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01 May 2012 @ 02:38 pm
I'm gonna steal this post  
So, I have a basically neverending supply of chocolate on my desk, for people to take when they need a little taste of something sweet. This is great. Often, people come by with the stated intent of coming to get some chocolate, and we wind up talking and I hear about how things are going with them. Some folks just chocolate-and-run. Some folks mainly come to talk, but they use the chocolate as the excuse. It's great.

But I find it fascinating how often people stop by and say, "Can I steal a piece of chocolate?" or "I'm going to steal a piece of chocolate!"

I always respond, "You can't steal it, because it's there for the taking!" and that pretty much always gets a laugh. But It has really called out to me how often we (and I definitely include myself in this) use "steal" to mean "take a thing that I'm sure you're okay with me taking".
I'm feeling: curiouscurious
Hawk Handsawhawkhandsaw on May 1st, 2012 06:58 pm (UTC)
This reminds me of people 'stealing' or (bleah,) 'borrowing' a tissue...

Chipceo on May 1st, 2012 08:04 pm (UTC)
chhotii, whose daughter is my elder son's age, once asked me if she could borrow a diaper. I said "only if you promise NOT to give it back."
Mizarchivist: Avatar- Bashfulmizarchivist on May 1st, 2012 08:33 pm (UTC)
People perhaps like the idea of getting away with something that they're not actually going to get in trouble?

It is an interesting phenomena.
MRFmrf_arch on May 2nd, 2012 02:31 am (UTC)
Yeah, I use that turn of phrase, too, and I think that might have something to do with it. I mean, I get *candy*! That always feels like getting away with something, even if I'm long past the point where that's not really true anymore. :-)
Stable Strangeletcuthalion on May 1st, 2012 08:57 pm (UTC)
You should make permission to take the candy contingent on the condition that they aren't stealing it.

That way people who just want candy can take some, and people who want to steal candy can properly do so.
funner'n a sack a weaselsmoominmolly on May 1st, 2012 09:03 pm (UTC)
Ach! Yes! I have been trying to break myself of that habit for YEARS! AND FAILING.
Jennyjennythe_reader on May 1st, 2012 10:00 pm (UTC)
I've mostly trained myself to say "swipe" instead. I'm not sure why it feels more accurate, but it does.
Chancemiss_chance on May 1st, 2012 10:41 pm (UTC)
In the case of a candy dish type thing on a desk, I never feel that it is at all obviously whether or not it's intended to be taken by anyone who wants some, or what it's there for.

So "Can I steal some?" could logically be read as "It is not clear to me whether you are intending to offer this to me or not." I wonder how people's behavior or language would change if you tried an experiment for a week and had a printed sign up with some sort of offering language such as of "Would you like some chocolate?" "Can I offer you some chocolate?" or even "Help yourself." I wonder if different people would take some than those who come forward and ask if they can "steal" some? Or if people have a different affect when they do?

I'm glad you posted this now! thank you! With Open Studios coming up this weekend, this is an excellent point for me to be conscious of. Some people come into studios and take snacks easily. Others come in and sort of ask awkwardly if it would be okay to take some. Some apologize for taking something, since they didn't buy anything. I wonder what backgrounds make some people assume (correctly, so maybe I should say 'know') that the food is intended for anyone to take and what backgrounds make people imagine that I only intend it for some people, or paying people. My guess is that it's wrapped up in privilege and access to art world. I wonder what people in your office assume (know) the protocol regarding food on a desk, and which ones don't?

ruthless compassion: martini handsaroraborealis on May 2nd, 2012 11:31 am (UTC)
Well, in many cases in my setting, the people saying it are people who have had candy from my desk many times before, so I don't think adding a sign changes their relationship to the candy. Folks who aren't sure will typically ask, "Hey, is this candy available to anyone who wants some?" or something along those lines.

That's different from your setting, though, where lots of strangers are coming through your space (in my case, mostly it's people I know and who know me, moving through shared space). I often feel shy about taking snacks at SOS because it feels possibly freeloady, and also, being fat makes taking free food more complicated (for me) than buying food.
Susan Constantsconstant on May 2nd, 2012 02:50 pm (UTC)
I think that maybe "steal" is used as a shorthand for recognizing during the taking that you're involved in some way in the provision of the chocolate. If I were to say (in the non-theft way) it w/r/t an object, I would only say it if I was taking an object that was being provided by someone else. By saying it, I think I'd be trying to acknowledge the other person's role/generosity, while knowing/acknowledging that asking permission would be superfluous or even unwanted.

If I needed a tissue, and someone was carrying them around for their own use, I would ask if I could have a tissue. If I needed a tissue, and was in an office and someone had a box on their desk near the "guest chairs", I would take one and perhaps say that I was going to steal one. Asking beforehand or taking one and then saying "thanks for the tissue" is too much for the casual nature of the transaction, but wanting to acknowledge the courtesy is normal, and I think "stealing" is an informal way to do that.

Kcatkcatalyst on May 2nd, 2012 04:40 pm (UTC)
I think a crucial element here is that there is a strong convention of explicitly offering and being offered food and drink. If someone comes to my house, I'm supposed to make sure their food and drink needs are met. In turn, they're not supposed to rifle my fridge spontaneously. If someone has to ask for a drink of water, then either they're imposing a bit (um, only if I'm a jackass! but okay, make it someone I don't know well spontaneously asking for a dry martini with a twist) or I have screwed up a bit by not having offered. So my read would be that "stealing" is a conventionalized way of navigating a "free for the taking" interaction by acknowledging that you haven't been invited/offered but also that you're aware that there's a convention in this limited scenario that you're typically allowed. Also, if I can speculate further (ha! try to stop me!) I think it may also be a way of navigating not having anything in mind to say to you but feeling like it's rude to grab chocolate off someone's desk without speaking to them.
David Policardpolicar on May 2nd, 2012 04:45 pm (UTC)
When I'm feeling especially pedantic, my response to "Can I steal some X" is "Well, no, I don't think you can. Certainly not while I'm standing here approving of you taking some."
neurolizneuroliz on May 5th, 2012 03:48 pm (UTC)
Ha! This came up a few days ago - I'd made dinner explicitly for anyone in the household who was home and hungry, and the "can I steal some x" came up and we had a laugh about it. So definitely some kind of shorthand for "you have had something to do with this food item and thank you in advance" or something is going on.

There's an element of guilty pleasure about the "steal" thing, too, though. If you had kale chips available, for example, I doubt people would be using "steal."