Place to blow off some steam?

中国日报网 2016-04-05 15:36



Place to blow off some steam?

Reader question:

When people say a certain “little town is the best place to blow off some steam,” what does it mean exactly?

My comments:

If this “little town” is in the suburbs near a big city, then it probably means this is a place city folks congregate during weekends, i.e. during the off days.

Here, they can, say, walk around, have coffee or beer – lots of beer – or go to the cinema or, if the big city were Beijing or Shanghai, a karaoke bar.

And things like that. City folks do things like that to decompress, as they say.

City folks like to do things like that, moving into remote corners of the city to get away from it all.

By “it all”, I mean, work. Generally speaking, there’s too much work for the city fellow. He or she seems to be always hard at work, 9-5, five days a week – not counting the occasional extra hours’ of work thrown in when there is a deadline to meet. For some, there seems to be a deadline to meet every day, so there.

So, therefore, for these people, an escape to the suburbs is a good way to escape, to relax, to detox and to recharge the batteries, so to speak.

Oh, and to blow off some steam, to be sure.

That means to get rid off some of the pent-up pressure (from fatigue, anger and resentment, etc) one has accumulated at the work place. To blow off steam means to release and let go.

Originally, this expression was borrowed from watching the old steam train arrive in the station, billowing huge balls of white steam as it rolls in. The old trains were powered by steam engines, by boiling water into high-pressured steam. Soon, the pressure in the engines is so high that it’s enough to move the train forward. If the pressure is too high, however, then it has to be released lest the tank explode.

Hence, the steams all over the platform.

It is, then a clever way to talk about people having to let go of mental pressure by utilizing the steam engine. Someone for instance gets into a shouting match with a colleague. We can imagine them explaining their behavior saying: “I had to raise my voice and shout at him, otherwise my lungs might explode.”

Yes, you see, he’s that angry.

To sum up, to blow off steam is to release and let go, let anger or any other strong, negative emotion or feeling go.

In other words, let it out and get it out of the system.

Now, media examples:

1. Two German entrepreneurs have devised a way for passive-aggressive citizens to blow off some steam - dial a telephone number and give the person on the other end a verbal lashing.

The swearing hotline, know as “Schimpf-los” (“swear away”) in German, has operators standing by seven days a week for frustrated individuals to jeer at and taunt using the most unsavoury language they can muster.

“We don’t judge people who are angry,” said Ralf Schulte, who set up the hotline with his fellow media services provider Alexander Brandenburger.

“It happens. It’s natural. With us you can blow off steam no strings attached,” 41-year-old Schulte told Reuters.

The creators of the service found inspiration in their own stressful daily routines. The way Schulte sees it, he is doing people a favour by providing a release for pent-up aggravation and helping to avoid altercations in the workplace or at home.

“If you’re stressed out at work, you go home and your partner gets an earful,” he said. “Even though it’s not her fault.”

When callers are not creative in their cursing, or find themselves tongue-tied, operators on the hotline prod them with cheeky provocations like: “That’s the third time I’ve heard that today - is that all you’ve got?”

The service costs 1.49 euros per minute - a figure Schulte feels is completely justified. “For getting everything off your chest, it’s a bargain.”

- Germans blow off steam with swearing hotline, Reuters, July 25, 2012.

2. Lynne Olson knows that if she’s terribly busy in her new job at Ohio State, lending an ear could take on a whole new meaning.

The newly retired emeritus professor from the Department of Veterinary Biosciences has been named Ohio State’s second faculty ombudsman, replacing Jack Rall.

“I think Jack Rall has gotten the office off on a very good foot, and my particular goal would be to keep moving on the trajectory he set up,” Olson said. “It’s hard to say you’re looking forward to it because if you have work in this position, then that means there are problems.

“But I applied for the job because I thought it was something I could contribute to and have it be of interest to me,” she said. “I’m delighted to be selected.”

Essentially, the ombudsman serves as an advisor and mediator for faculty problems — he or she does not deal with student complaints — and operates with a few main responsibilities: advise faculty to help determine the viability of their complaints and issues; direct faculty to appropriate offices, committees and university rules and policies; mediate “early-stage complaints” as an unbiased party; and annually report the office’s activities to the Faculty Council in early autumn.

“I am really happy to learn that the president has appointed Lynne Olson as the next faculty ombudsman,” said Tim Gerber, secretary of University Senate. “She brings an extensive track record of supporting faculty and promoting the principles of academic freedom and responsibility that we all embrace. I think the faculty will see her appointment as very good news.”

Rall was the first and only Faculty Ombudsman at OSU, as the position was established at Ohio State in 2010 in order to have someone to deal with faculty concerns. He worked with 130 faculty members on various issues during his three years.

Ohio State’s Faculty Ombudsman is a member of the International Ombudsman Association, which means that when dealing with those problems, Olson must work with a few main principles in mind.

Those include confidentiality — conversations with the ombudsman are kept quiet to the extent of the law; informality — such conversations simply involve giving suggestions or advice; independence — although the ombudsman reports directly to the Faculty Council, he/she does not represent any university office or individual; and impartiality — when mediating or advising, that person must remain entirely unbiased, not choosing any side of an argument.

“I think the faculty need to think of the ombudsman as a resource, to be a place where hopefully they would feel comfortable talking about issues,” Olson said. “Whether it’s just to blow off steam or because whether they want an opinion on whether their perception is correct and needs to be looked at by some other body… and understand very clearly that the position is not one of advocacy for either the individual faculty member or the administration, that it’s a confidential, impartial, informal way to just get some input.”

- Long-time professor steps in as new faculty ombudsman,, September 18, 2013.

3. We live in an era of Big Data. You can track and measure just about anything about your employees.

A recent Wall Street Journal article reported how Bank of America had 90 call center workers wear badges that tracked movement and tone of voice. Finding that those who interacted frequently with colleagues were more productive, the organization started scheduling group breaks, rather than solo ones, and productivity rose 10 percent.

In a competitive world, leaders want to do anything they can to boost profit. But before you start tracking Internet usage, time on any given program, movement around the office, email stats or anything else, here are a few things to keep in mind:

What matters is getting the work done.

The best thing to measure is whether your employees are meeting and exceeding the goals that you and their managers have set for them. If they are, then the how doesn’t really matter. Sometimes people need to blow off steam by surfing the web. Discovering on-the-clock visits to Facebook might reveal less than you think.

- Employee Productivity: What Should Leaders Track?, March 13, 2013.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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