Cow-Irker Commentary On Lunch Food

by admin on March 11, 2013

I need help with dealing with some unsolicited comments that have gotten out of hand in the office kitchen so hopefully the EHell readers have some neat solutions for me to try.

Our office kitchen is quite small and often a couple of people will be hanging around making meals at the same time. Generally conversation is limited to ‘that looks nice’ or ‘that smells good’ for the sake of politeness but lately this one man, who I do not work directly with or even know the name of, will come in and start commenting on other people’s food.

It started off general but now he has started to editorialize a bit, saying things like, “Why do you always have to be so healthy?”, or,  “Is that all you are going to eat?” Recently he told me that my egg salad sandwich, veggie sticks and mixed salad didn’t have enough protein in it and I shouldn’t be eating a plate full of carbs.

As someone who enjoys healthy food and is very conscious of what I eat I find his unsolicited comments annoying, invasive and rude but I can tell he’s just trying to make conversation. I feel compelled to be polite and end up trying justify all my meals to him to make him go away. Is there any way I can avoid having to verbally deconstruct my meal when I’m just trying to prepare it? 0224-13

This falls into the category of “letting it slide off my back like water off a duck”.   My ego and self perception is not intrinsically tied to what I eat and therefore negative comments about my food have no impact whatsoever on my state of mind or comfort level.   I would ignore his comments totally since they have no bearing on whether I would eat my lunch or not.  Engaging him in any way would have the effect of encouraging further comments but no response, how defensive you feel, will have send the message that you are not interested in discussing the contents of your meal with him.   Unless he is utterly obtuse, he should eventually get the message since it is pretty hard to have a one way conversation.

{ 68 comments… read them below or add one }

Bint March 11, 2013 at 4:12 am

Rather than ignoring someone who is speaking to you, I would simply say, “Could you please stop commenting on my food all the time? I don’t like it.” and then leave the kitchen. It’s much faster and probably far less hassle than not replying so he starts asking why you’re not talking to him.

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AnaLuisa March 11, 2013 at 4:35 am

I think you definitely do not need to justify your nutritive choices.

Consider that you have made them for your own reasons which are valid for you and that’s all what it takes. I’d try to say something around “I love to eat like that”, without any justifications, let alone apologies. It’s none of his business, whatsoever.

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Rebecca March 11, 2013 at 4:46 am

Blank stare followed by a little beandip, perhaps? Unless you are really interested in the subject (and it does sound as though you just want to eat your lunch in peace), don’t engage any commentary about carbs, protein, what’s healthy, what’s not, the best way to lose weight, what to eat before exercise to maximize your energy, etc etc. Everybody seems to have a different opinion on the subject, based on good information or junk science, and no matter what you eat, there will always be someone out there who thinks it’s unhealthy and is dying to “teach” you the “right” way to eat. Don’t engage.

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Marozia March 11, 2013 at 4:54 am

While I usually agree with Admin’s comments, I feel that it’s no use being silent on this matter as ignoring this ‘foodie’ has not worked.
Just say to him, when he comment on yours/anyone else’s lunch “Well, aren’t you glad that it’s not yours, and you don’t have to eat it”.
Sometimes you’ve got to hit these people where it hurts.
I used this comment on a ‘foodie’ who commented on my lunch and it was never mentioned again, especially after I mentioned to the others in the lunchroom about how ‘unbelievably vulgar some people can be’.

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admin March 11, 2013 at 6:29 am

No, neither you nor the OP has any idea if ignoring the foodie would not work since it has not been tried yet. Reread the OP’s post. OP feels compelled to respond to foodie to defend food choices and *that* has not worked.

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Nicola March 11, 2013 at 5:20 am

I do think it’s somewhat rude when people make inappropriate comments about my food, but I find it’s much easier to just smile and politely say ‘well it’s a good job I’m eating it and not you then, isn’t it?’ and walk away. No need to be rude back, but also no need to explain your dietary choices to anyone else either.

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Roslyn March 11, 2013 at 6:38 am

Personally, I would do as Bint suggested and flat out say stop it, without beating about the bush. Or I would say simply, “I don’t have the need to comment about your food, please stop commenting about mine. I am a grown up and it’s my choice”

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Green123 March 11, 2013 at 6:41 am

*blank stare*
“Hey, did you see film/TV show/sports game last night? It was so great/terrible/etc.”

