So last night I was watching TV—a British show called Hustle which is a very well-made, complex-charactered, witty cousin of the TNT show Leverage—Hustle came first, and I can see no acknowledgement in the official record of the connection between the two, but come on now—and at one point (not for the first time) the characters disappear into an office somewhere. I turned to Philip and said: "What is it with these glass offices that you see on TV these days? When did people start working in fishbowls?" (I don't think fishbowls was actually what I said—in fact, I know it wasn't—but it was in my head, so I'll put it out there.) He turned back to me and asked: "Why are you obsessed with offices? This is the fifth time you've asked me that question."And you know, he's right. I am obsessed with offices. And I have asked the question often. I ask it every time I see a new TV show with a new set of offices.People in the USA in particular seem to have taken to working in, yes, fishbowls.OK. My husband might be perplexed by my "obsession", but savvy anthropologists will know just where I'm going with this. Or at least where I'm coming from. Other people may not be familiar with Edward T. Hall and his studies on the cultural use of space (otherwise known as proxemics), but Hall theorized that different cultures approach space in different ways. He illustrated by conducting a study of the organization of offices and office space in three cultures—Japan, Germany and the USA—and demonstrated that different office practices—office layouts, office conduct, office habits—obtained in each nation.This becomes relevant when we begin to realize that as Bahamians we are in the business of serving the world. From tourism to banking, we interact on a regular basis with people from all over, and without understanding that there are fundamental cultural differences which are often subconsciously/unconsciously held, we will judge one another based on cultural variations that a little understanding of basic things such as the use of space would eliminate.For instance. Five years ago when I started working in the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, when my ship had finally come in and the government had finally actually hired me (16 months after the initial interview), I moved into a corner office at the new Ministry of Education Building on Thompson Boulevard. Mine was an unusual office. Because it was in the corner, it had windows on two sides, floor-to-ceiling panels set in the two outside walls. The interior partitions, though, were walls.I was privileged. I was, after all, a Director, which explained the privilege. In some ways, by my personal standards, I was even more privileged than administrative officers who were more senior than me—than the Finance Officer, the Deputy Permanent Secretaries, and one of the Under Secretaries. In that office, only Directors, the Permanent Secretary, and the Minister himself were honoured with offices that others couldn't see into.What was interesting was that the officers listed above—the Senior Officers in the Ministry, as determined by their salary grouping (not their salaries)—were given blinds for their offices. If they wanted to, they could create a barrier between themselves and the world beyond by closing their blinds and creating walls from the glass that was provided for them. The one Director who could not get a corner office (the building was clearly not designed for a Ministry with three of them, as it only provided two corner offices of the kind that could accommodate Directors (for those of you who are not following me, the Department of Public Personnel has a list of the sizes of offices that should be provided for senior officers, and I can tell you, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture posed a problem for the HR department in that regard)) was also equipped with blinds. Not one other technical officer was given such a luxury.So what follows next begins to explain my obsession, as Philip calls it, with the glass offices I see on TV today. As I recall it, a whole lot of my tenure at the Ministry in my new capacity was filled with meetings. Tuesday mornings at 11 AM was the time we held Senior Officers' Meetings, which was convened by the Permanent Secretary and which required the Ministry's senior officers—the two Under Secretaries, the two Deputy Permanent Secretaries (Under Secretary trumps DPS, in case you were wondering), the First Assistant Secretaries (right under DPSs), the Senior Assistant Secretaries (next step down from FASs), the Finance Officer, the Directors (of which there were several, and of various kinds), and the Directors' seconds-in-command (for Youth and Sports, the Deputy Directors, for Culture the two Assistant Directors). (pace Rick, I can feel you spinning in your non-grave!). Sixteen people most of the time, sometimes more, all squeezed into the second-best conference room (called, for reasons those of us in Youth and Culture didn't quite get, the Sports Conference Room). These were meetings in which the PS briefed the senior staff on matters pertinent to the running of the Ministry—on the status of papers to go to Cabinet for example, on programmes that the Minister wanted to see