coworkers can’t see past my Russian accent

A reader writes:

I come from eastern Europe, specifically from Russia. Given the history — cold war between our countries, media, etc. — I find the subject of my origin somewhat uncomfortable to discuss. While some proudly call themselves something-American, I’m working hard on becoming just local (I’ve left Russia over a decade ago and have no intention of returning and neither do I belong to any Russian church or local community).

I must admit that having worked in a few offices, I’m finding a constant question about my accent rather unpleasant as it singles me out and points to something that others don’t have. Also, whenever there’s something in the news, people start loudly speculating about my association with Russian spies, recent drunken hockey team or whatever. And of course, if another Russian speaking colleague or student or neighbor comes along, they will be sure to let me know.

I realize that I’m risking to come across as oversensitive in saying all this but seriously, can’t others see past the obvious – me having an accent – or at least wait till I volunteer some insights? My African-American friend finds it equally offensive when people always seem to think of yet another black guy who happens to live round the corner – “in case she might be interested.”

I actually found this question harder to answer than most, so I’d especially love additional thoughts in the comments section, but…

I think this probably comes down to “people are socially awkward.”

I doubt anyone really thinks you’re a spy or spending your weekend with drunk hockey players. They’re just doing what people do, which is to make conversation, often awkwardly, using conversation starters that are sometimes clunky.

I think they’re using your accent the same way people tend to use other obvious characteristics someone might have, like being really tall or having a strong southern accent or having red hair.  Even Canadians get it sometimes. It’s annoying, yes, but it sounds like they intend it to be good-natured joking. (I also suspect they find your being Russian genuinely interesting and might be curious about it, in a friendly, non-cold-war kind of way.)

Assuming they truly seem to mean well and their humor just isn’t hitting the mark, I’d try to be good-natured about it in return. It’s certainly your prerogative to tell them to knock it off, but I think you’d be turning it into a bigger issue than it needs to be.  (If you do choose to go that route, though, I’d just take them aside individually next time it happens and say, “Hey, I know you’re just joking around, but jokes about my Russian background rub me the wrong way.”)

Now, obviously, no one should have to be subjected to bigotry in the workplace, whether it’s about their national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation. But this just isn’t reading as bigotry to me (annoying as it may be). Anyone want to argue it differently?

It’s also worth noting that the subject line of your email to me was “trying hard to fit in.” I’d actually argue that your coworkers joking around with you is evidence that they like you. It might be a matter of just deciding to see these comments differently — as slightly bumbling attempts at connecting rather than keeping you separate.

What do others think?

{ 91 comments… read them below }

  1. Interviewer*

    I think AAM is right – that sounds like American attempts at humor, by mentioning the few things about Russians that they do know. That means they are trying to connect to you, as awkward and unfunny as it may sound to you, or as difficult as it may be to hear the same line each time you open your mouth.

    I realize you are working hard to lose the Russian piece of your identity as quickly as possible, but I would imagine you are a very engaging person with a lot of interesting things to offer in the workplace. Maybe you should consider how to make it work for you, and connect with them, instead of trying so hard to shake it off or worry about the impression it might make on others to talk about it. Maybe people would love to hear stories about your country, or try some of your favorite foods. Maybe you could put a calendar on your desk with the Russian word of the day, and if anyone asks, help them pronounce it and tell them what it means. Or, the next time they ask if you’re a spy, you could tease them right back, and let them know that the KGB would be very interested in getting their hands on (identify a project that they need to finish for you).

    I hope this helps.

  2. ImpassionedPlatypi*

    People are always going to focus in on the easily noticeable things like accents, the way you look and the way you dress and try to make conversation based on what those things seem to say about a person. Like AAM said, those attempts at conversation are not always very deft. Personally though, I think the person asking this question is being oversensitive about it. If they don’t mind people asking about their haircut or complimenting a piece of clothing I don’t see why asking about their accent should be so much different. An accent is something about you that is different than others around you, and most Americans don’t automatically see “different” as “bad”. But, if it really bothers them so much, why don’t they look into speech therapy to get rid of their accent?

    1. Anonymous*

      ‘But, if it really bothers them so much, why don’t they look into speech therapy to get rid of their accent?’ Ummm, no. Let’s not encourage people to go to extremes to assimilate – let’s try and encourage them to embrace their uniqueness while settling into a new culture – I agreed with you until you made that point.

      1. Talyssa*

        I don’t think that was so offensive – there are a lot of people who don’t like having an accent or who feel that it impedes them socially or career wise in some way — and if you believe thatsomething is impedeing you then it IS becuase you think it is. This isn’t just non-american accents, I recently read an article that a lot of people go to speech therapy to lose brooklyn or boston accents because they feel like there are certain stereotypes or stigmas attached to them. I think its perfectly valid to either keep your accent or get professional help in getting rid of it if you don’t like it — and it sounds like the questioner is REALLY bothered by people noticing that s/he talks differently. And it probably would cut down on the comments that bother them becuase people wouldn’t know they were from russia unless explictly told.

        1. Emily*

          Or someone with a hearing impairment learning to mask those speech markers. It doesn’t have to represent a dissolution of your individuality, especially if making that kind of change allows you the confidence you need to “be yourself” in other ways. It sounds like the OP is well beyond the “settle into a new culture” phase. Assuming s/he has opted out of things like Russian or Russian-American church groups by choice and not just to avoid the perception of nationalistic loyalties (real or imagined), it seems clear that s/he identifies as “American” and there’s nothing wrong with that.

          That said, OP, it does sound like this is something that bothers you on a deeper level than just, “man, my co-workers really need some new material because the hockey jokes are old.” Is it possible that your behavior indicates that you’re more severe than you really are or would like to be? I’m way more interested in what someone says than how they say it, but I have to admit that if I didn’t know a coworker very well beyond “foreign accent” and “seems reserved” I might infer that they didn’t want to assimilate with me or had a chip on their shoulder or even that they were cold by nature or looked down at ME. Though, I like to think I wouldn’t fall back on lame stereotype humor, just because I’d prefer to be courteous and, you know, tell jokes that are ACTUALLY funny!

      2. ImpassionedPlatypi*

        Anon, I completely agree that we should encourage people to embrace their uniqueness, whether they’re settling into a new culture or not. I personally kind of hate the very idea of someone “trying hard [and I read that as something akin to “desperately”] to fit in” because I don’t like the idea of actively trying to be like everyone around you. However, if that is what someone wants to do I don’t think it does any good at all to encourage them to embrace their uniqueness and just shut up about the options they have. I see no reason not to do both, which is what I felt I’d done.

      3. RemingtonB*

        It is not my accent that bothers me but people’s childish and sometimes downright idiotic reaction to my accent.
        Would you say to a person of color to go get skin therapy because they are bothered by how people react to their looks??? Is that your solution? Go put yourself into a mold because people are stupid enough not to respect you and value you as you are? Really?

        Thank you for being a typical example for all to see what we are talking about!

