Etiquette expert Catherine Newman weighs in on how to deal with friends who put down your job.
Q. I am a teacher; a friend of mine has an office job. Recently she has made several negative comments about me and my profession. For instance, if I mention doing stuff around the house at 4 p.m. (when she hasn’t gotten home from work yet), she might say, “I wish I got off at 2:30.” During the summer months, when I’m on vacation, she has commented that I “don’t do anything all day.” It seems as though my friend hates her job, but that’s no reason to be angry at me. How should I respond to her?
A. It sounds to me like your pal is expressing envy rather than disdain for your line of work. (And she certainly ought to admire teachers, who are among society’s true heroes.) She clearly wishes that she had a workday structured more similarly to yours. But that doesn’t give her license to make thoughtless comments.
You could go in one of two directions here. If you’re inclined to highlight how hard you work—and how invisible that effort can be to other people—go ahead. Example: “Yes, if I weren’t so buried in grading, I could really enjoy these free afternoons!”
However, if you’re interested in improving your relationship, I would advise you to give your friend a simple explanation of how her comments make you feel: “I know you’re just teasing, but my job is hard, and it upsets me when you say disparaging things about it.” She may have no idea that she’s being obnoxious or that she’s making it seem as if you lie around eating bonbons 24/7. It will be a kindness to her to gently point out the way she is coming across—and it may well save your friendship, too.