Keeping the reps in their place

The Great Dictator, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin, was released in 1940 and is a satire on Adolf Hitler and Nazism. Chaplin plays two roles, one a Jewish barber and the other the dictator of Tomania, Adenoid Hynkel.

At one stage Hynkel is due to meet Benzoni Napaloni, Diggaditchie of Bacteria, a parody of Mussolini. Hynkel is riven with insecurity because of his short stature, and he knows Napoloni to be big, bluff and utterly self-confident.

In an attempt to undermine this self-confidence, he provides Napoloni with a chair with little tiny legs. Napoloni is therefore forced to squat awkwardly throughout the meeting, all the while looking up at Hynkel, who is sitting on a high stool.

There are lessons we can learn from this.

Take the next visit of the drug rep. 'Can I bring in my manager?' she asks. The Manager is invariably a big, tall guy in a expensive pin-stripe suit; an ensemble which says 'Power!' and 'I can sack you in 10 seconds flat.'

He has a firm and manly straight-out-of-business-school handshake; if I have a chance, I put a bit of KY on and enjoy the startled and partly revolted expression, which is quickly hidden because these guys are real pros.

I am sure they don't want my pity, but as I feel sorry for reps (especially contract reps, in their ill-fitting suits which say 'Please shoot me') I am not unwelcoming.

'I'll bring in an extra chair,' I say generously. So I bring in my special chair which has tiny little legs. I have also added a cunning device of my own invention; the chair has a cheap plastic covering, and when The Manager sits down it makes an amusing farting noise. When this happens I look up in a puzzled sort of way.

The Manager crouches uncomfortably while the rep tries to bamboozle me with colourful graphs (because some conventions must always be observed).

But I'm not concentrating; I'm watching The Manager, who is discovering that it is impossible to sit in this chair and retain any semblance of dignity.

His legs are splayed out inelegantly, like a giraffe at a waterhole, and he has to wriggle around to maintain his circulation; every time he does so the amusing farting noises recur.

After a few hundred of these, I arise and ostentatiously open a window.

'Boy, is it getting steamy in here or what?' I'll murmur.

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