Early in December I drove my wife's new car to our local dealership to have an accessory fitted. As the work was scheduled to take less than an hour I decided to wait, and took along the book I was reading to pass the time. The book proved to be a perfect choice.
As I walked through the automatic doors into the glitzy display of shiny new metal, I was surprised to see a large alien object occupying the centre of attention. Several staff of both sexes and varying levels of seniority were studying a long cylindrical parcel, about twenty feet long and some four or five feet in diameter, which was lying on the marble floor. It was wrapped in plastic sheeting, and gave little indication of what it might be. After handing over my car key I was shown to a sofa to wait, close enough to observe the package and its attendants but without being able to hear what they were saying. I opened my book, 'Body Language' by Allan and Barbara Pease, and recalled its message that observing people's body language without hearing their verbal exchanges was an excellent way to test your perceptive skills. So I closed my book and watched.
A tall man in a dark suit began to wag his forefinger at the package and then at several of his cohorts. I deduced that he must be a manager or salesman and had decided to take charge of handling the package and was issuing instructions to the others. Another man in a suit, clearly unhappy with the plan or perhaps his assigned role, folded his arms across his chest, rested his chin on his hand and backed away. Two young women were having a covert, yet animated, private discussion on the periphery of the group and showed little interest in the proceedings. Two young men, apparently eager to comply with the leader's instructions, simultaneously seized each end of the package in an unsuccessful attempt to lift it. A middle aged woman hovered, her indecision about helping with the lift plainly obvious from her facial expression and attendant hand movements. Eventually most of the staff involved made an ill-coordinated attempt to pick up the package, but its weight and unwieldy size frustrated their efforts. What next, I wondered.
The man with the active forefinger finally despatched a minion to fetch something, which turned out to be a small trolley. The package was manhandled so that its middle rested on the trolley, and the unlikely team began to manoeuvre this cumbersome combination across the showroom to its intended location. Their progress proved hilarious. As they attempted to navigate through the maze of very expensive prestige vehicles the hand gestures, facial expressions and exhortations became a perfect opportunity for me to test my understanding of my book. If ever there was a validation of the assertion that the observer sees most of the game, this was it. My cheeks ached with the effort of suppressing laughter, but my wide smile must have revealed everything.
At last the package made it to its prime position in the front corner of the showroom, without apparent mishap. However, it soon became clear that the activity was far from complete. Hand gestures, upward gazes and the shaking and scratching of heads suggested that the package needed to be upright and no one had a clue how to do it. But now the group had coalesced into a team. They stood in a tight circle and debated how to fulfil their task. A metal cross about four feet wide was unpacked and a technician, identified by his overalls and box of tools, was summoned to assemble it. Then began the precarious operation of setting the package upright without endangering the precious metal all around. I hoped, fervently, that our car would not be ready any time soon.
What followed could have been a clip from a Laurel and Hardy movie. The package was too long to be walked upright, too heavy to be pushed, too unstable to risk it overbalancing, and too unusual for the normally highly competent staff to have any relevant experience. Eventually, with a combination of team work, brute force, two stepladders and a healthy slice of good fortune, the package was secured in the upright position. But all was not yet complete. Removing the plastic sheath was their final challenge, as the top end of the package was now twenty feet in the air. Someone produced a large pair of scissors, but could only reach to cut the covering about half way up. Once released from its sheath the lower contents spread out, making the release of the top half a precarious job for an unfortunate volunteer on a wobbly stepladder. With a final snip of the scissors the full contents were revealed - a Christmas tree.
I wanted to applaud; the team did so, with great gusto. Right on cue a service advisor announced that my car was ready, and I felt strangely disappointed that I would not see how this impromptu team might dress the magnificent result of their labours. As I wended my way between the A4s, TTs and Q7 4x4s towards the exit, I smiled to myself and muttered the marque's signature slogan - Vorsprung durch Technik.