How Do You Make Polite Chitchat With the Recently Laid Off?

Dear Pink Lady,

This is a question about what I guess you'd call economic etiquette. What should you do when many of your friends are suddenly either un- or under-employed? This is something I'm encountering a lot these days. I'm fortunate enough to have a reasonably secure job, and I'm grateful for that. But I'm never sure how to respond to my laid-off friends and relations.

For example: When you first find out that someone has lost their job, is it best to be consoling ("I'm so sorry"), angry ("I can't believe those bastards let you go!"), or chipper ("Someone as talented as you will be snapped up in no time!")? And as the jobless period drags on for weeks or months, is it better to keep asking about job prospects, or to discreetly not mention it at all? Is it polite to offer to pick up your unemployed friends' bar tabs, or patronizing? Is it better to not talk about your own job, and thereby point up the contrast between your employment situations? In short, what are the best ways to be a good friend to the wageless?

—Guiltily Employed

Dear Employed,

Let's be clear here: Losing your job can be like losing a family member. The longer someone stays unemployed, the more likely they will stay stuck somewhere in the middle stages of grief. Thus, there is no one right or wrong way to address the jobless. Some people will need consoling, and some people will need to vent. (Most people will need both at one point or the other.)

The key thing is to acknowledge your friends' loss and, like after the death of a parent, ask them what they need from you. Maybe they need free childcare during a job interview. Maybe they need the phone number of your previous human resources director. Maybe they just need you to treat them like there's nothing wrong. The grieving process is different for everyone, so don't assume that one unemployed friend is handling things as well as another.

As far as buying drinks goes, I personally think it's never patronizing to do so. But if you're concerned about it, have a networking brunch at your house with plenty of "Tangy Tomato Juice," topped with a splash of vodka—because the best thing you can do for your unemployed friends is hook them up with contacts that might lead to a new gig.


The Pink Lady

Tangy Tomato Juice

1 large can V-8 juice

1 can consommé

1/4 cup juice from pickled onions

Salt and pepper

1/2 tsp. horseradish (1 tsp. if you like a lot)

Fresh lemon juice

Mix all ingredients, then chill or heat. This is equally good cold or hot. 14-16 servings.

This week's recipe is from Nashville Seasons (Junior League of Nashville, 1964).

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