men apologize for swearing around me, coworker likes to quiz me in front of others, and more

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

1. Male coworkers apologize for swearing around me

I’m a 28 year-old woman working in finance. I work with a lot of sales leads and directors, most of whom are older and male. Something has come up now three separate times, twice with the same VP, and I’m not sure what to make of it. Basically, my coworker and I (my coworker is male, but closer to my age) will be in a meeting with these higher-ups and one of them will throw in a swear word. The higher-up will then pause his sentence, turn to me, and say something along the lines of, “Oh Jane, I’m sorry for my language. I’ll be more careful.” The higher-ups do not issue an apology to my male coworker, they’re specifically addressing me, by name, each time. (I should add that my male coworker also doesn’t swear much at work, so it’s not like the higher-ups hear him swearing all the time.)

I have never once complained to anyone that swearing bothers me. It doesn’t! I have no problem with it. I personally don’t swear at work, but I don’t care if other people do. Is this a sexist thing or are they maybe just thinking because I don’t swear, I might not like swearing in general? If it’s a sexist thing, how do I address it? Should I just do a quip in the moment like “I don’t f-ing care if you swear” or do I just deal with it? I meet with these people quite frequently and it keeps coming up.

Yes, it’s a sexist thing. They’re assuming they’ll offend your delicate, ladylike ears.

You don’t have to just deal with it — you can say, “Don’t look at me, I’ve got the mouth of a sailor” or “I’m a grown human, I’m good” or “I’ve never heard such shocking filth in my life, Joe” or “it doesn’t bother me in the least” or “I give not one shit if you swear” or whatever you feel best about and works for the dynamic you have with them.

2. My coworker likes to quiz me in front of others

I started in a new position, at a new company, in a new city, in a totally new field about 3 months ago. It’s been … a lot. Although I think I’m handling the transition well, there have been some inevitable hiccups along the way. A colleague of mine (slightly superior title, more experienced for sure, but not someone I report to) gets aggressively frustrated with these hiccups. She is particularly rattled when it’s clear I don’t know something; e.g., why a particular colleague has been asked to participate in a client call, things of that sort. I try my best to ask people in the know when I feel like I’m missing part of the picture. In these instances, she refuses immediately to provide me with the information I need; instead, she likes to repeatedly ask me whether or not I’m abreast of the details, when it’s very clear I am not. She often does this in front of other colleagues: “Do you remember what was said about it in the staff meeting on Monday? What do your notes say?”

How do I convey to this colleague that I find this method to be both alienating, unprofessional, and counterproductive? When another colleague needs information I have, I give it to them. Is it not the function of co-working to have each other’s back, and help fill gaps where others occasionally let details slip. I just want to get the work done to the best of my abilities, and help my colleagues do the same.

That is incredibly obnoxious and patronizing. First, if you can, stop asking her for help. If that’s not possible, then one option when she starts asking things like “do you remember what was said about it in the staff meeting?” is for you to decline to play along by saying something like, “No, I don’t. If you can’t tell me, I’ll check with someone else.”

Another option is to ask her about it directly: “When I ask you a question, you often focus on why I don’t know rather than helping me with the information I’m looking for. Do you have a concern about my work that we should talk about directly?”

(I should note that when I first started reading your letter, I thought she might be legitimately frustrated by you not retaining things she’d trained you in and was trying to point out that you already have access to answers … but if it’s stuff like why a coworker was invited on a client call, it sounds like she’s just being rude.)

3. Why was I was asked to swap desks with another intern?

I am one of two interns on a small Writing team of eight employees. However, the other intern (Jon) was hired with the understanding that he would also be helping out the Research team, who sit right next to the Writing team. At the start of our internship, I was given a desk in the middle of the Writing team, while he was given a desk between the Research and Writing teams.

About halfway through our internship, we were pulled into a meeting with my boss, who told us we needed to swap desks. When I politely asked if there was a reason, he gave a very vague answer (something like, “Oh, you know, sometimes it’s fun to move stuff around”) and wouldn’t elaborate.

However, this move has made everyone’s lives harder. The Research team was very confused to see us moving and has no idea why I’m now sitting with them since I don’t work with them at all, so it’s frosty and awkward. It’s now harder for Jon to help them, and harder for me to interact with my team.

Why might a boss want to do this? Should I interpret it as a sign that they like the other intern more or that he’s performing better than I am? Is there any reasonable way I can push back on this or ask for a better explanation?

It’s hard to say from the outside why your boss did this, but there are a lot of possible reasons — some of which he rightly wouldn’t share with you. For example, if Jon were being harassed by someone nearby, he might have wanted to be moved away from that person. Or if he was socializing too much with someone on that team, the move could have been designed to move him from that distraction. Those are both things your boss generally wouldn’t share with you (so you shouldn’t insist on knowing more). Or, sure, maybe your team loves Jon and wants to cocoon him in their midst — but it’s probably less likely to be that and more likely to be a legit reason like the previous examples.

If the Research team is being frosty and awkward about having you nearby, that’s weird behavior on their side and not a reasonable reaction! If you can, it might help to try to get to know some of them (unless they’re overtly hostile). But try not to let this throw you too much — people work in separate locations from their teams all the time and it’s workable! Meanwhile, if you’re feeling isolated from your team, don’t be afraid to ask people to get coffee with you, etc. — that’s good advice when you’re interning anyway, so that you can build connections.

4. Fear of flying and a new job

I’m terrified of flying due to turbulence on my last flight.

I feel quite confident I will be getting an offer from a job that requires training in Denver the first two weeks. I’m on the east coast, so logically I would fly in for it, and they said they cover cost of travel. If I get the offer, how would be best to explain to them that I don’t wish to fly, but that I will absolutely be there on the starting day and that I plan to take train or bus across instead?

“I try to avoid flying, but I’d be glad to take the train, which actually costs a bit less than flying would. It’s a longer trip, but that’s not a problem on my end.”  Or: “I try to avoid flying, but I’ll absolutely be there for the start of training. I’m making arrangements to travel by train.”

But before you accept the offer, make sure you find out if the job will require any other travel. It’s one thing to take some extra travel time before your first day, but they’re much less likely to be okay with multi-day train or bus trips once you’re working. If there’s no travel other than this or if it’s all within a few hours driving distance, it might not matter — but make sure you find out before you take the job.

5. Being asked to fill out a lengthy written form as a reference

What is your take on being asked to provide a written reference for a candidate (versus a phone call)? I am in academia, and I am happy to write a letter of recommendation for academic positions that require it (because academia is weird that way, and unfortunately it doesn’t seem like it will change any time soon). Increasingly, though, I am getting requests for written references from nonprofits/NGOs. These are for positions that are one or two steps above entry level, so not super senior, and it’s often a full page of open-ended questions that they want answered.

I get that this is less work for the organization, but it is more work for me than a quick 10-15-minute phone call. I’ve started pushing back and asking for a call instead, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. I don’t want to refuse to provide a reference, but these can be time-consuming and seem unnecessary (it’s also harder to convey tone in writing, so I find that I spend time re-reading and making sure that my tone is coming off as I intended).

Yeah, this is a very bad thing. As you point out, it’s vastly more work for the reference than a phone call would be. It’s also less effective for the employer checking references — because people are generally far more willing to share critical feedback on a phone call than they are in writing. Plus, the reference-checker is losing the ability to ask follow-up questions and hear tone and points of hesitation. And of course, some people just won’t bother to invest the time in this at all. It’s bad on every front.

{ 615 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, obviously the only solution is to respond with a flurry of your most colorful swear words. Basically take Alison’s scripts and then dial them up to 100.

    (This is totally a sexist thing. It’s the whole 1950s “don’t swear in front of ladies or children” bullshit.)

    1. many bells down*

      I’ve often responded with “Yeah, a**hole, I’m a f***ing lady!” but, uh, you have to be real comfortable in your situation to do that. Probably not at work.

      1. Spreadsheets and Books*

        On my second day at a corporate finance role, my coworkers apologized to me for swearing sometimes (I was the only woman on the team at the associate/manager level). My response was “I don’t f*cking care.”

        It was never mentioned again, except for the time someone was bringing their toddler in and told me they should make me a swear jar.

      2. miss_chevious*

        As a woman in a field known for swearing, I’ve had success with the phrase “f*ck your apology,” said in a light and teasing way. If I did have a problem with swearing, I would go with a different approach, but as I do swear at work from time-to-time, so this seems to convey that swearing doesn’t bother me and that I’m not taking it too seriously.

        As other commenters have pointed out, this approach is not exactly dismantling sexism, but I have plenty of other opportunities to address that, and wouldn’t want to die on this hill.

        1. tiffbunny*

          I have a ton of success in my company by pointing out the year and the old-fashioned nature of what they’re doing. To take my standard line and adapt it to OP’s letter, I’d respond with: “You know it’s [2019] and women curse now too?” with a light tone, and leave it there.

          I have been using this line for 5 years in my IT company (formerly an Old Boys Club, but rapidly changing in demographics and attitude both) to great success, but I’ve found the key is to include the word “now” or something similar to really drive home the point that their attitude is highly outdated and inappropriate.

          If it’s something particularly egregious, as I’m a workforce manager I’ll even follow up with “Jeez, please tell me you’re not saying things like that in front of candidates!” with a facepalm-type expression of a severity level that matches the level of gendered / racist /etc nonsense they’re spouting.

          1. Krabby*

            I really like this approach! But tone would be so important, so definitely OP should practice a few times until it feels natural (in fact, I’d do that with whatever response you choose, as the smoother you make the words, the smoother it will be taken).

      3. Goldfinch*

        I work adjacent to O&G, the swearing capital of the world. My favorite response to an apology like this is a faux earnest expression and “Yes, please remember my delicate fucking ears.” It usually gets a laugh while getting the point across.

        1. EJane*

          Oh, yes. I’m (F) a team lead for an entirely male group of IT professionals, and every once in a while someone says something especially stupid, sees me looking at them, and apologizes. My response is invariably something along the lines of “I cannot fucking believe you just said that” with my best Totally Outraged face.