If that bean dipping fails, go for Bint’s approach.

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Crinklestein March 11, 2013 at 6:42 am

Gee, why is my food so interesting to you? *looks at the offender like he’s really odd*

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Pen^3 March 11, 2013 at 6:59 am

I agree with admin that ignoring him completely might be the ticket. No facial expressions or any response (visible) at all will shut most people down soon enough. Failing that, a stock response like “so kind of you to take an interest” might do, but I really think the key here is to ignore the comments. It sounds like he’s looking for a rise, and once he learns he won’t get one, he should back off.

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Lo March 11, 2013 at 7:04 am

I’ve been here.

At my office there are always people commenting on food choices– sometimes negatively. Though I must admit when I’m in a mood I get absolutely livid when people crowd around me because i’ve brought something interesting and ask lots of questions about what I’m eating. Even if they’re genuinely curious and trying to be polite. I’m always having to calm myself down remember that they’re not trying to be rude. But I’m a loner and I want to eat alone and in peace and without a lot of questions about it.

The ones I consider truly rude and when people will make fun of the fact that I can go for long stretches of eating the same thing every day or when sometimes people poke fun at me for bringing easy stuff that required no cooking because I don’t cook much. (The office enviorment is a different culture than the one I was born into, as a woman who is married but doesn’t bring home cooked leftovers I stand out as strange. I’m used to that by now and have adjusted to it.)

This guy sounds like he’s taking it to a whole other level.

I agree that it may be time to ignore him or keep your replies curt. Though I would actually be tempted to engage him about the health issue if you try to eat healthy. Sometimes when I get comments on foods I bring that are pro-keto / LCHF I try to educate people about my diet choices in return. You don’t have to explain yourself but I like talking about what I think is healthy and why I’m eating it. Low-carb is an exotic thing at the place I work and sometimes people are curious to try it for themselves.

Honestly the fact that he’s one minute asking things like “Why do you always have to be so healthy?” and the next minute “he told me that my egg salad sandwich, veggie sticks and mixed salad didn’t have enough protein in it and I shouldn’t be eating a plate full of carbs.” sounds like he has no idea what even *he* considers to be healthy and is still working it out. You could answer both with a simple, “I eat what I like.” Which should end the discussion and won’t open up a debate on what is healthy.

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Abby March 11, 2013 at 7:06 am

I absolutely hate getting comments on what I am eating. I don’t care whether it’s criticism or not, I just don’t like it. I don’t know though that I’d advocate some of the suggestions on here. Saying something like, well lucky you don’t have to eat it, just sounds snotty to me. Telling him you don’t like him commenting on your food and asking him to stop is more direct and will probably get him to back off, but that also sounds overly confrontational to me. I mean, you do have to work with this guy right?

If it were me, I’d probably say something like, well I enjoy it, and go back to my book or conversation. If he continued to hassle me despite my non verbal signals that I did not wish to continue discussing my food choices with him, *then* I might say something a little more direct. But I have found ignoring comments like this tends to be effective without alienating someone you do have to work with.

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Cerys March 11, 2013 at 7:22 am

Since this man seems to find meals being ‘always so healthy’ and too ‘full of carbs’ both comment-worthy, it strikes me that he’s just trying to make conversation and using the food as a point of focus. If you don’t mind the general idea of talking with him, maybe a swift bean-dip and change of subject would work.

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Shoegal March 11, 2013 at 7:34 am

I can’t imagine ignoring someone who is speaking to me. No – I’m simply would not be capable remaing silent – it just seems so rude but I wouldn’t engage in any talk of the food – and would change the subject quickly – something about the weather perhaps.

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WildIrishRose March 11, 2013 at 8:23 am

I have trouble ignoring people who are speaking to me as well, Shoegal. But I also have trouble coming up with retorts to rude comments. This guy isn’t clueless, he’s rude, and I don’t get the impression that he’s trying to make conversation, either. I wouldn’t get defensive about it, but I’d definitely let him know his comments aren’t welcome. Sorry, Admin, but there’s only so much I can take!

