This new book by Sławomir Shuty, whose collection of short stories Sugar Level Normal (2002) was well received by the critics, is like a well constructed ethnographical study of the language and mentality of the Firm’s employees. In this case the Firm is “the banking sector”, a department at the Hamburger Bank. Shuty manages to present, in a metaphorical way, the modern-day situation of the young Pole caught in the cogs of capitalist enterprise. Here we find routine chats at work, a pitifully monstrous home life, office talk, street talk and Internet chat room talk; here, God help us, we have a world of ideas and values that fill the heads and feed the thoughts of a generation that’s been tossed onto the rubbish heap of the supermarket, and sent out to face the labour exchange, the rat race, the carousel of promotions and professional training, cynicism and hypocrisy in retail and wholesale quantities, the banality and futility of life’s comings and goings all in great variety. The whole story is told with predatory humour and it’s cleverly pointed as it builds up an image of the trap, the dehumanisation process that was described to us by the sociologists of a bygone era, who wrote about inhuman labour and the prefabricated “service people” of post-capitalist technology. The brutalised language carves out an apocalyptic chasm between life’s façade and the underground world of the incapacitated and the humiliated, between officialdom and the desperation of “the accursed people of the earth”, whose endless frustration, hopelessness, cynicism and hatred cannot find any other outlet. This book has the potential of being a manifesto for its generation.
- Marek Zaleski
Monday’s child has lots of spunk, Tuesday’s child’s clothes are well hung. Basia is coming later. She just couldn’t. It was the kind of situation where she couldn’t. But she really wanted to. Naturally.
“Basia,” Gosia says, “Why did you tell us you couldn’t, that you just couldn’t. Sometimes you can’t but you know yourself that sometimes I can’t either.”
“Fine, Gosia, don’t start with me, just open up,” says the decidedly becoming impatient Basia.
Gosia opens up and Basia can come in. Today, lots of customers might visit our branch. Why? I don’t know. Something in the pit of my stomach is telling me that this is how it’s going to be. Besides, it’s Tuesday. People have ants, I beg your pardon, up their asses. Oh exactly, this is just what I was just saying.
“Hello,” says a man, getting it over with.
“Hello. Can I help you with anything?” I get up from my chair, so as to offer our customer European-standard, professional and attentive service.
“No thank-you, just looking around...” He’s paying absolutely no attention to me.
“Are you interested in term investments?” I ask pleasantly, offering a brochure as though it were a bowl of soup.
“I’ll read about it, thank-you...” He turns his head.
“Allow me to just mention that it is most profitable to invest in short-term investments, monthly ones, and then to capitalize on the interest that comes every month, please have a look here, it’s more than if you paid in this money for half a year...”
I am pulling my ace from up my sleeve, and the man is staring at me, his eyes full of interest.
“Mirek, why don’t you show the gentleman to the consultation room,” says Basia, leaning out from behind her monitor with a beaming smile.
“Why don’t we step into the consultation room, where we can discuss the offer in full detail.” Standing erect, I indicate the way.
“Well, fine,” he says with a tone of resignation.
I lead the man to the consultation room and spread in front of him a panorama of term investments. I point out all the customer advantages with a felt-tipped pen. I enumerate. Apart from this, I tell him of credit cards, of new and convenient access to cash, exceptional service, and the benefits of a current account.
“You won’t find a better offer,” I say with one hundred percent conviction. But the man just folds up his price catalog and leaves saying “thank-you.”
“You won’t find a better offer, “ I throw at him as he is leaving, to convince him even more thoroughly. Basia is observing the whole scene with measured optimism.
“So,” she asks with apparent reluctance, “Is he setting up an account?”
“No, he was interested in investments,” I say staring at the wall.
“Didn’t you tell him that we have a special on personal accounts?” asks Basia calmly.
“I told him, but he didn’t want one, he has a personal account in one bank, another in a different bank, but he doesn’t use either of them,” I tell her, nervously fiddling with the cashier’s stamp, until I leave marks all over the desk from my fiddling.
“If you had told him about the payment card promotion, that might have drawn him in,” says Basia, unnaturally beaming.
“I told him, I told him about payment, about credit. You saw how long I talked with him. I didn’t have anything left to say, I had pulled out all my cards,” something in me cracks and I smile like a child.
“I saw,” says Jola, smiling too, “Mirek talked and talked.”
“You should have told him that our investments can be cut off at any time without loss of interest,” says Gosia, patting me on the arm with a smile.
“Yeah, I could have,” I tell them all, smiling.
“Listen up, we have... Have a look, at the moment there are five hundred accounts set up, and by today we’re supposed to have seven hundred,” says Basia all of a sudden, with a voice that rises up out of her liver. “This month we have to open at least a thousand, otherwise we can forget about our bonuses. Let’s start doing something.”
Basia looks significantly in our direction, because she, for God’s sake, has had enough of this setting up, it’s always her, we never set things up.
Bonuses are given to workers contingently. If we open eight hundred personal accounts, which are called “current accounts,” to people off the street who most often want no such thing, we sell forty payment cards and four gold payment cards and insure twelve people, we then receive a bonus for each of those sales, but only if the majority of the opened current accounts have been kept up. If that condition is not seen to, we receive no bonus, even if we should sell one hundred gold payment cards. The amount of the bonus handed out to a single worker is evaluated percentagely and, this is the most important part, depends on the approval of the branch manager, which means that the percentage can be changed to the disadvantage of the employee. Would we reach the highest consciousness of this month’s bonus? Who could tell.
Translated by Soren Gauger