On the etiquette of break rooms

I knows, I knows, to each their own, but seeing people actually sit down at a table and eat right out of the container in the break room is one of the most depressing sights I know. Especially hot meals.

Yes, it’s “practical”, but the usual sight of ungainly plastic containers and usually surrounded by other refuse (when it’s a prepackaged meal from the store) is so strongly reminiscent of worker drones and farm animals being fed that I moved my break 30 minutes ahead so I don’t have to witness it.

And I maintain that it doesn’t have anything to do with classism. My grandparents were “working class”, miners even, yet they and my parents and now I found the time to transfer food to actual plates. Even if was takeout, of the dubious quality 1970s and 1980s Germany offered.

Lucky you to have a break room. Today I looked around the office to see how many colleagues were eating bento at their desks. More than half were eating, but mostly take out (convenie bento and kaisendon takeaway in single use plastic, a few convenie sandwiches.) I’m the only non-Japanes and today was the only one with an actual bento box.


It’s a legal requirement in my country for all employers with more than 10 employees. Offices are actually exempt, as long as the actual offices offer the same amount of relaxation, which, in practice, requires a single person office with a phone that can get turned off.

Sandwiches and similar cold foods in a shared office are okay, but warm or hot food is utterly unacceptable.

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Unacceptable? How so?

And is it really “unacceptable,” since it is happening, so it is being accepted?


Where, may I ask, do you live? Sounds wonderfully alien to me.

I’m in Tokyo and most people eat cold bento, BUT, occasionally you get a jerk who reheats fish. Or brings in hot food from a truck. It’s worst if they decide to eat early as they have something scheduled around noon. Then everyone is drooling over their work. A month or so ago someone was eating something that smelled exactly of the cheapass dog food we used to feed my dog I. The 70s and 80s. (Gainsburgers) I had to go out for lunch and save my bento for dinner.

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Did they have candlelight suppers, too?

[Britcom reference]

Class snobbery isn’t limited to the wealthy, and can be as much about perceived social class as economic class. Often, snobbery is a form of (sometimes hilariously misguided) imitation of the upper classes to differentiate oneself within and look down upon members of one’s own class.

Depicting your fellow employees as “worker drones” and “farm animals” so disgusting that you can’t bear the sight of them eating certainly makes your declaration that this doesn’t have anything to do with classism unconvincing.

There are perhaps environmental reasons to be concerned about the fact that a fellow worker is saving a few minutes of an already short lunch break by eating a hot meal out of a package container that’s purpose-designed to be eaten out of, but your reasons make it sound like you’re the sort of person whose colleagues are relieved you’re not sharing your lunch break with them (so win-win?).


I can’t fault you for objecting to those, too. That’s being inconsiderate to your work colleagues. With deliciously fragrant food truck meals, on the other hand, I can put up with the drooling as long as they tell me where they got it.


Because it smells, if not to say stinks. It’s something one needs to tolerate in a break room, but in an office? Thanks, no. As unacceptable as smoking or vaping.

Since the means to maintain a modicum of table manners are available to them, it’s entirely self-inflicted. Like not showering or not brushing teeth. If they wish to reduce themselves to worker units, to be hastily fed and then return to their stations, yeah, it’s of course their decision. I can stand the bit of pressure that I actually take the 105 minutes of break time due to us. It’s a tiny minority anyway, the vast majority uses the company cantina.

But when I have to weigh between eating by myself, without distractions, or to eat and have to look at a pile of dirty plastic which literally looks like the stuff in a trascan, yeah, i sit by myself.

Sounds like it’s time to quit or move on? If the only thing separating you from existence as a sub-human drone or animal for slaughter is a plate… that’s not much.


I’ve heard all the same excuses rom smokers. And people using open radio (the music kind) in offices, forcing their choice of entertainment on all present.

Smell and sound are two senses that can’t be shut down.

To expose others to them at a workplace is inconsiderate, as they can’t remove themselves from it without loss of income. And no, headphones aren’t a solution - they are a stop-gap measure forced on people because management wants to save yet another half dollar or feel to be in control.

If all in a room agree to it or work out a compromise, it’s a different matter, of course.

They’re eating the hot food with cutlery from containers. Table manners have nothing to do with the material or form factor of the implements or containers.

Are you really arguing that eating a microwaved meal out of a plastic tray with plastic cutlery is akin to bad hygiene or inconsiderate smoking or music playing?

Yes, how dare they try to relax and enjoy a hot meal in the limited time offered by their employer when they can spend a not-significant 5 minutes of their lunch break re-plating their food and then doing the washing up afterwards so as not to offend your delicate sensibilities?

A decision for which your co-workers are grateful, I’m sure. No-one likes to dine with a pontificating snob.

Since you’re so anxious to be perceived as upper class, I’ll let you in on a little secret based on something I’ve observed over the years: when an old-money parent notes for the first time that his child is openly sneering at others in exactly the way you’re doing now, the common practise is to berate the kid so harshly that he not only will never do it again but also will pass on the lesson. That’s because they don’t want their kids to give off the very impression you’re giving off right now, which reeks more than re-heated fish or the other smells you’re now pretending you were concerned about all along.


Why would I? I found a solution to the problem, by moving my break. Or I could join the others at the cafeteria, but I’ve grown weary of the food there, which is far below food truck quality. (No wonder, as it is cheaper.)

Yup. Old-money doesn’t give a shit. It’s class-insecure new money that is concerned about appearances. If you want to know what truly old money looks like, it’s the guy in worn-out sweatshirt and jeans with beat-to-hell boots who drops a grand without even thinking about it. I don’t mean that they are nice, or charitable, or without class bias, but conspicuous consumption is not how they keep score.


Eating at the work desk is bad manner, especially if other people is still working, and if I am so tightly constrained on time I skip the meal or eat a quick sandwich outside the work area. Besides having a small break is useful to rest a moment and be more productive.
If they are to the desk to eat and read social network, I think is a moronic thing to do.

I don’t smoke, so I go to eat in a park nearby with my box. I need a bit o fresh ait to clear my mind.

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If you are living in Japan and are offended by the smell of fish, the problem may be you.


Based on this thread, I’m thinking this really depends on where you live.

I live in Tokyo. Open office. Individual desk space is pretty wide, but there are no barriers. Kids eat at their desks (using very tidy placemats) from elementary school up. Eating at the desk is super normal. And the rules / manners are pretty ingrained. I’ve even started using the placemat.


But most people will eat chilled or room temp. When one guy started buying the vacuum packed fish from the conveni and reheating, someone else gave him a subtle hint that it was a bit much.
I am probably as guilty as anyone. I love trying to make Indian curry. I try to make sure to check the weather before packing my lunch and only take aromatic food when I can eat in the park.


In that case, maybe “jerk” was too strong? I mean, adjust to the culture you’re living in, rather than expect people to adjust to you, right?


To you.

Most of my colleagues have some kind of hot/reheated lunch. Many eat at their desks due to time-constraints. Most of those meals are not things I grew up with.

The smell of certain common foods (including a BBS favourite!) is utterly nauseating to me, but I hardly say they are “unacceptable”. I don’t get to dictate other people’s meal choices.

Funny thing… I am not saying that it’s your intent, but that exact phrasing is often used by racists objecting to foreign foods (really, non-white people, but using the food as a proxy so it’s palatable/excusable). Combine it with your phrasing of “worker drones” and “animals”, and it doesn’t seem that the food is really what the problem is.