Thursday, March 29, 2007

Cubicle Life Conundrums #1: Food

This is the first installment of a 12-part series named Cubicle Life Conundrums where every two weeks (in addition to other articles and updates) a particular aspect of cubicle life will be briefly spotlighted, analyzed, and discussed. This series is designed to complement the insights, humor, and content in The Cubicle Survival Guide: Keeping Your Cool in the Least Hospitable Environment on Earth (TCSG).

We begin the Cubicle Life Conundrums series with Food.

Cubicle Life Conundrums #1: Food – The Smells and Sounds of Your Professional Reputation

I write in Chapter 5, “Eating, Drinking, and Digesting” of TCSG:

“On the cubicle farm, nothing furrows eyebrows, wrinkles noses, or twists faces more than food that stinks. In a stale and colorless environment such as the workplace, smells take on added dimensions. They are more defined, ambulant, and ghostly. Chicken à la king becomes a poltergeist that haunts the accounting department…”

They say that smell is the most powerful human sense, instantaneously able to catapult people decades back into their childhoods when folks drank black coffee made at home and every kid had an attention disorder because they began the day with a bowl of milk and sugar disguised as cereal. Today people have more sophisticated palettes and no longer eat but “dine” on pungent cheeses from Denmark, smelly fish just pulled hours ago from the floor of the North Pacific, and fruit drinks that mix cranberries from Cape Cod, Massachusetts with kiwis from Wellington, New Zealand. Goodbye peanut butter and Wonder Bread. Hello microwavable forest ham and capers with low carb garlic fettuccini noodles and white wine sauce. “Hey cubicle neighbor – you smell that? I bought 20 of them last night for $25.95. It’s going to be a good month.”

The expression you are what you eat may be true on the inside. But on the outside – the public side that includes your reputation – you are what your coworkers smell you eating. Consider the following conversation:

“Some guy in a pony tail just dropped the entire Smithson account onto my desk without saying a word. Who is he?”

“Was he kind of tall? Long blond pony tail?”

“Yeah. That’s him.”

“He’s the Chinese Food guy. You know, the guy who orders an entire family meal on Sunday night and eats it for lunch the rest of the week.”

“The one who stinks up the whole kitchen area?”

“That’s him. He works in the cubicle next to Karen. She has to leave her cubicle every day while he eats. She can’t even go to lunch with us because she has to schedule her break around the Chinese Food guy.”

“Ugh. I hate that dude.”

“Everybody hates the Chinese food guy. Even the Reheated Fish lady.”

So be smart when choosing your cubicle meals. Avoid foods such as boiled eggs and fish that have intense smells, especially meals that have a tendency to “linger” (you’ll notice this phenomenon in the elevator.)

Also, don’t forget about noise. Everyone in your cubicle community can hear you munching on chips, popcorn, nachos, and pretzels. Though noisy foods don’t invade our consciousnesses as much as smelly foods, they are just as distracting. When in doubt get up and leave; at the very least, offer to share.

Your thoughts, opinions, and comments are always welcome. Thanks for visiting! – James F. Thompson

Schedule for Cubicle Life Conundrum Topics:

#2 – Phone Manners

#3 –Hygiene & Cleanliness

#4 – Cubicle Decorations

#5 – Balancing Personal Life with Cubicle Professionalism

#6 – Unwanted Company

#7 –Cubicles Role in Pop Culture & Society

#8 – Healthy & Unhealthy Cubicle Lifestyle Choices

#9 – Cubicle Security and Anti-Espionage Techniques

#10 – Productive Slacking Off Exercises

#11 – The History of Cubicles

#12 – The Future of Cubicles


Ms Moudene said...

I am in a pseudo-cubicle, an office without a door, and it is situated right behind the kitchen. I often introduce offensive smelling foods for horizon broadening purposes as most of my co-workers have subsisted on brisket and beans for generations. Introduction of odor is good also when there is a feedlot upwind.

James F. Thompson said...

Hah! When it comes to smells the old fight fire with fire saying is not a bad idea. Sometimes the best way to combat an annoying smell is to neutralize it with a heavy dose of a pleasant smell. I actually work with someone who kept an uncapped stick of deodorant at her desk to protect her nose from a smelly cubicle neighbor.

People who work next to the kitchen should receive some sort of compensation for their adverse work conditions. I'd rather have people throw lawn furniture at me than be forced to smell everyone's microwaved popcorn and fish sticks.

Ms Moudene said...

Hazard pay for working near the kitchen? Never thought of it. More often I am enslaved by aforementioned brisket eaters to cook. Slavery is never pretty.

James F. Thompson said...

I think the problem is that all cubicles are treated as if they are the same. They're not. A house next to a fertilizer processing plant is cheaper than the same house next to a lush golf course. A cube near the kitchen is much more difficult to work in than a cube beside a potted fig tree. Yet this reality is rarely addressed. When negotiating salaries, you don't hear prospective employees say, "I'm going to need another $2,000 a year if you plan on sticking me near the kitchen."

austin.nancy29 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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