      4. RemingtonB*

        It is not my accent that bothers me but people’s childish and sometimes downright idiotic reaction to my accent.
        Would you say to a person of color to go get skin therapy because they are bothered by how people react to their looks??? Is that your solution? Go put yourself into a mold because people are stupid enough not to respect you and value you as you are? Really?

        Thank you for being a typical example for all to see what we are talking about!

  3. Anonymous*

    I’m from the UK, and every Independence Day, I hear jokes about how much better the Americans are than the British -from co-workers and friends alike. I’m also asked if I have ever met the Queen, and what it’s like to have a National Health Service so the questions vary from rude and nonsensical to interesting conversation. I’m also of Indian origin, so that confuses people even more – ‘You’re British, but you’re brown, where are you actually from?!’ Anyway, I don’t believe that most people, especially in the workplace, are trying to be offensive, but agree that people are socially awkward -and very very interested in someone who is different from them. Take it as a compliment, because this is obviosuly something that you’ll have to deal with for the rest of your life, unless your accent fades (and why should you let it? It makes you unique!)

    This is best solved by you being comfortable about who you are – the jokes may be offensive, but you should speak up and say so -and that comes with being confident in who you are. And honestly, feel free to retort with intelligence when awkward comments are made, so that they either become a source of intelligent conversation, or they stop…the novelty will wear off soon….

    And if you’d rather not discuss your origin ( I know I don’t want to with every new person I meet), then just say so…but you need to feel comfortable with who you are, and don’t let the stereotypes bully you into silence.

  4. Slaten*

    You seriously need to lighten up. Assuming you can’t/won’t just take this in stride then I suggest going to a speech therapist and work on getting rid of that accent.

    1. Richard*

      I can’t see any reason why they should try and eliminate their accent in order to accommodate for the unwelcome jokes of their coworkers.

      Tell your coworkers that you find their jokes a bit offensive, and if they reply that they’re not joking, or they won’t stop, this is probably something you would want to take up with HR.

  5. Joshua*

    I have a friend who was born in Russia, but basically spent his whole life in the US (speaks Russian and English fluently, and has no accent when speaking English).

    He does visit family in Russia a lot, and recently got married to a girl from Russia, who has since moved to the states. She pretty much wants to make friends with anybody Russian, as she misses her home.

    I don’t know what the co-worker’s motivation is, but part of it (like telling you whenever a new Russian employee starts) may just be them trying to be helpful, if misguided.

  6. Josh S*

    First off, I’m sorry your co-workers are treating you in this manner.

    Personally, I’m fascinated with accents, but mainly because I love other cultures. I have friends in Uganda, Ukraine, Slovakia, Spain, Chile, Indonesia, Armenia, and China (oddly, I don’t know any Canadians). I might ask a person with an accent where they are from–not to make fun of their heritage, but rather to learn about other cultures and be better informed about the world.

    My point in bringing this up is to say that perhaps not all those who ask about your accent are bigoted idiots. Perhaps they are simply curious and seeking better understanding in order to value the diversity around them.

    Now, for the comments about spies and hockey, that’s a different issue. I’d be inclined to agree with AAM and say it’s just awkward and unwanted social banter, but they seem to do it with others of different ethnicity as well. Depending where in the country you are, it may be that minority ethnicities are not particularly prevalent, and the folks around have not yet learned to think of a ‘______ person’ as a person first, and a category second (or not at all).

    I would imagine this to be incredibly frustrating. And I’m not sure what you can do about it. As one commenter noted, it would be possible to embrace and emphasize your ethnic heritage in order to make it something you control rather than something you allow others to control. However, it appears that you want to de-emphasize this part of your life, for whatever reason. That is your prerogative.

    Given this choice, I would simply suggest that you do as AAM suggests–shrug it off at the time, and speak to people on a private and individual basis to let them know how much it bugs you. They will likely respond with a) “Geez. I was only kidding. Lighten up!” b) “I was only trying to be friendly. I joke with my friends.” or c) “I had no idea you felt so strongly. I’ll do my best to stop.”

    Their response will speak volumes. If it is A, then you probably will have to learn to put up with it or move to another work place. If B, then perhaps you will be able to recognize it as friendly banter, and take less offense or find a way to deflect/defuse the comments in the future. If C, then the problem will (gradually) go away. Don’t expect an overnight change–people are slow to adjust habits, particularly with social situations, and you may have to remind folks more than once.

    Try your best to remain friendly as well throughout the whole process. It will be hard, but worth it. Especially if you like your job.

    1. Josh S*

      PS. If you haven’t figured it out yet from the comments, many Americans are pretty ignorant and insensitive when it comes to dealing with people of other cultures. Particularly if they don’t fit the stereotype of that culture (or even if they do). Sorry for that.

      1. Anonymous*

        And many Americans are not ignorant. The “ugly American” is also a stereotype, isn’t it?

  7. Anna Smith*

    I’m from Germany and can totally relate to feeling singled out. I think it’s mostly a self confidence issue (not necessarily something that has to be discussed with co-workers). Karin Lindner is a great inspiration for me: (she has a very strong accent, but knows how to use it).
    And like someone else said earlier – people are trying to connect… that’s positive…

    1. RemingtonB*

      “And like someone else said earlier – people are trying to connect… that’s positive…” Hah!
      Now that is funny. To believe it’s anything but wishful thinking. Wishing people were positive, and trying hard to believe it.
      Dear Anna, it would be wonderful if people would try to connect with each-other, but I am afraid an infinitesimal number actually understand the concept of connecting. And no, it is not Facebook. Most people are just curious, not caring at all how their words can hurt other human beings. Case in point: An acquaintance of mine has spent part of his childhood in a Nazi concentration camp. No need to go into any details here concerning the level of suffering he has witnessed there and afterwards. As a consequence of his experiences and upbringing, he is today a person of what would seem to an American a strange nature, a serious nature, a withdrawn personality. He is a man who rarely speaks a word but when he does his words are kind, carefully weighted and encouraging. I have witnessed on more than one occasion Americans making fun of him (though somewhat to their credit they didn’t know anything about his life), they were indirectly mocking his personality. Some people have even giggled saying that he looks like a Nazi SS officer without having any idea what they were joking about. Now there are two veritable truths which every sensible person has already learned or will learn eventually:
      1. Most Americans think they are comedians and it’s their duty to act as if life is a comedy sitcom where almost every other line must contain a joke. In their minds there must be something wrong with you if you don’t do that. They call it lightening up the atmosphere, so everybody should plan and strain to include a joke in their daily interactions. What this truly reveals is that they are so shallow and have so little to contribute on an intellectual level, spiritual level or any other deeper dimension, that they have to resort to jokes much more often than a normal and mentally balanced person should. There are indeed some very funny talented people at that but for the majority it would be best if they remained JUST an audience. Socializing at the expense of others makes one look foolish.
      2. Most Americans think they are the “cat’s pajamas”, the coolest, wisest, funniest, friendliest people on earth and so on. That leaves no room for respect for other people who are different: People who aren’t loud, people who don’t try to pass arrogance for confidence, people who wait to be invited instead of butting in, people who when they give you a hug or a smile they truly mean it, sincere and truly decent people. There’s no tolerance, let alone respect for such people any more. Today they are called unfriendly because they refuse to join in the unfunny and insincere circus that they call socializing. Yet the really unfriendly people are those who demonize such people, who speak destructive gossip against those who consciously mind their own business instead of thinking who next to tear down with their malicious blabber they call joking.
      And if you try to defend such values, this majority will promptly reply (as you can see from many of the comments here) something to this effect: “ Well, if you want to keep your job you’d better change your values and become like us, or go back to where you came from.”
      In other words they don’t care about the valuable moral input that various immigrant peoples might bring into this society, but rather force those people to applaud their dance macabre, or get out.

