Mortification Week: the spooky question, the breakfast burritos, and more

It’s Mortification Week at Ask a Manager and all week long we’ll be revisiting ways we’ve mortified ourselves at work. Here are 17 more mortifying stories people have shared here over the years.

1. The spooky question

I have horrible social anxiety, like, constantly thinking that everyone secretly hates me or is judging me. So, when I first started out in the working world, I had trouble coming up with small talk to bond with my coworkers. This was a very creative office, and I didn’t want to ask the same boring old questions, and it was near Halloween, so I decided to ask the ~spooky~ question of “Have you ever seen a ghost?” to one of my coworkers … except I panicked. HARD. I’m talking thoughts going 300 mph while I’m in the middle of the sentence. So, instead of asking “Have you ever seen a ghost,” I went (internally), “Oh gosh, did I already ask this the other day? What if she thinks it’s a weird question? It is kind of a weird question, isn’t it? I should ask something else, but I’m already halfway through this sentence. What can I replace ghost with? Ghosts are dead… dead people… zombies… zombies died… zombies are people who died – uh-”

And then, as casually as I had started the sentence, asked this poor, unsuspecting coworker… “Have you ever seen someone die?”

Cue a completely warranted incredulous reaction and a lifetime of cringing to myself. Thankfully I no longer work there or live near her.

2. The strength

It was my very first interview for a “real job” as a high school student and I thought I had thoroughly prepped. They asked my greatest weakness and I had a good answer that I felt confident about. Then they followed it up with a question about my greatest strength and to my surprise my mind went blank. I froze to the point where I actually put my head down on the conference table. I knew there was no recovering from that so I just got up and left. I was not surprised I didn’t receive an offer.

3. The demo

I interviewed for a science museum job and had an absolute brainfart at the “make up a demo with these random objects” portion. I had prepped some general themes I could riff on, and could just not come up with a way to make those themes work with the objects. So I talked about the barnacle life cycle…and used a (small!) pool noodle as the barnacle penis. Halfway through I thought to point out that this was for the grownups-only nights, and the room burst into relieved, pent-up laughter.

Never got a call back, though I did volunteer for them years later and got accolades on that work, so at least I redeemed myself partially.

4. The pregnancy announcement

When I was about 25, my boss, obviously excited, told me that she was pregnant. I was still in a period in my life where for me and most of the people I knew, pregnancy would be unwanted at best. This was one of the first people I knew who chose to get pregnant. So my response to her was, “And you’re…happy about this?”

She later had me nanny for her for a little while after I had left the job, so I didn’t destroy the relationship and I can only hope I didn’t sound as horrified as I do in my memory. And I have since learned you respond to a pregnancy announcement with “Congratulations!” no matter what you think about it.

5. The video conference

I used to work for a huge multinational. Every week we had a global video conference involving all the regional teams (North America, Latin America, Asia, Europe, Australia). The managing director of each region was required to be the lead for their region. Picture a conference room with a huge center table and a movie-size screen on one wall. The video system was set to turn on automatically each week at the appropriate time. This time rotated each week so that no single region had to be there in the middle of the night every time. If you had a middle of the night time, normally just the MD showed up. The video display was set up so that thumbnails of each region’s room were along the bottom of the screen, and whoever was talking was shown on the large screen. It was sound activated, so all you had to do was start talking to become the star attraction.

You can see where this is going, right? Our exec team is coming into the room and getting seated when suddenly the screen activates — and there is the MD of one of the other regions with his CIO engaged in consensual adult activity. Very loud consensual adult activity on the very large conference table. It would have been way past normal business hours where they were located, so unlikely anyone else was in the building to hear them. I’m afraid we all turned into 12-year-olds at that moment and just starred – then started laughing. And we weren’t the only ones. By that time, all the regions were online and the main screen began flashing pictures of the different regions hooting and hollering and cheering and just pretty much being juvenile – whichever room was loudest commanded the main screen. As the MD and regional CIO scrambled off the table and out the door, I saw things I will never unsee. Both were immediately fired and I didn’t keep up with them. Maybe time to google and see what happened to them – besides being the butt of industry jokes for years afterward.

6. The breakfast burritos

My function has started having town halls on Teams and the amount of people who don’t mute (18 fricken months into this pandemic!) is wild. My favorite from the last event is a woman who yelled, loudly, “are you guys still serving breakfast burritos???” … presumably having just unmuted herself right before ordering in the drive through! Even at today’s event I assigned myself the job of muting anyone who shouldn’t be unmuted. I felt like I was playing whack-a-mole with how many peoples mics I had to turn off the entire session!!

7. The bank

I worked in a call center for a very large bank. I hated it but it paid ok, I worked part time while I was finishing up my degree and had benefits. The customers calling in were a nightmare. I was lucky that some of my calls weren’t monitored. Some of my cringy, favorite things I’ve said: to a customer who was angry over fee, “Don’t get your panties in a wad.” Another that we sent her monthly statement but it’s bank’s fault that she didn’t read it so I told her, “You can lead a horse to water but can’t make horse drink the water.” I was in my early 20s and this was my second “real” job. I’m lucky I didn’t get written up and/or fired.

8. The fangs song

Been totally remote for more than a year, with cat office mates. I was petting one of my cats, who has an overbite and will sleep with his fangs out, during a meeting.

I proceeded to say, “Are you sleepy? Are you? Yes, you are! Look at your fangs!” then made up a little song with just the words “kitty fangs!” in it.

I was not muted.

9. The question

I was being trained on a process by someone I didn’t know very well, and I already had it in mind to turn the existing written outline of the workflow into comprehensive directions, so I was paying close attention and trying to catch every detail and nuance. The person training me was fairly thorough and I knew she was very busy so I felt bad taking up more of her time with questions for the purpose of writing up documentation for situations that might never arise. Also, I have a habit of stumbling over words. It gets worse when I’m nervous or pressured.

We were nearing the end, and I had one last quick question, or a brief question, as it were. What came out was: “I have a queef question.”

Dead silence for a moment. I could see the trainwreck coming as I was talking so had an extra moment to plan, but STILL somehow I said the word again as I tried to recover: “No, not queef, *brief*.” She had the good grace not to laugh or comment on it, but I was ready to quit that job, move far away, and start completely over.

Please, heed my warning and choose one word you always use so neither your brain nor mouth thinks it might be okay to say both at once. However, if you do someday commit this same gaffe… please write about it in the Friday thread so I know I’m not alone.

10. The hug

One day, I was taking a walk around our building campus near the end of the day, cooling down from the gym. I have an autoimmune condition that gives me brain fog when I exercise, coupled with a tendency to get deep into daydreams when I walk. I need these excuses so I’m not completely mortified every time I think of this.

I got back to the door, saw a man trying to leave the building, and held the door open for him. He nodded at me, then reached his arm out, like he was going for a hug. I knew he was saying something but my headphones were in so I couldn’t hear him. I looked at him as he stood there with his arm outstretched, unsure of the “polite” reaction, and…gave him a hug. He was a good foot taller than me so I was just awkwardly hugging his torso.

In that moment, I realized his arm was outstretched because he was just holding the door for me in turn. I squeaked out something about “oh, god, you were — oh, I’m so sorry” and he said it was a nice gesture and he didn’t mind. Which I’m glad for, I guess. He works on a different floor, we’ve never officially met, I have never seen him again and have no idea who he is.

11. The handshake

I once went for a handshake … and you know how you sort of catch thumbs and then shake? I missed his thumb. And grabbed his wrist. And then neither of us knew what to do so I just awkwardly shook his wrist and then backed away and tried to avoid eye contact. Like forever. Like I still don’t think I’ve made eye contact with this person since.

12. The sex lab

I was doing postgrad work in behavioral sciences at a large university medical center. One of the rotations was in Sexual Medicine rotation. The lab was commonly referred to as “the sex lab.” They had a penile plethysmograph. It’s used to measure blood flow to the penis and can be used as a proxy for sexual arousal. So rather than asking someone if they are aroused by certain images or scenarios, you can just present photos, videos, voice recordings, etc., and look at arousal. (No, it’s not foolproof but this isn’t a science debate. This is Mortification Week.)

Foreshadowing: in a completely different part of my work, I did some work with a smoking hot married (and very important) doctor named Jake. There was also a guy at the sex lab named Jake that I was friends with; we had a pretty flirty style in talking to each other.

The phone rings one day in my shared office and Sex Lab Jake says hi, it’s Jake, and asks for me. My colleague thinks it is Hot Married Doctor Jake. When I pick up the phone and it’s my friend Sex Lab Jake, I immediately say, “Hey, baby, what’s up?” My listening colleague is shocked. I’m flirting with a married male superior! But she ain’t heard nothin’ yet.

Sex Lab Jake says they need some voice recordings for the sex lab, to play for subjects who are hooked up to the plethysmograph. He asks if I would be willing to do some for the lab one evening. The next thing my colleague hears is “Sure, I could come over there after work some time. What did you have in mind?”

He says he is going to name off some different scenarios they need and only wants me to record the ones I could feel comfortable with. My colleague then hears something like the following from my side of the conversation: “A threesome? Sure, I could do that. Orgy? Why not? Sex in a public place, uh-huh. Two women, yeah, bondage, okay. Watersports? Really? Well, hell, why not? Look, Jake, as long as it doesn’t involve children or rape, I will do pretty much anything you need. Yeah, I’ll be over there Thursday about 6 pm.” I get off the phone and turn around to talk to my colleague.

Did you ever read the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale with the dog “with eyes as big as saucers”? That was her. But I had no clue what was going on and just mentioned in a chatty voice, “That was Jake at the sex lab, he needs me to make some voice recordings for them.” I have never heard anyone say, “Oh, thank GOD” in such a fervent voice. She then explained who she thought I was talking to. The whole incident turned into a legend there.

13. The reaction

I’m reminded me of an interview I had. At the end they gave me a tour around and we stopped for a chat with one guy. I was pretty nervous, but did alright. Until the guy was leaving. At that point he was sort of behind me and waived a goodbye. I honestly thought he was about to smack the back of my head and ducked, with a yell.

Everybody had been super nice to me and it was very pleasant office, nor have I ever been hit… I have no idea where that reaction came from.

14. The wife

A new person had transferred to our office from another one within the same company. When new people started, their boss would typically send out a “Welcome to So-and-so” email to the whole office, and it would include a brief professional and personal background about the new person. New Guy’s boss had asked him to provide a bio for this email and New Guy had written the bio in first person. Well, when Boss did a find/replace to switch it from first person to third (e.g. I to he), he missed one very important word. The end of the bio read, “New Guy is married to my wife, Amy, and they have two dogs they love to spoil.”

When the error was pointed out by pretty much everyone in the office, Boss was incredibly embarrassed (and New Guy was a good sport but it was obviously awkward). Boss issued a quick correction: “The previous email was not a confession of a polygamous lifestyle but a typo. New Guy is married to HIS wife, Amy.”

Boss joked afterward that the silver lining was that at least he knew people were actually reading his emails!

15. The longboard

In my mid-20s I worked at a fast-food restaurant. I was out one evening with three non-work friends and was the completely sober designated driver, which makes my decision to ride my newly purchased longboard through the town at 11 pm even more stupid.

The town is on a hillside and I could cruise the half-mile from top to bottom on just one push. I set off down the middle of the main road, crossing a junction on a red light halfway down. Having survived that, as I approached the end of the road, by the restaurant where I worked, I suddenly remembered that this would take me the wrong way into a busy one-way street. I stepped off the board at probably 40 miles per hour, expecting to run. One foot touched the ground and was whipped from under me, I hit the road hard and slid a fair distance. I picked myself up and turned round to see the windows of my workplace filled with gawking customers and colleagues alike. It was the pub closing time rush. I waved to them just as I realised the sliding stop had pulled my trousers down and that I was standing there in the middle of the high street outside my place of work with them round my ankles. That was when I also realised my left hand was swollen like an inflated surgical glove, which hindered my ability to quickly hoist my trousers back up.

I struggled my trousers back up one-handed, left the longboard with a colleague and set off back up the hill, past the nightclub queue that had cheered me on moments earlier and back to the friends who were sitting in my car eating fish and chips. They had all drunk too much to drive me to the hospital, so I had to get one of them to change gear for me while I drove, as that was the side with the inflated glove hand.

