Miss Manners

Stopping a Workplace Beverage Thief

DEAR MISS MANNERS: We have a co-worker who likes to sample our beverages without asking. She will just grab the drink and take a few big gulps directly from the straw. Sometimes, she’ll remove the plastic lid of the drink and slurp from the cup itself. The first time it happened, we were shocked, but now it’s become an almost daily activity for her.

The co-worker it most often happens to once blurted out quickly, as the beverage thief was about to sip her drink, “Oh, I feel like I may be coming down with something ... you don’t want my germs!” To which the offending co-worker replied, “Oh, that’s OK. I have a really strong immune system” then proceeded to slurp away.

The catch? We all work in the health care field! We’ve tried being totally direct with the beverage thief by saying, “Stop drinking our drinks!” But the beverage thief just laughs it off like we’re joking. Honestly, it’s such a strange issue to have as professionals in our 40s, but we are really at a loss here.

Aside from outfitting our beverages with sophisticated alarm devices, keeping our drinks by our sides at all times (not feasible at our job, as we move around quite a bit and are not stationed in one place throughout the day), or lacing our beverages with pickle juice, we don’t know how to handle this situation.

GENTLE READER: If you are willing to consider lacing beverages with pickle juice, then Miss Manners infers that you are willing to surrender a few drinks to solve the problem.

Very well. Next time the co-worker helps herself, give her the drink. When she protests, politely refuse to take it back, explaining that you are probably overreacting, but your training about the spread of germs is so ingrained that you just cannot overcome it. You may even resort to leaving the area, without taking the drink, as a way of indicating that it is now hers. Eventually, the message will sink in.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I see two service providers fairly regularly. In one instance, the provider canceled an appointment due to a family emergency. In the second instance, the provider had an obvious injury.

My reaction on greeting each at the next appointment was to proceed with business without calling attention to the emergency or the injury. My feeling is that we are not friends, and they most likely do not wish to share personal information with every client they see.

I do, however, feel that I may be perceived as cold to not inquire into their well-being. How should I handle a situation like this in the future?

GENTLE READER: Whether your providers are in the habit of sharing personal information with every client, the first provider has done so with you. It is therefore not a question of respecting privacy. Miss Manners sees no harm in the civility of a polite follow-up inquiry -- assuming that your provider will not take it as an invitation to use the appointment to discuss his problems instead of yours. By contrast, the injured provider has not invited personal inquiries, and you are therefore right not to inquire.

(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, dearmissmanners@gmail.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

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