      4. Drax*

        “How dare you, don’t you know I’m a f***ing lady??” said in a teasing manner (usually mock outrage) has been my go to

      5. Prolix_Prolix*

        How about: “Apology accepted, C@cksucker!”
        I mean, probably don’t actually say that.

        1. pancakes*

          Calling someone a cocksucker has a tinge of homophobia that other swear words don’t. Avoid that one.

        2. AKchic*

          Maybe “apology f***ing accepted”?

          I dunno… I cuss more than half the military installation I work on’s denizens combined, and my mother (who I work with) is the prude who will insist that *I* am not allowed to do so. She doesn’t care about any other woman doing it. Doesn’t care if the soldiers or shop guys do it. Just me. It’s “unladylike” and “inappropriate” simply because I am her child (a nearly 40 year old “child”, at that; with adult children and grandchildren of my own). She did not appreciate the very colorful way in which I told her to choke on the satchel of Richards and get over herself.

          1. PersephoneUnderground*

            Technically it is non-specific, but assumed not to be by most people. Since women and men can both um, engage in that activity. And of course a bit homophobic said to a man. /end irrelevant linguistic musing

      6. PennyLane*

        Loving these responses! I get this sometimes too with men at my office and if anything I have to curb my use of swearing at the office since it’s a pretty conservative company, so I really don’t care. Obviously swearing AT people is different which I would not be ok with; but when you’re standing with a group of men joking around and one of them apologizes only to you when they swear, it’s a bit eye-roll inducing.

    2. lyonite*

      This reminds me of a story my mom told me from early in her career (this would have been in the 70s-80s). She was one of the few women in a heavily male-dominated field, and it had been customary, at professional meetings, for the man who was presenting to preface his talk with an off-color joke. The modern world had been slow to reach these guys (and I suspect they were inclined to be reactionary anyway), but they had also been raised with the whole “no foul language around the delicate ladies” thing. So, when she showed up, they still told the jokes, but they did it uncomfortably, while staring at her the whole time. It was, apparently, not a great experience. (She went on to be very successful and well-respected in the field, and a great advocate of bringing more women into engineering, and only a little disappointed when her only daughter became a biologist.)

      1. TootsNYC*

        it had been customary, at professional meetings, for the man who was presenting to preface his talk with an off-color joke.

        There’s a story about Ulysses S. Grant at a soldiers’ dinner. Someone said, “I can tell this off-color joke because there are no ladies present.”
        And Grant supposedly said, “No, but there are gentlemen.”

        I have no idea if it’s true, but it’s always amused me. And I used that story at an anti-sexual-harassment training to explain why even if your office is all men, putting a postcard up of a woman in a bikini might not be a wise thing.

    3. Kella*

      I was once the only woman in a department of 10 or so and the guys all treated me as equal all the time EXCEPT when it came to telling dirty jokes. I got super pissed one time when my manager said he wouldn’t say the joke in front of me cause he didn’t want to offend my delicate ears (yes I know it’s generally good for managers to not participate in this kind of thing, it was retail, very casual and friendly). As revenge, I bided my time and then when my manager and I were working on a project together, I dropped a very VERY dirty joke ever so casually. Hilariously, I referenced a fetish he had never heard before and he was very shocked, shouting, “WHAT? THAT’S A THING? WHAT?? WHY??” It was very satisfying.

      1. tiffbunny*

        This sounds amazingly satisfying, but you’ve *got* to give up the goods on what fetish it was!

        1. Kella*

          I’ll say this: My job was at a grocery store, and when this happened, my manager and I were organizing a huge shipment of diapers that were on sale. “What are we going to do with all these diapers?” ….

      2. Clorinda*

        A workplace in which dirty jokes are common can very quickly become a hostile work environment, so your boss was half right. The jokes should have stopped, but not only because a woman was there. A man might find them uncomfortable too.

        1. SarahKay*

          I had a male co-worker make a somewhat dirty joke about a losing sports team, in front of our team, including our manager. I actually found it hilarious – something about the phrasing just really tickled me – and I probably laughed more than the rest of the (male) team.
          Our mutual manager looked slightly horrified at how funny I found it (at least partly, I think, because I tend to come across as quiet, sensible, sober, and thus strait-laced) but all credit to him – this then made him think about the whole thing and ask the team to cut back on those sort of jokes altogether.

          1. PersephoneUnderground*

            It’s really fun to be the person everyone thinks is all proper. They’re so shocked to find out you’re not! I apparently give this impression too.

        2. Kella*

          I would typically agree, but honestly, I’m fairly sensitive to that kind of thing (both to how it affects me and other people), I worked there 5 years, and rarely heard a joke that crossed a line. Had I been the manager I might’ve handled things differently, but I didn’t perceive any harm done by the range of humor that was shared.

    4. Bagpuss*

      OP since you mention that your coworker is very similar to you in terms of age, status in the company and that neither of you swears mch, so the ony difference is gender, could you use that? e.g. next time one of the mangers apolgises to you, why not respond with “Well, swearing doesn’t bother me but I’m not clear why you would apologise to me and not to Fred.
      Or even have a separate conversation with one of them to point out that while you are sure that they don’t intend it that way, when they single you outfor an apology, and don’t treat coworkers the same way, it comes over as sexist. You can frame this as “I know you are n’t sexists so wanted toflag it up as I know you wouldn’t want to be percieved as sexist or patronising, but unfortunately that is how it comes over, since you don’t treat male collegues, even those who are a similar age and level of experience to me, and who, like me, don’t tend to sweat much themselves, in the same way”

          1. deferred gratification*

            Slarti, why would you want OP1 to put her boss in the cross hairs? What advantage does this confer to her? The man is apologizing, is that the moment to make him regret it?

            I understand the impulse to strike back at the patriarchy, but I wonder if the satisfaction of putting her boss in his place is worth the damage it could do to the relationship.

            1. Anononon*

              It’s not just striking back at the patriarchy. It’s pushing back on a mindset that created an us versus them in the boss’s mind, which can only hurt OP in the long run.

              Also, while no one ever must confront sexism (against them) in the workplace if they feel uncomfortable or vulnerable, we should not be actively preaching that “what they’re doing isn’t that bad, just deal with it.”

            2. Johnny Tarr*

              Having someone try to explain a sexist or racist comment is a pretty effective way to make them realize the ridiculousness/cruelty/stupidity of what they’ve said. The reasoning falls apart in the explanation.

            3. Lance*

              ‘The man is apologizing, is that the moment to make him regret it?’

              In a sense… yes. He’s being sexist, whether he realizes it or not; something as simple as this, with as simple a script as Batgirl suggests, would be a good way to shine a light on that for his (and OP’s coworkers, if any of them do this as well) own sake.

            4. SheLooksFamiliar*

              ‘The man is apologizing, is that the moment to make him regret it?’

              In this case, yes. He didn’t accidentally bump into her, he’s putting her squarely in her place in a sexist structure. The ‘apology’ for swearing parades as gentlemanly, polite behavior, but treats women as delicate, sheltered creatures who get the vapors around blue language.

              1. Sloan Kittering*

                Yeah also he’s not getting it. He’s not apologizing for making her gender a Thing in conversation with the team unnecessarily – in fact, that’s the behavior he’s repeating and will probably continue to repeat until OP figures out how to bring it up. The fact that he’s presumably well meaning isn’t really the point.

                1. SheLooksFamiliar*

                  That’s the rub, isn’t it? I’ve worked with some men who have never displayed blatant sexist behavior (promoting only men, etc.). I know they have coached and developed women and movedd them into key roles. I consider them to be principled, woke leaders…but they automatically apologize for ungentlemanly behavior if a woman is present. I’m not sure if it’s so ingrained that it’s a reflex, or if they are working on it, or what. But no, they don’t seem to get it.

                2. Anonymous Engineer*

                  SheLooksFamiliar, humans are complex. We all can be doing the best we can to support a diverse and inclusive environment and still commit microaggressions because we just aren’t aware of how our behavior comes across. Men I have spoken to have usually never considered that their apology for swearing brings attention to my gender which is in itself othering. A man who has been supportive of women at work in other ways may be open to having this conversation! Now, if he continues it once he’s aware of its effect, that’s a whole other issue.

              2. pooka*

                Granted this was in the early 1990’s, but I (a female) was working in the construction industry. Swearing was the norm. Apologies were made. I stated not to worry about it, I’ve heard it all before, etc. The response I got was,”yeah, none of them are cherries anymore.”

                So F thier apologies!

            5. Anonymous Engineer*

              Absolutely it is.

              I had this conversation with some (Southern, conservative, male) coworkers recently. I told them, “If you have some personal policy of not swearing in front of women, then just don’t swear in front of women. I’ll never know that’s your policy. BUT if you screw up and accidentally drop an F-bomb in front of me, just ignore it and keep going. It is the apologizing that brings attention to the fact that you see me first and foremost as a woman, not a coworker, othering me in front of an audience.”

              They….actually kinda got it!

              1. The Vent-a-lator*

                +1 This is exactly what I wanted to say. Thank you Anonymous Engineer.

                Guys, if you’re aware enough of your swearing in front of me to apologize, then you’re aware enough to not swear in the first place. Either don’t do it or don’t make it all about what I am (a woman), rather than who I am (a competent colleague).

              2. Seeking Second Childhood*

                BRAVO Anonymous ENgineer: This is perfect. “… just ignore it and keep going. It is the apologizing that brings attention to the fact that you see me first and foremost as a woman, not a coworker, othering me in front of an audience.”

              3. Mimi*

                Oooh, I really like this.

                My usual go-to is to tell people, “I don’t care if you swear, but please stop saying [whatever ableist slur is bothering me most this week].” It hasn’t resulted in any behavior change (funny how they only care about me being offended as a construct, not in practice), but at least it’s a place to bring up the pervasive ableist language.

