SPARTANBURG, S.C. – After jokingly offering his pescetarian secretary a bite of his Chick-fil-a spicy chicken sandwich, Jerry Maybell had to attend an HR-ordered sensitivity training session where he was schooled in the differences between octo-lacto vegetarians (no meat, fish, or seafood), pescetarians (no meat, but fish is okay) and fruitarians (only what falls from a plant).
Chastened by the experience and eager to demonstrate sensitivity to religious and cultural differences, Maybell, a senior manager at an office supplies company, has been on tenterhooks since Thanksgiving as he has struggled to craft appropriate holiday greetings for his co-workers.
An offering of jelly-filled doughnuts to his Jewish co-workers was an exclusionary disaster, he lamented, after he failed to realize that his adjoining office mate, Anne Marie Buckley (nee Siegel), is Jewish.
His "Joyous Kwanzaa" greeting – for a holiday honoring African-American heritage – to the company's intern, a Jamaican immigrant, was greeted with a blank stare.
Maybell scrapped his cards depicting a snowy landscape and "Season's Greetings" message after he remembered that his boss is Australian, and like other Southern Hemisphere countries, Australia has its summer in December.
Buckley said that she was not offended when Maybell neglected to offer her a doughnut, one of the traditional Hanukkah foods. "I probably confused him because I always wish him and others a Merry Christmas," Buckley shrugged, as the strains of Silent Night streamed through her computer. "All the Jews I know do – if you didn't take off work for Yom Kippur, chances are you celebrate Christmas. Even if you don't you're used to Santa's domination of December."
Lauren Bacani, who is non-religious but celebrates Christmas "from the purely commercial standpoint, by exchanging presents," said Maybell should stop worrying. "Regardless of what holidays you celebrate, it's a time to eat good food, have time off from work, and go to parties. My old boss thought I was Indian and always wished me a happy Diwali," said Bacani, who is Filipino. "I milked that for extra long lunches and early departures."
Bacani, an account manager, said that though Maybell was overestimating how much people cared about the specifics of holiday greetings, "it's a lot better than this jerk in IT who went around telling everyone, Christian or not, 'Best wishes and that generic nonsense is what they tell suicide bombers. Merry Christmas!'"
After much agitation, Maybell ultimately decided to skip wishing anyone a Merry Christmas for fear of offense, settling on a "Happy Holidays" E-card with surreal silver and gold snowflakes falling diagonally that could, he said, be interpreted as "rain for people who never see snow, or shooting stars."
Maybell plans on having a small gathering Friday afternoon to celebrate New Year's Eve for those in the office. And he already knows what he will say in his toast if John Chen, of Chinese heritage, attends: "Happy New Year to everyone, including and as well as to John, who will usher in the Chinese year of the rabbit on Feb. 3!"