Etiquette Monster: Can I Fake Sick to Avoid Racism? Do I Dare Call My Boss a 'Peach'?

EtiquetteThe Experts
Etiquette Monster: Can I Fake Sick to Avoid Racism? Do I Dare Call My Boss a 'Peach'?

In today’s Etiquette Monster, we’re talking about pet names in the office, thoughtless dinner guests, and the dangers of faking sick.

Is it MONSTROUS to call your cool boss a cool pet name?

Dear Etiquette Monster,
Today was my second day in an office which repeatedly hammers on how “laid back” and “cool” their office culture is. The job description actually listed “casual environment” as one of its perks. Bearing this in mind, I have mastered the fine art of presenting a charming disposition with self-awareness, so imagine my surprise today when I IM’ed a department head requesting information with the rather informal tone of “Hi *insert name*! Whenever you get a second could you be a peach and send over those product specs we discussed this morning?” (It should also be noted we are both female, so the ‘peach’ comment is more southern colloquial rather than chauvinistic mocking.)
She responded with “I’ll be right over.” Then dutifully presented me with the information I asked for. Fast forward an hour, I hear her loudly talking on her phone with the door open: “…And the ‘peach’ thing? Like she’s trying to give me a nickname? I’m just not okay with that.”
So where I’m going with this, Etiquette Monster—I feel like I, perhaps used the wrong tone with the wrong person but hardly committed an offense I should consider apologizing for. I’m inclined to think this bitch may be crazy and I should back away slowly. What do you think? Am I way off base, and actually a totally clueless HR nightmare?
-Peachy Monster

I don’t think you have to apologize, but please do yourself a favor and never call your boss a “peach” or any other nickname ever again.

The thing with pet names is that, even in a super casual office setting, you probably shouldn’t ever use them with a colleague. I currently work in one of the most casual offices you could imagine—one where we regularly get very personal with each other on IM or in Slack and once every few weeks, we all go and get drunk together. Still, despite having cried to my editors and maybe thrown up in one or more of their home toilets (I cleaned up after myself because, again, etiquette), I can’t really imagine calling any of them a “peach,” especially when asking them to do something work-related for me and especially especially not on my second day on the job.

I don’t say this to make you feel bad! It was an honest mistake and you were just feeling out the vibe of your new workplace. Stuff like this is doubly hard because not only are you navigating a new social situation (which is fucking stressful), but people are on the lookout for you to mess up. If you called your department head a peach two months from now, she might still be annoyed—but, because she knows you, she’d probably let it go. (Or not, in which case, she’d be acting like a dick.)

I say: Don’t sweat this too much, skip the apology, and focus on learning the ropes and doing a good job. It’s obvious to me that you didn’t mean anything rude or dismissive when you called your boss a peach, and this is something she’ll come to figure out on her own if you keep working hard at your new position and continue to be your most charming self—but without the pet names.

What should I do with my freeloading MONSTER of a dinner guest?

I have a friend who, for over a year or so, has been coming over for dinner—at least once a month, sometimes once a week. Often, we walk home from school together and I ask if he wants to come over for dinner that day, or some times I text him to see what he’s up to over the weekend. My partner and I like having people over, and I love cooking, so it’s enjoyable to have company over.
My gripe is about the absence of any gestures of reciprocity on the part of my friend. In all the time he’s been coming over, he has not invited me to his place once (he lives across the street), he has not offered to help with dishes/clean up or, when we’re at the campus cafeteria together, he’s never once offered to pay for lunch. I struggle with how I feel about this because, on the one hand, I don’t invite people over with the expectation that they owe me something but, on the other hand, after a year of no reciprocity, I’m starting to feel taken advantage of.
I have stopped hanging out with this person and have not mentioned why. Should I say something? I feel like he really is utterly clueless and it might help him with general etiquette if I said something. Or, am I being petty in bringing it up?