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Susan March 11, 2013 at 8:51 am

I really, REALLY hate when people comment on my food! I don’t even like it when they say it looks good. The only thing I want to hear if someone sees me eating at my desk is, “Oh, I see you’re eating lunch, I’ll come back later.” :) If someone was constantly critiquing my choices, it’s possible I’d get a life sentence in ehell jail!

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Mae March 11, 2013 at 8:54 am

Count me in as one who does not care for other’s unsolicited comments on my food choices. I would be direct and tell him that I appreciate his concern for my health, but I will not discuss or defend my food choices, period. Then if he persists, try ignoring him. Anything beyond that would be harassment and an issue for HR.

I work in an office and most of the staff are nice and friendly but we have a couple who feel the need to comment on what others are eating. The most annoying is the woman who will pick up your food box and start reading the nutrition info (calories, vitamins, etc.) out loud, then comment on it. I tried ignoring her and then finally just told her that I didn’t appreciate her rude and intrusive behavior and comments on what I was eating and I would appreicate it if she would not do it anymore. I got the hurt look and I’m just trying to be friendly. I responsed that I would be glad to talk to her about any subject, but my food choices were off-limits. She pretty much ignores me now. :)

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Goldie March 11, 2013 at 8:57 am

This sounds like a perfect opportunity for “so kind of you to take an interest”.

As an immigrant, AND someone who loves produce and tries to eat healthy, I’ve received a lot of comments on my food from coworkers over the years. “Thank you”, followed by a death glare, appears to do the trick.

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Sharon March 11, 2013 at 9:12 am

In addition to being rude, the guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The eggs in egg salad are full of protein.

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Cat March 11, 2013 at 9:42 am

Several thoughts: 1) Bean dip-give an off-the-cuff comment that has nothing to do with what he just said. “Is that all you are going to eat?” Answer, “Which of the cardinals do you think would make the best pope?” 2) My high school friend’s way of dealing with these people, say, “I beg your pardon?!” as if you cannot believe what he just said. Give an incredulous look to whatever he responds. “How very odd that you think that.” 3) The unanswerable reply, “My Mother/Guru/Significant Other packs my lunch. She’s very strict about what I eat. Would you like her number and so you can complain to her?”

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psyche March 11, 2013 at 9:44 am

I know how you feel, OP. In middle school we’d sit with our classmates of whatever class we had before lunch and one of my classmates not only commented on what I ate but also how I ate it.

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Laura March 11, 2013 at 9:58 am

Well, here’s a topic that is near and dear to me! A little over 6 years ago, I adopted a way of eating that is very different than anyone else I know or work with (think no sugar, no flour, etc.). It took some getting used to, but is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Note I said “myself,” as I don’t try to preach it to anyone else. It works for me, and I follow it religiously, every day. Needless to say, I frequently get comments like, “oh come on, you can have one cookie, can’t you?” Or my personal favorite, “How do you stand eating cardboard all the time?” which is funny since they will say this as I am heating up a piece of leftover steak with veggies or something…not food that looks abnormal. So, I will often say something like, “to each his own,” or “it works for me!” with a big, non-defensive smile on my face. And leave it at that…no further commentary required. Only if someone seems genuinely interested in how I eat will I take the time to give them a brief explanation. I get that people are just trying to make conversation, but you’re right OP, it gets old quick. These two responses or similar ones usually do the trick! Good luck!

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Joanna March 11, 2013 at 9:59 am

I used to have someone like that at a previous job, but it was more delicate because it was my boss, not just a random co-worker. I’d be sitting at my desk having a mid-morning cup of tea, and she’d walk by, commenting on whether or not I put sugar into it, how much, etc. Personally I feel that it’s not a boss’ business about ANYTHING I do, save things actually job-related. However, in that case, you know how it goes. Typically I had to give a pained smile and not comment. Luckily I’m long gone from there.

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AMC March 11, 2013 at 10:07 am

Yeah, arguing with him won’t work because it will only encourage him to keep going. Simply saying “Good to know” and heading back to your desk or otherwise beandip him will probably be more effective.

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BeachMum March 11, 2013 at 10:23 am

I find “Oh, really” to be a great conversation ender. There’s not much he can say to that response and it ends the conversation. (Personally, I use it with my MIL when she says negative things about my child rearing, clothing and other choices. She doesn’t know how to react and then I change the subject.)

