Don’t take the last donut

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…is the advice captured in the title of a book on my reading pile. It’s by Judith Bowman, and it outlines what she calls her “New Rules of Business Etiquette.” I picked it up this morning only because donuts are on my mind, and the cover has this picture of a sugary circle of goodness with a big ol’ bite taken out of it.

Donuts are on my mind because I like donuts, and it occurs to me I would eat a lot more of them if the people around me did. You’ve all read this week’s news about how your friends make you fat. Co-workers do, too. Yesterday I had lunch with two of them, and when they ordered meat, so did I; when they ordered beer, so did I (they were small beers, boss). My usual lunch consists of a salad from the cafeteria, eaten alone in my office in between e-mails.

Here’s another reason Americans are getting fat: as more people grow obese, we’re conditioned to think fat is the new normal. Frank Heiland, assistant professor of economics at Florida State University, and Mary Burke, economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, co-authored a paper arguing that “the ballooning weight of the population has fed even more collective weight gain as our perception of what is considered a normal body size has changed.”

As Americans continue to super-size their value meals, the average weight of the population increases and people slowly adjust their perceptions of appropriate body weight.

And though skinny bitches (to borrow the title of another book) abound in magazines and on the TV screens, Heiland and Burke say we don’t, surprisingly, apply those standards to ourselves.

While it seems thinness is increasingly idealized in popular culture — images of waif-like models and stick-thin celebrities are everywhere — there is a gap between the cultural imagery and the weights that most people consider acceptable for themselves and others, according to Heiland.

In fact,

87 percent of Americans, including 48 percent of obese Americans, believe that their body weight falls in the “socially acceptable” range.

Back to the Bowman book. Given her background as a beauty pageant contestant and coach, it’s not surprising that the book reads like a business version of pageantry how-to: stand tall! Project confidence! Dress to the nines, even if the client’s a slob! And given that I am very much not ever a beauty pageant contestant, it’s not surprising I would rebel against pretty much all the advice.

For instance, under “common e-mail pitfalls,” Bowman advises against assuming familiarity and telling jokes. That’s silly. My e-mails are electronic versions of conversations with me, and I can not help but assume familiarity and tell jokes. Her definition of funny appears to be limited to emoticons and knock-knock jokes, by which she betrays her circle of correspondence is limited to 8-year-olds.

I suppose some of the advice can be helpful to, say, a new grad who has never been around grown-ups and needs to know how precisely to shake hands (she goes through the motions step by step). And her minute-by-minute breakdown of how to give a presentation is interesting, if mainly in an anthropological sense:

Stand. Pause and allow your audience to view you from head to toe. Wait five to 15 seconds. Women should wait even a little longer.

Really? If I ever heard a speaker who led with 15 seconds of dead air time, I’d wonder if she was high.

I also found the list of business dining tips highly entertaining:

• A hamburger: Eat it like a sandwich. Cut it in half or even quarters.
• Bread and butter: Break roll into thumbnail-size pieces, one at a time. Butter one piece at a time over the bread and butter plate with your personal butter spreader. Unwrap butter over the bread and butter plate…

You get the gist. But perhaps I suppose too much when I expect that most adults have these skills down; we’ve all been at enough business events in which someone proves themselves an unsocialized freak. If that’s you, this book offers the confident opinion of someone who’s clearly thought a lot about appropriate behavior in the workplace.

But I still take issue with the donuts. “Don’t take the last donut,” she says. “You never know, your boss might want it.” What–I should abstain from that last bear claw because my boss may or may not have his eye on it? Get real. And I refuse to cut it in half or even quarters.

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