Over the years I’ve witnessed and participated in conversations at work that would make HR flee like very uncomfortable people who do not want to deal with this shit that they didn’t cause. That wasn’t really a simile, but I intend to be blunt here.
This is your warning: the rest of this entry is completely inappropriate, not safe for work, and bound to offend most readers at some point. That’s my meaning. None of the following conversations should have occurred, especially not at work.
Here are some of the most awful work conversations I’ve overheard, participated in, or (shamefully) initiated over the years.
1. “My grandfather was a Nazi.”
It’s often held as a truism that everyone hates Nazis. Much as we wish so, it’s just not true. I forget who mentioned Nazis, but the general consensus that they were bad went horribly wrong when one co-worker bluntly stated her grandfather was a Nazi soldier and that he was a good person.
Awkward silence fell on us like plague rats. We were at our work stations, so we couldn’t flee. Letting that hang there just made it worse, but nobody had a graceful route out of the conversation. Finally, feeling unclean, we averred that some Nazis were just folks trying to survive in an insane regime.
The whole incident was horrible and regrettable. Just don’t mention Nazis at work. Like most places, they don’t belong there.
2. “Gonna get me some beaver juice!”
In this enlightened age, we should all realize that work is not a place to talk about sex, your plans to have some, or with whom you’d like to have it. Some folks missed the memo.
Out of an upsettingly long list of such remarks, the standout was the guy who answered an inquiry about his weekend plans with the above appalling (if novel) exclamation.
Please don’t announce these things at work. Nobody wants to know, and it makes me feel bad for having male sexual characteristics.
3. “…a warm treat on a cold afternoon!”
This one’s my bad, and I still regret it. Believe me when I tell you that your coworkers do not want to hear about the nature show where a gorilla ate its own poop.
4. “But maybe the Taliban is right for Afghanistan.”
Religion, politics, and war… This conversational WMD was unleashed to back up the speaker’s divisive assertions in a heated argument over who should rule Kashmir. In a room filled with people who had strong opinions vis-a-vis Indian-Pakistani relations, it was already an uncomfortable topic. So why not inflame it by bringing up a conflict about which everyone had even stronger opinions?
Because no. Get back to work and stop arguing about global politics.
5. “You can trust the Asians.”
Hopefully you already see the problem with this seemingly positive statement. The context makes it clearer.
As cashiers, we were required to verify that check-writing customers were not on a list of people who’d passed bad checks at our store previously. Easy enough (and in two years I never ever found one), but some people always have to try to optimize everything.
This guy decided that all dark-skinned people were always to be checked. Whites could be skipped, unless they were young men who dressed “gangster”. Asians, he declared, were a trustworthy people and never needed to be checked. His findings were based on nothing but his own prejudices.
Racial profiling is not something of which you should be proud. Or, you know, do.
That’s it for now. I may write etiquette guides for other workplace topics if I can stomach it. I’m really not looking forward to doing one of these for hygiene in the workplace. Can I just leave it at “learn how to flush the toilet”?