19 December 2005
The Lawyer and his colleagues are quaking at the announcement that one of the nationals is going to American accounting dates. They fear the firm will follow suit (or worse, be forcibly merged), and next year they'll all be driven back into the office after Christmas for hard closes while the rest of the UK is dozing in front of the telly.
"How are we going to find clients in December to bill for anything?" the Lawyer confided to me. "Our clients are all off work for two weeks, while everyone in America is back at work on Boxing Day."
The Lawyer sees it as another example of pernicious American attitudes sneaking into the office, and worries for the sanctity of his five-week holiday package. We all know that the Americans are happy to hitch up the trailer and spend half of their miserly fortnight's vacation on the road to Mom in Onehorse, Wyoming, thereby replicating the great journey of their forefathers in covered wagons across the western plains, but we Brits have a whole world to go and see, including Les Deux Alpes and Disney World once a year.
In fact, I often think that you can glean everything you need to know about the Americans from reading the 'Little House on the Prairie' books (as mother to two girls and an Indian-obsessed boy, I can recite them backwards). There's Pa, his gun across his knees, steering the horses and the wagon with the tremendous baggage Americans carry around with them, looking for virgin soil and resenting having to give a single acre of ground up to the natives, who don't deserve it because they don't work hard enough.
The Lawyer swears he can hear the sound of the wheels rolling towards his firm, which is ripe for a US takeover. The noble savages, who like a good long lunch and a few pow-wows during the day, wouldn't stand a chance against the incomers, who are prepared to work until they drop to make the land their own.
I mean, where's the native Brit who'll bill 2000 hours in a year? Of course, the Americans get an extra 200 just by not having those pesky holidays to worry about, but you've still got to find another 300, which means a lot of weekends.
And as first-generation settlers, Pa and his ilk all live to work: the 92-year-old chief executive who turns up at the annual conference after an American merger thinks he's employing a load of kids, given that any noble savage who makes it to 55 in the UK gets to retire to a nice 18-hole reservation.
And next to Pa on that wagon, rolling towards us, comes Ma, with her ludicrously high standards, which means I can't do the school run in Marks & Sparks jeans any more, the kids' clothes have got to be designer (no more George at Asda) and, when it comes to school fundraising, you're deemed a failure if you haven't pulled in £20K.
And as for the house… If the Lawyer's firm goes American I know what his next bonus is going on: a steam room, a hot tub and a walk-in wardrobe for me (we'll probably have to throw Liability out of her bedroom to build it). Only then can I hold my head up high and pass round the cookies (baked on Pampered Chef stoneware, which costs about as much as a winter holiday anyway) when the soccer moms come for coffee. I'm as terrified at the prospect as the Lawyer himself.