                Yours might actually change behavior, though.

            6. pancakes*

              In these circumstances it’s a lighter touch to ask that question when it happens vs. bring up the pattern of behavior later, no?

              If the boss is so coddled that the relationship would be forever damaged by the letter-writer introducing him to a tidbit of self-awareness about his behavior, it’s almost certainly not worth sparing.

            7. Jadelyn*

              I mean…since the apology itself is the sexist action…that is, in fact, exactly the moment to point out what he’s doing.

            8. AnnaBananna*

              Because it’s not a real apology. It’s mired in a puddle of sexism, so bouncing it back into his court is reminding him that it’s sexist. In this particular isntance, cross hairs are good. Especially when they don’t realize they’re sexist, and are doing it for our ‘benefit’.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          This is even better than “I’m a grown human, I can handle it.”

          I also like Miss Manners’ answer of “we have business to get done; I don’t think we need to spend time addressing your vocabulary or manners.”

          1. fposte*

            IIRC, she goes for “vocabulary or grammar,” to raise the specter that they made a very different error than the one they fondly imagine.

          2. juliebulie*

            I think Miss Manners also suggested that one could innocently inquire as to the meaning of the word. (I can just imagine myself saying, “I’ve heard that word before – what does it mean?”)

            Wait, I don’t have to imagine it. When I was just learning to read, my parents took me to the zoo. I observed “f***-you”carved into a bench. I had seen the word before, and took the opportunity to ask what it meant.

            Maybe it’s not as cute when a 28-yo says it. I know my parents didn’t think it was cute when I was 6 or whatever.

          3. TootsNYC*

            Without the “your vocabulary or manners” dig, this is one of the points i might make.

            “Please, let’s not derail the conversation by stopping to apologize for swearing in front of one another. It’s very distracting–far more distracting than the occasional ‘fuck’ is.”

        2. Alli525*

          Yeah I’ve definitely said “why are you f*cking apologizing?” with a wink. Like OP1, I used to work in finance and my lovely tightknit group was all men (I of course was in an admin role) and they would sort of reflexively apologize (it definitely wasn’t over the top or patronizing) and I’d laugh it off in the most foul-mouthed way that was appropriate in whatever setting we were in. I definitely reminded them several time that my mouth was the foulest of all of them.

        3. PM Punk*

          I wish I had thought to do something like what Batgirl is suggesting! I had a coworker who would apologize for swearing just to me all the time, and I swear way more than he does.

      1. Triplestep*

        I would not suggest doing this. This is one of those times that the inherit sexism is best pointed out with humor. It doesn’t come under the same category as finding out you have less opportunity than the men or are being paid less than the men. Answering with this “I am now going to educate you” undertone is bound to make things way worse than they need to be. Any of the humorous or sarcastic responses offered up here are going to allow these men o realize they were operating on an outdated and sexist notion (if they didn’t already know it. I think a lot of them know, but they apologize to the woman because a.) better safe than sorry or b.) what will the other men think if they don’t?)

        1. Johnny Tarr*

          Women responding to sexism with humor is frequently taken as a signal that we’re on board with the sexist behavior. Offenders will say that it became a running joke or flirtation. Not to say that responding with humor is a bad idea every time, but it’s perfectly fine to decisively shut sexism down if that’s what seems best in the moment. Doing that does not make things worse than they need to be.

          1. Triplestep*

            You’re right. It’s always better to deliver a stern lecture to a person who thinks he’s being polite, especially if he’s your higher-up, and especially if other people are present. I don’t know what I was thinking!

        2. Acornia*

          “If I’m being a sexist patronizing man, you’d better make me laugh when you tell me!”
          Sorry, when someone’s being sexist and patronizing, you don’t get to control how that news is delivered.
          – It doesn’t have to be delivered with humor
          – It doesn’t have to be delivered in a “compliment sandwich” (which is crap anyway)
          – It doesn’t have to be delivered with deference, kindness, or a “I know you’re not sexist but this could come off wrong” disclaimer.
          – It doesn’t have to be softened in any way shape or form.

          1. soon 2be former fed*

            All of this is true if you don’t mind potentially torpedoing your relationship with your boss. The same is true if addressing racism or sexism or ageism. If you are not being treated in a manner that rises to the level of an EEOC complaint, it may be wiser to pick your battles. FWIW, some religious men don’t like cussing either.

            I must say that as a woman in the professional workforce for 42 years, I am somewhat surprised that so little progress has been made in fully integrating women into workplace culture. I’m not optimistic that this battle will ever be won.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              I agree, sigh. I’ve seen progress, but it seems to have been based more on the fact that I have aged out of the ‘potential sexual partner’ age than on wide spread social changes.

              The changes in laws has helped, though – I think bigger employers have changed hiring / employment policies, which normalizes women in the workplace, which helps with the social changes. We’ll get there.

            2. DreamingInPurple*

              I don’t think it will ever happen if women don’t make up roughly 50% of employees on all sites, in all position types. Right now companies seem to track % of women as an aggregate across positions (or maybe they break out individual contributors vs managers, but usually not much more), which ignores what tends to happen to any minority – they congregate in places where they already exist, so you end up with some divisions being primarily women and others where women are rare. Just the fact of having 50% women in your workplace as an aggregate (which is still a lofty goal most of the time) wouldn’t mean that women aren’t treated as a minority – it would just mean that some positions are considered “women’s positions”, which usually are denigrated, and not do anything for the women who are outliers in the male-dominated positions.

        3. pancakes*

          “Better safe than sorry” in what sense? Is the idea that she might try to have the guy fired for swearing because she’s a woman? I’ve never heard of that happening. Is that a trend in your area or industry? Seems unlikely. Either way, the idea that it’s somehow “safer” treat all women as alike and interchangeable than it is to see them as individuals who may or may not be bothered by swearing seems inadvisable.

          “What will the other men think if they don’t” — Yikes. Deciding to treat a woman a certain way as a form of preening for other men is even more othering than apologizing to her out of concern for hypothetical sensitivities she doesn’t have. It’s taking that a step further, to the point that all that matters about her is the presence of her gender. In this scenario her own personality and preferences are entirely off the table.

      2. Joielle*

        Idk, personally, I absolutely would not have a whole separate conversation about this. You risk looking humorless – which, yeah, is sexist in itself, but if OP wants to keep a good working relationship with these guys, it’s something to avoid. Don’t make a bigger deal of it than the higher-ups think it is. Make a quip in the moment and move on.

      3. Jules the 3rd*

        A lighter way to use this might be, ‘Well, swearing doesn’t bother me. Fred, you ok?’ (Probably good to warn Fred ahead of time that you’d like to say this)

        1. Johnny Tarr*

          I like the idea of pulling Fred in as an ally. There’s something interesting about the two younger people teaming up to address the problem – maybe it will help the boss realize that his sexist comment is old-fashioned and not a good look for a workplace.

      4. a good mouse*

        Ha, this reminds me of when an older co-worker was trying to explain that he never ever meant to be sexist when he ended a meeting by shaking hands with all the men then saying, “Well you’re a girl so I should hug you.” (This got a hearty “I don’t think so” and an awkwardly held out hand from me.)

        When I got a token apology later, I pointed out to him that the guy next to me was my same age, went to my same graduate program, and has worked at our company the same length of time. So if he said that to me and didn’t consider saying it to him, it was sexist.

    5. JN*

      As entertaining as this would be I don’t really like the idea that the LW should have to change her way of speaking to address this. If she was someone that swears a lot then absolutely but she has said that she personally doesn’t swear at work. For her to have to respond with swearing when she naturally doesn’t feels to me a bit like having to prove she’s a “cool girl” in order to get respect from the boys.

      (I realise this may have been a joke – but quite a few commenters have suggested thinking of response and this is just what came to my mind).

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        It really depends on the office, which is why I like that Alison gave ‘read the room; here are some options’ advice. In some offices, if you aren’t ‘the cool girl’ about this stuff, you get fired / not promoted / other impacts. Optimally, you’d hunt for a place where it’s not required, but there are whole industries where not being the ‘cool girl’ will get you ostracized / unemployed.

        Women and PoC and LBGTQx still have to read the room and balance ‘standing up to the cishet white patriarchy’ vs ‘job / career / life impact’. Everyone is always balancing how much of our inner selves to put on display at work, and OP should think through *all* the options available and decide which they prefer. Ruling one of the options out on behalf of OP is suboptimal.

        Most of the recommendations here are wish fulfillment anyway, things we would like to be able to get away with. OP really needs to think through her room.

        1. Tiny Soprano*

          Agreed it’s 100% a situational judgement call. My current boss does this despite knowing I use worse language than him. The chefs usually retort for me with “oy where’s MY f***ing apology??” and if they don’t, I simply remind him of how bad my language can be. For him it’s an automatic, ingrained behaviour.

          You make an excellent point about if it veers into homophobic, racist or ableist territory though. Not everyone is going to have the spoons, standing or safety to shut down everything all the time, and while we’re at a stage where you can often safely return something as old-fashioned as ‘don’t swear in front of a lady’ to sender, it can be harder feat with say an ableist slur.

    6. CanadiEm*

      I’ve had great success with “actually, I’m more offended by the apology than the language.”

      1. Marthooh*

        If it happens more than once, I recommend calling it “the obviously insincere apology”.

    7. Booklover13*

      I work back office for a specialized construction company so get both the swears and apologies a lot. For me there are really three approaches depending on who does it.

      1. Guy who doesn’t really swear much himself and I’ve been around a fair bit gets a “Why? I swear plenty just not at work cause I have a good on/off switch”.

      2. Guy who is super sincere about it(usually spends a lot of time in the field) just gets a simple “No Worries” and a smile. I give them the most leeway since they never know if someone back office will give them trouble for it in general.

      3. The guys who swear all the time and/give a look when apologizing. I give them a “my poor f***ing ears” or something similarly colorful. Once again, I don’t swear much so this has startled.

