Monday, February 26, 2007

Peer Pressures of the Fruit Ladies

On my current contract, I have lunch in the lunchroom with my colleagues. They are a pleasant group of people, always up-beat and fun to talk with.

They have a tradition going on for many years – some have been with the company for almost 20-years! Every day, these lifetime employees bring fruit, cut it up, and share it with everyone else – even those that didn’t bring fruit.

There is a smorgasbord of fruit on the table – apples (red and green), peaches, oranges, kiwi, grapes, bananas, pears – any fruit market would be envious of the selection.

They cut these fruit up with their own knives, and place them on paper towels in the center of the table for all to have.

It is a nice tradition. Fruit is healthy and the idea of anyone sharing anything in today’s “me” society is heartwarming. Problem is, we also live in one of the most germ-invested societies where even the smallest microbe can lead to death.

Usually, the fruit is cut right after eating – but no one gets up to wash their hands prior to cutting up their goods. So the same hands that were used to pick up and eat a sandwich, are the very same hands used to cut up a piece of fruit.

I am always offered fruit. I always turn them down, usually saying I’m full and can’t eat another bite.

Not good enough – they insist. They tell me how healthy fruit is, and that I should make room for some.

I know how healthy fruit is – I love apples, pears, peaches, strawberries – food of the gods. But when people don’t wash their hands, or place food on thin paper towels atop tables which may have never been washed, I question the health benefits.

Yesterday, one of the women cutting the fruit was sniffling and coughing. She left early that day because of her cold. Yet she was asking me to have some fruit earlier in the day.

I’ve been to many offices and in most offices, everyone looks after “number one.” Very rarely – if ever – do people consider others. So, this sharing of communal fruit is exceptionally sweet, kind and amazingly humanitarian. The thought of going out, spending hard earned cash on fruit (or anything for that matter) for someone else’s benefit is not a common thought.

But sharing germs isn’t something that makes me comfortable. I feel uncomfortable accepting these fruits of an other’s labor, because they can make me sick, or worse – dead.

So, when I get pressured to have some fruit, I am placed in an awkward spot. On the one hand, it is an amazing gesture of kindness. On the other hand, it scares me to take in someone else’s germs so easily into my system.

What to do?

If I stop going to lunch, my colleagues will feel that I am snubbing them. If I refuse the fruit, they just keep hounding me until I take a piece. What can one do?

Office politics used to be so easy – we were only after more money back in the old days. These days you have to worry about how others feel – especially when those others go out of their way to make you feel so welcome.

I welcome your thoughts on this sharing of fruit dilemma. What would YOU do?

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