Does the real future of the Washington Post lie with its basement full of problem-solving advice columnists?
I sometimes do and sometimes don't take the time, while perusing the washingtonpost.com "round-up"-type e-mails, to glance at the highlighted items for the Style section's 15 or 20 advice columnists. Maybe I was just more bored than usual today (or maybe, shall we say, more sensitive to potential blogpost material), but two such items, enough so that I had to actually read both. And they both raise interesting questions, though in neither case am I entirely persuaded that the reader-adviser interaction has quite gotten to the heart of the matter.
FIRST, LET'S LISTEN TO MISS MANNERS PARSE
A JOB INTERVIEW THAT WENT HORRIBLY WRONG
Interview dress code should be clearly spelled out
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I went to an interview for a part-time job wearing an expensive blazer and blouse, heels, good jewelry and makeup, along with a pair of classically tailored denim trousers -- not jeans.
The administrative assistant met me at the door with a full-bodied scream -- I do not exaggerate -- "You're wearing jeans! Mr. X. hates jeans."
I was somewhat taken aback, but I said calmly, "If you have a company dress code, I shall tell him that, if hired, I shall certainly comply with it."
Her response was to tell me that I could not interview that day and to come back when I was dressed differently. I left feeling confused and insulted. I was not told to wear specific clothes to the interview, and I certainly looked professional; I am 60 years old and a college professor.
My thoughts are that if this company did not want to hire me, that was entirely up to them, but to treat me this way was incredibly discourteous. Am I wrong to feel this way?
GENTLE READER: You are not, Miss Manners assumes, asking her to understand the distinction between denim trousers and jeans, even if Praxiteles himself did the alterations.
But perhaps she can help by sharing her suspicion that the administrative assistant may not have been acting with the full support of her boss and company. As you say, why would the company encourage such behavior?
If Miss Manners is correct, you might have a different problem, namely that the assistant, surprised at your compliance, neglected to mention to her boss not just your apparel, but your appearance. A written note to the boss explaining that you were sorry to be turned away from the interview should result in his either chastising the assistant or -- if she was transmitting his orders -- thanking her for sparing him the sight of denim.
Now, I can't help thinking that Miss Manners hasn't really doped out what was going on in the office of the administrative assistant, with either the AA or the unseen boss (whom I refuse to call "Mr. X."), or really picked up on the vibes thumping out of the job applicant's letter -- beyond her quite appropriate skepticism about the distinction between "classically tailored denim trousers" and "jeans."
First off, did the AA really voice her horror at the job applicant's classicaly tailored denim trousers in "a full-bodied scream"? After all, the letter-writer specifically assures Miss M that she's not exaggerating. If so, isn't this by itself kind of, er, special?
Think about it. Have you tried to play this scene in your head, this business of an AA full-bodiedly screaming, "You're wearing jeans! Mr. X. hates jeans"? Think back to offices that you've worked in or just visited. I've both worked in and visited some pretty weird ones, yet I'm still having trouble getting this scenario to play. Was it perhaps an office -- quite unlike those of my experience -- that is both spacious enough and sufficiently isolated physically and acoustically to accommodate random spur-of-the-moment staff screaming about job applicants' apparel?
Now consider the looming offstage presence in this playlet, the famously unseen, perhaps Godot-like boss who remains unseen throughout. Perhaps he had his office in some other part of the building, which would explain why he didn't come bounding out to see what the uproar was about. (Or was he used to Ms. AA screaming like this? Especially screraming full-bodied screams that include his name? Wouldn't this in itself be kind of weird?) Still, was there really no one else within earshot? (And remember that we're talking "within earshot" of a full-bodiedly screamed pair of sentences)? Apparently no one at all came running to see if anyone was dead or maimed.
Second, there's the entirely unexamined behavior of the job applicant herself, including the self-reported famous utterance, in response to the famous full-bodied scream: "If you have a company dress code, I shall tell him that, if hired, I shall certainly comply with it." If the company in general and the AA in particular had any sense of fun, this is the point at which she would been letting out full-bodied screams, encouraging her coworkers to come see. Then, if there happened to be a blackboard, or a whiteboard, handy, she could have transcribed the sentence for general perusal, and amusement. Come on, now. Just possibly Christine Baranski could pull off a line like this in her regular role as The Good Wife's Diane Lockhart -- or, better, in her occasional role as the cold-fish-psychiatrist mother of The Big Bang's Leonard Hofstadter. In the latter case, I'll bet she could earn some hearty guffaws. But a regular human person saying such a thing? Did our job applicant really imagine that this would constitute a "save" in the face of her apparent jeans gaffe? More to the point, has anyone ever been hired after uttering a sentence like this in a job-interview situation?
