Work Lunch Paradox and Greek Salad Tragedy (by Koreans)


There is this paradoxical situation known as the The Work Lunch. I hate The Work Lunch, but fortunately, one of the benefits of getting eliminated from a former employer and refusing to go back to work in a job with a nice, steady income, choosing instead, the financially and mentally unstable job of freeblogger, is that there is no such thing as the paradox of The Work Lunch. I have been out of what normal people know as the normal work cycle in which they go to a normal job in a normal office for over a year, so I have been able to avoid The Work Lunch.

I am a blogger. I wake up at the lunch hour and eat…breakfast.

The paradox is this: when the “girls” or “boys” or “co-workers” or “office mates” or whatever the little clique-y clique of people who go to lunch together invite you to lunch, what are you supposed to do?!?! Do you go to that horrible place on the corner that they always go to even though a green “C” looms in the window, or suffer the not-really-unbeknownst-to-you gossip behind you back in the office break room of your being unfriendly? You cannot say yes, and yet, you cannot say no. The Work Lunch is a fucking paradox.

You should go to lunch because joining in the group lunch activity says “I am part of the team!” It’s an unofficial team-building activity and you have teaming skills! It signals to the others who are in the clique that yes, you are flattered that they invited you to join their club. It shows others that you want to get along with the people at work. You are friendly. You want to bond. You want to contribute to a friendly corporate culture.

However.

How fucking ever.

You should not go because going to lunch says “I don’t have enough work!” Everyone knows these lunches take at least an hour and half, and the more people who go and sit down at the makeshift banquet table from your department, the longer it takes. Going to lunch with the group signals that you actually have nothing better to do than sit around for two hours awkwardly trying to make small-talk with Gertie from Finance who spits when she talks. You don’t want to bond with these people. You don’t want to be friends with them because they’re co-workers and they’re weird. You are not a team player. You don’t care about the corporate culture because nothing, and you mean nothing, is going to make work seem less like work unless you are not working.

And do I even need to mention that you will order a side salad because this is work and obviously they aren’t paying you enough to afford the grilled salmon for lunch but you will end up paying $23 for that side salad because it’s just easier to split the tab 14 ways than figure out what each person owes? Even if your group does the pass-the-bill-pay-what-you-owe on the honor system, everyone knows that Edward from Accounting never takes into account tax and tip. And he’s from Accounting!

You are smashed between a stapler and binderclip. If you go, obviously you have no work and should be fired. If you don’t go, obviously you are not a team player and should be fired.

Today, I was confronted with The Work Lunch. It was ugly, and ended in tragedy.

Her head popped into my open doorway.

“Hey, we’re going to go get sooshee. You’re welcome to come,” she offered.

I smiled. I was invited. I felt included.

“But don’t feel like you have to!”

Ugh. She had thrown in the “but don’t feel like you have to” addendum. Not only did I have to deal with The Work Lunch paradox, but there was that dangling clause. I hate that addendum. Why do people do that? Why do people add that little clause makes me think she doesn’t really want me to go but had to ask out of obligation? I am absolutely quite possibly certain that there was no meaning behind her clause other than really, indicating that I didn’t have to. However, I cannot help that the clause, no matter how pure the intention was on the transmitting side, makes me go through painful somersaults in my brain at about 450 rpm, so that “should I or shoudn’t I” has volleyed between me and myself at least 900 times before answering.

“Okay! Cool. I have an assload of stuff to finish, but I’ll let you know.” The sing-song-yness of my tone surprised even me. I was back in the work cycle as if I had never left it. You can take the girl out of the cycle, but you can’t take the MBA out of the girl. Or something like that.

I really did have an “assload” of stuff to do, and if you’ve seen my blogger’s ass, you know that an assload is a lot. Normal people would have just answered yes or no, then spent the next 45 minutes before lunch doing work. I am not normal. My high-stress nonsensibilities took over and for the next 45 minutes, I pretended to answer emails while asking myself over and over again, “Do I go to lunch and bond with ‘the team,’ or do I stay behind with the pretense of ‘assload’ of work, but not really being able to do it because I will just wonder if I should have gone to lunch?”

“You coming?”

“I really want to, but I just got another bazillion emails I have to answer before COB. Go without me. Have a toro for me!”

oh-em-gee. “COB?” Who says “COB?!?!” I hate myself.

So while the happy little lunch crew was having a toro (for me!), I was relegated to the miserable little Korean-owned café in the lobby of the office building. It’s not that bad, meaning the café isn’t that bad, but “it” is bad when you choose to eat in the not-bad café when Sawtelle is a mere two blocks away. I ordered a Greek Salad because I love Greek Salad, so my not going was vindicated, until I got a Korean’s interpretation of a Greek Salad. The tomatoes were grainy and mushy, and the salad had avocadoes and regular California pitted black olives. There was a side of saccahrin-sweet Italian dressing.

I think it was punishment for not being a team player.

** a year ago today, le saigon let bygones be bygones **

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  • Matt Schantz

    yeah you’re crazy

  • Anonymous

    I try to avoid the work lunch whenever possible. IF I am able to go to lunch, then lunch is the time I get to escape from work!

    Probably people think I’m anti-social, but since I’m not ambitious and I’m not trying to be anyone’s friend outside of work, then … oh well.

  • Anonymous

    Some of my fondest memories of when I was working in the US centre around office lunches in the Fenway. Ah, the old clique. Glory days…

    Currently, there’s a vaguely-related article in the NY Times, about how ‘city people’ no longer want to slow down to socialize these days…

  • djjewelz

    That sounds like my old office building, in the City Nat’l Bank Building?

  • Anonymous

    *patpat* There there. If it helps, you’re not alone.

    – Chubbypanda

  • Anonymous

    The Work Lunch is evil! I walked into an office of coworkers last week only to have the conversation stop cold and one of them actually turned over the menu they had all been discussing and they quickly changed the subject.
    Uh oh.

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