Ask Amy

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 1:03am
Amy Dickenson

DEAR AMY: At the risk of sounding like an irritable old crank (which I probably am), I would like to ask your opinion on office etiquette.

In my office, there is a clique of health- and diet-conscious folks who seem to have taken their "lifestyle choice" to something of an extreme.

Not only do they talk of nothing but their last physical exam, the supplements they take and the new low-fat cookbook they bought, but also they "eat healthy." All the time. At their desks.

It's like working with a bunch of farm animals. The constant crunching and chewing are impossible to ignore, and it continues from the time they sit down in the morning until they leave for the day.

I can't leave the office, and it's not practical for me to even change seats.

I'd like to know when people stopped realizing that not everyone is interested in their inner workings, and no one enjoys listening to them work their way through a bushel of granola, a half-dozen apples and an entire bag of carrot sticks.

I understand that one "big meal" might not be as healthy as several smaller ones, and folks do occasionally have to eat at their desks, but what are the guidelines and how long is a person supposed to grit their teeth before they start spraying epithets into the next cubicle?

Subtle doesn't work, and I hate to get HR involved.

— Ready to Snap in Chicago

DEAR READY: Back in the Jurassic age, when I first started working in office environments, it was considered acceptable for co-workers to blow cigarette smoke into one another's faces — and while I don't miss those days, I don't recall quite as many food-borne office annoyances. (Perhaps our senses were so dulled by secondhand smoke.)

While you can't control other people's topics of conversation, however self-centered and boring they may be, you might be able to influence your colleagues by using your status as office crank to your benefit.

Simply say, "Your crunching on carrots, celery and granola is very loud and irritating. Could you snack in the break room instead of at your desk?"

Accompany your request with a container of yogurt and a spoon.

DEAR AMY: You've had letters from people who've said they had relatives who refused to attend family functions, and you've said that those people were controlling. I have the same situation.

About 15 years ago, my brother's son (who was about 35 at the time and I was 54) crudely insulted me in front of the family.

I am politically liberal, and he is a "good old boy." At every family function, he said insulting and hurtful things to me, but this time he crossed the line.

I asked my brother to tell his son I wanted an apology for being continuously degraded and insulted. I said I wouldn't attend another family function until I got an apology.

That was 15 years ago. I never received an apology, nor have I attended another family event.

Apparently, my family doesn't care; and now, neither do I. My feelings toward my brother, his wife and their children have changed completely. I no longer care about them. I literally stopped loving them.

I've made a substitute family with friends who are supportive and loving. I feel much happier on holidays than I ever did with my "real" family.

— Barbara in Tulsa

DEAR BARBARA: I wonder why you didn't attempt to clear this up with your nephew, who, after all, was an adult at the time. At least you would have had the satisfaction of having a direct conversation with the person you say degraded and insulted you.

You sound happy with your choice, and that's important, but it seems a shame that this episode led to a total estrangement from your entire family.

I am responding to the letter from "Need a Restart," who was lonely and depressed.

There is no need to spend all day alone. Considering that this person hates his or her night-shift job, "Restart" should go back to school. There are so many day classes available and wonderful people to meet.

— Bob

DEAR BOB: Many people have responded with ideas and support for "Restart." You've offered excellent advice. Thank you.

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Filed under: Lifestyles