New in town? We’ve got a surprise for you …

Most every established workplace in America has some time-honored ritual to welcome new employees, whether it’s a spirited game of Pin the Tail On the Customer Relations Assistant or playing Blindman’s Bluff by the open elevator shaft.

Then, of course, there’s that Friday night favorite, “Hey, betcha can’t drink three of these!”

(Usually followed, a few hours later, by that universal question “Anybody know a good bail bondsman?”)

Here at the newspaper we’re considerably more urbane and sophisticated, so we simply drag new employees and unsuspecting co-workers out for platters of recently deceased, but noticeably uncooked, seafood.

Yes, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to introduce new colleagues to the Pacific Rim delight commonly known as sushi; or, in the words of our urbane and sophisticated food editor, “surprises from the sea.”

New employees from San Francisco or Los Angeles, of course, aren’t all that much fun to welcome into the fold with tasty platters of raw tuna or bits o’ squid. Most hires from the Golden State have, after all, already sampled sushi at one time or another.

We still go through the motions for Californians, but what we really enjoy is a chance to introduce some wide-eyed soul from Indiana or Colorado to the zany West Coast seafood sensation.

When we begin describing thinly sliced raw fish wrapped in seaweed and our new co-worker asks, “Whut?” in a somewhat befuddled whisper, we know that it’s time to roll out the old welcome mat.

“Hey, why not join us for lunch? We’re just driving 20 miles away where nobody knows us so you can bond with us over a platter of something you can’t pronounce,” we heartily urge our new colleague. “C’mon, it’ll be fun. Ever had long-necked crab roll? Neither have we!”

And because the new guy is the new guy, he grins companionably from beneath the rim of his straw hat and goes along with the whole coastal cuisine road trip. Sure, he racks up a four-hour lunch break on his second day of work, but it’s worth it because he’s bonding with us over objects that even the British have sense enough to deep fry for hours on end.

The lunchtime fun starts with the chopstick ritual which, with any luck, leaves the new employee with half his lunch in his lap.

Wheeeee!

Since the victim, er, novice, has absolutely no idea what he or she may be eating at any given moment, we’re all more than happy to offer helpful advice. Yes, there’s a stack of colorful “See It and Eat It!” menus back by the cash register, but those are just for tourists in loud shirts.

It’s much better for our newcomer to simply accept the suggestions of his or her savvy dining companions:

“Here, try a couple of these!”

“They look kind of like they belong in a fish …”

“They do! They’re great! Everybody here eats ’em. Have some more. Put some of this sauce on them.”

“That looks pretty green. I mean, really, really green …”

“Yeah, pal, but believe me, it doesn’t taste green! Try this – look, it’s got li’l tentacles!”

Yes, there’s nothing that says camaraderie quite like bite-sized baby octopuses swimming in a dazzling green pool of wasabi sauce …

Originally published April 15, 2001

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