Etiquette Hell = Where the ill-mannered deserve to go


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Co-Workers or Cow-Orkers or Co-Irkers?

Jan-Jun 2003 Archive

This is probably a small thing, but it definitely irritates me and there are probably people out there who have had similar experiences and feelings. I work in an office setting with a 'team' of about five people; we all sit near each other and are under the same supervisor. Everyone else on the team is quite a bit older than I am, and most of us are female. There is one woman on the team, "Mary," who is one of those well-meaning souls that drive you crazy. She is constantly pushing to make herself liked; and while you know her intentions are in the right place, you still can't help but be annoyed and sometimes offended by her gestures.

My particular problem comes almost every day around lunchtime. I am a twenty-something girl, and I am a vegan (no meat or dairy); I also have a pretty severe eating disorder. This is something that I am dealing with in my own way, and certainly not something that I want to deal with in the office setting, and it's NOT something that I would ever feel would be appropriate to share with my coworkers, nor would I want to.

"Mary" is adamant about all of us getting lunch together whenever possible; every day she makes a run to a local restaurant and she will ask everyone what they want, collect the cash, and go get the food (which is wonderful of her to do, and we often chip in and buy her lunch to make up for it). The first time she asked me, I politely asked if they had anything without meat or dairy on the menu, as I was unfamiliar with the restaurant. Mary was astonished. "What? You don't eat meat? Or dairy? What's wrong with you, why not?" Of course I was offended by this and didn't know what to say, as well as not feeling like I needed to defend my food choices to her. I shrugged and made up some excuse, feeling very uncomfortable, and the whole time I was talking Mary was running her eyes up and down my body (I am very thin), with this look on her face as if to say "No wonder, what is wrong with her?"

But I was willing to chalk this up to the fact that Mary is older than me, and knows very different people, and had probably never run across a vegan before. I knew she did not mean harm by her comments.

However, several times since then, when she has asked what I wanted for lunch, I have had to make up excuses, saying that I was not hungry, that I didn't have any money, etc. Every time she puts up an argument. Once she rudely said, "So are you still not eating meat, or what? Do you ever eat?" I always stay polite but I get very frustrated-- can't she just accept that my eating habits are none of her business, and let it go, instead of advertising it to the whole office that I am not eating?

It's gotten to the point where sometimes I lie and say that I'm going to go get something myself later, that I had a big breakfast, etc. Again, I can understand the whole "mother figure" thing, the older lady who pushes food on people-- but it should be my choice if or what I eat, and it should not be an object of ridicule or debate, especially not in the office.

The clincher came the other day, though, when she was once again asking everyone about lunch. She asked the girl who sits next to me, "Lynnie," what she wanted to eat, and Lynnie said that she was not hungry that day. At this, Mary exclaimed at the top of her lungs, loud enough for everyone to hear, "What's wrong with you people, are you anorexic or something?" I cringed to myself when she said that; I have to wonder if anyone else within earshot was sensitive to a comment like that, too.

I am now extremely uncomfortable in that office every day around lunchtime. Sometimes I wish that people, no matter how well-intentioned they are, would realize that everyone is coming from somewhere different, and what you see as a harmless comment can be something very different to the person you are saying it to.


When I was in college I worked part time as a telemarketer. As you would expect, the turnover rate was high and my boss was not picky about who she hired. One night, a new girl about my age started. She sat next to me so during our break I chatted with her. Her (real) name was Cinnamon, she was about my age and she was a single Mom with a college degree, and was just doing this for extra cash. I asked her how she liked it so far and she goes "I just started a new job that pays better, I don't think I'll stay here." Then, she takes her billfold out of her purse and opens it, showing me a huge wad of cash (bear in mind I met her ten minutes beforehand)! I will admit that I am nosy so I asked her what her job was (I figured she was a stripper) and she looks around and whispers "I'm a professional escort." Then she starts telling me how great it is, how her boss (pimp) is so nice, and her customers (johns) are so nice, and she takes out a business card for this escort service and tells me I should call him, it's a great job! I was appalled, and told her my boyfriend would not like that. She replied "Don't tell him." I was sickened, and ended the conversation after that. Sure enough, she never came back again after that one night. After that, I wasn't so friendly with the new people.