All in all I chipped my elbow, broke two fingers, and grazed and cut the length of the left side of my body. Oh, and stood in front of a large crowd with my trousers down, which my colleagues never let me forget.

What a night! You don’t always need to drink to be stupid. Being a young man is often enough.

16. The flatulence

At my first office job in my 20s, while sitting at my desk one day, I let out what I thought was a harmless little bit of flatulence. It wasn’t until a few seconds later that the ungodly stink hit my nose. None of my cubicle-mates reacted, so I thought I was safe. But to my horror, the gas kept coming, and I was powerless to stop it! I froze in place, terrified that somebody would single me out as the perpetrator, but nobody said a thing. And then my coworkers’ faces started to contort, and I knew that my secret was out! “Do you smell that?” they asked around. About ready to sweat with fear, I denied any culpability, but agreed that something was amiss in the air.

The uncontrollable flatulence continued for 2 or 3 days straight. (To this day, I have no idea what caused it.) Work from home wasn’t an option at the time. I made a point of getting up often and walking around the office in an attempt to spread my tracks and make the foul stench untraceable. Soon everyone on my entire floor felt the wrath of my unruly bowels. Someone from another floor came down to discuss a project, and stopped mid-sentence to say how awful our floor smelled. The office manager came in, nose buried in her shirt, armed with a can of air freshener. It barely had any effect. For context, I’m a woman with a small frame, so not the obvious suspect for someone capable of single-handedly stinking up an entire office. Maybe that helped me keep my cover. I alternated constantly between using all my strength not to laugh, and trying not to sweat in fear that I’d soon be found out. It was too late to confess, I’d already claimed innocence, and I didn’t want a reputation as the office stinker (not to mention what my office crush would think of me).

One day, as suddenly as it started, the gas stopped. The air cleared over time, and it was never spoken of again…until I confessed to my aforementioned office crush (then my boyfriend) months later, after I’d left that office for another job. “That was YOU??!!” (Thankfully, he married me despite my shocking revelation. I’m afraid that living together has erased all doubt in his mind that I was telling the truth.) Years later that story still comes up from time to time, and we have a good laugh.

17. The sink

It was the day of my company’s holiday party. While everyone else was drinking champagne and getting ready together, I was dealing with a huge client emergency. By the time it was resolved, the office was empty (aside from my male teammates, who’d stuck around to keep me company) and I was left to get ready alone.

This place didn’t have a full length mirror, but I had the brilliant idea of climbing onto the bathroom counter in order to see my entire outfit. It was objectively a really cute outfit, so obviously I had to take some mirror selfies (bonus cringe 2!) while standing on top of a sink with a lovely backdrop of bathroom stalls.

I must have tried to strike a pretty ambitious pose or something, because my foot slipped (I just realized there’s a pattern here) and the next thing I knew I was SITTING INSIDE A SINK in some kind of half split, with one leg folded under me and the other stretched out on the counter behind me, fully wedged under the faucet. And because of my weird contortionist position, I was actually completely stuck. In a sink. At work. With my phone far away on the floor where it had fallen when I’d dropped it.

I yelled for my team to help me, but while they were on the other side of the office and couldn’t hear me, I did manage to get the attention of three women who’d come back to get something one of them had forgotten.

I was rescued from the sink by my boss, her boss, and another department head. They (especially my boss) never let me live it down, and even though I left almost three years ago, the time I got stuck in the sink has been immortalized as company lore.

{ 353 comments… read them below }

    1. quill*

      What size pool noodle are we talking about, because… I may have learned something about barnacle proportions and I’m wondering how close OP got.

          1. quill*

            Five days of the week we are reminded not to do things like that… and yet… it still needs to be said.

      1. WhiskyTangoFoxtrot*

        When I was a wide-eyed youngster (14-15ish) volunteering at our local aquarium, we had a barnacle puppet that attached to a Very Long hose to show the proportional size. It was quite something and popular with adult visitors. :-)

    2. Van Wilder*

      I’m really asking… are we not allowed to talk about animal penises around kids? Seems like animal reproduction should be, like, normal science stuff.

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        I’m assuming there’s a difference between putting it on the “label the parts of the horse” diagram and doing an entire presentation on the penis, with props. One of those is definitely for grownups.

        1. Nobby Nobbs*

          Plus if you wanted to be fair you’d also have to do one on animal vaginas. Kids are big into fairness.

        2. pancakes*

          If you want to see the grownups version in full splendor, look for Isabella Rossellini’s series of short films “Green Porno.”

      2. just a random teacher*

        Depends on the local community. If it’s rural enough that a lot of the families have livestock, animal reproduction is absolutely fair game and something you can be matter-of-fact about, since the kids will have already seen it at home anyway (if they already know how baby cattle or horses are made, the esoteric sex lives of sea creatures are unlikely to be considered offensive). If you’re in a fairly liberal area where most kids get comprehensive, age-appropriate human sex ed in the schools growing up, it’s also not a big deal even if it’s new information. In conservative suburbs, it’s tricky since the kids are likely to have grown up without either the practical animal lifecycle experience of ranch kids or the human sex ed details common in less conservative areas, and some parents may be trying to keep the whole broad subject under wraps (or not have really thought about it themselves).

        1. just a random teacher*

          Erm. The parents have probably thought about sex at some point, as they have kids and that’s one of the most common routes to having kids. I meant they may not have spent much time thinking about that animals also have sex, and that if one is going to be learning a lot of detailed information about an animal, their reproductive cycle may be part of that information.

        2. lobsterbot*

          I have definitely seen parents react by covering kids ears and eyes and yanking them away during demos of fairly straightforward animal sex stuff at the zoo.

        3. Hellokitty Supporter*

          One spring break, I took my elementary aged niece to the Georgia Aquarium – 10 out of 10, would recommend! – and because it was spring break, the place was crawling with kids/families/school groups/scout troops/church trips, you name it. Anyway, they have two beluga whales in a tank, a boy and a girl, and during our visit they got much friendlier than normal. My niece, and all the kids there, got to see first hand how whale sex works. The announcer they had just said “This may not have been what you expected to see today, but we really want baby whales, and this is how you get them.” I thought she handled it really well, was very straightforward, and professional for a person in giant room full of 8 year olds laughing and pointing at the whales and a few horrified chaperones. Also worth noting, even with all scrutiny, the whales in question did not suffer from performance anxiety.

    3. Migraine Month*

      Yeah! I also don’t understand why we have to tiptoe around animal sexual anatomy and reproduction around kids. Different animals reproduce in different ways; it’s not about Traditional Family Values. I’ve even heard that some zoos set up animal displays to mimic a heterosexual nuclear family, even for animals like lions where that makes no sense.

      Then again, I had age-appropriate sex education in 2nd grade (basically “here are the parts and this is how babies are made”), and I was never as fascinated by the idea as year-mates who hadn’t had the sex education.

      1. quill*

        We had nat geo growing up so I was aware that fish spawn externally, mammals have to get close, and that nothing but humans will bother to get married. Sometimes I wonder if the lack of that very basic level of understanding as kids is what makes people freak out so much about the concept of even knowing accurate terms about human anatomy.

  1. Sharpiee*

    #8 – kitty fangs
    That was endearing. That would make me like you as a coworker even more.

    1. Velawciraptor*

      I had a similar experience early in lockdown.

      My cats liked to work with me, and one of them was in the front window, watching the entertainment I had set up (bird feeders).

      She got very excited so she got the baby talk “aww…who’s a cute murderer? Do you want to murder the bird?”

      Problem one: I was not muted.

      Problem two: I was in court.

      Cue the judge: “Whoever is asking about bird murder, could you please mute?”

      1. Unaccountably*

        This is hilarious!

        LW8, I too have sung a song to my cat while not on mute. I was on a conference call with a hundred other people in my field. It was not my finest hour.

        1. Velawciraptor*

          I’m eternally grateful that I’ve gotten better with the mute. Not just for myself, but for others. I’ve saved numerous clients from contempt charges by just hitting that mute as fast as humanly possible.

      2. quill*

        Court: the only place where I would not assume that a bird murder had something to do with a cat.

        1. Velawciraptor*

          I promise I’ve never asked any actual murderers “Awww….who’s a cute murderer?”

      3. FisherCat*

        My day would be so improved if I’d heard this exchange in zoom court. Sorry ‘bout your mortification but you got a good story out of it!

      4. Vio*

        on the charge of bird murder we find the defendant not guilty on grounds of being too adorable

    2. Allura Vysoren*

      I have a (quite large) cat that loves to be held like a baby. Like, climbs into my arms, makes me hold up his butt, and rests his head on my shoulder. He also has a remarkable talent to know when I’m in a video meeting. He was a pandemic addition to the household and I was an established rockstar on my team so I let him be a baby during most of my meetings at my last job.

      1. GermanCoffeeGirl*

        My kitty is the same! A lot of my calls are around midday and my kitty loves lunch cuddles, so she demands to be held like a baby during my calls. My coworkers are used to it by now, but it’s definitely a conversation starter.

    3. Dennis Feinstein*

      1) Kitty fangs OP needs to post the lyrics.
      2) Kitty Fangs needs to be on Spotify asap.

    4. Kayem*

      I’d definitely love it if I heard a coworker sing to their cat. Though I’m not so sure how my coworkers would feel. I have to be tied to day-long Teams for weeks at a stretch and I live in mortal terror that I’m going to forget to mute myself and start talking or singing to the cats when they barge into the office. I know it’s just a matter of time before my coworkers hear me sing about one of the cats to the tune of the old cartoon Spiderman theme.

      1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        I have a song for one of my cats that is sung to the tune of Gaston’s song from Beauty and the Beast, all about how he’s a liar and doesn’t need to be fed. Luckily I’ve never been caught out by work singing it….

      1. Kayem*

        I was thinking the lollipop song, though is that the same one? I’ve read the Smelly Cat song, but never heard it.

    1. Queen of the File*

      I REALLY need to hear from these people that don’t mute on calls despite repeatedly being asked to. Why!?

  2. Taylor -*

    The mental image of #13 ducking and yelling…for some reason that really got me! I had a good chuckle at that one

    1. The Person from the Resume*

      Reminds of the time someone gestured at something on my leg and my first instinct which I did not override was to hug them. Very awkward. Group of people. No one was departing. Also not a hugging type industry. Wrong on many levels.

    2. river*

      I’m guessing they were so keyed-up from interview nervousness that their body decided there must be some threat somewhere

    3. LegalEagle*

      This was the one where I had to pause and come back because I was about to laugh out loud at my desk.

    1. Antilla the Hon*

      Haha #16 hit too close to home (except trapped on a jet). I’m recovering from COVID and this story promoted a horrid laughing-induced coughing spell. Totally worth it though!

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Seriously. Except for me, getting the farts means that I have about a minute and a half to get to the bathroom and seated.

    2. Sauron*

      I have a chronic GI-related illness that USUALLY does not manifest itself with flatulence. HOWEVER. A few weeks ago I decided to try out the morning classes at my gym, and the first time I went I had ATROCIOUS gas. No idea what caused it, but it clearly was causing a problem for the people around me. I am also a small-framed woman like #16 so was not immediately blamed. I was embarrassed, but felt after class that I had gone under the radar and that it was unlikely to happen again.

      I was wrong. The second time I went – to the same class, with the same instructor – it was even worse, and I could tell the instructor might’ve figured out I was the culprit. I’ve decided the danger of morning farts is too great, and have not been back to the morning classes. I also now feel super weird around that instructor.

  3. Didi*

    Mortification Week! Love it!

    Two stories from my college days:
    1) I was a realy bad waitress at a really crappy shoreline seafood restaurant. Everyone hated the upstairs dining room because you had to run p and down 100 times a night. One day I was going up the stairs for the umpteenth time when I tripped and spilled an entire tray of sodas all over myself , the floor, the walls. And I yelled “SHIT!” I got fired from that job like a week later. (Why not right away? Dunno.)

    2) Part-time job in a very formal privately-held company – so formal that women had to wear dresses or skirts and pantyhose. That’s right – women could not wear pants. Did I mention this was 1989? Anyway, everyone working there was old so I struck up a friendship with the young (hot) mailroom guy.

