Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Anne Lamott does this great thing in Bird By Bird, her 100% awesome writing/life guide, where she talks about school lunches. She says that, as a writer, school lunches are like this perfect little kaleidoscope to peer through. You can tell so much about a person by examining their midday meal: is it in a brown paper bag, or do they have a fancy lunch bag? Tupperware or sandwich bags? Carrot sticks that look like they were "extruded from a machine" (Lamott's turn of phrase, which is funny and bang-on), or are they eating bread and cheese, without the benefit of niceties like mayonnaise or tomato? School lunches, she says, speak to a person's social status, their place on the economic ladder, their confidence in themselves and the world around them, and basically whether or not they're a huge loser, or they can get by, socially speaking.

When I was in elementary and high school, I was blessed with a mother who made my lunch for me - a gift I repaid by constantly losing her Tupperware, sending back uneaten sandwiches, spending my allowance on disgusting cigarettes and $3.95 BLTs from the Irish-themed diner close to the high school, and generally being a brat vis-a-vis the school lunch thing.

Ten years later, I pack my own lunch, into Tupperware my mom bought me, and put that into an insulated lunch bag she bought me too, because my mom pays attention to stuff like that. To be honest, what was a huge embarrassment in high school is a comfort now that I don't live with my parents. Making my own meals is one of those drags that I don't really mind, because I like to eat and packing a lunch saves me LOTS of money. I'm a broke-ass girl with a nice lunchbag. It's the way of the world.

Anyway, it's interesting looking around the corporate lunchroom. Nobody talks to each other during lunch - people lunge for the Toronto Star so they have something to train their eyes on during their lunch break. Eye contact is studiously avoided. Lunches are salads and leftovers; almost nobody brings, like, sandwiches or anything with a carbohydrate. No fruit. No large servings - I've seen people eat an egg roll for lunch and then go back to work. Dudes? I know offices aren't exactly known for their strenuous physical exertion, but your basal caloric needs are more than what's found in Mr. Foo's Number Three.

It's sort of weird eating with people who're ignoring you. Meals are often a friendly, communal thing. We come together and at least make some small talk - kids, spouses, weekend plans, vacation ideas. It's not like I'm expecting my co-workers to pour out their hearts and souls, but not even an acknowledgment that someone has entered the room seems a weensy bit cold.

It bears mentioning that this is one of my first real office jobs - working in the service industry means that you say hello to everyone when they come in the door, but maybe things are done differently in the office atmosphere. From what I've gleaned from The Office, the potential for office awkwardness is just astronomical, so I'm not surprised that the weird vibes extend to the lunchroom.

But it's making me feel like, regardless of how good my lunches are, I'm still a loser. Being ignored sort of does that to a gal. I make a point of saying hello to folks as I sit down (is that intrusive? I can't tell!), and I get grunts in return. I'll try harder for the next few weeks, but it might be time to invest in some reading material of my own - this book might be a great start. And if not, I'll just take comfort in knowing that at least my mom still seems to like me.

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