How Do I Deal With This Impossible Coworker?

Ok maybe not

Ok maybe not

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

I have an impossible coworker! That is the best description. We sit in a big open office, and he is right across (a very short) partition from me and he’s driving me absolutely nutso. He’s extraordinarily loud and likes to yell all the time, either at the people around here, imaginary people, or will literally just yell out movie quotes or lyrics at nobody for no reason. When he’s not yelling, he’s got headphones in that don’t work very well as headphones. I’ve got a pretty stressful job, and I can’t hear myself think anymore.

I know that I should just TALK TO HIM, but there are a few obstacles:

1) I need him to do work for me, often, and he takes ANY criticism as a huge slight and will not talk to the person that “disrespects him” for WEEKS.

2) There is no HR department at my very small company.

3) The powers that be seem to be straight-up terrified of him, and won’t fire him or even reprimand him for anything, despite the fact that he actually recently stole a bunch of stuff from the office and now almost everything is under lock and key AS WELL AS previous incidents he’s been responsible for that I know the company lawyer is constantly being called in to deal with his shenanigans. I think they don’t want to pay him unemployment.

Anyways, essentially the guy is a huge pain in the ass and I don’t have ANY IDEA what to do here. I’ve narrowed it down to “quit my job” or “stew forever.” Help!




This is somewhat outside the scope of etiquette, but most etiquette experts would probably say to be polite and direct and go to your superiors about the problem and if all fails, then to grin and bear it. You might also check, a really great resource for questions about office politics and legal issues.


Jaya: Well, I do still think that talking to a superior is a good idea. And mention that the yelling makes it very hard for him to do his job. It seems like the letter writer has a higher up job, so that could help.

Victoria: And if they do fire him, they won’t have to pay unemployment.

Jaya: And if the letter writer wants to talk to the guy himself, and if he decides not to talk to him for weeks, that’s also something the letter writer can bring to higher ups if he doesn’t get work done.  Just say “well coworker for some reason is not responding to my many requests.”

Victoria: That’s true, and maybe even keep a log of incidents, which can be helpful when approaching management.

Jaya: If anything, perhaps he can request to move desks? I think in a lot of situations, the best advice is always to find what you can do for yourself, if there’s no way to change the other person. Which in this case, there probably isn’t. Move desks, get headphones yourself, something. Also, this coworker sounds like such a baby.

Victoria: Yeahhhhhhhh.

Did My Friends Forget To Give Me A Present?

Have you ruled out wedding Grinches?

Have you ruled out wedding Grinches?

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

At our wedding, after going through the gifts, we noticed that 4 of my close college friends had not given a gift. It seemed really weird, and I was concerned that maybe they all put their gifts somewhere together and they got misplaced or lost. If that were true, you’d think they’d want to know. What would you do here?


Expected A Toaster


The official etiquette stance here would be to say nothing for a few reasons. 1) Guests sometimes send gifts a while after the wedding so they might still be getting around to it (obviously this is more likely if it’s only been a few months since the wedding). 2) guests aren’t really obligated to give gifts at all, and if they spent a lot of money travelling to your wedding, they might not have given a gift at all. 3) If the gifts DID get lost, what’s going to happen? It’s too late to try to find them and your guests will just feel bad that they were lost.

What you could do is send a thank you note thanking them for coming to the wedding without mentioning gifts and hope that if they did give a gift that was lost that they will call you up and ask if you got it.


Jaya:  So I do like that advice, but I agree that if I had given at gift and it was lost, I’d rather know about it than wait until the thank you note. Because if they don’t mention it in the thank you note, you’re thinking “wait, did they get the gift and just not thank me for it?”

Victoria:  Yes, I totally agree, with close friends, I would ABSOLUTELY ask.

Jaya:  Yeah! And these sound like close enough friends.

Victoria:  Just be like, “omg this is really awkward, but I’m really worried someone misplaced your gift at the wedding.” And this actually happened to me sort of! I went to a wedding and sent a gift ahead of time, but then I never got a thank you note. The groom thanked me verbally at the wedding for the CARD I had sent separately, which made me think maybe they hadn’t gotten the gift.

Jaya:  Ooh! What did you do?

Victoria:  Nothing, haha, it was a couple years ago. But I didn’t really know them well enough to feel like I could say anything. I should have just emailed and been like, hey, I sent you this thing, did you get it? But at the time, I didn’t want them to think I was chastising them for not sending thank you notes.

Jaya:  Yeah, that’s the tricky part. Or on the bride and groom’s side, you don’t want to make it seem like you expect a gift. But I still think it’s ok to just send a thank you note to the people for being there, and then maybe it’s up to the guest to say “wait, did you get my present?” 

Victoria:  Yeah, after my experience, I would strongly advise people to follow up if you haven’t heard from the couple about your gift. Especially with sending gifts to their house, there are so many ways it could get lost and you want to find out ASAP so you can follow up with the store and try to get a refund/replacement.