implemented, on programmes that were already under way, especially those that involved the whole Ministry (such as Junkanoo, or National Youth Month, or some such event), and where heads of different sections (Directors, mainly) gave updates on the progress of their programmes (like JA activities for Youth, national sporting events for Sports, and national cultural events for Culture). We might be updated on the progress of our installation in these new quarters; we might be briefed on general staff matters, like how we were expected to implement General orders; we might be advised what was left in the budget for the half-year, and how we were to (not) spend it; we might be asked to seek solutions for various issues that had hit the press, like an increase in gang violence, trouble in a sporting association, or the complaints of musicians about the lack of jobs in the marketplace for them.My first months in office dealt with the status of the move. We were a newly reconstituted Ministry, having been reinstated by the PLP in 2002 after the FNM had dissolved the previous Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture in its second term, and that in itself brought a number of issues. We were also a Ministry that had very recently moved into new quarters. And these quarters were significantly different from the old ones. We were occupying a building that had been purpose-built for government activity at the turn of the millennium, while previous offices had occupied the seventh floor of the Post Office Building, an office from the turn of the third quarter of the 20th century, and reflecting office culture of a previous era. The largest difference was the open floor plan of the office, and this was causing considerable consternation among the officers and staff. Three things were causing this. The first was the fact that the new Minister had ordered that all of the Divisions of the Ministry—and all of the staff—were to be relocated to the new office, which meant bringing them in from the various field offices—from the Sports Centre, from the Youth Centre, and from Morro Castle (Culture's field office). The second was that there were only enough offices for Senior Officers and up; the rest of the staff and officers were to be housed in the large open office that constituted most of the south-western wing of the Ministry. And the third was that those offices that did exist were fronted with glass. In other words, if you stood in the open office and looked around, you could see into every office, except those that (as I have said) were assigned to the Director of Culture and the Director of Sports.And the Ministry was beginning by refusing to buy us blinds.I can't say why that was the case. We were never given a good reason why; we were simply told it was not the Ministry's policy to provide blinds for non-senior officers. Needless to say, this caused much discussion; as I have already noted, no one liked the idea of working in a fishbowl. There were many good reasons put forward as to why. For our regular officers, the idea that they were being expected to do their work from desks in the open office plans, when they would be moving with files of potentially sensitive information, and perhaps, for Youth Officers, might be expected to counsel young people in the open, was scandalous. For the senior officers who qualified for offices, the idea of working from glassed-in offices was a major breach of trust.The long and the short of it was the Permanent Secretary was faced with a mini-revolution. Work was not going to get done until all the offices received their blinds. We were not alone in the problem; the Ministry of Education was going through the same difficulties. The solution? To order blinds for every glassed-in office. Today, if you walk around those Ministries, you will notice that every glass wall is opaque; there is not one office in which the inhabitants work with the blinds up or open at all.I knew that something cultural was at work there. I knew that the problem wasn't going to be simply solved. But it wasn't until I reread Hall's proxemics in full that it clicked. We'd come to a point where the importation of someone else's office culture was not going to work for us; the floor plan that was designed for an American office was not translating to The Bahamas. Because we don't practice anthropology here in any wide format, we often miss the point; we think that Bahamians are unproductive for all kinds of reasons (some of them quite valid), among them the idea that we are genetically ill-prepared to work. But perhaps we miss the complete point, because we don't imagine that The Bahamas is worth studying for itself. The place where we work best, the place where phenomenal work gets done, is the Junkanoo shack—a supremely private, secretive place. We work best in secret. I know myself I don't perform well if I think people are looking over my shoulder, and I don't think that the answer should lie in our trying to fit into someone else's mould.So yes, I am obsessed with offices. I am obsessed with the question of glass. I don't think it's a frivolous obsession. I think it's an opportunity. We need to know who we are before we can begin to function at our best.