Cubicle culprit ... one colleague's fish and chips is another colleague's nightmare. Think about it.
Smells I like
Steak with béarnaise sauce
Butchers’ shops with sawdust
My hand after it’s brushed a rosemary bush
The Bunnings sausage sizzle
Bags of freshly ground Single Origin coffee
The smell when it’s about to rain
Smells I don’t like
The smell in a wine glass after I’ve eaten a dish containing eggs
The smell in my kitchen after I’ve cooked fish
The work-canteen’s street-side, bacon-breathing exhaust fan
Overcooked cruciferous vegetables
Fish and chips with vinegar
A workmate eating fish and chips at her desk
The unconscionable office behaviour I’ve seen over the years: the bloke who insisted on taking his shoes off and working in his socks; the screamer whose every phone conversation is like a jackhammer; the eavesdropper from whom nothing could be with-held; the manager whose very presence is a toxic fume. But today I’ve seen, and smelt, the worst.
The story so far: I paused over my keyboard, mid-word. A noxious smell, pungent, sour, greasy. My left index finger poised over the ‘f’. My right index finger picked up the pace and moved towards the ‘u’. The left middle finger quickly gathered momentum and swiped down towards the ‘c’. … On the other side of the partition (on which I’ve pinned happy photographs of my nieces and a hopeful Rotary Club of Ballarat South raffle ticket — win a Holden or a campervan) a colleague was eating soggy fish and chips from a cardboard box.
This, I tell you, should be a sackable offence. I told her that too. In a trembling voice I reminded her of the headlines. “Keyboards dirtier than a toilet.” “Your desk is making you ill.” “Poor desk hygiene equals staff sick days.” “Desktop dining a dirty business.” “Poor office hygiene practices can lead to sickness, employee discomfort.”
This was indeed discomfort. After I explained to her how greatly I was being discomforted by her very dire example of shark and potato, I couldn’t help but explain it all over again in an email to a friend, a delicate flower of a thing. She sympathised and shared her own traumatic experience — the day her work neighbour opened his tuna salad a foot from her and proceeded to eat it while watching the cricket on his screen. “It was pungent,” she recalled. “It was nothing, however, in comparison to the noise he made when he ate.”
But it’s time I came clean. I too eat at my desk. The truth is, too many of my meals are eaten in this uncivilised, gulping, indigestible way. (I mostly retreat to more secluded office corners when there’s something pongy in my Tupperware and think fish and chips should only be eaten when you can hear the sea.) To be sure, there are hygiene issues. I’ve shaken out my keyboard and seen a waste-management issue fall to my desk. I’ve seen the oily, sludgy trails across my keyboard.
But this bad habit of mine — and without doubt, the habit of hundreds of thousands of other office-bound workers across the country — has, I think, mental-health implications as great as the physical. As I’ve touched on before, my compulsion to keep connected, to soak up and horde information for as many minutes of the day as I possibly can, is exhausting (at the very least). For others, the habit may be more about impossible workloads but the mental-health implications are no less.
And we’re not thinking too much about the quantity or the quality of our food if we’re eating it with one hand and no brain while we work through our lunches
To add to my case, from that stash of information that I’ve hoarded, I can draw on an article published in The New York Times last month on the matter of “mindful” or “hyper-conscious” eating.
“ ‘The rhythm of life is becoming faster and faster, so we really don’t have the same awareness and the same ability to check into ourselves,’ said Dr. [Lilian] Cheung, who, with the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, co-wrote Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life. ‘That’s why mindful eating is becoming more important. We need to be coming back to ourselves and saying: ‘Does my body need this? Why am I eating this? Is it just because I’m so sad and stressed out?’ ”
Along with its ping-pong tables and hammocks and free food, that über-workplace Google now holds a monthly “silent lunch” at its Californian headquarters. From a follow-up Times piece on mindful eating — “Olivia Wu, an executive chef with the company, said the silent lunch helps to restore busy, tired minds ‘and revives the corporate culture of innovation, community and doing the right thing’.”
And I love the comment from a woman who attended a mindful eating group: “I don’t get it. Eating is the most enjoyable thing I do — next to sex — and I rush to get it over. Why would I do something so self-defeating?” Replied Dr Jan ChozenBays, the author of Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food: “It often helps me get perspective to compare sex to eating. They are the two most intimate and pleasurable activities we engage in. We know not to rush sex, or to try it while talking on the phone or answering e-mails!”
So during a day at the office, I can’t cook myself a decent lunch like the friend who freelances from home and follows his cooked lunch with a siesta. I can’t sit in silence for an hour eating my lunch at a table surrounded by Buddhist monks. But I can move away from my desk. I can even leave the newspapers, the magazines and the iPad at my desk. I can look into the middle distance and empty my mind, I can eat slowly, I can properly smell my food, I can properly taste my food.
And, on a sunny day, I might even consider picking up some fish and chips and taking them out into the fresh air.
Over to you. What is the most offensive office behaviour you have encountered when it comes to al-desko dining?