    One day we got to talking about rollerblading and I told him I’d show him how to blade (he got a pair as a gift but didn’t know how to use them). We had planned to blade outside during lunch but it was raining, so we bladed around the mailroom, which had a concrete floor.

    Of course who walks in but the president of the company. He immediately walked away. The mailroom guy and I just died laughing. Thirty seconds later my boss comes in and says, “I was told you were rollerskating around in here and I didn’t believe it, but here we are.”

    I did not get fired. Instead I was given a bunch of projects to do so that I never had time to goof off at work again.

    1. Snoozing not schmoozing*

      I had to wear skirts/dresses in 1989 at a new job when I went back to work after my kid started school. It was a shock for me because I’d always worn pants at a different job in the 1970s.

      1. Sally*

        The company I worked for in the mid- to late-’90s (!!!) had a policy that women couldn’t wear pants. By the time we discovered this policy, probably every woman there had worn pants to work many times. Even so, it felt important to us to get the policy changed. We were surprised, dumbfounded, and amazed that there was pushback from management! They backed down and changed the policy fairly quickly after everyone’s incredulous and outraged responses, but seriously, how do you NOT say, “I can’t believe that is still in the manual from back in the dark ages. Let’s fix that right away!”

  4. Cait*

    Honestly, saying “Congratulations!” might not always be the best idea when someone announces their pregnancy. You kind of have to gauge their tone before you respond. I wouldn’t outright ask if they’re happy about this but maybe say something generic like “Wow! How are you feeling?”.

    1. Antilles*

      Why wouldn’t “Congratulations” be a good idea?
      If someone you’re not super close to is announcing their pregnancy themselves, it seems reasonable to assume they’re happy about it since if not, they wouldn’t be bringing it up in the first place.

      1. Lurker*

        Ummm, unless they’re your co-worker and have to tell you for any number of reasons: you’re HR, they’re need info on maternity leave/disability. They live in a state where abortions are now illegal, etc.

        1. Indigo a la mode*

          Responses like “Oh my gosh! Big news!” or “Oh wow, that’s huge!” are good ways, I’ve found, to feel out the pregnant person’s sentiment without making assumptions.

          1. MM*

            A high-energy but not obviously thrilled or sad “Oh my god!” has worked well for me so far.

          2. Ann. On a Mouse.*

            Perhaps “Oh wow, that’s huge!” is not the best thing to say to a pregnant woman. Particularly if she’s relatively early in the pregnancy. Too much of a risk it’ll be interpreted as “you’re huge”, whether or not it was meant that way.

        2. redflagday701*

          This is when it’s handy to be the hilarious co-worker who already has children, so you can just say something like, “God help you. They just poop and cry all the time, and you wouldn’t believe what they eat.”

        3. Books and Cooks*

          And if you’re in a situation like that, you’ll know it, and/or they’ll make it clear by the way they announce it. Deciding not to congratulate someone who is publicly announcing their pregnancy because you assume they don’t really want the baby isn’t really a great approach, or a kind one. (And I don’t see why “they need info on maternity leave/disability,” is a reason to assume they’re not happy to be pregnant?)

      2. Foot in the Mouth*

        Several years ago a coworker announced her pregnancy to our team, and I said “Congratulations!” She responded, “Don’t congratulate me, it was an accident.” I wouldn’t say she was happy about it, but she did have to tell us about it since she was taking parental leave and it was definitely going to affect our team functions.

        Since then, I’ve usually defaulted to “Wow, big news!” (or something like that) as Indigo a la mode says below.

        1. Rose*

          Honestly that’s wayyyy too much information and not an appropriate response from a boss. If you plan on having and raising the child, you need to accept congratulations from people you don’t have close personal relationships to. Telling people your child is unwanted is an awkward, cruel, overshare.

          1. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

            100% agreed. “Congratulations” is the appropriate response to the news that a work acquaintance is having a child.

            If you’re not HAVING the child, don’t tell your work acquaintances; if congratulations aren’t in order, don’t have the child.

          2. Critical Rolls*

            Yeah. We all have situations where our feelings might not be a 100% match to social conventions, but we get to choose what to do about that. At work, the correct answer is almost always “perform the brief expected social interaction and do not involve your coworkers in your personal drama/issues.” In this case, all she needed to say was “thanks” and that would have been it!

          3. Books and Cooks*

            My younger daughter was an accident (withdrawal does NOT work, y’all!), and when I discovered I was pregnant I was far from thrilled. I continued to be not thrilled for most of the pregnancy, in fact, despite knowing that I would love the baby when she came and all that stuff (and boy did/do I; she has been nothing but a delight from the minute she was born). My husband and my best friend knew I wasn’t thrilled, but I certainly never let on to anyone else.

            Having people respond to my pregnancy with a hearty, “Congratulations!” or “What great news!” was actually really, really helpful for me. It reminded me that this was not just some unexpected inconvenience, it was something to be excited about. I cannot imagine responding to someone’s congratulations and best wishes with such a rude reply (and such an insensitive one! For all she knew, one of the people congratulating her had been trying to have a baby for years or something).

            Even if that wasn’t the case, shooting down someone who is wishing you well is just an unpleasant thing to do, especially when it involves a child–it is indeed awkward and cruel. Imagine if the child hears that one day! (Daughter knows she was a surprise, and finds it hilarious–we joke about it, but we also always make clear that it was a wonderful surprise and we were thrilled. That’s true; we just don’t tell her that I didn’t really get to the “thrilled” part until a few weeks before she was born. [And it’s handy when talking to her about the importance of reliable birth control, and she’s passed that on to her friends. Being able to tell them, “Yeah, my parents tried that, and that is literally why I’m here,” really drives the point home.])

    2. Double A*

      I feel like for 99% of workplace pregnancy announcements, “Congratulations” is appropriate. Even if there’s something more complicated going on, it’s a socially appropriate response. And if you’re in a role where it might be more sensitive, you’d know it.

      1. Bee*

        Particularly in cases where – as this letter says! – the announcer is “obviously excited.”

    3. Clisby*

      When I (unmarried, but living with my now-husband) got pregnant roughly almost 27 years ago, one work colleague said, “Well, X (a close friend of mine) says you’re really happy about it, so congratulations – I guess?”

      I said, “If I weren’t happy about this baby, I wouldn’t be having it.”

      Sadly, we’re regressing.

    4. Artemesia*

      if someone is announcing a pregnancy then ‘congratulations’ is the only correct response. You assume anyone making this public is happy about it. Someone who is not will share that with a close friend — but a public announcement requires congratulations.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        Exactly! If a friend is telling me before it’s public knowledge and I don’t know for 100% sure that they’ve been trying, I usually go with, “Oh my gosh! Wow, how are you feeling?” in case it’s more complicated and they want to say something since it’s easy to follow up appropriately from there. But a public announcement means “Congratulations” is the only answer.

        1. Rufus Bumblesplat*

          I did once ask a close friend what she intended to do when she told me she was pregnant, but only because I knew she hadn’t been trying, she had explicitly told me multiple times that she did not want another child, and her tone was not joyous. I congratulated her once I knew it was appropriate.

          However, that was very much an outlier case, and I wouldn’t dream of doing it with a more casual acquaintance!

    5. AnonyNurse*

      I say, warmly and trying to match their tone, “How are you feeling?” For people thrilled to be pregnant, they’ll say so; for folks so sick they just want to lay back down but are still happy, they’ll share that. And for ambivalent people, it gives them room to be unsure. For anyone who is pregnant and does not want to be, it of course creates an opportunity there. Granted, I have spent my career working with pregnant people, both those who want to be and at an abortion clinic for a few years. So I’ve had practice. :)

      Most importantly, to my mind, it centers the person telling you this news. As soon as you announce you’re pregnant, questions, comments, concerns are all about your future child. It’s so easy to get lost in that.

  5. Spicy Tuna*

    Back in the ’90’s, my husband was the CEO of a small tech start up in San Francisco. All of that added up to people in the office bringing stuff in to share, like home brewed kombucha, sourdough starter, unpasteurized milk from a local farmer, etc, etc.

    Unfortunately, one day my hubby grabbed someone’s breast milk (that they had previously expressed) instead of cow milk and used it in his coffee. In his defense, it was in the common fridge and it wasn’t labeled that it was breast milk. He figured it out because he loved the taste and went back to see if he could find out who brought it in and where they go it. Nonetheless, the breast feeding employee was none too happy!

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yeah, that one is definitely on the person who made the milk, but I can imagine that person not being happy about it. And I bet it is tasty, it’s expressly designed for us humans, after all. And also I bet that person labeled the milk from then on!

      1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

        IME breast milk is very sweet and otherwise very mild in flavor or almost flavorless.

        1. turquoisecow*

          My understanding is it passes on at least some of the taste of whatever the mother is eating. My kid was 90% formula and the pediatrician recommended introducing various flavors because formula babies sometimes end up being really picky eaters thanks to eating the same thing every day, while breast milk babies have some variety.

          1. Spicy Tuna*

            I was formula fed and while I’m not “picky” per se – I’ll generally eat whatever is available – my preferences are limited to about 4 different things.

          2. Books and Cooks*

            Which I have always found ironic, because my older daughter was formula-fed and will eat almost anything (and always has), whereas my younger was breast-fed for seventeen months while I ate a pretty varied diet and is (and always has been) the pickiest eater I’ve ever met.

  6. Dust Bunny*

    #8 If my workplace hears you singing about kitty fangs we’re going to stop everything until we see this kitty and its fangs. There’s a law or something.

    1. kittycontractor*

      Honestly, I feel like if ever a pet is mentioned, it must be followed by a picture. Work advice blogs included!! :)

    2. BubbleTea*

      I minute the presence of all canine, feline, or tiny-human guests in our online team meetings because it is important information.

      1. Random Bystander*

        Like the time one of mine decided to park himself on my work desk directly in front of the camera. So instead of my face, my co-workers got to see the face of my rescue baby (former feral born under my forsythia, I trapped and neutered him when he was a kitten, started working on socializing and darn if I didn’t end up adopting him myself)–he is an orange tabby who wears a collar that is blue plaid with a bow tie (the blue looks striking against the orange fur). There were a few grumblings about people with allergies (honestly, his face on your computer screen *cannot* trigger allergies) but most people enjoyed his drop-in appearance.

        1. Esmeralda*

          Yeah, we have all seen way too much of our co-workers’ cats’ butts.

          One of my cats likes to bite the webcam…

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Lol, Mr Orchestra’s former manager was a big fan of rescue organizations, and was the crazy cat guy (aka a male version of the old lady with way too many cats from the stereotype)….

              Anyways, this one cat was neutered way too late in life – and would meticulously groom that specific area on camera every chance he got. At the start of the pandemic it was a running bet of how long it would take Groucho (the manager’s cat) to figure out the camera was on and show up behind manager….

          1. SometimesALurker*

            I had a performance review that, for all I could tell, was delievered by my boss’s cat’s butt. The words were complementary, even if the means of presentation was not!
            (She kept apologizing.) (I love cats and it was my favorite performance review.)

    3. DataGirl*

      Yep. We are mostly cat people in my office and that would elicit immediate demands to see kitty and their fangs.

    4. Migraine Month*

      That’s the story that had me actually laughing out loud. For some reason I’m imagining those lyrics sung to the Spider-man theme song.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        Oh I can absolutely hear this now. “Kitty fangs / kitty fangs / bites whatever a kitty fang bites / Do they look / so dang cute / yes they do / they’re kitty fangs / Look out! / For kitty fangs”

    1. Be kind, rewind*

      I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.

      Getting stuck in an awkward position is one of my biggest fears. I always have a moment of panic when I’m clothes shopping alone and can’t get out right away of something I’ve tried on.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        I once had to be cut out of a dress when the zipper broke. It was long and so did at least cover my butt while also trapping my arms over my head while I tried to peek out of the arm hole to ask for help.

      2. Miss Muffet*

        I had this happen to me once – a decidedly not stretchy dress could not get off over my boobs and shoulders and i was stuck with my arms up. I had to get the saleswoman to help. Thankfully it was a small boutique and no one else was in the store

    2. pancakes*

      I can’t believe I’d forgotten but it reminded me of something incredibly silly and a bit similar I did years ago. I was on the phone with a client and absentmindedly fiddling with the door to an office I seldom used, and I got my pinky stuck in part of the latch. I was scribbling notes for the bookkeeper and she came back with soap from the bathroom, and we were both trying to get my finger out without laughing too much. It didn’t long, thankfully, and I have not done that again!

