The dishes

The worst possible thing that can happen if you leave dirty dishes out on a bench is that any food or coffee or whatever that is on them will go a bit mouldy. That is it. That is literally the worst possible outcome in the ‘dirty dishes left by the sink and not even rinsed’ scenario.

I feel it is important for me to point this out, to show that I know there is a ‘worst’ case scenario and I understand its ramifications. I wouldn’t want any readers thinking that I believed,  for instance, that if I don’t wash my coffee cup it magically rinses itself out, washes itself, dries itself, and puts itself back on the kitchenette shelf. I also wouldn’t want any readers thinking I laboured under the delusion that if enough people don’t wash their coffee cups and leave them on the bench this will summon a dragon from the bowels of the Earth who will rain down terror upon civilisation.

Nope, it is mould, but probably it is just clutter. Given how little is at stake then, it seems strange how much time is spent and anguish is created by the fact that some people don’t do their dishes in communal kitchens.

We’ll side-step the issue of the kitchens in flats for now; I live by myself and haven’t had the pleasure of debating the finer nuances of acceptable dirty-dishes etiquette in some time.  I will however point out that it is always the person who is cleaner that wins this debate.  I will also say that this is unusual given the total and utter lack of importance doing the dishes holds. The best the person who maintains a lower cleanliness threshold can do is tell the person with the higher threshold to ‘chill out’ or shrug off their complaining; they can never actually win with a reasoned argument. The person who is cleaner will always have the moral high ground because the argument “There is no real right and wrong way of dealing with dishes because it doesn’t matter” never seems to be brought out, even though it is true.

What I really want to discuss is the workplace kitchen because it seems the workplace dishes dispute is not only common to any workplace with a kitchen it is also very vehement and has the least at stake. Lets none of us forget it it mainly tea, coffee, Milo, the occasional sandwich, and last night’s left-overs we are eating at work; no-one is cooking and consuming a four course meal in most workplaces. Sure, there is always someone in the office who brings in a whole fish curry, or someone who brings in pork slices but the reason they are given the nicknames ‘Fish Curry Girl’ or ‘Disgusting Pork Mess Dick’ is because this behaviour is an anomaly.

There is less at stake in the office kitchen than in the student flat, making that stake slightly less than fuck-all.

Yet hardly a day goes by when an email doesn’t circulate about the ‘disgusting’ state of the kitchen,  a new roster isn’t trialled to deal with the problem of dirty dishes, or a colleague isn’t overheard bemoaning in a world-weary manner how ‘some people around here think I’m their mother’ (in this case, you hope they are referring to the widely held baby-boomer misconception that the only people who have to clean up after other people are those people’s mothers and not, say, a difficult maternity issue.)

Why is this?

I think the reason that an issue of such microscopic importance carries such a weight of anguish in some people’s lives is because it’s foundations are deeply rooted in those people’s psyches and I wish to outline why this is for you today.

Oh, and by the way, having a dishwasher doesn’t change anything except the issue of conflict. The conflict just ceases to be about not doing the dishes but becomes about loading and unloading the dishes. Or it becomes about how much washing of the dishes needs to be done before they are submitted for washing in the dishwashing machine.

Most people.

Most people do clean up after themselves. Most people I have worked with anyway.  Most people recognise that despite the lack of ramifications arising from not doing their dishes it also isn’t very hard or time-consuming to do them. They maybe also recognise that it is an issue of importance to some people and wish to be courteous. Most people, if they don’t recognise this may also do it simply to avoid conflict; in today’s work-place environment conflict, even silly conflict, is avoided at all costs.

However, most people also from time to time forget to do their dishes, or are in a hurry, or simply have a sudden and unexplained fit of discourteousness whereby they abandon their normal persona and become someone far darker or more flippant about the mores of others.  This behaviour is the exception though, not the rule.

Therefore, what is actually at stake lowers even further: not only would nothing bad happen if all the dishes were to sit on the bench covered in pig-grease for several weeks, we aren’t usually talking about pig-grease or all of the dishes. We are talking about a few cups. Maybe.


In any given work environment there will be some arseholes. To be fair, leaving a cup caked in the remaining sludge of eight scoops of Milo with a dash of water which creates a sort of diabetes soup probably isn’t the worst of their offending.  They are probably also stealing office supplies, pulling the wings off of flies at their desks while they troll online news sites in work time, and punching people.   These people will never do their dishes.  However, there will only ever be one or two arseholes who actually argue that they ‘shouldn’t have to’; for the most part they just don’t. These people create the bulk of the dirty dishes.

I would also like to again remind you that even the most obnoxious dishes offender is still only ever creating a situation where mould may one day occur.  I will also remind you that they pushed an old lady down the stairs and you never found out it was them who did it.

Victims and martyrs

It is important to remember that most people do their dishes and only some don’t. However, of those people who do their dishes, only a few people are actually all that bothered by the fact that some don’t.  You wouldn’t think it though.  The reason it seems like everyone gets hemorrhoidal about dishes going undone is that the few who do make a lot of noise about it.  They send the emails, they post the little signs, and they push substantive items off meeting agendas to talk about the ‘dire situation in the kitchen.’

Victims represent the largest group of these people and they are the noisiest. This is because what is actually at stake doesn’t matter to them; the victim will attach meaning to the rank mug with a tea-bag in it which allows them to blow it out of proportion with a big metaphor pump. Not doing dishes indicates a lack of respect, or declining standards around the office. By which of course they mean lack of respect shown to them and a decline in the standards they hold. It is personal to the victim and therefore it is important.

Martyrs are a slightly different kettle of fish curry.  The martyr actually gets a kick out of doing all the dishes provided they can complain about it, or at very least be very obvious about the fact they are doing them.  The martyr might not even be all that bitter; they may even cheerily collect everyone’s dirty cups off of their desk.  They will, however, mention that they are doing the dishes and with a wisp of a sigh suffix their mention with an “…as usual.”   The martyr actually needs the dishes to be left in order for them to get their fix, so an oddly symbiotic relationship exists in the office between the martyr and the arsehole. As it does in so many other avenues of society.

The sad thing is there are real honest to God issues that victimise people in work-places and there are things that are worth getting upset about.  There are also real honest to God situations where people get taken advantage of because of their nature.  The thing is though, the dishes don’t matter, they aren’t representative of anything and no-one actually respects you or cares if you do them because nothing is at stake.

Well, nothing but mould.


One thought on “The dishes

  1. Pingback: Living alone | Dan

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