Business or Pleasure? (It’s a trap!)

22 Feb Business or Pleasure? (It’s a trap!)

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 22.2.21

“Is it work or pleasure?” This is one of those standard how-is-your-day questions you get asked when checking in for a flight or at a hotel. Sometimes it will make you grin as you weigh things up in your mind – sure, this is a business trip but you’re going to squeeze in some super-fun me-time here and there. But sometimes it’s a family holiday and you’ll look at the kids, one of whom has just been carsick on a particularly curly bit of road and sigh heavily as you realise being “away” is just like being at home, but with fewer laundry facilities. Pleasure was the plan, but this feels a lot like work. 

That work/pleasure combo, I’ve realised, works best when “pleasure” is the surprise side dish to a business main course rather than the other way round. I am inordinately lucky that I sometimes get booked to go entertain a bunch of strangers somewhere and discover my accommodation is a sweet little cottage with a rose garden, a claw foot bath and some homemade jam in the fridge and there are moments when you can pretend this is a holiday.

On the other hand, my top bowels-turn-to-water moments include being a guest at what I thought was an off-the-clock social event until someone loudly suggested, “You’d probably love to get up a do a bit of your comedy, eh?” and the rest of the party agreed this would be just the thing. (This has happened more than once.) It’s not that I don’t love my job, but I tend not to pack my work-brain in my evening bag. Suddenly, I’m picturing Admiral Akbar in “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi”, moments after Billy Dee Williams asks why the Empire has its shield up if they didn’t know they were coming. “It’s a trap!”

It’s the not knowing upfront if this is business or pleasure – that’s where the trap lies. It happens to all of us – that phone call you get when someone asks, “What are you doing on Saturday night?” and you hesitate because experience tells you this could go either way. Are they about to invite you to dinner? Or… ask you to babysit while they go out for one? Once they know you’re free, you could be stuck with three kids under five and the Disney channel rather than relaxing on someone’s deck with a glass of Chablis and jazz. If it’s the former, best you can do is mutter something along the lines of, “Damn, I’ve properly checked my diary now and, so sorry, I can see now that I’m down that night to worm the cat.” No one believes you, but at least you don’t have to go. Probably ever.

You will have your own version of the “suddenly at work” trap, depending on your day job. “What do you do? A doctor, you say! Here, have a look at my lesion.” “Hey, you’re a builder – we’re thinking of putting on a second storey – would you call this a weight-bearing wall, mate?” Or “A psychiatrist? Let me tell you about my mother. Honestly, I think you will find this fascinating!” but you’re pretty sure you won’t.

I’ve done it myself. Briefly (and that could be my fault) my daughter had a boyfriend who was an electrician and shortly after, “Nice to meet you,” I found myself suggesting he might like to have a quick look at the dimmer switch in our living room. Too late, I saw the light go out in his eyes.

This is not to say that we won’t cheerfully offer our particular work skills for free from time to time. An accountant might agree to be on the Board of Trustees at their kids’ school as Treasurer, and your local romance novelist might take on the role of Secretary because of their remarkable touch typing skills and flair for language. (“The motion was passed with enthusiastic acclamation. Bev wept with uncontainable joy. Her ripe bosom heaved.”)

Some of my favourite gigs are the ones I do for love. If I were rich, I’d make donations (cash is often the most useful contribution you can make to a cause) but since I am not on the Rich List (and possible wouldn’t even make the Comfortable List if anyone drew one up) the thing I can most usefully donate is my labour.

We have a grand tradition in this country of the Working Bee – friends and neighbours turning up with tools and enthusiasm to get something done. That, along with ladies-a-plate, has made this country pretty great and nurtured our sense of community – everyone chipping in according to their skills. “Bring your tabbouleh, Marge is bringing her pav’!” is a delightful dinner invitation.

All I’m suggesting is that it’s best not assume that everyone’s work is always their pleasure. And keep a weather eye out for those traps.