You are definitely not petty. At best, your friend is a dumb-dumb and at worst, he’s an asshole. I can say this with authority because I’ve BEEN that dumb-dumb/asshole before and it’s really easy to make excuses for your shitty behavior. “I don’t cook!” or “I don’t have room to have people over!” or “My friends like hosting and I don’t” are all excuses I’ve used to not reciprocate my friends’ generosity, but really I was just trying to justify my shitty freeloading. There are ways to chip in that don’t involve cooking or hosting and—as a guest—you should do your part.

The way I see it, you have three options. You could confront your friend directly (which might not go over well), accept that your relationship will end in “stopped inviting him over without explanation” (which is okay, but only the best option if you really want nothing to do with him anymore), or—as passive aggressive as this might sound—you can start training him, like you would a small child, or a chimp that acts in movies.

If you feel like giving this another go, invite him over one more time and directly ask him to bring a bottle of wine. Or say, “Hey, we’d love to have you over for dinner, but would you mind bringing a salad or dessert?” Literally no functioning adult (or chimp that acts in movies) is so clueless that they can’t figure out how to assemble a basic salad or buy a thing of pre-made brownies. And if they are, you have bigger issues to deal with. You could even, after dinner, nicely suggest that your friend helps you clean up. “I’ll wash if you’ll dry,” you’ll say jovially. “Haha, good joke,” he’ll say back. And that’s when you hand him a towel. These demands would be rude if this was a more formalized, one-off occasion, but it’s not! It’s a regular casual dinner that your friend—intentionally or unintentionally—is taking advantage of

If after all this, your pal is still unwilling to help, then he is a RUDE DUDE who doesn’t deserve any future invites. Trust me, there are plenty of other people who would be exceedingly grateful to have you cook for them and will be eager to reciprocate your kindness (or at least act thankful for it).

Am I a MONSTER if I fake sick to avoid my husband’s racist and homophobic relatives?

Next month my spouse and I are going to visit his family in another state. This branch of the family is racist and homophobic. It’s hard to hold it together around them and I don’t blast them for their hate and ignorance to spare my husband having to deal with his family’s reaction to being called on their BS. In the past I have tried gently to point out actual facts that would repudiate their views but its like talking to a big dumb wall.
This is my question, since we are going to be staying with the worst offending of the family members, can I just have bouts of headaches and stomach upset and go to lay in the guest room? My husband is fine with me trying this strategy. I suspect that I will spend most of the days there just trying to be alone.
-Lying Monster

This question turned turned out to be surprisingly controversial, Lying Monster! My initial take: Hell yes, you can fake sick to avoid your racist and homophobic in-laws. You can fake sick to get out of almost anything! Sure, in a perfect world, you could unleash your rage at their bigotry and never have to see them again. Or in an even more perfect world, you could show them the error of their ways and they’d stop behaving so horribly. But this isn’t a perfect world, my friend, and as such you sometimes have to be around people who are racist and homophobic assholes.

If being around them is truly unbearable for you (understandable), I see no problem with excusing yourself to lie down because you have a “headache” or “irritable bowel syndrome” or whatever. Sure, they might suspect that you’re faking it, but it’s unlikely that they’ll call you out on it because that—even to racist homophobes—is a pretty daring accusation to make to someone’s face.

That said, I brought your question to a few friends and was surprised to see that they objected to the idea and felt like it was a fairly dishonest move. But the good news is that this my column, not theirs, and I am telling you that it’s okay, with one caveat: This is a short term solution to a long term problem, and you won’t be able to fake sick every time that you see them (unless you want to come off like some Victorian wife who constantly uses “the vapors” to cover up her raging laudanum addiction, which, hey, maybe you do). Maybe use the time that you’re “sick” in your room to brainstorm some options for the future.


I’m hoping that you can clear up an etiquette question that I’ve been debating with a friend for quite some time. If I invite somebody to lunch, and THEY in turn invite somebody to come along, am I expected, as the person who made the initial invite, to pay for all three of us?

What? No. What kind of question is this?

Contact the author at [email protected].

Art by Tara Jacoby.

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