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Ask Carmen Courtesy, Your Workplace Etiquette Expert August 2009

Do you deal with anger, frustration, embarrassment, harassment or conflict in the workplace? Carmen Courtesy addresses all of these issues. Carmen’s goal is to promote interpers…

OK to break one with your fingers if you don’t feel like eating the whole thing? Or should you cut the pastry in half and leave the other half? Or should you never leave a part of the pastry behind at all?


I don’t like eating a pastry or any other goody, no matter how tempting, that are other people’s leavings. I think it’s rude to leave a piece behind and revolting to leave a piece you’ve touched.

I’ve tried to tell people that it is bad etiquette, but only some coworkers listen.
This has been going on for two years and I am getting fed up—actually, I’m getting hungry.

Keep Your Fingers to Yourself!

Dear Fingers to Yourself:

You have a good point up to a point. The main reason people should not handle other people’s food is the very real possibility of spreading germs. Beyond that, food should look nice, not just taste good. It’s a bit selfish to mangle food for those who follow.

On the other hand, even though you are hungry, you do have a choice in the matter. You do not have to eat the stuff.
So here are some possible options:

  • Bring your own food and abstain from the common trough
  • Beat everyone else to the plate of food so that you can get the first untouched goody (try not to knock anyone over
  • Get there ahead of time and, using a knife and fork, carefully cut the pastries in half for everyone
  • Have napkins and the knife and fork always ready at whatever little table or counter you use for goodies so that anyone can use them

The knife and fork are probably your best option. I see nothing wrong with people cutting pastries in half as long as they do it carefully and don’t leave behind pieces that look smushed and unappetizing. Most important, encourage people to use their utensils through your own example; making a knife and fork available will get their fingers off the goods.

Remember to be casual and gracious about it, advised Donna Pilato, a New Jersey-based editor and guide at http://entertaining.about.com. If you act superior or bossy, you stand a good chance of gaining a reputation as the nasty food police. If you are nice about it, you have a chance for improving the situation for everyone.

“Sometimes you have a situation in which several people might actually agree with you, but no one wants to take the initiative to do something about it,” Pilato says. “If one person sets an example, though, then other people may pick up on it. That can result in a change in a group’s or even a company’s culture.”
Happy munching.

Sincerely yours,


Dear Carmen,
I have an employee who is offended by a picture on a coworker’s desk. This picture is of him kissing his partner. I have other employees who have pictures on their desks that have two individuals kissing. What do I do? The problem has just been brought to my attention recently. Do I ask all employees to remove pictures that could possibly offend another employee?
Reluctant Censor

Dear Reluctant Censor:  
What is your company’s policy about personal effects on employees’ desks? If, as I suspect, it allows for them, then I would follow that policy.

People are often offended by what other people find completely routine. Some people don’t like pit bulls, for example, and might find a picture of a pit bull offensive. Others may prefer not to see photos of children if they are having a difficult time having children themselves. The list goes on and on.

Unless you’re prepared to demand that everyone remove all personal photos from their desks (which would be a real morale-buster), I’d suggest that you encourage your employees to live and let live.
So, I’d advise the complaining employee simply to look the other way when passing the cubicle and the offending photo.

Consider this an opportunity for your employees to practice tolerance and respect for diversity in the workplace.

Sincerely yours,

Linn Back is an affiliate owner at Westaff, which has offices in Lansing, Owosso and Grand Rapids. Westaff provides temporary and temporary-to-permanent staffing, professional permanent placement, behavioral and skills employment testing, and employment and background verification checks.








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