  7. Temperance*

    I’m so sorry #1 I just had a great laugh at your expense. I 100% would do something like this.

    1. ursula*

      It’s been 3 days and I still randomly think about this and crack up. It’s so inappropriate. I would remember it forever!!

  8. Minimal Pear*

    #9, if it helps, I just KNOW someday I’m going to try to say “sorry to bug you” and “sorry to bother you” at the same time and come out with “sorry to bugger you”. I can tell it’s going to happen someday.

    1. Morticia(she/her)*

      That story reminded me of the time in software development when every month we would ship a branch to a different team for them to get the updates, bug fixes, and new features. The day came due and I (woman) said to my manager (man) that it was that time of the month, and since we didn’t have a specific branch in development at the time, maybe we could just use the trunk. The problem was that we didn’t call it the trunk, so after I had implied that I was menstruating, I suggested we give the other team HEAD.

    2. The Engineer*

      I did not know that word #9. Now I have something to tell my boss when I’m asked about what I learned today. ;)

    3. Magpie*

      I used to work at an outdoor store and we had just gotten in some neoprene socks for kayaking, called Moque booties.

      I was showing a Sikh family the watersports supplies and misread the sign as “Mosque” booties. Repeatedly. So not only did I look racist, I looked so racist that I didn’t even realise they were Sikh, and not Muslim!

      This was over a decade ago and I still feel the mortification to my core.

    4. whyblue*

      Makes me think of Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark, who would tell you that you have the rarest of things, a perfectly balanced mind.

  9. Wendy Darling*

    Re: trapped in bathrooms, I once slipped and fell in the shower/tub combo at a then-newish boyfriend’s house and ended up wedged, soaking wet, between the side of the tub and the toilet. Because of the angle I was stuck at and the fact that I was all wet, I couldn’t get a grip on anything to free myself and was reduced to shouting “HELP I’M STUCK” until he came in and got me out.

    We’ve been together 15 years now and I bought him a nonslip mat for the floor of his death trap tub.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I got locked in the powder room at my aunt and uncle’s house. We were all there for a family gathering the day after my cousin’s wedding. The powder room is in a corner off the kitchen where nobody can hear you so I had to call my brother on my cell phone for help. My uncles took the door off the hinges. Later, my cousin got worried that her other cousin’s little kids might knock the door over (early 1900s house with big, heavy, solid-wood interior doors) so she and I hoisted it back onto the hinges. I have no idea why we thought this was a good idea.

      I cannot make this up: She started teasing me about being unable to work a doorknob and demonstrated by going into the powder room and pulling the door shut. It immediately locked her in.

      I lost it, laughing. I barely managed to communicate to my uncle that she’d locked herself in. He’s a famous deadpan and dryly commented that he couldn’t wait to tell her new husband that she’d locked herself in the bathroom the day after their wedding. But this time my other uncle took the door handle out, which was what we should have done the first time, at which point we discovered that it was worn out in a way that caused it to lock even if the turnlock wasn’t engaged. So . . . it wasn’t me.

      Even better: The only other bathroom in this house is way up on the second floor, in the back, where you will definitely not be heard if you get locked in. My aunt commented, ” . . . oh, yes, the upstairs bathroom does that sometimes, too.” It’s a miracle nobody got locked in up there!

    2. Sweaty*

      The door to my bathroom got stuck due to intense humidity, so I had just showered, but couldn’t get out of the bathroom. I lived alone, and I didn’t have my phone in the bathroom with me.
      I stuck my head out of my 2nd floor window and yelled to my neighbor watering plants across the street, asking him to call my sister and have her come over.
      My sister is notorious for not checking her phone for hours.
      After probably 40 minutes I managed to wedge something between the door and the frame to pop it open. I was so sweaty after everything I needed a 2nd shower. But I never fully closed the bathroom door after that.

      1. Panhandlerann*

        I got stuck in a bathroom at my house recently. As above, a broken locking mechanism in the door lever was to blame. My husband was in the yard and couldn’t hear me yelling, and who knows how long it would have been before he’d come back into the house. To boot, I am prone to claustrophobia, so I didn’t want to be locked in there any longer than I had to be. The bathroom has a little linen closet in it. It has two doors: one inside the bathroom, and one in the hall. The hall door is at a 90 degree angle from the inside door (if that makes sense). I thought I’d be able to take everything off the shelves, remove the shelves, and just walk around the corner inside the closet and out the hall door. But no: the shelves were glued in, so there was no removing them. I had to lie down on the floor, fit myself between the floor and the bottom shelf (a bit of a tight squeeze), “scooch” around the corner, reach up and grab the hall door lever to open that door, and make my exit. That was also a claustrophobic experience, but a much less lengthy one than the claustrophobic experience inside the bathroom would have been.

          1. Panhandlerann*

            I was impressed with myself since getting down on the floor and back up again is not easy for me. Amazing what the proper motivation will do for a person, I guess!

    3. PhyllisB*

      This reminds me of a time when everyone else in the house was asleep, so I decided to go out to the patio to drink my coffee. The rug had been kicked up by the wind, which I did not notice. The toe of my sandal got caught and I pitched sideways and managed to land between a table and the love seat. Somehow the neck of my t-shirt got caught on a scrolled fixture, and I was royally stuck. I didn’t have any maneuvering room, and I knew yelling would not help because no one could hear me. Well, with some squirming I FINALLY managed to get loose, but when I looked at my position later, I couldn’t believe it. I could never have done that on purpose if I tried. When I shared it with the family later, they of course all broke up laughing. (After telling me they were glad I wasn’t hurt.)

  10. Cat Tree*

    #4, I did something similar. I was 23 and my older male coworker had told me that he didn’t want kids, his wife did, and it was something they argued about (I don’t know why he told me about his marital troubles). So when he announced his wife’s pregnancy I responded, “congratulations?” with an audible question mark at the end.

  11. Strange observer*

    At an all-hands meeting for a small company, we’re talking about Myers Briggs types and the differences between some of the paired opposites like thinkers vs. feelings (shorthanded as T vs. F) and judgers vs. perceivers (shorthanded as J vs. P). Our Deputy Director is talking about how she is a judger (J) and her husband is a perceiver (P). She sums it up as “My husband’s P-ness drives me crazy!” Never to be forgotten.

        1. Cedrus Libani*

          I think that’s my parents. It works better than you might suspect. She keeps him grounded; he helps her see the big picture. They’ve been happily married for decades.

          The one slightly odd complication: they had an INTJ child with the outward emotional range of a turnip. She needs me to mirror her emotional state in order to feel heard. I’m willing to fake it, but that’s my mother; she knows I’m a turnip, so anything above that must be an intentional attempt at manipulation, which to be fair is correct. Nobody likes that feeling. But if I respond in my normal register, then it feels like I don’t even care enough to try, and nobody likes that feeling either.

          (My dad’s more flexible P… *characteristics* work better here. He’s perfectly willing to drop what he’s doing and focus on what my mom has decided must be done Right Now. My default reaction is “I’ve got 99 problems and yours is in the queue at #52, now go away I’m busy with problem #4”.)

          By high school, I’d learned the secret to interrupting one of these spirals. I’d yell some generic teenage angst in her direction, slam the door (and get back to work), and then we’d hug it out half an hour later. Undignified. But far more efficient than anything else I’d ever tried. In my defense, I was on the Ivy-or-bust plan in high school; I was so busy I barely had time to fart.

          I did eventually admit that I was doing this. Mom was mad; Dad was like “I KNEW IT!”.

    1. Global Cat Herder*

      Early 90s I was working for a company that really drank the Myers-Briggs kool-aid. HR Director was leading a training about interpersonal conflicts and was talking about how her husband is a J and she’s a P and …

      “I really wish my husband had a little more P-ness”

      That was the last time that MBPT was ever mentioned at that company.

  12. MrMassTransit*

    #1 If someone asked me if I ever saw someone die, I don’t think I would have thought anything of it. But I used to be an EMT. It could definitely have been a conversation starter with me! But it probably could also have triggered a lot of PTSD in someone with different experiences.

    1. Unaccountably*

      I don’t think I’d have been all that enthusiastic about someone I don’t know asking me if I’ve ever seen a ghost, either. Not because of PTSD, but because it would cause me to question what other paranormal-type beliefs they have, and if I’m going to have to listen to them talk about Bigfoot sightings or write them up for putting curses on their co-workers like other hapless AAM letter-writers have done.

      1. MrMassTransit*

        Oh, for sure. When I was going to college, I worked nights at an airport in a small city. After midnight, cab drivers would typically come in to ask about any inbound flights and how many people were on them in order to decide whether it was worth sticking around for a fare.

        One regular came up to me one night and asked about our inbound flight. I told him it was a few hours delayed due to weather at the origin. “You know,” he said, “the government could do something about that if they wanted to.” At first I thought he meant the FAA/ATC could do better with poor weather. Nope. He launched into a half hour monologue about the how military could control the weather and various other conspiracies. At some point I had to politely excuse myself to “handle something out on the ramp.”

        Can’t imagine running into that conversation in my current workplace, but thanks to reading this site, I know it happens.

        1. quill*

          Yeah I discovered some THINGS about my then-boss in 2016, when suddenly he decided to start talking politics.

        2. Unaccountably*

          I totally flashed back to the letter from that poor manager who had to deal with one of his employees putting a curse on other employees.

      2. still anon*

        Like when my coworkers talk about church. I don’t want to know what paranormal beliefs they have…

        1. Unaccountably*

          I used to work in the cubicle across from a woman who was on the phone with someone or other talking about Jesus for like four hours a day. While she did her work! Accurately!

          So I guess I couldn’t complain, but jeez.

      3. LittleMarshmallow*

        Well this mini thread is depressing for someone who had a bucket list item to stay at the Stanley Hotel on the ghost floor…

        You people are no fun at all… I, for one, would love if someone asked me if I’d ever seen a ghost. I would happily tell them about my stay at the Stanley Hotel (where I sadly saw zero ghosts) and some super creepy experiences I had working in older houses for a cleaning service in college. And probably about how Halloween is my favorite holiday and I might even be wearing my T-shirt with a pouty ghost that says “this is boo sheet” (which I do wear to work sometimes…).

        I’m not into Bigfoot… although the idea of cryptozoology is pretty interesting, ultimately my fascination with the creepy is just a hobby like quilting or knitting would be. As far as I can tell my coworkers don’t judge me about it and it’s not like I talk about it all the time. Maybe once every 4-6 months? Being asked if I’d ever seen anyone die would probably throw me a little… but unless it was said in a threatening way I’m also pretty sure I could roll with it.

        I have to hear all kinds of crap about gross or annoying things peoples kids do all the time that they think everyone wants to hear about so people can suck it up and listen to me talk about ghosts a couple times a year.

        1. Ayla*

          I have a story about my unborn child being friends with a ghost, but now I can’t tell if you’d be open to hearing it or not!

          1. Books and Cooks*

            I want to hear it!!

            I am a pretty staunch skeptic and a big believer in science and Better Living Through it. If you want to tell me something is real or is fact, you better be able to show me the evidence, and it better be accurate. But I choose to believe in ghosts. That is exactly how I frame it, too: I know that there is no evidence that ghosts are real, that there has never been any scientifically confirmed/proven ghost, ghost sighting, haunting, etc., but I do not care. I choose to believe. I have had experiences myself that I’m sure or I know have rational explanations, too…but a few of them also really didn’t or don’t.

            What it comes down to is that I want to believe in ghosts, so I do. That doesn’t extend to other woo beliefs at all, especially not in areas like medicine, and it definitely does not extend to any of the dreadful “ghost hunter”-type “reality” TV shows out there, but I will happily hear and tell “real life ghost stories” for as long as anyone wants to.

        2. Not Your Ghostbuster*

          I absolutely LOVE paranormal stuff, and I still think you’re taking this way too personally. People can be real jerks about others’ interest in supernatural stuff (whether or not that interest is actual belief), but that doesn’t make your response okay.

        3. Unaccountably*

          As far as I know, you have not invited me to go to the Stanley Hotel with you, so my opinion is irrelevant to your bucket list.

