Two previous posts by Lynne Pettinger – Moments of Domesticity and Handwritten– got me thinking more about my obsession with those notes that pop up in various workplaces that remind people to clean up after themselves. I wonder who produced them, how often they update them, and what drove them to it. How bad had the toilet or kitchen been! Was someone ‘tasked’ with the job, or did they take it on themselves to produce the notice and maintain it over time?

Ann Oakley’s ‘Housewife’ (1974) was the first Sociology book that I read, and I am still hooked on the study of who does what domestic work within the home, for whom and why. Is this work paid or unpaid? Is it ‘recognised’ (Elson 2008) and welcomed by other grateful household members? Or is it just taken for granted, perhaps unseen even? But these little ‘moments of domesticity’ in the paid workplace are fascinating me.

In Moments of Domesticity, there are great images of the office where taxi drivers came for their breaks. In one image, there is a note above the sink that reminds the drivers to ‘Please’ wash the cups. Here are 3 images from notices that I have seen around various workplaces. None are hand-written. Two were found in women’s toilets (do men do this too?), and one was in a shared kitchen/communal space. The ‘Toilet Etiquette’ notice is focused on hygiene. It is neatly word-processed, centrally aligned. Lynne Pettinger reminded me here of sociologist Norbert Elias on etiquette. In The Civilizing Process, Elias cites a 15th century guide to etiquette and table manners that states: ‘It is unseemly to blow your nose into the tablecloth’ (Elias 1995: 108).

Toilet etiquette2

The next note, the passive-aggressive ‘Polite Notice’, is amazing. It is more detailed, and moves us beyond hygiene. We are also asked to ‘Refrain’ from using mobile phones. Who would want to use a mobile while someone else was ‘using the facilities’? Someone has gone to some trouble over it. It must have taken a little thought to produce, and it had been placed on the wall quite recently. It uses different colours, types and sizes of fonts; is printed using a good printer; employs bullet-points.

Polite notice

The last notice, ‘Cleaning Fairy’, was stuck neatly to a fridge door, and protected by a plastic cover. Again, some care has been taken over its production, including adding in the image of a pink-faced, blonde fairy. Its meaning is to the point: if you make a mess, clean it up. But it is also inaccurate. Any quick internet search will reveal fairies (of the cleaning type) DO exist*. Fairyland must be quiet these days because fairies are being employed in their thousands by companies to come and clean your home or office for you. The ‘Fairy Dust’ cleaning company is local to me.

Cleaning fairy 2

*You can buy stickers, mouse mats etc that proclaim ‘the dust bunnies killed my cleaning fairy’.

References

  1. Elias, N. (1995) The Civilizing Process, Oxford: Blackwell (first published in 1939).
  2. Elson, D. (2008) Recognition, Redistribution and Reduction, Presentation at launch of UNDP Expert Group on Unpaid Work, Gender and the Care Economy, November, New York: UNDP.
  3. Oakley, A. (1974) Housewife, London: Lane.