Dear Wayne -- How do I handle a gross office mate?

Olives, onions, sardines -- at his desk. It's too much for one colleague. Can the author of "Humiliation" help?

Published September 19, 2011 10:20PM (EDT)

Wayne Koestenbaum, the author of the new book "Humiliation," is answering questions from Salon readers over the next several days about their most shameful and cringe-worthy moments. Have a question of your own? Send it to

Dear Wayne,

I work in a small office, with one gentleman sitting no more than 6 feet away from my desk. Unfortunately, this person's eating habits are about to do me in. He eats constantly -- grazing the entire day on items such as (I kid you not) sardines, raw onions, olives and cottage cheese, all at the same time. I have tried to communicate my displeasure telepathically to no avail. I don't want to hurt the guy's feelings -- I just want him to eat like a human being at prescribed times, preferably out of the office. What do you suggest?

Dear Eschewer of Sardines,

I understand your plight. This office mate's eating habits sound totally disgusting. I sat on the airplane yesterday next to a guy who was eating a soft-boiled egg with his hands. He'd brought the soft-boiled egg from home, for consumption on the plane. Which meant that the egg had festered at room temperature for hours. I could barely contain my rage and disgust.

Do other people work in your office? If so, conscript their aid. Compose, together, a letter of complaint, and address it to the overeating gentleman. Or else tell this gross-out personage that you have a highly developed sense of smell, and that, with this olfactory sensitivity comes a heightened gag reflex; say that you're unable to withstand the impulse to gag, and gagging is getting in the way of your productivity. You could be gentle in your request. You could say, "My dear friend, I'm sorry to mention this, but I'm embarrassingly hypersensitive to smells -- it's always been a problem with me, ever since childhood -- and I'm regularly feeling ill at the office because of foodstuffs consumed by you and by the others of our workforce. Would you be offended if we instituted, on a trial basis, a new office policy, whereby we all agree to consume food only off-site, or during prescribed hours?"

Anyone who eats sardines and raw onions in a small office -- not to mention with cottage cheese as chaser -- lacks a sense of propriety, a sense of the privacy and well-being of others. I like herring; I like squid; I like gorgonzola. But I would never eat these foods in a small office, near comrades; and I would never eat herring and gorgonzola together.

Some people are asking to be lightly chastised. Your office mate is cruisin' for a bruisin'.

Hypersensitively yours,


By Wayne Koestenbaum

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