          I love paranormal stuff. Halloween is also my favorite holiday. I have not one, not two, but three Ouija board shirts. I have postmortem photos and smiley faces carved from supposedly-human-bones-but-not-really. I do urbex and take creepy photos of abandoned houses.

          I still do not want my co-workers sidling up to me in the workplace and asking me if I’ve ever seen a ghost. On my off hours if you do that and you turn out to be a Q-anon type who thinks the government controls the weather or something, I can avoid you. If I’m at work, I can’t. So, sorry, but someone telling me about their child at work like half the population does might be oversharing but they’re not sending up the bat signal for potential serious discomfort, creepiness, or boundary issues.

      4. Must Have Caramel Macchiato to Function*

        Hello! OP #1 here! This is… not a normal thing I ask people or something I talk about really at all at work. For added context, I was head of the Halloween committee and had just come off of 8 hours after/before working hours of decorating two locations by myself, and this was an office where EVERYONE participated in Halloween and tried to outdo each other for costumes. I even set up a trick-or-treating station – so the point is, Halloween was on my mind. I understand that this question could be triggering for people – and it was! One of my coworkers who overheard it *had* seen someone die, mentioned it to my manager, and I was formally reprimanded and mortified in another sense. I just thought I’d share the story because, you know, mortification week. I thought it would help to have some people laugh at my story and, you know, not do it themselves.

        P.S. I’ve never put a curse on anyone.

    2. anonymous73*

      I have no poker face, so I would probably be speechless and have a very WTF look on my face.

    3. anon24*

      Right? I’m an EMT, and I also thought that this would completely unphase me. I also wouldn’t share, because while what I’ve seen doesn’t bother me I realize it’s extremely upsetting for most people to hear about.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I used to have a roomie that was an EMT, and I did have to be careful when I asked him about his day. But the stories…

    1. MPH Researcher*

      I immediately put it to the tune of “Smelly Cat” from Friends. It just seems lyrically and tonally appropriate!

    2. Indigo a la mode*

      For reasons unknown, I went to Wicked’s “Popular.”

      Kitty fangs…oh you’ve got kit-tee-EE fangs

          1. Bob-White of the Glen*

            Imperfect, tomboy with ripped jeans. So much better than Nancy Drew to me.

            1. Carlie*

              Darn right! I am a Gen X who discovered Trixie Belden when I was about 10 and I loooved them.

    3. Jamie Tartt*

      !!! I had Kitty Fans to the tune of Edelweiss in my head but this is SO much better.

    4. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      I started with “Hammer Time” and then suddenly went into the original “Spiderman”. I am OLD, y’all.

    5. Delta Delta*

      Nope. “Kitty Fangs” is cemented in my brain to “Give It Up” by KC and the Sunshine Band. Somehow that’s worse.

  13. ZSD*

    From now on, any time a European complains to me that driving automatic cars is “boring,” I can use #15 here as an example of why you should never own a stick shift.

    1. BubbleTea*

      Do you… frequently have longboard accidents? I have to say, it’s not my top consideration when choosing a car.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I do immediately have the thought that carpal tunnel is pretty common. I don’t think I could do a stick shift when mine is acting up.

        1. quill*

          Or if you have bad feet / ankles. There are plenty of days I would not be able to operate the clutch.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          I have right side hemiparesis. I can neither operate a stick shift or a clutch. Automatics only for me, unfortunately.

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      I… Kind of prefer my driving to be boring. Sometimes excitement is not my goal.

      I’ve known people who prefer manual, because it gives more control. I’ve driven with injuries before (none as exciting in the story), & I am grateful for automatic transmission.

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        People who feel manuals are exciting are welcome to come up to my very hilly, very curvy, very urban area and enjoy the experience of stopping and starting while going up and down 30 degree incline hills.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          My aunt has a pretty hilarious story about being a new driver with a manual in Colorado. And rolling sloooowly backwards down a hill at a stoplight while all the other drivers kindly got out of the way.

          1. Artemesia*

            I learned stick in Seattle which has an elevation from near 0 to about 550 feet — lots of steep hills– if you have a stick without a hillholder, it is scary stuff stopping at a light while facing uphill.

              1. nobadcats*

                Also, I’m reminded of the two cardinal rules you should follow on the Amazing Race:

                1: Read the Clue
                2: Learn to Drive Stick

        2. Clisby*

          I put manual transmissions in the same category as all-outdoor plumbing. Sure, I could survive without indoor bathrooms, but I’m not going to.

        3. Autumnheart*

          I cannot offer curves and hills, only a good 50-minute drive each way in stop-and-go traffic. Enjoy.

    3. Agile Phalanges*

      Yep. I can drive stick shift, and only owned manual cars for a long time. But thankfully I owned an automatic when I severed a tendon in the bottom of my foot, as I was then able to drive myself to urgent care and THEN to the surgery center by operating the (two) pedals with my left foot. And thankfully I also owned an automatic when I broke my right shoulder. I started (and shut off) the car with my left hand, even though it was awkward, buckled the seatbelt with my left hand, shifted into drive with my left hand, then was able to drive with my right arm gently resting on the center console. Yes, I am clumsy, why do you ask?

    4. The OG Sleepless*

      Yeah…I had stick shifts until I was about 30, and suddenly I just didn’t want to work that much when I was driving any more.

    5. DataGirl*

      In college my roommate had a manual car- she broke her left leg and needed me to drive her somewhere since she couldn’t use the clutch. I had never driven a stick shift before and stalled the car so many times… honestly it’s a miracle I didn’t completely destroy her car. Later other friends tried to teach me how to drive a stick but it just did not take.

      1. FisherCat*

        Similar story. I’ve learned to drive stick, I understand the mechanics of it (superficially at least), and I could do it in a pinch like if the planned-driver were incapacitated but beyond that… nope.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, same here. I have very poor coordination, and I need my left leg to “anchor” me to the car. Otherwise I lose my sense of spatial orientation. When I drive stick, I can only focus on handling the car, which is dangerous at best. On automatic, I’m much better at keeping an eye on everybody else on the road.

          1. Erstwhilibrarian*

            I’m the other way round – if I drive an automatic, I can’t cope with my left foot having nothing to do, so I end up using it on the brake pedal as if it were the clutch. Not good.

    6. bratschegirl*

      We’re devoted stick shift owners/drivers. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of a perfectly timed downshift on a winding mountain road. In an automatic, you’re not really driving the car, you’re just aiming it.

      And yet… when I broke my left arm last year, I was unable to drive for almost 3 months. It’s not just the weeks it takes for the bone to heal, it’s the weeks and weeks after that to regain strength and coordination in the muscles that were immobilized during that first period. And the clutch gets tiresome in stop and go traffic, which thankfully I don’t have to deal with all that often. So there will come a day when we “age out” of manuals, for sure.

      1. FisherCat*

        Yeah I totally get that for people who see driving as a sport or hobby instead of a utility manuals can be worth it! Just not my cup of tea. Oh well more variety for you I suppose :)

        1. Rhoda*

          I’m pretty sure that for vast swathes of the world where driving manual is the norm, driving is not just seen as sport or a hobby.

          1. allathian*

            Automatics are becoming much more popular in Europe as well, because these days, the average driver gets better mileage on an automatic than on a stick shift. With gas prices fast approaching 10 bucks per US gallon, it’s a big deal.

            Electric cars are also becoming a lot more popular in many parts of the world, and they don’t have gears in the same way that combustion engines do, just modes to park, reverse, and drive. The EU has decided to ban the sale of new cars with combustion engines starting in 2035, so the EV revolution will come faster than some may think.

      2. Mockingjay*

        I love driving a stick, but Hubby does not. Fortunately my car offers a compromise in the form of a slap shift. I had to teach him how to drive it in the mountains (his idea was to ride the brakes on the descent instead of using gears to slow the car).

    7. Not Your NASCAR Driver*

      If you’re looking for excitement in your drive and you’re not on a racetrack, I’m going to be heavily concerned you’re doing safe driving wrong.

      (Never liked driving stick; it just seems inherently unsafe. Your attention is too divided since a good chunk of driving stick seems to be keeping your car from stalling out by bad shifting, your hands and legs are too occupied in case of an emergency…when I drove my first automatic, I never looked back.)

      1. RIs4Us*

        This… is just not true. It’s second nature to change gears provided you’re not totally incapable; there’s no thinking involved, it’s easy and smooth. There’s just nothing unsafe about it! In Europe and many other parts of the world, cars are 95% manual and have been for decades. Somehow the continent’s population still stands — and drives.

        1. allathian*

          It’s changing fast in Europe, particularly in those parts where electric cars are common.

          I grant you that there’s nothing inherently unsafe about stick shift for a skilled driver, but for very uncoordinated people like me who wouldn’t be able to drive safely on a stick shift, automatics are a blessing. The vast majority of drivers also get much better mileage on a modern automatic. The reason why automatics became popular so much earlier in the US than elsewhere is that fuel has traditionally been much cheaper over there.

      2. White Squirrel*

        I’ve driven manual transmissions for 30+ years…I don’t even think about it consciously. When I’ve driven someone else’s automatic, I’m always trying to put in the (imaginary) clutch and shift gears.

  14. SarahKay*

    OP#2, if it helps, I did more-or-less the same thing, and I was ten years into my career at that point.

    I’d prepped fairly well, including an answer to the ‘weaknesses’ question, and instead I got asked what my strengths were. I totally blanked, stared at the interviewer for what feels like forever but was presumably only a few seconds, and eventually managed to stammer out “I do have strengths, honest, I just can’t think of them right now”.

    We managed to finish the interview reasonably well after that, but I, too, did not get a job offer.

  15. Bronze Betty*

    I can’t help thinking that #16 should be labeled The Stink since #17 is The Sink.

  16. SuspectedDragon*

    recovered from “kitty fangs” only to choke on my water with “queef question”

  17. kittycontractor*

    besides being the butt of industry jokes for years afterward.

    #5 not sure if this was on purpose, but brilliant!

    1. Maggie*

      How? It’s pretty gross and rude to just knowingly blast your co workers with horrid farts for days on end to the point where everyone’s talking about it. Would find it adorable if it was your office mate? Products like gas-x, beano, and pepto exist for a reason. So does the concept of a bathroom- go there and rip the worst of them. Their poor co workers!

      1. Kal*

        While I feel bad for the coworkers, products like gas-x, beano and pepto are only helpful for certain causes of gas and can actively make things worse for some causes. And while going to the bathroom is a good strategy to use if you can, some gas patterns are not conducive to that, unfortunately. I’ve had IBS since I was a teen, and dealing with that while already dealing with all of the awkwardness and judgement that happens as a teenager on top of social anxiety means I was trying as much as possible to not leave stink around my peers, but that meant sitting in horrific pain for as long as possible and then running to the bathroom and spending 20+ minutes out of every hour there, meaning that I couldn’t focus or accomplish much the whole time. Eventually I had to accept that everyone farts and that I don’t have magical control over my gut and sometimes I might just have to open the windows and do what I can to minimise the effects instead of spending all of my time either in pain or in the bathroom in order to save other people from smelling anything unpleasant.

        At least for the coworkers, it was only 3 days.

    2. anonymous73*

      Adorable? Umm no. If I had gas that bad I wouldn’t walk around the office distributing it among the floor. I’d go to the bathroom and do what I could to avoid trying to kill the rest of my office.

  18. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

    I think #5 really put a things like breakfast burritos and kitty fang songs into perspective. I mean, sure you sang to your cat or tried to get fast food breakfast but at least you didn’t boink in front of your entire international company…

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I still can’t wrap my head around that one. Who would do that, beyond exhibitionists????

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        Well, they didn’t realize they’d have an audience.

        I have never seen a system like that, where the camera/video can just pop on at an assigned time without someone in the room turning it on. Yikes.

        1. Kal*

          Yeah, I’m not super a fan of self-activating cameras, but that is part of why I treat any cameras as potentially on unless they are physically blocked (I’m a fan of electrical tape, personally).

          But the pair engaged were people who would be aware that that room had a camera and that weekly meetings caused it to turn on, and the MD was required to be at the meeting so should have been aware that the meeting was happening at that time, and the CIO would have a decent chance of knowing as well. So if the audience wasn’t intentional, then there were a lot of layers of spectacularly bad decision making to get the pair into that situation.