      There is an advantage to all this, since I am generally nice/calm at work the few times I have sworn, people have taken note. It really is a good “conversion enhancer” for me.

      1. Swordspoint*

        I might come back with, “Oh, *I* don’t mind —but what about (coworker’s) delicate ears?” Gets across 1. that the swearing doesn’t bother you, and 2. that they’re being sexist, without being too blunt.

    8. Lynca*

      I’ve had the swear words backfire sometimes. Some guys have a real hangup about women swearing that comes from the same sexist place as “oh noes the lady ears.”

      I generally just fall back on: “I don’t care, why are you apologizing?” “You’re not saying anything I haven’t heard by now.” “You should hear me at home.” Basically put it back on them.

      1. EPLawyer*

        I get the “does your mother know you talk like that?” Because apparently my mother knowing I swear is worse than my father knowing? Fortunately I have a completely honest come back to that “Who do you think taught me those words.” My mom swears at the drop of a hat, my dad rarely. Me? I literally have taught drunken sailors how to swear.

        1. Fact & Fiction*

          Ha! This reminds me of what I used to respond whenever teachers asked me, “Does your mother know you’re reading that?” when they saw me reading romance novels at a really young age (I started reading Silhouettes/Harlequins in 4th grade because I outgrew most of the children’s books at school, we were poor, and my mom had a huge box of them at home. I would raise my eyebrow and say, “Who do you think gave me this book?” Ha!

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          I have this fantasy that someday, someone will ask my daughter “does your mother know you talk like that?” and she’ll reply “she’s the one who f-ing taught me, you stupid ****.”

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            I am *actively* trying to get my kid to swear. I have no idea how potty-mouthed me ended up with a kid who won’t even say the word bull-sh*t without a 30 minute ‘yeah, it’s fine to say that, in certain situations, and now is one of them!’ pep talk.

            1. juliebulie*

              Maybe her teachers punish for it. My friends’ daughter got in trouble for saying “poop” when she was young (and she was referring to an actual problem she was having in the bathroom).

              So, next time, she said “my shit is stuck” instead, because she didn’t want to get in trouble for saying “poop”…

            2. emmelemm*

              It’s funny, my 15-year-old niece is an incredible goody-goody and won’t even swear. She has all of Hamilton the musical memorized and she will recite it, but dropping the few swear words that are in there.

              Her mother swears like a sailor and has been since she was a pre-teen.

            3. Tiny Soprano*

              An old colleague of mine used to love the Hilltop Hoods, and played them all the time. One time she was wheeling her three year old in the pram, and the wheel got jammed on the curb. Her kid rolls his eyes and mutters “stupid f***ing pram!” She told the anecdote with great glee at work, which was hilarious because it was a library and she looked like your classic, mild-mannered librarian.

          2. Curmudgeon in California*

            I remember as a teen that I cussed in an argument with my mom, and she slapped me, then said, I kid you not, “Where the f*cking h*ll did you learn to talk like that?”

            It took all my self control not to say “From you, Mom.” because I would have been hit again for “talking back”. (I love my mother dearly, but she has some sh*tty double standards and a horrible lack of self awareness.)

            I literally learned to swear from hearing her and my dad argue, and being berated for doing something she didn’t like.

        3. Lynca*

          Oh I absolutely come across my swearing streak from my mom’s side of the family. I’ve always shrugged and said she swears as much as I do.

          Hilarious childhood stories:

          My mother tells a story about me being a small toddler in the backseat of the car, her having to slam on her brakes because someone cut her off, and then BEFORE SHE COULD EVEN SAY ANYTHING I scream out “A-hole!”

          There’s also a hilarious story where I dropped a freshly made pie as a toddler on my Great-Grandmother’s kitchen floor. I apparently went “shit” real quietly afterwards. My great-grandmother called my mother AT WORK to tell her how smart I was because I used the word in an appropriate manner.

          They did have some worry that I would accidentally swear at a teacher, etc. but I was a very rules oriented kid. So that was never an issue.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        In college I worked at a trucking company as a file clerk , and everyone swore in every other breath. Two of the sales team were women, and they swore a lot, too. The air was blue in this place.

        One day I said I couldn’t find a file, damn it, and the owner of the company took me aside. It wasn’t proper for young ladies to swear, and he couldn’t believe I’d said what I did. He said he expected better behavior in the future, I needed to be aware of how I sounded around visitors and vendors, etc. I was a FILE CLERK. I was too stunned, in too much in need of a job, to say anything.

    9. Just Elle*

      I think some of it is regional too, and in an admittedly deeply embedded sexist way, but not one where they’re actually doing it *at* you or to put you in your place – kind of like calling all women ‘sweetie’ or making a big show of holding the door for them and all the other Southern Gentlemen Things That Momma Taught Them.

      When I moved from the Northeast to the South for work, men were constantly apologizing for swearing in front of me too. The first time someone did it, I replied out of genuine dismay “oh shit I guess I have to watch my language down here, huh?” (I truly do have the mouth of a sailor).

      Eventually, I learned to control my swearing and they learned to control theirs and honestly we were all better off for it. Me because I wasn’t making other people feel awkward/uncomfortable by bucking societal norms… and any women that came after me because the men removed an element of DudeBro Boys Club Mans Culture that is swearing in important meetings.

      1. Just Elle*

        I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that if this company is in the South or the guy apologizing is from the South, I’d give him the ‘benefit of the doubt’ that he was raised this way. But if its a modern American city with modern men doing it, that reeks of sexist ‘who let the girl into our boys club’ in a much stronger way.

        1. "Champ," Lemon. Horses champ.*

          Even with the “benefit of the doubt” excuse, it’s sexist. I’d find it tiresome and wouldn’t want to put up with it.

        2. Alli525*

          This has happened to me in NYC (also finance) with dudes from the northeast (including Boston, the second-most foul-mouthed city on the east coast haha). It’s not necessarily regional.

          I would also argue that not all of the guys who do this are deliberately thinking “who let the girl into the boys club” – it can also come from a gentler, “women weren’t allowed in this field for so long and now we need to make this place more welcoming for them” place. Which, mind, is still sexist – assuming they know how a particular woman feels because they know how all women feel – but it’s not malicious.

        3. patricia*

          Please don’t continue to perpetuate the stereotype that southern cities and southern men aren’t “modern.” Goodness. I’m in a large southern city and have had men apologize for swearing in front of me, but also have experienced this in NY and California. Don’t cut southern men slack, but please stop assuming we’re all backward and that they can’t help themselves.

          And yes, sexism in the guise of manners is somewhat more ingrained in the south, but I think that’s all the more reason to push back on it. If I have one more man hold up the entire elevator waiting for me to push my way out so I can go first *because I’m a woman* I might have to scream. Or swear. ;-)

          1. Lynn Whitehat*

            +1. Texan riding the bus to her tech job downtown, not appreciating the implication that we’re not “modern” down here.

        4. Le Sigh*

          I am from the South and I’m sorry, but no. Setting aside the fact that that I’ve had this stuff happen in major, non-Southern cities, the fact that someone was or wasn’t raised a certain way doesn’t make it any better or acceptable. People are raised with all kinds of habits or ideas and that doesn’t make it okay just cause you’re in the South.

          I may be fine with the server calling me ‘hon’ when I go home, because whatever, it’s breakfast. But if I have to work with these people every day, I’m not gonna sit here and put up with behavior that well-intentioned or not, just feeds into insidious stereotypes that are but one part of a larger system that holds women back. If people want to curb their swearing on the whole, fine. Don’t do it because of my delicate f****** lady ears.

        5. Matilda Jefferies*

          You can give him the benefit of the doubt, and still ask him to stop! Just because he was raised that way, or his intentions are good, or whatever, doesn’t mean OP has to put up with the behaviour.

        6. pancakes*

          How is thinking that someone is probably being sexist because they’re from the south giving them “the benefit of the doubt” in any sense? It’s pretty straightforward prejudice.

        7. Jessie the First (or second)*

          “benefit of the doubt that that he was raised this way,” so no one should mention that it’s problematic? That doesn’t make sense. How does society ever change, and how do people ever learn to do better, if no one is supposed to call out sexist or racist or homophobic behavior just in case someone was “raised this way”? And why is having been raised to say something sexist somehow the benefit of the doubt?

          We aren’t talking about having the guy drawn and quartered for showing this ‘benign’ sexism. We are suggesting ways to calmly bring it up so that it can stop.

        8. Just Elle*

          Sorry, I didn’t mean in any way to imply that we do not have every right to push back against it. Whatever the ‘reason’ its not ok and we should feel entitled to make it stop.
          But I also would be less likely to be ‘angry’ at someone if I knew it was an ingrained cultural/social norm, vs someone who I believed was deliberately putting me down.

      2. KimberlyR*

        I’m in the Deep South and never had anyone apologize to me for swearing, except for when I was a kid and it was an adult swearing. I’m not trying to negate your experience, just offering up my own anecdotal evidence that not all Southern men think ladies are too delicate for naughty words.

      3. smoke tree*

        I suspect most perpetrators of sexist manners like this think they’re being polite. I don’t think the intention is to put women in their place and make them feel unwelcome–actually I think it’s more insidious because it kind of relies on a base assumption that women are visitors in public and professional spaces and it’s the job of polite men to make them comfortable in what they see as fundamentally a men’s sphere.

    10. EnfysNest*

      I have this problem all the time, and I suuuuuper hate it. It’s completely derailing to a normal conversation and inappropriately singles me out as the only woman in the office (there are at least three of us who never swear, but the two men never get apologies – only me.)

      I’m not willing to swear myself to counter it (though I truly don’t have a problem with hearing it and I know I don’t show any kind of reaction when people swear – I usually don’t even notice they’ve done it until they start the apology), but I’ve tried so many other options – questioning why they’re apologizing, saying I don’t mind, telling them it’s not a big deal, pointing out that I didn’t even notice, ignoring it flat out, etc.

