What Not to Do Down on the Cube Farm

Confession: I committed cube etiquette crimes.

A tuna fish sandwich every other quarter? Yes. An audible YouTube viewing of something juvenile and—more than likely — based on embarrassing bodily functions? Possibly. But, I can’t imagine being the perpetrator of anything you’re about to read. Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be Cube Creeps.

1. It might taste like chicken, but it smells like !#$%

I’m half-Korean, so there’s no one that likes to chow down on the pungent pickled cabbage delicacy called kimchi more than me. One sniff has me drooling like Pavlov’s pup; however, some of my Caucasian family members and friends have compared its unique aroma to:

  • cadaver foot fungus
  • Amy Winehouse’s dirty laundry; and
  • limburger cheese in a hot dumpster of boiling green tripe

Subtle as those parallels are, I still made the effort not to offend anyone’s olfactory senses with anything too odoriferous in the shared work area. Yes, you should be able to enjoy your culture’s cuisine in a diverse and open-minded work environment, but be reasonable and respectful. That leads to…

You know that saying, “If it smells like fish, eat it”? Well, make this note to self in your Crackberry: If it smells like fish, eat it… at home. In fact, post that on your group’s SharePoint site. I once worked at a large financial institution in Washington, D.C., that offered Fish Fry Friday (F.F.F.) every week at their in-house cafeteria. A co-worker of mine, we’ll call him Charlie Tuna, lived for F.F.F.

Monday through Thursday, Charlie Tuna managed to ingest his innocuous lunches in the confines of his own cube, but on F.F.F. he ate in the empty cube next to me— one whole cube lane over from Charlie Tuna headquarters. Now, you know how cleaning crews will sometimes overlook the puny plastic trashcans tucked away in empty cubes? There were times on Monday mornings that I wasn’t even logged in to my Facebook account before the ghost of F.F.F. was wafting over my cube wall after a weekend of fermenting. The bottom line is if it has fins, fuhgeddaboutit.

You may also be walking a fine, funky line with egg salad, some curries, burning popcorn in the community kitchenette, and a garlic-onion-bleu cheese-anchovy melt with a side of gym socks.

2. Why does the whole department know that your cousin’s mailman is cheating on his wife with a former Bulgarian goat herder named Bogdana?

Even if Big Brother isn’t listening, everyone within earshot is. Seriously. See all those people loitering in front of your building? They’re not smoking. They’re taking personal calls on company time into the 21st century. The cell phone eliminates the need for anyone to offer him- or herself up for office gossip fodder or exposing people to TMI (too much information). Nobody wants to know about your oozing rash. I promise.

  • But what if I have to walk past my boss’ office to get out the door? Instant message.
  • What if IM is blocked by the company firewall? Try Koolim.
  • Koolim.com isn’t working! Text.
  • What if I don’t get a cell signal in our building? Carrier pigeon.

Nobody wants to hear it, unless it’s really juicy and makes us feel better about ourselves. My former boss’ executive assistant was an unparalleled multi-tasker. She typed diligently at her desktop while recapping the weekend and planning the upcoming one on the phone with someone we assumed had either the same skill or was unemployed. This would go on for hours. She would respond affirmatively to this mysterious person with a long, drawled, “Eggggzzzzzzactly.” It was a cube farm verbal virus. Like the word like. Pretty soon the whole communications department was speaking in slow motion.

“Hey, Mike, can I expect comments on that press release from you by C.O.B.?”

Mike: “Eggggzzzzzzactly.”

“Do you eat lunch on Fish Fry Fridays down the hall because it’s so putrid?”

Charlie Tuna: “Eggggzzzzzzactly.”

Moreover, when you say ‘speakerphone,’ I say ‘headset.’ Speakerphone! Headset. Speakerphone! Headset. Keep that conference call all to yourself and save the recap for filler in the next staff meeting.

3. Put points one and two together and that gets us to number three in the cube etiquette count:

If you can see I’m eating or on an actual work-related call, why are you still standing at my imaginary cube door?

When sidling into a co-worker’s space, do a quick sweep of the situation. Does said co-worker have:

  • Yummy smelling food in mouth? Back away and let them eat in peace.
  • Headset or phone receiver engaged to ear? Back away quietly and come back when the conversation is over.

