A few days ago I caught my Muslim co-worker sneaking some bites of an orange. Our company and our client are very accepting of the fact that it is Ramadan and have made accommodations to help him out. I don't know how the client will react if they ever found out that he's not sticking with the Ramadan fast. Since this client represents our largest billings, we can't afford to lose them. Should I mention it to my company or ignore it? On top of this, some co-workers are resentful that he gets to take it easy for a month.
—Don't Want to Get Anyone Fired
I’m hoping you’re not the guy who let human resources know that your Jewish colleague had a BLT for lunch or that your Buddhist associate seems inordinately attached to worldly possessions. To mix theological metaphors, you are not the Grand Inquisitor, and if you start reporting that your Muslim colleague fell upon some citrus sustenance during the Ramadan fast, you’re the one who may suffer a career auto-da-fé. Yes, for a month observant Muslims are supposed to refrain from food or drink during the day. That’s not exactly taking it easy, and your workplace and client are rightly accommodating the needs of this adherent. It’s simply none of your business whether your co-worker made a judgment that a slice of orange was better than passing out at his desk. This NPR story makes clear that he is not alone, describing a crowded Ramallah café—at lunch!—where the blinds are drawn to protect the identities of the hungry. So forget the eating or noneating habits of this co-worker and focus your enforcement concerns on something more crucial, like who is using too much company toilet paper.
A few years ago, my husband lost his job because of a medical problem. It was a rough patch for us, when we sometimes had to choose between eating, staying warm, or paying hospital bills. We managed to make it through, but there was absolutely no money for dentists. I lost a lot of teeth to decay, including my two front teeth. After we got back on our feet, I went to the dentist only to find out that it was going to cost me $7,000 up front to get dentures and a bridge. I don't have that money now, so I can’t fix my teeth few years. I’m a computer programmer, and my question is how do I deal with the judgments of my co-workers? I find them talking loudly about dentists and how they're having their teeth fixed in front of me, giving me sly looks as they do. I feel like being rude and saying, "Do you have $7,000 you can lend me so I can not offend you?" It's making me angry and upset. I understand my mouth is yucky and nobody likes to see it, but I can't do anything about it for now. What do I say? Should I ignore it?
I’m so sorry you and your husband were the victims of a system in which medical bills can send people off an economic cliff. As this article about poverty in American notes, missing teeth can keep the working poor from getting the kind of work that will carry them into the middle class. But you have done it, so please take great pride in climbing back and finding a good job. Of course your co-workers’ overheard comments hurt, but a confrontation will only make things more awkward. I think you should cultivate a Mona Lisa look—mysterious, enigmatic, and above it all. Stay polite and concentrate on doing a good job. Let’s hope a sense of shame finally overtakes these goons. But I don’t think you should take one dentist’s word as gospel. There may be more economical ways to replace your teeth. Dental schools, for example let students do supervised work at much reduced prices. Here’s a list of resources for you to explore. Pursue this not to shut up your co-workers, but for your own health and confidence.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Identification, Please: I’ve been offered a scholarship for Hispanic students—but it turns out I may not even be Hispanic. Does it matter?” Posted April 19, 2012.
“Daddy Dearest: My husband is wonderful, but he rages at our kids. How can I quell his anger?” Posted April 12, 2012.
“Loss and Forbidden Love: My stepdaughter hit on me after my wife’s death. What should I do?” Posted April 5, 2012.
“Not So Proud Papa: Our son is an unmotivated lunkhead. How can we light a fire under him?” Posted March 29, 2012.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Double Helping of Hate: In a live chat, Prudie advises a mother hit by an anti-adoption remark—that's also implicitly racist.” Posted April 30, 2012.
“For No Eyes Only: In a live chat, Prudie advises the sister of an underage girl making sex tapes with her boyfriend.” Posted April 23, 2012.
“My Daughter To Be My Daughter-in-Law?: In a live chat, Dear Prudence offers advice on a surprising dating arrangement, birthmark removal, and mistresses at funerals.” Posted April 16, 2012.
“Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone: In a live chat, Dear Prudence advises a man who cheated and is so afraid his wife will leave that he stalks her every move.” Posted April 9, 2012.