        2. pancakes*

          I wouldn’t be surprised if most modern office camera systems can be activated from outside the individual offices – they have to be connected and networked somehow. The last time I worked in offices (several years ago at this point), there was also a conference room system that would display on small screens outside the doors whether the room was in use with a red or green light, and the time frame for the meeting if one was booked. Presumably the main reception desk controlled those.

          Kal, I’m not sure I agree about all those layers. All that has to have happened here (and all that seems to, from where I sit) is the people active on that table lost track of the time.

  19. IndoorKitty*

    If you’re in charge of drafting and sending out emails on behalf of the Big Boss, and one of the words in the email is “public,” check, double-check and TRIPLE-check that you didn’t forget the “b”. Ask me how I know.

      1. IndoorKitty*

        Oh, jeepers. Yes, that’s what I meant. That word makes me go cross-eyed. I work in government, too. So “public” is a word we use often. Le sigh.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Totally. And also be careful if you are writing an email to anyone named Bobby. I haven’t made that error but my boss did (in a text to me, thankfully, not a msg to Bobby) last week.

    1. Phony Genius*

      I think you meant to make sure you didn’t forget the “l”. A “pulic” is a type of plant in the daisy family.

        1. rosyglasses*

          For some reason (at the end of my workday) this thread is sending me into fits of giggles.

        2. Boba Feta*

          (Pushes up glasses…) well, actually..
          The Punic Wars were fought between the Roman Republic and Carthage between 264 and 146, and according to the written sources, occasioned the first time anyone in Italy had seen an elephant.
          (Pedantically backs away slowly…)

          1. quill*

            That’s fine! I did not have time to look it up before I made the joke. ;)

            (It was the PELOPONESIAN WARS, jeez quill, you did a whole presentation on those.)

    2. Robin Ellacott*

      Oh noooooo!

      We had a resume once from someone who put their first name and last initial at the top of their resume in huge print. But their name was Ana and their last initial was L, and they used block capitals with a painfully insufficient space between.

      1. anonymous 5*

        Goes nicely (?) with my student who submitted a lab assignment with a header that was intended to say, “Lab Assignment #x”

        They abbreviated “assignment” as “ass.”

        1. Carlie*

          A friend of mine once worked at a music store that sold a lot of religious sheet music. They had to learn very quickly the appropriate way to address shipments to Assembly of God churches.

        2. Phony Genius*

          Worked briefly in IT. My boss received mail addressed to “Ass Operator.” We asked where the instruction manual was.

    3. Jora Malli*

      A couple jobs back, the librarian in charge of supervising our teen volunteers asked me to proofread the email she had written to the teens about scheduling. I’m so glad she did, because she was explaining what to do if you aren’t able to make it to your volunteer shift. And she skipped a very crucial letter in the word “shift.” We caught it before she sent it to any actual children, but she never quite lived that one down.

      1. WellRed*

        I did this once. I wrote a new brief about a company uh, shi**ing its headquarters to Nashville. Didn’t catch until a reader emailed to point it out, a few days after it went live on our website.

        1. Broadway Duchess*

          I did this about some company merch for which we needed sizes. If it had been t-shirts only I might have been okay, but there were polos and henleys, too. My DIVISION-WIDE EMAIL about shirts was missing a very crucial letter!

    4. Em*

      I work in language services and my colleague actually made a custom spellcheck setting to flag “pubic” just in case that happened!

    5. Nonprofit writer*

      In public (yes, public with the L!) health, there is a term, men who have sex with men, or MSM, that is used in place of “gay and/or bisexual men.” The idea is that you are describing behavior, not orientation/identity.

      Anyway, I was *this* close to publishing an article on my org’s website about STI rates among “men who have sex with me.”

      One letter in a word matters for sure!

      1. Autumnheart*

        You’re in luck, there’s a tweet recently from someone who did exactly that on her CV. She just noticed it after about a year.

    6. Llama face!*

      That literally just happened here with a local news article related to monkeypox. The article stated that, “Pub(l)ic health is investigating…”

  20. DL Smith*

    I had just started a new job where employees could eat lunch together in one of the multiple kitchens. I ended up routinely having lunch with a colleague that was from South Africa. They’d bring in a variety of lunches, I’d never had before and would graciously share in an effort to expand my limited palate. One day after a new dish I proceeded to get very loud and slow hiccups. A violent eruption that would move my whole body. After this happened 3 times in about 10 minutes, another coworker jokingly said, “Hey, you really need to get that under control.” I responded with ” I’m so sorry my diaphragm isn’t working up to your standards.” Just as a VP walked in to refill their coffee. She looked alarmed and said I walked in on the wrong end of this conversation, and all of the older women in the breakroom proceeded to laugh while I (in my young twenties) looked visible confused. I even said, “What’s so funny about my diaphragm not working, I don’t get it.” As everyone laughed harder and harder. It finally hit me 3 hours later sitting at my desk that not only is a diaphragm a muscle in your body but it was an older popular form of birth control. It was months before I could look that VP in the eye without blushing.

    1. Lentils*

      Lmao oh noooooo as someone who also has unexpected and explosive hiccups, sometimes in public, and didn’t learn about the contraceptive use of “diaphragm” until my mid-teens, my deepest sympathies. (I had a particularly dramatic hiccup fit in a college religion class just as the professor asked us all to take a “moment of silence” to think about people we’d lost in our lives…needless to say, thanks to me it was NOT as silent as he would’ve liked.)

  21. Wannabikkit*

    I looked at the headline while not fully awake and thought one of the stories was about a spooky burrito.

    1. Jora Malli*

      Follow John Scalzi on twitter for pictures of frightening burritos. (They’re not haunted or anything, he’s just of the philosophy that if you can wrap it in a tortilla it’s a burrito, and he’s had some…unique…ingredient combinations)

    2. LittleMarshmallow*

      Same… those were the only two words my brain would process and it said “you need to read this, there’s a story about a spooky burrito”.

  22. Snark*

    A librarian colleague had a good one. They were working at a special library in DC and a very important group of delegates from Jordan were touring the facility. This was the mid-1990s, so my friend decided to show them the wonders of the “World Wide Web.” They pulled up good-old Alta Vista, searched for “Queen Noor”, clicked on the first hit- and wound up on a porn site starring photoshopped sex photos of the Queen. And because this was the mid-1990s, pop ups, each more scandalous and graphic than the previous one, took over the screen. The more they tried to close the windows, the more pop ups appeared, while the tour watched in complete silence.. I believe the librarian ended up throwing their cardigan over the screen, and the tour guide finally got their wits about them and took the group away from the computer…

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        There is – and of course, since I have apparently no common sense with music playlists, I absolutely added all of the Ave Q playlist to my master playlist of “Songs I Like”, which has over 300 songs on it at any given point of time. Of course that’s the playlist I chose to do some grunt work (packing bags) at my current workplace. And of course, just as my boss walked in to see how it was going, whom I had known for all of maybe 4 months, the song you’re referencing started playing. Boss got to see me launch myself across a table to switch songs and cracked up laughing.

        1. SarahKay*

          So true. I had a friend who worked in an engineering development department back then, and who discovered that searching for “specialist rubber” did not produce the work-related results he wanted.

        2. Your Princess In Another Castle*

          I remember my early days online in the 1990s, looking up video game websites on this amazing new World Wide Web thing! I put “Zelda” into Metacrawler (remember them?), got zelda dot com as the top result.

          Nintendo owns zelda dot com NOW, but back then…they did not.

          “The Original Digital Princess” was the tagline for that site. They knew *exactly* what they were doing. They had to have known how many children were hitting up their very adult website.

        3. Vanellope*

          In my first job in the early 2000s, I had to compete in the annual company golf tournament. I didn’t have shoes, so I decided to look online and see what was carried by the nearest sports store. I was on my work computer. Turns out their website was actually the full name, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and NOT There were no shoes (or clothes) in sight on the page I landed on. I immediately raced to our head of IT to explain before he got any flags on the system and was so flustered all I could say was “shoes…golf tournament…Dick’s?” To this day I can’t explain why I didn’t make the connection earlier; everyone refers to it as Dick’s with absolutely no subtext and so that’s why it didn’t trigger anything in my brain but that’s such an obviously bad idea website.

    1. Sel*

      A similar thing happened to one of my graduate school advisors. She taught the human anatomy lecture and dissection lab, and well, when you’re an anatomist for a living you tend to start to forget that anatomical terms are frequently employed in non-anatomical contexts. During the module that included the reproductive organs, during open office hours, a student asked her a question about the specifics of penis anatomy, and she said, “Oh I’m not sure, let’s look it up!” and proceeded to google the anatomical term. Since this was the early 2000s, it resulted in an epic pornado, which necessitated her hugging the CRT monitor to her chest like it was a baby to block the screen, shouting for all the students to leave her office, and then she unplugged the computer from the wall. Amazing.

      1. MM*

        Somehow unplugging the computer put this one over the top for me. I’m actually physically in tears laughing.

        1. JustAnotherKate*

          Also, the word “pornado” is the best! When my fellow summer law clerk (at EEOC!) managed to type whitehouse dot com and not whitehouse dot gov in the early 2000s, that’s exactly what we got. (And a day-long shutdown. A lot of people thought he did it on purpose but I sat near him and the poor guy was MORTIFIED.)

    2. Bob-White of the Glen*

      Also in the 90’s I had a (very religious) co-worker giving the public lessons on the new fangled world wide web. She told everyone to go to the Whitehouse site, but said .com instead of .gov.

      Up pop Bill and Hillary in leather.

  23. Robin Ellacott*

    Re the pregnancy announcement OP, I did the exact same thing! I am, and always planned to be, happily child free, so years ago when a very young colleague announced a very unexpected (to her too) pregnancy, I put on a kind voice and asked solemnly if it was a happy thing. I still feel terrible about it.

    I laughed out loud at the sex lab story, though, and that healed my reminiscent cringe.

    1. anonymous73*

      I’ve never done that but have asked a HS friend that I hadn’t seen in a few years if she was pregnant. She had just had the baby. From that day forward I will NEVER assume a woman is pregnant, even if I’m in the hospital watching the baby crown!

      1. DataGirl*

        When I was pregnant maybe 20 years ago I lived in a house that had been converted to apartments- there were 3 total. One of the other women was pregnant, so when I saw the 3rd and we were talking about babies I asked if she was pregnant too and gestured at her belly… she was NOT pregnant. I felt terrible and have never asked a woman if she is pregnant ever again.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I did something very similar! Turns out it was…a surprise lmao and she wasn’t thrilled about it but wasn’t a mess over it either so she kind of appreciated an opportunity to complain. She’s having a second now so maybe she’s enjoying motherhood hahaha

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        I know a number of women who had surprise pregnancies and appreciated the opportunity to be ambivalent and factual about it. If you haven’t found your way to excitement yet, all the “congrats!!!” energy can feel overwhelming and even make you feel like there’s something wrong with you if you’re not wholeheartedly thrilled.

        1. Ayla*

          My current go-to is, “Oh, wow! What can I do to help?” Coworkers have asked me to cover when morning sickness hits, some friends ask for advice or help with chores, and some people just say they’re good, but it seems to give people a chance to talk about what’s going on while still being neutral and supportive.

        2. Artemesia*

          All true and reasonable to sensitive to those feelings in a friend or relative BUT not at the office. There is it always ‘Congratulations.’

          1. allathian*

            In the vast majority of cases I’d absolutely agree with you. There are a few exceptions, though. If you’re close work friends with a coworker, even if it’s someone you never spend time with outside the office, and they make the announcement and sound less than thrilled about it, an “oh wow, what can I do to help?” would probably land better. At least if the office layout gives you some privacy, or they tell you at lunch or something when no other coworkers are listening.

            A former coworker was very vocal about being child free, to the point of being a bit of a nuisance about it. In general, I don’t talk about my son at work, and certainly not with coworkers who don’t have kids, at least unless they ask how he’s doing, or who do have kids but don’t talk about them at work. But this coworker mentioned her child free status every. single. time someone mentioned their kids in her hearing, even if it was something mundane like “I need to reschedule our 3 pm meeting on Wednesday because I have to take my daughter to the dentist.” So when she got pregnant, I simply said “are you happy about that, or…?” I realize this is an outlier, though, and in the vast majority of cases “Congratulations” is the only appropriate response.

