Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Name tag enlightenment

If you've ever worked a menial job, no doubt you have worn a name tag. And for the duration of wearing that name tag you can probably count the number of times by which you were addressed by your name and almost certainly most of those times your name was said with a smart alec tone "So, er..SimONE.. could you tell me where the jam is?" A name tag user seems compelled to put some unnecessary emphasis on your name, almost mocking you for having your name on display in such a fashion. There was only one occasion during which my name was used casually and it only served to startle me and distract from what the woman was saying as I wondered "How does she know my name?!"

How does everyone know I use to be fat? Oh...

Having said that, while on the receiving end of the name tag, a few notable incidents have arisen. For some time, my friend Dan and I had bickered over the surname of one of the members of the British comedy trio, The Goodies. No dispute over Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie, but while I asserted the third name was Graeme Garden, Dan insisted it was Gardener and no-one had the last name of "Garden". We remained at a stalemate for some time, back in the days where trivial matters couldn't be solved by the internet and subsequently, many more friendships were at risk. Eventually we found ourselves stopping in at Dan's then place of employment, McDonald's where Dan spoke with his manager as I stood beside him. Imagine my delight when her name tag bore the name "Gail Garden". I couldn't wait to burst out of there to humiliate Dan in the parking lot. The name proved Dan wrong and also Dan's obliviousness to name staring him in the face upon her ample bosom, shift after shift.

Name tags are serious business and not to be taken lightly.

One of the more exhilarating name tag moments occurred while at an Officeworks store in Melbourne. I frequented the copy centre there as I needed to make colour copies of my friends' Faith No More posters. Color copies weren't cheap however the sting was taken out of the ordeal when I was helped by an employee named, as indicated by his tag, Barnaby. Until that point, Barnaby was a name I thought reserved only for TV characters and pirates. But here in the copy centre was a Barnaby, clearly far removed from either lifestyle. It would be disappointing for someone with a name such as that to look ordinary which was why his name was enhanced by his apparent relation to a werewolf. Did I project something unusual on him because of his name? Possibly. Regardless, sixteen years later, the memory of that name tag and the joy in brought me remain strong in my memory.

This is George Hull.

Since next to no-one actually addresses people by the names on their tag, the notion that your place of employ is trying to create a friendly atmosphere is, I believe, quite bogus. A name tag merely serves as a means of identification for a customer to inform on an employee they are unhappy with. The name tag is for accountability, not friendliness. But even with them, the disgruntled still rarely observe them. I was once reported for "not being friendly enough" and identified as "the girl with purple nail polish". Not only was I in trouble for not dancing a jig while handling this woman's bloody (literally) rump roast, but I was also in trouble for wearing bright nail polish. I might as well have not worn my name tag and clung to what little dignity I could possibly have while working as a cashier.

I haven't had to wear a name tag for quite some time however I do work at trade shows six times a year which require me to wear identification to distinguish the exhibitors from the customers. Every year we see the same customers and exhibitors and never remember their names. We are forced to maintain conversations like old friends catching up while using stealth to inconspicuously cast our eyes down to catch a glimpse of their name. Terror strikes when you go to the trouble of making the glance only to find the name tag is turned around. From time to time you'll catch someone else working the glance down at the badge hanging about your own waist and it's okay. It's almost a relief to see someone else is as disinterested in this relationship as you are.

There is one name tag though, that will no doubt stay with me for the rest of my life for it humiliated and educated me at the same time. While purchasing Mexican food at the Sacramento airport food court, I stifled a gasp as I saw the cashier's name. I whispered to Gregg the moment the cashier walked away "THAT MAN'S NAME IS JESUS!!!" I was quickly corrected, "Uh, it's 'hey-zeus'". Being Australian with no knowledge of Spanish didn't help ease the embarrassment, however that little name tag set me on the path of understanding Spanish pronunciation. I wish I could say that little name tag unlocked the whole language for me, but it really didn't do all that much. They never do.

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