Based on the positive response I received to my recent post, Close Encounters of the Awkward Kind: Voicemail Messages , I thought it only fitting to extend the “Close Encounters” series to discuss yet another situation that makes me want to crawl into a hole and die: the office kitchen.
While in theory put in place to make office life more comfortable, I’m convinced that overall the office kitchen does much more harm than good.
First, the space itself is always a logistical nightmare. Moving around in there makes me feel about as graceful as Kate Gosselin on Dancing with the Stars.
No matter where you go, or what you try to do, someone is always in your way, causing both of you to apologize profusely and shuffle around in an awkward manner. Then, when the person moves out of your way, they somehow always end up directly in front of the thing you need to use next. This happens with such regularity that I’m convinced the whole thing is orchestrated by psychologists lurking behind a one-way mirror somewhere, gauging our reactions and saying things like: “the subject is becoming agitated” into little handheld tape recorders.
That’s why I always try to be kind in these situations.
Secondly, the office kitchen is a veritable breeding ground for awkward conversations and painful small talk.
Being a creature of habit, every morning, I make a bowl of instant oatmeal for breakfast. These two minutes spent waiting for my oatmeal to finish cooking are invariably the longest of my life. Since talking to my coworkers like a normal person is clearly out of the question, I am forced to find other ways of occupying this time. Usually, I spend the first 20 seconds getting my spoon and napkin ready. Then, I might kill another 15-20 by filling up a glass of water and drinking it, pensively. After that, I’m out of options. The remaining 1.5 minutes are usually devoted to either (a) arbitrarily picking things up and putting them down, making it look like I’m doing something; or (b) reading the same damn sign about the dangers of microwaving plastic tupperware for the 85th time this week, while praying no one approaches me.
I’ve tried fleeing the scene- waiting out these excruciating two minutes in a nearby bathroom stall… but oatmeal, as it happens, is a bit of a precarious beast. If you don’t watch over it carefully, you face the possibility of that sh*t boiling over in the microwave and exploding all over the place. Then you’ve gotten yourself into a situation that is 10 times worse than had you just stayed there in the first place, as you struggle to clean up the sticky mess with industrial paper towels in front of a live audience.
For me though, the worst part of the office kitchen is the fact that you’re putting your food on display for others to see, and opening yourself up to potential judgment. Although what someone chooses to eat is a very personal thing and no one else’s business, for some reason other people seem to have both a strange fascination and unbridled curiosity about it.
While in the office kitchen, I have been asked more questions about a single bowl of oatmeal than I thought were humanly possible:
“oooh is that maple and brown sugar flavour?”
“have you tried the organic kind?”
“do you eat the same thing every single day for breakfast?”
Ummm yeah I do b*tch, any other questions??
For this reason I have taken to treating other people’s food like an eclipse- I try never to make direct eye contact with it. And I definitely don’t ask them any questions about it. I advise you all to do the same.
In all fairness, my office kitchen- and the people who frequent it- aren’t all that bad. If I left anything in the fridge there, I’d like to think it wouldn’t get stolen. I once worked at an office where people would leave passive-agressive notes when someone took their food, like these ones. I actually kind of miss these. They made life a little more interesting, while at the same time giving everyone something to hypothesize about.
I’m thinking about starting that initiative here… but instead of food-stealing, targeting some other melodramatic office problem…. like that menace to society who keeps leaving forgotten jobs in the print tray. (I know it’s you, Linda…and don’t think I haven’t noticed all of those extra post-it notes you’ve got kicking around your office, either..)