      At this point, I’ve decided to just switch to “Please don’t apologize to me for swearing.” I’m tired of hinting and having the same people do it over and over, I don’t want a derail explaining that their “Mama raised ’em right” or any other nonsense excuses – I just want to continue the conversation at hand without it being any kind of a deal that I have a different type of body than the rest of my coworkers. Ugh.

      1. Marthooh*

        Mama may have tried to raise them right, but she sadly did not succeed; otherwise they wouldn’t have to apologize. If they are actually ashamed of swearing in front of a woman, they ought to apply that effort to just not swearing in the first place.

        1. EnfysNest*

          Yes! That’s the other annoying thing about it. If they just chose to never swear in front of me, I would barely notice (although they have no problem swearing in the hallway knowing that my open office door is right next to them – as long as I’m not visible, it doesn’t count). But the problem (for me, at least) is the performative nature of disrupting everything to point out “Oh no, there is a WOMAN in this room, I must apologize for my standard and otherwise accepted way of speaking and draw all the attention to me correcting myself! Oh woe is me and woe to all women whose ears I have defiled with my fatal s-word!”

          1. Le Sigh*

            This is the stuff that drives me nuts. Don’t hold the door and make a huge thing of it just because you see a woman approaching. Just hold the darn door because you want to be polite to a fellow human. If you think swearing is rude, just don’t swear in front of people in general. Manners are great; chivalry sucks.

            I’ll never forget the time I held the door for a man who had stuff in his hands, and he made a huge deal of how RARE it is for a WOMAN to hold a door for a WOW, WOULD YOU BELIEVE THAT? At that point he was lucky I didn’t let it slam in his face.

            F****** a******.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          Exactly. “If your mama had raised you right, you wouldn’t have said it at all.” It’s so very performative. “Look, I get to use bad manners, but then show you that I know good manners!” No thanks.

    11. Sharkie*

      #1 grinds my gears so much. What is even worse is when the boss or other males in charge tell you it’s not appropriate for me a lady in my 20’s to cuss in a professional setting (the word used was crap) then they drop 12 F-bombs over the course of 20 minutes. Yes, I counted. OP #1 just look at them all sweetly and ask why “are you only apologizing to me? “

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I hate the double standard. Where I work now the guys get away with swearing, even though it’s “unprofessional”, but I get written up for it. It makes me see red.

    12. pomme de terre*

      I am a woman and I used to work as a sports reporter. A lot of coaches would apologize for curses and I’d respond, “Coach, I’m [however old I was] years old. I know all the curse words. Say whatever the fuck you want.”

    13. Venus*

      To men who want to address sexism in the workplace, this is your chance!

      This sexist situation happens occasionally in my workplace, and I have seen men respond to their colleagues with comments ranging from “Oh, don’t worry about it, you’re more bothered by it than she is” to “Ha, she knows more swear words than you do!”

      1. SarahKay*

        I’m the only woman on a team of 12, and I do tend to get the apologies if one of them swears. I go with some variation of “not sure why you’re apologising to me, I don’t care” in a pleasant and slightly surprised voice.
        I now have an awesome male co-worker who, if someone swears, instantly apologises to one of the other men on the team (picked at random) for the bad language, often talking over whoever is trying to say sorry to me. It really makes the point that either apologise to everyone, or no-one, but singling out one person is weird.

    14. Dr. Pepper*

      This really is a case of “know your audience”. Some men get very uncomfortable/offended by a “lady” swearing and will possibly lash out in some way to “put you back in your place” because you are quite literally upsetting their worldview. These are the guys who don’t do well with any sort of defiance of rigid gender norms so they tend to be easy to spot. I would be careful around these types; you will not change their minds and if they have any kind of power or influence over your working life, swearing back can backfire. It sucks but it is what it is. For other men, this is simply the way they were raised and now it’s a habit; there’s no emotional attachment to Gender Rules involved. You’ve got a lot more leeway here and often a smile and “I don’t give a flying f*” will be just fine.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          And? Discrimination happens. You have to learn to read the room to know if / how much it’s going to be a problem and what your options are. This is just more advice on ways to read it.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        Chivalry is just sexism with manners.

        And I’ve found if you turn off the chivalry, you often get unbridled disgusting behavior. The chivalry is often the lesser of the two evils.

      2. pancakes*

        “For other men, this is simply the way they were raised and now it’s a habit; there’s no emotional attachment to Gender Rules involved.” The idea that behavior somehow becomes not-emotional because it’s so deeply ingrained as to be automatic is so strange to me. Feeling a certain way in certain circumstances isn’t magically not-emotional once it happens x number of times. Emotion that lacks self-awareness doesn’t somehow cease to be emotion because of that.

    15. soon 2be former fed*

      I don’t think folks should cuss in front of children. I would just say cussing doesn’t bother me, no special apology needed.

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        soon 2be, do you mind if I ask where you’re from? I love the word “cuss,” but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone actually use it! It’s a fantastic word. :)

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          ‘cussing’ is common in both my parents’ rural Midwestern US homes (my cousins say it) and in my US Southern home town.

          My impression is that the usage in my US South town is more common among people with a rural background, but that could be confirmation bias / first data bias – the first three US South locals I can think of who I have heard use the word are gen Xers from farming families. It definitely crosses racial lines here – I hear ‘cussing’ from both black and white friends.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            What I love is the people who use the word ‘cuss’ as a swear word. I have totally heard someone muttering ‘cussing cusser’ in very vehement tones.

            1. SarahKay*

              I like to swear by saying, vehemently, “Unprintables!” as a reference to the way swearing is shown in the ‘Asterix the Gaul’ cartoons as something like “#’!!##?%$”.
              Although it occurs to me that “Unpronounceables” might be more accurate. On the other hand, the emphasis on the T in Unprintables makes it more satisfying to say.

        2. juliebulie*

          I live in New England, but lived in FL for some years. I like to say “cuss” because “swear” makes me think of the courtroom.

    16. Arya Snark*

      I’ve used “You’re going to have to try a lot fucking harder to offend me, dear!” with great success.

    17. Laura*

      A woman I used to work with once looked around at the men in the room and announced “Excuse my French, gentlemen,” before launching into a rant containing several swears. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard at work.

      1. Lepidoptera*

        I wish sometimes when people used the phrase, “Excuse my French” that they would actually start ranting or even swearing in French.

        1. Lilchickshan*

          I’ve commented that I’m fluent in French, no problems! And also can curse in French if needed. My mom also curses in several languages much to people’s shock on occasion!

    18. BusyIz*

      I’m so glad others are finding this sexist as that’s how I always felt about it in my previous job. My manager swore in front of me in our second or third one on one meeting after I joined the company and he immediately apologized. I said something like, “Do not worry at all – I really wouldn’t be a fit for this industry if I was offended by swearing.” He never apologized again if it was just the two of us in a meeting, but would always make it a point to apologize if we were in front of other people. I always found that interesting…
      I mentioned this to one of my female friends at the company and she had a completely different opinion on it. She thought it was him trying to be respectful and she actually sort of appreciated it even though she swore like sailor herself. I don’t know…I just know the constant apologies bothered me after explicitly stating I didn’t have an issue with it.

    19. Claire*

      I had this same situation at nearly every IT job. Every time I responded with “What the f@ck if the problem?” And that *always* solved the problem.

    20. Nora E.*

      I’ve had good responses to, half-laughing and saying, “a little sexist, but I really f-ing appreciate your apology.”

      But also, I know lots of people who apologize for their language to both genders. I do it myself at times and I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. OP#1’s experience is pretty obvious, but there are times I definitely have to hold myself back from reacting and automatically assuming the apology comes from a sexist place rather than simply being a polite gesture.

    21. LJay*

      Yeah, I get this a lot.

      My response is always, “Yeah, watch your f***ing language!” Sometimes adding, “All that cursing is so f***ing uncalled for.”

    22. Blue Horizon*

      “I’ve never heard such shocking filth in my life, Joe”

      I like that one. You could follow it up with “I think I need to lie down. Could you direct me to the fainting couch?”

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, I had a coworker like this, and she is one of only two people I dislike strongly enough that, if asked for my thoughts, I would go out of my way to share how truly awful she was.

    Your coworker sounds like she’s being rude and low-key bullying. I like leading with Alison’s call-out script (“Do you have a concern…?”) so that you can claim the high road. After that, treat her like she’s a non-entity. Avoid asking her for anything, and cheerfully ignore her when she pulls this nonsense. If she doubles down with obnoxiously trying to quiz you or otherwise suggest you’re incompetent, you can pull a doe-eyed ingenue and stare at her blankly for 3 seconds, followed by, “Oh, were you being serious?” (the tone here is, “what a precocious and odd thing to do”) then laugh merrily and walk away from her. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

    1. I suck*

      That coworker sounds like an asshole. I did something similar to that to someone on the same level as me, but I felt awful and have made steps to not act like that anymore.

      I mean, if it was something related to the OP’s position like Alison mentioned in her answer, I can understand why the cw would be frustrated. It doesn’t sound like “why is other person on this call” is relevant to the OP’s job duties. CW is being a condescending jerk.

    2. Jadelyn*

      “pull a doe-eyed ingenue and stare at her blankly for 3 seconds, followed by, “Oh, were you being serious?” (the tone here is, “what a precocious and odd thing to do”) then laugh merrily and walk away from her.”

      Man, I thought I was good with the plausibly-deniable condescension to get someone to stop doing something crappy, but I bow to a true master of the art!

    3. FrenchCusser*

      I work in finance, and we had a fairly new employee who made pretty much every mistake you can make on a project, and I had to sort it out and fix it.

      I’m not her supervisor, but I’m senior and my only response was that she obviously needed more training and set out to see that she got it.

      I would NEVER quiz someone like that. It’s vitally important in public finance not to create an environment where people are afraid to admit mistakes or ask for help. Quizzing coworker is not only being mean for horribly unprofessional.