  8. Dani*

    I’m German, I’ve lived in both the US and Canada and I’ve encountered the same sort of situation a lot of times. The difference is that I’ve never perceived it as people trying to set me apart, I always saw it as people trying to show polite interest.

    It seems the first thing that comes to people’s minds these days when thinking about Germany is beer and cars, so I’ve had plenty of conversations about both. Apparently, the first thing that comes to the average American’s mind when thinking about Russia is the spy story or the cold war. Don’t take it personal. Mentioning that their neighbor or hairdresser or whatever is of the same nationality is probably just someone trying to “bond” by pointing out something you have in common.

    I cannot imagine that coworkers from several offices would be deliberately trying to pick on you like this. As you noted yourself, a lot of North Americans are proud of their foreign roots and happily tell foreigners about it when they get the chance. People around you might just not understand that you are trying very hard to erase those roots and become American.

    As my periods abroad have always been for a limited time, I don’t quite understand what it would be like to emigrate. Yes, I’ve tried to fit in as best I could but I’ve always been proud of my origin, even if Germany’s history has some very dark spots. Your heritage and your accent are a part of who you are. Trying to erase them completely may be trying a little too hard.

    All-in-all, I agree with AAM. People around you are trying to connect with you, they just picked a topic on which you happen to be a bit sensitive.

  9. Anonymous*

    I’m Canadian and even *my* accent makes people ask the weirdest, silliest things. Like the UK commenter, I get asked some interesting conversation starters and then there’s the more obnoxious insinuations or jokes. Honestly, most of the time I let it slide or make a crack right back. It can be irritating, but most of the time people are well-intentioned and just oblivious and it’s more worthwhile to gently guide them in the right direction.

    It’s only when I get people out-right insulting me or where I come from that I react more strongly. It doesn’t happen that frequently anymore, and much less in my current workplace. In those cases I just usually tell people that they aren’t being as funny as they think they are and tell them to drop it.

  10. Suzanne Lucas*

    I’m an American, living in Switzerland, in a town that’s 30 percent expats. I’m also very much involved in the expat community. Everyone is always asking everyone else where they are from and grilling people for information about their home country.

    We are interested in each other. We’re interested in travel and want to know what’s it’s really like in other countries. In fact, today I had a conversation with a Russian woman about a Victory Day parade held in May and asked her if it would be worth making a trip to Moscow for. (Answer: No.)

    If you feel uncomfortable, my suggestion is just start asking them questions. “I grew up in Russia, but I’ve been here 10 years. Did you grow up here?”

    Then when the person answers ask a follow up question such as:

    “Wow, Kentucky. I’ve never been there, but I’ve always wanted to go see the Kentucky Derby. Have you been?”


    “You’ve lived here your whole life? Would you ever want to live somewhere else? Where?”


    Wow. Washington State. East or West? Is it cold there?


    Where did yo ugo to college? What did you major in? Really? Why’d you pick that?

    So on and so forth. People just want to talk. Give them a chance to talk about themselves and they’ll forget to ask you things. Or maybe you’ll realize they are just trying to be nice.

    As for introducing you to other Russians, let me tell you, when I first moved here, when I heard anyone speaking English I was all over that person. I didn’t care if they were axe murders or what. They spoke English! Now that I can converse in German and have a good circle of friends, this isn’t so important to me. But, if you moved here, and I met you, I’d undoubtedly offer to introduce you to my Russian friend. Sometimes it’s nice to talk in your native language.

        1. Ruby*

          :) I follow both (prefer your own blog over bnet because I get it in my feed reader) – but I still wish you’d write more/more often.

  11. MW*

    I agree wtih AAM that people don’t have bad intentions. That being said, there’s the question of intent vs. effect. People often think only about their INTENT and don’t think about the EFFECT of their comments on people. They then follow that up by saying the person needs to lighten up, or should realize the speaker is just kidding or just trying to be nice or just (whatever). The problem is then put back squarely on the person who has been effected. This is particularly insidious in the workplace, as it impedes relationship building and therefore the development of high-performing teams.

  12. Katrina*

    You could get funny about it. My cousin is Really Really tall – about 6’6″. When people say, “Hey you’re really tall, do you play basket ball?” he normally responds with, “You’re really short, do you play mini-golf?”

    1. Tanya*

      That is a really good way to bring levity to a situation and flush out any subtext in their questions. Some people are curious and have good intentions and some people are just plain ignorant.

      I am black and once during class a Vietnamese student commented about my hair. I think it was along the lines of, “Your hair doesn’t look like normal black people’s hair. Is it hard to style?” I totally felt like speaking on behalf of ‘all normal black people’ while making soap in Chem lab.

      I answered her question then said, “I heard that Asian hair is hard to curl. Is that true?” She rolled her eyes and turned around. I guess my question was stupid.

    2. Natalie*

      Humor can work if OP can sell it. Maybe he could memorize some old James Bond villian lines or Boris and Natasha from the Rocky & Bullwinkle show.

  13. a. brown*

    I think people are curious but have no idea how to politely ask someone where they’re from without making an assumption they aren’t from the US. In my experience, I don’t ask, and eventually they’ll tell me. Yeah, curiosity is killing me, but I don’t want to be one of the dozens of people who first express interest because someone is from a different place. You want to be you, not “the Russian”. America has a long way to go, so sorry about your coworkers.

    I agree with deflecting with humor, but if they are saying pointedly mean and ignorant things, it’s ok to stand up for yourself. Just be prepared for some people to take offense.

    1. RemingtonB*

      For saying that you are a rare American, and that is a compliment.

      For the rest, the majority, won’t you try a simple exercise? It is called “do onto others as you would them …. ” has anyone heard of it?

      When you wne to other countries, those of you who did, how did it feel when people lump you in with the “stereotypical American” with all that implies? Some of you might not care and that is a just a testimony to how thick your hide has become. But to those who still have some sensitivity left in them, this could be a lesson.

