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One who stands her ground until death or closing time

Most people who work at home  find they do not have the benefit 

of receptionists who serve as  personal guards.

Judith S. Marin


First, let me set the record straight, before all you receptionists out there start calling: I have great respect for receptionists and the work you do. It’s often an ungrateful position, answering multiple phones, handling upset, agitated or demanding visitors with a smile, all the while doing various reports and other office duties. And you all know how I like to pick. So don’t come looking for me with those staple removers or hole punchers or other weapons you keep in your desk drawer.

I want you to know this right up front. I certainly don’t want any trouble from PETAR (People for the Ethical Treatment of All Receptionists).


Receptionists are often the face of the business and are usually the first person you meet in the office. Sometimes they can be the first and only person you meet, according to the reason for your visit. 


Receptionists have been on my mind lately because of a less than pleasant experience Sandra and I had recently. The person was probably experiencing a bad day, which all of us have now and then. Or maybe two bad days, since Sandra and I visited the location on different weeks. 


This set me to thinking, a dangerous proposition at best, of receptionists I have known or read about, receptionists’ role in society and a bit of their history.


Years ago, a receptionist we know was told by her boss that if a certain lady came in the office, he was not in. This is probably the most common lie a receptionist is asked to repeat. They know we don’t believe it and we know they are forced to do it to keep their jobs. 


 The lady came in the office and was told the manager was not in. This is often a difficult trick to pull off in a small town. 


“I know he’s here,” she said. “I saw him come back from lunch, park in the back and go in the side door.” She waited all afternoon, finally flushing the guy out in time to give him a piece of her mind. 


I remember one article years ago detailing a receptionist named Jennifer Walsh at Kimball Physics, a New Hampshire firm. Kimball Physics had a policy at that time of baring anyone from their business who had smoked in two hours or who even smelled of tobacco. 


 If Jennifer caught a whiff of cigarette smoke on your breath, hair or clothes, she would ask you to step outside, according to the article. It didn’t say what she’d do to you once she got you outside, but it was evident that she took her job seriously. 


The article didn’t say what the firm’s policy was on barring visitors who, say, had stepped in something in the barnyard or perhaps were just odiferous. This probably fell under the receptionist’s discretion. 


At first glance, you’d think the firm could come up with a more scientific, accurate way to detect cigarette smoke. But if you know the history of the receptionist trade, you would understand the trust Kimball Physics placed in Ms. Walsh. 


Most uninformed people think that the word “receptionist” comes from the word “receive.” This is only partly true, in that one of the definitions of receive is “to take” or “to seize.” 


 In actuality, the word receptionist is taken from the Old Barbaric Hun “recepto” — meaning “one who stands her ground until death or closing time” — and the slang word “nist” — which translated loosely means “one who files her nails.” 


This explains the origin of the term “cold reception.” This is not to be confused with a “cold receptionist,” however. 


Ever since a small band of Spartan receptionists held off an opposing army at the battle of Marathon, receptionists have had the reputation of unyielding tenacity. 


The famous 82nd Receptionist Division defended positions at the Battle of the Bulge during World War II against what was later determined to be several elite German salesman divisions. Later, receptionists were used on guard duty when Rottweilers were not available. 


This explains why Kimball Physics had no reason to hire a bouncer or security guard to protect its employees from the deadly smell of cigarette smoke. 


The receptionist, by the very nature of the job, had already been trained for such duty at the national receptionist school at Paris Island, SC, whose motto, by the way, is “To Protect and Defend.” 


Some of the courses at this highly regarded school are:

“Placing Callers on Hold.”

“Treating Every Visitor as a Salesman.”

“Shredding Documents in a Hurry.”

“Putting Off the IRS Man.”

“The Check is in the Mail.”

And, from the medical curriculum, “Over-Scheduling of Patients.”


We were visiting a friend who just happens to be a receptionist and I was telling her my experiences with those in her profession when her doorbell rang.


 “May I help you?” she asked as she opened the door.


 “Is Timmy home,” this 12-year-old boy wanted to know. 


“What are you selling?” our friend asked. “Just leave your card with us and we’ll get back with you.”


“I’m not selling anything,” he answered. “I’m Bobby, Timmy’s friend. Can he come out and play?” 


“Do you have an appointment?” she asked. 


“No,” he answered, “I just thought…” 


“Just a minute,” she said, “I’ll see if he’s in.” 


Timmy, as it turned out, was in a meeting. Who would have guessed?