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Victoria March 11, 2013 at 10:28 am

Arch one eyebrow. “How kind of you to take an interest. Have you tried the bean dip?”

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Ergala March 11, 2013 at 10:32 am

You’re both adults and we are hopefully taught at an early age when to tell someone to stop doing something to us we don’t like. I like Bint’s approach, it’s up front, leaves no room for interpretation and he saying ‘But she’s ignooooooring me!”. A very simple “This is my meal, I don’t like your comments about it. Please stop discussing my meal choices” and walk away. If he tries to spin it as you wronged him he will have a very hard time. My husband when we got married would say stuff like “eeeew! That smells like a fart!” when I’d be peeling eggs for egg salad. I finally got fed up and told him to cut it out and that I found his comments rude. He forgot that I used to be a chef and making rude comments to me about my cooking is a very very big no no.

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Wendy B. March 11, 2013 at 10:43 am

How about, “It’s my lunch and I rather like it.” and then bean dip.

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Ankh March 11, 2013 at 10:45 am

How is it not incredibly rude to completely ignore someone talking to you?

That doesn’t seem like good advice to me. He won’t know what he’s doing wrong if people just start ignoring him, and while it’s not anyone’s job to teach him, it’s cruel to treat someone that way.

I don’t see what’s wrong with Bint’s approach. Social situations would be a lot simpler and a lot less unpleasant if people just said what they meant. Say “Please stop talking about my food”, and if he does the problem is solved, maybe he learns a little lesson, and maybe you get some decent conversation. If he doesn’t, then you can resort to ignoring him.

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Elizabeth March 11, 2013 at 10:59 am

Ignoring a co-worker that is speaking to you isn’t an option (a stranger, yes, but a co-worker, no). But this doesn’t mean you have to answer his question, defend your choices, or in anyway respondent to his comment. Rather, completely change the subject (Did you see that great play in the ballgame last night? Amazing!!) and leave the kitchen immediately. He’ll likely start to catch on.

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Ashley March 11, 2013 at 11:10 am

I work alone so I don’t have to deal with coworkers comments, but occasionally a customer comes in while I’m enjoying my yogurt, and I get the occasional “Is that all your eating for lunch?” I put it off to the side and immediately start doing what I need to to help the customer, flat out ignoring any food related comments. Works like a charm, even if they catch me in the middle of my meal again, they don’t say anything.

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Miss Merlot March 11, 2013 at 11:10 am

@ Susan – yes I agree! My pet hate is when I am clearly eating at my desk (my job is hectic – I very rarely get the chance at a full lunch break), and someone won’t give me two minutes to just get some lunch down. I always have soup, so by the time they have finished yacking it is usually cold :(

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Shalamar March 11, 2013 at 11:21 am

I used to work with someone who’d comment on the quantity of my lunch. “Are you really going to eat all that?” “I was planning on it, yes.” “You’re not going to eat dinner, though, right?” “(???) Of course I’m going to eat dinner. Why wouldn’t I?” “You’re kidding! If I ate all that, there’s no way I could eat dinner, too!”

For the record, I wasn’t stuffing myself with a Henry the Eighth-size banquet – it was a medium-size container of leftovers. This girl was extremely thin and severely limited what she ate, though (I suspect an eating disorder of some kind, but that’s just my opinion), so it probably looked huge to her.

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Lynda March 11, 2013 at 11:25 am

Why don’t you just avoid the kitchen area altogether? If you are indeed packing healthy sandwiches/veggie sticks/salads, as these meals don’t really require any “prep” can’t you just take your lunch out of the fridge and open it up wherever you will be eating it?

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Calli Arcale March 11, 2013 at 11:30 am

I would have a hard time ignoring him — especially since he’s not only rude, he’s also wrong. (I need a t-shirt of this cartoon: http://xkcd.com/386/ ) That doesn’t sound like a plateful of carbs with no protein. Maybe point out that eggs are an excellent source of protein, if you feel you must defend your dietary choices. But I agree with the others that bean-dipping or flat-out ignoring is probably going to be more effective; you don’t want to invite him into a debate over the healthiest food choices, especially if this is *always* his conversational lead-in.

