Saturday, 6 September 2008

A guide to credit crunch etiquette

"I'd love to be unemployed. It would be such a wonderful opportunity to improve my golf," booms a neighbour to my newly jobless husband.

It takes a friend to remove my kitchen knife and remind me that he isn’t just a tactless arse but that decades of full employment have atrophied his ability to empathise.

And he’s not alone. Until recently, consumer consumption was so conspicuous it was all but visible from outer space, while redundancy was considered about as much of a threat as Po running amok in Teletubbyland and taking out the Noo-noo with anthrax spores.

But now, as the nation’s collective rainy day savings dwindle to 6p and a used toffee stuffed inside one of Alistair Darling’s socks, it’s a social minefield out there.

But never fear. Whether you’re cash rich, compassion free and aiming to stay that way, or a nouveau pauvre able to laugh in the face of bad karma only because you’ve had your IQ cosmetically shrunk to single figures, our guide to credit crunch etiquette will help you through with the minimum of public humiliation.

Dos and Don’ts

…For the jobless

DO remember that redundancy meetings take place in hotel foyers for a reason. Not because the boss thinks you might enjoy tea and a macaroon with your P45 but because he’s terrified you will run amok with a meat cleaver and is counting on your fear of looking silly in public to hold you back

So pat your sides, give a sigh of relief as if encountering the welcome shape of a sharp, metallic object and cultivate an unblinking stare and small but perfectly formed tic. You’ll double your leaving package in seconds.

But DON’T actually run amok. Bloodbaths rack up the dry cleaning bills and are hard to gloss over on your CV.

DON’T be wallow in self-pity. So you’re suffering? So what? Just imagine what friends and family are going through. Yesterday, you were a solvent member of their community. Today, you’re an emissary from a doomed land. Naturally, they’re in shock and need help. So if your dismissal package includes counselling, DO cut them in on the action. They’ll feel all the better for it.

DO learn to love headhunters. Tipped to replace estate agents as the new national hate figures, they come in three varieties: posh, scary and useless, though these are interchangeable. All have enviable jargon-stretching abilities and will treat you as their new best friend one day, then cut you dead the next when you flunk an interview. DO remember that they’re not actually human but, like Pixel Chix, pre-programmed hominoids who simply can’t help themselves. In time, you’ll even become quite fond of them.

DO use psychometric testing as a form of self help. There are only a handful of these jumped up personality tests on the market. Memorise them, and you can be anyone you want to be. More to the point, you can be anybody a future employer wants you to be.

One moment, you’re a team player with an almost insanely consensual way of working, the next a borderline psychopath, whipping your team into delivering the impossibly unrealistic sales targets plucked at random by senior managers so out of touch with the business they appear to be based on Mars.

For partners and family…..

DON’T ever say, 'Worse things happen at sea,' and 'at least we still have our health,' as a new EU cliché overload ruling requires compulsory transfer to a leaking barge midway across the Channel, where you will instantly contract bird flu and sink.


DO say ‘no’ to expensive winged pets, especially second hand albatrosses and single magpies trained to squawk ‘You’re doomed,’ down the chimney of a wet, misery-laden evening. The novelty value wears off surprisingly quickly.

Instead, borrow a copy of the best-selling book, ‘Fly-whispering for beginners’. Soon you’ll have swarms of tiny invertebrates scampering playfully round your feet, providing hours of fun and enchantment, not to mention several million maggots, all for the cost of a few scraps of putrid meat.

DO economise by hunting out cheaper cuts of meat. DON’T share too much information about it. So while serving roadkill is acceptable, asking who’s got the piece with the lucky tyre marks on it isn’t. And while supermarket bin-dipping, Freegan style can be a real money spinner, DON’T invite guests to guess which course has the oldest sell date using smell alone.

DO restrain children from doing a ‘Jude the Obscure’ and hanging each other as a money-saving ploy: tea, cakes and sympathy cannot make up for the devastating loss of your tax credit and child benefit

DON’T overdo the stoicism. If the children greet your partner on his return after a hard day’s job-hunting, clinging to his knees and sobbing, “Daddy, there’s nothing but lawn-clippings to eat for supper,” DON’T say, brightly, “Don’t worry, darling, I’m sure Martha Stewart does a splendid little grass casserole – we can marinade it in the old vegetable oil we were going to refine into bio-fuel.” Unless, that is, you mind him suggesting that you use your stiff upper lip as the basis of the stock.

For the (still) gainfully employed….

DON’T rake the recently unemployed with a quick up and down glance as if hoping for a sign that marks the out as natural candidates for misfortune, like the words ‘one of life’s victims’ tattooed in inch high letters across the forehead.

DON’T Put your head on one side and adopt a special low-pitched voice as a way of expressing heartfelt sympathy.

DO think twice before offering charity. Wine, meals and anonymous cash donations rarely go amiss but scraps can be problematic, while second hand sofas covered in cat wee are a definite no no.

And, finally:

NEVER use the phrases, “One day, you’ll look back on this and laugh,” “Adversity brings you closer together" or “I believe things happen for a reason”. You won't, it doesn't and they don't.