I have a coworker who lives very close to me. We're not super friends or anything, but polite & work well together. The coworker asked me if I could drive them to the airport for a flight to the opposite coast in a few weeks. I agreed, not realizing this person had made flight plans that required him to be at the airport at 5:30am! I was obviously exhausted when I went into work that day. No word was ever said about me picking him up front he airport. However, 5 days later I get a phone call at 7pm a night from the co- worker "reminding" me his flight got in a MIDNIGHT. I was so shocked I forgot to point out I'd never agreed to pick him up. However, I know that a taxi from the airport to our neighborhood was $30 and I'd have to see him at work, so I bit my tongue. I get several cell phone calls over the course of the evening from the co- worker along the lines of "flight from CA/arrived left on time," "left Dallas on time." At 11pm, just as I'm readying to drive to the airport, I get a call and he tells me his flight from the Midwest is delayed due to fog, so he'll be getting in late and that he'll call me when his flight actually does leave so I can just drive to the airport then and not sit around for hour. Gee, how thoughtful! Turns out his flight left over 3 hours later & I spent the entire night waking up every few minutes because my cell phone was ringing with more "updates" from the co- worker. I wound up picking him up at 3:20AM! Despite grinding my teeth, I did not go off on this guy as he looked rather wiped out from the long delay of his flights, but as he got out of the car I suggested that next time he flies to the coast he should schedule his flights at more convenient times. He smiled and said "sure!" I NEVER got a thank you, not even when he was joking about the flight delays with other people at work in front of me. Next time he can just take a cab!


Katie likes to talk. She doesn't usually have a lot of work (this is the nature of her job - sometimes she's really busy, sometimes she brings a book to read while it's slow) and seems to think that no one else does either. This over-40 person also has a problem understanding the boundaries between polite conversation and very unpleasant or inappropriate reports. She frequently says, "You know me, I speak my mind." This seems to be a license to be as rude as she wants to be. Almost everyone in the office has heard in vivid detail of her sexual exploits with her various boyfriends over the years. And when she's not dating, she makes very crude sexually tilted or suggestive comments to any of the male employees, whether they're single, dating, or married!

She gives amazing Technicolor detail of any medical procedures. In the weeks before she had a tooth extracted, she explained to anyone who she could catch (and her job is one that involves a lot of interaction with other users, so she caught a lot of us) how the procedure would be done. After the extraction, she explained what it was like, including what it sounded like and felt like, the amount of blood, etc. Mind you, she wasn't just sharing this with close friends in the office, but with anyone who passed her way! I saw her opening her mouth a couple of times to show people her scar (or hole - whatever is left after a tooth is removed). She offered to show me but I politely declined.

When she had her tubes tied, she behaved the same way (minus the offers to see the scar). She was excited at the prospect of having sex without worry of getting pregnant, and let everyone know.

The year after her tooth was extracted, my daughter was born. Watching her come into this world was one of the best experiences of my life, if not the best. I was very excited to be there, and wouldn't have missed it for the world. It was completely beautiful. I point this out because of what happens next. When my daughter was a couple of months old, Katie decided to get her bunion removed. She went through the usual process, explaining what it looked like and showing people her foot and all that good stuff. She had the surgery and came back to work. When her bandage was off, she started again offering to show her scar. She asked me if I'd like to see it.

I said, "No thanks, I think I'll pass."

She said, "Oh, that's right. I forgot you're squeamish about that sort of thing. It must've been hard for you when Susie was born."

I mumbled some reply and left, managing to suppress the urge to explain to her that there's a slight difference between looking at an acquaintance’s scar on her smelly old foot and witnessing the miracle of birth!


A lady in my office (let's call her "Beulah") tends to be a little bit obnoxious at times. It is impossible to complete a sentence around Beulah. She either interrupts with an unrelated statement or question or finishes a sentence for the person who is talking. When she calls and I pick up the phone, she will quickly give a pre-emptive "hello" before I even get a chance to identify myself or even say hello (I don't know if this is a standard practice anywhere, but I've always thought that it's polite to let the person receiving the call say the first words). She talks non-stop, making it very difficult for anyone to walk away and get back to work; she often traps a passing ear for several minutes.