  14. JAM*

    I’m an American working in the Netherlands — only American in my office — and I heard this kind of stuff pretty much daily for the first year or so at my job. Americans are xenophobic, Americans are fat, Americans love guns, Americans hate homosexuals, etc. etc. And bonus: an American company bought us, so people still look to me as if I have some kind of special insight into the American minds of the American corporate overlords. (But of course I’m supposed to be trying to become Dutch! Oh, immigration is fun.)

    I ended up keeping a few mental notes about the worst offenders. At first, when I was a nervous newbie, I laughed at every joke they made; but now, if I know they’re one of Those People, I just answer them cooly — think Miss Manners style. And I don’t feel like I need to explain their “why” questions (which I don’t know the answers to anyway, I mean it’s not like we all know each other, right?). “Hey, a member of Congress was shot, why do Americans love guns so much?” “That is really a tragedy. The person who shot her was very disturbed.”

    Being from a big country like I am (ok, who am I kidding, you’re from a HUGE country!), you can always fall back on “Russia’s a big place. I don’t know anything about [topic x].” If they persist — repeat. If they continue to persist — excuse yourself from the conversation (after all, you’re at work, say you have some work to do and leave).

    Unfortunately — not to put it mildly — we all have to put up with some shit. I’m American and short and a woman in a male-dominated industry, so I have to deal with people’s shitty social behaviour on three fronts. That’s not to belittle your feelings AT ALL — it’s to commiserate.

    And something I fall back on, when other people’s hang-ups on my country of origin get me really down, and I feel really isolated: I emigrated, they didn’t. Now, emigrating doesn’t make you a better person, or a smarter person, but hey — it’s a damn brave thing to do. It’s hard, and it stays hard for years after you leave your nation. And those people who hassle you don’t know anything about it. Let them run their mouths, but know that you did an awesome thing, and you’re awesome for doing it. Immigrant High-Five!

    1. Anonymous*

      It seems no matter where you are from and where you move to, there is always some hardships that come with blending in and getting people to stop with the comments!

  15. clobbered*

    The range of comments I hope show that everybody with a “funny” accent gets this – so no need for the Cold War paranoia :-) Imagine being Italian with all the Berlusconi jokes around…

    I agree that in general the coworkers are probably trying to be funny, but I can also empathize – when you are an immigrant and you are trying to blend in, it’s quite upsetting for people to point to your failure to do so. However as you become more secure in your future here, these things will bother you less. If you can, try and joke back (“How did you know I am a Russian spy? I thought I blended in perfectly with my backstory of being from Alabama”). And hold on to the thought that many people find accents exotic/attractive/etc. If you really find it intolerable, try telling your feelings to the right coworker “confidentially” (preferably while looking infinitely saddened), and they will spread it around for you.

    With non-coworkers who ask you where you are from, try “oh it’s a long story – so anyway, blah blah blah”. Or if you really want to get into it, you can turn the focus on your permanence, eg. “I am originally from Russia but I’ve been living here for N years – I guess I will never lose the accent!”

    1. RemingtonB*

      I have a masters in cybernetics and a PhD in marine Biology and I speak fluent English with a moderate foreign accent as well as other languages. I once replied to someone’s asking where I was from exactly what you suggested. I said I am originally from …. but I have been living here for 13 years. Her exact comment was : “Well you wouldn’t know it because you still have an accent.” She wasn’t smiling either.
      On occasion I’ve had people correcting my pronunciation even though it was not wrong intrinsically, just different: similar to the difference between tuh-mey-toh vs. tuh-mah-toh. I’ve had many negative experiences, where Americans have been talking down to me because of my accent. The issue is not that people such as myself want to loose their accents or feel ashamed of their origins. That is not the case. Nor is it the case that most people have good intentions. Very few do. I know from experience that the motivations of many are sheer envy and nationalism. They secretly despise us for coming here and occupying jobs and being very good at what we do. Americans think they are superior and that thought does not tolerate the reality of the excellent performance of those who, in their view, have just jumped off the boat yesterday; and so they make fun of us. Those are the real motives of many. Insecurity, jealousy and smouldering repulsion. And they think we don’t see it. They think they hide it well behind their stupid jokes. The reality is that we want to be accepted for who we are and be appreciated for our positive contributions here where that is the case. And that is not happening. Instead we are forced to accept and join this whirlpool of vain chatter, empty remarks that make nothing but clunky conversation when we would prefer socializing of a more intelligent, interesting, thoughtful and sophisticated kind ,where mutual respect rather than jokes about drunken Russian hokey players are a constant part of conversation. And as a reward for keeping ones dignity and refusing to forsake one’s heritage and beliefs we get nicknames and become the but of jokes. Stop trying to excuse this immature society for its spoiled mean and disrespectful behavior towards those who have sacrificed much to come here and give their best to this country. Be real. We deserve your appreciation, not your thoughtless jokes!!!

  16. Mary Sue*

    My family is of Hispanic origin. I have a Northern California accent, and I speak five languages, thanks to the public education system.

    Every so often, though, someone will ask me where I’m from. Or what part of Mexico I’m from.

    I always reply “Oregon.”

    Usually they laugh and say, “No, originally!”


  17. Anonymous*

    I am Indonesian with Chinese heritage. My Husband is Irish. We both are very proud of our nationality, but we also make fun of each other (and ourselves) in a playful way. And when people ask about Indonesia, I’m actually very impressed that they know something about my country. And my husband often times jokes about his IRA connection, although he’s anti IRA. So I think it goes back to how we feel about ourselves. If you’re happy and content with yourself and proud about your nationality/heritage, you wouldn’t find such questions to be offensive.

    1. Anonymous*

      Heritage and stereotype are two very different things, I am one of the 45’000.000 good Colombians but am constantly the target of drug-related jokes when only a handful of bad Colombians are in that kind of business that only exist because of the huge demand in “more developed” countries…there may be some genuine interest in striking a conversation but it often times shows how ignorant and misinformed Americans in general are. I’ve lived in other English speaking countries and haven’t gotten the same annoying remarks when my accent is noticed…

  18. Rose*

    You should try growing up here as a foreigner. I’m Polish, but I came as a baby so I don’t have an accent. Still, I’d get teased in school for my chocolate sandwiches (which is hindsight, I should’ve said, ‘yeah, I’m eating chocolate, you’re eating pb&j, who’s the sucker?’) and hard-boiled eggs at lunch, weird clothes, my mom’s accent. And of course, I had to present my culture in class whenever the teacher decided it was time to learn about holidays/foods/festivals in other countries.

  19. Anonymous*

    Humans are designed to be lumpers and splitters. It’s for our survival: this food is like that and therefore safe, this food(?) is not like the others and may be unsafe.

    We all do this. I’ve gotten the same comments about the USA when I worked in California with a group of 9 green card holders. I didn’t mind. They would ask me about my native customs, my accent, my lifestyle….I used to make up wild stories just for fun. (they simply could not believe we would eat cold fried chicken though!)

    My advice is, if it really bothers you, find a new workplace. Not all will be like that, in fact, most will not. It may be this varies by region — it is my belief that out here in the West, folks make it more of a thing to NOT notice or comment. Good luck, and stop worrying too much, if you can. I am sure they mean well, they are just “splitting”.