If you find yourself in the presence of a co-worker, their food and/or phone conversation, yet you still utter something like “I hate to bother you, but…” you might be a Cube Creep. Here’s the good news: the condition is reversible and we’re not going to put you on any public registry.

The only people you’re allowed to interrupt while they’re eating or on the phone are maybe A-List celebrities, excluding Sean Penn.

While you’re at it, avert the eyes. Staring at someone’s screen, or even worse, inbox is an invasion of privacy. If you find yourself a victim of the Cube Creep, who tends to slither up behind you, attach a small mirror to your monitor so you can see them coming. This allows you to quickly close down that questionable site and change the tone of your personal call to sound work-related.

In our next installment from Down on the Cube Farm, we’re going to talk about co-workers who appoint themselves the office DJ with their blaring iTunes playlists; peddling of offspring’s school fundraiser knickknacks; the ultimate Petri dish: office kitchen refrigerator; and more.  Every hen house has a story. Let’s hear some tales from life down on your cube farm!

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https://www.facebook.com/Michelle.Burleson.Writer It ain't pretty, but they are! *** I shot out of my mother's womb ready to write The Great American novel and then its screenplay adaptation. Beyond that, I'm all about seeing the world from the saltwater, one session at a time. I also like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens... and not because they taste like chicken.


  1. Mike on the 22nd September

    Funny post! I have one to add…Don’t eat anything that gives you horrible gas! Fiber bars do it for me. 🙂

    • Michelle Burleson on the 24th September

      Excellent add!

  2. AdamV on the 22nd September

    Great post, that gave me a great laugh! Plus that is some excellent advice. 🙂

    • Michelle Burleson on the 24th September

      Thanks, Adam!

  3. Tim on the 22nd September

    Love it.

    • Michelle Burleson on the 24th September

      Thanks, Tim!

  4. Ashley on the 22nd September

    Eggggzzzzzzactly! Love it!

    • Michelle Burleson on the 24th September

      Sometimes she would mix it up with a “you know that’s right.” Thanks for reading the article!

  5. Estela Schnelle on the 22nd September

    Hi Michelle! Love your post! Great writing!

  6. Blaine on the 22nd September

    How about the guy next to your cube that always wears the same sweater every day and doesn’t bathe? That is NOT “Downy Fresh”!

  7. Web 2.0 on the 22nd September

    Hey that was really funny 🙂

  8. Pete Nuwayser on the 22nd September

    This was great! More more more!

    • Michelle Burleson on the 24th September

      Thanks much!

  9. James on the 22nd September

    Blaine, I see your same sweater wearer and raise you the guy who cycles 20 miles to work, refuses to shower when he arrives and has philosophical objections to anti-perspirant.

  10. Mary on the 23rd September

    Hilarious!! Laughed hard. Please write about the other horrible violation…when the cube creep actually crosses over the invisible doorway uninvited and sits on your desk.

    • Michelle Burleson on the 24th September

      Good one, indeed. Spot on.

  11. MB on the 23rd September

    Ba Ha Ha Ha Ha. ! Well done!

  12. Chris Farrugia on the 23rd September

    Personally, I didn’t like when people came in to talk to me and sat on my desk. Since there’s not another chair in the four square feet of space, that seemed like a logical place to sit but it’s also where I ate my lunch.

  13. JMB on the 24th September

    Hilarious! I can relate to almost everything in this article. I too have a co-worker who tortures me with smelly foods but I love her too much to complain.

  14. Charlie on the 24th September

    Great writing style; very funny! Loved it!

  15. maximus on the 24th September

    Man this was fun to read!

    a piece of advice: if i were you… i would really work at home, i can only imagine how much all of these little irritations put you out of your concentration so your work must suffer alot from it, PLUS it must be bad to work in cubicles! i really thought they banned these.. they would really made me feel like a lifeless robot, but than again.. maybe im just to sensitive 🙂

    • Michelle Burleson on the 24th September

      Thanks, Maximus… and you know what? I try to work from home as much as possible for all these reasons…. and I could no longer take feeling “caged.”

  16. Angie on the 26th September

    “A large financial institution in Washington, DC” who shall remain nameless. God, I hope I wasn’t either Charlie T or the cube creep.

    Funny stuff, Ms. B.

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