Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Real Talk With Rachel: Oohing and Aahing to the Point of Insanity

by Rachel Kurzius

We heard last week from a letter-writer whose friend’s birthday plans concerned him. The friend’s Big-40 bash involved all of his loved ones paying out the wazoo so he could have his dream evening at a fancy restaurant. The friend asked, “How common is it for someone to arrange their own party at one of the most expensive venues in the area then expect all the guests to pay for it?”

Based on the responses I got from readers, the answer is “way more common than you think.” One reader really identified with the letter-writer:

“After reading this letter, I cringed, as it happened to my partner and me! A friend's husband wanted to treat her to an expensive dinner at a DC hot spot. We were under the impression that the husband was going to foot the bill. So, in appreciation I purchased an expensive bottle of wine. Well, after a wonderful and very indulgent dinner, we were all informed that we would need to pay hundreds of dollars for the meal.

"My partner and I were under some very distressful financial hardship at the time and the total of nearly so many hundreds of dollars for a single evening was an added burden that we didn't need at all. We and another mutual friend were outraged. We pulled back from the friendship as did the mutual friend. It's amazing how one thoughtless move can change a relationship irrevocably.”

Another reader noted, “If this is his idea of how to celebrate turning just a measly 40, I can't even begin to imagine what kind of plans this tacky dude would try to impose on his friends and acquaintances when he turns 50. I'm guessing that his guest list may shrink considerably between now and then, though, because these birthday plans of his have 'self-absorbed jerk' written all over them.”

Let this be a notice to all of you would-be birthday boys and girls -- your friends notice when you try to stick them with the bill. Take your birthday as an opportunity to celebrate all of the people in your life, not alienate them with your parsimony.

And now, to this week’s query.

Dear Rachel,

I share an office with a 20-something male. I am a 30-something female. Generally we get along just fine. I bite my tongue a bit about some of his behavior because it is his first job and I recognize that he still has some growing up to do. I don't feel like I'm in a position to teach him office etiquette.

But he has so many annoying habits that are driving me crazy. Some of his habits are things that everyone does, he just does them with more vigor. For example, every time he sits in his seat he says, "Oy!"; every time he takes a sip of water he says, "Aah"; every morning he scrapes his cereal bowl (I usually have to leave the room), and so on. I kind of think he likes annoying me so I don't want him to know how much he does so maybe he will eventually stop. But I also feel bad asking him to stop or tone it down because these actions seem to come naturally to him. His former office mate complained of similar behavior. I feel I have to be non-confrontational at work. How can I address this?

Getting Scraped Out

Dear Getting Scraped Out,

From gum-snapping to snot-sniffing, coworkers’ grating habits can become all-consuming frustrations. I’ve noticed something about what bugs me and what doesn’t. When I’m in a good mood, it’s tough to get me down. If I’m already annoyed, you better believe each hum, every last toe tap, grates to no end. Coworkers won’t stop cracking their knuckles just because it ticks you off.

What concerns me more about your letter is this snippet: “I kind of think he likes annoying me.” If that’s true, it’s way more immature than the scraping. From the way your last coworker put it, though, it seems like this dude is just very dramatic about his everyday behaviors. And frankly, if he really believes each sip of water deserves an “Aah!” I kind of envy the guy.

Does it prevent you from doing your work? If it does, you should talk to whoever got that last officemate a new desk. But you say you generally get along fine. If this is your main concern, get a good set of headphones instead.

I wonder about one other thing you said -- that you can’t be confrontational at work. It depends what you mean by confrontational. No need to pick fights all of the time, but there are moments you need to speak up. I have no idea where you work, or what the power structure is like there, but I can say this: advocate for yourself. Sometimes that will cause others to bristle. You should still do it.

We all have weird ticks. We all have different pet peeves, too. Your letter got me asking about the habits that bug them at work and in life. I heard about one co-worker who chews ice all day. Another pretends to get injured by the shelf above his desk every time he stands. One fake-answers the phone from famous people (that one sounds pretty funny). Someone told me about a coworker who came in drunk and spent all day chugging mouthwash. I heard lots of offenses about music-listening habits.

People are going to do things that annoy you until you stop letting it get to you. At least this office-mate will make for some great stories.

All my best,


Rachel Kurzius revels in giving advice, and has provided counsel both as a columnist and a friend. She lives in Washington DC, where she works as a news producer. Real Talk with Rachel is published on All Life is Local and the Cleveland Park Listserv,, on Wednesdays. Need advice? You can write to Rachel via or advice @

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