Who are you really?

Living in Guernsey is a pleasure in many ways but there is a skill to it. You have to know how the Guernsey culture (and I use that term loosely) works. Very soon you do start to adapt. You get used to the long rambling conversations about who is related to who and the squeaky outrage in the letters column of the Press. You will even master every statement being replied to with the question "is it?" However one thing that takes a while to get your head round is the importance of a person's status and how essential it is to establish what this status is within the first few minutes of meeting.

There is no point, as a woman, in hitting the hundredth person who has asked you what your husband does for a living. (And boy - did I find that out the hard way!) It is just Guernseyness. I was used to going to "dos" as the wife in an uncharacteristic stab at supportiveness before coming here, but never had he defined me. Never before had I been "clapped" into rooms or given flowers just because I'd married him. Initially I found it strangely insulting but now I try to be as vague as possible so that my status by marriage is less clear and people are forced to talk to me not knowing if I am worth it. (Sometimes when they ask I just hiss "I could tell you but then I would have to kill you".)

All this being said, I am slowly becoming a Guern. I am getting fatter and am thinking of having a bad perm. In my quest to fit in I too am trying to define people by their jobs but goodness me, it's not that straight forward. I'm fine with the top of the scale: doctors, advocates and anyone with a building named after them. The bottom is easy too: people doing life in prison, people who think that they are the risen Christ and housewives. However I come unstuck once we enter the Bank and Insurance worlds. Trust administrator. Broker. Negotiators. How do you tell whether they are good people to know status wise?

What we need is a new scale. We need a quick and easy way to clarify how people have risen through the ranks. I propose we adopt something like this.

What you do is say what your title is and then tack on to it the most impressive aspect of your job. Start off modestly:

"Share a desk".
"Have own desk but share an office and a wastepaper bin."
"Share an office but have own waste paper bin."
"Have own office."
"Have own office with name on door."
"Go to meetings."
"Wear a suit."
"Go to meetings in a suit."
"Go to meetings where there is free coffee."
"Go to meetings where there are free pens."
"Have lunches on the firm."
"Get sent on management courses where you hug a tree."
"Go on planes in a suit."
"Go on planes in a suit with a briefcase."
"Go first class."
"Have your own people."
"Send your people on planes in suits."
"Have people who have their own people."

It's an easy list to compile and would be endlessly useful to those of us outside the office environment. Using this idea I, as a born again Guern, could go up to a stranger and ask what they do and they could say "I'm a Trust administrator with my own wastepaper bin." Or "I'm in Negotiation and travel economy class and stay in two star hotels." Immediately you would be able to calculate status and whether a person was going to make it in Guernsey and would be worth knowing. If they are twenty-six and have their own office things are looking good but if they are thirty six and don't have someone to make the coffee, forget it.

It may seem a rather harsh way to sort out the wheat from the chaff but it would work. And don't complain to me that it is an inhuman way to carry on. It's your island, we foreigners are learning to play by your rules and anyway, I didn't write this, I got one of my people to do it.

Susie Gallienne


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