Sometimes a bratwurst is just a bratwurst.

DEAR ABBY: We have a large break room at work where we gather to have lunch. Usually there are six to eight nurses gathering at one time. Sometimes we bring lunch from home; other times we order out individually.

One co-worker constantly helps herself to others’ food without it being offered. Example: If you order fries with your lunch, she will reach over and grab some off your plate without asking. It makes the rest of us uncomfortable. We feel it is rude and unsanitary. How do we politely ask her to stop doing this? — HUNGRY NURSES

DEAR HUNGRY: Politely ask? Politely TELL the woman you don’t want her removing food from your plates without permission. And if she does it again, use your fork to “discourage” her, and I’ll bet it won’t happen again. (c) DEAR ABBY

I have no idea why this tickled my funnybone so much, but it did. “Stay away from my fries, or suffer the wrath of my eating utensil.” Wield that fork! Heck, yeah.

I’m not opposed to Dear Abby’s advice to speak up, but it’s hard to do. I wouldn’t want to let someone know they’re committing a social faux pas. Hmm…. what to do…. you could lay claim to having a contagious illness. “Sharon, you’re eating my fries at your own risk. I have mad-cow disease.”

And that just made me laugh harder. Obviously, nurses shouldn’t go to work when they’re stricken with mad-cow disease. So, erg. New strategy…

In all seriousness, I never want to be the person who makes someone realize they’ve been rude. I’m always afraid the person will be self-conscious and humiliated. So I’m struggling with a solution here.

I guess you could ask in a straight voice. “Oh, do you want me to buy you some fries?”

She’ll probably say no. “I just wanted a few,” or whatever.

To which you could shake your head and say, “The portions they give aren’t big enough. With my huge appetite, let me know if you want some and I’ll buy a second serving.” (This isn’t about money, and I doubt Sharon will take her up on it. But it could send the message politely that the letter writer needs to eat all of her fries for sustenance. I think it would convey the message without hurt feelings or embarrassment.)

I tend to believe that unless you’re giving gentle instruction to kids or teenagers, if you tell someone they’re being rude, you might be rude to say so. This is why we need tactful ways of conveying a message. On the other hand, some people are obtuse, which isn’t directly related to rudeness. They just can’t take a hint. In that case, you should be more direct, but still not attacking. “Sharon, if I don’t eat every single fry myself, I’ll be starving this afternoon. You understand, don’t you?”

It’s not even about hunger, but that changes the focus from rudeness and germs.

I think the reason I feel this way is that I was raised by wolves (well, lawyers to get technical), and often, other people filled me in on good manners, but it always made me feel embarrassed, like, “Oh! I said or did the wrong thing! Darn it!”

There’s a family story about me, and I vaguely remember this. When I was around eight or nine years old, I went to a party for adults that my parents took me to. Bratwurst was served, and I told the husband of the house that it looked like a man’s private parts. He was horrified. I don’t remember exactly what he said to me, but it left me feeling very ashamed. I think it made my parents feel ashamed too, but that’s the good news. (My childhood would’ve been much improved if my dad could’ve kept his clothing on.) [Shakes my head and rolls my eyes.] This is why I believe that good manners should be instilled in a straightforward but not overly done sort of way.

2 thoughts on “Sometimes a bratwurst is just a bratwurst.”

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