The Problem with Plumbers (and other Tradesmen)

There’s nothing particularly pleasant about the process of moving house. Especially if you actually have to sell the house you are living in first. We have been meaning to move out of our current house for at least two years. I just couldn’t motivate myself to organize tradesmen, visit hardware stores, paint walls and ceilings, and do all the other things necessary to get the house ready to sell. In the end I just went to a real estate agent and said ‘sell my house’. He put me onto all the ‘right people’ and in the space of a few weeks, we had tradesmen painting the guttering, installing new light fittings, erecting pergolas, fitting carpet and so on. More work was done on our house in three weeks than has been done in ten years.

With all this activity going on, I realised that one of the main reasons it has taken me so long to get all of this organized is my extreme awkwardness with tradesmen. I just can’t seem to relax, or even behave normally, when a stranger is working in or around the house. For example, we had some people working on the garden. It was quite hot outside, and the two gardeners has been shoveling bark chips and gravel for hours. I was inside, supposedly working on a writing project. But I just couldn’t sit still. I felt guilty. In the end, I began cleaning. And I couldn’t just clean quietly; I had to make lots of noise so that the guys outside would hear that I wasn’t just lying around. I couldn’t bear the thought of them saying to themselves: ‘Lazy bastard. We’re out here sweatin’ and he’s takin’ it easy.’

I even turned off the air conditioning just to let them know that I wasn’t much more comfortable than them.

Then there’s the issue of actually interacting with them. I know they are meant to be working, but I find it impossible to just ignore them and let them get on with their job. I feel compelled to make small talk with them. Ask them things about their job, talk about sport or the weather. The things I have found myself talking about are just ludicrous.

The alternative is the tradesman who seeks you out for conversation. Only recently, one of the plumbers I had working on my house thought nothing of spouting racist nonsense within two minutes of meeting me. What can be done with such people! There’s no point in arguing with them, particularly when such people are dealing with necessities like water or electricity. I’d hate to confront a plumber about his apparent racism, only to find that he’d subsequently connected my outgoing sewage pipe to the incoming bathwater tap. So I just grinned like an idiot, not agreeing, but not challenging his stupid comments.

Finally, there’s the food and drink situation. What exactly is the etiquette here? Are you expected to feed someone who’s been painting your house all day? Do you offer beer? Hot food? Sandwiches?

I recently offered a bricklayer some cake. He took the cake, but I’m sure he was laughing at me behind my back. (‘Cakebaking, doughpoking pansy!’) At least I didn’t offer him fairy bread!

Thankfully, all that anxiety and awkwardness is now over. All the work is complete and it’s just a matter of finding someone to buy our neat, clean and sparklingly tidy house. I’m just hoping that the plumbing holds out until we’re gone.

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