There are nine tables in the breakfast room where I work. Six tables seat four, and three tables seat two.
One of the two-tops is “my” table. When my coworker trained me, he showed me which table he sits at when he isn’t bustling around the breakfast room. He puts a box of disposable gloves on that table to mark it as his. In addition to the box of gloves, when I’m working I leave my spray bottle of cleaner and the rag I use to wipe the tables there as well. Usually, I drape my jacket over the chair too. Since there are only eight sets of salt and pepper shakers for the breakfast room, my table does without. I don’t need salt and pepper while I’m working anyway.
Once during my training, an older couple came into the breakfast room. The man used a wheelchair. While my back was turned, the man and woman occupied the table my coworker and I had been using. When I turned around, I saw they had moved the box of gloves and whatever else had been on the table to a nearby highchair that was not in use. One of the chairs had been moved away from the table, and the man had maneuvered his wheelchair into its place. I wondered why the couple had chosen to move things in order to use that particular table when several others were unoccupied, but decided it was probably the easiest one for the man to use with his wheelchair.
Fast forward several weeks, and I was working on my own. No one had usurped my table territory since my training. I hadn’t considered it might happen again.
I’d been in the dish room/storage area, so my jacket was on my body instead of hanging on the back of the chair at the table I used as my home base. However, the box of gloves, the spray bottle, and the wiping rag were all on the table. To me it seemed obvious that the table was claimed.
I walked into the breakfast room, but before I could make my way to “my” table to deposit my jacket, I saw an older woman moving my work accessories to another table. She moved the box of gloves and the spray bottle and the rag I used to wipe down tables to the empty two-top next to where I normally sit.
I was shocked! First, I would never move items that didn’t belong to me from one table to another if there were plenty of other places to choose from to sit. Second, in the time of COVID, I touch as little as possible when out in public. (Note: the woman did NOT wash her hands after moving the things from one table to another.)
I looked around to see if perhaps this woman, like the woman during training, was breakfasting with a companion who used a wheelchair. She was not. The gentleman who joined her was not using a mobility aid of any kind.
I stood in the doorway, perplexed. I wondered what was so special about the table in question. Nothing made it more attractive, as far as I could tell. In fact, I think it was less attractive, missing as it was the salt and pepper shakers. (In fact, the woman had to snag the salt and pepper from another table so she and her companion could season their meals.)
I felt very territorial about that table! It was mine! How dare she move my things! How dare they sit in my spot! I wanted to march over there and give them what for!
In the end, I did not march over and tell the couple anything. I knew I’d seem ridiculous if I did, and besides, I didn’t want to add strife to my day. I knew I had no real reason to pick a fight with the customers. Of course, as The Man pointed out, the guests can sit at any table they want because, well, they’re the guests. It’s not really “my” table. I don’t own it. I have no real claim to it.
I’m still puzzled by the situation. Why was that particular table so alluring to the woman? Why did she want to sit in a place that required her to move items obviously left there by someone else? What did she find so appealing about that particular location? These are questions I will never be able to answer.
Even more puzzling are my own thoughts in response to the woman’s behavior. Why did I feel so territorial about that table? Why did I want to fight a total stranger (and a paying customer) over a piece of furniture that’s not really mine? I don’t own that table. I don’t even rent it. I sit there probably less than an hour a day, three days a week. Why should I care if a stranger sits there for ten or fifteen minutes? I could have sat at any other table in the room while “mine” was occupied. (In fact, I didn’t sit anywhere while the couple occupied “my” table. Instead, I stood in silly, silent protest while they ate, thinking I would show them. I’m sure they didn’t even notice.)
I’m the kind of person who can easily get caught up with wanting people to do what’s right. I think everyone should do what’s right, and, obviously, sitting at someone else’s table is not the right thing to do! Also (obviously), I should pick my battles and not get so caught up in other people’s actions when they’re not hurting anyone. I promise you, those people sitting where they did hurt no one. If I was distressed, it was because of my own brain activity.
Human behavior is so weird and interesting. That woman pulled a power move on me, and I admit, she got to me. I may never understand her motivation, but I appreciate that she gave me the chance to explore my own thinking.