my coworker was fired because of me, I sweated through my jacket at an interview, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My coworker was fired partly because of me, but I didn’t complain about him

A coworker and friend was recently fired suddenly and told that one of the reasons was his attitude towards me. Other reasons were under-performance and not meeting goals.

I never complained or gave any indication to anyone that I thought this coworker had a bad attitude towards me. A supervisor apparently saw and overheard an interaction between us and jumped to conclusions. The supervisor approached me to ask if I felt threatened by the coworker. I told him, “Never for one moment have I felt threatened by this coworker” (and friend). The coworker was frustrated by a situation at work and I understood this and took the incident for what it was, someone blowing off steam.

After the coworker was fired suddenly, I reached out to him to see what I could do and offer support. He told me that when he was fired, he’d been told it was partly because of his bad attitude towards me. I assured him that I never complained about anything to do with him or his attitude towards me.

This has put me in an awkward position and I’m wondering who else he is going to tell (other coworkers and clients) that he was fired partly because of me. Did my boss have the right to use my name without my permission or a formal complaint from me against a coworker when firing someone? Any advice on damage control?

Could a reasonable bystander have interpreted your coworker’s interaction as disruptive, unprofessional, or unpleasant, even if you personally weren’t bothered by it? Since it spurred a supervisor to ask you if you felt threatened, it sounds like there’s a good chance his behavior did read as over the top, unless that supervisor has a history of jumping to unwarranted conclusions. And if your coworker/friend has had a pattern of disruptive, unprofessional, or unpleasant interactions with people, it’s possible that this was just the last straw — and last straws often get named, even when there are plenty of other straws in the pile.

To answer what you’re actually asking, managers are allowed to decide that they’re not going to tolerate rude/unpleasant/disruptive behavior, even when the person who’s the target of it isn’t complaining. And yes, your boss would have the right to specifically cite what how she’s seen your coworker behaving toward you, even if you weren’t bothered by it or complaining about it. But if you think she really misinterpreted — if there was truly nothing rude/disruptive/disrespectful about your coworker’s behavior toward you (not just that you personally didn’t mind it) — you could certainly let her know that you’re worried the situation may have been misunderstood. My hunch, though, is that this was part of a pattern that affected people beyond you.

As for damage control, all you really need to do is let your coworker know that you never complained about him, that you’re sorry your name came up, and that it happened without your knowledge or permission. If he’s reasonable, he’s not going to badmouth you to people over this (and again, it sounds like this was just part of the firing conversation, not the whole thing).

2. My coworker keeps mocking another coworker’s accent

One of my coworkers has a British accent. Normal, especially when you work in NYC and people are from everywhere.

Another more junior coworker keeps mocking his accent. He’ll be trying to ask a serious work question or just have a normal conversation with his coworkers, and she’ll pop in from nowhere and obnoxiously mock his accent. I’m talking like “hello governor chim chim chiree” over the top rude and obnoxious.

He clearly doesn’t like it at all or think it’s funny to the point where I’ve noticed he’ll shut down or walk out of conversations when she pops in. She’s not picking up on basic courtesy/social cues that this isn’t okay or funny to anyone.

Is there a polite way to say something in the moment next time this happens to shut it down?

Good lord, yes, shut this down. Any of these are appropriate to say:

* “Wow, making fun of someone’s accent is not okay. Stop.”
* “Jane, cut that out. That’s really gross and rude.”
* “That’s not funny. It’s actually rude. Please stop.”
* “You sound really bigoted right now. Stop.”

I know you asked for “polite” and these might not feel polite. But they are exactly what the situation calls for: clear and direct expressions that this is not okay and needs to stop.

I think she might be getting away with this because people with British accents don’t typically face the same type of discrimination as people with, say, Spanish or Chinese accents sometimes do. It might help you address it if you reframe it in your head as not being so different from that — it’s still mocking someone for sounding different and being from another place, and it’s bigoted and offensive.

3. I visibly sweated through a jacket at a job interview

Should I address it with an interviewer if I discover that I have visibly sweated through my interview jacket?

I attended a two-hour second-round interview, and the third and last office I was interviewed in was quite warm. I wore a sleeveless blouse under my jacket, to be a little cooler, so there was no additional fabric to absorb the sweat. To compound this, I might have forgotten to put on deodorant (doh! — after remembering so many other personal care details especially in preparation for the interview).

After the third interview I was asked to wait in an office until the business owner was able to speak with me one last time, which is when I noticed that I had sweated through my jacket. It wasn’t very visible from the front or sides if my arms were down (the office had a mirrored surface), but it was two dark marks halfway down to my elbows on my light gray suit. I was only a little nervous, so it was largely a reaction to the temperature of the last room, but I’m sure others have had interview sweat although I didn’t find advice when I did a search on your site as soon as I got home. If this should happen again in the future … well, first I’ll wear a sleeved shirt and triple check that I have on deodorant … but should I have some casual comment or apology ready for becoming a bit unkempt?

With something like sweat showing through clothes, usually a polite fiction from everyone that it’s not actually happening (or that they’re not noticing is best). Meaning that you can ignore it and power through, and you’re not obligated to acknowledge it.

That said, if you’d feel better acknowledging it, you can say something like, “My goodness, please excuse my reaction to the temperature — it’s hotter than I’d anticipated!”

If you’re worried the sweat will be read as nervousness, and if it’s a job where staying metaphorically cool under pressure is important, you might have more peace of mind if you address it. But it’s really up to you.

You’re human, and humans sweat, and sometimes wardrobes show it, and generally the best thing you can do is to try to take it stride and not be mortified. (Signed, someone who once led a whole new employee training with lipstick all over my teeth.)

4. When someone doesn’t come back after bereavement leave

I have a pretty low-stakes question for you. Last week my teammate, Bob, was away on bereavement leave after he lost a parent. He told us all he would be back on Thursday, but when Thursday rolled around, he didn’t come in. His manager, Jane, came by to ask me and his other teammate if we had heard from him and if we knew when he was coming back. We hadn’t, and besides, Jane is his manager, not us. (Jane is very new to being a manager.)

This situation raised a question for me: How would a manager ask someone when they’re coming back to work in a situation like this? Obviously we want Bob to take all the time he needs, but when someone doesn’t come back when they told us they would, is there a good way for a manager to check in, ask when they’re coming back, and whether everything is okay?

Yes. Ideally a few hours after Bob was expected on Thursday, Jane would have reached out to him in a low-key way, saying something like, “I just wanted to check in with. We’d been expecting you back today, but if you need more time, let me know and we can work out what you need.” That signals that she’s willing to work with him and understands he might need more time than he originally thought, but also that she needs to be kept in the loop about his plans.

5. References who want to use email rather than talk on the phone

I’ve recently revved up my job hunt (current company has had a dramatic shift in leadership and is rapidly becoming a somewhat toxic situation, in addition to below-market pay and sluggish advancement despite clearly outlined goals being met) and have reached out to my set of references to check in and verify contact information.

Several people I’ve used consistently over the years have requested email-only contact. Is that okay? Should I try to find more flexible references, or if no, how do I indicate that preference when providing them? Nearly every company asks for an email address AND phone number. One of my former managers who I’m still friendly with told me a horror story about being kept on the phone for nearly 30 minutes with inane questions (when giving a reference for someone else, not for me), and then being contacted three additional times by the same recruiter to answer essentially the same questions as she had “misplaced” her notes.

Yeah, references who are only willing to talk by email and not phone are going to be a problem. Some employers do conduct written reference checks, but not the majority of them — and good reference-checkers are definitely going to want to actually speak to people. (That’s because it gets better information — you can ask follow-up questions, hear tone, hear hesitations, etc.)

So I’d look for people who are willing to talk on the phone. And if any of the people telling you email only are key references (like recent managers), I’d try saying something like, “I’m sure they can use email to initially contact you to schedule a call, but in my experience they’re going to want to talk with you by phone and won’t accept an email reference. Would it be okay to include your number as long as I indicate that you’re busy and may have limited time to speak?” If someone’s really reluctant and they’re an especially important reference for you, you could say, “I’m so sorry to ask, but my ability to get this job may hinge on you being willing to talk to them. If it comes to that, could I ask you to allow a call?” (And really, unless you have wildly over-used these references — like expected them to take reference calls every month for years — they should agree to this. Giving references is part of the deal when you manage people.)

That horror story you heard about someone getting contacted four times for the same reference by the same recruiter is just that — a horror story, not something people typically need to expect.

{ 605 comments… read them below }

  1. anon today and tomorrow

    #5: I only ever give my email when I’m asked to be someone’s reference. I’ll gladly talk on the phone, but I provide my email so the recruiter or hiring manager can contact me with a set time and day. I screen my calls and there’s a chance I won’t answer if a recruiter randomly calls – or that they’ll call me at an inconvenient time.

    I always thought this was standard. Email to set up a time to talk, then phone call for the actual conversation. Though I have seen more and more email or form question reference requests in the past few years.

    1. Less Bread More Taxes

      I was going to say that I’ve literally never had a reference tell me it’s okay to list their phone number. Every single person I’ve ever asked has said email only, but I didn’t take that to mean that they wouldn’t speak on the phone at all.

    2. Doug Judy

      I always list both phone and email if the reference has given me permission. Most times it seems that they do email asking for a time to set up the actual call, so if all you have is an email, I think it’s ok to just list that. Although one place emailed what was basically a lengthy performance survey, before I was even interviewed. That was kinda annoying because my references spent a lot of time on that and I didn’t even get past the first round of interviews.

    3. CJ Record

      I’m so used to writing academic references that I honestly think I would be confused at this point by a request for a phone interview. (I’m also someone who aggressively screens my calls and tend to not answer if it’s not a number I recognize.)

    4. J Kate

      I don’t mind if they only give an email. But when I email them, I say, “so and so listed you as a reference, would you be able to give me a call to discuss his/her qualifications, here’s my number and when I’m available, etc.” I assume they just don’t want random calls, not that they’re unwilling to give references over the phone.

      1. Niki

        Yeah, phone references are definitely not the norm in the UK at all – I’ve worked in HR/Recruitment in a few different industries and we also collected all references in writing (and 9 out of 10 would refuse to provide anything more than a confirmation of dates the employee was with them and job title anyway).

      2. Aitch Arr

        This.

        I prefer it when candidates give me a phone number and email for their references, since I reach out initially via email to schedule the call.

    5. Snark

      Yes. I’ve had out of the blue reference calls, and they weren’t appreciated – especially when the hiring manager was really insistent on no, I need to talk now, you need to make time for this.

      1. Oxford Comma

        This ^^^^

        Set up a time to talk to me. Use email to do that. Include the position description in the email. I will happily talk to you about Jane or Joaquin then.

        Do not call me randomly and expect me to drop everything to talk to you.

    6. Alina

      This is what I thought – I usually provide the reference’s email address, and then they can set up a time to talk. I don’t see why a phone number is absolutely necessary, the employer just needs some way to contact the reference of course.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Right, but I think the OP is saying her references don’t want to talk on the phone at any point. If I’m wrong about that, then my whole answer is moot because it is indeed normal to email first to schedule the call.

        1. Oxford Comma

          Oooooh, somehow I missed that.

          I get asked to write formal letters, to fill out forms, and to do phone references. My personal preference is always for the last.

    7. the once and future grantwriter

      I’m curious about this advice as well. I have one reference for my first job out of college, which was based in a country in the developing world that has a pretty shoddy communications grid (by US standards). My manager still lives and works there. I could give her domestic phone number, but would have to provide instructions on how to dial that number from the US and they’d have to risk getting charged for an international call, or I could give their US-based number, but it’s based on their WiFi, and I know from experience that their Internet connectivity in the main office is down about 25% of the time. I’ve always given her email with a brief explanation that email is better than phone due to communications infrastructure there. Now I’m wondering if I should just leave her off my references in favor of US employers only, even if she’d be able to provide a more detailed response to the reference-checker’s questions.

      1. anon today and tomorrow

        I think this is fine. One of my references frequently travels internationally, so email is the best way to contact her. I’ve never had any problem just providing her email address and when I asked HR for the jobs that have used her as my reference, they never had a problem wither. A reasonable employer will understand that email is better for some people.

        I always have a backup in case she can’t be reached or the employer doesn’t want an email only reference. But that’s been less of a problem in the past five years tbh.

    8. iglwif

      Yeah, I wouldn’t actually list a reference’s phone number; I would list their email, with the understanding that the employer would then email them to set up a time to call. Nobody wants random cold-call reference checks ::shudder::

      1. Intern Supervisor

        I manage a bunch of recent grad interns, who (both current and former) will often list me as a reference without asking me first, despite my many times reminding them to do so. I also am frequently away from my desk, and for some reason our voicemail system can be unreliable. Oh and no caller ID on the work phone. So when I do get a call for a reference it’s often completely out of the blue for me and I don’t have the time often to look up the relevant information or even get a sense of what the job function is they are being asked about (I’m in a science related field so I sometimes need to reflect on how a very specific internship role would translate to other industries/within the same industry). And I’m always stunned how many hiring managers are insistent that you talk to them right then/there.

        So yeah, basically this is a plea to all HR/employers reaching out to references – send me an email first, I can better be prepared to give an accurate response to your questions.

        1. iglwif

          Oh my. How are they expecting you to remember details about an intern you supervised for a few months a year ago? That’s super annoying, and they’re not likely to get the best information that way, either.

        2. whingedrinking

          Oh man, I’m a teacher and due to the nature of my context, I go through a lot of students very quickly. If someone called me up out of the blue and said, “Hi, I’m following up on a reference for Student X,” my most likely response would be, “I’m sorry, who?” if I even answered the phone at all. Give me some warning here or it’s going to sound like you were making stuff up.
          (A note to the general public: please don’t be offended if a teacher doesn’t remember you, even if it’s only been a short time since you left their class, and especially if you didn’t have a close relationship with them. Take comfort in knowing that if they don’t remember you, you were probably a reasonably good student who didn’t do anything bizarre enough to become a story they tell to other teachers at happy hour.)

    9. hayling

      I was checking references for a candidate recently and she only gave me phone numbers. I replied and asked her for email addresses (and in the meantime I contacted the people via LinkedIn). I feel super awkward reaching out to people cold via phone, much faster to schedule via email.

  2. Engineer Girl

    #2 – would this qualify as discrimination based on national origin? It’s not pervasive (yet) or extreme. But I can’t see a decent employer allowing this.

    1. New Jack Karyn

      Is national origin a protected category in a lot of places? (not trying to snark, genuinely don’t know)

      1. AcademiaNut

        I believe that’s one of the protected categories in the US at a national level. It’s national origin rather than nationality/citizenship because you the latter is actually quite important for legal permission to work (ie, it’s not easy to hire people who *aren’t* US citizens or permanent residents).

    2. JamieS

      Interesting question. My guess is this falls more under the umbrella of workng with a jackass than discrimination.

      1. Le Sigh

        but that can still make her behavior bigoted, no matter intent or specific motivation. and i don’t think her intent matters to her target, who clearly feels upset by it.

      2. wittyrepartee

        Nevertheless, if the outcome of her actions are to make the workspace uncomfortable specifically for people of a different nationality…

        1. Jennifer

          I don’t think she’s on a crusade against residents of the UK. She’s ignorant and rude. We can acknowledge that without it becoming about civil rights.

          1. wittyrepartee

            Yes, but one can make a good case for judging whether something is bigoted by the action and the effect of the action on it’s target rather than the intent of the actor. You don’t have to have personal animus towards someone from a particular background in order to do things that can rightly be termed as bigoted actions. It’s a good reason for the workplace to worry a little, if nothing else.

            Even if we weren’t concerned about people specifically of British nationalities, I don’t think her actions are making the workplace more comfortable for, let’s say, English speakers with Indian accents.

            1. wittyrepartee

              I guess, it’s one of a kind, and I don’t think we have to split hair when it comes to what specific nationality she’s mocking the accent of. Whether he’s legally protected is up to the courts though?

            2. wittyrepartee

              And I hope you don’t feel attacked in any way by my comments on this! It’s an interesting philosophical discussion. My work has a day-long (and super well done) racial justice seminar that we all attend at least once, and this was one of the topics that was brought up. It’s something I like thinking about.

    3. BlueWolf

      I was thinking the same thing. I definitely think it would qualify as such. You say it’s not pervasive or extreme, but I would argue that it is if he is actively removing himself from conversations she is involved in. Someone definitely needs to shut this down.

      1. Charlotte

        Yeah agreed. This advice was super helpful. I’m kind of timid/don’t want to step on people’s toes but I’m over it. Next time it comes up I’ll use one of these responses. Thanks everyone!

  3. Airy

    Re #2, once would have been rude but could have been written off as a mistake if it was just once. The fact it’s continuing shows poor judgement on her part as well as bad manners, and as well as not standing up for the person she’s mocking, the rest of you don’t do her any favours by letting her go on in this way without letting her know she’s not amusing you, she’s earning your dislike. If she’s an otherwise reasonable person who somehow doesn’t understand that this is not on, she’ll learn from it, and if she’s not, at least the chap with the accent won’t have to feel like you don’t care if she picks on him.

    1. I Took A Mint

      Yeah, this indicates pretty strongly that she can’t work in a diverse environment, nor can she fake basic respect. Even if it’s her first time meeting someone from another area (surprising in NYC), most people would be respectful and play it cool, then rave to their friends later about how cool their accent was (or how silly or whatever, I don’t know, just not at work to the person’s face).

      Also, depending on how long this has gone on, I wonder if the British coworker feels welcomed in the office in general, if he’s having to frequently leave conversations because someone openly mocks him and nobody stops her. OP might want to consider offering some support to this coworker to make sure he knows that their office doesn’t stand for that, and to make sure he feels comfortable enough to speak up about harassment.

      1. Observer

        So much on letting the coworker know that this is not acceptable. Bystander intervention can make a HUGE difference to people who are being bullied or otherwise being publicly mistreated, even if you can’t completely stop it.

    2. Escapee from Corporate Management

      As a professional in NYC in 2019, it’s almost impossible to work in an environment where you don’t interact with people born outside the US. Your coworker is simply being an ass. Shut it down and don’t be polite about it. Politeness simply masks the sheer doltishness of her actions.

      1. Atlanta

        I have an English accent and work in New York and this happens all the time to me. Literally every single day by somebody, not by any means the same person. People do seem to think it’s acceptable (and funny) to mock English accents where they wouldn’t even dream of mocking another one. They must be doing it because they think they are being clever or funny or “teasing” but to me they just seem like idiots.

        I’d ask your colleague how he feels about it before doing anything. I am so used to it happening that I’d probably not know what to do if someone intervened, and I’d worry that it was being taken too seriously. My general feeling is that it bugs me but not enough to want someone else to do something. It looks more serious (to English people at least) if someone else intervenes and it might make me feel like they think I can’t stand up for myself. My general feeling is that if people want to be idiots (the ones who mock, not the victim) that’s their problem, not mine.

        There’s a good chance he’s simply nicer than me, though. I tend to shut people who mock down pretty hard and fast so that they don’t get any gratification from doing it. I don’t care in the least about seeming rude.

        1. Escapee from Corporate Management

          That’s a shame. I worked in the UK and had exactly zero people mock my Noo Yawk accent when over there.

          1. Baby Fishmouth

            Weird, I worked in Scotland (I’m from Canada) and had coworkers mock my accent frequently, but it was usually only people I knew very well and was done in a joking manner so I didn’t really mind toooo much… although it did get tiring after a while to try to defend my pronunciation of tomato and basil soup and my use of the word ‘eh’. However, I know if I had clearly gotten upset when they did this, it would have stopped immediately.
            Shut this down, OP – it’s really not okay, especially if it’s clear your British coworker doesn’t like it. It’s absolutely disrespectful to make fun of someone’s accent.

            1. Lierre

              My Boston friend ask for to-may-to and bay-sil soup in the UK and the waiter said, “Did you mean, to-mah-to and bah-sil?” She coolly asked him if he in any way misunderstood her order and he at least had the grace to apologize.

          2. Artemesia

            The only person who has ever mocked my American accent abroad was British. Because the British accent is considered ‘cultured’ rather than ‘inferior’, this yutz probably doesn’t recognize her bigotry. Once might have been a joke — a sort of ‘wow, what a posh accent’ kind of thing. After that anyone in hearing distance should have intervened to shut this down. I can’t imagine listening to my co-worker do this repeatedly so that another co-worker is driven out of a conversation. That is the weirdest thing about this.

            1. Nic

              Which British accent, though? Britons have a lot of different regional and class-associated accents, and just like the US, there’s a lot of social signalling in having the right (or wrong) accent compared to the people around you. If she’s using a Dick Van Dyke not-quite-Cockney impression to joke about his accent, then my guess would be that it absolutely isn’t a “hey you’re posh” situation, which puts her joke squarely in punching down territory.

              But yeah, I definitely agree with you that after the first time, anyone within hearing distance should have helped shut her down.

          3. Ra94

            Same, lived in London for 6 years and my Midwestern accent was never even noticed. I mean, I’d get comments from friends about how I say aluminium and herb wrong, but it wasn’t ‘haha you sound funny!’ so much as a lighthearted ‘the letters are written this way, why would you just skip some of them?’, which I think is an important tone difference.

            1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels

              Ahhh, but we actually use different words for that metal! It’s not that USians don’t pronounce the second “i” in aluminium, it’s that we don’t have a second “i” because the American English word is aluminum.

              1. Nic

                Slight tangent: My chemistry teacher always (ALWAYS!) tripped over his tongue and called it “alumilium”.

          4. Lierre

            I recently moved to Scotland for a year to do a post grad program and was initially apprehensive about how my “American” accent would be received, particularly in light of current politics. The only reactions to my Oregon/Oklahoma accent were along the lines of “Your accent is so cuuuute.” :-) We did have to have a Londoner help us translate each other’s accents, particularly the Yorkshire and Glasgow varieties. I’m not sure why the coworker in this case feels that it’s at all appropriate to mock the other’s accent instead of appreciating it. Please do shut it down on his behalf!

            1. whingedrinking

              I used to have an Australian roommate who found my Canadian accent hilarious. We lived in Canada. I don’t know how he got through the day because he seriously started laughing every time I said certain words. Two critiques:
              1. It’s “about”, not “aboot” or “aboat”. Canadians don’t say the latter – we can tell the difference between the way we talk and people doing bad imitations of us. So if you’re *hearing* “aboot” then the problem is your listening, not our speaking.
              2. Australians really, really shouldn’t open the door to making fun of people for having “funny” accents, is all I’m gonna say.

        2. MK

          I would think that many people making this extremely unfunny joke once, while supremely irritating, might be easier to shrug off than one person persisting in doing it over and over again.

        3. This Space For Rent

          I feel very sorry for the gentleman who can’t ask a question or make a business point because Mock-u-Mary has to pop off each time.

          1. This Space For Rent

            Apologies – I somehow lost part of my comment…

            Atlanta, I’m sorry you are having this repeated experience. I haven’t worked in NYC in a few decades, but I can’t remember anyone other than a complete jackass making fun of accents. What this person is doing is boorish, ridiculous and impolite to the extreme. I shudder to think what she would do to someone with a speech impediment.

            1. sheworkshardforthemoney

              I work with international students and the accents are wonderful. The kids are learning English and open to corrections on words but no one ever makes fun of accents. That’s a get written up level offence here.

        4. sheworkshardforthemoney

          My very sweet MIL was English with a Queen Elizabeth accent. Almost all comments on it were how delightful it was, but anyone who mocked her got shut down very fast by her family.
          It is strange how mocking English, Scottish and Irish accents is acceptable.

          1. Media Monkey

            yep. in my first job moving from scotland to london, i got constant comments about my accent – it’s not even very strong!

          2. wittyrepartee

            Gasp, the old school high RP? You are a lucky woman!

            I love hearing how people from everywhere talk. It’s one of the joys of life.