Jaya:  Definitely. But in general, I think if you’re going to send a gift, do it through the mail or give it to them in person. Leaving gifts on a table at the wedding seems like a good way to have them go missing.

Victoria:  Yeah, I am not a fan of gifts at the wedding- though I know its a regional thing- there’s way too much going on and things easily get misplaced or their cards get detached and you don’t know who gave what.

Jaya:  Cards getting detached! That’s happened to me, and it’s no fun doing the process of elimination to figure out where they belonged

Victoria:  Hahaha yeah! Exactly!

Jaya:  So yeah, I think for this, given that they say these were close college friends, you could ask if they brought a gift but if it’s some outsider, just thank them for coming in the thank you note and wait for their response.

Victoria:  Yep, and just phrase it like, “we noticed there was a big chunk of people who didn’t bring gifts and we were concerned they might have gotten misplaced at the wedding, so we were wondering if you had given us anything, but don’t worry if you didn’t! We just want to make sure we don’t miss a thank you note.” It’s going to be horribly awkward, but if you do sound a bit sheepish, your good friends won’t care.

Jaya:  Absolutely. They know you’re awkward anyway. People just need to suck it up and communicate.

Victoria: Oh! Or! If you have a bridal party member/close friend who is also good friends with these people you could send them on a little reconnaissance mission and have them ask them what they gave you. Only if you can trust them be to extremely subtle.

Jaya:  Ooooh yes, that’s a great solution.

Victoria:  I would totally do that for you, btw.

Jaya:  Aww, you’re so sweet.

Should I Compliment My Therapist On Her Engagement?

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

What is proper etiquette when you spot a diamond ring on the left ring finger of…your therapist?


Awkward On The Couch


Miss Manners says that back in the day, it was rude to remark on anyone’s possessions, but she concedes that those days are long over. Since Miss Manners spends a lot of time talking about how to deflect personal questions, I think her advice would be more along the lines of not asking personal questions, especially in a business situation.


Jaya: I think this ties well into bringing up any noticeable life change you see in another person. Engagement, pregnancy, tattoo, etc.

Victoria: Miss Manners has mostly dealt with people grabbing the engaged lady’s left hand or asking to try it on. Which are both pretty rude!

Jaya: Just because they have a public display of something doesn’t mean they want to talk about it. Oh god, those people are terrible.

Victoria: Have people been grabbing you? (ed: Jaya recently got engaged!!)

Jaya: They have! It happened this a few weekends ago at a family party.

Victoria: Aaaaahhhh!

Jaya: Some family friend I’ve never met but who apparently knew ALL about me.

Victoria: LOL

Jaya: And would not stop asking questions about the wedding.  And it’s infuriating because it just makes me feel bad for talking about it to someone who is not invited.

Victoria: Yeah.

Jaya: However, a normal “congrats!” is totally fine

Victoria: I was going to say, in this case, I think a glance at the ring and a “do I owe you a congratulations?” is fine. Just like, if they have pictures of kids in their office, I don’t think it’s THAT bad to say, “cute kids” or whatever. Just don’t start asking tons of personal questions.

Jaya: And I think this goes doubly for a therapist. Obviously everyone has their own relationship with therapists, but generally the focus is more on the patient, right? Especially since there are rules about getting too involved, making your therapist a part of your personal life, etc.

Victoria: Yeah, I don’t know very much about therapy etiquette (therapists, please submit your thoughts to us!). I would think, for me, maybe its a little weird to be in such an intimate atmosphere and sharing so much about yourself and never asking any questions about the other person.

Jaya: It varies, but I think the therapist generally sets the tone. So saying congratulations at the end of a session is fine but asking lots of questions perhaps isn’t, in general but especially when it’s your therapist.

Victoria: Yeah, exactly, and if they seem like they want to talk more, then that’s great.

Jaya: And if your therapist doesn’t want to get involved, I’m 100% sure they are trained in how to gracefully discourage a patient from asking personal questions.

Victoria: Yeah, I would think they deal with these kinds of things all the time.

Jaya: It is strange though, these public displays of life changes. I had a coworker who was pregnant, and I never said anything, because by the time I could tell she was pregnant she had obviously been pregnant for a while. So it’s sort of weird going “congrats on the thing that clearly happened to you about six months ago.”

Victoria: I mean, I don’t think most people are annoyed or offended by simple congratulations for almost anything. It’s when the personal questions start piling up that it gets annoying.