Beulah loves her pets. Her husband is in the military and travels a lot and she has no kids, so I can understand the stronger affection and pride in her pets. When her dog started having trouble getting around, she took him to the vet to have him checked out. The vet discovered that the dog had cancer. She arranged for the dog to get chemotherapy to extend his life for a couple of months. During this time she detailed what a hard time the dog was having standing up, doing his business, and living in general. I thought that this was kind of mean to the dog. The dog was obviously miserable, in pain and very sick, but she continued to put him through this torture. I love dogs, but you have to face the tough decisions with them in order to do what's best for the dog. The dog eventually fell unconscious and died shortly after.

A few days before her dog died, my beloved grandmother passed away suddenly. Though her health had been gradually deteriorating, her mental faculties were still intact, and her death was unexpected. Funeral arrangements were made and family flew in from all over the world. My mother, who usually stands strong in the face of adversity, was an emotional wreck. My aunts and uncles, my cousins, my grandma's friends all were shaken up by her passing. Any life she touched was made better because she was there. She was always happy to have visitors, and she never spoke ill of anyone. The funeral was very emotionally draining. After taking a couple of days off for the funeral and wake, I came back to work. When I came back, Beulah was out, attending her dog's final moments. She took a week off to deal with her grief, then returned to work. When she came back to work, she was upset and cried whenever anyone mentioned her dog. A couple of people went through the office with a sympathy card for Beulah (for her dog!) and asked me to sign. Keep in mind that I was still upset over my own loss, though I keep my grieving a little bit more private. Somewhat incredulous, I signed the card. For the record, I did receive a sympathy card for my grandma, but it was sent by the HR director, and certainly not signed by everyone in the company!

Again, each person has his own way of grieving. I was bothered by being asked to sign the card, but I realized that the intentions behind the action were good, and it wasn't my place to judge how sad she should or shouldn't be when dealing with her loss. I went to her office to tell her that I was sorry about her loss (this was still the first day she was back). She said thank you and talked a little about her dog. She then mentioned that she had heard that my grandmother had died. I told her yes and started to tell about my grandma, but she interrupted me, saying, "Well, you just lost a grandparent. I lost a companion!"

I didn't have any difficulty walking away from her that time.


Until the birth of my daughter I worked for a small financial planning firm, now I would like to interject here that this job came with many perks as well as an excellent salary, which I feel should be brought up since I would have left much sooner had it not been for the perks of my employment.

So, we'll start from the top and work our way down.

Bob (the owner/boss) -- An older man just a tad on the strange side. I worked there for 7 months before he ever spoke to me. He relayed all messages to me through two of the other employees. Which would have been okay except that he frequently gabbed with the other employees and purposely left me out. If I talked to him first he just stared at me like I was stupid and never answered. I soon learned to just ignore it and eventually was rewarded with an occasional grunt or even a good-bye at the end of the day. Lucky Me!

Bill (the owner/bosses son) -- Now he was interesting character, he did speak to me he told me one liner jokes all day long (not even funny jokes though he seemed to think they were), or he would tell me about the sports teams he followed and then berate me for not being a sports fan, he also loved to tell everyone on a regular basis that he would inherit the business one day so we better be nice to him or else. He also had all the employees field calls from his wife we were told if she sounded mad or unhappy he was out of the office, but if she sounded happy to put the call through. He also enjoyed asking about my sex life in a round-a-bout way while ensuring to tell me about his wife's lack of sexual prowess. I still can not look this woman in the eye.

At this point I would like to input a strange father/son thing they were hot all the time, literally, they ran the air conditioning year round and the office was freezing! They refused to turn it off and would scream bloody murder if I even attempted to touch the thermostat, Year round I sat in my office with a coat on and a blanket wrapped around me. All of the other employees had bought small space heaters to help keep them warm, so I eventually did the same. My boss upon seeing my space heater told me he felt it was a fire hazard and asked me to take it home. I was dumbfounded by this since the other employees all had them. Then to my surprise the boss bought me a space heater that he felt was safe, but gave me explicit instructions on its use--which were basically this is on/off and high/low but somehow he managed to stretch it into a 45-minute tutorial. I later had my space heater privileges revoked for improper use, I accidentally left it on during my lunch break one day.

Buddy(CPA)-- He was normal in most ways except for the fact that he scratched his private parts incessantly, stole people’s drinks from the refrigerator, and I can not count the number of times I caught him picking his nose. I refused to shake his hand ever.

