Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Picky Eaters, Manners, and Social Settings

Image result for rude table manners
There's more than one way to display rude table manners.

At least once a year I have some sort of social obligation related to my medical school student status.  We're "invited," but we're expected to show up. I have no idea what happens if someone fails to appear without a really good excuse for not being there. I don't think anyone in my cohort has pulled a no-show on one of these events except once when a guy had a death in his immediate family.

One of the delightful social gatherings took place this evening.  For the particular gathering, we were invited in mid-sized groups (our group had eighteen medical school students) to homes of medical school benefactors. The particular gathering to which any given student was invited was based on a person's duty schedule but was otherwise somewhere between random and alphabetical.  I would assume almost every student there would have preferred to have been on his or her own sofa eating Subway sandwiches or microwave meals, but, at the same time, at least where my own group was concerned, volunteers went to a tremendous amount of trouble to prepare an elegant meal for us and to make it a special occasion. Not to recognize that such was done on our behalf would be ungrateful.

Tonight's gathering wouldn't even be noteworthy were it not for the behavior of one of my cohort mates. We'll call her Avril, though that's obviously not her real name. Avril is a picky eater. There may be some cultural and/or religious basis to at least some of her pickiness (though she doesn't keep kosher), but by almost any standards she would be considered finicky. On a day-to-day basis, I suspect Avril's picky eating habits wouldn't come close to my own, but  I know when to stir my food around on my plate and make it appear as though I'm enjoying the food that is served to me no matter what it is. Tonight, Avril's fastidious and hard-to-please nature made quite a statement.

She began by asking the hostess if the water in the pitchers on the table was bottled water. The hostess replied that it was filtered. "But is it bottled?" Avril pressed for a more specific answer. 

"No," the hostess replied.

"Do you have any bottled water?" Avril asked the hostess. The lady's husband went out into the garage and found a stray bottle of store-brand water, which probably wasn't what Avril had in mind if the expression on her face was any indication, but she took it, opened it, and poured it into her water glass, not even bothering to thank the host. The remaining seventeen of us looked on with horrified expressions.

Avril's knife had a spot on it, so she asked for a new one. I was seated directly across from her and realized what she was going to request before she asked for the new knife, so I quietly tried to get her to trade knives with me instead of troubling our hosts.  She responded to me, "I don't want your knife. You touched it," as though I had touched any part other than the handle, which I only touched when I picked it up to try to trade with her, and as though I was a known carrier of leprosy or of the Zika virus.  She made her request, which necessitated another trip to the kitchen by the hostess to produce an unspotted knife, which the hostess carried inside a cloth napkin, apparently to reassure Avril that she hadn't touched the knife.

Avril asked about the degree of organicity or organicness [I don't know which is the preferred term] of the contents of the salad. Avril asked if the rolls were gluten-free. When she was told that they weren't, she had the nerve to ask if gluten-free rolls were available. (They weren't.) At this point my brother, who was seated to her right, nudged her and whispered, "Knock it off! We're guests in these people's home, and you're being incredibly rude." She gave Matthew a death glare, then went on to explain in separate utterances why neither the prime rib, the chicken, nor the mixed vegetable coconut curry was up to her standards, though she took a generous portion of each on her plate and took one or two bites of each.

There was a rather noticeable rift as we departed. Avril was the first to go. Each of the remainder of us apologized to our hosts for her ungraciousness as we thanked them for their hospitality when we left.  We all got into our cars and drove around the corner and down the street a few blocks in order to be inconspicuous to our hosts. We parked by an elementary school and got out of our cars to discuss the matter. 

What does one, or an entire group, do when one member of the group behaves in such an outrageous manner? Were we all professionals, we'd simply choose not to invite Avril to another gathering.  We don't have that luxury, though, and if the hosts call the dean of the medical school to complain, they may not give Avril's name in leaving their complaint. We're all at risk of being stigmatized or worse by her total lack of civility.  We probably need to strike first.

Should one of us approach her or should we rat her out to the dean? We decided that both approaches were in order.

Kal Penn agreed to speak to Avril tomorrow. He nominated himself for the task because his parents are of the same national origin as are hers.  If she tries to pull the culture card in her own defense, he can call her on it.