  3. Troutwaxer*

    #2 “That was a little rude and patronizing. How about I go consult my notes while you work on your manners?” (Sadly, I’ve been thinking about this for the last five minutes, and that was the kindest reply I’ve come up with!)

    1. Baru Cormorant*

      The best I got is, any time she answers your question with a question, “Well if you don’t know either, I’ll ask someone else.”

      1. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

        I think this is really effective against this kind of bully. It’s like telling them “you’re trying to be mean, but you’re not even good at it”.

      2. Mookie*

        Yep. Throw the patronizing awkward back at her. When she tries this on in a crowd, I’d go with something like “can another member of the class tell me?” in a hearty (or whatever) tone. Don’t make this fun for her and don’t let her spin an occasional lapse of knowledge into you being incompetent and deserving of public reprobation. Make it clear with your attitude she is being severe and ridiculously uptight.

      3. Just Elle*

        Ooh yes, I like this. Making the ‘innocent mistake’ that she must be acting so rude because she doesn’t know either and is trying to cover up her lack of knowledge by redirection, bless her heart.

      4. Cat Person*

        This sort of thing is very effective! I had an acting manager that did this sort of thing to me when I was new on a job. I said something like “If I knew, I wouldn’t be asking you but if you’re not going to help me I will ask someone else” and immediately turned and walked away. She changed her tune right away – I am not sure if she thought I would report her to an actual manager or not, because she was supposed to be helping the newbies, but she didn’t do that to me again.

    2. Checkert*

      I think I’d just come back with a feigned innocent surprise to why she doesn’t already know. “I wasn’t involved in deciding who should be on a call, I would’ve thought that’d be something you’re part of!” or “I’m sorry you didn’t capture that in your own notes, but I don’t take down conversations verbatim and didn’t capture that specific piece for myself”. Turn it back on her because what she’s also doing is announcing her own incompetence by trying to call out you. A bit sheisty? Sure, but she’s only winning the prize for the game she’s playing.

    3. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      Honestly, there’s a certain sort of person who thinks a new employee should require zero training or orientation at all. That a good hire pops turns up on Day 1 knowing not just all of the field-specific information they were hired with, but where the highlighters are kept and that Donna is fatally allergic to tomatoes so we don’t bring pizza in to work and that the Lllamas Unlimited Account wants all of their veterinary measurements in standard instead of metric like all of the other animal clients and that we save shared documents in the E: folder instead of the Z: folder.

      It is usually a sign of a problem workplace, so proceed with caution.

  4. Geo*

    I find the first answer a bit odd. Normally on this blog you take into account that you can’t always say what you want to say to higher-ups. I really can’t imagine saying, “I’m a grown woman, I’m good” to the VP of my company.


    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think it depends on the tone of the comment (e.g., droll is probably appropriate, here) and the culture of your workplace. I’ve definitely had to tell a senior-and-important-dude that I’m fine with swearing before, and it did not hurt me (professionally) one whit. But of course there are companies and contexts and tones in which it would not be as effective (or perhaps appropriate) to respond with that particular script.

    2. Troutwaxer*

      My response to people who apologize for swearing is to say, “Don’t worry. I speak fluent French.” In the case of OP 1, dealing with male colleagues who probably know better I’d probably say “I speak fluent f__k*ng French.”

        1. HappySnoopy*

          Not that poster, but it could’ve been option c, honestly offended.

          When I first got the “pardon my french” variation of delicate lady ears, I was confused by it. Then/now this of partial-French heritage-American-lady usually responds with a smile and says “ah, shit. Sounds like perfect English to me.”

          To OP, since it’s higher ups especially, low key tone/no big deal/laughing off in the moment in a this kind of way would hopefully work.

      1. Princesa Zelda*

        +1! I’ve worked in food service for a long time, and kitchens see a lot of swearing. “Don’t worry, I speak fluent French” + bouncing off to do the next thing has worked wonders for me, especially since I used to never swear and now swear pretty infrequently. I’ve only confused people twice, both non-native English speakers.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Esoteric minutia background: Most of the ones we’re blotting out are perfectly fine Anglo-Saxon words.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Which is why when someone says “Excuse my French”, I often reply, “Oh, I dunno, that sounded more Anglo-Saxon to me.”

          I guess if I wanted to address the sexism, I’d point out “You only apologize to me and not Ben. Are you doing that because I’m a woman?” And then wait for their response.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There’s a range of options there, with advice that she pick what works for the dynamic she has. With some VPs, you could say “I don’t give a flying fuck, Joe.” With others, you couldn’t. She’ll need to tailor it for her circumstances, but none of those options are inherently off the table.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah. IRL, I cuss as much as anyone else. However, I went this route years ago, where I said, “Don’t say that just because I am a woman.” And this unleashed a whole deluge of garbage that I do not want to have to listen to all day long. I mean we are talking descriptions of sex acts, cussing, gross jokes, etc. Keep in mind, that it takes some doing to make me say “ick” and this was way out beyond “ick”. The constant supply of gross material made the job too hard to cope with.

          With that experience, I decided to target the goal of “remaining professional”. I could not care less about an occasional F bomb or sh!t etc. But I found that once I pointed out the sexism, that just opened up a work environment that I did not want. I started redirecting by saying, “Keep it above the waistline, not because I am a woman but because it’s the correct thing to do across the board with everyone as a professional.” For those who did not understand, I would reframe as “No one cares how you did it last night. No one gives a crap. Get over it.”

          1. Sloan Kittering*

            Yeah, the people who are saying “top it with an even worse swear word of your own” – hmm, that may be a great solution for some, OP, particularly if they genuinely do love swearing, but if you’re just kinda neutral on swearing and negative on having your gender performed for you (like me), I wouldn’t try to get into a gross-out / out-swearing contest. I hate having to make dirtier and dirtier jokes to prove I’m “one of the guys.”

          2. No Longer Working*

            Oh yes – I worked in a skilled trade and didn’t mind the cursing at all, it was the garbage you described that was way over the top that I didn’t want to listen to, either! I countered that by asking if they wanted their daughter or wife to have to listen to that at work. It was very effective!

            1. Jadelyn*

              I’m glad that was effective, because nobody should have to put up with that – but framing it that way puts the focus right back on gender and encourages them to treat female coworkers differently than male coworkers.

              1. No Longer Working*

                I was the first female worker in that particular small company in a very blue collar industry. I didn’t want to make them regret hiring me by declaring now that a woman worked there, everything had to change. I wanted to be accepted for being a good worker and fit in to their world, not cause a revolution. This was also 30 years ago, and much has changed since those days, thank goodness.

        2. CMart*

          I would think in that circumstance they could then just inquire about the apology in as serious or as lighthearted of a manner as they feel is appropriate.

          “Why are you just apologizing to me and not Fred?”
          “Thanks, but Fred over here looks totally scandalized too!”

        3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          If swearing really does bother you, then I would pick your battles. As irritating as it might be to play into a stereotype (although there are plenty of men who also don’t care for it) thank them for being mindful about promoting a pleasant, professional work environment by not swearing, and then when the sexism rears it’s head in another context–because it will–address the sexism separate from swearing; like when your able to open your own doors, change the bottle on the water cooler, move a chair across the room, carry a moderately heavy box, walk to your car, exit the elevator, handle an irate client/coworker…all by yourself.

        4. Tableau Wizard*

          That was my question. I don’t swear, in my personal or professional lives. The occassional word isn’t going to get me clutching my pearls, but I really don’t enjoy an environment full of f-bombs and the like.

          But my opinion is NOT based on my gender – my husband feels the same way, for example.

          Is there a way to address just the sexism part without condoning the swearing?

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            Yes, but probably in another (non-swearing) setting, and probably not where the person with sexism has an audience. It’s the audience that gets people to double-down, often as not.

    4. Director of Alpaca Exams*

      I once had a senior VP tell me I was working too late and should go home for some “mommy time” with my toddler. You bet I was up front with him about what a shitty, sexist thing that was to say. Sure, sometimes you have to dance around infelicities, but sometimes it’s worth taking the risk of being clear.

      With the swearing-and-apologizing, if you’re not in a position to smart-aleck about it, I’d probably take a moment at the end of the meeting to directly say, “By the way, Joe, you don’t need to apologize for swearing around me. It doesn’t bother me.” And if he says something about mixed company, add, “I don’t want other people in the company thinking I’ve asked for special treatment.”

      1. Willis*

        I like the approach of directly telling the guy to stop apologizing rather than replying with a sarcastic comment or swearing back. I’m like the OP in that I swear plenty around my friends but generally don’t in professional settings, and I’d rather make the point without trying to match his language. (And really he either cares that he may be swearing in front of people who don’t want to hear it, regardless of gender, or he doesn’t. Doing it and then giving some cutesy apology is just annoying and dumb.)

      2. Troutwaxer*

        “I don’t want other people in the company thinking I’ve asked for special treatment.”

        What a great answer!

    5. Maria Lopez*

      I think off the cuff I would look Joe dead in the eye and seriously and innocently say, “Why do you have to watch your language? We all speak English here”.

    6. Alianora*

      This is an environment where the higher-ups regularly swear (at least around their male colleagues), so it seems likely to me that it’s generally more casual than the average workplace.

    7. Batgirl*

      That’s the thing I really hate about being placed in the ‘ladies and children’ bucket. Usually I’m subtle and a consummate professional. But when someone says “Oh sorry I said fuck! Did I make your ears bleed?”… a delicate response is only going to make things worse.
      Besides, if they already think of you as some sort of child/outsider then how can you possibly make things worse?
      If it’s someone really intimidating then the mildest response I have is that I’ll laugh. Like what they’ve said is a joke. Then I’ll say “I’ve heard swearing before Jack! Good one!” Which is somewhat face saving for them if they pick up the cue, but still involves laughing at them. However you’ve got to do something. You can’t just get out your fan and demurely nod and go along with the idea you need to recover from the shock of their masculine ways.