Bonnie (we had the same job but she was my immediate supervisor) She was the worst of all, from the beginning she crossed serious personal boundary issues. She told me all about her marital troubles for the first few weeks of my employment which apparently was meant to pave the way for her to tell me about her many, many transgressions on the side in explicit detail. She also told me that during both of her pregnancies she was sure the children did not belong to her husband but upon seeing them she is almost positive that they actually do belong to her hubby. She also told me about her feminine grooming habits, and then inquired about mine. During my pregnancy she told me horror stories of her children having colic and how with both of them she had hit them when they were infants because they would not shut up (her words there). I eventually asked her to stop which resulted in her hatred of me and her continual bad mouthing of my work to my employers.

Betty-- (secretary) the only sane one of the bunch and my one workday salvation.


I have a story of a co-worker from hell, whom I still work with unfortunately but will be very grateful to get away from when I graduate from college and get married. We will just call her "Yuki".

I work for a major Northeast supermarket chain in the deli. Yuki is a 50-something Japanese lady (that's just a guess on her age -- she won't tell anyone how old she is). She's been in this department for at least 15 years, and I am surprised that they have let her stay this long. She has a way of ticking off anyone who comes into contact with her. And for several reasons:

  1. She acts like a shift leader when she isn't. She will often order people around that she feels don't know what they are doing. Ex. Even though I have been at this store for 2 years, she still feels the need to give me orders on a job I do more than often than anyone else in the store
  2. When she DOES show people how to do things, it's often done wrong. The people who have to follow her the next day or later that day dread it because they just know that something is going to get screwed up.
  3. She has her own way of doing things that make absolutely no sense to the operation of our department. For example, for some stupid reason in the wash sink she has this pan that she keeps there for no inexplicable reason. It's just in the way of everyone trying to do dishes in that sink.
  4. She doesn't think the rules apply to her. She will often open roast beef (a very messy meat) in the rinse sink when she should be opening it in the larger sink.

On top of all this, though, she can be just downright rude and argumentative at the same time, and not only to other employees but to customers as well.

One recent example pops into my head, told to me by several different people. A coworker I'll call "Salad Bar Person" (who is a shift leader) was recently diagnosed with some nerve damage in her neck so she is limited to doing salad bar work and can't lift anything over a certain amount of weight. Everyone knew this, and even though it was a bit of a nuisance (I'm sure to her, as well) we all understood it. Well, one day Yuki asked Salad Bar Person to cut open some roast beef for her while she was with a customer. Salad Bar Person told her that if she brought it out for her she would cut it for her. Yuki's response? "You're useless. You should just go home!" I was flabbergasted when I heard that! It explained a lot of her reaction when I told her off twice in one day after she tried to tell me how to do my job one day shortly after the incident.

And she seems to think that anyone younger than she is is "Superperson" and insists that they can do more than they actually can. Although I am a college student and get mistaken for younger than I am, I'm not exactly a spring chicken. I recently had to call one morning to let whoever was there know that I wouldn't be in because of back problems. Yuki was the one who answered the phone. I told her I wouldn't be in because I was feeling some minor "spasms" in my back and I didn't want to risk making them worse. Her response? "Oh, you have to come in! We have five platters to do today!" I had to be firm with her and tell her that I had back problems and couldn't come in before she would begrudgingly say "ok"? and hang up the phone.

No wonder no one likes her.


I was working in an environmental consulting firm for about four months when the Project Manager announced that he had hired a new employee. He made a big deal over this new hire--this new guy apparently had about 12 years experience as a biologist with a state agency, we were lucky to get him, and so on. This paragon had not been in the office for one week before he was heartily despised by everyone but the Project Manager. It was obvious that he had not the slightest inkling how to do the job for which he had been hired, for one thing. He was constantly asking me how to do this and that, which meant would I actually DO this and that for him. Occasionally, if I was between projects, I agreed to do little jobs for him (just so I would have something to bill my time to) but instead of being appreciative, he hung around me asking me if I was still working on the project, that he hadn't heard me typing for a while (!) so he was worried that I wasn't going to complete the work on time, etc. If he wasn't making sure I was doing his job, he was sitting in the Project Managers office yukking it up with him. Lots of jokes, laughter, all-men-together kind of garbage.

