Close Encounters of the Awkward Kind Vol. 2: The Office Kitchen

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..)

Question of the Day: Do you feel awkward in the office kitchen?


24 thoughts on “Close Encounters of the Awkward Kind Vol. 2: The Office Kitchen

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  1. Are you me? But with a different accent, job and nationality?

    Actually that photo of the exploded porridge looks like, well, peanuts and poo.

    I love it when food leftover from a meeting is left out; everyone descends to scoff the bland sandwiches and slightly stale crisps only ‘cos they are free.

    I do it every time.


    1. maybe. They say everyone has a doppleganger.. though I’m not sure how much the cross-gender angle has been explored.
      You’re right, people go crazy over free food.. no matter what it is, or where its been. I once even saw my coworkers fight raccoons off a half-eaten birthday cake.. ok, that’s not true. But it could be.


  2. I don’t know – I miss the fun of the office kitchen. Sure, sometimes you had to clean up after someone else’s mess, but it was great fun to sit around the big table and talk to people! I only worked 3 months in an office – the shiny novelty never did wear off!!! Now I am working on the road, eating by myself in the car, or alone in a diner! Too expensive to go to a restaurant for lunch. I miss the microwave in the winter where I can heat up last nights leftovers – and sit in the warm lunch room. I am looking forward to spring – sitting in a park eating lunch, taking photos of whatever suits my fancy! Just brings a different kind of awkward!


    1. I guess there’s something to be said for the social aspect.. I usually meet friends who work with me or closeby for lunch though, so I fulfil that need with minimal awkwarness 😉 I think its badass that you eat alone in a diner. I’ve always wanted to do that. And you should definitely take pictures in the park… probably self-pics of you eating your lunch every day.. and then at the end of the summer, make some kind of weird montage of it. That sh*t has “Freshly pressed” written all over it.


  3. Oh my gosh the food commenting is the worst!! I especially hate when people think its polite to say negative things about your food. Response to my lentil-walnut burgers: “whats that? Eew.” Response to my chickpea curry: “looks like poo.” Response to my veggie sandwich: “that looks too healthy.” (Uh, I’m sorry??) Any my favorite: response to the avocado I put on my salad in lieu of dressing, “avocados are fattening.” I don’t go around saying how repulsive or fattening your Burger is so what makes it okay for you to say sh** about my food?? At the time I’m usually so annoyed and taken back by people’s blunt rudeness that I say something stupid in response and don’t think of the clever, put-them-in-their-place comment until later…when it would only be weird to send them the random email later with your line.


    1. I’m so glad you feel my pain on this one.. and you are a much better, and mature person than I… if someone had’ve told me my lunch was fattening, I probably would have slapped them right across the face. Or cried. Yah, probably cried. 😉


      1. I thought of something when I was making my oatmeal the other day… Does your office kitchen have a hot water dispenser anywhere, like on the coffee machine or water cooler, for people to make hot chocolate, tea etc? That is what I use to make my oatmeal and I never put it in the microwave. The water is hot enough to soften the oats. I just add enough water to my liking, + a little bit more because some will evaporate, and let it sit for a couple minutes. Anyway, it could spare you those few minutes of torture every day. 😉


  4. Ahhh hahaha!!! All so true, Bre! I always have oatmeal with PB & banana for brekkie which I sometimes make at work. I feel the judgment! What the hell people?! At least we eat breakfast! And don’t diss my PB nanner combo – try it, it is delish!


    1. omg I put peanut butter in my oatmeal too and I always close my door when I eat it because I don’t want anyone to comment on how weird it is hahaha. I’m so glad you do it too 🙂


  5. At my last job it was a pretty small group, so it wasn’t awkward, but the kitchen was so dilapidated and nasty, it was hard to eat in there! It was a highend furniture store/design firm–all smoke and mirrors! 🙂


  6. Omg, YES. HATE when they comment on the food, or ask stupid questions about it. Just because we’re in this little room together at lunch time doesn’t mean we’re friend, mkay? One time, a stupid woman asked me, “So you cook?” I said I do, and she was all, “OMG, WOOOWWW, YOU COOK?!” Um, yeah, lady. Cook to eat, eat to live. That’s the way it works.
    Oh, and there was this girl who kept COOKING in the kitchen. Seriously… Making pasta dishes in the toaster oven. *sighs*


  7. office kitchens are a bit of a nightmare. I remember the endless questioning over what I would eat. Just hated it. I reverted to eating my lunch while walking around the block somedays to avoid the ‘oh that looks healthy/interesting/’. It was like 20 questions the 1000 game haha


    1. haha aww I feel really bad that you had to resort to this, but I’m also extremely impressed.. mostly because I will never possess the coordination required to both walk and eat at the same time.


      1. For this reason I had to resort to hand-held lunches. I made the mistake of taking soup one day and had to endure the dreaded lunchtime chit chat. Talked about some lady’s cat for about 45 minutes…don’t think I even like cats


  8. Omg, story of my life! I have actually taken to leaving the office for a walk/sit outside just to avoid the lunchroom. These days I only enter said lunchroom to re-fill my waterglass or to quickly put my lunch in/take my lunch out of the fridge, avoiding all eye contact.


  9. I don’t miss office kitchens at all. Apparently, most of my almost-vegan food is too much for other people to handle, so every time I ate in the kitchen with other people, I felt like a scientific specimen under intense scrutiny. Whether it was the food itself (“what the eff is THAT?!”, “Where do you get your protein?”), portion sizes (“You can eat a half an avocado BY YOURSELF?! What about all the calories?”), or the fact that I insisted on bringing everything in thermoses or cute little pyrex containers, I never ate an office lunch without being judged and/or interrogated. It didn’t help that half of my office was on Weight Watchers and tallied up everyone’s ‘points’ and calories as part of the regular lunchtime conversation. Bah…


  10. Exactly! Point to point to point! I avoid the kitchen as much as possible. I only venture in there to reload my water canteen. I think I’ve eaten in there twice in 7 years. Once because I had left overs from the night before. The other because my boss guilted me into eating a buy she made. Yesterday was bagel day. I would have gladly gone in there if I didn’t know just how disgusting my coworkers were.

    Eating in my car is the savior of my life.


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