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NostalgicGal March 11, 2013 at 11:31 am

“Well, it’s what I felt like eating when I packed my lunch.” And a level gaze with that ‘butter won’t melt in my mouth’ look. If that doesn’t work, beandip.

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Honey12 March 11, 2013 at 11:32 am

I think a “that smells nice,” or “what are you having today?” are both fine.

“Is that all you’re eating?” or other negative comments cross the line into annoying. Nothing horrific, but painfully annoying, for sure. My employer has a cafeteria, so my co-workers and I are always asking what they got that day, or what looked good in the cafe. I see nothing wrong with that at all.

Another annoying one is when someone is insisting to know every single detail of your food. I was running late one day and I’d grabbed a handful of pretzels to eat at work. “Oh, what is that? Did you make them? Did you bring some homemade ones to work? Are they good? I like the unsalted ones. Do you put extra salt on yours? Have you ever had the ones they make at the mall?” Lady, I don’t know, they’re grocery store bagged pretzels. LOL.

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Lori March 11, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Well, if he’s commenting on nutrition but says that egg salad doesn’t have any protein in it, he doesn’t know what the heck he’s talking about.

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Lesli March 11, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I’d go with (and have gone with) Nicola’s suggestion, ‘just smile and politely say “well it’s a good job I’m eating it and not you then, isn’t it?”‘ But instead of a walk-away I’d then bean dip. Seemed to work every time.

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MaRiley March 11, 2013 at 12:19 pm

I’m inclined to echo Admin’s thoughts on this. I understand how annoying it feels to have one’s food commented on, positively or negatively. But, this man may be employing annoying smalltalk mostly as a gesture of commonality in the workplace.

Or, if he’s going at you and your food choices in a mean and unrelenting tone, he may be one of those people that don’t read social cues well, but is harmless. I think the interwebs have gone a long way to confuse in-person social cues. In either case, I’d not show annoyance or anger. I’d offer him a bite of my lunch.

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Din March 11, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I would mostly agree with Admin – if you try to engage him, argue with him, have a witty retort, or question him in any way, you’ll just prolong the conversation.

If he comes up to you, simply continue preparing your food. Any interaction with him should be kept to, “Oh, hello [co-worker]” *continue preparation* or “Excuse me, [co-worker], I need to get to the salt/pepper/kitchen sink/whatever” or ” *smile* “Excuse me, [co-worker]. ” *goes to eat lunch*

Don’t antagonize him. Don’t justify yourself to him.

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Lychii March 11, 2013 at 12:31 pm

I’m surprised that people are so sensitive about food, I mean, why care about what someone said about your lunch?

Now, if someone is explicitly saying rude things like “Wow, that’s disgusting!” or “That’s all? You must be anoretic”, call them out on their rudeness! But in OP’s case, the guy is just trying to make conversation, a fact she recognizes. She shouldn’t defend her food choices, just shrug it off with something noncommittal such as “yeah, ok” or “hmmm” and switch the topic.

I really can’t believe how confrontational some of the readers here get about their food. The suggestions of Bint and Marozia are especially offensive in a working environment.

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June First March 11, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Also a great opportunity to have your mouth full. You could smile, shrug and point to your mouth.

I’d be tempted to say, “Roger, if you want to take me out to lunch, just ask!” or something flippant like that.
Since you say you KNOW he’s just trying to make conversation, then you can just bean-dip and say something like, “I’ve been meaning to ask you, how was that movie you were going to see this past weekend?”

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Dawn March 11, 2013 at 12:44 pm

I’ve dealt with this before. Just say, “hmmm, is that so?” look him straight in the eye and take a bite. Works every time.

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WildIrishRose March 11, 2013 at 1:26 pm

The problem I’ve been running into lately is people telling me what I should eat now that I’ve had cancer and beaten it. Seriously, there are only so many articles I’m willing to read about how great kale is for you. And a lot of the people giving me this unsolicited advice are basically near-strangers or mere acquaintances (for instance, people with whom I ride the bus to work). I have one friend who has made it abundantly clear that my choice to do chemotherapy treatments was WRONG–I should have “cured” myself with FOOD and VITAMINS and SUPPLEMENTS. (Guess what she does for a living?) Of course, I thank people for their articles and suggestions, and then I just do whatever the hell I want to do, but is it really necessary for people to question the choices I made and continue to make in this situation? My own doctors aren’t this solicitous!