          3. Gerald

            The mocking of English, Scottish, and Irish accents is something which happens on UK TV shows, of each other. This doesn’t make it right, especially in an international environment, but there is precedent for teasing on the topic (especially with Geordies and Brummies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OFXL0jIMR4 )

            1. wittyrepartee

              Yeah, that’s in-group stuff though. I have learned the hard way not to opine on whether, say, Catalan is a dialect or a language of it’s own. I’ll put this in that category. But unless this lady is from the UK or SUPER close to the UKian in question- it’s not contextually the same thing.

              1. Teapot marketer

                The fact that the person uses terms like “hello governor chim chim chiree” makes me think she has no insight about british accents (is that line from Mary Poppins?).

                My comment was meant to provide context for sheworkshardforthemoney’s comment about why mocking of those accents might be more prevalent in a wider context, because the ‘in-group’ is millions of people and on many TV shows, and so there is a lot of public mockery.

                1. Ice and Indigo

                  Yes, it’s from Mary Poppins. It’s a song lyric – which, if I have this right, was written by two Americans. Couldn’t be less English.

          4. Shark Whisperer

            My grandmother is English and has that old school uppercrust accent as well. She lives in the US now and whenever anyone asks where she is from, she looks at them sternly and says “New York City.” I’ve never seen anyone try to follow that up with another question about her accent. She can be intimidating for a 5 foot tall 95 year old woman.

              1. jolene

                When I (a Brit living in NYC) was asked about my accent I explained in cut-glass tones that it was a particular Brooklyn accent, specifically from Fort Greene, because of the British soldiers who had been stationed there and stayed on to raise families. (No, of course they hadn’t.)

                It was a lot of fun, as almost everyone stared at me in awe and said that they’d never knew that. I would be crushing this annoying worker like a bug if they tried to “chim chimminy” me.

        5. foolofgrace

          I’d ask your colleague how he feels about it before doing anything

          I think the fact that he physically leaves conversations where this happens is indicative of how he feels. But it wouldn’t hurt to ask him, and let him know that most people don’t think it’s okay.

          1. Artemesia

            Asking, puts him on the hot seat. It is offensive to everyone. Everyone should step up here. I don’t expect a minority colleague to be the one to make a fuss about people showing disrespect to them; that is a tough position for them to be in. It is on everyone else to make sure this sort of thing does not persist. My penalty for pushing back is potentially less than the penalty for the person who is the target.

            1. Observer

              I agree. What is he supposed to say? If he says “no, no it’s ok”, then the issue continues – and that’s a problem no matter how he feels. (And we KNOW he’s not happy.) If he says what he really feels and the coworker gets disciplined, then he is “at fault” for that. Who needs it?

              This is SO offensive that it really shouldn’t matter anyway if he minds or not. As someone with relatives with all sorts of accents, I’d wondering if any of my relatives can expect basic competence and courtesy from this person if they ever had to interact with her.

            2. TootsNYC

              you also have WAY more power when you object on bystanders’ grounds.

              If you aren’t actually being personally offended, your argument that it’s wrong is much more powerful.

          2. wittyrepartee

            Maybe instead of asking him how he feels- tell him that you’ve noticed that it makes him uncomfortable, and that you feel it’s inappropriate.

            I might then say something like: “it’s been going on long enough, and I think that I might say something (politely to her) about how inappropriate it is next time it comes up.” But I’d love to get others’ input on whether they think that puts the target in the hotseat?

        6. Charlotte

          That’s a good point, I’ll be sure to check in with him before doing anything. I don’t want him to feel like I’m trying to put him on the spot or anything, I just think she’s being really rude and obnoxious. Also she’s lucky he’s so nice! I feel like many other people would have snapped by now

          1. Observer

            Please don’t put him on the spot. He’s already made it clear that he doesn’t like this.

            Also, asking him may come of as a way to excuse yourself from doing anything.

          2. teclatrans

            No, don’t ask. I mean, it might be worth it to show some support privately, but the question is whether you are going to silently witness (and thereby affirm and allow) bigoted and bullying behavior. And yes, it is bigoted behavior, no matter what the woman’s intent may be. We are living in a period of intense America-first (or Britain-first or Poland-First, it all depends on which country you are in) nativist, and we really do need to have zero tolerance for actions that divide and isolate based on accent, skin color, gender, and etc.

          3. TootsNYC

            I made this point below:

            Object on your OWN grounds. It makes YOU uncomfortable to see someone tease a colleague about their accent. It’s gone on long enough, and in a form that’s troubling enough, that it now feels like mockery, and YOU don’t want to be surrounded by it.

            Make your objection be on YOUR grounds: “Susan, that joke is really old.” I think you could throw in, “I can’t imagine it’s comfortable for John, as frequentlyas you do it.”

            Or, make it be about how she is changing YOUR opinion of her: “I wonder if you don’t realize how mean you sound–I never thought you were that kind of person.”

            You don’t have to become John’s Champion specifically slaying dragons on his behalf. You can just object because YOU don’t like it.

            1. JustaTech

              And it’s just plain disruptive. She’s *interrupting work* to mock him. That means she’s interrupting your work as well as his (and being nasty and creating a hostile environment etc etc).

              All of which are excellent reasons to shut it down (and if she doesn’t stop after the first time, it gives you more and different directions to take your “stop” comments).

            2. NKOTB

              Yes to this! I fully agree with this point. OP is entitled to say they don’t find this funny, or that it’s extremely annoying and obnoxious to hear even if she’s not the direct target.

          4. Lynn UK

            Please don’t ask him. The British response would be ‘oh no it’s no problem at all’ and what that actually means would send this to moderation.

            1. Nic

              This. If he’s walking away without confrontation when he’s bothered by something/someone, then he absolutely is a person who is going to tell anyone who asks “I’m fine, really” or “Oh no, it’s not a problem”.

              Just some of what he will mean by that, is that:
              * he doesn’t want it to be a problem (but it is)
              * because he doesn’t think it should affect work (even though it is)
              * because it’s personal feelings not professional interactions (and he doesn’t want to be vulnerable about feelings with colleagues)
              * and he doesn’t want his colleagues to think he can’t cope with “banter” (however hurtful and isolating)
              * and he wants to prove himself to you as a team player (and not a complainer)
              * …and yes, she’s a *BLEEEP*ing *BLEEP* but he’ll be damned if he’ll give her the satisfaction of showing that she’s rattled him.

        7. Observer

          Eh. The coworker is CLEARLY being seriously bothered by it – he’s actually leaving conversations over this. I think it’s hard to take it “too seriously” when it’s hit that point.

        8. Erika Nagainis

          #2 please, please, shut this down. As an English immigrant to North America I can honestly tell you that having my accent ‘copied’, mocked or otherwise drawn attention to is actually really irritating and disruptive. I know that sometimes it is well meant, but it’s tough being singled out for something innate to me, every bit as much as it would be to have people comment on any other ethnic or national marker.

        9. EventPlannerGal

          “I’d ask your colleague how he feels about it before doing anything…My general feeling is that it bugs me but not enough to want someone else to do something.”

          My worry is that this is what he would say whether it was really bothering him or not. In any case, much like letter #1, I think there are some types of behaviour that are worth shutting down even if the person on the receiving end says they’re not bothered by it. If you have a workplace environment where behaviour that appears threatening or bullying is allowed is some instances because the subject says they don’t mind, it becomes much harder to shut it down when it’s directed towards someone who really does mind.

      2. Peachkins

        “Shut it down and don’t be polite about it.”

        Yes! What this person is doing is rude, and it’s clearly not being taken well by the person being mocked (because why should it be?). Call her out in the moment, make her feel like the ass she’s being. It’s ridiculous.

        1. TootsNYC

          remember that you can be direct: “don’t do this anymore”
          without criticizing (“that’s bigoted” or “that’s rude”)
          Try the firm, direct instructions (It’s OK to issue an order, using the language of a command) and if that doesn’t work, THEN say, “Do you realize how rude you are being? I’m surprised; I never thought you were that kind of person.”

          There’s also, “That joke is really old.”

            1. TootsNYC

              Oh, sure.

              But when you directly criticize, people get defensive and then they don’t listen. Instead they focus on fighting back or justifying themselves.

              So what’s your goal? Choose the path that will make it easier to achieve it.

    3. Roy G. Biv

      +1 to the poor judgement and bad manners. And has anyone pointed out that they are in a place of business, so stop interrupting work with the express purpose of mocking the guy’s accent? I think Alison’s # 3 option would be my go to: “That’s not funny. It’s actually rude. Please stop.” And I might even add something about disrupting work conversations, for good measure.
      Signed,
      Someone with a flat, nasally twang. And yes, I am aware. Point it out ONCE, if you must, but we have work to do!

    4. TootsNYC

      I wanted to suggest some other scripts, especially for in the moment (if you know you might need them, and you have them ready, it’ll be easier to pull them out of your brain when you need them.

      “Susan, please don’t–that’s unpleasant to hear.”
      (addressing her with her name is a bit of a power tactic)

      “That’s getting really old, and I can’t imagine it’s pleasant for John.”

      1. TootsNYC

        Or the one I told my kids to use:

        “Not cool, Mary.”

        And when she says, “I’m just kidding, he likes it!”

        You say, “Nevertheless.”

        It doesn’t have to be long. It just has to be negative.

    5. Janet

      This happened where I work with a new Irish colleague. One of my co-workers mocked his accent and made cracks about Ireland all the time, like digs implying it is a backwater kind of place. I think he thought it was funny? Sort of a conversation topic he could use to break the ice? I guess? I finally asked my Irish co-worker how he felt about it, and whether he was getting fed up with the Ireland cracks. He said he was fine with it, and it was just all in fun, so I let it go. (I’m not a manager, just a person sitting nearby and rolling my eyes regularly.) But in retrospect, I am still worried he was being polite and didn’t want to make an issue. I wish I had just said something one-on-one to the guy making the cracks, but he did seem to finally drop it. I think it ran out of steam, but it took way too long. If I were in the same situation again, I’d speak up for sure.

      1. TootsNYC

        but weren’t YOU tired of it?
        You can object to this stuff just because it bothers you; you don’t have to be the target of the teasing to not want to be around it.

        If nothing else, the “geez, this is getting old–aren’t you tired of that joke yet?” because people who are trying to be funny don’t want to be tiresome.

      2. Burned Out Supervisor

        I agree with TootsNYC. If it bothers you to hear it all the time, by all means, speak up. You can simply state that the jokes make you uncomfortable and not really bring your co-worker into it.

  4. Engineer Girl

    #1 – You may not feel threatened by your friend because you are used to him. You do need to consider that others may feel threatened by the behavior.
    Your coworker was also fired for underperformance and not meeting goals. Those are the main reasons and he most likely would have been fired for those reasons alone. The threats just cemented it.

    1. valentine

      Yes, even if the interaction was the first of its kind (unlikely), it’s fine for the supervisor to decide it’s a bridge too far, especially if it involved raising his voice, swearing, and/or physicality like gesturing wildly/slamming/shoving things. Let it be, lest he use your name to argue his termination.

      And “Never for one moment have I felt threatened by this coworker” is over-the-top. A simple no is the way to go.

    2. Narise

      I worked in an open plan environment and witnessed a coworker from another department become so angry he physically shook. His manager took him to her office and resolved the situation
      However because of his behavior I went to my boss and said the manager should not be alone with that employee. She was a head taller but probably weighed a bit less and he was built like Stephen Colbert so not huge. I just didn’t like her being potentially trapped in a small office with him. She of course was used to him so knew how to deal with him. This wasn’t the only indication that there could be potential issues with him.

      1. JSPA

        That response strikes me as problematic, for several reasons.

        1. The best way to support people who need it is to increase their agency, not undermine it. You have a worry? Great reason to take it TO HER.

        2. I can think of a huge number of medical issues that would make someone more likely to shake under emotional stress. It’s the manager’s job, not a coworkers, to know about accommodations.

        3. You describe a situation with minimal size and power discrepancy. Literally the only reason (besides the fact that he was angry) that you had concerns was…their genders. Actions taken based on gender–not good.

        You had every right to complain for yourself. “When I see someone get so angry that they are shaking it makes me feel less secure for myself and my coworkers, even if the anger is not directed at me.” If you have an issue, own it. Don’t put it on someone else, without their say-so.

        1. Narise

          JSPA:
          You really have no idea what you are talking about and because you weren’t actually working there you have no way of knowing any of the details. My point was that we should report our concerns to leadership so they can be addressed and be documented. Too many people turn a blind eye and do nothing and then leadership doesn’t have all information when making decisions.

          1. I was not undermining her by reporting what I witnessed to my supervisor. I was following the chain of command.
          2. This has nothing to do with mental health and it is a stretch you even brought that up.
          3. I was concerned for her safety. I would have reported it even if the two of them had been male. If someone is at a point where they are shaking over errors on billing and disagreements with coworkers they are not going to respond to reason. They can blow up and go after whomever is near them.
          4. Yes we should all focus on ourselves only and not worry about the safety of others.

          1. Karen from Finance

            But that’s not what you said. You didn’t say you reported “this is the situation that I saw, I thought you should know that in case you wanted to take any action”. What you said, is that you saw a situation that the manager resolved, and then you went to your own manager and said that she shouldn’t be alone with the employee, even though she knew how to deal with him (your words).

            1. TassieTiger

              Oh, I read it as they went to grand boss while meeting with employee was in progress, so grand boss could casually walk by office and make sure manager was ok

              1. Narise

                Yes exactly. I went to my boss while the meeting was in progress so someone knew what was going on.

          2. JSPA

            Not being there, nor a mind – reader, I responded to your post. Not to the totality of your situation. Which for every post is no doubt more complex than its summary.

            Psychological conditions aside, as (for whatever reasons) you consider them unlikely, despite their fairly high overall prevalence in the general population (presumably based on yet more specific knowledge that we do not / cannot share)… there are a variety of neurological conditions that cause people to shake under emotional stress. Shaking simply is not evidence that one person is closer to losing control then some other emotional person who is not shaking. It’s right up there with moist palms–it says as much about your ion channels as your frame of mind (or more than).

            If there was a general problem with security, or with managers not being backed up if they asked for backup, or if there were nobody in her department could seeing the interaction and could flag it up to her boss if it seems warranted, or if the incident made you realize that one-on-ones might be unsafe in some situations, I can see that you would want to do something. But the specific phrasing of your comment gave me great pause.

            1. valentine

              Narise did the right thing. Even if they were qualified to medically assess the colleague, it wouldn’t be appropriate.

            2. I Took A Mint

              When we hear hoofbeats, let’s not assume zebras.
              If someone was angry and shaking, I would not jump to “maybe he’s not so angry he is shaking, maybe he has a neurological condition that’s making him do that!”
              I would think “this person is under severe emotional stress and that’s not OK for the office.”

              I think armchair diagnosing is wrong but I think it’s also wrong when people bring up a behavior that sends certain social cues like “caution” or “danger” or “discomfort” and people jump to “maybe they didn’t mean it because they have xx disease.” That’s really unhelpful and minimizing of a genuinely frightening experience.

            3. LJay

              Honestly, I shake when I’m stressed and upset and it’s not because of any neurological or psychological condition that I know of.

              It’s just like how some people blush when they’re embarrassed, some people cry when they’re upset, etc.

              It’s just a thing that happens to my body that I can’t control, even though I am controlling everything else like my volume and tone of voice, gestures, facial expression, etc.

              I’ve never once exploded with rage after getting so mad to the point I was shaking, either. I go away, calm down, and get back to work.

        2. Karen from Finance

          Agreed. It seems like the manager was handling it. If that makes you uncomfortable that’s fine, but own it – don’t claim it’s for her safety.

          1. TootsNYC

            well, maybe it wasn’t “she shouldn’t be alone with him later,” but “she shouldn’t be alone with him now, because he’s so mad, and maybe my boss should just go be around so that he knows there’s another manager-type person.”

    3. sheworkshardforthemoney

      I had a co-worker like that. He could be incredibly rude but only to certain people. His boss heard him speaking to me once and later asked me if I was okay. I was so used to co-worker that I didn’t notice his level of ire towards me. When I started to pay attention, I realized how bad it was and it did lessen.

    4. Blue Eagle

      Probably the reason why he is telling people he got fired because of you is because he doesn’t want to say he got fired because of his poor performance.

      Also, if you think about it this insignificant part of the firing, he didn’t get fired “because of YOU” he got fired because of “how HE treated you”.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

        Also, if you think about it this insignificant part of the firing, he didn’t get fired “because of YOU” he got fired because of “how HE treated you”.

        THIS. Whether or not you were personally bothered by it, from the description it sounds like his behavior was objectively inappropriate for the office.

        1. Dragoning

          Agreed–the manager likely wasn’t asking you if you felt threatened because if you didn’t, your coworker’s behavior was okay. The manager was asking to check up on you and make sure you were okay.

        2. Observer

          Exactly this.

          Please don’t defend him. If anyone asks you, you can say that you didn’t feel threatened. But you don’t want the reputational damage of defending inappropriate behavior in the office.

        3. Burned Out Supervisor

          Yeah, even if the letter writer isn’t bothered by the behavior, it can have a chilling effect on others who’ve witnessed it. If I hear someone yelling at their co-worker, it makes me feel uncomfortable because how will they treat me if I give that person bad news?

      2. Sloan Kittering

        That was my takeaway, the fired coworker is probably just pinging on the one point that didn’t make sense to them, or may have especially mentioned it to you since it involved you, but I always take what a fired person says to save face with a huuuge grain of salt and you should do. Most likely, this was one thing mentioned along with many other things.

      3. TootsNYC

        yes–so often people say “I don’t want to get them fired,” and we respond, “THEY got themselves fired; you may have provided the evidence that their manager used, but THEIR ACTIONS got them fired.”

        That’s what’s going on here.

  5. Beth

    #1: Your coworker wasn’t fired because of you. You didn’t complain; you didn’t report anything; you weren’t consulted on his firing; you weren’t even aware that your name was brought into it until after the fact. Nothing you did caused this.

    Your coworker was fired because your SUPERVISOR didn’t approve of his attitude and behavior. That’s between him and your supervisor, really; he chose to act the way he acted, your supervisor objected to it and chose to act on that objection. You just happen to be a close witness to the whole thing. Your supervisor would likely have objected just as strongly no matter who happened to be the witness to your friend’s behavior.

    From a work perspective, feel free to put this behind you. You had no say, there was nothing you could have done differently, it was out of your hands. From a friend perspective, you’ve already done what I would suggest–you let your friend know that you didn’t file a complaint and weren’t aware that your name was brought into the record. A reasonable friend can still be upset about being fired, but they certainly won’t hold it against you when you didn’t do anything.

    1. I Took A Mint

      A+. I was expecting OP to have played a more active role based on the title, but there’s literally nothing OP did or could have done here.

    2. Ama

      Yes, I suspect his attitude in general was part of the problem and the incident with the OP was cited at his firing because it was the most recent — or perhaps it was the only one the supervisor had directly witnessed, with other people complaining about other incidents.

      It’s also possible, OP, that your friend is latching on to what he was told about his attitude towards you because he knows you and that that particular incident might have been misconstrued. It’s not uncommon for people who are upset about being fired to focus on the part that “proves” their firing was unjust (in their mind) and ignore plenty of other things they were told that were legitimate problems.

  6. Doctor Schmoctor

    #2 You don’t have to be polite to shut this down. Tell her to stop behaving like a child.

      1. Abe Froman

        Totally agree. The coworker doesn’t get politeness when they are being this rude. Any of Allison’s statements the next time it happen delivered calmly but firmly are appropriate. Personally, I would seek her out to have this conversation now so that the British coworker doesn’t have to hear it again.

    1. Widget

      I almost feel like open annoyance might be more effective here than naming the bigotry etc.

      Something more like “Seriously? Do you really have to keep doing that *every time* you’re even remotely near Bill? It wasn’t funny the first time.” She’ll be insulted, but the point – that not only is her behavior boorish, but that it’s repetitive and annoying – might hit deeper with someone who’s doing this because she thinks she’s funny.

      Alison’s statements are great, but if Jane thinks she’s ~*~clever~*~ she might write OP off as being humorless, etc.

  7. Amy Farrah Fowler

    #2 Mockery is definitely not okay and you don’t need to be “polite” to her because she’s not being polite to the British coworker. And in your letter you specified it as blatant mockery, so I’ll leave my advice to that.

    However, as a side note, I’ve noticed about myself that if I am around people who speak with a particular accent or use particular catchphrases for very long, I’ll slip into that accent in a completely non-mocking way, just accidentally start speaking as they speak. I’d hope that if someone thought it was mocking that they’d draw my attention to it, so I could stop.

      1. Falling Diphthong

        I’ve always found it really fascinating, and a good example of how language shifts over time quite easily. Without national broadcast news to keep everyone in line with the official national accent (and think about “newscaster 1941” vs “newscaster 1981” vs “newscaster 2019” voices) we’d all have diverged off quite a bit in the last century.

        1. wittyrepartee

          Well, and in 1941 a lot of newscasters had been trained in the totally artificial midatlantic accent. Which was an amazing thing all by itself.

          1. Falling Diphthong

            It’s when “Italian” became “Italian” rather than “100 related dialects.”

    1. A.N. O'Nyme

      Yep, this is a sociolinguistical thing. You subconsciously want to be liked so you start mildly imitating them, and usually that does achieve the desired effect (the copied person is often more helpful after being copied, even to people other than the copier.)

      1. Seeking Second Childhood

        I feel vindicated. My middle-schooler has noticed me doing this and scolded me… I had a hard time explaining that it’s completely subconscious. Do you have any suggestions what I could read to learn more? Or at least the vocabulary of what this is called so I can find it online?
        I’m still going to try to avoid it around my daughter because it makes _her_ uncomfortable — but I’m fascinated.

        1. Faith

          In linguistics, it’s called accommodation. I can’t remember what the casual term for it is. Maybe someone else will remember.

          1. A.N. O'Nyme

            It’s also known as the Chameleon effect.
            Some good studies on this are Chartrand & Bargh (1999) “The Chameleon Effect as Social Glue: Evidence for the Evolutionary Significance of Nonconscious Mimicry” and Hove & Risen (2009) “It’s All in the Timing: Interpersonal Synchrony Increases Affiliation”. And the helpfulness thing is found in Van Baaren et al. (2004) “Mimicry and Prosocial Behavior” and Van Baaren et al. (2009) “Where is the love? The social aspects of mimicry”. Those are academic research papers, however, so they might be a tough read.
            Also, we tend to mimic more not only when we want to be liked, but also when we like someone a lot.
            In Dutch it’s called “kopiegedrag”, meaning “copying behaviour”, so that search term might help. You could also try searching under the more general term “interactional sociolinguistics”, although that might already be too broad a search term to help.

            1. A.N. O'Nyme

              I should also add we copy for more than just liking/being liked reasons: ease of communication (if I start talking about a hatchet you’re more likely to also use that word instead of saying “axe”) or make sure a task is completed quicker and more accurately.

              1. Yvette

                “(if I start talking about a hatchet you’re more likely to also use that word instead of saying “axe”) ” That might also be in part because you (general you) don’t want to come across as correcting them.

            2. Eleanor Shellstrop

              This is the most exciting thread, I did my dissertation on mimicry and the effects on how people and accents are perceived before and after they mimicked them and all of these papers were in my references!

        2. Hope

          Conversely, my parents used to notice me doing this when I was around friends, and they gave me grief for “changing myself for my friends.” I grew up in the South and had a pretty thick accent, except when I was around my friends who hailed from other parts of the country, who didn’t have the accent. Eventually their non-accent became mine, and now the thick southern accent only comes out when I’m with family (once while studying abroad, the Oregonian I shared a host family with overheard me on the phone with my mom, and after I got off the phone, she was like “you DO have a southern accent!” even though I hadn’t realized I’d changed my voice at all. I definitely picked up the Brit accent when I spent a week traveling with a friend from London. But it’s easy come, easy go–I can’t seem to hang onto the accents if I’m not around people using them.
          It wasn’t until I started studying languages (and turned out to have a really good ear for them) that I realized what exactly was happening.