But that's not all. When he wasn't harassing me or brown-nosing the boss, he was on the phone--yelling at his wife, running his furniture business, talking to his girlfriend--yep, his girlfriend. His phone conversations could be heard all the way down the hall (which fortunately allowed me to share my misery about him without being indiscreet). He showed up to the company Christmas party--late, so that he was sure to be noticed--with his wife on one arm, and his girlfriend on the other! He was very careless about his email--he would leave his Inbox open on the screen so that anybody walking by could see the long list of emails from his girlfriend, all with dirty subject lines. On at least one occasion he was called away from his desk before he could close an email (or perhaps he didn't bother to try), and another employee who stopped by to leave something on his desk got an eyeful that nearly made her ill. Apparently, this winner had a habit of meeting his girlfriend in our stairwell after work for fun and games of a physical nature. We decided that, if the building caught on fire, we would all take our chances in the elevator rather than risking the soiled stairwell.

As far as I know, this creep is still with the company--the only person who doesn't see him for the incompetent, icky creep that he is the Project Manager who hired him (and, of course, his wife and girlfriend). BLEAH!


This happened in my office. I decided to treat my coworkers to donuts one morning to celebrate a special occasion in my life. When I got to the office, I set out the donuts in the break room, right next to the coffee machine. Most of my coworkers congratulated me on the occasion and thanked me as they helped themselves to a donut.

I helped myself to a donut and coffee and went to my cubicle, which is near the break room.

A short time later, a new employee --- who had not yet been introduced to me -- came into the break room and helped herself to a donut. I couldn’t believe it when I overheard her telling someone else "Not for nothing, but these aren't exactly my favorites." Cow-orkers1120-03

Years ago I worked for an architect making blue prints and delivering them to customers. After a year, I managed to work my way over to the drafting room (which was my intention for taking the job in the first place), so the firm hired a replacement delivery guy.

The new guy showed up on Monday morning and I spent the morning showing him the ropes. At lunchtime he told me that he had parked in visitor parking and was going to go move his car. We never saw him again. Cow-orkers1221-03

I’m sure many of your readers remember the Dilbert comic strip in which a worker avoids assignments by taking his vacation in 10-minute segments. I keep a framed copy of this on my desk because I lived through just such an office situation.

A woman I’ll call Diva and I were the entire staff of a specialized research facility within a larger institution. Our facility was open to the public several days a week. People often think that library work is serene. Not so. We could always count on independent researchers who would come up with bizarre research topics and nasty attitudes. There were also staff members from other parts of the institution who needed, ‘a slide show for tomorrow!’ Each academic term we could also count on a deluge of college students who decided that the week (or the day!) before a due date was the time to start researching a long paper. In short, the place could, and often did, get zooey.

At the time of my story Diva was going through two very stressful situations in her personal life. She’d been abruptly deserted by her husband of 20 plus years. As an only child she was also responsible for the care of a seriously ill parent. It was clear to everyone that she needed a rest. Diva had a lot of vacation time in the bank but, because of her parent’s ill health, couldn’t get away.

Diva may have been stressed but she was ingenious. She proposed to take her vacation by the hour. There was a method to this seeming madness. Next door to our building was a health club. When things got too difficult at work she could declare a ‘time-out’ and to take off for the gym for a yoga class, a sauna or whatever would relax her.

Believe it or not, this proposal was approved. Even though I was the one most affected by it, I had no input. I found out about it the first time Diva grabbed her gym bag and headed out the door. A conversation with the uber-boss confirmed that, yes, she was allowed to leave whenever she wanted and, when she was in the office, I was to make her life as stress-free as possible.

I began to dread going to work. Diva could be depended upon to skip out at the worst possible times at least 3 or 4 times a week. Sometimes she even left twice in one day! This went on for almost ten months and, in all that time, I was offered no help. Eventually, my own nerves began to suffer. My performance evaluation was horrible that year because it didn’t take the extra work and stress into account. I was told to improve my performance or else…

Finally, it ended with the death of Diva’s parent. That was a sad occasion but at least she could take a proper vacation. On one of these she met a man she eventually married but those are other stories, some of which belong in Etiquettehell.

The maddening part of the whole episode is that not once did Diva ever show a sign that her ‘space to breathe’ was inconveniencing me in any way. I don’t think it would have killed her to say, at least once, "I know this situation is tough on you and I want to let you know I appreciate your help." Cow-orkers0913-03

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