How Do I Accept A Gift From Someone Less Fortunate Than Me?

juicyflexDear Uncommon Courtesy,

Could you please comment on the etiquette involved in taking gifts from people who can’t afford much in life?  I have occasionally been offered small things from people who have almost nothing including a man who asks for money on the street, to whom I have given money from time to time. One time the gift was a pen that I thought looked pretty hefty and fancy when I took it. though it turned out to be dried up when I tried to use it. Another time, it was a bunch of little single-serve juice cartons, which I think had been given to the man by a store, as they were a bit past their expiration date—but still good. He wanted me to take several, and I did.

I feel strange taking anything in a situation like this, but I always accept on the theory that the gift wouldn’t be offered if it was truly unaffordable, and it would be rude and unfriendly to refuse.  Your thoughts?


Kindness From Strangers


All the standard etiquette mavens emphasize accepting gifts in the spirit in which they are offered and thanking people. I haven’t found much discussion of a situation like this, though in a case of one person being very generous with gifts and favors, Miss Manners suggested to the writer that they try to reciprocate with what they can.


Jaya: This is a really interesting question. I totally see how you’d feel guilty in that situation.

Victoria: Yeah. You don’t want to offend someone. And I’m definitely in the thought of taking things in the spirit of which they are offered.

Jaya: How often is this happening to this person!?

Victoria: This does not happen to me.

Jaya: It’s sort of the flip side of “a gift is a gift.” Do not expect that someone put themselves in a bad situation to give this to you!

Victoria: And these gifts are not that elaborate.

Jaya: So this makes me think of this quote that I see on Pinterest all the time (I can’t believe I’m gonna quote pinterest): “When a child gives you a gift, even if it is just a rock they just picked up, show gratitude. It might be the only thing they have to give, and they have chosen to give it to you.” It’s really weird, but it sort of applies?

Victoria: It totally applies. And some people are just givers.

Jaya: I think the best course for this particular guy is maybe just keep giving him change as normal.

Victoria: Yep, especially since they’re more like found objects. There’s this one guy near my subway stop who sells a whole spread of pretty nice stuff he finds.

Jaya: That’s awesome.

Victoria: Yeah, so these gifts are probably not costing him anything. Though I think if you have very close friends who are doing this gift giving and you know they are super poor, you can bring it up and suggest that they don’t need to be doing it. Or say that you feel badly that you can’t reciprocate. But still, you don’t necessarily know their circumstances; a lot of people get free stuff through work that they like to give out.

Jaya: Totally. No one should ever feel pressured to give a gift, but if they do, assume that they had the means and kindness in their heart to do it.

Victoria: And say thank you, wholeheartedly.

Is This Gift A Ploy For An Invitation?


Could it be…a passive-aggressive gesture?!?!?!

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

One of our wedding guests wanted to bring a +1 to the wedding. Initially we said no, but the guest then got us multiple nice gifts off our registry (Le Creuset, Lenox crystal…). Should we now say “yes”?


Almost at Venue Capacity


First of all, your guest is being extremely rude in requesting a +1 to your wedding. Never ever should a guest ask the host if they can bring someone to a formal event such as a wedding. We have established this. As to the gifts, it’s obviously rude to bribe someone to get them to do something you want them to do. Since this is so obviously rude, you should just assume the best and take the gifts as a simple sign of generosity.


Victoria: So this invitation bribery question…

Jaya: Yeah. Oy.

Victoria: Right!

Jaya: Though I mean really, fuck no you don’t have to invite anyone, right?

Victoria: Yeah, of course. I mean, there’s actually nothing more to say than that, except discussing feelings about it.

Jaya: Hahaha yeah. I can see where the guilt comes from, absolutely. If a stranger gets you a crystal vase worth hundreds of dollars, a nicely worded thank you note seems a little lame in return.

Victoria: Haha, a little bit!

Jaya: (My thank you notes are worth a million crystal vases.)

Victoria: Gifts have DEFINITELY gotten out of hand, but I also get it for older people who are all excited about young love and are feeling a bit flush and really are just very generous.

Jaya: Yeah, that can make sense. And that is what everyone should assume is the motive, because that should be the motive!

Victoria: Yep! And in like 90% of cases it probably is.

Jaya: I’m sure there are some sneaky people out there who think they can buy their way into a good party, but not many.

Victoria: Maybe the guest is even buying extra nice gifts to make up for their rudeness in asking! Best case scenarios!

Jaya: Yeah, and in general people need to consider their relationship to the couple. If you’re their best friend, go ahead and get them a nice gift. If you went to high school with the groom’s mom and keep in touch with her but haven’t seen her son since he was in grade school? A gift is probably not necessary, and will probably just make them feel uncomfortable and pressured to invite you.

Victoria: I think the only thing you can really do in this instance is accept the gift in the spirit of generosity in which it was offered and send a nice thank you note immediately. That’s it. What a mess.

Jaya: Yes. Write them a thank you note, figure out a way to use/return the gift, and if it’s a secret ploy for an invitation, that’s their problem, not yours.

Victoria: When in doubt, write a thank you note.