  20. OP*

    Greeting from the author of the email :)
    Even though it was a difficult question, I am very grateful for all the responses, and I truly enjoyed the discussion, the suggestions, and the support offered! I love this blog! I’ve been reading it regularly for the last 2 years and I feel this is the place where most delicate matters can be discussed in the most supportive way. Thanks again Alison and everyone who responded! I learned a lot today!

    1. Anonymous*

      Don’t feel that you are being oversensitive. If that’s your gut reaction, then for whatever reason, you have a right to feel that way. While we are only getting your side of the situation, we can still help you get through it.

      You shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable in your Russian identity, and you shouldn’t have to shed yourself of it if you don’t want to. If you feel proud to be Russian, then be proud. Don’t let a few jokes take you down.

      Perhaps use their jokes as conversation starters to educate. I think accents people are going to ask you about so maybe say something in Russian. Even I might ask. But use it as a time to educate. Therefore, if they are being ignorant, it’ll be a nice way to let them know. That way, you aren’t being overly sensitive either and get the annoying “I was ONLY joking.”

      Own and take confidence in who you are. If they sense less than such, they might feel more reason to say things that will make you feel more uncomfortable. If they can’t make you budge in that direction, then they won’t win. Now, of course, that’ll be different if they are only trying to show a friendship by breaking the ice with jokes, which to me is kind of odd in this case (I don’t see how making a comparison to Russian spies would be a joke to say “hey we’re friends” when you’re technically just co-workers).

  21. Kimberlee Stiens*

    I think this is a really interesting question, because my crew often (I think) have a similar problem. Several of our crew members are Mexican, and they all get along very well with their co-workers, but even after 10 years, there is still banter about their race. And I don’t know how they truly feel about it, but I do know that if they did object, they wouldn’t say anything, because who wants to be the Mexican jerk who can’t take a joke? Who wants to be the one to bring up harassment or discrimination claims, and risk being villianized at work?

    Its true that in my case and yours, the intent is obviously not malicious, but it does bother you. And you can’t depend on time to lessen the jokes either. If you have an HR person, I would recommend talking with them. Not complaining, not if you don’t want to, but they may have an idea to discreetly bring up this issue with co-workers without it ever seeming that you’re involved (for instance, the HR manager could “notice” a discomfort while walking by one day, and bring it up).

    Otherwise, I suppose the rest of the advice is good. If you can’t, or won’t, end the behavior, you’ll just have to tolerate it with as much grace as possible. But since it obviously bothers you a lot, you should consider taking steps to end the behavior.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The one caution I’d give here is that if you talk to HR, even if you say you’re just looking for advice, they may feel obligated to intervene. Harassment policies often require managers to take action, even if the person asks them not to, and in this case the HR person could reasonably worry that this is harassment based on a protected class (national origin) and thus make it into a bigger deal than you want it to be.

    2. Anonymous*

      Are several of your crew members really all Mexican or are they all Latino. There’s a big difference. Most non-Mexican Latinos are insulted if you stereotype them as Mexican.

      1. Anonymous*

        The fact that they’re insulted tells you how low in people’s opinion the denominator of “Mexican” is. It’s one thing to say, “Oh, I’m not from Mexico, I’m from XYZ”, but to be insulted insults ME.

        Anyway. To the OP, you are entitled to your feelings and if it makes you uncomfortable then you must have your reasons. Hearing the same thing over and over again can be grating, even when the intent is not always malicious.

        /A peeved Mexican-American

  22. Anonymous*

    I’m going to give what I’m sure will be a very unpopular answer in this desperately-trying-to-be-politically-correct forum. Here goes:
    On the one hand it may be, as many have suggested, that your
    co-workers are simply trying to connect. However, it may also be something entirely different. It may very well be that they are trying, in a not so subtle manner, to determine whether you are an illegal alien illegally holding a job you are not entitled to have. Now before you all get started on your desperate-to-be-politically-correct bandwagon, I’ll say right now that it has nothing to do with bigotry. The economic condition in this country right now is dire. Millions of legal American citizens are unemployed and losing their homes, their retirement savings, and everything they have worked for all their lives, because they can’t find a job. At the same time, we have approximately 20 million illegal aliens in this country taking jobs that should go to legal U.S. citizens. These illegal aliens are also demanding and receiving billions in “entitlements” they aren’t entitled to, which is pushing programs like Medicare and welfare to the brink of insolvency. Illegal aliens and their children also
    crowd our schools and our highways. People try to say that illegal aliens are just taking jobs Americans don’t want, but it isn’t so. We have three in our office, and I have the kind of job that attracts literally hundreds of applicants for each individual opening. Even though these three seem like nice people, the bottom line is that there are three legal U.S. citizens with families out there who do not have jobs because of these three. Frankly I resent it. I wish every illegal alien would be deported before they bankrupt our country. In your case, your co-workers may be wondering what your situation is, and if you are a legal immigrant, whom I’m sure they would welcome with open arms, or just another illegal alien stealing the American dream from American citizens. Some of your
    co-workers may very well have family and friends who are among the millions who are unemployed. I am not the only one who resents the presence of illegal aliens, and if you don’t believe me, just do a little Google research on the subject. If you are a legal immigrant, you might try bringing it up casually in conversation and letting your co-workers know your status. If you are an illegal alien, go home, and stop stealing from legal American citizens. If you want to be a U.S. citizen, do it the right way, the legal way.
    OK, now all of you who are desperate-to-be-politically-correct can pounce.

    1. Anonymous*

      The economic crisis was caused because of deregulation in the banking industry which resulted in irresponsible speculation in both the commodities (oil — remember those high oil prices from 2008?) and housing markets. For an overview of what happened, look here:

      A few people got very, very wealthy by treating the global economy like a giant casino, and the rest of us got poorer. It’s in these rich people’s best interest to divert your attention away from their crimes to in favor of the red herring of undocumented immigrants. They are NOT the problem here. Get your facts straight. There are plenty of places in this country that are suffering economically that have few immigrants of any kind, and there are STILL no jobs. I know, because I grew up in one.

      Another thing to think about is that undocumented immigrants pay all kinds of taxes. If they have a fake social security number (many do), they pay into Social Security and Medicare and pay income tax, but they will receive no benefits when they retire. They also pay sales and property taxes just like everybody else.

    2. Anonymous*

      I’m not going to pounce, I just need to see your documents before I can decide whether you’re worth responding to.

  23. Anonymous*

    I think this also comes down to, a lot of people are incredibly ignorant. I find I have exactly the same issue being openly gay at work, if people know someone who is gay, they instantly expect I will know them, as well as a lot more other and much more offensive generalisations.

    People stereotype, regardless of who they are.

    I’m also Australian, and many people overseas think we all live in the bush and fight snakes and get attacked by sharks everyday. Truth is I live in a city in an apartment and have never seen either.

    In Russia, many locals would have the same misconceptions about Americans too.

