A cow in Willesden

Public psychotherapy for a veteran auditor

Obtuse angles

I worked for a few months in Egypt. It was a scary and depressing time in my life, and at the airport as I began to assimilate back into the real world, I promised myself never to forget the hardship and horrors. But I did collect some stories which give me a chuckle from time to time, so I have to concede that it wasn’t all bad.

One minor annoyance travelling there was the novelty factor of a foreigner travelling on public transport. Local strangers were constantly trying to strike up conversations, which I realise now is a symptom of a friendly culture, but at the time, in my dysentery-induced delirium, I often mistook it for an attempt to lure me into yet another tourist trap or to otherwise exploit me.

Nearing the end of the trip, I was on a bus ride for about an hour, and lucky enough to get a seat. The guy next to me wanted to engage in small talk. I was not so keen (in fact I pretty much never am, but this was an extreme case). The conversation went like this :

Egyptian dude: Hello

Me : *stare out the opposite window

ED : *taps me on the knee in an overly-familiar fashion* Hello. You are English?

Me : No no, German. I’m German

Short pause

ED : Speak English?

Me : No, I’m afraid not

ED : You speak English?

Me : *shrugs* Nope, not a word, I’m afraid. Just German

ED : *laughs* You are speak English. How are you, I am fine

Me : Huh – I wish! Our school didn’t offer English even as an elective subject, so I never had a chance to learn

ED : You are speak English now. How long you in Egypt?

Me : Believe it or not, a pure fluke. I don’t understand your questions at all, and by strange coincidence, my statements through the medium of German seem to correspond to some English words which are appropriate responses to your questions, but its just that they sound the same. In German, I assure you, my response is making no sense whatsoever in response to your questions

ED : I understand you. Is English, no?

Me : I’m sorry champ, I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about. I haven’t understood a single word you’ve said

Me : *makes mental note to learn some phrases in German for next time this happens. Would probably be more convincing if I had thought of that before

A colleague of mine recently told me about a client he once encountered who took a similar approach to audit interviews, which reminded me of that egypt story (which is all 100% true by the way). Even though he worked (probably still does) in a key risk role, administering user access on critical systems, he pretty well answered every question in the same way.

Just hearsay, but the conversation seemed to have gone :

Auditor : can you tell me how you ensure all changes to access are properly authorised?

Systems Dude : I don’t really know

Auditor : Can you tell me who does know?

SD : not really, I don’t know.

Auditor : So how do you get comfort that the requests you are actioning are correct?

SD : I don’t know, you’d need to ask someone else

Auditor : Who would that be?

SD : I don’t know

I wish there was a happy ending to that, but apparently there isn’t much you can do when someone just blankly refuses to engage in a meaningful way, but stops short of refusing to answer.

Again just hearsay, but I understand that it’s a bullet-proof defence, and burns so much audit time that eventually they just give up and move on, possibly raising a toothless issue around ‘clarify and document responsibility for …’

Or maybe I’m being too cynical, and the dude was just an idiot.

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4 responses to “Obtuse angles

  1. p July 16, 2011 at 6:05 am

    you smell before?

    • A Cow in Willesden July 16, 2011 at 1:46 pm

      Thanks for the question, P
      I did smell before, many times.
      That was one of the tourist traps, a helpful stranger would invite you to his uncles shop, ust around the corner, for a cup of tea or a cold drink. Then you had to sit through a sales spiel about perfume or paper or whatever other tat was being peddled. Commission goes to the person who brought the buyer.
      We often let ourselves get taken in though, because getting oily perfume rubbed into your arm is actually not a high price to pay if you really want a cold drink in an air-conditioned shop. Sometimes.

  2. otisfett July 18, 2011 at 10:26 am

    You smell before?

    • A Cow in Willesden July 18, 2011 at 1:07 pm

      Thanks for the comment – and nice nickname.
      I smelled before, many times. Too many to recount. I smelled and I smelled, I was nearly shot, nearly pushed off a moving train, nearly arrested, I fell through floorboards and held on by my fingertips to avoid a 6-storey drop to the ground, and I was poisoned a hundred times over. I was burned and choked and robbed. I was cheated and exploited and bullied. I was scared and scarred and I gave up my will to live.
      And then it rained and I went home.
      I will never smell again, for any reason. That much is not in the nature of our relationship.

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