          1. Batgirl

            As well as getting flak for my strong accent from out-of-towners I also get flak when my accent (quite naturally) accommodates them from locals. You can’t win so please yourself.
            It is highly satisfying to pull out words like ‘dialect’ ‘accommodation’ and ‘Labov’ when people get annoying about it though.

          2. ThatHat

            It wasn’t until watching this Cajun goof “TundaMinous” (Cajun ThunderCats) that I suddenly vividly remembered that when I was a young child, I had a very noticeable Cajun accent. My mom would actually make fun of me for saying things sometimes.

            I always say I learned how to talk from TV. But I’ll still go a little Cajun if I’m hanging around family for a few hours.

            Or, oddly enough, when I was in Ireland for a week. There’s a lot of similarities that just make it easy to slip back into.

          3. Alex the Alchemist

            Me too! I’m a Southern transplant to the North for grad school and I definitely take on less of my accent when I’m in class/with friends, but the second I get on the phone with my parents my voice is like I’m back home. Heck, if I spend spring break with my family there’s a few days where my voice goes in between after I finish visiting.

        3. JustaTech

          When I visited the UK as a kid my younger brother did this and I chided him heavily because I thought he was mocking and going to get us in trouble with the locals.

          At least now I know he wasn’t doing it on purpose or to be a jerk.

    2. Ice and Indigo

      Yeah, I don’t think anyone’s going to object to that. Nor to picking up vocabulary from other people; humans are social animals and we learn language from each other, so people who live in a diverse environment will pick up all sorts of useful phrases that they learned from somebody else’s dialect. If somebody’s a thrawn mard-arse who needs to get less pass-remarkable, well, thank you, international community, for helping me express that, I didn’t quite have the words in my own local speech to express it quite so well.

      However, I’m very sure that my fellow-Brit out there is not going around saying ‘chim-chim-cheree’ – I mean, Dick van Dyke is practically British shorthand for ‘terrible lazy attempt at an English accent’. Your co-worker is just being insulting.

      I’m not surprised the Brit is avoiding them: among other things, it’s a classic bullying tactic. If someone mocks the way you speak, there is literally nothing you can say to ask them to stop that doesn’t open you to more mockery. ‘Ooh, “Stop i’, stop i'”, say it again!’ Imitating someone’s voice is schoolyard-level meanness.

      And that might be something else to point out to your coworker. She’s basically saying to this guy, ‘Everything you say is ridiculous’, which means that a. Every work conversation is hostile to him, and b. He can’t trust her to listen if he tells her she’s bothering him. It’s wildly unprofessional and unfair.

    3. Julia

      Oh, definitely. But when my accent slips, I don’t also suddenly start popping into conversations with “hey governor”, so…

      1. Mockingbird

        Yeah, this is clearly not that! I grew up in the US, but have lived in the U.K. and instantly go back to certain speech patterns/vocabulary around anyone from there. I don’t think I have (much of?) a fake accent (although US friends will say I pronounce place names from there “with an accent” aka the “correct” way lol) but my inflection can change too. But I don’t use over the top slang — that’s clearly mocking.

        1. sheworkshardforthemoney

          After spending time with the English MIL I always leave with a bit of an accent and her phrasing. “That’s lovely, my dear.”

          1. The Original K.

            I had a friend whose American aunt had married a Brit and they lived in London. My friend would visit them every summer for at least a month. She always came back with a slight British accent. Her aunt had lived there so long (odds are good she lives there to this day, though I’m not friends with her niece anymore so I wouldn’t know) she had a sort of hybrid accent and she used a lot of British phrases and aphorisms.

            1. Parenthetically

              A girlfriend of mine has lived in Scotland for over a decade now, I reckon, and now has the most delightful lilt and lovely small Highlands Os, though she’s kept her American Rs.

              Another girlfriend of mine was born and raised in Australia, but her dad’s American — a fact I genuinely did not realize until well after I’d met him, because he very much sounds Aussie, just… a bit funny?

    4. embertine

      I went to stay with my cousins in Brecon for a weekend and came back with a Welsh accent. They lived there 35 years and didn’t even pick up a hint of it. I find it fascinating how some are not susceptible to it and others are.

      1. foolofgrace

        As a Northerner (U.S.), I moved to the South for 20 years. I expected to pick up the accent but it never happened.

      2. Dust Bunny

        I spent a week in London and accidentally answered a question in an British accent (I’m American). I was MORTIFIED, thinking the person would think I was making fun of them, but luckily the answer was short enough that they didn’t seem to notice. It was completely unintentional; I’m lousy at accents and if you asked me to I couldn’t deliberately fake a British accent to save my life.

        1. Parenthetically

          Bahaha, I can say about 10 things in an Aussie accent (married to an Aussie), and all of them are related to talking to a cashier or waitress, so my Americanness doesn’t become The Thing We Are Focused On.

      3. Le Sigh

        I have a mix of U.S. northern and southern accents. The southern side of me doesn’t come out a ton where I live (though it’s still there), but the second I’m around southern people or visiting family, my accent starts sliding, and sliding, and sliding….

        1. Anonym

          Same! Half my family are New Yorkers and the other half are various Southerners, and I grew up in the mid-Atlantic and now live in NY. Alcohol and tiredness bring out the (relative) Southernness, as well as talking to that side of the family.

          I’ve found myself embarrassingly predisposed to like people with the mid-Atlantic accents/speech patterns I grew up with. It’s a subtle one that most people have trouble pinpointing, but really has an effect on me.

    5. Media Monkey

      i do that too. i also pick up the language they use in emails, which is really awkward as most of the clients i speak to aren’t native english speakers so i worry that i sound like i am mocking the slight peculiarities in their written or spoken english (which is considerably better than my other languages!)

    6. Annisele

      This happens to me too.
      I’m British, but I once had a summer job in the US in a McDonalds. The vast majority of my colleagues ended interactions with customers by saying “have a nice day”. I just plain could not (and still can’t) keep my own accent when saying those words. I don’t exactly have an American accent, but I sound like a supremely sarcastic Brit trying to mock all Americans. That wasn’t what I wanted to do at all!
      I ended up having to agree with the supervisors that it was OK for me to say whatever polite thing that came into my head, so long as I never ever used the phrase “nice day”.

      1. LKW

        This amuses me for unknown reasons. I only wish you had used a small collection of national/international phrases like “Y’all come back now, hear?” and “G’d-on-ya mate!” or “You will have a good day, no?” with appropriate accent (Southern, Australian, French respectively).

    7. Artemesia

      I have a friend who did some time in theater and is fabulous with accents; she also picks up foreign accent when learning a language well which is hard for most of us. She often uses a British accent when being funny — not mocking anyone, just her, but. not long ago one of the people in our little group WAS British and someone jumped in and said ‘she isn’t mocking you; this is just something she does.’ No one in a conversation should ever let someone feel disparaged.

      1. JSPA

        I wonder if we’ll have a follow-up comment to this thread that the rude coworker thought that the British guy was an American affecting a British accent / somehow didn’t realize that British accents existed outside of movies, and was “playing along”?

        It’s at least remotely possible; we’ve heard about that level of incomprehension in the past. (Thinking of “stapler guy.”)

        1. willow

          Ooh, ooh, remember that one column where some coworker randomly started speaking with a British accent?

    8. iglwif

      I do this too! A lot of people do — there’s a sociolinguistics term for it although I can’t remember what it is just at the moment.

      My “natural” accent in English is a bit of a Heinz 57 situation — I was raised in western Canada by parents from 2 very different regions of the US, around adults (and kids) from a bunch of *other* regions of the US and many other parts of the world, watching both Canadian and American TV … and then as a young adult I moved to Toronto, where like 50% of everyone is from somewhere else, and was exposed to a whole new set of accents in English. So my accent and speech patterns and even vocabulary and syntax vary WILDLY depending on who I’m talking to!

      And my French is equally wacky, because at school I would often have teachers from Quebec, different regions of France, and elsewhere (my grade 9 science teacher was from Morocco, for instance) for different classes in the same semester. The difference here is that when I am talking to somebody with a fancy Parisian accent I will sometimes bristle and double down on the Quebecois XD

      Anyway none of this is REMOTELY what the OP’s co-worker is doing, which is hella rude and needs to be shut down as bluntly as it takes to make her stop.

    9. just a random teacher

      I also do this! I try not to because I don’t want people to think I’m mocking them, but I tend to start mimicking whatever I hear often.

      I have a complicated relationship with accents in general, though. As a kid, we used to go visit my relatives in rural Canada in the summer, and I did not even pick up on the fact that they had an accent or spoke any differently than I did. I went back to see them again when I was in college and…yeah, they very definitely do! I’m pretty sure I just popped into it automatically with my “accent ear” as a little kid. (I also grew up hearing a Canadian accent in a few other common situations, such as all of the read-aloud cassettes for our school readers, my mom’s favorite musician that she listened to all the time, and a few other things, so it’s quite likely that my brain just filed it under “alternate pronounciations for this thing include…” rather than “these people say it this way and those people say it that way”.)

      On the other hand, I can have a lot of trouble understanding someone speaking English with a strong Spanish-origin accent, because my brain will keep trying to parse their words as though they’re in Spanish and I have to have this little internal fight to keep it in “English mode”. I had the most trouble with my pre-calculus teacher many years ago because of this. It wasn’t her fault, but I kept wishing she’d just lecture in Spanish instead so I could quit context-shifting constantly the whole time because it was exhausting. (Also, I thought she was saying “uni-circle” instead of “unit circle” for the first few lectures, which gave me unhelpful unicycling mental images and meant I missed the important idea of r being a unit measure.)

      Now I work with a lot of Spanish-language-origin families, and it has gotten better with practice but I still have some trouble if the accents get particularly Spanish-patterned because it just cues me wrong on which language I should be listening for, I guess. It also helps that I spent about a decade not keeping up with Spanish at all in the middle there and lost some of my familiarity with it, but of course it would be really useful at work if I’d kept it up, so that’s a wash at best.

  8. Software Engineer

    #1 your friend wasn’t fired because of you…. even if you HAD complained but had told the truth it wouldn’t be because of your own actions but his. Let him take responsibility for his actions you don’t need to do it for him. Hopefully he can learn a lesson from this for the future

  9. Wintermute

    #1– I’ve seen this before as well. Basically, even if YOU might not mind, it still can set a tone for an office, when people see coworkers subjected to this sort of thing it can lead them to be more anxious, to avoid the person that was the one flying off the handle for fear of being a target, it can lead to them thinking this is acceptable discourse at this workplace, all kinds of negative things. I don’t think it’s necessarily unreasonable your boss drew a hard line (and I can assure you this was probably not a one-and-done unless his behavior was absolutely extreme, but probably evidence he was not taking to heart previous disciplinary guidance or adhering to a written warning). And indeed, everything that goes on in the office is within your manager’s purview, it doesn’t take a formal complaint and I’m sure your fired co-worker knows that. In fact a good manager should be on top of these things BEFORE a complaint is even required (and it sounds like they are), otherwise it puts people that feel they don’t have the political capital to complain in an awkward position.

    #2– This is really not good. We’re beyond being polite here, because what he’s doing is actually illegal and could land your entire company in big trouble. It’s pervasive, repeated and unwelcome behavior targeting a national origin, that’s the textbook definition of a hostile workplace, and that’s illegal no matter the target. I would go to HR here so you avoid any appearance of you being okay with this. They can take it from there.
    The real issue is he clearly doesn’t get it and there’s no way to explain it to him that he’s likely to understand. If he were a close friend I’d say “you wouldn’t talk like Speedy Gonzales to a Mexican co-worker, you wouldn’t start talking like Charlie Chan to a Chinese co-worker, you cannot do that sort of thing,” but you don’t owe this guy that before you take steps to protect you and your company.

      1. valentine

        No need to make a false equivalency with racism, especially if the Brit is white, and most especially if he’s English. And some people respond to “You wouldn’t do racist thing” with “Challenge accepted.”

        1. JamieS

          It’s not a false equivalency. Those examples are examples of mocking someone’s nationality, specifically their accent, which is exactly what’s occurring. Also Mexican isn’t even a race. I’m not sure if Chinese is also a race or just a nationality.

          1. I Took A Mint

            Off topic, but it’s a nationality; there are many ethnic groups in China, the largest one is Han Chinese.

            On topic, as JamieS said, it’s specifically mocking an accent and saying “Haha you sound different”, so we can pick the racism card or the national origin card, either one is immoral and illegal.

        2. DyneinWalking

          He’s being mocked for something he didn’t chose and can’t change, at least not without considerable effort. Minus the history of oppression (in some cases, not e.g. the Chinese or Mexicans), it’s not that different.

              1. Mongrel

                Agreed, but given the best example of British Accent on US televison at the moment (AFAIK). Just tell the person to go back to watching Peppa Pig

                1. Ice and Indigo

                  Considering that she thinks ‘chim-chim-cheree’ is appropriate, frankly I don’t trust her not to punctuate her conversation with snorts.

            1. NapkinThief

              He should not. He should not smile. He should not, even jokingly, engage with the accent talk as if it’s legitimate.

              He should not be responsible for covering up her rudeness with fake friendliness. He should not be burdened with pretending this is a fun game or attempt at cultural exchange. This whole office needs to shut it down and Return Awkward to Sender*. She is the rude one, and it should be her burden to bear – not his.

              *s/o to Captain Awkward for this super helpful concept!

            2. StrikingFalcon

              Nope, his reaction is completely appropriate. The rest of his coworkers need to call this out and if it doesn’t stop immediately, report it to HR or the boss. This is not a smooth-it-over-with-kindness behavior. This is a call-it-out-as-completely-unacceptable behavior.

              1. Où est la bibliothèque?

                And someone should ask him how he wants it to be handled. “I’m planning to speak to her as a superior, but I also want you to know that if you prefer to shut it down yourself, you have my support–please don’t feel like you have to be polite.”

                1. Artemesia

                  Nope. Don’t put the awkwardness on him. He has already shown how he handles it — by fleeing the conversation. The boss or co-workers need to handle it, not push it onto him.

                2. Observer

                  Could we stop pushing the responsibility to stop bad behavior on people who are the victims.

                  There is ZERO indication that he’s ok with it. And he’s made it 100% clear that he is NOT ok with it. What more do you need?

                3. Où est la bibliothèque?

                  I’ve been in a situation where a coworker liked teasing me, and my manager let me know that it was fine if I wanted the conversation escalated, but if I felt like the only thing holding me back from speaking about it myself was the worry that I would appear unprofessional/impolite then I should feel free to get snappish and not be embarrassed about it. (I don’t have a good middle ground between silence and serious irritation).

                  If it might come across as pushing someone into something they’re uncomfortable with, definitely don’t do it, but personally I appreciated the offer. All it took was someone telling me they had my back if I got a little justifiably confrontational.

          1. Jennifer

            You can’t just minus the history of oppression, lol. That makes a huge difference. And where are you getting that Chinese and Mexican people don’t have the same history?

            1. Yorick

              I think the point was that British people in the US don’t have a history of oppression like Chinese or Mexicans do.

              1. Jennifer

                “Minus the history of oppression (in some cases, not e.g. the Chinese or Mexicans)” It seems they were implying that those groups do not have the same history, but maybe that wasn’t their intention.

                And I don’t think a history of oppression is something you can just minus away. It’s a huge difference that makes this incredibly unequal. It seems whenever people suffer any kind of unfairness here people want to compare it to race and the struggles people deal with because of that and it’s really aggravating.

                1. Iris Eyes

                  But people have been really discriminated against (yes codified in law, yes systemically) because of their national origin regardless of their physical characteristics and a lot of that has been identified by language/accent. It is 100% the same thing. They can’t help where they were born or what accent/language they were raised with. And their absolutely is a LONG history of discrimination and oppression based on those factors within the same race and between races. People don’t have to be a different color to have been treated crappily by other humans ANY difference has been happily used to leverage the superiority of one group over another.

                  If for no other reason then people aren’t good at nuance, making jokes at the expense of someone else is bad whether its based on race or ability or national origin or gender or height or religion or lack of religion or political party or age or whatever.

                2. Genny

                  It took me a couple reads to figure out that clause, but I think the commenter meant “even though the British haven’t historically faced the same oppression as minority groups like Chinese and Mexican people, it still isn’t okay to mock them based on their nationality”. I think “minus the history of oppression” refers to the British and “in some cases not” means that in some cases, there is a history of oppression, e.g. the Chinese and Mexicans.

                3. Jennifer

                  @IrishEyes Is there a long history of British people being discriminated against in this country? If so, I’m not aware of it.

                4. Michaela Westen

                  The Haymarket riots and murders in the 1800’s were because Irish and German immigrant workers – all white – were being oppressed by employers – also white. Employers apparently felt justified in oppressing them because they were immigrants, even though they were white.
                  Unfortunately it’s been a tradition in America that immigrants are looked down on, no matter what color they are.

                5. Courageous cat

                  Agreed. Watching people compare struggles of white people to struggles of people of color is always a bad time.

                  Prejudice and mocking is bad, but some is worse than others.

        3. Wintermute

          I’m not making a false equivalency, both of those examples are EXACTLY the same national origin discrimination by way of mocking their accent. Talking to someone using an exaggerated dick-vaan-dyke-in-Mary-Poppins accent is EXACTLY THE SAME as talking to someone in an exaggerated Sidney-Toler-As-Charlie-Chan accent.

          1. Batgirl

            I like your examples. When this has hapened to me (working class British accent) I felt someone was turning me into a character.

          2. Jennifer

            Mocking an Asian or Hispanic person’s accent is mocking their race AND national origin. That’s why it’s not exactly the same.

          3. Où est la bibliothèque?

            And even if the situation isn’t precisely the same in terms of group-priveledge, it’s a very good way of explaining to her how not-okay what she’s doing is.

            Like when a kid is teasing another kid, you might say “would you be doing that if you knew she was having a really awful day?” Sometimes, exaggeration = empathy.

          4. PlainJane

            Exactly. My understanding is that in terms of employment law, it’s exactly the same issue–discrimination based on national origin. In the broader picture, there’s a difference re: history of oppression, but–at least as far as I know–that’s irrelevant when addressing this kind of harassment in the workplace.

          1. Observer

            I was thinking that, too. Especially since not all British accents belong to people of privilege.

            1. Wintermute

              Bingo! Class in Britain is a massive thing (one study determined class was more inheritable than height in England, as in if your father was tall and poor you’re more likely to be poor than you are to be tall). And accents are very strongly class-based. Everyone is assuming he’s mocking a white person with a “posh” Oxford or Received Pronunciation accent. Mocking someone’s cockney accent (which it sounds like he’s doing based on the example text given) is very much mocking an accent of disadvantage/marginalization.

              1. ElspethGC

                Although there are very few cockneys around these days. I’ve learnt that a lot of Americans have a bad ear for the minutiae of British accents (no shame, we’re a complicated people) – my Yorkshire accent has been called out as Scottish, I know someone from Liverpool who was told they sound *exactly* like someone who is from the West Country – so it’s just as likely to be a non-south-east regional accent. To plenty of people, if you don’t speak RP you’re clearly a cockney.

                Either way, though, if he has a regional accent that bears even a passing resemblance to cockney, it’s extremely likely that he isn’t from a privileged group, or that even if he’s privileged in his own community that will vanish outside of it.

                Signed, a northerner with a ‘posher’ accent than many Yorkshire folk (East Yorkshire, if anyone knows it, not particularly thick or dialect-heavy) who has still been advised to adopt a southern or RP accent for the purposes of being taken seriously at university… (I refuse. I will not be complicit. Deal with my accent or get the hell out of academia.)

        4. Jennifer

          Thank you. It’s very much a false equivalency. White immigrants are received in the US much more favorably than brown ones, particularly Brits.

          1. pentamom

            Except this person is NOT being received favorably by at least one person, but is being treated as the butt of an oingoing joke. This particular experience tracks with bad treatment others have had, even if not all of his experiences do.

            1. Jennifer

              I am not disputing that it isn’t being received favorably. I think this woman is behaving horribly and it needs to be shut down immediately. I’m shocked someone hasn’t shut it down already. All I’m saying is that it’s not a civil rights issue. People are rude to others for a wide range of reasons, and every time it’s not comparable to racism but yet that example is pulled out every single time. It’s insulting to people who have experienced racism.

          2. Baby Fishmouth

            That doesn’t mean it’s okay. All people have a right to speak in their native accent and go about their day without being made fun of or turned into a caricature based on their nationality.

              1. MaureenC

                Discrimination and civil rights don’t depend on someone being part of an oppressed class–just a protected class. Mocking a British accent might not fall under some definitions of the word “racism”, but that doesn’t mean it’s not discrimination.

                Just out of curiosity, where did you learn that discrimination/civil rights only applies to oppressed classes?

                1. Jennifer

                  That’s true. I still don’t think this amounts to discrimination. I think people are overreacting when the obvious solution is to simply tell this person she is being horrible and rude and to knock it off. I guess we disagree.

                2. MaureenC

                  I don’t know that the mocker has discriminatory intent, but it’s like tort law: I might not have intended to step on your foot, and me stepping on your foot may hurt you a lot less than the reverse would hurt me (depending on our respective weights and shoes), but I still caused you pain and messed up your sneaker.

                3. Wintermute

                  Maureen, you’re exactly right. The only criteria are is it 1) unwanted– he’s made it clear it is 2) repeated/pervasive– yup, absolutely, this is constant and she’s interrupting his conversations with co-workers to interject the offending behavior, and 3) related to a protected class– National Origin may have nothing to do with race but it is specifically named as a protected class, that means whatever country you come from not just a select set of them

              2. Observer

                That’s actually not true. Discrimination does not depend on the class history of the individual being discriminated against (except, ime, in the discourse of people who would like to act like bigots themselves.)

                A black mob beating a white person senseless for being in the wrong neighborhood is no less ugly than a white mob doing that to a black person.

                1. Jennifer

                  A person being beaten senseless by a racist mob is totally different from this situation.

                  Anyhoo, I’m over arguing about it.

              3. Wintermute

                The law says that national origin is a protected class. Full stop. The law does not make determinations about who “gets” to be upset about national-origin-based discrimination, you could be from the most privileged group on the planet and it would be the exact same to the EEOC as the most disadvantaged.

                1. LJay

                  Yeah.

                  One thing I like about the harassment training that my company does it that it makes it clear that while a lot of harassment goes from someone in a higher power group to someone in a lower power group, it’s all still considered harassment.

                  They use examples of a woman manager discriminating against men that work for her. A group of young guys sexually harassing their woman supervisor. An American-born Indian woman mocking the accent of an Indian man from India. And several other scenarios.

                  They also bring in a bit from question 1. They show a bunch of warehouse workers ragging on each other by accusing each other of being like a woman or a gay person, and bring up the point that even if the person being teased is not offended, it doesn’t make it okay for work and that it is something management cannot allow to go on if they find out about it. It doesn’t sound like the guy in post 1 was using slurs of any sort, I don’t think. But overt expressions of anger still aren’t okay, and if he was behaving in a manner bad enough that management thought she might feel threatened, it was probably still something they felt they couldn’t allow go on in a work environment.

                  Like, this time it was targeted at OP, and she wasn’t upset. But management overheard it and they were upset about the behavior, and possibly other employees were around that were disturbed as well.

                  And now they know that he has a propensity to act like this at work. It’s possible that next time it won’t be targeted at OP, and the new target will be upset/disturbed. And if management knows that he has acted like this before and has done nothing about it, when it happens the second time management will be at fault as well as the person actually behaving badly.

          3. Le Sigh

            To be fair, we don’t know that the British co-worker is white and we shouldn’t assume. We only know he’s being mocked based on his accent.

            Not to discount the fact that race play a role in this–because it does–but I don’t think we should assume his race based only on his accent.

