When contemplating taking a new job, Miss Manners would consider it prudent to inquire the amount that the salary will be depleted by paying good fellowship dues.
This would be the cumulative amount that an employee will be cajoled or bullied into contributing to presents and parties for fellow workers. Every workplace has a volunteer social director who comes to collect money and goods to support the heavy schedule of social events held during working hours:
"Ethan in Accounting is getting married, and we've decided to buy him a crystal bowl. Your share is $20, but some people are giving more, and that's all right, too."
"We're having a Fourth of July party on Friday, instead of our usual end-of-the-week bash. Would you prefer to bring a casserole or a pie?"
"Have you met the new receptionist? She's having a baby, and it's $5 each for the cake and sodas for the shower. This is her third, but her first girl, so everyone should buy her a pink or frilly outfit."
"There are three birthdays this week. We were going to throw them in together, but it doesn't seem fair to those who have had their own parties, so we're scheduling them for Monday, Wednesday and Friday. But you can pay a lump sum for all three."
"We're taking Greg out to lunch for his retirement. Oh, of course, you know him. Everyone knows Greg. He's been here forever. Well then, this will be a chance to meet him, because we're taking him to the Bistro Francaise. Naturally, we'll each pay for our own lunches, but we're also contributing toward paying for his."
"We've decided to do a Christmas-in-July party for everyone who's not taking a summer vacation. Otherwise, we'll all just get depressed watching the others go. You'll get a slip telling you whose Secret Santa you are. Gifts should be not more than $25, but not less than $10. Senior employees err on the generous side, and I guess you qualify."
"Arthur's mother-in-law died, and we thought we'd send flowers. You know, as a sort of appreciation for him as our boss."
Miss Manners is not against cordial relationships in the workplace. On the contrary, she considers a pleasant demeanor and a cooperative attitude to be requirements.
Nor is she against friendships forming among co-workers, which is not the same thing as hanging around with colleagues who will lose interest in anyone whose employment has terminated.
But compulsory socializing at work has assumed frightening proportions. It started with the notion that co-workers who got to know one another in a personal way would become 1) fond of one another, and 2) more productive. That they might waste an inordinate amount of time in becoming acquainted with people they turned out to dislike does not seem to have been considered.
In the same period, businesses were slashing their budgets, dropping such courtesies to their employees as holiday and retirement parties and flowers for funerals. It became in their interest to allow employees to take over the cost.
The workers-as-friends convention obscured this. And it seems to have obscured from many workers the fact that they are entitled to choose their own friends.
Dear Miss Manners:
If I haven't seen an old friend of the opposite sex in a year or two, is it proper to exchange hugs in front of others, or should a handshake be the best thing to do?
Were you on social hugging terms before?
If you were on handshaking terms then, Miss Manners fears that you will find your arms encircling a mass of confusion. Your old friend will be doing a memory search, on the chance of having forgotten how things got so warm.
However, if you were on more-than-social hugging terms in the past, it will be whoever is accompanying your friend who is doing the wondering.
So unless you are resuming an old greeting, it is best to start with a hearty handshake. It is easier to increase warmth than to explain it.
Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.
(c) 2005, Judith Martin