My co-worker reeks of cigarettes. I know it sounds like a small thing but, seriously, it’s offensive—it’s as bad as having to sit next to someone who has terrible B.O. I’ve tried to talk to her, but she just rants about the war on smokers. What can I do?
—Chris L., Toronto
It’s no surprise your well-intended advice hit a wall. Die-hard nicotine addicts feel persecuted and are fighting back. A recent incident involving a defiant, smoke-drenched rider on Ottawa’s OC Transpo and a bus driver who asked her to move to the rear because she smelled of cigarettes had the city backing down after the rider complained she felt “harassed.”
So where does that leave you? According to the Canadian Lung Association, third-hand smoke—the smoke that gets trapped in clothes, hair, skin and fabrics—carries lead and arsenic, the same toxic chemicals as second-hand smoke, and can pollute the air. If your office is “scent-free,” you may have a good case for taking the complaint to HR—unless you’re prepared to make one last attempt at finding a friendly solution. In which case, perhaps you could suggest to your colleague that she only light up outside in open spaces where the smoke can waft away (like in a hurricane).
As a personal defence, odour-eating sprays or stick-ups can help—this tactic seems to work for the women in the Febreze ad who sit by rotting garbage and wax poetic about a man fresh from the shower—as long as no one objects to breathing in the air freshener. Natural remedies include potted lavender at your desk or the wearing of a fragant nosegay (popular in stinkier medieval times). Of course, allergy sufferers may nix that idea. Keeping a fresh pot of java going may be the most acceptable and effective way to sweeten the air—after all, drug smugglers use coffee grounds to throw the dogs off.
I love my work friend, but whenever I buy anything, he starts whining about his student loan debt and always being broke. We make a decent salary and I’m tired of feeling judged for spending mine on clothes and holidays—that I can afford. Is there a nice way to tell him to mind his own business?
—Joel G., Vancouver
You needn’t defend, explain or apologize for being the material boy you are. But your spending will only become the focal point of conversation if you let it be. So redirect to the weather, the Whitecaps game or the latest YouTube video of cats in Japan. Consume away but skip any reference to price, including what a bargain your red Prada loafers were on your trip to Italy or how the hotel staff made swans out of your towels. That’s just rubbing his nose in it. Of course, he’s just as free to judge as you are to spend. But while he’s paying off those student loans—it must be nice to not have massive debt from going to university—treating him to the occasional Cobb salad out is a nice gesture for a work friend you “love.”
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