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Bint March 11, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Lychii, in what possible way is it offensive to ask a colleague to stop commenting on your food when it makes you uncomfortable? Why do you assume this is ‘confrontational’ rather than a polite request, despite it starting with ‘Please’? The point is that this man is making the OP uncomfortable. She needs to address that, and politely handling colleagues who make you uncomfortable is a very useful skill to develop. If I’d told her to turn around and scream, “Pack it in!!!” in his face, I might see your point but otherwise this just baffles me.

I’m also surprised at the amount of people who give a stuff what anyone thinks of their lunch, because I couldn’t care less and laugh when my grumpy colleague tells me my lunch smells like catfood. But if someone makes someone else uncomfortable about this or anything else, that person has a right to request they stop. Accusing that person of being offensive when they make the request is precisely why so much bullying and harassment goes on in the workplace.

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Mrs. Lovett March 11, 2013 at 1:49 pm

@Lychii, being asked about one’s food may not bother you, and it may not bother a lot of people, but clearly it bothers some. I, for instance, would not like to be asked about my food on a regular basis. For many people, the food they bring to the office may be a casual decision, while others may select foods for special dietary purposes, such as dealing with a health issue or for religious reasons. In the latter cases, food selection can be very personal. I have a history of struggling with an eating disorder, so I don’t always have a healthy relationship with the food I eat. I’m much better than I used to be, but if someone comments on something I’m eating in such a way that I feel self-conscious or embarrassed (such as a cashier in check-out commenting on how much I must love chocolate), it can trigger a shame reaction, which tends to exacerbate my food issues and negatively impact my dietary decisions. This is entirely my own issue and in no way the fault of the commenter, but I hope you can understand why I’d prefer not to have someone comment on my food.

The other issue here is that it is pretty much always obnoxious when someone feels the need to comment on a choice you’ve made every day, especially if it’s critical or analytical. Maybe you wouldn’t be bothered by comments on your food, but what if someone commented on your clothes everyday and told you that your outfit doesn’t contain enough red? Again, that might not bother you, but it might bother some people.

OP: I recommend bean dipping. He might just be interested in chatting and the only topic he can think of is food because that’s what he’s surrounded by. Good luck!

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MichelleP March 11, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Been there, done that. As someone who has always struggled with their weight, I am funny about eating in public and do not like remarks that are negative about what I’m eating. There’s nothing wrong with an innocent remark, like “That sure smells good!” But criticism from anyone about what your eating is rude.

I agree with the suggestion, “if you want to take me to lunch just say so!” If that doesn’t work, do the ignoring/beandip. I worked at a bank once that had two tellers who had to comment on everything everyone did. I was eating in the break room once, minding my own business, and one teller came back and said, “you want some burgers with your mayonnaise??” I just ignored her. Never happened again.

@Lynda, why should she stop eating in the kitchen? I’ve never had a job where I could eat at my desk. Usually a kitchen/break room is the only appropriate place to eat at a business. I know I’ve never been allowed to eat on the front line as a bank teller. More to the point, she shouldn’t have to rearrange her life to accomodate someone’s rudeness.

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Spuck March 11, 2013 at 2:23 pm

I can really only accept the ignore him until he goes away option if the ignore him until he goes away option actually works. Arguing with this office bully about your food options won’t work. Saying that you won’t argue, as long as your confident with firm body language and a steely gaze, most likely will. If the ignoring doesn’t work, the direct request doesn’t work, the OP’s next best option is to write the events down and take them to human resources.

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waitress wonderwoman March 11, 2013 at 2:25 pm

@WildIrishRose, good for you!! And congratulations for beating cancer. You sound like a very strong admirable person.
OP, it could be worse, at least you don’t have to worry about him STEALING your food, since he seems to be outraged by it ;-)
I, too, would have a hard time completely ignoring someone trying to make conversation with me, but in this case a simple,”Hmmm.” followed by a bean-dipping should get your point across unless, of course, he refuses to let it go. Then, it would be perhaps time to let him know that you enjoy your lunch just the way you packed it thankyouverymuch!

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WildIrishRose March 11, 2013 at 3:10 pm

@waitress wonderwoman: Thanks! It’s been a long, hard road, but I’m doing much better!

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