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The “May I help you?” species

At every official or administrative or event location ever created, there is always an Information Desk which is likely to be the most interesting part of the experience. Sometimes the Information Desk is an Information Counter, or Office, usually more of an Information Half-Cubicle. The theoretical point of the Information Desk is to answer your queries about things, usually with the words, ‘I can’t say,’ or ‘I don’t know.’ An Information Desk is not a Help Desk, the distinction being then that the Information Desk is not there to help you but only to inform you that it cannot help you. This work ethic is known to each and every person manning any Information Desk anywhere in the universe, and while each of these people interpret the rules differently, there are some broad types that it might be worthwhile to watch out for.

The Mall Information Desk person: is smartly dressed, always alert, has a pleasant smile for every nitwit who comes up no matter how obnoxious they are being, is not really sure what the point of a mall is anyway but it has air-conditioning all-day in summer so doesn’t ask also . Good at answering questions about parking, will wish you a good day, possesses no actual information. If you turn back as you leave, you may be able to see his bright, happy, helpful features slowly melt into a horrifyingly empty expression probably signifying deep sadness and misery.

 The Sports Event Information Desk person: is vaguely shabby but tough-looking for reasons you can’t put your finger on, adopts a contemptuous attitude towards the general public but is on a first-name basis with most of the athletes at the event even if he hasn’t actually ever met them. He is constantly on the phone and therefore resents having to spend time noticing you in any way. He knows a lot about the event and could tell you many things but chooses not to on the basis of only wimps and losers need to ask anything, worthwhile people already know exactly what to do and where to go. Good at pointing at posters of the event in place of answering questions about the event. Will take a personal interest in your life if he warms up to you, especially if you offer him tea. Be warned, he will judge your character on the basis of the teams you support in any sport. If you don’t like cricket he will never make eye-contact with you again; even if he is the information desk person at a karate event for small children, the rule about cricket will apply.

The cricketDesk person: appearance depends on the campus, but their job basically is to give you many pamphlets and pointless suggestions while not knowing anything you want to ask about. Sometimes they have useful contacts, but any help they provide is severely undercut by the depressed and depressing look in their eyes, implying that the minute you leave they will start sobbing in quiet desperation at the state of today’s youth. Sometimes they are very eager to help, usually once a deadline for something has just passed and they are telling everyone who’s missed it to come back next year and try again, often with a smug smile. But usually they are extremely overworked, holding many files and cannot even look at you without disgust and loathing filling their eyes.

The Hotel Information Desk person: probably the nicest of the lot, cheery, always happy to see you and give you advice on transport, sightseeing, food and shopping. Almost always at desk, on very good terms with the manager if he/she is not actually also the manager, the fixer who can get things done for you on double-quick time and makes you feel special at the same time. A pleasure to talk to, usually charming, sometimes very inquisitive about your personal life, someone who will go as far as to compliment you on your good taste in souvenir-shopping and also get your grandmother barley tea off-menu as a personal favour to you.

The Government Dept. Information Desk person: is the boss of you. This person is not there to help you, they are not interested in your problems or your existence as a person. They are doing their job, which means being there before and after lunch, a meal which for them could last for five minutes out of a small plastic box or means they have gone out for three hours and will probably be back next Monday if at all. This is the most infuriating of the whole group, because they will pretend to help you by sending you to several other places all over the building, none of which is the place you need, in an effort to deliberately screw with your mind. Once you have come back from your fourth pointless search of the building, they will look exasperated and issue you a form which they had all along but apparently you were too stupid to ask for. These people are the scum lining the walls of Hell, wielding their ink-stamps like the poisonous pincers of the desert scorpion in a power-play intended to intimidate you and cow you into submission. If you resist them firmly you may still leave unharmed, but the only real way to defeat them is to leave the country forever, for which also they will try to issue you a form.

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