            1. Jennifer

              I’m aware. That doesn’t change the fact that there is more of a bias against people coming here from other countries.

          4. Observer

            So, you don’t know that this person is actually a white, upper class immigrant.

            And, it really doesn’t matter WHY the person is doing this – they are clearly and deliberately making someone’s life miserable for the “crime” of “speaking funny”.

            1. Anonyish

              + 1 It is bullying, and it stinks. This man is evidently at least a bit upset by it, and doesn’t feel he has the power to speak up and stop it. Even if he is otherwise Mr Privilege he shouldn’t have to put up with being treated like this. And as in LW1, what sort of example does this set for others in the office? That it’s OK to mock colleagues based on accents, and that if your accent/cultural background is perceived as different you are a potential target for harassment. I doubt it is contributing to a comfortable environment for anyone else with a racial/ethnic/nationality difference from the majority even if they’re not being targeted right now.

  10. it's natural

    #3

    Don’t sweat it (haha!) People are often a lot less observant than we think. And if it was really that hot, your interviewer could likely have been worrying about their own sweating. Fingers crossed you get the job (if you want it).

    My own personal anecdote – I once interviewed at a real estate office who had the previous week finalised a multi-million dollar refurbishment. Clearly the designer was a man, because all the chairs were white. Of course, my period started sometime during the interview. Yeah, I did *not* get that job.

    1. ..Kat..

      Something that can help with excessive sweat – dress shields! They are (excuse the metaphor) like a pantyliner for the armpit!

      1. Alexis Rose

        I use *actual* pantyliners, cut in half and stuck to the inside of my clothes. Works the same, cheap, can’t see them. Amazing!

      2. Blue Eagle

        Probably you want to use antiperspirant rather than deodorant. Both control odor but antiperspirant controls perspiration better.

        This is exactly why I always wear a dark jacket for particularly stressful situations. Perspiration is much less noticeable on dark clothing.

    2. Amber T

      Dear lord… it’s funny (in not a funny way) when you think you *of course* know when it’s going to start and you’ll totally be prepared… then poof! Just kidding, surprise!

      It’s also funny when you’ve been using deodorant for YEARS and forget to put it on on a critical day. Hello, outdoor festival on a hot day, I remember you not so fondly.

    3. CM

      If a candidate was visibly sweating, I wouldn’t think anything of it. If they mentioned that they were sweating, I’d find that awkward because now I have to acknowledge that they’re sweating. My view is, sweat but don’t talk about it. (Either way it’s not a big deal, though. The OP referred to as being unkempt but I don’t really think it is — it’s not bad grooming, it’s just something that happened.)

    4. Jane Gloriana Villanueva

      Ugh, so sorry, It’s Natural!

      Great tips, commenters, especially re the dress shields! I’ll have to investigate.

      OP 3- my sleeveless blouses don’t drape far below my arms, so I am surprised that yours did and did not wick away some of the sweat; however, I would think that would sort of help in letting air actually circulate and the moisture evaporate even sooner. I am sure it was worse to you than potential observers, especially if the temps were high, and I don’t know that I would default to sleeved blouses next time, especially with summer approaching in the northern hemisphere (not to say you won’t have already secured a job *or this job* by then — good luck!). We’ve all felt the heat at some point; welcome to the club!

  11. Jojo

    #2 If you’re worried about seeming rude, how about speaking to the mocker privately? Frame it as advice by letting her know that it’s putting her in a really bad light with her coworkers.

    1. Sam.

      I think this is the route I’d be more comfortable taking because it gives her a chance to change her behavior while saving face. If she doesn’t heed what you’ve said or slips up, then you can escalate to the more public shut-down.

      1. VictorianCowgirl

        Why does she need to be allowed the priviledge of saving face?

        Has she ever let the British coworker save face?

        1. Marthooh

          It’s not a privilege. It’s the carrot that goes along with the stick of threatened public shaming. The point is to change her behavior, not to dispense perfect justice.

          1. TootsNYC

            I’m often a little troubled by how many people want to Strike a Blow for Justice!

            Even if it’s at the expense of actually moving forward.

    2. WoodswomanWrites

      I suggest this one-on-one approach as well. I’ve had these kinds of conversations with people who had no clue that what they were doing was offensive. By talking about it privately and letting them know how they have come across, they saw their behavior differently and stopped.

      Now if she replies that she’s just joking or otherwise responds inappropriately, then it’s time to escalate the issue, including talking to HR.

      1. WoodswomanWrites

        Also, I do think it’s important to be an ally to your English co-worker in the moment and to say something. Everyone has their own version, and Alison’s suggestions are good. And then I’d have the conversation afterward that I’m referencing here.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood

        One on one for the win.
        Because sometimes people truly are naive and clueless, this gives her a chance to be baffled and say “I was just joking” in private where OP (her manager) can explain clearly that this is an inappropriate class of joke. And she has a chance to change her behavior. If she’s truly naive she might even decide on her own to apologize.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood

          Just re-read and noticed that OP’s not her manager. So that makes one-on-one tricky.
          Unfortunately the scenario I can come up with feels like it came right out of a sitcom. Not enough coffee for me to decide if this is realistic:
          Jane makes bad joke in public, and OP pulls Jane aside and says she’s making herself look like an a$$ and should stop making fun of UK’s accent. Jane will object and say something like he knows I”m joking.
          At which point OP would say “Have you not noticed that he’s started avoiding you? You’re setting yourself up for a visit from HR.” Closeup on Jane’s “O” face, and cut to commercial break.

        2. Scarlet2

          Mmmh I think someone who keeps openly mocking someone, especially when they are obviously being annoyed by it, is neither naive nor clueless.
          I also don’t believe that an adult can pretend to be unaware that publicly making fun of someone is anything but rude and insulting.

          1. Observer

            I’m with you on this. And besides, the victim really needs to hear that others realize how offensive this is.

    3. Scarlet2

      Honestly, I think someone who’s so out of touch with normal professional behaviour should be publicly called out in the moment. That would also show the British coworker that his colleagues have his back and do not tolerate this behaviour. Right now, he probably thinks no-one cares because no-one speaks up for him.

      What she does is appalling. If she wasn’t focusing on a regional accent and instead were just mimicking someone’s manner of speech, it would be insanely out of place too. I can’t imagine someone *actually* believes this is ok, she’s just a bully.

      1. Scarlet2

        To be clear, I don’t believe for a minute that she’s just “oblivious” of normal etiquette between civilized adults. I think she’s deliberately bullying him.

        1. RUKiddingMe

          Honestly I think she should be called out in the moment. “Jane stop mocking Bob’s accent. It’s rude, discriminatory, and not even slightly amusing. Grow up.” AFAIC…the more witnesses, the better.

        2. min

          I’m torn. Of course this mocking is not OK because it obviously bothers him, but I’m not sure it’s intentional bullying.

          I am a white American living in England and my coworkers regularly mock my accent. I take it as good natured ribbing and I honestly believe it’s meant that way. I never gave it much thought before now, but I think the main reason I feel that way is because I am not part of an ethnic group that is regularly discriminated against.

          We have a few Eastern European coworkers and a large number of Indian coworkers. If I heard any of my British coworkers mocking their accents, I would be highly offended and consider it bullying because of the discrimination that is so rampant.

          I guess to me bullying feels more like “punching down” and mocking a British accent doesn’t read that way because there isn’t that history of discrimination.

          None of this should excuse her behavior of course because it seems obvious that this bothers the British coworker. It definitely needs to stop.

          1. TL -

            I’m a white American living in New Zealand and most of the time I can laugh along with mocking my Americanism – but sometimes I have to take a deep breath and remind myself I am from a country that has a huge amount of power/privilege and then politely ask to change the subject. If someone didn’t after I asked, I probably wouldn’t hang out with them again.

          2. Ice and Indigo

            I don’t want to start a side-argument, but from a British perspective … I think many Brits might feel there is at least a bit of punching down, because America is a superpower that has massive cultural dominance on a global scale. And imperial cultures are prone to a ‘funny foreigner’ attitude. We know this because we used to do the same (and our more embarrassing citizens still have that imperial hangover). In my experience, some Americans treat *any* non-Americanness as a kind of gimmick, as if it’s part of the brand of the funny little theme park called ‘our country’ we live in, and yes, that feels like an assertion of dominance.

            Please note: it’s nothing like as bad as discrimination against someone Eastern European, Indian or similar. Britain is not an oppressed nation, and is punching itself much harder than anyone else is punching it at this point in history! But it still feels like an aggression from an American.

            And yes, I’m aware that Britain did have an empire once. We don’t now; America does. In the nineteenth century, it went the other way, and I suspect that Americans wouldn’t have felt quite so comfortable having their accents mocked by Brits. (In general; I don’t want to make assumptions about you personally.)

            So … well, it may not be intentional bullying, but that doesn’t mean it’s not experienced as bullying, nor that there isn’t a degree of cultural insensitivity that might as well be intentional. Britain’s recent history includes some serious frustrations at being over-influenced by America, and it’s complicated.

            But all that aside … clearly the guy hates it because he’s avoiding her, so whatever the cultural ins and outs, on a personal scale it’s making him unhappy, and it seems pretty clear that she has plenty of evidence he doesn’t like it that she’s choosing to ignore. Once there’s a choice to ignore clear discomfort, then it basically counts as intentional whatever anyone’s nationality.

            1. Scarlet2

              “But all that aside … clearly the guy hates it because he’s avoiding her, so whatever the cultural ins and outs, on a personal scale it’s making him unhappy, and it seems pretty clear that she has plenty of evidence he doesn’t like it that she’s choosing to ignore. Once there’s a choice to ignore clear discomfort, then it basically counts as intentional whatever anyone’s nationality.”

              This. I don’t think anyone can claim it’s unintentional based on the letter.

              1. Oxford Common Sense

                I’m a Brit who has been in the US for nearly 20 years and I haven’t lost my accent. The “cor blimey guv’nor” stuff happens to me fairly regularly. Typically I don’t see it as bullying- people think they are being clever or funny. They aren’t. Normally I roll my eyes and carry on with my day, and people get the message. If it were happening to me constantly from one person, I would be very grateful to the coworker who had words with the culprit.

                1. Scarlet2

                  Yeah, it’s like when you have a vaguely funny-sounding name and people keep making lame “jokes” about it. It gets old really fast and it wasn’t even funny the first time. I’m amazed so many people seem to find that stuff so funny after they’ve left primary school.

                2. Michaela Westen

                  Yes, and when I moved from Kansas to my big city. *Everyone* I met said, “oh you’re just like Dorothy!” *eyeroll*
                  But my favorite was when someone would look up and say, “you’re tall”. Yes, I know. Thanks?

            2. Jean (just Jean)

              >imperial hangover
              Brilliant phrasing! You’ve packed an entire thesis into two words. I would love to steal this, but how can I credit you?

              Imperial hangover is like the U.S. term entitled, just expanded to describe a national instead of individual outlook. Both are shorthand for nostalgia for the so-called good old days (ha) when accidents of birth + rigid societal enforcement enabled comfortable lives for the top dogs and miserably constrained (at best) lives for everyone else.

            3. JKL

              I completely disagree that Americans are “punching down” when they mock British people. Americans have zero superiority over the British.
              Also, there is plenty of mockery that goes the other way. British people have mastered the art of condescension towards Americans. Everything about America gets treated like a gimmick.

              1. Ice and Indigo

                I’m just presenting an interpretation that this co-worker may have. You may or may not agree with it, but that doesn’t mean nobody might see it that way.

                Like I said, I don’t want to start a derail, so that’s all I’ve got to say on the subject.

              2. Batgirl

                Oh condescension of Americans by Britons is nasty AF. But so is this. It’s all part of the same ugly top doggery contest of who gets to be ‘lesser than’.
                Also, the same imperialist wankers who don’t think Americans speak ‘proper English’ say the same thing about regional British accents. Some people with under-fire accents see migration as a great way to escape that sort of class bullshit; how heart breaking it would be to get your accent mocked all over again in N.Y. of all places!

            4. Gerry Ford

              Please note: it’s nothing like as bad as discrimination against someone Eastern European, Indian or similar. Britain is not an oppressed nation, and is punching itself much harder than anyone else is punching it at this point in history!

              Eastern Europe is an oppressed nation? Vis a vis Russia, maybe.

              1. Ice and Indigo

                At least in Britain, which is where min was talking about, we have quite a lot of Eastern European immigrants, and they face prejudice, including violent hate crimes.

              2. MK

                Russia as a country is extremely powerful. The majority of Russians living in Western Europe are extremely underpriviledged immigrants. Also, Eastern Europe is comprised of many other countries, most of which are not powerful and many are oppressed.

            5. Quickbeam

              My former British coworker once told me that parsing accents amongst the British is an exercise in one upsmanship…and that he enjoyed being in the US where people really didn’t have the ear to know the difference. I have a strong New Jersey accent (which is mocked daily in the midwest) so we were war buddies on the speech front.

            6. CM

              Ice and Indigo, your comment is fascinating and insightful. As an American, I never thought of us as having an “imperial culture” because there’s no map or history book that talks about the American Empire, but this part of your comment feels absolutely true: “In my experience, some Americans treat *any* non-Americanness as a kind of gimmick, as if it’s part of the brand of the funny little theme park called ‘our country’ we live in, and yes, that feels like an assertion of dominance.”

              I also appreciate your distinction between racial discrimination and treating people from other cultures as curiosities — they’re on the same spectrum, and both make people feel disrespected and excluded. When you add in a history of unfair treatment it becomes a lot more serious, but in the context of this letter, the answer is the same — anybody who hears these comments should shut it down and let the offender know it’s not acceptable.

              1. Political scientist

                “there’s no map or history book that talks about the American Empire”

                Possibly because there is no such thing, no matter how much I&I complains. Empires have colonies. The United States does not have colonies. Only during the late 1800s-early 1900s did this model fit.

                1. Ice and Indigo

                  You know, casting a political disagreement as me ‘complaining’ is really not very good discourse. I really don’t think this is the place to get into a complicated political discussion about superpowers, but if you can refrain from personal jabs I think that’d be a start.

                2. Alaskapdx

                  Well. I guess if don’t count guam, America saoma,
                  puerto rico I can keep going the good old USA got 16 ptotectoras/ territories but I guess sense there are not technically called colonies we get a pass- America is an imerprial power -FYI Britain is too last time I checked the British Virgin Islands were still a thing. Ah semantics letting Americans cling to that exceptionalims

                3. Ice and Indigo

                  Yep, Britain has still not let go of all its empire, you’re quite right. Unfortunately.

              2. Ice and Indigo

                Thanks!

                I think it’s a natural quirk of being a dominant culture (or class, come to that) that other people’s normal way of life starts to look, at best, quaint and picturesque, and at worst savage and deplorable. Our British pal’s accent seems to be getting put at the ‘quaint and picturesque’ end of the spectrum, but the point is, it’s a spectrum of inherent disrespect. Because it works on this logic: when you’re the dominant culture, you get to define what’s normal, and it’s you, and everyone else is a foreigner, and foreigners are lesser because you’re the dominant culture.

                Which doesn’t mean Americans don’t get teased abroad. If anything, individual Americans can get teased because people feel a general hostility to America’s excess of international power and take it out on individual Americans in deniable ‘jokes’, which isn’t fair either.

                In general, teasing about nationality is not really extricable from international politics. Which is another reason why it’s a reeeeeeally bad idea to do it in the office. You’re dragging in all sorts of undercurrents that nobody wants to have to work around.

            7. RUKiddingMe

              “…whatever the cultural ins and outs, on a personal scale it’s making him unhappy…”

              This, just this. Oh also it’s illegal.

          3. Scarlet2

            I see your point re. discrimination, but I don’t think you’d find it acceptable to mimick someone’s tone of voice or mannerisms to their face, would you? It wouldn’t be discriminatory or bigoted, but it would definitely be rude and insulting. I don’t think your coworkers making fun of your accent is acceptable either, to be honest (of course, maybe your relationship with your coworkers makes it ok for you, YMMV). I’m pretty weary of “ribbing” generally, because it can move pretty quickly into a situation where the victim feels they can’t complain because they’ll be seen as humourless or uptight. But I find “ribbing” even less acceptable in a workplace, where people are a captive audience. If your friends are jerks to you, you can change friends, whereas you just have to deal with your coworkers.

            So I might be humourless, but I rarely see the humour in publicly mocking someone, for whatever reason.

            1. Julia

              Yeah. I don’t tell my Swiss or Austrian friends their German sounds funny, and I wouldn’t like it if they mocked my (Berlin) German. It happens – when I lived in Switzerland, some people were offended I couldn’t understand their accent – but constant mocking isn’t okay. It’t not funny either.

              1. Jennifer

                You have every right to not think it’s funny, it’s not discriminatory. That’s the point.

                1. Julia

                  Sure, but does something have to be legal discrimination for it to be called out at work/me to not want to be friends with someone anymore?

          4. Chris

            As soon as the person is bothered by it the line between ribbing and mocking has been crossed. If it is no laughing matter to this person it has to stop, right there and then. If you continue doing it even after the person is leaving conversations when you join there is no question about it being bullying and intentional.

            I can’t believe that his coworkers have let it go on for so long without stepping in. This person is hurting your coworker and you are concerned about being impolite? Are you kidding me?

          5. PhyllisB

            min, I understand what you’re saying. I am from the South and have the drawl that goes with it, and every time I travel I get versions of “Oh, I love your accent!! Say something for me!!” Which of course leaves you with..nothing to say. When I was in my teens, I was mortified and would completely shut down. Now I just roll with it.
            However, this was just gentle ribbing. What this woman is doing is mockery, possibly bullying, and I believe the co-workers need to SHUT THIS DOWN!! Has anyone involved a higher up in this? If I didn’t feel comfortable calling her out I would go to her manager and ask them to intervene.

          6. Washi

            This seems completely different from ribbing, which I imagine more as like, teasing when a coworker asks for a rubber instead of an eraser or “haha you say sloth weirdly”

            But this person is just stringing together a bunch of random Briticisms out of the blue, in a way that sounds both repetitive and completely in-funny to a casual observer. This person needs to be told that what she’s doing is neither cute nor original, and to knock it off immediately.

          7. Jennifer

            That’s a good way to look at it. It’s rude, mocking, and insulting, and the coworker should definitely cut it out, but it’s not punching down. It should be treated in the same way it is any time one coworker is being rude to another. Turning it into a civil rights issue is over the top.

          8. neverjaunty

            Bullying doesn’t have to mean “punching down” to a group you belong to. Bullying can be and often is just plain “let’s bond socially and feel superior by picking on someone”. There is zero need to take a deep breath here and consider the relative timelines of your respective empires.

        3. JSPA

          Seems more helpful to focus on behaviors and outcomes. We are not mind readers. people’s internal Landscapes can be many and various! So long as the output stays within professional norms, we don’t need to be policing people’s perceptions and thought processes. And when the output strays from professional norms we do better to focus on the action, not the imputed intentions. It doesn’t matter if she’s trying to have a bonding moment or has a crush on him or doesn’t know that real British people exist or is just a complete jerk. Regardless, she needs to stop doing that thing she’s doing.

    4. RUKiddingMe

      IMO the coworker lost any “right” to being spoken to privately or to expecting “polite” correction the minute she started mocking the coworker, particularly as it is done publicly and repeatedly. YMMV.

        1. Cat Fan

          Right? I honestly can’t believe that no one has corrected this woman before now, or told her manager about it.

      1. EPLawyer

        I cannot agree more. This is not her making fun in a conversation she is a part of where it could, possibly if you squint, be construed as good natured ribbing. This is inserting herself into conversations solely for the purpose of making fun of the accent. This is not social awkwardness, it’s downright rude.

        Shut it down immediately. As soon as she opens her mouth and comes out with a mocking phrase, cut it off. Interrupt her and say “Knock it off, that’s not funny and you are rude.”

        1. Anonyish

          Yes. If this had been a one-off, then having a word afterwards in private could be appropriate, if you thought it was just someone being a bit silly and not intending to be mean. But it’s gone way, way beyond that.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago

        1000% this. If you’re going to be a raging asshole, you deserve to be called out publicly.

      3. Colette

        But it’s possible to give her kindness she has no right to, and doing so will probably result in a better outcome for the workplace as a whole. If she doesn’t take the opportunity to change, the OP can still publicly shut her down.

        1. Scarlet2

          I think publicly affirming that it’s not ok to make fun of people is actually very good for the workplace as a whole. It shows everyone bullying will not be tolerated. A lot of people who focus on being polite to the office jerk don’t seem to care that nobody’s standing up for the British coworker. He’s probably feeling very alienated right now.

          1. Colette

            I agree, but I’d recommend mild pushback in public with a more pointed conversation in public.

            1. Scarlet2

              Why “mild” public pushback against a behaviour that is openly insulting though? I think people are absolutely entitled to tell her to cut it out because it’s offensive, rude and unfunny. If I was being repeatedly insulted by a colleague, seeing my coworkers “mildly” pushing back against my bully wouldn’t really make me feel supported.

            2. RUKiddingMe

              We need to stop being “mild” and “gentle” and “private” with jerks.

              They need to be told in no uncertain terms, with witnesses present that their behavior is unacceptable and not tolerated. Witnesses need to see it happening so that they will 1) understand that it’s not something that will be accepted, 2) on notice to not do it themselves if they were of a mind to do so, 3) feel supported if they are the target, and 4) understand that they too can stand up to this crap instead of just rolling over. This applies by the way to the world in general, not only at work.

          2. TootsNYC

            I’m w/ Colette. Of COURSE you want to shut the down, and push back.

            But doing so firmly and not aggressively will be far more effective.

            I’m a fan of the simple, short, slightly censorious “Not cool, Mary.”
            Or the curious “Do you know how rude you sound?”

            Or, “I’m so tired of that routine, and I can’t imagine John enjoys it much. Can you knock it off?”

            I think that so many people can only summon up unpleasantness, and they KNOW that won’t lead anywhere good, so they say nothing.

            Channel your inner daycare worker, and say, “Use your nice words, Mary.”

            1. TootsNYC

              if that doesn’t work, then you can take it to a private conversation in which you are more aggressive, and you can even escalate in person.

              But setting out to punish her may backfire.

            2. Scarlet2

              Hum, I think “firm” is what most people have been advocating so far, I don’t see “aggressive” anywhere.

              Your examples sound firm, not mild.

        2. Observer

          I think it’s highly unlikely that this will result in better outcomes, though. The CW is cannot be construed as “clueless” both her behavior and the reaction she’s getting make that impossible to believe. On the other hand, the victim really needs to know that people really DO have a problem with this behavior. It’s bad enough that it’s happening. The idea that the rest of the office is ok with it may be the thing that drives the victim to find another job (or go to the eeoc.)

    5. Samwise

      Doing it publicly is better, because the victim will hear that their colleagues are supporting them — right now there are TWO problems, the mocking and the silent bystanding. Do it in the moment, right when it happens, and you address both problems.

    6. Charlotte

      That’s a really good idea. That way she’s less likely to get defensive/feel put on the spot. Thanks!

      1. Scarlet2

        But then you’re not showing any support to your bullied coworker and he can go on thinking the whole office is ok with her behaviour. Please don’t take the easy way out.

    7. Not Me

      I disagree. Politeness is out the window here. Standing up for someone who is clearly uncomfortable and shutting down a jerk needs to be done in the moment. I would say to her “that was incredibly rude” with a very straight face and direct eye contact the next time it happens. If she’s embarrassed or her feelings are hurt; that’s ok.

      This isn’t a situation where it might just be a quirk that the persons actions are making someone uncomfortable. This is blatantly rude behavior.

  12. musical chairs

    For #1, I’m not interested in exactly speculating what the comment was (I believe you when you say, by their own measure, it wasn’t offensive to you), and my gut is that a single rude comment may become evidence in a case built to fire someone when it’s part of a pattern that could contribute to a hostile workplace, legally speaking.

