There are really only a certain number of conversations you can have when starting a new part time job. After you’ve exhausted the ‘so where are you from?’ and ‘what did/do/will you study’ routes, and once you’ve made a few vague enquiries about where your new colleagues worked previously – did they hate it, was it worse than here, was the management okay, etc – you begin to hit a bit of a brick wall. This brick wall is made worse if you’re all relatively new and all relatively nervous. In this case, conversation doesn’t exactly flow but trickles, and before long the new ‘team’ are reduced to standing in a semi-circle and making fleeting but awkward eye contact with each other. A bit like the first hour or so of Freshers – it’s the same sense of scared comradderie but without the alcohol, the knowledge that you’ll actually be living together or the prospect of a shit night out to get you through.
So, inevitably, in this hypothetical new job, when you do stumble upon a topic of conversation that more than one person is interested in, you cling to it. You cling to it even more tightly if it’s slightly stupid and slightly controversial, because then you can tread a fine balance between debate and ridicule, which will hopefully stop you all staring longingly at the clock/ the stockroom/ any means of escape possible. And so, earlier this week, I somehow found myself admitting – in Scotland, to my two Scottish co-workers – that I’d never tried haggis, never touched Irn Bru and had literally no idea what a ‘tattie’ was. This was bad enough on its own, but then – delighted by the prospect of bonding over food – the conversation turned.
I guess I should just come out with it. When it comes to food, I’m a bit fussy. Picky, you could say. I don’t like mushrooms. I don’t like eggs, of any sort, at all, unless they’re hidden in a cake. I didn’t like bacon until this year, when a housemate made it his mission to sneak it into nearly every meal I ate. Although all of these facts seem relatively normal written down, in the context of my new workplace, on hour seven of a busy day, they caused a slight hysteria.
‘No eggs?!’ A coworker exclaimed, as if I had suddenly announced that I’d never eaten bread in my entire life, or that I would be subjecting everyone in the office to this sad, eggless existence. ‘No bacon?!’
No eggs, no bacon. No idea, either, why the concept of people’s food habits is so universally interesting. I’m more than guilty of it too – although my exclamations are more ‘you don’t like Marmite?!’ based – but it still baffles me. A person’s diet is a personal choice, and yet we feel perfectly acceptable criticising, analysing and dissecting it, just as we do with someone that doesn’t drink, or drinks too much. My colleagues weren’t deliberately passing a judgment when they lamented my aversion to omelette, but they felt entitled – as do most of us – to notice and comment on something that they viewed as different from the norm. I’ve often felt embarrassed because of my ‘picky’ food habits, but actually, everyone is different and everyone eats and avoids different things – and that shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of or looked down on. Just don’t make me try Irn Bru…