The gradual blurring of home and work lives these days, among other aspects of modern life, makes decisions of etiquette that much harder.
Dealing with an encounter with an ex-colleague can be easy enough in itself. You might begin by saying how long it’s been since you last saw them, and swap old memories. Proceed to ask how the new job is going, and suggest with a wink that they were “lucky to get out when [they] did!” Even if you don’t mean it, you could do that.
But what if they left under a cloud? And what if, owing to your natural lack of nosiness and inability to inveigle yourself into office gossip, you never quite worked out what that cloud consisted of? An actual sacking is far more difficult to joke about than leaving to either knit yoghurt for nothing or trample the poor for a mint. “I’m not taking sides, but” and “we were all behind you, but” are both fraught with danger. Best not to mention it at all, really.
Worse than that, though: what if they lent you a DVD before they were sacked, and you just know that even if they don’t bring it up, they’ve thought of it? And what if it were a bit of a “chick flick”, not particularly your taste? Something you might have, say, even moved house with, without actually watching? How do you even begin to broach that subject? I certainly wouldn’t want to arrange to meet up at a later date to hand that DVD over. That would involve even more small talk, this time with homework beforehand in the form of working out on iMDB what the film was all about. I might even have to stay for a coffee.
In the end I was saved by Lady Fortune herself, as the first pas in the brief embarrassed social dance was entirely faux, and rendered all further discourse impossible. The ex-colleague who overtook me this weekend was far too busy staring wild-eyed into the path of oncoming traffic, to the extent of nearly running me off the road, to stop and chat. There’s no conversational gambits that let you recover from nearly causing someone’s death, really, and I at least had social sanction to swear loudly as they passed. I just wish, in retrospect, that I’d tied up that dangling loose end at the same time by following it with “do you want your DVD back?”