    People don’t mean to be ignorant, socially awkward, or make snap judgements, but it’s the society we live in.

    Unfortunately this won’t make it go away, but you’re not alone, and remember, not all people are like that, just some.

  24. Anonymous*

    (Australian poster) Oh and I forgot to say one other thing. From your post it seems you’re trying to erase the place that you’ve come from. Don’t forget that you can consider yourself American and Russian at the same time.

    Be proud of who you are and where you’ve come from, I’ve that the pleasure of working with many fantastic people from Russia, you come from a fantastic place which one day I hope to have the chance to visit.

  25. EngineerGirl*

    My mother was an immigrant to this country. Like the person of Polish origin, I too had a lot of strange customs that made me different (I had brown sugar sandwiches – yum!). But being forced to wear knee socks until high school, having a slight accent (because my mother taught me to speak) all made me different, even though I was born in this country. To some it was interesting, to others it was something that they could tease me mercilessly about.
    Your accent makes you noticably different than the others. Most are curious – especially since you come from a place they can only dream about visiting. But a few slimers will try to use it against you. But you know what? That is normal. Because slimers will LOOK for things to make you different (short, fat, walks funny, etc.)
    If you really want to forget Russia, then I expect that bad things happened there. But I hope someday that you can look back on it and realize that it made you what you currently are.
    And welcome to the country. Most of our families are imports!

  26. Anonymous*

    As Engineer Girl says, “Most of our families are imports.” The question is, are they legal or illegal imports?

  27. Kimberlee Stiens*

    Lol, I’m pretty sure this behavior has nothing to do with anyone suspecting you are illegal. If you were Hispanic, sure. But Russian’s can’t exactly hop the border and illegally live here in quite the same way. I would just ignore that; the other explanations are far more likely and don’t involve you having to drop hints about your immigration status.

  28. Anonymous*

    When I am told that I have an accent I have simply replied “so do you”. It seems to work for me, as it conveys all we need to discuss on the matter.

  29. Anonymous*

    “Lol, I’m pretty sure this behavior has nothing to do with anyone suspecting you are illegal. If you were Hispanic, sure. But Russian’s can’t exactly hop the border and illegally live here in quite the same way.”

    I suggest you learn more about illegal immigration before making such an uninformed comment. Hispanics may make up the majority of the illegal population in the U.S., but there are a lot of others as well. The Mexican border may be the most notorious, but many also come in across the Canadian border, which is substantially longer.

  30. HR Lady*

    I find this the most interesting blog so far because it truly hits home for me. I do work in HR and also am from Eastern Europe as well (not Russia though).
    When I first moved to the US, I was trying hard to fit in as well because kids in high school were truly horrible to me. I was trying hard to hide my accent/customs because everytime I would speak they would be laughing behind my back. It didnt help that the kids were spoiled and everything was handed to them while I was in high school and needing to work to make ends meet. It was a difficult time.
    Once I graduated high school and finished my college degree, I became much more comfortable with myself and my confidence rose. I was meeting a different group of people and much more mature.
    I wasnt trying to hide my identity, I was being myself and that attracted many people around me. They all wanted to know where I came from, why I thought the way I thought and what set me apart. Now Im sought after for my individuality and original way of thinking.

    I stopped looking for their approval, and focused on my career and the major reason why my parents and I emigrated to the US.
    I truly wish you good luck friend!

  31. Anonymous*

    I’m an immigrant. I went to college in the US and I’ve lived here for 6 years. (And just to irritate people, I’m not going to say where I’m from or what my status is — if someone REALLY wants to have an aneurysm that I MIGHT be an evil illegal who came here to steal jobs from nice deserving US citizens, who am I to stop them!). I look like a “white American” but I have a strange name by English standards and a slight accent when I speak.

    I think most Americans are well-meaning — they don’t know about your country or culture, but they want to make you feel comfortable, so they try to make any connection they can, and sometimes it just comes out embarrassing. Usually I just reply in a very calm way — I either answer the question very literally and directly, or I furrow my brow and say I don’t know what the person’s talking about. Maybe the people asking questions about the KGB are trying to rile you (and if they are, you should say something to your boss), but more likely they’re trying to be funny and don’t realize it’s not funny, or most likely they really don’t know that the KGB doesn’t even exist anymore.

    It’s no fun playing diversity coach, but whatever you do, don’t be hostile unless you are really sure they’re trying to tick you off. I know it’s hard with some people! But the payoff is that sometimes you find out that the world is surprisingly small. At a company party a coworker’s wife asked me what country I was from and then asked what area of the country I was from, and I thought “she won’t know, but she’s being nice, it won’t hurt to say where” — turns out that when she was a kid her family regularly vacationed in a town very close to where I grew up!

    And I also want to reiterate an earlier comment: the beauty of America is that you can keep or not keep as much of your cultural identity as you want. In other countries you would be expected to either give up everything for your new country, or forever be on “the outside” — in America, you can be a Russian in America, or you can be a Russian-American, or you can just be an American. And it doesn’t affect where you’re allowed to live or who you can work for or how people treat you. So try to keep your chin up when people ask you silly questions — just be nice the next time we play hockey (joking!).

  32. Alina*

    As a fellow Russian with a (slight) accent, I don’t really take issue with the cold war / hockey jokes, or cunning linguistical statements like “Russian … Russian to the bathroom!”

    I pretty much agree with the “people are awkward” interpretation – you have the option of taking offense at something that may be irritating but is almost never intended as such, or respond nicely and form a real connection with the person, based on something other than country of origin.

    I mean, I live in Canada, but I am sure the same principle applies. Just my two cents! Also, I love all the food comments on this thread, and may need to make a chocolate sandwich in the next 24 hours. Just sayin’

    1. Vicki*

      I’m also Russian but don’t have an accent, but I get many of the same questions Alina and OP get. People don’t mean anything by them because it’s very rare that anyone knows anything about Russia; think about the last time you met someone from Nigeria or Colombia. How much do you know about their culture?

      People are just interested in your backround and aren’t sure how to express it. I stay away from asking about accents but I am dying to know why people have accents, where they’re from, and how it impacts their world perspective. I just don’t have a non-awkward way to ask about it.

      So just think about it in a more positive light-you are exotic and have exotic insights and people want them :)

      1. Anonymous*

        Thanks Vicki – but what about if someone doesn’t want to be exotic??? That’s exactly the point – who likes to be a white elephant in the room??

        1. Anonymous*

          The fact is, if you are different people are going to notice. I’d probably be one of those people who would ask about an accent. I do it out of curiosity about culture, and out of a desire to get to know people. I see it as interesting, variety, a different perspective. I wouldn’t crack jokes about the KGB any more than I would the Gestapo- there is and should be tact involved.
          People aren’t going to ignore what makes someone stand out. Sure, most good people will drop it if you give them the heads up, but that doesn’t make them view you as any less “exotic” (I hate that term applied to people, personally).