    I hope that isn’t the case and I hope the your supervisor is more careful not to frame this as decision where their hand was forced by a need/desire to protect you, especially if my gut feeling is correct and even more especially if you’re one of the only ones in your company in a specific legally protected class.

    Regardless, the supervisor made the decision to fire your former coworker, they should own that and take responsibility for damage control within your team. Not only that, they should also not do anything that looks like they’re spreading around the “blame” for that decision.

    Worst case, if you’re worried about blowback from the people you still work with (if they think you have outsized power or influence on their employment due to not knowing the whole story) it may be worth it to ask your supervisor to briefly set the record straight with your team as a matter-of-fact. And to be specifically careful about messaging going forward

    No matter what, I agree with everyone here that you don’t owe your former coworker anything in particular—you did not cause him to lose his job.

    1. Falling Diphthong

      I wondered if the pattern was not “Wakeen, I hate this place, it sucks, it’s terrible” but “Wakeen, I hate you and you suck and this is all your fault” and Wakeen brushes that off as just how Fergus deals with a rough day, he doesn’t mean it–but to a bystander Fergus sounds like an unreasonable jerk because… people who do this are unreasonable jerks, even if their designated person to scream at is able to shrug it off.

  13. Quake Johnson

    You don’t need to ‘politely’ tell someone to stop being a bully or a bigot to someone else.

    1. valentine

      You have to start there at work, lest you be dragged in to HR with them and told you’re both as bad as each other.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I don’t think my sample language in the post is especially “polite,” but it’s not going to get you in trouble in a reasonably functional workplace.

      2. RUKiddingMe

        Telling someone to stop mocking a coworker isn’t going to get anyone in trouble. What’s she going to say anyway? “I was mocking Bob’s accent, because he’s from some strange foreign place you know and talks funny, then, with no warning at all, Mary told me to stop doing it! She’s being totally hostile towards my creating a hostile workplace.”

        1. Karo

          I think Valentine’s point is that you have to react differently to this kind of thing at work than you would out in the rest of the world. Alison’s samples aren’t “polite,” but they’re office appropriate. For instance, my initial reaction to this letter included a lot of cursing. If I said those words to the bigot I (hopefully) wouldn’t be in as much trouble, but it would certainly open the door to a conversation about what is and isn’t appropriate.

          1. RUKiddingMe

            I get that. I think a lot of people (myself included) conflate “polite” with “nice” and I see no reason anyone needs to be more than the minimal amount of civil to this woman, not rude but not polite-nice either.

      3. Scarlet2

        I don’t think firmly telling someone to stop making fun of their colleague would get anyone dragged in to HR, unless they’re working in a seriously dysfunctional place.

      4. The Man, Becky Lynch

        Right. So don’t respond with yelling “wtf is wrong with you?!” you just say “knock that off, you’re being rude.”

        I think we are mashing up “polite” with the idea you need to say/ask/minimise “Please stop standing on my foot Marcia.” and wait for her to move. With telling someone immediately to stop and remove oneself from said foot.

        1. TootsNYC

          yes.

          You can be polite and firm.
          You can be polite and strong.
          But being rude and aggressive may not get the results you want.

          And you can always start firm but polite, and then get angry.

          I think people see “polite” as meaning “ask nicely, say please,” instead of just civil.

          1. Scarlet2

            And nobody said OP should be rude or aggressive. Asking someone to stop being rude is not “angry” or “aggressive”.

  14. DyneinWalking

    #2: Question to consider when dealing with mockery like that: Is the mocked behavior inherently problematic? (No) Is it obvious that the mocked behavior is not meant to be offensive to other people? (Yes, this is a British person speaking with a British accent.) Can the mocked person consciously and easily change the behavior? (No, most people need extensive practice to get rid of their accent)
    I wonder if the employee’s mockery stems from the notion that a British accent (Oxford English, at least) is inherently more refined/posh than an American accent*, and has the urge to throw him off his high horse or something. If that’s the case, it might help to point out that there’s a whole country full of people who talk with a British accent, that most people speak with the accent they picked up as a child and can’t consciously change that, and that even people who can imitate a different accent generally have to make an effort and wouldn’t be able to do it constantly.
    She is mocking him for inoffensive behavior that isn’t even a choice. It might “only” be an accent and not an actual speech problem like stuttering or lisping, but the problem isn’t much different: The only way to escape the mockery is to never speak a single word around that person.
    That requirement is unacceptable, full stop.

    *I’m German and not actually very accent-savvy, but that is the impression I got over the years (that the British accent is considered posh)

    1. Batgirl

      I have a very working class (opposite of posh) British accent and the exact same thing has happened to me. With another British person. The stereotypes of my accent are not at all refined, so it wasnt defensiveness on his part. I have a strong regional accent he doesn’t hear every day and he just decided to mock the sounds. Some people hear ‘different’ and think ‘absurd’ and have no problem telling you how absurd they think you are.

      1. RUKiddingMe

        It happens here (US) as well. Lots of people make comments about southern accents implying that southerners are cerebrally challenged. People from certain parts of the country like Appalachia, specifically states like Kentucky and West Virginia for example are thought of as particularly challenged by a lot of people.

        I am a west coaster, originally from California. Californians are not really considered to have a regional accent, but something about the way we say “coke” (the drink, not the powder…) … I don’t know what it is but people will say “you’re from California right?” When asked how they picked up specifically California (instead of say Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Nevada…) they say “the way you say ‘coke.'” It doesn’t however make people think we are unintelligent. Though they do seem to think we’re all crystal rubbing, alfalfa* chewing hippies… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        *Alfalfa sprouts are awesome on turkey sandwiches. J/S

        1. Samwise

          There is indeed a west coast accent, which can be livened up with California-specific vocab and inflections. Most people in the US can’t really distinguish it unless they are linguists!

        2. Aunt Piddy

          Yuuuuup. I’m from the South and visited a friend in Michigan while I was in college. People spent the whole time asking me why I was wearing shoes and if I had ever eaten possum. LITERALLY EVERY TIME I was introduced to someone new and they found out where I was from they would ask why I was wearing shoes. At least two were honestly puzzled.

          A friend moved to California after nursing school and discovered that the ENTIRE NURSING STAFF conspired to keep all of the minority nurses away from her because they assumed she was racist and would not be able to handle working with POC and immigrants. She once overheard a doctor talking about her: “Oh no, don’t let the accent fool you, she’s actually quite intelligent.”

          1. RUKiddingMe

            Ugh!

            As I said, I am from California, born, raised, schooled (through HS anyway…college was University of California Berkeley, University of Washington Seattle and Princeton…so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) but the majority of my extended relatives are from Appalachia, specifically Kentucky and W. Virginia. Some of them are denser than a black hole, but the majority of them are standard issue human level intelligent, and a few are like me —way over educated.

            To be fair though some of the older generations (most long gone now) were really hard to understand. I remember an elderly aunt-cousin (no, really) of some degree of relationship to me at my great-grandmother’s house (in California though she was originally from KY) talking one day when I was…let’s say about eight…and I recall asking why she wasn’t speaking English. She’d been a California resident for about 30 years by that point. She never got any easier to understand though.

            My dad’s side were from wayyy back in the mountains of W. VA.* for the most part. I needed an interpreter most of the time. I did my requisite linguistics courses for my degrees but it was never something I liked all that much. However I do believe they are evolving an entirely new version of English back in the hollers. Someone that digs linguistics should study it.

            *Some were from Wisconsin and Ohio too. Dad was born in W. VA but moved to Tucson when he was like 3 weeks old, so he always considered himself an Arizonan.

          2. Charlotte Collins

            I hate to say it, but depending upon where in MI you were visiting, you might have been talking to people who also endure some pretty negative stereotypes about their intelligence and “countrified” ways. I guess some people just like to feel superior…? But just look like jerks.

            I live in the upper Midwest, and I once took a fiction class where I presented a story that had been written in an Ohio River Valley type dialect (many of my dad’s family are from the area, and I find it very lively and engaging). At one point, I used a “big” word (can’t remember what it was now), and the class found it unbelievable that the narrator would use that particular word, because it didn’t fit their idea of the language ability of that area. Now, I’ve heard my grandmother say “used to could,” but I also can guarantee that it was a word she knew. I irritated the heck out of me that it wasn’t that the word didn’t fit in with the dialect but that they thought it didn’t fit in with their prejudices.

        3. JSPA

          Maybe because you’re saying a coke rather than a pop, a soft drink, a seltzer, a soda? Or your in the South now and they’re saying “a Coke” and you’re just saying Coke? Unless you have that high nasal vowel thing going on? But soft drink nomenclature is the classic example of regional differences in US vocabulary.

          1. RUKiddingMe

            I refer to them as “soda.” I was talking about specifically Coca Cola. I remember living in Texan and ask someone, “do you want something to drink? “Sure I’ll take a coke.” “What kind?” “Orange.” Always amused me.

            I don’t have a nasal thing going on. IDK what it is about the actual word “coke” (and that could refer to the drug as well…just that I rarely talk about cocaine…) that nails it.

            It’s not just me either. I know a lot of people who get the “Oh California” thing and it’s always been explained that they nailed it as specifically California, not the west coast —California— because of “the way you say coke.” Every single time to a person. I just don’t know and gave up trying to understand a couple decades ago.

            Here (Washington) they tend to say “pop.” That’s just wrong… :-)

      2. RUKiddingMe

        Embrace your accent. It’s who you are. I was watching a bio thing about Michael Caine a while back. He was talking about his cockney accent and why he’s never adopted a more “posh” accent…something he can easily do, and has done in several films…

        He said he deliberately chose to not get rid og it or to make a point to sound more posh because 1) it’s who he is/where he’s from and 2) when he was a kid and said he wanted to be an actor people in his world would treat him as if he was aspiring above his station.

        He wanted to be an example to others who might be getting asked “who do you think you are that they too could aspire to more than what society has deemed their station in life.

        1. Watry

          I have a fairly strong southern US accent. I no longer attempt to hide it unless it’s actually causing an immediate problem, especially when I was in college/trying to make academia work. We’ll never get rid of the stigma if we all keep trying to hide it, and obviously if I made it through a science degree, play two instruments, and am semi-fluent in a second language in an area where that isn’t common I must not be that dumb.

          1. Belle of the Midwest

            Kentucky-born-and-bred, Indiana transplant here. I absolutely concur. I’ve been asked all sorts of stupid questions, such as “did your folks make moonshine?” (no they didn’t, but they did raise tobacco) and “do you like country music?” (only in very very small doses) and others I won’t repeat here. I’ve come up with “elevator speech answers” to most of them and then if people keep it up, I just do that southern belle thing of looking them up and down and giving them the dirtiest look I can muster. That usually shuts them up. Thankfully, most people say things like “I love your accent” or “Kentucky has some beautiful countryside” and we just move on from there.

            I couldn’t hide my twang if I tried (and believe me, I’ve tried–it’s more work than it’s worth). this is who I am. I have a master’s degree, have a wall full of professional awards, and I play the piano when I go home from my work in higher education.

            When my husband and I have traveled to England, we don’t pick up the accents, but we find ourselves picking up the vocabulary (lift, toilet, “football” for “soccer,” “tube” or “underground” for “subway” etc). That’s more so the locals don’t have to decipher what we are asking for.

    2. A.N. O'Nyme

      Usually it is considered to be posh, yeah. If you are right about the mocking coworker, she needs a VERY firm reminder that people don’t have accents AT her.

      1. ANewUKAnon

        Definitely this. I have a ‘posh’ British accent and went to school in a part of the country where the local accent (‘not posh’) is noticeably different. Got bullied a lot, for various things, one of which was that I was definitely seen as having my accent ‘at’ people. It’s just the way my mouth makes sounds!

        1. londonedit

          I also have a ‘posh’ English accent and went to school in an area with an accent that is generally considered ‘not posh’ (if I mention where my family are from, I generally get very poor impressions of ‘oooh arrrrrrrr’ farmers). I was also bullied at school because I didn’t have the local accent, and apparently that meant I was stuck-up and looking down on everyone who did. Just because I don’t make the same sounds when speaking as other people. Just the other day, my aunt (who is originally British but emigrated to Canada 40 years ago) told me I can’t possibly refer to myself as a Londoner (I’ve lived here nearly 20 years) ‘with that accent’. Presumably because I don’t speak like a Cockney.

          There are hundreds of different British accents (I get the impression most Americans think of a specific English accent along the lines of Downton Abbey/the Queen/old-school BBC pronunciation when they say ‘British accent’, but in reality a ‘British accent’ doesn’t exist as Britain encompasses England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for a start, and within each of those there are hundreds of incredibly varied accents). It sounds like the obnoxious coworker here was attempting a Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins accent, which makes it all the more hilarious seeing as that’s widely mocked by Brits as being a hilariously bad attempt at ‘British’ by an American. Anyway, this person is indeed being totally obnoxious and childish, and their behaviour absolutely needs shutting down immediately. It doesn’t matter whether they’re mocking a Texas accent or an English one or a Chinese one, it’s still totally unacceptable.

          1. JustaTech

            For anyone who’s interested in the huge range of “British” accents there’s a great episode of Angelophenia (from BBC America) where the host does 17 different British accents. (You can find it on YouTube, it’s episode 5.)

            Accents are one of the really lovely parts of the great tapestry of humanity; I really don’t understand why anyone feels the need to mock them.

          2. RUKiddingMe

            I think most non English people are thinking the RP accent as the default.

            WRT your aunt…don’t ( a lot of) the royal family, who decidedly do not have a cockney accent live at least part of the time in London?

    3. MK

      I am not that your points, while valid, are particularly relevant. Even if the accent was inherently problematic or intended to be offensive, mockery, particularly of this juvenile nature, would still be unacceptable in the workplace (or anywhere else, I would argue). And even if the English person could easily change their accent, that would be beside the point in my opinion.

      Also, the possibility that she is mocking his accent as a power play makes her behaviour worse, not more understandable. I would be hesitant to pander to it by pointing out that the English person might not be “posh”; it implies that it would be ok to mock privileged people.

      1. Scarlet2

        Agreed. It’s the kind of thing that you expect in high school, not among adult professionals. I’m sure everyone was too stunned to say anything the first time it happened, but I can’t understand why all the other coworkers 1. keep their mouths shut when someone exhibits that kind of behavious – the British coworker probably thinks his other colleagues are just fine with that behaviour, 2. feel the need to be “polite” to someone who’s being unbelievably rude. I think saying something like “what exactly are you trying to do?”, “you’re being rude and childish, please stop” or “was that supposed to be funny?” would shut it down pretty effectively.

        1. Ice and Indigo

          And, speaking as a Brit, there’s a fairly big cultural taboo against being confrontational. We’re the nation of, ‘Sorry, would you mind getting off my foot, please? Thanks. Sorry.’* So if he’s posh and British, he may actually be struggling more than some people to find a way of saying ‘Knock it off’. Or, I suppose, ‘Cut if out’, if he doesn’t want that to be mimicked as well.

          I could be wrong; maybe he’s a very assertive guy. But it’s another thing to bear in mind.

          *Apologies are to Britain what bowing is to Japan: it’s a gesture of deference that keeps the social wheels spinning. We’re not actually sorry, we’re just signalling respect and a desire to negotiate peacefully. But I’ve certainly had American colleagues assume I’m saying ‘I’m basically fine with X’ when I was pretty sure I said ‘I’ve got a significant problem with X’ because of the different idioms.

          1. Batgirl

            I think theres something about having your voice mocked which is just a really effective silencer.
            I’m assertive and it just gobsmacked me.

            1. Ice and Indigo

              True. Because how can you say anything to protest? You’ll still be saying it in your voice, after all.

              1. Michaela Westen

                Take on a really weird, silly accent from a fictional character, and tease them with it. ;)
                Having trouble thinking of a good character – I don’t watch enough TV!

            2. EventPlannerGal

              I agree. When it’s happened to me – which is pretty frequently, unfortunately – I find it really hard to respond to because it’s so personal, and it’s often picking up on things that I had never even realised I was saying differently. It just makes you sort of instantly self-conscious in a really awful way, and if it was coming from someone who I had to work with I really wouldn’t know how to handle it.

    4. RUKiddingMe

      The real litmus test is whether or not creating a toxic environment for someone based on national origin is legal. It’s not. Full stop.

      1. Akcipitrokulo

        Absolutely. I wasn’t sure if it was a protected characteristic in US, but confirmed above that it is – so colleague isn’t just being obnoxious, they’re breaking the law and placing the company at risk. It needs to stop.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood

      OP, shut down that mocking employee now.
      The quoted remark is “chim chim cheree” — which is a reference to a chimney-sweep. It is NOT the posh upper-crust accent. Now maybe that’s just the employee’s inability to hear differences between two variations of “British accent” — but believe me there was still a bias against speaking in regional accents at least as recently as the 1980s. My US family has kept in touch with the UK cousins. The city accent is not Cockney, but has some equally noticeable “twists” in pronunciation. When I visited in the 80s, I could clearly hear a difference in how people pronounced words just within the family. One of my cousins clearly speaks in the same accent as his parents…he ran a car dealership. But his two siblings had to train themselves to use a different accent *IN ORDER TO GET PROMOTED*…so, for finance & education at least, the accent is a distinguishing characteristic.
      I’ve also moved cross-country more than once in my life. I took a LOT of flack in college for the “Lawn Guysland” accent, lost most of it in my years on the west coast, and then had people not believe I was from the area when I moved back home. And even my family teases me when I get very tired and my childhood accent slips through. I’m getting tired of those jokes. I can’t quit them, but your UK employee has that option. Which of the 2 would you prefer if it came down to a choice?

      1. Ice and Indigo

        I think a Brit is more likely to hear ‘Dick van Dyke’ than ‘class aspersions’ in the phrase ‘chim chim cheree’. And in Britain, van Dyke’s accent is a byword for ‘tin-eared, lazy attempt at sounding English’. He didn’t sound like a member of any English class; he sounded like an American with a cold. Lovely dancer and all, but the accent was so bad I think a whole generation of English children didn’t even realise he was supposed to be English of any class, region or anything else.

        So I think the message the co-worker is most likely to take is, ‘I know absolutely piss-all about your country and culture, and for some reason I think this makes you the ridiculous one.’ It’s too stupid to carry much of a class sting.

        (Also, just an interesting fact: Cockney is no longer the distinctive London accent. It’s now MLE, or Multicultural London English; you can hear it in ‘Attack The Block’. Cockney is the accent of older generations, and has sort of melted into Estuary English, which is melting back into RP. For instance: I’m an RP-speaking Londoner, and I still drop my Ts at the end of words; that started Cockney and filtered back in.

        None of this is especially relevant to the office question, except to point out that every nation’s accents are full of complex and subtle variations and Ms Chim-Chim-Cheree is very stupid indeed.)

      2. londonedit

        I think there is much less of a bias against regional accents in the UK now. Not to say it doesn’t still exist – there are still the stereotypical prejudices that go along with various accents – but the BBC has really moved away from the old-school ‘posh’ accents and has filled its programmes with regional accents from all over the UK, with much more of a focus on trying to make all of its programming reflect the diversity of the UK as a whole. In fact, from about the late 1980s/1990s onwards, there’s been a huge shift towards posh accents being uncool – stuck up, stuffy, bigoted, part of ‘The Establishment’, out-of-touch, etc – whereas regional accents are seen as trustworthy, honest, much more ‘of the people’. You’ll notice that while Princes William and Harry definitely have ‘posh’ accents, they’re far less posh than the Queen/Prince Charles. William and Harry speak like middle-class men who went to posh schools, but they don’t have the ‘Queen’s English’ accents of previous generations.

        In fact, I’ve seen the absolute reverse of your family’s situation – I went to a very small village primary school, where we all spoke with middle-class southern English accents rather than the local accent. When we went up to secondary/high school at the age of 11, our accents were roundly mocked for being ‘posh’ and ‘stuck-up’ and we were called ‘snobs’. I kept my accent (and was therefore deeply uncool) but friends of mine changed theirs to fit more closely with the local accent.

        1. Media Monkey

          i would say that depends on the accent and the strength of it. i suspect someone with a brummie/ wolverhampton accent would be perceived differently that someone with a london/ glasgow/ manchester accent. and accents are fine but strong accents less so. i have a west coast of scotland accent. if i spoke like Rab C Nesbitt i would think i would struggle more at work!

          1. Mrs Mary Smiling

            +1 ding ding! Married to someone from the West Midlands, living in the US, and he is constantly entertained by the fact that Americans think his accent is delightful. Also, that many people do not realize he is English because his accent is so far removed from what they expect…

        2. Akcipitrokulo

          Yes… but… people will assume that someone who speaks like Kate Middleton is more intelligent than someone who speaks like Sarah Millican. Or Rees-Mogg is brighter than Dennis Skinner.

        3. Batgirl

          I can count on one hand the number of people on telly with my accent who isn’t a footballer.
          True it IS better than it used to be but that just makes it more jarring when it comes up.
          I used to be good friends with a fellow linguist, both experts in accents and social attitudes, yet just before we parted ways she asked if I was *really* Scouse because I “sound educated” and also had I ever heard that a “Scouse wash” meant ‘a flannel wash’.

          1. ElspethGC

            I’m a northerner in a house full of southerners. (University housemates.) They’re all great friends, but when we were watching the new series of Doctor Who, one of them, from Bath, kept repeating words and phrases in the worst faux-Yorkshire/Northern accent I’ve heard in a while. I don’t even have a South Yorkshire or Sheffield accent (East Yorkshire here) but WOW did it get on my nerves by episode 2. I eventually just turned to him and was like “I’m sorry, have you never heard anyone on TV before who has a different accent to you? Can we move on now?”

        4. EvilQueenRegina

          Oh I can relate to that – the local accent where I grew up is pretty close to Sam from Lord of the Rings, and mine is more like Merry’s, and people used to consider that posh. One person even referred to me as “the foreign lady” once in a previous job.

        5. EventPlannerGal

          I’m not sure I agree. I’m from Glasgow, born in 1993, and all the way through school (so right up to 2010/11) I was basically trained out of any trace of a proper Glasgow accent. I remember people in my classes being told, explicitly, that if we talked like that then people would assume that we were stupid or common, that we would not be taken seriously and that we would be at a disadvantage in uni and job interviews. Even these days, I frequently get people being absolutely shocked to find that that’s where I’m from and praising me for managing to sound so “nice” or “well-spoken”, or saying “thank God you don’t have the accent!” or “well, you wouldn’t want to sound like THAT!” and so on. I agree that there’s definitely been a shift towards a more middle-class mode of speech in terms of things like TV presenters, but with regional accents I think it’s still really, really dependent on where the accent is from, how strong it is and how heavily it’s associated with working-class people.

    6. Lucy

      I agree with other posters that the “poshness” isn’t a factor because of the particular English accent she’s using to mock him. It isn’t clear to me whether the accent she’s using to mock him is the same as his actual accent (there are dozens if not hundreds of different “British” accents).

      It might be helpful for a German to imagine that the office is in Hamburg and the mocked accent is Schwäbisch (and the mocked coworker is possibly Austrian).

      1. Samwise

        Most Americans can’t tell the difference between a posh Brit accent and any other Brit accent.

        Or between British accents and Australian, South African…

  15. Lena Clare

    Oh #3 and Alison with the lipstick on teeth, I feel you!
    Here if it makes you feel better: I worked as a teacher in a previous career. I had a particularly difficult class which was going really well. I was thinking I was pretty good until a different said “miss your blouse is undone”. And I mean UNDONE. My whole brassiere was showing. They were only quiet coz they were gawping.

    Also, picked up a load of books to carry, got the bottom of my skirt caught in the pile and walked around handing the books out with my tights on show. (They were opaque so no harm no foul, but still who wants to see that?!)

    Oh… also happened to step backwards and fell over a box of dictionaries (That was pretty funny) but it was definitely inelegant and I’m sure tights and legs were on show there too.

    Signed, someone incredibly clumsy :)

      1. valentine

        You sound like a hoot. I always think these things are sitcom writers’ wild imaginations, but here you are.

