm on account of their dodgy staircase, he was assessing the unsuitableness of my shoes. I was on the verge of asking him if he wanted a photograph, but decided against it.
The next month was spent filling in forms and bouncing back letters from the French Sécurité Sociale, because even though I was only signed off work for a measly half day, the fact that it was an accident de travail meant that a particular protocol had to be followed. I was supposed to see a doctor just after the event, and another to pronounce that I was fit to work again. Which clearly I didn’t do, as I could hardly summon over two doctors in the space of one afternoon.
It’s not difficult to see why the French social security system is billions of euros in the red. I was bombarded with letters from an over-zealous fonctionnaire (civil servant) for six months because that missing piece of paper from the doctor’s visit I didn’t make was preventing her from closing her file.
You may be wondering why this episode qualifies for the prestigious title of Most Embarassing Office Moment. Well, the following day, upon returning to the office, it became apparent that my knight in shining armour was not so gallant after all.
He had kindly made public the fact that for the entire duration of the two minutes I was out for the count, I was snoring. Rather loudly.
If you haven’t already voted, don’t forget that the 2005 Bloggies nominations end today. There are plenty of people in the blogroll to the right who deserve to be among the finalists.