  33. Suzanne Lucas*

    I think Alina makes a very good point: We need more discussion about these chocolate and brown sugar sandwiches. And would a chocolate/brown sugar combo also be good? What type of bread? Melted chocolate (a la nutella) or hard chocolate? Milk or dark?

    Really, this blog is supposed to help people and I need help in this area.

  34. The gold digger*

    Suzanne, start with just a chocolate sandwich made with a fresh, hot baguette. You can use Nutella or you can just put a chocolate bar on the bread and it will melt.

    How do I know this? Because the baguette/chocolate sandwich is #100 on the menu at 100 Montaditos, a Madrid sandwich restaurant. Omigosh it was so good.

  35. EngineerGirl*

    Brown Sugar Sandwiches:

    Take white bread, and smear with lots of butter. Sprinnkle dark brown sugar over it. Top with other slice of bread.

    If you want it to be really gooey (like you would get it if you took it to school) then put it the sandwich in a baggie and let it sit for a few hours. By then the sugar has soaked up the butter fat.

  36. Karlita*

    I think that Allison is right in this case. However, there may be a more cultural element to the worries our Russian friend has. I lived in Russia for some time as a Peace Corps volunteer and noticed that Russians are much more conscious and aware of accents because of the standardization of language/accents on soviet tv and radio. Good pronunciation was constantly considered more important than good grammar when I would attempt to speak with people in Russian. Most Americans are the opposite – they are used to hearing a variety of accents and like to talk about what that means, whether it points to the immigrant status (our nation was founded by immigrants, there is no shame in being an immigrant here) or something else. Our Russian friend here should take it as an interest in her and her co-workers desire to connect and get to know her better.

  37. Jane*

    I am very familiar with the reader’s very self-conscious feelings about being one-time-Russian, her accent, and the jokes her well-meaning but not particularly sensitive co-workers make about it. I am also originally from Russia, and carry a noticeable Russian accent that is unlikely to go away anytime soon.

    The simple thing to advise the reader is to be proud of her heritage, her accent, and to realize that being different is actually a good thing – her co-workers find her interesting because of it, therefore the jokes and paying attention to other Russians or Eastern Europeans.

    However, if she can’t enjoy being “the Russian” in her American life (not being part of local Russian community shows that she’s serious about distancing herself from her heritage), she could manage her image in her co-workers’ eyes by becoming “distinctive” in some other way – so that there is something else interesting about her.

    She could become known for a hobby, a sport, share her interest in fashion, cooking Indian food, getting into an magicians’ club, etc.. If she becomes known as the office’ “always up on the current fashion trends girl” or “seriously involved in local school board politics person”, people will joke less about her being a Russian spy and more about shoes or school curriculum changes.

  38. Anonymous*

    I am Spanish and I have been living in England for 21 years; working in the same office for 10 and knowing some of my co-workers for the same length of time. I am very proud of my origins, I know I look foreign and I have an accent, which, despite some colleagues comments I have NO intention to lose/lessen. Why? Is part of who I am. I do go along with their teasing and, yes their jokes can make me laugh, but… it’s getting tiresome. Comments like ‘ your accent is still quite strong after 20 years’ or imitating some of the words I say in a funny way. Heck, some times they even correct my pronunciation! Have I allowed them further liberties by accepting their comments in a good natured way? I have told them in many occasions than after a long day, or if I am tired my English does suffer. Only yesterday a colleague corrected me on my pronunciation of the word ‘enjoyment’. I like my work place and my work colleagues, but their ‘ignorance’ is starting to irk me.

  39. Jonas*

    I am Lithuanian. Came to the U.S. of A. 13 years ago at age 33. I actually regret moving to the U.S. which became apparent in the FIRST SECONDS of the morning of 9/11/01. I never lot my Lithuanian accent and will never lose it. Inded, I practice every day to have as heavy European accent as possible, as much far away from the American-English accent as possible. I live in the USA for the convenience only. Not for money, the money is not good anymore. I regret very much moving to the USA and am in pain every day, but its become very hard and costly to move back to Europe. I get asked “Where are you from?” and “What do you do for a living?” every day. I believe those people are either naturally curious, have low self-esteem and have no manners nor culture of any sorts or they must be “racist” of some sorts, the ones who hate all foreigners, including from their own race. It’s hard to get things done here, sometimes it’s hard to have a business do work for me. They seem to ignore me even if I’m a good payer. Their loss, not mine. The way I treat such people and situations is I consider myself above them and therefore I respond thusly: “Lithuanian and Proud to Reman One” and “What I do for a living in none of your business” or “What I do for a living is not gonna pay your bills”. I know they are just being nozy or downrigfht obnoxious as most of the time what follows next is ignorance. Yes, there is a small percentage of good people here, but those are not easy to find. Living every day an a Dream (not an “American Dream” nor the “Bright Future of Communism”) of leaving this country for something more modest, sincere, genuine and… DEMOCRATIC.

  40. Anonymous*

    Heck, no. Just go ahead and figure out a way to let these people know they aren’t that funny at all. They are stupid a%^&s actually. Why don’t they joke about themselves instead, like how dumb they when they don’t know how to deal with accents. When some a#$% started joking around, I simply reply: “Is that the best you can do? Here, my turn now [insert joke about them here]”, the look on the dude’s face was precious which for everybody was a riot, we laughed and laughed. : )

    Everybody is different though.

  41. Amanda*

    @ Jane

    “The simple thing to advise the reader is to be proud of her heritage, her accent, and to realize that being different is actually a good thing”

    Pardon?! For many people I don’t think it’s a matter of not being proud as much as being bullied around, in a “grown up” way.

    “her co-workers find her interesting because of it, therefore the jokes and paying attention to other Russians or Eastern Europeans. ”

    Nope, they are bullying her big time. If they are so interested in Russians or Eastern Europeans they would be focusing in fashion, or food, or places to visit, or aking her how to politely greet someone in Russian etc. Now that shows interest! Jokes about accent?! Yeah, that’s so mature.

  42. Nicholas MOSES*

    I am in a parallel situation. I am American, I live I’m Paris, I do not have any intentions of going back to the US, I do not hang around other Americans and you would think Parisians would be used to seeing foreigners in their city. Plenty of them circulating in and out.

    Here’s the thing: I am a practicing Roman Catholic and you will not find many if any expats at my parish. About the only question anyone wants to ask when we meet is, “I hear an accent. Where are you from?” I find that supremely irritating, but I try to be hood-natured about it. However, if that is literally THE first question I am asked, it is usually the death knell for any hope of friendship.

    Why? Because, it is not possible for two people to be good friends if one of them does not respect the other’s sense of propriety. Nor is this a particularly solid topic of conversation for a first meeting. And in most instances I have found it shows a total lack of creativity on the part of the other person. I do not consider myself an exhibit at a zoological park and I do not wish to waste my time with someone whose only interest is manifestly to study me as though I were.

    On the other hand, if we start having a conversation about something else and then after a few minutes come the questions, that is tolerable, if still annoying.

