Dear Miss Manners:

What is office etiquette regarding communal, or individual, refrigerators?

I am very fortunate that I work in an office that is, for the most part, a collegial and professionally supportive environment. You would think common sense would dictate behavior, but I am not currently in a position to reeducate my colleagues.

For medical reasons, I have a small refrigerator under my desk, in the typical contemporary office cube. After opening up its occasional use to a few colleagues who asked politely, it has become communal property. Yogurt, eggs and salad dressing hang around for months.

People bop in and out of my cube, shoving me aside (always saying "excuse me" as a form of polite interruption) while I'm on the phone at my desk. One person feels free to store containers that take up half the shelf space of a really small unit. Regular pleas to take stuff out go unheeded, so I throw them out with no reaction from those who deposited the things there. I feel like a mean or bad person to cut the use off to everyone because of a few bad apples. What do you think would be the appropriate way to address this little quality-of-life issue?

There is a larger, psychological issue here, and it illustrates why etiquette is not, as you and others think, entirely a matter of common sense.

It is that people think of office amenities as part of the institutional setup, not as courtesies from their colleagues. They would know better if they truly thought about it, but they don't. The same people who would hesitate to take a peanut in your house unless you passed the bowl will stick a hand in a desktop candy jar without registering the fact that the individual sitting at the desk has had the courtesy to provide this.

Miss Manners does not want to suggest that you should stop being generous -- only that you should not surrender control of its limits. A policy of throwing out all food at the end of each work week, spoiled or not, and a lock on the door, so you can wave off people who disturb your work and turn away heavy loads, should regain you that.

Dear Miss Manners:

As a light-skinned woman in my mid-forties, it is not uncommon for my face to turn quite red several times a day as I suffer through the hot flashes commonly associated with menopause. At times, co-workers or acquaintances will comment on my red face and ask me if I've been out in the sun. How should I reply to these questions and comments? I'm not a sunbather, and besides, they are likely to notice that my "sunburned" face returns to its normal shade after a few minutes.

"Stop, please. You're making me blush."

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

(c) 2005, Judith Martin