A Question of Etiquette: Across a crowded room …

color-etiquette-112-01-16When I was eating lunch with a colleague, another person shouted out my name from across the room and started asking me work-related questions. I answered, but she kept going with more questions. She was literally yelling because she literally was across the room. I finally replied that I would speak with her after lunch. She got huffy. Was I wrong?

Of course you weren’t wrong, but she was, in a couple of ways. First, one never calls across a room and engages in a conversation that is bound to interrupt everyone else. In fact, it is rude, in general, to ever shout to someone. The rule is that you go to where the person is to whom you wish to speak. Second, her correct course of action would have been to approach you, apologize for interrupting you and ask if she might speak with you later. Even if she was having an emergency, she correctly would approach you, and say, “Excuse me, I’m so sorry to interrupt but something has come up that requires an immediate answer. . .”

I met a friend for lunch and to my horror, she made really loud eating noises. I didn’t say anything, but am wondering if I can let her know that her table manners are offensive without causing her embarrassment?

No, it’s not your place to do that, nor is it possible to correct someone else’s manners without embarrassing him or her. While she might benefit from your bringing it to her attention, you really don’t know if she has a medical problem that makes it difficult for her to eat, or whether she doesn’t hear herself for some other reason, or whether this is the way she has always eaten with no one correcting her previously. It’s nice of you to want to help, but you would definitely hurt her feelings. If it really, really bothers you, plan future times together that don’t involve eating.

A very social woman in our department of 12 has decided we must have a holiday luncheon – at $30+ a head, with each of us paying our own way, plus with each of us buying a grab bag present. No one is happy about this. We all have families and gifts to buy and don’t want to spend that kind of money to eat lunch with or buy a gift for people we work with but really aren’t friends with. How can we stop this?

Draw straws to determine which of you will speak with her. That person says that everyone loves her spirit and it’s a great idea, but a lot of people just can’t afford to do this. So as to not completely deflate her enthusiasm, suggest, instead, that she plan a day for all of you to eat together, bringing your own lunches, and chip in for a dessert, unless someone volunteers to make one, in order to celebrate more simply, without the cost, and without the grab bag gift.


Questions for Catherine? Send them to Catherine.michaels@gmail.com