  24. Captain Cringe*

    Bless these posts. I’ve often been mortified at work and hold onto the cringe for years, but this is such a welcome reminder that we’re only human and sometimes we just muck it up.

  25. anonymous 5*

    THE VIDEO CONFERENCE!!!! I remember reading about that one quite some time ago and not being able to find it in the archives when I wanted to tell someone about it. Every bit as hilarious now :)

  26. AcadLibrarian*

    Ahhhh #4. When I was 23 I worked at a public library at the information desk. Angry lady came in and wanted the NOLO Divorce book. “I’m getting divorced,” she said very forcefully. I said “Congratulations.”
    What else was I supposed to say?

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I would’ve heartily thanked you!

      I finally got around to changing my last name back three years after my divorce. (It is a royal pain to do, never changing my name again.) I had to go to my bank in person to get it changed there. Instead of my home branch, where everyone knew me, I decided to go to the one by my work, and get it done at lunch. I came in and explained what I was there for. Was told to sit down and wait for an account manager to come get me. A woman walked up to me a few minutes later with an excited, “Congratulations!!” I was confused, “on what?” “You… changed your name?” To this day, I’m positive she thought I’d gotten married.

    2. BettyD*

      My very first reference request ever was for the book of blank divorce forms we kept behind the desk for photocopies. It was… somewhat deflating, for a shiny new librarian.

      1. FisherCat*

        I’m just picturing a young professional, first day in the lib job, ready to wow the patrons with their encyclopedic knowledge of Boer War battles or modern Russian ballet masters or whatever, and the first patron to approach is clearly having a bad time and just says, “I’ll take your finest divorce forms, to go”

      2. Jackalope*

        When my husband and I were working on the paperwork to get married (not much but making sure everything was good to go for our marriage certificate and on time), we got a little packet on “Marriage In [Our State]” that was automatically included in the stack of documents they gave to everyone getting married. It had a list of around 15 bullet points. All but 2 of them were about how to get a divorce. Thank you, Our State, for your confidence in our relationship skills!

  27. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

    #10. Hugger, if it makes you feel better: I *hate* when guys do that. If someone holds the door for you, walk through it! Trying to hold the door for someone who’s already holding the door for *you* is sooooo rude IMO. You’re rejecting a simple polite gesture and turning the whole situation into something awkward and prolonged. (And, usually, unnecessarily gendered!)

    That guy should feel embarrassed, not you LW! He caused the situation by doing something so confusing.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Agreed! And a lot of the time, they’re holding it in a way that makes it almost impossible to get through! I don’t want to play London Bridge or squeeze past some random dude to get through a door.

      I’ve also seen guys look irritated when they’re going through a double door in one direction & hold it open (stopping everyone behind them), while I open the opposite door to walk through. That’s what double doors are for! So you don’t impede the flow of foot traffic in & out of the building.

    2. Zephy*

      Seconded! I have had men in parking lots literally break into a run and fully sprint past me in an effort to get to the door first. Bro, you were 50 feet behind me, I had my whole hand on the door before you got to it. This isn’t chivalrous, it’s ridiculous and so are you.

      1. Not Your Delicate Female*

        I still remember with irritation the man who I held the door for coming out of a shop a few years ago, seeing he had his arms full of merchandise. This sexist a$$ literally just stood there on the other side while people waited behind him, and refused to go through the door until my delicate “female” self let it go and swing closed. Then he put down all his junk on the floor (while the people he made to wait stepped around him to exit), opened the door himself, and painstakingly began pushing his junk through to the other side. It took him like two minutes, instead of the, you know, two seconds it would’ve taken him to just walk through the damn door when I was holding it for him.

        I stood on the other side of the door, not helping, just so I could watch the show and laugh at him. I’m usually very nonconfrontational, but this show of sexism disguised as chivalry annoyed me so much, I had to express how ridiculous this guy was being. I’m sure it did nothing to change his behavior, but I felt better.

        1. Miss Muffet*

          I just feel so sad for people like this guy – how much do you have to have internalized some kind of toxic masculinity to go to this extent to not just go through a door held open by a woman? How many other places in his life does this level of black/white thinking cause issues? Really illustrates how feminism is also good for me in freeing them from some of these insane strictures.

          1. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

            I had a roommate briefly who just grew up with super strict macho codes like that and I really had to emphasize that this was just how *I* was, how *I* was raised, and I wasn’t going to slow down for him. We struck a deal that he would just always get to the door first. Poor guy was so constricted by gender ish, he wouldn’t drink from a wine glass!!!!

            Annoyingly, once we all went to IKEA together and he seemed annoyed when I assumed he’d carry the heavy stuff. He was twice my size. Wtf, he wouldn’t use chivalry when it might *actually* benefit me???

      2. Very Social*

        Someone just did that to me this morning! Not quite that dramatic, but I clearly saw him rush to get in front of me, walk to the door I was aiming for (there are lots of doors to choose from, and he was initially closer to different doors), open it, and stand back waiting for me. I tried to get him to go first, but he refused. I find it so obnoxious when guys do that. (And yes, it is always people with masculine presentation.)

    3. Jellyfish*

      Yesss. A former supervisor used to do that all the time – only to me as I was the only woman in the office. Eventually I told him, “[Boss], just go through the damn door!”
      Maybe I should be mortified, but I’m not.

    4. LittleMarshmallow*

      Agreed. If you can hold the door open from behind it then fine but please don’t make me walk under your arm. I know I’m short and will fit but that’s in my bubble and I don’t like it.

  28. Napster*

    #17 – anybody else reminded of the episode of Ally McBeal when she gets stuck in the toilet?

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      No, but I’m having flashbacks to the old Dick Van Dyke Show episode where Laura got her big toe caught in a hotel bathtub faucet. It was a classic!

    2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      No, but I’m having flashbacks to the old Dick Van Dyke Show episode where Laura got her big toe caught in a hotel bathtub faucet. It was a classic!

    1. Esmeralda*

      I think OP implied they are: kitty fangs! kitty fangs! kitty fangs! kitty fangs! kitty fangs! kitty fangs!

      1. Bob-White of the Glen*

        I think it’s: kitty fangs! kitty fangs! kitty, kitty, kitty fangs! kitty fangs! kitty fangs! kitty, kitty faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaangs!

  29. Mbarr*

    My very first job once required me to travel to our French office for work. French Manager, in an effort to be welcoming, invited me to his house to have dinner with his family and some friends.

    While standing in their kitchen chatting, French Manager’s very attractive son walked in. He was introduced to me, then he leaned in really close… And I flinched backward SO HARD. I knew the French greeted with the double-kisses, but I thought it was reserved for close friends/family members, not random strangers in your kitchen. They explained, I apologized, super embarrassed, and then I got my double-kiss from the cute son.

    1. Robin Ellacott*

      And not just the kiss hello (which as a Canadian I’d encountered in Quebec, THREE kisses) but how close people stand when talking to you! I spent half my visits to continental Europe fighting the urge to back up a bit while chatting with people.

      1. allathian*

        Oh yes! In college, I volunteered as an exchange student tutor, and it was fun to watch, and felt a bit weird to participate in this. The Nordics would back away, and the Continental Europeans would try to get closer, regardless of the gender of the people involved.

        When I went to France as an exchange student, the kisses felt a bit weird at first, but I got used to them quite quickly.

  30. Viki*

    #7, you lived my dream. Back in the day when I was in undergrad I had to do customer service for a phone company and I was less than sympathetic for user driven billage.

    I am so surprised I didn’t get fired when a lady who called long distance and got a 5000$ phonebill asked why we didn’t stop her, and I said “That would make us a bad phone company. The whole point is to connect your calls. We assume you realize you’re calling a different country and talking for eight hours.”

    1. Professional Cat Lady*

      I will spend the rest of my day living vicariously through your response. We all wish we could say things like that sometimes!

  31. Brett*

    #6 makes me think back to my time in emergency management and National Weather Service conference calls for incoming storm systems.

    No video conferencing, so it was all landline based and we had to depend on good behavior from 50+ counties dialing in. Never happened.

    There would always be at least one guy who forgot to mute while shouting out to someone else in his office, “I’m on this stupid f’in national weather service call. Wish these people would just shut up.”
    There would be the person who put the call on hold… and played hold music into the rest of the conference call (sometimes causing us to abandon the call for a new line).
    And there was the endless stream of people who had to have information repeated for just their county.
    And there was Bob Dopp. No matter what happened on the call, no matter how much detail was provided, no matter where the storm was really going to hit, at some point in the Q&A, you would hear the long slow drawl of: “This is Bob Dopp, Franklin County EMA. Can you tell me what this means for Franklin County?” We would always wait out the call just because we knew it was coming and roll with laughter on our end when it came. Because… Every. Single. Call…. Bob Dopp, Franklin County EMA.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I was on a conference call a couple years ago and a participant didn’t mute. They also decided to participate in an online AA meeting at the same time. We couldn’t get their attention to tell them to mute, because we were by telephone, and it was clear the person was using a handset. Everyone on our call had to hang up and re-connect so the AA meeting could remain anonymous.

  32. TJ*

    This is for #9 to know you are not alone: about 10 years ago, my best friend used to work for a well known company that dealt with a certain part of the government. At that time, she had NO idea what DTF meant – she thought saying “I’m DTF” was just a colloquial way to say “I’m in!” or “I’m can do this!”. Well given her particular area, she often had long phone calls with various important international folks where these calls were recorded and transcribed. One particular call, someone asked her “Lucinda, what do you think?” to which my friend replied “Yes, that sounds great, I’m DTF.” Cue a silence so deafening – until the Director awkwardly steered the conversation. But my friend had no idea what she said until after when the Director had to explain to her what DTF actually meant. So somewhere in the belly of the archives of the federal government is an official transcript with my friend’s name on it, with her saying she is DTF.

    I love it so much.

      1. Just a thought*

        Thanks for mentioning looking it up on the phone! I learned something today as well. I remember the first time someone in my HR group used STD for short-term disability. At that point I had only heard it used for sexually transmitted diseases. Definitely resulted in a funny conversation!

  33. Slap Bet Commissioner*

    Longboard makes me think about that time on HIMYM when they made a game over guessing whether a story Marshall told was from when he was drunk or when he was a kid.

    1. quill*

      It makes me think of the MBMBAM episode where someone on, iirc an electric scooter, crashed and got ABSOLUTELY pants’d. As in. Both layers. In front of colleagues.

  34. Erin*

    Sex Lab is soo goooooood!!

    I was also guilty of unanticipated noxious flatulence within the first few days of my current job. I’ve been there 3 years, and I recently came clean to a couple of co-workers. It was hilarious. I couldn’t believe that they remembered that debacle

  35. Ciscononymous*

    My co-worker texted me asking for our EAP number. I sent it, but made a typo. Instead of the counselor they needed to speak with, my co-worker ended up at “the #1 adult talk line in the nation.”

    1. Artemesia*

      Similarly. I needed to fax my social security number to a place where I would be doing some consulting and we had a new fax machine. We all had personal numbers for long distance calls etc and you would type that into the fax machine before the number you needed. BUT this was a new fax machine that I had never used and it was the weekend so the admin staff were not in and it didn’t work the same way the old one did. When I got to work Monday the admin was laughing — my personal phone code turned out to be the same as an adult bookstore and I had sent my name and SS number to them. Luckily the clerk at the store had called our office instead of just stealing my identity but I didn’t live that down for awhile.

  36. The Rural Juror*

    In relation to #16, I had a stomach infection at one point (not uncommon, your good and bad bacteria get out of whack and you have to take an antibiotic cocktail for the usual 10 days) that gave me the burps and flatulence, not to mention I couldn’t keep my pants buttoned after lunch because of bloating. It was SO uncomfortable.

    Luckily, I had an office where I could close the door, but my coworkers were awful about entering without knocking. I was constantly trying to hide that I was re-buttoning my pants as they barged in! No one ever asked why I felt the sudden need to have an air filter on high blast (to filter smelliness), but that was a good $40 investment (we had a lot of dust in that old building, so it helped with that, too).