    1. TL -

      One time a man was walking too close
      behind me for a solid block, directly behind me but staring very fixedly over my head, not at me (I was doing the furtive glance thing.)
      I got to my destination and realized my skirt has ridden up under my backpack and he was trying to preserve my modesty without having to say anything to me!

          1. TL -

            I appreciated it and I got why he was hesitant to say anything – I did have tights on, too.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder

        I had a woman pull me aside in the middle of a city block last week to tell me my backpack had caused my skirt to ride up to, well, my waistline. I was very grateful to her!

    2. Environmental Compliance

      My last day at a large state gov’t center, in a very large central city, I wore one of my favorite (and comfy!) dresses. Visited the restroom before I got to the outer doors because I had a 2 hour drive home….managed to walk out with my skirt tucked into the back of my (mostly opaque) tights. And did anyone tell me on my 15 minute *fully outside, not in the tunnels* walk to the garage? Of course not! Got to my car, went to swoop my skirt so I could get in….and touched just tights-covered-bum.

  16. Tomalak

    OP1, I have been in this position. A not particularly pleasant row with a colleague led a third party to complain I was being bullied. The firm wanted rid of the “bully” and pretty soon I was being asked in detail if I felt I was being bullied. I answered honestly that I did not: I felt it was a row about work issues in which I gave as good as I got.

    But it highlighted for me that often these things are worse and far more awkward for the third party than for the two participants. Colleagues won’t always agree, but keep your rows behind closed doors when possible!

    1. NYWeasel

      I was also in a similar position with a supervisor who was demoted partly bc of how he was treating me. What followed was four years of having him despise me and treat me 1000x worse than he had before, and me having to be super careful of what I said to anyone else, since he had a lot of people believing that he was the victim. Thankfully he’s no longer at the company.

    2. Falling Diphthong

      Often these things are worse and far more awkward for the third party.

      Just picture how much fun the rest of us have when a romantic couple start going at each other for perceived shortfallings.

  17. Rez123

    follow-up question to #5. What about when applying for jobs abroad? My references do speak English, but feel uncomfortable about it since they don’t speak it often. Asking them to be a reference would be easier if they could email since they would have time to think what to say and they would feel less stressed out.

    1. Japananon

      I have the exact same question. My references would be uncomfortable speaking English at the level of fluidity where their pauses/word choice would be interpreted. Plus there’s the time difference and extra planning involved. I could get references with better English but they wouldn’t be my direct managers.

  18. Batgirl

    OP2; the accent mockery has happened to me and I said nothing (except WUT in my head). When I return to that memory I wish I had simply said “why are you trying to sound like me?” Or “why are you repeating what I say?”
    Because it can’t be explained and I want to watch someone try.
    In my case bystanders were silent for the same reason I was but it would have been nice to have someone prepare to speak up. Good luck.

    1. RUKiddingMe

      I think some of it is like bystander effect. Everyone figures someone else will do something which leads to no one doing anything. Not that I think that it is at all ok, ever…just an observation.

    2. Julia

      Just yesterday I asked someone at work why he was repeating whatever I said (I’m also from a different country as the majority in the office) and he just responded with “because it’s fun”. People who want to be jerks will be jerks. :( I wish someone of his nationality could have pointed that out to him.

      1. Armchair Analyst

        “It’s not fun for me.”

        Jerks are universal. If all the non-jerks could unite against the jerks, we’d have world peace (or whirled peas…)

        1. Julia

          In my experience, if you tell jerks that something isn’t fun for me, they just do it more.

    3. Arctic

      I’m not sure the bully will have nothing to say. I think he or she would probably say “I just love your accent” or “I just good natured ribbing.” Or something else that would make it seem like you are the one with the problem for not taking their bullying.

      1. Batgirl

        That’s when you say “well you can’t do it and you’re hurting my ears” or “No you are being very rude”.

    4. Name Required

      Oh, or better yet, “Is that what you think I sound like?” in a sincere and concerned voice.

  19. A.N. O'Nyme

    OP#2: that does need to be shut down immediately. Worst case scenario, she thinks you actually agree with her (whatever her reasoning for doing it is) but can’t say anything because of that darn political correctness. Best case scenario, she doesn’t realise your British coworker doesn’t find it funny and just needs to be told she’s being insulting and needs to cut it out, right now.
    If she continues after that or puts her foot down, let British coworker know you have his back and let a manager (or even HR) know what is happening. Especially considering she is literally interrupting conversations she’s not part of and causing your coworker to walk away.

    1. RUKiddingMe

      I wonder if the British coworker is white. I’m betting that he is and that the coworker assumes that it “cant be discrimination/racism/hostile/whatever” because…white guy.

      1. Retiring Academic

        Because the OP mentioned ‘Hello guv’nor’ type mockery, I wonder if the British guy has a Cockney accent? The offensive coworker may not be aware of this, but if that’s the case then to the British guy it probably comes across as mockery not just of his nationality but of his class origin (working class) which would be doubly offensive. But in any case she needs to be told that her behaviour is totally unacceptable.

        1. Project Manager

          In my head, he actually has an Oop North accent, but the coworker doesn’t know the difference, making her look like even more of an idiot.

          OP, please say something. Ribbing would be one thing (I have a thick Texas accent. I’m actually surprised more people haven’t teased me), but this is just mean.

          1. Falling Diphthong

            I’m guessing the rude coworker considers there to be one British accent, of which she is doing a hilarious impression.

            1. Batgirl

              This is definitely it. I have a Scouse accent and I’ve gotten the ‘guvnor’ thing from non Brits. I usually say “Complete wrong region and dialect. You’re miles away love”

            2. Washi

              Yeah, I’m pretty sure she’s just doing Bert from Mary Poppins…which is fitting, given that that’s an American doing a horrific “Cockney” accent!

              1. Armchair Analyst

                I feel like “you’re making all Americans look bad” would also be an appropriate response to tell her to stop. If she doesn’t care how the Brit feels, hopefully she’ll care about Americans’ feelings.

        2. Alica

          I’d be more surprised if he did have a Cockney accent TBF – as this person keeps using the same mocking phrase without noticing everyone cringing, I’d be incredibly surprised if they had the wherewithal to identify the broad range of British accents. From what I’ve seen of US tv, British people are usually depicted with either the posh RP/Queen’s accent, or Cockney. (also no actual Cockney person speaks like Dick Van Dyke….there’s a reason that phrase is now used sarcastically. My dad uses it whenever I’m watching Buffy and Spike is on screen!)

          Mine’s a Yorkshire accent, which doesn’t seem to be regarded too badly – the awful Michael McIntyre sketch is about as close as people get to mocking it. Might get more widely recognised now the new Doctor Who is Yorkshire!

          1. ElspethGC

            Hi, fellow Yorkshire-folk! The only thing that’s ever been said about my accent by Americans is that I sound Scottish, so…

            Apparently, a survey of accents from around the British Isles found that the Yorkshire accent(s) (I highly doubt I have precisely the same accent as you) is generally considered extremely trustworthy but a bit dim. I believe the questions were about if you heard different accents in different scenarios, and people didn’t want a Yorkshire accent coming from a pilot (Edinburgh was popular) but that we make *great* call-centre voices because we sound down-to-earth. Uncertain whether that’s a compliment.

  20. Akcipitrokulo

    OP2 – it’s bullying and offensive and bigotted and needs shut down now.

    (I’m assuming that you mean English/home counties accent – it really doesn’t matter to question, but England != Britain.)

    1. Alica

      What’s the bettings the accent isn’t even close to Dick Van Dyke Cockney?

      (mine’s Yorkshire, so mocking of my accent tends to be dropping H’s and loudly pronouncing T’s like the Michael McIntyre impression of Yorkshire. Again, not accurate in the slightest!)

    2. Akcipitrokulo

      Not the point. Not all of Britain is England, and it’s rude (to say the least) to conflate the two.

      1. Geographer

        It it the point.

        You said above that you are Scottish. If you are saying that England is not Britain, then you are pushing a pro-independence agenda. And you are also implicitly marginalizing countries like Turkey. Turkey has both European and non-European parts, which was used to undermine Turkey’s bid to join the EU.

        1. londonedit

          I don’t think Akcipitrokulo was saying England isn’t Britain? I think they meant precisely the opposite – that while all of England may be Britain, all of Britain is not England. It’s really irritating for everyone in Britain when people from other countries (seems particularly prominent among Americans) refer to ‘England’ when they actually mean Scotland or Wales or whatever. Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland may be part of Great Britain, but they’re sure as heck nothing to do with England.

          1. Ozanne

            Northern Ireland is not part of Great Britain. Britain comprises England, Scotland and Wales (and also the Crown Dependencies, which are not part of the UK). The full name of the UK is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, thus the UK comprises the four Home Countries.

            Wales has plenty to do with England in that common law principles often apply in both England and Wales but not Scotland.

            1. londonedit

              OK, no need to explain the way it all works to me – I’m English myself! I meant that in terms of accents, culture, etc, the other countries of the British Isles do not like being lumped in with England.

              1. londonedit

                I knew I was going to get in trouble from someone for saying Great Britain instead of the British Isles or Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

                Perfectly illustrating how complicated this stuff is, and why it’s always so frustrating to hear people talk about ‘the British accent’ or assume that an upper-class English accent is representative of everyone in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

          2. Akcipitrokulo

            I am saying that England is not, by itself, Britain. It isn’t. An apple might be in a fruit basket, but apple != fruit basket.

        2. EventPlannerGal

          …I think that given the context, she was pretty obviously saying that England does not *mean the same thing* as Britain, not that England is not in Britain.

    3. londonedit

      But all of Britain is not England. There’s no such thing as one ‘British accent’, in fact there are hundreds of incredibly varied accents all over England, let alone the wider British Isles (a Glasgow accent is absolutely nothing like a Bristol one, for example, and neither of those are anything like the stereotypical Downton Abbey/BBC received pronunciation – or Cockney – accents that most people in the USA refer to as ‘a British accent’).

      1. Geographer

        Of course all of Britain is not England, but Akcipitrokulo said that England is not Britain. That is untrue and indicates that Akcipitrokulo is pushing an agenda for Scottish independence and/or against Brexit.

        1. londonedit

          I took it as meaning England may be part of Britain but it doesn’t represent Britain as a whole. Which is absolutely true.

        2. EventPlannerGal

          I really don’t think that that’s what she was trying to say. (And as another Scottish person, it is incredibly frustrating when simply clarifying that “British” does not automatically mean “English” is immediately dismissed as “pushing a pro-independence agenda” and also somehow marginalising the people of Turkey. It is literally just a basic geographical and linguistic fact. They do not mean the same thing.)

        3. Akcipitrokulo

          England does not equal Britain. That is what was stated, and is true. It does not, any more than a tomato = spagetti bolognese.

        4. Pnuf

          OMG, not an agenda against Brexit! Who could stand such a thing?

          England DOES NOT EQUAL Britain. That’s what that symbol means. You can take whatever bizarre Vote-Leave-influenced issue with that statement you like, but it doesn’t stop it being true.

        5. ket

          != is technical jargon for “not exactly equal to”. It’s used a lot in coding and mathematics. If there is any element of Britain that is not contained in England, and/or there is any element of England that is not contained in Britain, then the statement Britain != England is correct. You could only say Britain == England if the two words described exactly the same pieces of land, down to the molecule. Since a number of commenters have remarked upon places that are contained in “Britain” but not contained in “England”, Akcipitrokulo’s statement is correct.

          Also, I think it’s fascinating that you’re jumping to pro-Scottish independence or something about Brexit!

      2. JKL

        We know that Britain is not England and we know that there are a lot of different accents across the UK. The term ‘British accent’ is used as a catch-all to describe all of those accents. There are also a lot of different accents across the US, but we still use the term ‘American accent’ to describe all of the accents used by Americans.

        1. Lena Clare

          Well that’s true but there aren’t different countries within the US whereas there are different countries within Britain.
          Referring to English, Scottish, Welsh or northern Irish accents as a whole likewise doesn’t clarify which type of English, Scottish, Welsh or northern Irish accents, but it’s generally understood to be within that country, ditto for ‘American’ English accent I would have thought.

          1. londonedit

            Exactly. In the UK we would never refer to someone with a Scottish or Welsh accent as having a ‘British accent’.

            1. Ice and Indigo

              Nor someone English, really. We’d say ‘English accent’, at the broadest, or we’d say ‘RP’ or ‘Scouse’ or whatever region it came from.

        2. Ice and Indigo

          America’s one country, though; Britain isn’t. It’s three different countries that don’t entirely like each other.

          I mean, you can call it what you like, but if you want British people to think you know what you’re talking about, ‘British accent’ is not the phrase to use.

          1. JKL

            When it comes to accents, I don’t think it matters that Britain is multiple countries. The accents are similar (especially for people who are not from there). If there is a better way to collectively describe that group of accents, please enlighten us.

            1. Ice and Indigo

              English and Scottish accents, in particular, are so dissimilar that they can’t be collectively described. That’s kind of the point. If you use a phrase that indicates you can’t hear the difference between them, then there is no word or combination of words that won’t make British people think you don’t know what you’re talking about.

              1. JKL

                To an American (and I assume other people around the world), an English accent and a Scottish accent are *not* always easily distinguishable. It may be easy for you to tell them apart, but not for people who are not regularly exposed to them. There are a huge variety of accents across the US, but you don’t see Americans getting upset when foreigners can’t tell what state they are from based on the way they talk.

              2. Ice and Indigo

                What are you trying to achieve here? I/we are just telling you a fact: if you use the term ‘British accent’, or talk as if British countries and American states are equivalents, then British people will think you don’t understand British culture or accents. You can get mad about it if you like, we won’t send the army to stop you or anything, but that is what will happen. Telling me off isn’t going to change it. Go have a nice cup of tea or something. There is no need to take this personally.

              3. JKL

                Why I’m trying to achieve here is helping you and others understand why an American would use the term ‘British accent’ to describe the accent of a person from the British Isles when we don’t know what exactly country they are from. Maybe British people will think we don’t understand British culture or accents, but that’s because we *don’t* understand all of the intricate details of British culture and accents and its not reasonable to expect us to.

              4. Ice and Indigo

                I think it’s reasonable to expect that if a lot of British people tell you something about British culture, you will know a bit more about British culture than you did before they told you, unless you angrily resist the information.

                Nobody expects everyone to be brilliant at distinguishing unfamiliar accents. Look, I’ll give you an example: I am a Londoner with an RP accent. Because of where I live, I fairly often interact with people from Trinidad or Jamaica. I am pretty sure that the Trinidadian accent and the Jamaican accent sound different in a way that is immediately apparent to Trinidadian and Jamaican people. I am not good at hearing those differences. No doubt I could learn with practice, but right now I’m not, and probably I will never get impeccably good at it. All I can hear is ‘from somewhere in the region of Trinidad or Jamaica but I’m not sure exactly where.’

                If somebody from the Caribbean thinks that this is because I don’t know much about Caribbean cultures and accents, they are completely correct. I don’t. This is an objective fact. So I don’t get pissed off if people point out that I don’t know much about life in the Caribbean, and if somebody Jamaican, Trinidadian or whatever gives me a new piece of information, I file it away under ‘slightly less uninformed than I was before’.

                People are telling you a neutral fact which might be useful to you. You can get upset about it if you like, but you’d probably be cheerier if you just regarded it as useful information.

                And I think this conversation has really gone on long enough, so that’s my last observation on the subject. Feel free to take the final word if that’ll make you happy.

            2. ket

              JKL, most Americans can tell apart an English and a Scottish accent. They are represented by entirely different subsets of movie stars.

          2. Dollis Hill

            Four different countries – England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Wales often gets mistakenly labelled a principality, but as far as the Welsh government are concerned, Wales is a country. :)

        3. Akcipitrokulo

          I’ve very rarely heard Rab C being described as having a British accent :) even though it is, technically, true.

    4. Atlanta

      I’m English and live in NY. What you say may be true, but I’m English and will always think of myself as English, not British. Still worse, I absolutely hate the term Brit. Only Americans use it that I know of and it isn’t meant meanly so I don’t say anything to them in person but ugh.

      For a laugh, try calling a Scottish person British and see how well they take it.

      1. Anon for this

        I absolutely hate the term Brit. Only Americans use it that I know of and it isn’t meant meanly so I don’t say anything to them in person but ugh.

        The business school I attended in Europe is quite international and is famous for having a series of “national weeks” throughout the academic year organized by students from the country in question. During British week, one activity was “a night at school” (the theme was to replicate your local comprehensive, not Eton) and the tagline was “for everyone else it’s a party; for us Brits, its just another day in school.”

        So British people certainly do use the term “Brit.”

        1. Dollis Hill

          There may well be British people (outside of the tabloid press, who are the main users of Brit) who do use the term, but I have never heard one refer to themselves that way, and can confirm that there’s tons of British people that hate the term Brit, myself included. It’s a term that implies ignorant, insular, entitled and arrogant behaviour – eg “Brits abroad” used to describe unsociable behaviour of (mostly English) people on holiday abroad.

      2. Pebbles

        I learned to call English/Welsh/Scottish people “Brits” because although I can usually tell the difference by their accent, I have also (with the help of having lived in England for a time) learned that God help you if you get it wrong. I got some reactions as though I had committed a mortal sin, and generally my experience was that you can call a Scot a Brit, but NEVER call them English! So, lesson learned, err on the safe side when you are first meeting someone, and adjust later after you know them. Or you know, preemptively ask where they are from. ;)

      1. Ozanne

        I am hurt that you did this. As a resident of the Island of Guernsey, so many people are confused over what the Crown Dependencies are and we so rarely have the chance for what you in the US call a “teachable moment”. This was my first time commenting here and I am inclined to drop this blog since you do not think people from Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man have any right to speak.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          You have every right to speak here as long as you follow the commenting rules, which say comments need to stay on-topic. There are many worthwhile teachable moments to be had, but they can’t all be had here if they’re off-topic or the comment section would quickly become useless to people who are here for workplace advice.

  21. My Dear Wormwood

    #2: I’d curse you for putting that song in my head, but it seems to have evicted Baby Shark for now, so I’ll call it a win.

    If you want to give her an opportunity to save face first, you can take her aside asap and tell her she needs to stop doing it because it’s getting really annoying to your coworker and is also the kind of “joke” that can cause you reputational problems* at work as well. You can cast it as “since you’re newer to the workforce/company…wouldn’t want to see this kind of thing hold you back…blah blah blah” if you like. If it doesn’t work you can always go on to the blunter in-the-moment call-outs.

    *includes people wanting to shank you with a ballpoint pen for repeatedly putting a song in their head

  22. Jl

    #2
    Ugh. I feel for your coworker. I’m British living in the U.S. now for many years. When I first moved here my accent was stronger. It was mocked, colleagues and customers would disrupt conversations to point things out and correct words I used. They would also mock my coutry and it’s healthcare system, make commets about how my teeth are actually nice for a Brit. Most of these people had never left the U.S. – sheer idiocy.

    Although an immigrant nation, America has a huge problem with immigrants. The xenophobia and ignorance I have experienced has been intolerable at times and had me consider a return home but I’ve suffered through, afterall I’m a white immigrant so it shouldn’t be a problem for me… right?

    I’ve survived by sticking up for myself, mocking the U.S. health system right back and letting people know that in my country a word exists or I pronounce something that way because that’s how it’s done where I’m from.

    They do it because I’m different and I stand out because of my accent and dialect. I won’t let people take my identity away from me or use it as a joke so I embrace it and fight back.

    1. MicroManagered

      I think it all ties together. Yes, British people may not be marginalized in exactly the same way as other immigrants, but accepting that it’s “ok” for people to mock one accent only makes it “more ok” to mock the next one, until maybe it does end up as mocking someone in a way that marginalizes them. Personally, I admit to sometimes being caught off guard by a British accent. If it’s the first time I’m speaking with someone and it surprises me, I try to just smile in acknowledgment (like “oh I was expecting you to talk like me but you don’t”) and move on. Repeatedly mocking or imitating someone like this OP2’s coworker does is completely unacceptable. I’m all for the more aggressive scripts to shut it down!

    2. Nervous Accountant

      I’m sorry you had such a rough experience.
      I usually have a hard time understanding people with accents at first but eventually pick up if I talk to them multiple times. Personally I find the British accent so lovely.. I cna’t imagine why people would be so meanspirited about it.

  23. Brit

    #2 I’m a Brit living in the US and this happens all the time- less from co workers (but there is always one or two who will ask me to say something like ‘water’ because it’s so ‘cool’ how I say it differently) and more so from family and friends. I think people think it’s okay to mock or ridiculously mimic my accent because being British doesn’t fall under your common race or nationality protections yet it is so so obnoxious and offensive. Plus, if you are one of the people who mock accents this way, you really sound like a class A idiot.

    I don’t know how others in my shoes feel, but I personally would be so grateful for someone to intervene in the way Alison has suggested. Thanks for the great advice Alison, I hope OP can support her coworker in this way.

  24. Retail

    Op 4 – I have been that employee twice.

    First time I had to leave suddenly about 2 hours before my shift because my grandmother was dying across the country. She didn’t die but I was able to make that week my vacation so i didn’t miss pay. I swore on Friday up and down I would be back Sunday. Flew in Saturday. About the same time as the previous Sunday, my sister (and roommate) totaled her truck. I called in and got “you’re getting to be unreliable.”

    Then about a month before I was due to quit, I was returning from a vacation and got in a wreck 4 hours from home. Had to miss the next two shifts (one was 7am on Tuesday, the next was 1am on Wednesday) “are you ever coming back?”

    He should have communicated so his boss would know what kind of life drama derailed his plans. Because sometimes stuff spirals out of control.

  25. Lara Cruz

    #5: I have to disagree with Allison here. My references now are never comfortable having their phone numbers given out due to one too many rude recruiters or issues with spam calling. In addition, because my references are also scattered across the globe due to my career history, they want to arrange things through email first because, say, giving a reference to a company with a twelve hour time gap between interviewer and reference is untenable. I had a dear friend and former lead treated very poorly by a company with exactly that kind of gap, to the point that I was apologizing to her for their rudeness.

    There is no way that an email reference is less valid than a phone call. If managers still ‘prefer’ a phone call to try and read tone of voice, they need to update their reference checking process. I can guarantee if you try to call someone at 5 in the morning, you won’t get a terribly pleasant tone of voice or a terribly useful appraisal of a job candidate.

    1. Lucy

      I thought phone references were preferred because people were more likely to be candid when not committing something to writing.

      I have never provided a phone number for a referee, only ever email or indeed postal address. I would certainly never permit someone to provide my phone number – although that’s mainly because I have a hearing disorder and am not much use on the phone.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago

      There is no way that an email reference is less valid than a phone call.

      As a former recruiter, I strongly disagree. For one thing, an email is a one way conversation. For another, tone of voice is hugely important. It’s impossible to read tone in an email, but if I ask you what are Fergusina’s areas of improvement, I can tell a lot if you hesitate or sound fake when you respond. A reference check is supposed to be a back and forth. If I simply email you a list of questions to answer, that’s it. I can’t dig into your responses without multiple emails and that is just annoying.

      Not to mention, it’s going to be easier to falsify a written reference.

      1. Don't Call Me

        If I hesitate before answering, what is that going to tell you? Because what it SHOULD tell you is that I am taking the time to make sure I fully understand the question you asked, since I have an auditory processing disorder and struggle to comprehend voices over the phone. If you assume it means something else, you are mistaken.

        This is why I hate phone calls. I’d rarher have the mail conversation any day. I cannot provide a reliable reference on the phone, because people misinterpret my speech as meaning something it doesn’t.

    3. Random observation

      “There is no way that an email reference is less valid than a phone call.”

      A phone call can’t be subpoenaed or end up on the front page of the New York Times.

    4. Où est la bibliothèque?

      Would it really be that burdensome for a recruiter to email asking to schedule a phone call?

