Social Etiquette and Good Manners/innapropiate birthday cake


Hello Cynthia,
My wife works at a healthcare rehabilitation center in housekeeping. A female co worker baked a penis shaped birthday cake for her. While I understand that this was intended as a joke, I'm not fond of how it was handled concidering it took place at work. My wife was called in the office by her two male supervisors and one other male coworker that happen to be there. The door was shut and they proceded to present her with the cake in a jokingly mannner as my wife put it. My wife does have a good relationship with her bosses and i'm sure alot of joking floats around among the employees.

While I realize this was suppose to be a joke. I have issues with it and it has caused a riff between the wife and I. Because it was done behind closed doors, I feel it could be sending the wrong message "both" to my wife and about my wife. Not to mention the rumors that may have followed.
My wife says I'm being unrealistic and reading into it too much. She laughs it off and doesn't seem to be bothered.

I truly feel this was done in bad taste and an obviously innapropiate place {work} concidering the possible ramifications.
So as an outsider with a background in etiquette and manners can you please express your thoughts on this in an objective manner wether it is for or against the way both my wife and I percieve it.

Thank You,

Dear Ron:

Thank you for your question.  
I can understand your concern about your wife receiving a "penis" cake.  In most organizations, such a gesture is considered sexual harassment.  At the very least, it is in extremely poor taste and insulting to your wife.  Why wouldn't she deserve a beautiful cake to share - why would they think that she feels that an overtly sexually focused cake would be fun?  No one goes out of their way to bake a specialty cake like that unless they believe it would be either appreciated by the recipient or they are trying to send a message. It is especially inappropriate because it was given in the workplace where a "penis" anything is inappropriate.

I know you say she laughed it off which may have been the appropriate response if she wants to keep the atmosphere among her co-workers without confrontation.  However, her response should have also included a warning to those present that while she knows they were trying to be funny, she doesn't appreciate that they thought she would enjoy it; that she doesn't live in the gutter.

Her bosses and co-workers need lessons in good etiquette and appropriate people skills.  She would have a case for sexual harassment if she so choose to file one.  I dare say that the story of her receiving the cake will be retold by the men for the rest of their lives and the joke will be on her.  I would be furious if I were you since your primary motivation is to protect her from ridicule and jokes and keep her reputation in high esteem.  This "joke" has tarnished her reputation in the eyes of those present and will continue to tarnish it as they retell the story.  They should be called on their bad behavior, not allowed to just laugh it off.

That is my opinion as a professional who deals with inappropriate workplace situations every day.

Social Etiquette and Good Manners

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Cynthia W. Lett


Proper manners with friends,family,colleagues,neighbors and everyone else you know.


I have been an etiquette expert teaching and consulting on the subject worldwide since 1983. I started and serve as the Executive Director of the International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals and am considered a leader in the field of etiquette and protocol training and execution. I edited "Etiquette for Dummies" and have recently written "Lett's Talk - Everyday Etiquette Dilemmas and What to Do about Them". My book, "That's So Annoying:An Etiquette Expert on the World's Most Irritating Habits And What To Do About Them" was published in 2009 and is available wherever books are sold. I taught the Business Protocol class to Master's level students at the George Washington University, Washington, DC for seven years I served as Chief of Protocol for MCI Telecommunications for three years.

International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals, ASTD, PCMA, National Speakers Association

I have been quoted over 700 times in the past 5 years worldwide. Publications include Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Washington Times, NY Times, Washington Business Journal, USA Today, Associated Press, London Times, Newsweek Japan edition, Newsweek US edition and many many more.

I am a Certified Etiquette Professional (CEP) and Certified Protocol Professional (CPP) earned by examination through ISPEP. I have a Master's degree in hospitality law and undergrad degrees in Restaurant & Hotel Management and Public Relations/Interpersonal Communications from Purdue University.

Awards and Honors
Who's Who Worldwide,Who's Who of American Women, Distinguished Darden Professor (Purdue University).

Past/Present Clients
World Bank, United Nations,US Dept. of State, US. Dept. of the Army, Pentagon, Barclays Global Investors,Accenture,Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, The White House, Dept. of State, AT&T,Bank of America,American Association of Clinical Pharmacies,Ritz Carlton Hotels, Hilton Hotels, Marriott Hotels,Starwood Hotels,and many more.

©2016 All rights reserved.