But let's continue. What about that description of her attire apart from the jeans, I mean the classically tailored denim trousers? And her certainty that she "certainly looked professional" -- her being, you know, 60 years old and a college professor. Aren't you surprised that she doesn't tell Miss M where she obtained these lovely professional garments and how much she paid for them? And aren't you wondering by this point just what kind of job this was that a 60-year-old college professor was applying for? I know these are hard times in academe, but would her school be surprised to learn that she's applying for this job? Is it to supplement or replace her college gig?
Finally, put it all together, and isn't one thing abundantly clear? I don't know whether our job applicant is right to feel insulted and rudely treated, but I do know that there wasn't a chance in hell she was going to get this job, whatever the hell it was, even if she swore a blood oath to comply with any dress code the company might turn out to have if and when she was to find out about said dress code if she was hired. Not gonna happen, missy. Not even if the job was just stuffing envelopes, in which case you may actually have been over-dressed in that expensive blazer and blouse, heels, good jewelry and makeup, with or without the pair of classically tailored denim trousers.
As to Miss M's suggested solution of a note to the mysteriously unseen boss, I suppose it's possible that it could achieve the intended result, but I'm doubtful. For one thing, the note is going to have to go through the same AA. For another thing, if somehow the note actually reaches the boss's eyes, is it not more likely to tell him everything he needs to know as to why this woman can't even get an interview for a crappy job like the one he's hiring for?
THEN, CAROLYN HAX GRAPPLES WITH WHAT THE
SEINFELD GANG WOULD CALL FOOD "REGIFTING"
A new mother’s repurposing of food given as a gift makes her friend angry
Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Six months ago, I gave birth to twins, and shortly after we got home from the hospital, our friend "Jane" brought over several meals she'd made for us to put in our freezer. About a week after that, our friend "Bill" lost his wife suddenly.
We wanted to get food to him ASAP so I pulled from the freezer some of Jane's food and some things I'd made while still pregnant and sent my husband to drop them off at Bill's house. A few weeks later, Jane brought over a casserole and I mentioned to her how much we appreciated it since we'd given some of what she brought to Bill.
Fast-forward to last week, and Jane admits to me that she was really [teed] off that we had done that. She said she'd made those meals for us with love and was annoyed that we would just give it away like that. Said we could have gone to the store or had something delivered rather than taking her food to him.
Our twins are a week old and we're supposed to go shopping when we already have prepared food in our freezer?
As a result of our decision to help out our friend, she decided at that point to stop making food for us at all. I apologized for hurting her feelings but was too stunned to say much else. Am I being unreasonable in thinking that's a little insensitive?
I'd call it exhausting, actually, for Jane. Isn't life hard enough without finding extra reasons to take offense, and without acting on them in the form of "never again" decisions? And dredging them up as fresh wounds six months after the fact?
To be fair, calling Jane's overreaction "insensitive" flirts with completing the circle of huffiness, because it implies that she wounded you by being wounded by you, when what this situation really needs is for someone to stop the madness. Better to greet Jane's harrumph with a, "Gosh, we sure didn't mean to hurt your feelings, we were just trying to help a friend," and leave this whole stretch of social misfires in the past. To the extent Jane lets you, at least -- if she holds on to it, then this might be something you can't leave behind, but instead must accept as a precedent for "Jane being Jane" and a cue to thicken your skin.
This is a somewhat different case, in that Carolyn seems to me to have hit almost all the points that I would have made -- about "Jane" having a strange need to go looking for trouble, and the six-month gap between crime and punishment (or was there an about-to-expire statute of limitations on food-gifting peeves?), and about that "circle of huffiness" -- good one, Carolyn!
And yet here too I can't help feeling that something is missing. Maybe it's that we've never heard directly from "Jane." Is it possible that she's the truly misunderstood party to this mess? On the face of it, her reaction seems pretty preposterous. You've got one party with newborn twins, and another party facing the sudden loss of his wife, and then you've got "Jane" mortally wounded by having those lovingly crafted casseroles of hers transferred from the first party to the second? (And say, were you thrown as I was at the sudden announcement that "Jane" in her state of dudgeon "decided at that point to stop making food for us at all"? Was there any previous indication that she was still making food for anybody else involved in this imbroglio? Didn't you have the impression that all the food at issue was already either consumed or still in the freezer?
At the very least, I think we need to hear from "Jane" and see how well her story tallies with the letter-writer's. This might possibly clear up the confusion. And if not, it might at least present an opportunity to suggest to "Jane" that she get some help -- and not the kind of help that Carolyn, or any of the rest of the Style Help Team, is equipped to provide.
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