DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is office etiquette regarding communal, or individual, refrigerators?
I am very fortunate that I work in an office that is, for the most part, a collegial and professionally supportive environment. You would think common sense would dictate behavior, but I am not currently in a position to re-educate my colleagues.
For medical reasons, I have a small refrigerator under my desk, in the typical contemporary office cube. After opening up its occasional use to a few colleagues who asked politely, it has become communal property. Yogurt, eggs and salad dressing hang around for months.
People bop in and out of my cube, shoving me aside (always saying "excuse me" as a form of polite interruption) while I'm on the phone at my desk. One person feels free to store containers that take up half the shelf space of a really small unit. Regular pleas to take stuff out go unheeded, so I throw them out with no reaction from those who deposited the things there. I feel like a mean or bad person to cut the use off to everyone because of a few bad apples. What do you think would be the appropriate way to address this little quality-of-life issue?
GENTLE READER: There is a larger, psychological issue here, and it illustrates why etiquette is not, as you and others think, entirely a matter of common sense.
It is that people think of office amenities as part of the institutional set-up, not as courtesies from their colleagues. They would know better if they truly thought about it, but they don't. The same people who would hesitate to take a peanut in your house unless you passed the bowl will stick a hand in a desktop candy jar without registering the fact that the individual sitting at the desk has had the courtesy to provide this.
Miss Manners does not want to suggest that you should stop being generous -- only that you should not surrender control of its limits. A policy of throwing out all food at the end of each work week, spoiled or not, and a lock on the door, so you can wave off people who disturb your work and turn away heavy loads, should regain you that.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the proper way to write a thank-you note to several people who have given you a collective gift? Some friends recently surprised me with a bridal shower gift that they shopped for and purchased together. Of course I thanked them in person, but I want to follow up with a note of appreciation.
We're members of the e-mail generation, so I'm not sure if I can send a group e-mail to all of them, or if I should handwrite notes addressed to each of them, all saying basically the same thing.
GENTLE READER: E-mail is not a generation. It is one of many forms of written communication that we are fortunate enough to have at our disposal, and we are supposed to be able to choose the proper one for each occasion.
Miss Manners is a member of the horseless-carriage generation but she still knows how to ride a horse. (Sidesaddle.)
Thank-you letters must be written by hand to everyone who has given you a present.