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From Toblerone to matcha Kit Kats: Post-holiday office snacks and what they mean

When it comes to choosing the co-worker treat, some describe a mild anxiety that strikes on day one of the trip. Another, overwhelmed, avoids the practice entirely. This has not gone unnoticed.

From Toblerone to matcha Kit Kats: Post-holiday office snacks and what they mean

(Photo: Pexels)

Summertime in the northern hemisphere. Rising temperatures have turned public transportation into a mobile oven and burnt-out urbanites have fled to more glamorous locales. Which means that office workers returning to work will find emails from freshly holidayed co-workers inviting them to help themselves to the “[insert edible treat] from [insert aspirational travel destination] on the [insert flat surface].” Colleagues immediately descend on the offering like ravenous ants.

In the past year the table nearest my desk has housed, in no particular order (but, let’s say from best to worst): Grasmere gingerbread, Portuguese Azorean tarts, Japanese matcha Kit Kats, Bulgarian biscuits, Spanish turron, Viennese wafers, Belgian stroopwafels, chalky Greek chocolate, chalky Singaporean chocolate and Dorset knobs, flavourless but oddly satisfying biscuits designed to suck all the moisture out of your mouth.

It is difficult to know what this practice is intended to communicate in the modern office. Are we, the post-vacation sweet providers, grateful to our colleagues for holding the fort while we selfishly partake of legally mandated time off? Are we trying to say something about our fine tastes, the exoticism or deliberate homeliness of our destination?

(Photo: Pexels)

The Japanese call this custom omiyage. It is believed to have its origins in 15th-century religious pilgrimages, where the gift acted as both evidence that the sacred journey was completed but also as a way to share the blessings. Omiyage allows your left-behind co-workers to share in your experience.

In the workplace, however, these gifts seem to be partly offered up in tribute by the victors of the office battle over “who gets August”. Tarts and cakes are whittled down slice by modest slice. If you work in Britain, the last piece will be trimmed until only a sliver so thin that light can pass through it remains. American or Italian colleagues can be relied upon to put the confection out of its misery.

People devour the offering, evaluate it on its objective merits (is it delicious?) as well as its subjective value (how committed is Jonathan to this team?). I don’t care what you say, Toblerone is an act of passive-aggression.

(Photo: Jasper Loh)

Toblerone silently screams, “I did not want to commit the openly hostile act of returning empty-handed but I did not think of you until I was leaving Gatwick airport and WHSmith had a buy-one-get-two-half-off special, and I still only bought one.”

When it comes to choosing the co-worker treat, some describe a mild anxiety that strikes on day one of the trip. Another, overwhelmed, avoids the practice entirely. This has not gone unnoticed.

Brands are aware of the colleague-at-risk-of-returning-empty-handed market. Toblerone does at least a quarter of its sales in transportation hubs and duty-free shops. Al Nassma, the camel milk chocolatier, sells the bulk of its product in Dubai’s airports. Travellers do not buy camel milk chocolate for pleasure. The same goes for truffles filled with durian, a south-east Asian novelty.

(Photo: Pexels)

One City worker spoke to me of an executive who returns from an annual summer trip to France with an entire case of decent wine to share. But whether you are at the bottom of the food chain or closer to the top, anyone who has agonised over a US$15 (S$21) bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups at JFK that would cost US$4 outside the airport knows the way pennies feel like gold coins when you are spending them on your manager.

The literal translation of omiyage is souvenir, from the Latin subvenire (to come to mind). However good we purport to be at work-life balance, the truth is we spend a significant chunk of our lives in the company of our colleagues. Even abroad, they come to mind – we see something delicious or wonderful or silly and think, “Isabel would love that.”

Though if that thing turns out to be expensive, fragile or perishable, there’s always Toblerone. People really do love that stuff. But, just so you know, it’s only a bargain if you buy three.

By Madison Darbyshire © 2019 The Financial Times

READ> Back from holiday? Here’s what your out-of-office email reply says about you

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