    Moreover, poking around at a prominent characteristic (such as height or accent) is acceptable among good friends, but not really in the work place.

    Anyway… just for you to know that people have dumb fixations pretty much everywhere, not just in the States–and even in big cosmopolitan centers!

    1. Suzanne Lucas*

      Wow. I think the person with the dumb fixation is you. When someone asks where you are from it isn’t rude and it isn’t because they aren’t capable of intelligent conversation. It’s because they are being polite and asking you questions rather than blathering on about themselves.

      And I say this as an American who lives in Switzerland. I have a terrible accent (my 3 year old corrects my pronunciation), so naturally, when I speak German people ask me where I’m from. So far, this has not impeded my ability to make friends with Swiss people.

      1. Nicholas MOSES*

        Yes, admittedly, I’m kind of bitter about the situation these last few months. A couple of bad experiences have forced me to get out and redo a few things and it’s just SO irritating to have been here four years and to feel like I’m having to start all over. Actually, starting over wouldn’t be too bad. Problem is, it’s too small a world ’round here.

        Anyway, I guess I have a distorted and uncommon view. I don’t find accents particularly remarkable or interesting anymore unless I am deliberately gathering demographic data, and I’m in a very peculiar situation.

        Still, you would think that close friends I see regularly wouldn’t be asking me the same run-of-the-mill demographic questions they asked me three bloody years ago…

        Blah. Now that that’s off my chest, enough talking about myself.

        1. Suzanne Lucas*

          A close friend shouldn’t be asking you where you are from, as they should already know.

          I think you’re having a rough time and therefore, small things are bugging you.

          Living in a foreign country can be tremendously rewarding, but it is still hard, hard, hard, at times. Some people don’t want to accept you because you’re a foreigner, no matter what. The Swiss tend to be incredibly kind and helpful to “strangers” but like to keep you in that stranger category.

          I hope things go better for you!

          1. Marina*

            “A close friend shouldn’t be asking you where you are from, as they should already know.”

            Should?? Is it a requirement? Perhaps they should also ask to see a photo ID, just in case?

  43. Nicholas MOSES*

    *SIGH* That’s the thing about being a man, apparently, according to one woman I know… we can’t open our mouths without inadvertently showing exactly what’s going on inside, no matter how good an actor you are. Ms. Lucas nailed it perfectly. At any rate I’m pleased I haven’t prompted Evil HR Lady to totally crush me, since I’ve enjoyed her perspectives (with which I usually agree 100%) ever since I discovered them back in 2007z

    1. Suzanne Lucas*

      I’m sorry for totally crushing you! I hope I’ve given you some new perspective.

      Hop on the TGV and come to Basel and we’ll feed you Raclette and my children will be so self centered that they won’t ask you any questions about where you are from, although if he really likes you the 3 year old might bite you.

      And as an FYI, the German speaking Swiss have to learn French in school (it’s the law), and they resent it. So, they would prefer to speak with you in English. (They often prefer English over high German.) And, apparently, the French just over the border (in the Alsace region) speak French with a Germanic style grammar. Language is so bizarre.

  44. Anonymous*

    I have absolutely no problem with my Russian accent and consider it a part of my identity. Back in my early days in America I used to score in top 1 % percentile in the English tests for grad school. Accents are meaningless and ubiquitous. Historically an American accent is an abomination of the proper English accent, but who cares now. Tell this to Australians too. I think that efficient communication skills are important for any manager. One can speak “without an accent” and be an illiterate fool or just a poor speaker. What you wrote may show a lack of confidence and poor leadership skills. I’d work on that rather than on correcting one’s accent. Best of luck.

  45. Sun*

    First of all, Id like to apologize on the behalf of all Americans. I am sorry that your coworkers are treating you this. With this melting pot of cultures Im still surprised on how stupid, ignorant and insenstive Americans can be about other cultures. But if I were you, I would just ignore them and you do NOT have to get rid of your Russian accent. Be proud of who you are and where you come from and just ignore the others because their ignorant and most likely never been exposed to any real culture before. So yeah, just stay away from them because their negative people and nobody likes negative people :)

    From an African American girl

  46. Anonymous*

    It is deeply spiritually intimate, culturally ingrained tradition how given individual is handling his/her interaction with other people.
    It is beyond just an accent and indeed needs an extra demention to be proud of who you are no matter where you are.

  47. Anastasia*

    I am a Russian too. Although I work on my pronunciation all the time, I still have the accent. Yes, I get all these questions too. But I always make fun of my Russian heritage saying: yes, I am a spy and you need to watch your back and behave, and yes, I drink vodka every day and so on. And guess what, I am doing just fine: successful at work and have many friends from all over the world, who value me and who are proud to have a beautiful and smart Russian girl as a friend! It is all in your head! Relax and use your heritage to ‘break the ice’, start a conversation, and find new friends, and even find new opportunities at work as I did. .

  48. Marina*

    I have been living in Australia for 10 years, formerly Russian citizen, and the where-are-you-from question is just as annoying here. I still have a slight accent, and that is the cause of the pain. At time it feels like Australians are following some kind of a special procedure when they hear an unusual accent. I will describe it here.

    1. You should ask a person where they are from as soon as you hear an unusual accent. If you were born in Australia, it is a must. If you migrated to Australia from an English-speaking country and think you lived here long enough, it is a must, too. It is best to start the question with “so”.
    “So where are you from?”

    2. If they reply they are from Russia, go to step 4.

    3. If they respond they are from here, ask where they are originally from or where their parents are from.

    4. Do as many of the following as possible:
    a. Make a joke about vodka.
    b. Mention cold, snow, bears, or Siberia.
    c. Tell them you know somebody who knew somebody from Russia. If you can’t remember the name of that person, mumble through a list of all common Slavic names you know.
    d. Make a political comment.
    e. Say something about USSR, communism, spies, KGB or Putin.
    f. Ask them how to say “hello”, “goodbye” or “cheers” in Russian. If you already know that, do tell them.

    If the person’s face turns green or purple and they try to look like they are sick of these questions and this kind of small talk, don’t worry about that. They only pretend that they hear the same things at their every public appearance. Rest assured, what you are doing is polite, appropriate, interesting, original, important, makes a great conversation and definitely demonstrates how erudite you are.

  49. Mina*

    I am a typical Caucasian girl-next-door-type, now late middle aged. I have been subjected to stereotyping all of my life. This has been a disadvantage when trying to survive the IT world of work. Example – if I do a spectacular job people sincerely assume that if I did it, how hard could it have been? I have years of examples but a recent one that I thought was funny occurred when a man a little older than me, who knows nothing about me, said “You’re a NICE girl.” the old label for girls who waited until marriage to…..etc. Wow, I haven’t heard that one in decades! By the way, I did not wait until marriage to…..
    My point is – stereotyping is everywhere. It’s what people do to other people they don’t know because we can’t read other people’s minds. I think we should politely let people know who we are and how we feel. It would help everyone.

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