Cafeteria Etiquette

One challenging aspect of living abroad is trying to decide whether things that are new to you are part of the foreign culture or specific to the place you happen to be. Whichever it turns out to be, the lunch room culture at DoctorC is one of my favorite aspects of the new gig.

Everybody shares everything, starting at the top. The CEO, who you may recall is my friend, roommate, and fellow huge fan of food, heats his lunch in the microwave every day. Meanwhile, he wanders the lunch room with a spoon, tasting everybody’s lunch. I’ll admit my first reaction was a little bit of shock and discomfort, thinking this represented the office power dynamic. But now that I’ve seen that nobody hesitates to wander up and grab a bite of his lunch in return, I’ve really come to appreciate the system. I’m pretty sure you can’t walk up behind a San Francisco tech CEO and snag a spoonful of his lunch without asking.

DoctorC strives to be a really social company where everybody feels included and equal. So one of the company policies (in the employee handbook) is that if you see someone sitting alone at lunch, you should join them. Sometimes this comes into conflict with historical employee and class deference. The other day, a maid was sitting by herself and so the CTO sat down next to her. She immediately got up and began to eat her lunch standing in the corner. He finally managed to convince her to come back and sit down, but she did insist on eating at an angle to the table, so that she was basically sitting with her back to the rest of us.

The dining room toward the end of lunch. I go usually around 2 pm when it’s pretty easy to find a seat. And yes, I’m also learning to eat rice with my hands, though I feel kind of like a toddler taking his first uncoordinated steps.

Another great aspect of the lunch room is that there is basically zero food waste and very little trash. Anything you don’t want, you offer up to the room and almost certainly someone will take it. Everyone packs their lunches in reusable containers. After being surrounded by the overflowing trash cans of catered tech lunches in the U.S., it amazes me that 60 people can share a single small trash can for the lunch room.

The only person who may not make out in the system is one of the developers, Esh (his full name is like 8 syllables, and I’ve never actually heard anyone use it). His mom lives with him and is well known to be an amazing cook. It’s not at all surprising to see 6 or 7 people stop by for a bite of whatever Esh has brought for lunch. In preparation for this post I finally asked to try a bite, and I can now confirm that his lunch is delicious.

I’m not sure I’m ready to start grabbing bites without asking, but I did finish off somebody else’s lunch the other day, so I’m making progress.

Edit March 31, 2019: This post was updated to restore the editing my sister kindly adds to each piece that I accidentally overwrote when I published.