If you see a man near a piece of machinery you plan to use, avoid it. When a fax says "paper jam", the masculine instinct is to leave it dangling and walk away

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The Independent Online
If working has taught me one thing, it's that men don't really care about cars at all. Those weekends spent lying on skateboards underneath some rusting Cortina are just an excuse to get away from women. Because if, as men claim, they like machines and are better at them than women, how come everybody who has ever worked in an office knows that if the photocopier is broken the only person who can mend it is a woman?

Think about it. Think about all those times you have been heading across the open plan, clutching some big cheese's 500-page autobiography, which they want reproduced in quadruplicate, complete with folded-in A3 illustrations, in now minus 10 minutes. The copier will be standing there, innocently, in a corner, screened off by portable walls. And then you will see something that makes your heart sink. Walking towards you, in a suit, is a man. Carrying a single sheet of A4. He will roll his eyes at the ceiling tiles as he passes, and you instinctively know what he's going to say next: "It's broken."

"It's broken." The only phrase men use in offices more often than "it's broken" is "I've told you not to call me at work". You stick your tongue out at his back as he strides off, hunter-gatherer-like, to jam up the machine on the next floor down, and approach your target with sinking heart.

Usually, "broken" means that the "out of paper" light is illuminated. That's on an old-fashioned copier. For the last 10 years, copiers have had digital instruction pads on the front, which will read something like "out of paper. Open paper drawer and refill", beside a line-drawing covered in arrows showing where the drawer is. Why is it that, despite the fact that one of the requirements for an office job is basic reading skills, all men become illiterate when faced with instruction manuals? It must be another aspect of that X/Y chromosome thing that, because the scientists doing the study were men, has never been investigated.

They trust us to sort things out, and we usually do. You never, do you, grab the man who is walking away and say "it's just run out of paper. I'll show you how to fill it up"? No. You sigh, hunker down, pull open the drawer, break open another ream of A4, slam the refilled drawer shut and wait for ten minutes for the machine to warm up because it's been standing idle for an hour as a stream of men walk in, see a red light, scream and walk out.

There are times of course, when the photocopier actually is broken. You can usually tell, because the display will read something like "completely kaput. Call engineer immediately as liable to explode". In this case, there will also always be a man to tell you about it. You know the conversation. "I wouldn't bother with that. It's been broken for three days/a week/ three months."."Ah. Has anyone reported it?" "Dunno. I wouldn't know who to report it to." At this point, resist the temptation to say "Well, I know who to report it to and I'm only the Temp". Say "I'll see what I can do", call the number on the sticky label stuck prominently on the lid and go and replace the paper in another machine.

The thing is, these rules don't apply only to photocopiers, they apply to all office machinery: printers, faxes, coffee machines, telephones. If you see a man near a piece of machinery you plan to use, avoid it. The kitchen, when it's not stinking of pot noodle, will always echo with the thump-thump-thump of a bloke trying to get a second can of Coke for free. When a fax beeps and says "paper jam", the masculine instinct, instead of pulling the piece of paper out and trying again, is to leave it dangling and walk away shrugging. If a man uses a printer (sorry: joke) and it runs out of paper, he will only put in the single sheet he needs to finish his own job. Trust me: you can sometimes actually watch them counting. And to think they still earn a third more than we don

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