  37. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.*

    I can’t get over how gross it is for #16 to imply that body size correlates to gas. Is anyone else exhausted by the fact that they can’t even read a light-hearted list of mortifying things without seeing someone being really offensive so unthinkingly, because it’s so common nobody even thinks twice about it? Just me?

    1. Ailsa McNonagon*

      No, not just you. Apparently only us fatties ever have flatulence :/ fatphobia is real, yo!

    2. pieces_of_flair*

      Yeah, I found that a little upsetting. Presumably if the LW had casually dropped in something sexist/racist/homophobic/anything discriminatory about any group besides fat people, it would either have been edited out of the letter or would have derailed the comments. But causal anti-fat bias is apparently totally cool since neither Alison nor 99% of commenters thought anything of it.

      1. pancakes*

        “But causal anti-fat bias is apparently totally cool since neither Alison nor 99% of commenters thought anything of it.”

        No, you can’t actually effectively take a poll on something like that by trying to look at what people haven’t said. There are countless reasons why people choose to not comment on something, not just one.

    3. Camellia*

      I know I’m late to the party and no one might see this, but when reading that one, “fat” never occurred to me. I was picturing a hulking male as the opposite of the OP.

      1. pieces_of_flair*

        It’s a common stereotype that fat (no scare quotes necessary) people are less hygienic, smellier, more flatulent, etc. than thin people. I would be very surprised if you’ve never encountered this. In the context of living as a fat person in our society, it is not exactly farfetched to read anti-fat bias into the LW’s statement that as a thin person she was less likely to be flatulent. Please don’t negate people’s experiences of microaggressions by telling them they must have misunderstood or the other person didn’t mean it that way or whatever.

        1. Critical Rolls*

          Camellia didn’t say that, though? The comment wasn’t “you’re all wrong/misunderstanding,” it’s just “that’s not how I read it.” FWIW the “little ladies don’t fart” thing likely has sexism as its primary ingredient, with weight based rudeness as a counterpoint. Not good either way.

          1. allathian*

            I agree with you. Everybody farts, an average of 8-20 times per day is considered normal. Some people are just better at limiting farts to the bathroom than others.

  38. Choggy*

    So happy I was working from home today, I could not stop laughing! Thank you all for sharing!

  39. LW17*

    I just got a whole bunch of “IS THIS YOU?” texts. So apparently my old coworkers read AAM and still remember the time I got stuck in a sink.

  40. Meghan*

    I didn’t think mine was mortifying, more “it is still spoken of” but now I realize it was mortifying.

    I was starting a retail job at a home improvement store and we had orientation from like 5PM-10PM. Well, my mom had a stomach bug that day and I was worried I would get it so I just… didn’t really eat all day. Go to orientation and we do about an hour or so of videos and general review stuff then go on a tour of the store. Get to the lumber section where they also have the Loss Prevention office, which is teeny tiny. Go inside to see the cameras and I get light headed so I just…. sit down on the floor in this teeny tiny LP office. Got some funny looks, we go back out into the store to continue the tour….so I sit down in the middle of the exit for the lumber section and say something like “I can’t stand anymore.” Side-eyes all around, but they get me a stool to sit on while we discuss some stuff and I promptly slide off the stool, onto the floor, and pass out.

    A local police officer happened to be checking out at the time and she thought I had a seizure, so an ambulance was called and I was whisked off to the hospital where I was diagnosed as dehydrated. HR called the next day to reschedule my orientation and even though I have left that job, still… 5 years later everyone knows that I am the person who passed out in Lumber on Orientation day. They did allow future orientation sessions to bring snacks and have a lunch/dinner break, so you’re welcome!

    1. DataGirl*

      As someone who has passed out at more than one job due to health issues I feel your pain. It is really embarrassing. Probably the worst was when I passed out on the bus to work. The bus driver didn’t want to deal with me so kicked me off. I was somehow able to get off the bus and into the nearest building, which was a Federal office of some kind with massive security. They took pity on me and escorted me to their in-house nurse. I called my boss and he sent a colleague to come pick me up and take me home. Why I didn’t call family or a friend to come get me, I can only blame on the brain fog and being half-conscious, but it was definitely one of my worst work related health incidents (and sadly, there have been a few).

      Luckily now I work at a hospital, so when I passed out there they just threw me in a wheelchair and carted me over to the ER.

  41. Cookie*

    I know Pool Noodle and Sex Labs are the fan favorites, but I really sporfled at #9. I can so see myself doing this, probably during an interview.

  42. redflagday701*

    I’m literally cringing at #15, the longboard one — not at the mortification, but just from imagining the pain. Deep breaths, deep breaths.

  43. DataGirl*

    I don’t know if this is mortifying but I still feel bad about it. Maybe 20 years ago I was having lunch with a colleague, we both had brought food from home and though the other person’s looked interesting so we agreed to swap. We heated up his food, then mine, and I happily dug into his food- then when he went to eat what I brought I suddenly realized that it had pork in it, and he was Muslim. I stopped him before he ate any of it but at that point I had already eaten his food, so he was left with nothing for lunch. I did apologize profusely but I still feel like an idiot.

  44. Qwerty*

    #8- I feel this in my soul. I have a pretty firm no-camera rule when I’m working from home, mainly to keep my two cats from presenting their buttholes non consensually to whoever is unlucky enough to be on the zoom call. This does get tricky however, because both my cats have Old Man People Names. When there is no visual to go along with me chastising one to get out of the box and stop trying to poop in the plants, or singing a sweet little ballad about his sassy pantaloons to the other, and people on the call don’t KNOW these aren’t two geriatric human roommates… things get weird.

  45. CommanderBanana*

    I was on a Zoom call and my two dogs are usually snoozing on the couch next to me. Realized too late that one had decided to rearrange her blankies – with her ample rear end pointed straight at the camera. She’s had puppies (rescue) so her hind end is, um, just very out there. My apologies to everyone who saw the Eye of Sauron.

  46. stitchinthyme*

    I was late to an interview because I made a wrong turn; my phone was dead so I left it at home, which meant I couldn’t call them to explain why I was late. It was also summer, so I arrived a hot, sweaty mess, panicking because of my lateness. They were very kind, offering to reschedule, but I took a deep breath, composed myself, and did the interview, which went fine.

    It had started late in the day, and it turned out that the company owner was a talker, so after getting a tour and talking with a bunch of the team, I was still sitting in the owner’s office at 7pm as he told me all about everything in exhausting detail. The phone rang and he picked it up since everyone else had gone home, and he gave me a bemused look and said, “It’s for you.”

    Turned out that my husband had gotten worried because I wasn’t home yet, and he saw that I didn’t have my phone, and the info about where I was interviewing was up on my computer screen, so he called the office to see if I was still there. I was absolutely mortified. I still got the job offer, though, and the boss laughed about it with me later.

  47. FionasHuman*

    To the former bank call center worker: nothing you report having said rises to the level of mortification, or even being in the wrong. One of the worst things about work culture in this country is the expectation that people in customer service should be expected to put up with outrageous and even abusive behavior. I might not have gone with “don’t get your panties in a wad,” but something similar? In a heartbeat.

    1. Florida Fan 15*

      My husband used to manage the collections office at a bank. I’d visit him occasionally for lunch or whatever and hear them on the phone with customers — multiple times of me saying to him “They’re allowed to SAY that? Wow, I’m impressed.”

      One lady took no shit from anyone. She was known far and wide for it. One day, a customer decides to hand over his car rather than trying anymore to get his loan back on track. He was so scared to come in and face her that he parked the car in the bank lot and sent the keys in through the drive-thru.

  48. Con Dar*

    #16 I am CRY LAUGHING so much I had to keep pausing to wipe the tears clear so I could read more, then I think I might have peed a little I was laughing so hard. Man, I needed that today. You’re a LEGEND!

  49. Coffee Bean*

    This isn’t my personal mortification. I had a colleague who filling in for me when I had a day off. This was the early 90s, and she had to upload a file – normally something I would do. She was having some difficulties, so she called the guy who sent the file. She was getting an “insufficient disk space error. Only she said (name changed) “Carl, it’s saying I have insufficient d*ck space”. When she told me this story, I could not stop laughing.

  50. LittleMarshmallow*

    The only 2 words my brain would read in the title for this one was “spooky burrito” and now I’m a mix of disappointed but still amused.

  51. Anne Wentworth*

    Oh nooooo #4 learned the completely wrong thing. :(
    You read the context. “Congratulations!” is sometimes absolutely the wrong thing to say.

  52. Nazmazh*

    I’m just starting reading these, but I am cracking up laughing at #2. Imagine that scene from the interviewer’s perspective:

    You toss out the standard softball question “What is your greatest weakness?”, expecting the typical boilerplate answers. Maybe something genuinely creative or interesting, but likely not. At any rate, it’s less about the actual weakness and more about how the candidate views themselves and communicates that.

    In response, the candidate freezes up momentarily. Then just puts their head down on the table for a moment. Then stands up, and walks out of the interview.

    Entirely wordlessly.

    I’d probably be wondering if I actually just saw that or if I was having a weird dream.

    1. Nazmazh*

      *Greatest Strength.

      I misread what was being answered. I thought it was strength when I first read it, but then only saw “weakness” when I reread it.

      It being strength makes the scenario even more surreal/funny.

      That scene plays out when asked about a weakness? – Okay, maybe someone had some sort of flashback to a catastrophe (ie: saying the wrongest thing to their boss, nearly destroying a piece of equipment worth thousands of dollars, etc.) from their past and it short-circuited them and their self-doubt just overwhelmed them like that.

      But when asked about a strength? They’ve got nothing except “Leave without saying another word after a whole journey of wordless gestures”?

      I would genuinely be wondering what the heck just happened.

  53. Ailsa McNonagon*

    At my present job my big boss has the same name as my husband, which raised a few eyebrows the time we were discussing local weather anomalies and I said that ‘Norman’ and I had been in bed and woken up by the ferocity of the storm. It took me a few beats to realise that my colleagues don’t all know that I’m married to a ‘Norman’ as well as managed by one…

  54. Linda Evangelista*

    Instead of saying “you’re all clear” during a video interview when my interviewee apologized for the road noise in the background, I said, “you’re all queer.” I worried for WEEKS that I came across as homophobic!

  55. That One Person*

    For #9

    Can’t promise I’ll remember to post it by Friday so hopefully you periodically check back here. I absolutely do fusions like that (guessing “question” and “brief” for yours), but I also do inverses sometimes! So while I can’t fully think of a fusion off hand despite knowing I do them I will share an unfortunate inversion.

    Back in high school a friend had her boyfriend break off their relationship towards the end of day and she was upset admittedly more about him doing it first as she was ready for that relationship to be over. Seeing my friend upset I wanted to naturally cheer her up and I had plans to do so, but they required us getting off the bus close to home first so I tried some of the old platitudes first. I was going to remind her that she was too good for him only…it didn’t come out in that order. Instead I said, “Don’t worry, he’s too good for you.” I think my immediate look of horror at realizing I said that wrong though sold it and she luckily started laughing due to the mess up. I did make up for it further by buying us some junk food and playing one of her favorite two person games once we got to my place, but I have absolutely not been allowed to live that one down so it sticks with me always.

  56. Kayem*

    Interview mortification I still cringe at: A long while ago, back when my cover letters were generic and my interviewing skills were even worse than they are now, I applied for a job online, with my cover letter as an attachment. Then I received an email from the hiring manager, asking me if I meant to send them a copy of my electric bill. I immediately responded with the correct document, but by then it was definitely too late. Especially as I had put “high level of attention to detail” in my cover letter. Unsurprisingly, I never got a response. That’s also the day I learned to not leave my resumes languishing in the downloads folder.

  57. Moose*

    # 9: My boss and I were on the phone making polite chitchat about our weekends, and I mentioned having lunch with my future sister-in-law/my brother’s fiancee. After I got off the phone, my husband, cracking up, told me I apparently combined those two phrases and referred to her as “my future fiancee.”

    When I texted my boss mortified to explain, she wrote back, “I was thinking ‘Wow, Melissa’s husband is very open-minded!'”

  58. Beanie*

    In response to number 9: My friend once tried to tell someone to move. Her brain switched between “get out of my way” and “move your butt”.

    The result? “Get out of my butt!”

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