      1. iglwif

        I did this approximately eleventy billion times as a hiring manager at Old!Job, and no, it is generally not burdensome. It’s exactly like emailing someone to schedule an interview or a meeting, except you have to introduce yourself first.

    5. iglwif

      There is no way that an email reference is less valid than a phone call.

      Long-time hiring manager here respectfully disagreeing with this. When I was checking references, I would take an email response if it was all I could get — email is better than nothing at all! — but email responses can leave out a lot of nuance, make explaining things and asking follow-up questions harder, almost completely prevent you from reading tone and hearing hesitations, and make the whole process take longer.

      Obviously it’s possible to be bad at checking references by phone, and hiring managers should try to be good at it and not waste references’ time. But — and I say this as someone who, in almost all other contexts, would infinitely rather talk to strangers by email than by phone — there’s a BIG difference between an email reference or reference letter and a phone conversation about the candidate, and I think it’s totally reasonable to prefer the latter.

  26. Freckles McGee

    OP #2 – yeah, as an Irish person with a relatively strong accent who’s worked internationally for over 10 years (cue lots of “top o’ the morning” and “I’m a leprechaun” comments in REALLY bad Irish accents), please shut that sh*t down ASAP. It’s rude, obnoxious and incredibly draining, given that he probably gets this several times a day from different people, not just in the workplace.

    1. Akcipitrokulo

      Scottish here… feeling the shared pain… once had a customer who wanted to talk to “someone who isn’t Scottish!” …

      Not so much at work, but living in home counties for a while – yeah, had comments.

      1. Atlanta

        English in NY here and as I said in a post above, god it gets monotonous. Do people think they’re being original?

        1. Freckles McGee

          I don’t know. But most of those I encountered thought they were being funny. Which, eh, no, you are not!

          1. irene adler

            I’d be mortified to be on either side of this.

            And, I’m just not understanding the whole concept of mocking someone’s accent. The notion of this being funny – sorry, I don’t see it. If nothing else, it’s ignorant. Hope to Heaven that anyone who encounters this shuts it down immediately.

            Yeah, I’m Californian. I encounter folks from all over. Never thought about accents other than they are all lovely to hear. Always a pleasure to meet-and hear- folks from other places.

            1. valentine

              once had a customer who wanted to talk to “someone who isn’t Scottish!”
              Your colleagues should’ve Spartacused.

              1. Batgirl

                The one situation where it’s absolutely A-OK to suddenly get a bad case of mimicked accent.

              2. Akcipitrokulo

                I put them through to customer service manager. He was happy to speak to her. And was from Aberdeen.

        2. Andraste's Knicker Weasels

          I think that yes, they think they’re being totally original because they don’t think about the fact that there are other people out around them living their lives too. They’re likely the same people who say, “I guess that means it’s free!” When an item doesn’t ring up/have a sticker, or says, “how’s the weather up there?” To someone really tall.

        3. Totally Minnie

          So many people think they’re being hilarious when they’re pointing out obvious facts about other people. “Mary speaks with an accent!” “Jordan is tall!” “Harold wears eyeglasses!” These are normal things for people to do and be, and I also do not understand the people who find them hilarious.

      2. Freckles McGee

        I bet you did. People are the wooooorst. My accent’s mellowed in the years I’ve been away, so now it’s all “How come you’re so posh? You’ve forgotten your roots.” Can’t bloody win…

    2. sheworkshardforthemoney

      I mentioned this earlier how it’s acceptable to mock English, Scottish and Irish accents. St Patrick’s Day just happened and I was (gently) smacking people who were doing the fake Irish accent. It was grating and I’m not Irish.

      1. Freckles McGee

        Thank you for your service (I’m not sure “gently” would have been my smacking approach :) )

        Luckily I moved home the start of this year, so I’m avoiding it for now. But I definitely feel British coworker’s pain.

      2. Michaela Westen

        IME St. Patrick’s Day is an excuse for frat boys to get drunk. They’ll take any excuse, it’s not personal!

    3. iglwif

      Heck, I’m Canadian and have had Americans make fun of my accent, which is hilarious to me because … in most ways we really do not sound that different from each other?!

      1. Nervous Accountant

        Probably just exaggerated niceness and politeness. Although I’ve noticed (at least in Toronto) the “O” sound in most words is more pronounced. I’ve only ever been tO TO though so I am not sure about Montreal BC manitoba etc.

        1. Spool of Lies

          Yep, the exaggerated ‘O’ sound is definitely a Canadian accent thing (“aboot”) but there are regional/provincial differences, too. Manitoba accents are kind of like Minnesota-lite. Newfoundlanders have the absolute best Canadian accent, though, hands down.

  27. Bookworm

    #1: It could have been whatever he was fired for showed up as a pattern and maybe it either didn’t bother you or it was a little different because of the relationship the two of you had, if he had perhaps tweaked his attitude towards you, etc. It also may have been an excuse to fire him (instead of the bad behavior towards one specific person, it’s a group of people so he can’t be upset at any one specifically).

    #4: I think Allison has it right. Some people grieve differently and sometimes stuff comes up: family emergencies relating to the death, logistical issues, etc. If it helps, I once had a co-worker quit after the death of his a relative. Co-worker claimed he inherited his uncle’s business but we suspected otherwise. Manager had been (I believe) respectful: letting him know there was no pressure, we’d deal, etc. When he didn’t come in for several days she reached out via his emergency contacts as well as phone/email. She finally got ahold of him and he basically “quit” that way. There’s always the possibility that I have this wrong and it was grief but his behavior prior to his leaving made us think differently at the time. Sometimes you never know.

  28. Bree

    My references have similarly asked for e-mail, but my impression is that they’d be happy to use it to schedule a call. I think unscheduled calls are considered increasingly disruptive in the age of texting/messaging.

    I’ve also given references by e-mail and by phone, and to be honest the phone reference checkers have been so perfunctory that the e-mails are probably more useful.

  29. MicroManagered

    OP4 I read your boss asking “Have you heard from Bob?” as a casual way of checking whether he needed more time–not something that warrants and besides, Jane is his manager, not us. (Jane is very new to being a manager.) Like, if you had said “Yeah Bob texted me last night and (something that indicates he won’t be here today)” she would’ve been satisfied with that. Personally I don’t read into her abilities or experience beyond that. It sounds like she was being generous and flexible, and covering the bases before she bothered him.

    1. LuJessMin

      I will be forever grateful for my supervisor after the death of my mother. We usually got 3 days of bereavement, which meant I would have to come back to work the day after her funeral, but after the funeral she told me to take as much time as I needed and not worry about marking it down. All of my coworkers were so great during that time.

      1. I Work on a Hellmouth

        When my dad died, my at-the-time manager was amazing. I was pretty new, but he made sure I had all the time I needed to be at the hospital and that I was able to take any time I needed before I came back to work. Neither he nor my other coworker had ever lost anyone themselves, but they were extremely empathetic and kind.

        You know, it’s possible Bob didn’t even realize it was Thursday. He could have been deep in the grief cloud and lost track of what day it was.

    2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

      I agree. If a coworker is running really late (we’re pretty flexible on time) my boss usually asks the rest of us if we’ve heard anything from them. Sometimes when someone tries to call in late or sick, the boss isn’t available so they’ll talk to whomever answers the phone to make sure the message gets received. I think it’s a courtesy to ask around a bit before bothering Bob during his bereavement.

  30. MollyByGolly

    I have an accent that reads to many as English. I loathe nothing more than people mocking it—it feels like an attempt to aggressively let me know that I am not one of them, and that I don’t really belong in and am not actually a part of the country in which I live.

    If I were in this coworker’s position, it would be very disheartening to be publicly mocked in a xenophobic manner, and to have none of my coworkers object. I think it would mean a lot to him if you told the xenophobic coworker to knock that out next time she starts in on it. I actually wouldn’t say it privately, like some are suggesting. She’s mocking him in front of everyone, and I think it should be responded to in the moment.

  31. Knitting Cat Lady

    #2: I was born in Austria and have lived in Germany pretty much all my life.

    I speak an Austrian dialect* with my parents. This colours my every day German. Luckily the region of Germany I live in has a lot of similar phonemes to my native dialect, so I fit right in.

    I’ve had people putting on fake Austrian accents to mock me. Usually putting on what they imagine people in Vienna** talk like. Usually not even close to what actual people from Vienna (or I) sound like.

    The last time this happened I was in middle school.

    If you’re old enough to be working full time you really should know better.

    *Carinthian, for those interested. My social relaxed accent is some weird mix of Carinthian, Old Bavarian, and Frankonian. My professional accent is standard German tinged with some Carinthian phonemes. And my ‘speaking to someone who doesn’t speak German well’ accent is slower and over enunciated.
    My English accent is a proud Nord of Skyrim stuck over the middle of the Antlantic.

    **There’s a huge difference in accent between upper class dialect and working class dialect in Vienna. People usually try to aim for the upper class thing but usually end up with some unholy combination of what they heard on TV last and their own accent.

  32. Momofadoptedangel

    Why I wear black to interviews. As someone who sweats a lot let me tell you that light grey is your worst enemy.

    1. Workerbee

      Yes.

      I wear black in any stressful/public/going-to-be-on-camera situations because then I don’t have to worry. Slowly I’ve been a little more confident in attempting lighter-colored tops in what I perceive as calmer, more familiar situations. I still get unhappily caught (at least to my own perception) at times, but the positive here-and-theres have helped me feel bolder than I used to be.

      I also opt for patterns and textures; great for disguising.

  33. LGC

    …I kind of feel for LW1, but it’s not their fault (and it seems like they ARE taking some responsibility for him getting fired). One saying I’ve heard a lot of is that people get themselves fired, and in this case…I’m inclined to agree.

    I do think that (as represented) the boss kind of messed up here, though, in misunderstanding the situation. I don’t think it affects the decision, but it sounds like the problem was that the friend’s behavior was not only wildly unprofessional, it appeared threatening. That’s inappropriate, regardless of whether the “target” felt like they were targeted or not. I’m good friends with some of my coworkers, but yelling and screaming at them at work would be highly inappropriate even if it was just venting.

    (I’m also being cautious because I’m assuming LW1 heard this from their friend, so this is at least second hand information. And based off of the fact that it was a “sudden” firing, but performance issues were a factor…I’m not sure he’s the most reliable narrator.)

  34. Amy

    I have a colleague who’s a Brit with a very “Oxford English” type accent. If someone ever attempts a British accent around him, he goes into this bizarre attempt at American cowboy speak. Like “yee-haw, git along little dogies” and pretends to throw a lasso. But it just sounds terribly wrong coming out of his mouth.

    Then he says “that’s how you sound to me” [when they attempt a British one]

    I’ve never seen anyone make that mistake twice.

    1. londonedit

      He’s exactly right! That’s how it does sound. I think people always have a very skewed idea of how good they are at mimicking accents – I’m sure any attempt I made at a New York accent would sound completely ridiculous to an actual American, and it’s precisely the same whenever we hear someone going ‘Oooooh gawww bloimey gaaaaavnaaaaaah, oim fraaaam In-guh-laaaaaaand’ and thinking that’s anything like a London accent.

      1. anonintheuk

        Yes, I had a colleague who tried to mock my Yorkshire vowels and was aghast when I told him it sounded to me as if he could not make a ‘th’ sound and that all his ‘u’s sounded like ‘a’s

        1. Akcipitrokulo

          I’ve never had confidence to do something like that – wish I had! I think need to practice :) (although in current job, they don’t do that.)

    2. Environmental Compliance

      That is a pretty awesome comeback. Bet it’s not so funny coming back at them!

    3. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

      Really you could substitute so many American regional accent stereotypes in there too: valley girl or surfer speak for the west coast “Like, oh my Gawwwwwd, dude”; drop all your R’s for a heavy Boston accent; throw out a bunch of “don’tcha knows” and elongate your O’s to mock Wisconsin… Even people who don’t think they have an accent, have an accent to others. I can say that when I’ve travelled across the US and abroad, I don’t mind (up to a point) a bit of kind-hearted teasing on American regional cultures and accents between friends. But what the OP describes goes far beyond that, it isn’t between friends, and isn’t kind at all.

  35. TotesMaGoats

    #2-When we moved from the very deep south to Maryland, my sister and I were renamed the “French Fry Girls” because of how deep our accent sounded. We were ordering food on a band trip and they heard us talk and it was down hill from there. Cue another year of nastiness from fellow classmates. But….that was middle school where kids are routinely vile to one another.

    Adults don’t mock other’s accents. You just don’t. Tell that woman to stop. It might be one thing if it was between close friends and on the scale of teasing. This doesn’t doesn’t sound like that.

  36. wittyrepartee

    Umm, fellow new yorker here- how does this lady get through the day if she’s that distracted by someone with a british accent?!

      1. neverjaunty

        I mean we ALL have, at a minimum, regional accents. People often think they don’t, but they do.

        1. wittyrepartee

          Yeah, although interestingly the US is a lot more uniform than places where English has been around for longer. My mom has a STRONG jersey accent, while I’m a very middle of the road philly type. I spent some time in pittsburgh with the yinzers too.

        2. wittyrepartee

          So I’ll correct and say ~50% of my office has a non-American accent. Lots of British English, much of it by way of learning ESL in Asia or Europe.

        3. Amy

          It depends how you define regional accents. Do you mean that you can identify the specific region in the US the speaker is from? For plenty of us, only highly trained linguist could.

          There is a “standard American accent” – it’s how newscasters tebd speak on the 5 o’clock news no matter the location.

          I work for a large national company – most people under 40 speak with a kind of regional-less standard accent. I only have a few regional “tells” myself, I know them and they are expressions that I rarely use at work.

          1. neverjaunty

            Whether someone might identify a regional accent is different from having one, though; where I live now, people don’t generally tell me I have an accent, but I have very often had the experience of people saying “oh, I was wondering where you were from!” when they find out, because it’s just “different” enough that they register it without thinking ah, this person is from Texas/the South/etc.

            And then there’s the whole speech patterns and words as markers thing.

            1. Amy

              Many regional accents are disappearing.

              I grew up in New England. My parents are from Utah and Appalachia. I’ve lived in NYC for years. My sister lives in the DC area.

              We all speak exactly the same.

              1. Dragoning

                I don’t think using members of an immediate family, two of whom were raised together by two of the other people is especially proving your point here.

                1. Amy

                  It’s pretty well documented. As a society, we’re increasing mobile. We travel and often live in various regions in our life and often attend college outside of our hometowns. It has an effect of blurring or fully erasing many local accents.

                  When my father was little, he spoke in a regional dialect so distinct it was almost incomprehensible to outsiders. While most people in his town still have a regional accent, it’s almost nothing like how they spoke 60 years ago. Their speech has moved much closer to the “accentless” American accent (Also called Broadcast English or General American English – it’s the English of the “north midlands” / Iowa type. You can’t identify a region when you hear it)

                  TV and inter-marriage between regions and ethnic groups has had a big effect too.

                  Another example would be the classic “Noo Yawk” – it’s an accent you rarely you hear for a person under 50 these days. It had emerged from tight knit ethnic communities that are now much more spread out.

                  There was recently an exhibit in the city called “Mother Tongues” devoted to this.

                1. wittyrepartee

                  My boyfriend spent a bunch of time in Omaha, Nebraska in high school (so like… the 90s). It’s sack country out there, according to him.

        4. Lepidoptera

          I work with someone born in South Africa, raised in Georgia, and college-educated in Chicago. Dude makes bank on betting people they can’t guess where he’s from.

          1. Charlotte Collins

            Ask him what he calls a walkway/breezeway between houses. (In Chicago, it’s a “gangway” and an intensely regional term.)

    1. Amy

      Yeah, so curious what industry they’re in. NYC is around 40% foreign born.

      Lots of us have picked up Australian and British expressions from all our colleagues for example “good on ya.”

      And one of my friends was recently lamenting not having studied German, she always feels left out at lunch in her banking job.

      1. wittyrepartee

        What industry they’re in, and how recently they moved to the city. Like, I come from the middle of PA where nary a british person has even been seen, and I showed up knowing not to make fun of people’s accents. What unlucky potatoe truck did this lady fall off of?

        Hah, I dated an aussie for a bit. My favorite phrase is “that’s pants”.

        1. Environmental Compliance

          As a native ‘Sconnie that came from a super rural, super not-diverse-at-all area, where you really didn’t get to hear any difference in accents, and moving to an area that is much more diverse with lots of different accents, I cannot stop laughing at the image of someone being so obtuse in not getting the memo that making fun of someone’s accents is ridiculously rude that they must have fallen off of a potato truck. (But I would call the potato truck lucky rather than unlucky, because now they aren’t getting harassed for Po-tay-to vs Poh-tah-to by Mocking Accent Lady, as she done fell off.)

    2. iglwif

      I live in Toronto and was wondering the same thing. I have never worked anywhere in this city that wasn’t at least 25% people with an accent from somewhere outside Canada, and it’s usually been much higher. If I was gonna mock all of them I’d never get any actual work done.

  37. Andrew Farrell

    A friend of mine runs a startup which manufactures business clothing for men and women which is designed to wick away sweat. Their clothing is somewhat pricy but works well enough that he can ran a half-marathon in one of his suits. Would it be poor form of me to post a link to their site?

    1. Workerbee

      I would love to know what this startup is. If a link isn’t permitted, then the name, perhaps?

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      We often share places to get appropriate attire! It’ll be sent to moderation and if Alison thinks it’s not appropriate she’ll just leave it hidden.

  38. I might be the Brit in #2

    Small world…but I think I am the person who is being hassled about my accent. A have a coworker who thinks its funny to talk to me in a very fake, over the top, Monty Python-esque accent. The first time, I laughed, thinking she was making a very awkward joke. The next few times, I rolled my eyes and gave signals that I wasn’t pleased. Finally, one day, I asked her to quit and she ran off crying to the lavatory that I was “mean” to her. I guess saying, “please don’t make fun of the way I talk; I don’t make fun of your American accent” was “mean.”
    Then, she had a friend come over and tell me that she was “Aspergers” and doesn’t understand social norms. So now I guess I’m the asshole because this woman and the “friend” keep giving me nasty looks and I heard from someone else that they were calling me “the ableist British asshole.”

    1. JJ Bittenbinder

      No, no, no. People with Asperger’s still need to follow social and workplace norms! That’s not a pass for bad behavior.

      Signed,
      Mom to a kid with Asperger’s

    2. Amy

      That is so bonkers! Is your office some kind of trade association for jerks?

      This is where I love being in a client facing role. For people like this, I’ve definitely pulled the “I don’t care about me but what if they say this to a client?? It’s really unprofessional” card.

      I know I should 100% own it but sometimes as a woman, you worry about being perceived as too sensitive. But clients are always allowed to be sensitive.

    3. Akcipitrokulo

      OK – from friends with ASD – the common theme is “if I don’t understand I’m doing it wrong, please tell me – it’s a favour, and I’ll stop”. So I’m side-eyeing her for that one.

      Please talk to someone about this level of bullying. It’s not OK.

      Would she get to call someone the n-word because she has aspergers?

    4. Lynca

      You are not the asshole nor are you ableist.

      Some times I have really dumb impulsive ideas because of my ADHD. The diagnosis isn’t an excuse for shitty behavior though. I’m responsible for how I treat others. She sounds like a real piece of work. It’s insane that a supervisor hasn’t told her to knock that off and then some.

    5. neverjaunty

      This woman and her friend are the assholes.

      Even if she really is on the autism spectrum and didn’t just decide “I have Aspergers!” is a good label that lets her behave how she likes – people with autism are perfectly capable of behaving decently. All that would mean is that she doesn’t pick up social cues or unspoken behavior intuitively, and needs direct and clear explanations (of which “don’t mock people’s accents” is one).

      And the idea that you have to let someone with autism mock you or you are “ableist” is unadulterated BS. She’s just an asshole who is trying to hide behind a label as an excuse to hit people without being hit back. F her and her little pal.

    6. wittyrepartee

      Making fun of your accent isn’t all that different from making fun of someone with a Chinese accent. Both are totally unacceptable. Good for you on standing up for yourself.

    7. Autumnheart

      I think it might be time for a trip to HR over these idiots. First they mock your accent, now they’re creating a whisper campaign against you that insinuates that *you* are discriminating? Oh hell no.

    8. Ice and Indigo

      Another parent of an autistic kid and … no, you aren’t being ableist. If anyone ever tells my son it’s ableist to ask him to knock off a behaviour that’s upsetting somebody else, I am going to go and shout at them, because they’re doing him more harm than anyone. And I’m far from thrilled with your colleague right now for doing her bit to help advance the ‘Autistic people are jerks’ stereotype.

      Autistic self-advocates say over and over, ‘If we’re doing something that upsets you, please tell us directly in unambiguous language.’ That’s what you did. It’s just conceivable she took what you said to mean that you thought her accent was ridiculous, but that’s pure speculation and even if it’s correct there’s no way you could have anticipated that. You just asked her politely to stop doing something unacceptable. That’s what so many autistic people say they wish more people would do.

      Now, if she is autistic, it’s possible that she had a meltdown in response to social stress. That can happen. But the workplace solution to that is not for her to be able to keep upsetting you; it’s to establish some norms for her that create a space where she can process social stress.

      Autistic does not equal jerk. It doesn’t equal not-jerk either. Your colleague may or may not be autistic; she is definitely a jerk.

      On a practical note … do you have an HR department or dependable manager? It might be one to take to them: present it as, ‘I asked Colleague not to make fun of my accent all the time, which she’s been doing every time we speak for the past X months, and she burst into tears and ran away, and apparently asked another colleague to accuse me of ableism because Colleague is autistic. I’m concerned about this situation, because I need a workplace where I don’t feel my accent excludes me, and I don’t want to create a workplace where Colleague’s neurotype excludes her. I don’t see this going well if I just speak to her directly, so can I ask for some support in resolving this situation to everyone’s satisfaction?’

      1. MaureenC

        I’m generally not in favor of outing other people’s conditions* to HR, but since she used it as an affirmative defense to misconduct, I’ll allow it.

        *Even when self-diagnosed for self-serving reasons (which in all fairness may not be the case)

        1. Ice and Indigo

          Yeah, I’d agree with that. In this situation, it’s pretty much disclosed already. In different circumstances, no, outing is not good.

          And, as I’m sure we agree, some self-diagnoses are wrong and based on ignorance, some self-diagnoses are correct and based on understanding, so ‘self-diagnosed’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘wrong’. Or ‘right’, come to that. Case by case. :-)

          1. MaureenC

            Of course; I reckon most people are the experts on their own brains, so many self-diagnoses are accurate. And some self-misdiagnoses are based in a good faith misreading of the diagnostic criteria.

            OTOH, some people are Eric Cartman looking for an excuse to be a jerk.

    9. Clementine Danger

      I know this isn’t new at this point in the thread, but as someone who’s worked with people on the spectrum for years; you are not being ableist! People on the spectrum are on the decent-to-asshole-scale just like anyone else. Almost every person on the spectrum who wasn’t an asshole that I have met had learned by adulthood that they can and should ask for a bit of sensitivity around it. (Please be very clear, please don’t use soft language and hints, you’re being kind by being direct etc.) They know it’s a big ask and it really is a favor to them, as it cuts down on a lot of guesswork and anxiety on their end when they can trust someone to be clear with them. People on the spectrum may not intuitively understand social norms in the same way that neurotypical people do, but most of them have spent their lives putting in the effort to try and learn them and figure out what they can and can’t ask of people to help them out.

      And hey, I have a mockable accent too.

      So maybe your coworker is or isn’t neurodiverse in some way (she gets a HUGE side eye from me for the way she handled it though, because this just isn’t common behavior for a working adult on the spectrum and really sounds like she’s performing a damaging stereotype to get out of trouble, but who knows) but she’s also an immature asshole for handling it the way she did, Asperger or not. To be clear, having an emotional reaction to being told you’re hurting someone is upsetting and I don’t blame her for that, especially if she is on the spectrum. It can be so disheartening when you do your best to be social and you find out you inadvertently hurt someone. (Giving her the benefit of the doubt here.) I can see how that might dislodge a tear. But turning it around on you, calling you mean, sending envoys to do it, going around the office accusing you of something deeply nefarious… that’s the asshole part.