I drew the short straw and would have been obligated to speak to the dean tomorrow morning,  but a nice guy named Dylan stepped up and offered to speak to the dean in my place since i've already had more recent contact with the dean than anyone in his or her right mind would want to have.  Dylan has a break in his schedule tomorrow morning and can plant himself outside the dean's office bright and early, and most likely will speak to him before our hosts have a chance to make contact if that's what they choose to do. I for one certainly wouldn't blame them if they were to complain. I don't know what the couple's annual donation to the medical school is, but I'd venture a guess that any future contribution is in grave jeopardy.

My gut feeling is that, while there might be a few technical aspects of etiquette that are specific to one's culture, such as not hugging the Queen of England unless she hugs you first or not wearing white at a formal occasion in China because it's considered the color of death there, for the most part, manners supercede culture.  Blatant rudeness is rudeness no matter where one's parents came from or where on the globe one is at a particular moment in time.  Beyond that, Avril was born, raised, and educated in the U.S.  She cannot validly claim culture as an excuse. I'm mainly curious as to whether her parents (one of whom is a pediatrician and the other of whom is a geneticist) would have been mortified by their daughter's performance tonight or if the fruit didn't fall all that far from the tree and if Avril's parents are every bit as boorish as their daughter is. 


  1. It sounds to me like Avril may have some psychological issues. Perhaps she's orthorexic?

    1. I'm not qualified to diagnose, but if I were, I'd say "narcissistic personality disorder" was more likely applicable. She can be difficulty in group settings because she's convinced her way is always the best way, yet many times she's been exposed as being wrong. I'd like to think it could be explained as easily as with any single diagnosis, but she eats more junk food than I do. I neglected to mention that the host at one point offered Dr. Pepper, and she grabbed the first one without regard for anyone else who might have wanted one had there not been enough and had there been a need to share. She had seconds on ice cream as well. It wasn't offered; she finished hers before everyone's was brought to the table, then grabbed Matthew's as it was set down in front of him. (Had she done so to be funny, I still would have thought it ws rude yet funny in its own way, but I don't think it was an attempt at humor; I really think she wanted more ice cream and was willing to get it at any cost, not taking into account that there was a /sonic-type restaurant just before the freeway entrance; she could have purchased her own ice cream without socially stigmatizing herself.) The overall amount of food she consumed wasn;t out of line. By the time she barely touched her salad and sides and had a couple bites of each entree, she could afford, calorically speaking, to have a second dish of ice cream.

      She has issues all right , but I suspect she's mostly rude and entitled. Then again, who really knows?

      I don't think she's bulimic. She may be a slight binge eater, but I don't think she goes overboard too far. Her weight is a little higher than I would want mine to be, but she doesn't appear unhealthy, and she cycles for exercise, probably observing the rules of the road about as closely as she observes the rules for polite table manners.

      It's interesting. At some point this year we're all supposed to undergo a relatively thorough psych eval. The school would do well to pay particular attention to her. She has the potential to give the school a very bad name as she moves on to her internship and residency.

      I'd suspect social maladjustment issues almost to the extent of being spectrum-y, but she functions ALMOST normally in the work setting. She still looks out for herself - probably more than she does the patient -- but she's not exceptionally rude to patients, and she has a reasonable level of competence in most clinical areas. She's bright, though not among the very brightest among us, and probably not as bright as she considers herself to be. She's a real puzzle to me. I feel as though I could solve a part of it if I could meet her parents. I also wonder if she was raised mostly by her parents or by hired help.

      Avril is not exceptionally popular among her peers in the cohort, but neither is she excluded or avoided. She's a bit blunt in terms of expressing unsolicited opinions, but again, I've seen worse.

      I had a cancellation on my second surgery this morning because the lady presented with a temp of almost 100. (They won't usually operate in non emergency situations around here if it's above 99.2.)

      Dylan has just gone into the inner office of the dean. Kal Penn has ot yet caught up with her, i'm told, but will soon, as we wanted her to hear from us before she heard from the dean. We really aren't obligated to take the issue up with her; it's an act of courtesy. It would have been nice to give her another chance, but we have chosen to protect ourselves in the event that one of the hosts calls either the dean or anyone else at the hospital foundation.

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  5. Keep us posted if you hear the Dean's response.