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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Klepto, or just plain nuts?

So we were out running errands Saturday afternoon, trying to relax and shake some under-the-weather feelings, and stopped in a Panera Bread for sandwiches.

After we placed our order, I stayed to pay for it, and my wife went to find a seat.

She did what we all do, grabbed a wad of napkins along the way. Not too many, maybe six or seven. I'd have grabbed an arm full, a small tree's worth. But she's pretty self-conscious about that stuff. Maybe one napkin each, plus one each for sweating, dripping drink glasses, plus one or two backups, in case we're eating a particularly sloppy meal. And if those don't suffice, she'll go and grab a few more as the meal's in progress.

When I got to the table I started to tease her like I always do, telling her a tree died because of "all" the napkins she grabbed.

But she pointed out a woman at table about six feet away from us. The other woman was just sitting down at her table, joining a guy we assumed was her husband (they were both wearing rings), and in her hand she had a humongous wad of.... powdered sugar packets. We're talking enough sugar to power up a Krispy Kreme for a weekend. I say it was a half-pound of sugar she had - packets were falling out of her hand.

Here's the nutty thing though, both she and her guy had soda in front of 'em. Not iced tea or anything else unsweetened. My wife said then that maybe I was wrong about their drinks. But then the woman took the giant wad and shoved all 7,625 packets into her purse, and proceeded to eat, drink, chat, etc.

We tried to speculate why, but couldn't come up with anything logical. I haven't heard of any sugar shortage in South Florida grocery stores. And there's no way she was broke. She was wearing a big enough rock on that left hand to buy a sugar cane field. So my best conclusion is that the sugar swiper was just insane, or a cheapskate who didn't want to buy her own packets to keep in the car or her desk at work, or both. Don't get me wrong. I'm not being pious. I'll be the first to admit that on my way out of McDonald's on more than one occasion I've grabbed a fist-full of ketchup and tossed it in my bag, telling myself that it was OK, because it's better to have a little extra than not enough. And what inevitably happens every time? I use two or three packets and then have five more to either throw away or shove into my glove box. But on those occasions, I had fries! They need ketchup! What the H. was she grabbing sugar for?

So, when we rose to walk out of the restaurant we had only used maybe three of our six or seven napkins. So instinctively, I grabbed the remaining three or four and shoved 'em in my pocket.

It struck me a second later that I had been clowning the sugar fiend for obviously taking more than she needed.

So here's my moral/ethical question: Is what I did any different than what the sugar fiend did? I'm not sure. In theory, we did grab more napkins than we ultimately needed. But, playing Devil's advocate, my wife points out that we might have needed those napkins had we spilled, etc., so they were a precautionary measure. And there are times - thanks to my eating like I have no hands, when I'm really hungry - we have used every single napkin we grabbed. Besides, having worked in a few restaurants in my pre-reporting days, it has always been my understanding that for safety and sanitary reasons anything disposable left on a table after a diner leaves is thrown away. So if the napkins were gonna get tossed, why shouldn't I have taken 'em? That would've been wasteful, right?

If this were a trial, I'd probably try to turn the tables and say to the judge, "Your honor, the more important question than whether I should have taken my extras is why did she take the sugar in the first place?"

What say you: Am I in the same boat as the sugar fiend?

9 Comments:

  • You are not nearly in the same boat as the sugar feind.

    For one, those napkins that you took with you would have been thrown away (used or not). And the ketchup packets?? They are there and *intended* for people to just grab a handful. Every household or office has an "extra condiments" drawer.

    Taking a couple of sugar packets for your purse? No biggie... But taking 7,625??? Uh - that's in poor taste.

    Just my .02 :)

    By Blogger Richmond, at 3:26 PM  

  • No way. Napkins not same as sugar.

    Taking all that sugar is just plain petty thievery. Incredibly tacky, too.

    By Blogger Manola Blablablanik, at 5:44 PM  

  • You sir are GUILTY! Misappropriation is missapproppriation (I didn't know how to spell it, so I tried different versions).

    By Blogger Rune, at 9:21 PM  

  • C'mon Rune. I'm no napkin klepto. Like Richmond said, those naps were gonna get tossed anyway. But I asked for judgment, so your honor, I accept the ruling of the court.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 9:54 PM  

  • I don't see anything wrong with grabbing a few napkins or condiments, even if it were just for the glove box. A couple or few, no big deal. That's what they're for. If you're grabbing enough to refill your containers at home... that's just sad.

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