      1. Jadelyn*

        My go-to is a dry “My dad was a pilot and a sailor. You’re definitely not saying anything I haven’t heard before.”

    8. Mookie*

      Are you suggesting that this would offend them? How is making it clear they’re not offending her some kind of social faux pas? She has to pretend to be demur so their monocles stay unpopped?

    9. M*

      I would, and indeed do, routinely say such things to my CEO. Different companies, different norms. Alison gave the OP a list of options, because different options will suit different workplace environments.

    10. Cereal Killer*

      I was just talking to a coworker about a former job where I had to deal with this. It wasn’t just swearing but crude comments (not directed at co-workers), that as the only woman within ear shot they would then turn and apologize to me. My response was always something along the line of “I am not your mother, I don’t care what language you use, don’t make this my responsibility”. Honestly this is annoying but I could deal with it. It wasn’t until the sexism shifted to be underground and limiting to my career options that I had to quit that job.

    11. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You can’t say “get your sh*t together, VP. Stop asking me for reports 5 minutes before your meetings!”

      But higher ups acting inappropriately and engaging in sexist behavior is a different game.

      1. Jadelyn*

        …Sometimes you can, it depends on the VP. There are times when mine requests a report and when I ask when he needs it by, he says “Well, the meeting is in 10 minutes…” and I give him a Look and say something like “Come on, man. Really? You know better than that.” And he laughs and apologizes, I get his report together, and we go on.

        But it’s entirely dependent on the dynamics. I doubt I’d try it with any of the other VPs. Them, I’d just seethe in silence.

    12. Tammy*

      A CIO I used to work for was a retired Marine Colonel, and there were a bunch of military folks in my department. When I joined, the first woman in a team of 35 or so, he tried to cut back on the level of swearing in the team. This led to a bunch of people tripping over their tongues around me for weeks. I finally grabbed him after a meeting, and told him, “Look, Fergus, this tripping over tongues is getting boring. Can we please just stop? I’m not going to burst into flames when people say f*** around me, so just f***ing knock it off. Okay?” He looked horrified and scandalized for about 10 seconds, and then burst out laughing. We still reduced the overall amount of swearing in the team, I think, but it was a lot less awkward.

      It all depends on what kind of relationship you have with your leadership.

  5. fhqwhgads*

    #1 it is probably not this, but I wanted to throw out a possible alternative explanation. It might not be sexism, or it might be sexism mixed with some other assumptions. Do your colleagues have reason to assume and/or know that you’re religious? Usually when I’ve been in a work setting where people who swear a lot apologize to one person in particular for swearing, it’s because that someone has been open about their faith – and it’s one that is stereotypically known for objecting to swearing. Obviously if you want them to stop apologizing for swearing the scripts provided should do the trick. But it could be coming from a more logic-adjacent place of thinking they’re being respectful than just straight paternalistic condescension.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      But wait, how does that change the advice? If someone is behaving differently with someone on the basis of a person’s real or perceived religion or religiosity, isn’t that essentially analogous (in this context) to sexism?

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Exactly. And if it wasn’t sexism he would address OP only. He’d say something like “oops sorry guys…potty mouth…LOL.”

      2. Observer*

        Not really – if someone objects to swearing it’s respectful / polite to not swear around them, regardless of the reason they object. If someone openly identifies with a group that objects to swearing, it’s polite not to swear around them, not because they have “delicate ears” but because they object to swearing.

      3. fhqwhgads*

        Of the many options presented, given one needs to retain a good working relationship with the coworker(s), I’d choose one that were less snarky if someone might be operating under the assumption they’re respecting my genuine preference (even if they’re wrong) as opposed to the colleague just assuming woman=no swearing. It also depends on if the apology in question seems like a real “oh oops I forgot you don’t like swearing and just realized I did it in front of you” vs a rote “I swear and have no intention of ever not swearing but you’re here and I have some deeply ingrained assumption that I shouldn’t swear around women so I’ll toss in a ‘sorry’ at the end as perfunctory politeness and move on.”
        It’s the difference between “smash the sexist jerk right into his place” vs “I don’t actually care about this thing you think I care about.”

      1. many bells down*

        Yeah when I went back to school at the age of 35, the 19-20 year old guys would act like they’d just said a bad word in front of their grandma. They’d always apologize to me, and I don’t look particularly frail or conservative.

      2. only acting normal*

        Yep. I’ve frequently had a man apologise directly to me, the only woman in the room (though I don’t give a flying f***), when I know for a fact there are several *men* in the room who dislike swearing.
        It’s misplaced “chivalry”, i.e. sexism.

      3. Triplestep*

        I suspect the majority of women have had men apologize for swearing in front of them and it is inherently sexist. It is also worth considering what ELSE it might be about which is what I think fhqwhgads is suggesting:

        1. It may be more about the other MEN in the room. The swearer might not really know if Jane has a problem with swearing but he’s afraid of how me may look to his male contemporaries. He figures is can’t hurt to apologize to Jane.

        2. It may be about #metoo. Men are confused about what constitutes harassment and are being extra careful. Wishing they weren’t confused doesn’t make it less confusing for some of them.

        3. I have been told by women that they didn’t think I would swear or that I’d disapprove of swearing due to my vocabulary. It may not be just men who think we don’t approve of swearing, and it may not only be due to the fact we are women. This was a good reminder to me to know my audience and tailor the way I speak in different settings. I was coming across “too buttoned up” and in this case, the mention of swearing was what told me this.

        1. EnfysNest*

          1. If he was concerned about others in the room, he would apologize to everyone in the room. The swearer also doesn’t know if any of the other people in the room have a problem with swearing, so if he’s covering his bases, there’s no reason in the world to single Jane out.

          2. This happened looong before #MeToo and has nothing to do with that. Men have no reason to be confused about what’s harassment. It’s not actually that difficult if the men in question care at all.

          3. But did those women go out of their way to interrupt the normal flow of conversation to make a big deal out of apologizing to you, or were they just mildly surprised when it came up in conversation and they discovered that it wasn’t an issue for you. Those are very different scenarios.

          1. BethDH*

            I think what Triplestep meant by 1 was that it was sexism, but based on the VP’s assumption that the other men in the room would object to a man swearing in front of a woman rather than that he directly cares about swearing in front of her himself. In that case it’s a performative apology similar to how a kid apologizes to a sibling when the parents catch them being mean.
            Might or might not be true, of course, but I have definitely been on the receiving end of this form of display — especially the people who only hold the elevator for you if someone important is around to see them do it.

          2. Triplestep*

            1. You’ve misunderstood – See BethDH’s reply to my post for a good explanation.

            2. You’ve misunderstood here too. Of course it happened loooong before #MeToo. Men are confused now. They are also actively confusing sexism with harassment. Sometimes men are apologizing for swearing because they’re buying into an old sexist trope, and other times they may be legit confused. Yes, they should not be confused. Yes, they should be educated. But don’t say they have no reason to be confused about where the line between sexism and harassment is.

            3. Yes, they are different scenarios. Not the point I was making. My point was that sometimes people are regretful about swearing in front of us for reasons OTHER THAN the fact that we are women. We might learn something about about ourselves if we are curious about those other reasons.

        2. Observer*

          2. It may be about #metoo. Men are confused about what constitutes harassment and are being extra careful. Wishing they weren’t confused doesn’t make it less confusing for some of them.

          These are intelligent men. Anyone who pulls the #MeToo card in relation to something like this (assuming they aren’t using gendered slurs) is making excuses.

          I know that there are some things that can be genuinely confusing, though nowhere as much as the complainers would like to claim. But this is NOT one of them.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            This. It has zero yo do with #MeToo and they aren’t confused. He directed his apology to OP, naming her. He singled her out because she is a woman. Full stop.

        3. Anon for this one*

          I was pretty old when I figured out that sexual harassment was mostly about unwanted attention directed at individuals. If you asked me to define the term a few years ago, I would have told you it meant telling dirty jokes or cursing in the presence of female coworkers.

          1. LJay*

            Well, telling dirty jokes of a sexual nature probably is sexual harassment in that it could contribute to creating a pervasive environment (same as having a calendar of naked women posing on cars, etc, would).

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      If it was a religion thing I’m betting that OP would have asked Alison if she thought that was the reason. She didn’t. She asked her if it was sexism. I’m betting OP sees it for what it is…sexism.

    3. Mookie*

      The LW is in the best position to make that judgment and she basically did. If this was about faith or lack thereof, she’d likely have mentioned or considered it. Also, yeah, she wants them to stop, hence asking how to get them to. Suggesting she be more logical is a little insulting. Recognizing obvious sexism is perfectly logical; grasping for straws to avoid doing so less so.

    4. Caaan Do!*

      This is way more likely sexism, because men apologising for swearing in front of women is most definitely A Thing. I get it occasionally in my workplace where the guy who swore or another man in the vicinity will often say “ladies present!” and then apologise. Plus the LW pointed out that they always address her by name directly when apologising and never her male coworker.

    5. OP1*

      I am not religious, but as mentioned here, if I was, I’m not sure the apology would be any more appropriate. Religious people swear, too.

      1. Gabriel Conroy*

        I realize the point about religion is a hypothetical because the letter writer didn’t say they were religious, but my two cents is that as far as religion goes, it might depend on the joke. If it’s just generic swearing, then there’s no particular reason to apologize to a religious person. However, some swearing, like “g*dd*mn,” sometimes offends specifically religious sensibilities. Some religious persons object to taking their lord’s name in vain. So I can see a specific apology appropriate in those circumstances.

        Again, I realize this is a hypothetical because it doesn’t seem to be the letter writer’s situation.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          You are replying to the actual letter writer who is telling you it’s not about religion.

          1. Gabriel Conroy*

            Well, there’s always my reading comprehension difficulties :)

            Still, I stand by other point that in some instances, apologizing specifically to someone known to be religious can be justified.

      2. Vicky Austin*

        Very true. My old boss was an ordained Baptist minister, and there were occasional times when he would accidentally spill a beverage and say, “Oh, s***.”

