Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Avoid Co-Worker's Bad Manners by Eating Lunch Elsewhere

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I work in a small department in a medium-sized hospital. My problem and that of the other workers in our department concerns a fellow employee whose table manners are deplorable, not to mention unhealthy in the hospital environment in which we work.

When we eat lunch together, he will pick his teeth with a plastic fork, use his napkin as a handkerchief or loudly clear his throat, all without excusing himself from the table where we are all eating. Today, he helped himself to my lunch using his fingers to tear off a piece of meat without asking permission. We were all horrified.

Please, tell us how to politely inform him of his terrible manners without hurting his feelings. Besides showing a lack of etiquette, his table manners are unsanitary, especially in a hospital setting.

GENTLE READER: His manners are unsanitary in a non-hospital setting as well, which leads Miss Manners to wonder why you choose to continue to eat lunch with him.

Ending joint lunches may be a sacrifice, but it avoids the rudeness of correcting someone else's manners. If your co-worker notices the change and asks, it may then be possible to explain that you have a prejudice from childhood of not sharing your lunch, but you did not want to give offense.