      *Not An Expert Hat On*

      If this had just been as isolated incident that would be one thing. But if they are going around the office claiming that you’re creating a hostile work environment (and if she’s saying that you’re acting negatively towards her because of an ADA-protected disability, that’s basically what they’re doing) it’s time to clue in whoever you’re reporting to. If they’re not letting this go, I promise you it will bury into the office like a tick and become harder and harder to dislodge. You’re being consistently accused of something heinous! If it were me, I would like the person I report to to have my version of events before the tangled mess up gossip and hurtfeelz gets plopped down on their doorstep one day, as it inevitably does. I’m a manager and I would definitely 100% no doubt about it want to know that this is brewing on my team.

      1. Ice and Indigo

        “she gets a HUGE side eye from me for the way she handled it though, because this just isn’t common behavior for a working adult on the spectrum and really sounds like she’s performing a damaging stereotype to get out of trouble, but who knows”

        This is an important point. If you look at the thread from earlier this month about succeeding in work when you’re neurodivergent, so many people are trying really, really hard to make sure they don’t negatively impact others, and many are genuinely worried about being outed because of the stigma that can follow. Far from being a get-out-of-jail-free card, neurodivergence often means massive attempts to mask, which are exhausting.

        Given how casually she threw this out there, I too have my doubts, but hey, you can be an irresponsible jerk and still autistic, so like you say, who knows. But autistic or not, she’s creating trouble, so yeah, I agree that getting the manager in is called for at this stage.

    10. Sarah M

      You are definitely *not* the asshole in this situation. And there was nothing about the phrasing that you used that screamed “ableist” or “mean”. I have ADHD (not the same as Asperger’s of course), and I have often popped off some stupid comment without filtering first. If/when I’ve said something offensive, I’m mortified. And *I* owe *them* an apology, certainly not the other way around. Good grief.

    11. Tinker

      So yeah, that’s basically bullshit.

      First off, there’s the thing that people tend often to say lately in response to things like this — that autistic people want to be told directly about stuff like this because we have difficulty interpreting cues like eye-rolling and signals of displeasure.

      Sometimes I think that statement is, while basically true, over-optimistic. We’re complex people with histories just like any other human, and often that history means things like that while in theory we benefit from direct communication, in practice we may not recognize that this is being done because (for instance) sometimes things that have looked direct to us in the past have in fact ended up being the setup for abuse or mockery. It’s possible that something like this is behind this person’s behavior, though that doesn’t change whether it’s acceptable or not — it’s possible to learn how to not do that (ask me how I know, sigh) and even if it isn’t it’s a reasonable thing to ask.

      It’s also possible to be both autistic and a jerk (ask me how I know again). We are not all innocent angels of unsullied good intent (not that I’m saying anyone here is implying that).

      And of course it could be that someone who thinks it’s funny to make fun of someone else’s accent also thinks it’s funny to appropriate a disability that’s been highly visible lately and often understood in very strange ways.

      In any case, such shenanigans are not to be indulged.

      1. Ice and Indigo

        “Sometimes I think that statement is, while basically true, over-optimistic. ”

        I think of it as a starting point. As in, you’re unlikely to get a good outcome if you *don’t* communicate directly, but if you do, then all sorts of other factors come into play, as you said.

        Sorry to hear about the abuse and mockery. I hope you’re around decent people now.

  39. JJ Bittenbinder

    Certainly not universal, but many of the companies I interviewed with in the last go-round are using an online platform for collecting references. I wonder if it’s due to more and more people feeling like LW5’s colleagues and being unwilling to provide phone references.

    Certainly, I’ve never minded giving a reference by phone, but I’ve never been in any of the extreme situations described (lengthy calls, rudeness, marketed to).

  40. insert pun here

    My current employer (largest employer in my state) does references as email or phone conversation, whatever the reference giver prefers. So I do think that conventions around this are changing.

  41. Lynca

    OP 1- I would take a step back and reassess this idea that checking in after the conversation was jumping to conclusions. It sounds like that exchange wasn’t even the norm for your office. And if someone just overhearing it thought it sounded threatening then that’s not a good sign.

    Nothing about the situation makes you seem like the problem. It really sounds like your friend had a lot of issues in this job and focusing on just 1 conversation as a reason for termination is really missing the forest for the trees.

  42. voluptuousfire

    OP#3, you’re fine! I once sweated (and I mean sweated) through a button-down shirt I wore underneath a blazer for a job interview. It had been a sweltering day in October (about 75 degrees with 90% humidity, where you felt like you cut the air with a knife, like it wanted to rain but was refusing to) and when I got home, whatever bits were covered by the jacket was damp. Thankfully I only wear dark colored suits and started wearing either a sleeveless shirt or a camisole under my jacket when I interviewed. The camisole isn’t a cotton, skintight thing you would wear under a sheerer shirt for coverage. It was an opaque top made of polyester/nylon which didn’t wrinkle. It’s over 10 years old at this point and still looks new. :)

  43. Justin

    Personally, I feel like the accent mocking is coming from a person who REALLY wants to be able to make fun of an accent, but knows that this is the least punching-down version of it so she’s relishing it.

    But yes, do whatever you can to have her cut it out. Especially in NYC, the real revelation is that she’s that foolish.

    I hope your English coworker can be spared more of this.

  44. Armchair Analyst

    #4 – I once worked at a firm where my co-worker would always say, after taking PTO, I’ll be back on X Day, and she would never be at work that day, but would always be back X+1 day. I think eventually I figured out that she meant, I’ll be back *in town* on X Day, but not back at work.

    I’m not saying that’s what’s going on here, just a quirk I am recalling. No one else was concerned or worried about her they way you (rightfully) are about your co-worker.

    I do think a check-in is usually warranted in unplanned and uncommunicated absences.

  45. Midlife Tattoos

    #1 – When I’m not sure what to do in a particular situation, I pretend that the person experiencing the problem has written in to Alison to ask what to do. I frame the whole situation from that person’s perspective. “Dear Alison, I’m a Brit working in the US, and I have a coworker who mocks my accent at least once a day, using phrases like, “Pip pip, cheerio” and the like. I don’t want to seem like a negative Nelly, so I haven’t said anything or made a big deal out of it. Neither her manager or anyone has really called her out on this. When she does this, I just leave the situation to get away from her, but she hasn’t taken the hint. What should I do?”

    Then I think of what Alison would advise. Works every time.

    tl;dr WWAD?

  46. Name Required

    OP #1: “This has put me in an awkward position and I’m wondering who else he is going to tell (other coworkers and clients) that he was fired partly because of me.”

    If your supposed friend bad-mouths you to other coworkers and clients, you’re put in an awkward position because of the friend. Your friend was bad at their job. Their behavior when blowing off steam was apparently so unacceptable, your supervisor thought you were being threatened. And now you’re afraid that he will talk about you behind your back, and you want to know if your SUPERVISOR did something wrong?

    Maybe your friend is going through a tough time right now and you have a broader view of his personality, but he kind of sounds like a jerk.

  47. RussianInTexas

    Good god, LW 2, yes, stop being polite and tell him to cut it out.
    Signed, a person with a mockable accent.

    1. It is pronounced pe-cahn

      It is amazing to me how many people have posted stories of being mocked. Holy cow- I don’t know why it is shocking to me, too many people live teeny tiny lives and forget that is a great big world, and people can move and live just about anywhere now. Sheesh.

      1. RussianInTexas

        I tell my friends to cut it out, and I know they are not doing it with malice. I can’t imagine getting mocked for my accent at work.
        There was one guy who thought mocking my accent was flirting, even after I told him to cut it out. He didn’t get far.

        1. It is pronounced pe-cahn

          The people who did it the most often to me were my ex-husband’s parents. It was awful, every time they entered the room the would lean way in and say “Hi Y’ALL. Wanna pe-CAHN.” FFS. We get it, I am an American. F-off.

          1. Pebbles

            I am from Minnesota born and raised, Norwegian ancestors, and I say puh-cahn. My husband and I named our dog Pecan (puh-cahn) and we get so many people that look at us quizzically that we have to say “like the nut”. I don’t know why I say it “puh-cahn” and not “pea-can”, but I do.

      2. Lepidoptera

        I am surprised at the mocking because in my observation, the conversation usually goes the other direction: guys with [locally rare] accents make crude jokes about what chick magnets they are.

        1. RussianInTexas

          Some comments I get are “your accent is sexy”, but a lot of it goes straight in to the “Boris and Natasha” territory.
          Also no, I don’t call people “comrades”.

        2. LaDeeDa

          Oh yeah, I have had plenty of men use my accent as an opener for hitting on me. But they don’t usually mock me, they usually say it is sexy or cute.

      3. Batgirl

        They are usually spectacular arseholes in a wider sense too; it’s a genuinely shocking standard of behaviour indicative of massive problems with them as people. (One of my mockers was travelling in India with me and he would bark orders at the nice hotel people hosting us like they were stupid).

  48. Observer

    #1 – I hope I’m not repeating what others have said. I want to highlight one thing – Alison notes that if he is reasonable, he’s not going to blame you nor hold it against you. If he DOES blame you, then it proves that whatever you felt about that particular interaction, your boss was right that it was either part of a pattern or so over the top that he had to take it seriously.

    I don’t think you have any need for damage control. If other people saw the interaction and know your boss, they will know what happened. And they will either know that your boss has a tendency to over-react, which is not your fault. Or they will know what your coworker did and know that the boss could have reaches his own conclusions and / or someone else might have complained.

  49. anonykins

    Ugh, L5, I feel you. I spent several years in a time zone 12 hours away from my current one, and my former manager there won’t use anything but email to speak with potential employers (to be fair, this is also a country where people actually obtain formal letters of reference and present them with job applications. Also to be fair, he is from my current country and knows how hiring works here….). I’m lucky to have other references that will talk on the phone, but I also know that sometimes he’s really the best person to talk about my skill in X…so I just bite the bullet and include him plus the company’s main phone line :/ I know for a fact that his lack of availability almost cost me a job offer in the past, but the good news is that the further out I get from working at that company, the less his reference matters. That will be the case for you too.

  50. Observer

    #2 – Why do you feel a need to be polite? The person you need to worry about is the person who is being mocked, not the UTTERLY and DISGUSTINGLY rude person, who is also acting like a total idiot and interfering with work.

    Also, on a practical level, any sort of softening will NOT work with this person. Either they are totally oblivious to normal social interactions, so something like “please” will be taken to mean that your “request” is optional. Or they are just a jerk who is going to keep pushing as long as she thinks she can get away with it, so she needs to hear TOTALLY CLEARLY that this is NOT acceptable.

    Also, please complain to her manager, HR or whoever has the authority to stop this. You have two grounds for this. One is that this kind of behavior could put the organization at risk, because her behavior is public and might be seen as creating a (legal) hostile workplace situation if there are issues of illegal discrimination. Also, even if there is no possibility of that, for some reason, it is most definitely interfering with work. She’s making it impossible for this guy to have a normal conversation with co-workers. That is a HUGE BIG deal.

  51. Zennish

    The coworker of OP #2 is ridiculing and tormenting another coworker. It really doesn’t matter why. At best it shows severe emotional immaturity, and an ignorance of appropriate workplace behavior. It needs to be shut down on that basis. Treating everyone with reasonable respect and courtesy should be a condition of employment.

  52. I Work on a Hellmouth

    #2 Accent mocking is SO OBNOXIOUS. I was born on the East Coast but currently live in the Deep South, and I have the occasional person here that mocks me for sounding like a yankee… but then whenever I am anywhere up north I typically have at least one or two people who think it is just HILARIOUS to talk at me in the most stereotypical hayseed-ish southern accent possible. Please, OP, cut that shizz cold. It’s really upsetting/demoralizing/angering when people do that, and I’m sure your coworker would appreciate the backup. It can’t be comfortable for anyone else stuck observing her, either. Shut. It. Down.

      1. I Work on a Hellmouth

        I have actually said that before! It didn’t go over well with the person, but everyone else was pretty amused.

  53. It is pronounced pe-cahn

    I am from a Southern state in the US but live in another English speaking country. I have a slight Southern accent and say “y’all”, “ma’am”, and “pecahn.” I have encountered a few people over the last 20 years who think it is hilarious to mock me, and put on an over the top hillbilly accent, which I can assure you, I do not have. I usually respond with the squinty-eyed look that says “you must be an idiot” and then I dead stare them and say “I really don’t find it to be funny when you make fun of my accent.” Usually, that embarrasses them enough that they never do it again, but if they do it again I dead stare and say “Knock it off. It is not funny.”
    A few times I have been met with “You’re too sensitive. I am just joking.”
    Me- “Jokes should be funny and not at the expense of others.”

  54. Clementine Danger

    #2: I’m someone with an accent that doesn’t have racist baggage (Dutch) and I was baffled to find out that it’s an endless source of amusement to some people. I don’t pronounce words the same as native speakers! How fun! Let’s always draw attention to it no matter what!

    So I can tell you from experience that having someone around to back me up is invaluable. I have no goddamn idea what happens in the brains of people who feel the need to drop everything they’re doing to point out that I have an accent. It can be very alienating if it happens daily. But I do know that it can be hard to push back on and that it can spread like wildfire. Having someone back you up when you say “actually can you not” is such a lifeline. I promise it will be a great help to your coworker if you help him make it clear that the “joke” has run its course, taken a shower, gotten changed and gone home.

  55. Kristine

    #1 – I was in this exact same situation a few years ago. I was asked point-blank if I had noticed a negative attitude at the reception desk from another worker, an underling, and I said no. This person was marched out the door six months later (while I was at a conference, so it was a surprise). I received a promotion, got wider access to employee files, and while searching for other information (she inappropriately hoarded confidential information and files in her cube) discovered an investigation of this person years earlier by another supervisor. OP, this person was not fired because of you; there is likely a lot more to the story and this person could have had a pattern of behaving unprofessionally.

  56. Lepidoptera

    #4 I’m impressed to hear multiple stories about leniency in regards to bereavement leave.

    My personal experience is a very strict schedule according to the perceived “closeness” of the loss. (One day for cousins/aunts/uncles, two days for grandparents, three days for parents, four days for spouses, five days for children.) I’ve seen major meltdowns in employee/manager/HR relationships in situations where the employee was, for example, raised by a grandmother and the time given wasn’t commensurate with the “true” relationship.

  57. Strawmeatloaf

    For #3 honestly the only anti-antiperspirant that has ever worked for me is Certain Dri roll-on (because solid is rubbed onto your clothes). It sucks but maybe they could try it out? It’s supposed to last 3 days and it does for me. I just have over-active sweat glands though on one side so all of those “48-hour!” deodorants last less than a full day on the over-active side.

    If you do Certain Dri, it should last 72 hours (and you put it on at night) so you don’t have to worry about it for 3 days (if it works for you).

    *this comment was not paid for by the company that makes Certain Dri.

    If you have trouble keeping track of deodorant (regular) you might just put it on again (not Certain Dri though, don’t do that). Nothing is stopping you from putting it on twice, other than it probably smelling a bit more if you use scented.

  58. LaDeeDa

    Bereavement leave– I am so glad I work for a company, that while we have a policy about such things, we really just play it by ear. Who am I to say that my employee who lost their mom gets to have more time off than the other employee who lost their Aunt? I don’t know their relationships and it isn’t my business. Just like anything else, there are people who will try to take advantage of a situation like this, but I find that is so few and far between there is no reason to punish everyone by being so strict. Deal with the bad apple, and treat everyone else like adults.

  59. TootsNYC

    #2, a colleague being mocked for his accent

    I would say, “Please stop making fun of John’s accent. Maybe you don’t realize how mean it sounds–I guess? I would hate to think you meant to be that mean. But anyway, I don’t like hearing that kind of negativity in the office, so please stop.”

    You don’t have to bring John into it at all.

    I don’t like being around mean comments or bigotry or just general unpleasantness.
    It’s OK to object on your OWN grounds, and nobody can criticize you for that.

    Which makes me think of #1:
    Maybe the person who fired your colleague said, “I didn’t like the way you spoke to Fergus; we don’t want that in our office ever.” And so it was not about the way he treated YOU, but about the way he treated ANYONE, and you just happened to be the person who was the target at that time.
    You say you understood he was just frustrated–but if you consider him a friend and he treated you like that, how will he treat someone else the next time he is frustrated?
    So it’s not about you personally–it’s about the attitude and behavior that they want to have around them in the office.

  60. yup

    #1 – I am really confused by the comments on this one. People seem to be making assumptions that this was a pattern, could happen again, etc. I’m not seeing anything that indicates that. I think the lesson is that if you want to vent, do it in a private place where no one else can overhear/ misinterpret the conversation. But the idea that “of course the coworker was fired because of XYZ” is extreme. Most people do have a breaking point and it’s completely possible this was a one off for an otherwise rational and pleasant person.

    1. AnotherKate

      To me, I think it’s more that OP#1 mentioned there were performance issues, too. I can understand speculating that maybe this event was just the straw that broke the camel’s back, but what I can imagine is even MORE likely is this scenario: Employee is having performance problems, not getting work done, generally a thorn in management’s side because they aren’t improving. That employee is not going to get any leeway if they’re heard speaking to a colleague in a less than professional manner. “Maybe they had a hard day” is reserved for people in good standing, in my experience. If you’re already in poor standing, even one nasty comment or over-the-top “vent” overheard by the wrong person is going to be more than enough to send you packing.

  61. JSPA

    OP#1,
    This may be novelization but: if you feel that you and co-worker had jointly created an atmosphere where it was okay for you to blow off steam to each other, and he got caught up when it could as well have been you, I think it is okay to bring that up with a manager. Specifically I think you could say that, following the firing, you’ve done some soul-searching. You’ve realized that even though coworker was the louder person, both of you had contributed equally to a culture where a certain amount of non-professional venting was okay at work. You feel bad that he’s paying the price, and you’d like some feedback on your role.

    Now what you hear may be that you are bending over backwards and being too nice. And that your friend was loud rude or intimidating to other people who were not comfortable with his level of self-expression. Or you may hear that it’s a) not okay to vent freely at work and b) also unhelpful to be sympathetic and supportive if people do so, even if you’re genuinely feeling sympathetic.

    I get that listening to someone vent can be like venting by proxy and also this can be a form of co-worker bonding! But if it’s loudly stinking up the atmosphere–at least, according to your boss–they can shut it down. (Proviso: people are allowed to discuss grievances on breaks / on their own time.) If you shared some of coworker’s frustrations or feel like he was venting for both of you, that still doesn’t make the firing wrong. Nor does it become your doing. If you still feel some sort of karmic burden, you can perhaps discharge that by deciding to own your own grievances and frustrations in the future, and helping people speak up (politely and effectively) there’s a reason. And also commit to not giving positive reinforcement to the next loud “venter” co-worker friend.

    1. valentine

      OP1 should not do this. They can change their behavior, but the firing’s done and dusted and it would seem odd, if not overstepping, to act on assumptions about how much weight this had. The fired colleague is an unreliable narrator.

  62. HQB

    No, it’s a good example, because the point is that many people *would* judge that situation very differently than one where two white people were involved, even though they shouldn’t. Specifically, many people would judge the black man in that case very harshly, even if his behavior weren’t extreme. They would judge him unfairly, as Iris Eyes says, and so it would be appropriate to give a stonger-than-usual defense of him.

  63. restingbutchface

    OP 3 – I once interviewed a woman who was very expressive with her hands… to the point that her blouse opened half way through, revealing a bright pink bra. My co-interviewer and I didn’t know what to do so he left, I kind of gestured to my chest and went “uhhh”.

    If I had been her, I would have wanted. to. Die. But she HOWLED with laughter, did her blouse up and we could not stop giggling.

    She got the job, not in spite of or because of the wardrobe incident but because she was great – although seeing her react to a “mistake” told me a lot about her character. One of my best ever hires.

    DLDR – if the interviewers hold it against you, you don’t want their job anyway.

      1. restingbutchface

        Let me delight you further with the fact she came by my office on her first day and her first words were, “do you recognise me with my clothes on?”.

        Loved that woman.

  64. Urdnot Bakara

    #3 – sounds like a lot of people empathize, as do i! here’s my story: i’m the kind of person who canNOT cool down once i start sweating, and then i start getting anxious about how sweaty i am, which causes me to sweat even more. my first day at my current job (i was temp-to-hire, so nothing was permanent at that point) was a very hot day in september. i rode the train in to the city, and the AC in my car was either out or just pathetic. then i had to walk quite a ways in heat from the train station to the office. i was wearing black so my clothes didn’t look sweaty, but my hair was *soaked* with sweat by the time i got there, so gross. luckily i’d remembered a hair tie, so i quickly put my hair in a bun in the bathroom in the hopes that people would just think it was slicked back or wet from the shower. then i went into the office and sat by the front desk (there was no receptionist at the time, they were in the middle of a move and it was an awkward office situation, so i was just hanging out) for my new manager to collect me and show me where to sit and what to do. i spent that whole time fanning myself with a magazine. at some point, a nice lady came by and asked me if i wanted some water and i’m pretty sure i just looked absolutely terrible and desperate by that point. found out later that nice lady was the head of my department. i’m still here 2 years later!

  65. Noah

    I wonder what percentage of employees believe they receive below market pay? It seems very high.

  66. Vibey Vibes

    I have a dear friend who is British and lives here in CA. I have been consistently appalled by the number of people who start terrible-English-accenting at her when we are out and about. It’s honestly like they think her accent is a fun thing she’s doing, and they would like to participate in the fun activity, rather than understanding that she’s just being a person living her life. A few have seen my horrified face and realized what they were doing and apologized, but very frequently I have blurted out “Dude nooo, you can’t do someone’s accent at them!” I’m not stepping in for my friend, because it doesn’t bother her all that much; I’m stepping in to keep my countrypeople from humiliating themselves further.

    1. MaureenC

      I like this interjection, and I love “I’m stepping in to keep my countrypeople from humiliating themselves further.”

  67. LizardOfOdds

    OP1, I agree with Alison’s assessment that the incident with you was likely part of a bigger pattern. I have been in your manager’s position before, and a single incident is often not enough to let someone go, at least not without taking on some legal risk. I’ve let people go before because of an individual incident, but there was usually a pattern of behavior that preceded the incident which told me that coaching and disciplinary action would not be an effective means of handling the problem.

    Either way… totally agree with everyone here that this is not your fault. You don’t control anyone else’s behavior, and even if *you* didn’t feel uncomfortable, there are others in the work environment. Your manager needs to look after them, too.

  68. Struggle bus is real

    On #5, I recently had an interview that asked for five references and once I declined the position, they didn’t stop calling. To be clear, I had left a voicemail saying it wasn’t the right opportunity and received a voicemail in return, confirming they got the message. Then, a reference texted me to ask about why the interviewer had called them five times that day, and several times the previous day. Thankfully, I was with one of my references when they called and I was able to sort it out. Due to the nature of the job (financial advising only advertised by word of mouth and just a little too MLM for me), I was afraid they were using my reference list as a potential client list. They say there was a mix up, but it was just one person I talked to the whole time. Sigh. I should take my references out for coffee.

  69. Polly

    Re: #2 I had a question pop into my head along a different line from intentional disrespect, and I’d like to see opinions from anyone here. I have an unfortunate talent for mimicry that I used to use in amateur acting, but I’ve noticed over my working career that when I spend long enough time working alongside someone with a strong accent, I slowly start to sound similar to them unless I seriously concentrate on NOT doing so. It’s not meant with disrespect or as a way to mock someone, but it happens. Would that be viewed in the same negative way as intentionally mocking someone like this does since it creeps in over time and isn’t intentional?

Comments are closed.