Peter Hears A Hoot

Actual stuff that folks said (and wrote!) either to me or within eyeshot/earshot of me at work 

Or ” Divers oral and written communications which Mrs Montreuil’s little boy became privy to in the course of his appointed duties”

People say the damndest things. Here’s a collection of some of the more notable examples I encountered at work which you may enjoy, loyal reader. When dealing with the public, it is essential to be able to “think on your feet”. This necessary skill was sometimes lacking on the other side of the desk. These are in no temporal order, but “speak” for themselves.

In order to have a successful interview and obtain information required to properly process any interaction, it is necessary to “break the ice”, to make the interviewee feel at ease. Of course, you are dealing with people’s perceptions, i.e., many felt that my job as a government worker was to “get” them, so care was needed to establish some kind of relationship, at least for the length of the interview. (It was my experience that as long as the person sitting across from you knew that you took their situation seriously and would do your best to assist them, an overwhelming majority of them would cooperate.)

-So one day I was interviewing someone applying for Employment Insurance. They looked really down, and I remarked on that fact, asking what was wrong. They replied that their life was currently on hold, and they had to tell a bureaucrat about it. In a desperate attempt to prove I was human, I mentioned I had a cat. Looking at the floor, they sighed and said that they had five. I rejoined that if I’d known they were making it a contest, I’d have lied and said I had eight! Then they laughed, and the interview went very well after that.

-Having just started interviewing a man about Canada Pension, he looked at me and said that he knew one thing about the government looking at me, and that was that there was no compulsory retirement age! (???)

-One day I was discussing employment options with a young man. He looked at me and “I could do your job, for example!” a) I asked him how old he thought I was, and he replied “42”. Feeling as gloomy as Eyeore, I confessed that I had been 34 my last birthday. The resultant look of horror in his eyes told me that my job was, at least temporarily safe…..from him, anyway.

-A client told me that although she enjoyed clerical work, her pastor thought she should do other work. I asked her what bills of hers were paid by her pastor. When she told me that she was completely independent, I suggested that maybe her pastor had no right to direct her career path. She smiled gratefully.

-I had a widow in my office discussing her pensions, both Canadian and foreign. I telephoned the Toronto consulate of her country of origin with a relevant question, identified myself as an employee of the Canadian government………………… and was promptly hung up on! b)

In interviewing, there are “closed” questions, requiring a “yes”/”no” type answer and there are “open” questions, which allow the interviewee the opportunity to expound on their situation. “How old are you?” is an example of a closed question, while “How are you feeling today?” MAY be an “open” question. One of my interviewing nightmares was that of asking a closed question and getting an “open” answer.

-During Unemployment Insurance “claims taking”, it was important to ensure that the claimant’s address and telephone number were complete and correct. (It still is, as an aside.) I asked a young girl if the address on her application was a house or an apartment. She replied that she had come home from work early and caught her boyfriend in bed with her best friend and she continued speaking as I frantically made “Hold up!” signs to no apparent avail.

-I remember interviewing a refugee claimant who had a work permit. He wanted to extend the validity of his Social Insurance Number. He went on and on about how stupid and incompetent Canadian government workers were, and handed me his passport with his work permit attached. I looked at his work permit and checked out his passport as well, as was my right. I looked at him and said “I have to agree about their incompetence (<sarcasm). Your work permit was extended, but your passport expired last week.” c)

-During an interview, a client became angry and jumped out of his chair. I had several “rules of life” when interviewing which I adhered to religiously. One was that if the client stood up during the interview, so did I. (I was not going to be stuck in my chair ‘waiting’ to be hit, as you never knew how someone would react.) The sight of my six foot two inch body uncoiling from behind my desk generally calmed down even the most aggressive person. Not today, though. The man looked at me and said “Go ahead, hit me!” I leaned against a baffle, started to laugh and said “That’s exactly why I came to work today, to hit you!” He realized how foolish he sounded, started to laugh and the situation became resolved without too much drama.

-I was at the bank across the street from my office, dealing with a teller. The customer to my left became upset and started to make a fuss. The teller I was dealing with turned to the teller on my right and started to mock the customer. I tapped on the counter to get his attention and told him that if he wanted the situation to escalate to the point where the customer was angry enough to lash out violently, he should let the irate customer see him mocking the customer.

-We provided comment cards for our clients and a repository where they could be left d) to record their experience at our office.. One Monday morning I went to the front desk and found a comment card sitting all alone on the desk, as it apparently had been all weekend. The only thing written on it was “Everybody was rude as fuck!”

Just in case you are still awake, let’s finish off this week with some Christmas party stories.

-We had a Christmas party at a local restaurant. My date and I were sitting at a table with three other couples. Dinner was finished, we were drinking beer and talking while a DJ played. The manager came over and said “There’s some great music being played! Get out there and dance!” Two couples got up and complied, my date started to rise, but I put my hand gently on her wrist. The other couple watched me. My date said “She’s right, that’s good music!” I replied “That woman tells me when, where and how to work. She does NOT tell me when, where and how to have fun!”

–Time for our annual Christmas potluck lunch, and I contributed 3 trifles that I had made with my own hands. One was straight unadulterated trifle, the other two were my famous “Do not smoke after eating” trifles, laden with sherry e). I myself ate lunch, then headed home. After I left,  a co worker of mine, a very pleasant woman highly regarded in the office, helped herself to my trifle…………………………………………………………… and got absolutely plowed! They had to call her husband to come and get her. On being told this the next morning, I said “He’s either going to punch me or hug me!”

-In the first Unemployment Insurance office I worked in f), we had an assistant manager who was extremely business like. The last business day before Christmas, he’d prowl the office, looking to winkle out people imbibing alcohol. Strolling through an Insurance unit, he heard the unmistakable gurgle of liquid (liquor??) being poured out of a bottle. Zeroing in on the office in question, he pounced.

He found the manager pouring drinks for the two Insurance Advisers. The manager looked at him and said “Merry Christmas, Frank! Want a drink?”

The assistant manager’s response was not recorded.


“Gee Peter, there’s no good contemporary music!” Sure there is, but don’t take my word for it! Check out “Lemonade” by Nikki’s Wives! A band from London, Ontario, Nikki’s Wives keeps doing what they do best, making great music. Speaking of music, they have released some new music recently and will be touring in support of it. You owe yourself, my friend.

See you soon.

  1. a) This may have been the seed of the “…so simple a caveman could do it…” campaign. In any case, nice way to ingratiate yourself with the interviewer.
  2. b) My lamentable social life in high school had well equipped me for Life’s hard knocks.

c)It would be most difficult for him to go to his country’s embassy to renew his passport. Immigration should not have extended his visa past the expiry date of his passport.

  1. f) Colloquially known as the “Fuck Off Box”.
  2. e) I still possess the technology to fabricate these trifles 😉.
  3. f) You will be reading about it in some detail later.


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