The biscotti Incident.
I went to an interview a while ago, and I personally like interviews for several reasons. Firstly, it gives me a reason to shower, put on some nice clothes and get out of the house. The other reason why I like interviews will resonate with many of you, I’m sure. I have a phobia of meeting people. It’s something my therapist says I must talk about, so, I’ll be honest – I hate meeting new people for the simple reason that I have no idea what sort of greeting to give. There are so many rules and regulations, and it is such a social mine field. The handshake, the hug, single kiss, double kiss, triple kiss!! What do you do? You both approach each other, the fear evident in one another’s eyes, as both try to gauge what the other will go for, like two UFC fighters in the opening seconds of the first round. One of you gets it wrong and there is this awkwardness that will stain the both you forever.
But the simple interview has no such drama. You are on safe ground with an interview greeting. A simple, firm handshake is all that is expected.
But, when I arranged a time and place for this interview, his choice of location was the equivalent of a social IED being thrown directly at my head. He chose a Starbucks coffee shop. Why on earth did he choose this place? Doesn’t he have an office? Or a private room, at least? As I read his email, questions raced through my head. Was this a test? Was he going to be waiting there, watching me arrive, assessing my every move? What would I do when I got there? Do I wait for him and risk the uncomfortable silence of queuing together to get our coffees? What would we talk about? We can’t start the interview in the line for coffee, for crying out loud!
So we would have to make small talk, and there is a danger that we would get onto the topic of favorite coffee shops as we both search desperately for a safe subject to talk about. But even that is fraught with danger. What if I say my favorite is Café Nero? Will he think I’m being rude, because he chose Starbucks? But if I lie and say Starbucks, and I end up working for him, I will forever have to remember this lie, and I will never be able to reveal the truth, and that is no way to start a new job. And what about the choice of coffee? If I choose a fancy coffee and he goes for a black filter coffee will he think I am some high maintenance metrosexual male who has weekly manicures? And what If I order a filter coffee and he goes for the fancy choice. Will he think I’m too boring to work for him? And who pays?!
The more I thought about this the more sick I felt. I longed for the days where I only had to worry about the greeting. Should I cancel and tell him I’m busy, just to save us both from the stress and worry? He must have realized by now the implications of his choice of location. Surely he must be as worried as I was.
As all these complications became apparent, I realized that I perhaps don’t like interviews as much as I thought I did.
So I arrived at the coffee shop a safe 45 minutes early, grabbed my coffee and chose a suitable place, moving to another table that I thought would be more suitable. It wasn’t, so I moved back.
My interviewer arrived, and I stood to greet him. I was happy so far. I was in control, It was my territory and I had marked it 45 minutes earlier. The greeting went without a hitch, as I knew it would. A simple handshake and a polite and friendly “hello.” He asked me if I minded if he went and grabbed a coffee. I became even happier, as I felt in total control of the situation. I had manipulated the circumstances so that he was asking me for permission. Brilliant, I thought to myself as I sat back down. This was going to be a great interview. This was the coffee shop equivalent of sitting on a slightly higher chair.
He returned, with coffee in hand, and I was ready to engage in a detailed and professional conversation about my career. And then he offered me The Biscotti and everything changed. I looked at it, lying there in his outstretched hand, and then back up to his face. Perhaps he made a mistake and wasn’t really offering me a biscotti at all. Maybe he just wanted me to hold it, until he sat down. But then I saw another one in his other hand. He had bought two. “Here you go, I got you a Biscotti.” He said, smiling. I was dumbstruck. Didn’t the man realize what he had just done? What social norms he had just shattered. What public boundaries he had just crossed? “Don’t say I never gave you anything,” he laughed. I laughed too, to show my appreciation for his humour, but it sounded maniacal, frenzied and out of place, which was exactly how I was feeling.
I placed the biscotti on the table, my mind a whirl of thoughts and questions. Why would he do that? What does it mean? Is it another test? And the questions went on. Do I eat it? Should I dunk? I only ordered an espresso and I’ve been here 45 minutes – I don’t have enough coffee left to dunk it into, even if I wanted to. But I didn’t want to eat it. Not since the spaghetti interview fiasco I had in the past. I re-focused on him, trying to ignore the Biscotti that was sitting directly between us on the table. I moved it to one side, hoping that would help. It didn’t. It just bought his attention back to it. And then I realized as he finished his Biscotti with a satisfying smack of the lips, that I was coming across and rude and ungrateful. But now, I couldn’t eat it even if I wanted to. I had left it too long – I couldn’t simply pick it up and start munching away. That would be weird. But I also didn’t want him to think that I wasn’t grateful for this gift. If I had known the etiquette beforehand, I would have also bought him a gift. A pin badge or something equally appropriate.
So, I did the next best thing – I picked the biscotti up, and clutched it close to my chest for the duration of the interview, hoping my actions would signal my gratitude for the Biscotti he had bestowed on me. He kept glancing at it, expectantly, as if I looked like I was ready to rip into the wrapper and devour it with enthusiasm and vigour. And in hindsight, I probably did look like that, as I sat forward, tightly gripping close to my chest looking slightly Schizophrenic.
The interview ended and we shook hands, me still clutching the Biscotti, which had now turned to crumbs in the packet. He glanced down at it, and said “Enjoy your Biscotti.” And he walked away. I stood there, speechless, my mind in turmoil. I didn’t move, incase I inadvertently walked in the same direction as him, which is incredibly awkward after you’ve already said goodbye once. I didn’t want him to think I was a stalker as well as someone who is ungrateful when given a biscotti.
When I got home, I carefully staged the wrapper of the biscotti, snapped a picture, to indicate that it was eaten, and attached it to an email, thanking him for his time and his kind gift, that by the way, was delicious.
He hasn’t replied yet.