    6. Moth*

      fhqwhgads, I agree that it’s probably not what’s going on in this letter, but I definitely agree that this is also a thing that happens. I am the only one of my friend/coworker group who is religious. I try not to make it a thing, but most of them know that I do go to church (even though my religion is decidedly “liberal” and has literally zero problem with swearing). I also happen not to swear, though that has nothing to do with religion and is simply a personal choice. Multiple times in conversations, coworkers will swear, then stop the conversation to look at me and apologize (and we’re all female). It frustrates me every time and I try to protest and insist that it does not bother me, so please stop apologizing for swearing, but I feel like my protests just call more attention to it. Can we make it a thing that if you swear, it’s a personal choice, and if you don’t swear, that’s also a personal choice, and neither needs to be a reason to single out others (because of gender, religion, or any other reason) and apologize?!

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        We have a guy where I work that in my mind is “Brother Bruce”. It’s IT, and he wears mostly black, and a big gold cross. When he teleconferences from home he has a big cross on the wall. He’s competent, a nice guy, but obviously religious.

        I actually make an extra effort not to swear around him, especially with “blasphemous” stuff (G*d d*mn, JFC, etc), out of respect for his being religious.

        Even so, if I slip I don’t say anything, because he may or may not have even noticed, and it doesn’t need attention called to it.

        In my personal life I can keep up with sailors in the swear department.

  6. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

    OP#1: Just in case, are you sure you really don’t mind the swearing? I would always make “I don’t mind” noises when people apologized for swearing, until I realized that yes, I really do mind. I would simply prefer not to hear that kind of language. I don’t object when people swear, but I don’t reassure them when they apologize for it either. It sounds like this may not apply to you though.

    Personally, I don’t mind in the least if being a woman saves me from hearing salty language. But other people feel differently.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      I don’t want to hear a ton if swearing all the time but being a woman, more importantly people deferring to my preference *because* I’m a woman is unacceptable.

      1. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

        Chivalrous sexism doesn’t bother me. Bad language does. No way I’m going to complain about the sexism if the result is more bad language.

        1. Morning Glory*

          I hear what you are saying and am glad that this works out for you in your career and preferences.

          However, this kind of chivalry can have a negative impact on women’s careers because it is otherizing. If men always feel like they need to be on their best behavior around one of their colleagues due to gender, then they are less likely to invite that colleague out for a beer after work, or to suggest that colleague for a project they are working on, etc. This leads to women getting fewer career and networking opportunities, solely due to their gender.

        2. Marissa*

          Chivalrous sexism in the workplace bothers me a ton. Most of the partners in my old firm are men, and it can be so easy to just exclude me from the room rather than watch their language. Especially with a client who swears like a sailor. I’d rather they know I can take it and get in the room than miss the chance to develop relationships with clients to avoid a few f bombs. It definitely happens and it’s something young women in professional settings face on a regular basis. Every little missed opportunity adds up, and can lead to a woman being left out as a rule, without anyone really being able to pinpoint why.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Right? Instead of being *adults* and *professional* they get to exclude women. Textbook discrimination.

        3. Lepidoptera*

          The easiest way to make it so that there isn’t anymore swearing is actually to point out that it’s sexist to assume that only certain people with certain traits are bothered by it.
          Being a woman has nothing to do with not wanting to hear swearing, simply not wanting to hear curse words is good enough.

        4. Tammy*

          This depends on your industry and location, too, I think. I’ve worked in software and IT for my whole career, and there’s definitely an “othering” that happens if women in my field call attention to themselves. I’m already othered enough as a woman in a male-dominated field, and it could definitely have real career repercussions for me to reinforce that feeling.

        5. Liz T*

          That seems really specific to YOUR wants, whereas OP was very clear about what SHE wants, so it’s odd to second guess her plainly stated feelings about this.

          1. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

            Yep, this bit was all about me! My perspective on the subject. It’s a bit different from most people’s on here, so I thought I would give it.

            If I have to give advice: Consider whether you actually object (or don’t object) to a particular behavior before you bother doing something about it. It sounds like OP is fairly bothered by the apologies, since she took the trouble to write in to Alison about them. But she doesn’t have to be, or ought to be, or owe it to womankind to be, if she isn’t.

        6. RUKiddingMe*

          It bothers me a lot. Chivalry is at the top of the sexism org chart.

          After all he’s just trying to be nice, and protective, and, and, and…. We don’t need that.

          What we need is freaking respect as actually capable thinking human beings not dome kind of delicate ornament that is so precious it needs others to make decisions for it…

          For it’s own good of course. Not like women would be capable of figuring out what is/isn’t in their best interests.

    2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      I had a director (M) apologise to me (F) for swearing during a sales meeting. It was the two of us plus my manager (F). He apologised just to me because he’d seen the expression of shock on my face – up to that point I hadn’t encountered anything stronger than a frustrated “dammit” in the office, so hearing that the former team lead was clearly “just shit at his job”, came as a surprise.

      I didnt (and still dont) see it as sexist – he apologised to me only, even through there was another woman in the room, and he did it only in response to *my* reaction to said swear.
      He was the most potty mouthed director I’d worked with to that point, but once I knew what to expect, the shock went away along with the apologies.

      But that’s just my experience.

      1. Bagpuss*

        It sounds as though that wasn’t inherently sexist – it was a response to your specific reaction.
        In Ops case, it sounds as though the other junior member is very simialr to her (age, lack of personal swearing) but doesn’t get apologies.

    3. OP1*

      I truly do not mind swearing. When I’m with my friends, I use those words in conversation. It’s not like these VPs are throwing in an f-word at every juncture. It’s maybe once or twice during a meeting and each time they apologize to me by name.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Eh, tell them they have choices:
        Apologize to everyone in the room not just the women.
        Stop cussing if that makes them feel awkward after they say it.
        Stop apologizing, if they are just going to routinely cuss anyway.
        That’s their set of choices.

        What gets me here is the repeat of this problem. If they were sincerely apologetic the first time there never would have been another recurrence. It’s not good practice to apologize for something and then KEEP doing it. One can discredit themselves quickly.
        So there’s no real sincerity going on there, which would lead me to asking, “Oh, why don’t you apologize to the men in the room also?”

        Don’t wear their awkwardness for them.

        I don’t cuss at work because I have rotten luck and the wrong ears would hear it. So this leads people to believing that I do not cuss, which is so far beyond reality. And it’s made for some amusing situations with both men and women who think I am so silly about this point. I have had the privilege of watching those people get caught by the wrong person. “I rest my case”, I told them.

      2. Margaret*

        I’d personally go for hard confusion, then move right along.

        “Fuck that doing that. Sorry, Jane.”
        “What? *Why?* But you’re right, there are going to be problems if you take that approach…”

        And then if it happens a few times in a meeting maybe a short “I don’t know why you all keep apologizing to me for this, but [again, straight on to a salient meeting point.]”

        You’re also cueing that it’s not a behaviour that you would normally expect- and by playing ‘baffled’ you can avoid coming across as hostile. By posing the question it invites them to have to think about the answer, ‘we’re apologizing to you because you’re a woman’ and if they have the sense God gave a turnip they’ll realize they should not say so out loud. It interjects just a little social friction in the moment, for those times when you can’t explicitly call someone out on their sexism but don’t necessarily want to joke and play along.

      3. MoopySwarpet*

        Maybe you could reply “And to Joe” in which Joe is any random coworker in the meeting (or choose 3-4 names). Even better if he’s a known swearer. :P

    4. Gabriel Conroy*

      “Just in case, are you sure you really don’t mind the swearing? I would always make “I don’t mind” noises when people apologized for swearing, until I realized that yes, I really do mind. I would simply prefer not to hear that kind of language. I don’t object when people swear, but I don’t reassure them when they apologize for it either. It sounds like this may not apply to you though.”

      That’s roughly my own view and experience. I do sometimes swear, but it’s something that goes against my own code. It’s not necessarily a “moral” code. I don’t think swearing is usually morally objectionable, but it’s something I’m personally don’t like.

      (Of course, I say all the above “off topically”….I realize, as your comment does, that my and your situations don’t necessarily match with what the letter writer is experiencing/writing about.)

    5. Cheluzal*

      Yup. Maybe I am a sexist woman and I know I’m not a feminist, but I kind of wish people could be a little bit more gentlemanly. I would love if people removed their hats or stood for us ladies. I don’t see it as I’m weak but something and someone to be honored. I get pretty sick and tired of hearing cursing from professionals around me.

    1. morecareful*

      Alison and commenters seem to feel that a blow must be struck for gender justice in OP1’s situation. I wonder if it wouldn’t be more prudent to let it go. Is this the hill OP1 wants to die on? Because I can’t see how it does her any good to swear back at her boss when he’s trying to apologize.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        The thing is that sexist attitudes don’t exist in isolation; if he’s apologizing for swearing in front of her there are very likely other ways that he thinks of women in the workplace differently. The more you can train someone like that to stop responding to the gender of a colleague, the better. Calling out the obvious ones (like apologizing only to the woman about swearing) also helps tackle the subtle ones (women don’t have the competitive mindset to be good at sales/the innate leadership to be good managers/what have you.)

      2. OP1*

        I think Alison’s advice accounts for any situation here. I certainly didn’t feel like any of them really had a tone of justice to them. They’re all more subtle and suggestive of differential treatment without explicitly saying it. Plus as far as sexist things go, this is a pretty easy one to quash, so why not try? And these aren’t my bosses. These are VPs in another department. My boss is usually present but he doesn’t apologize to me if he swears.

      3. hbc*

        You’ll notice that none of the comments say something like, “Don’t apologize to me, you effing sexist jerk!” Pointing out that a person has done nothing they need to apologize for should not be a hill at all, nevermind one that anyone’s dying on.

        If “Really, I don’t mind” or “S’okay, my ears aren’t made of crystal” or “Hearing the occasional [swear] doesn’t bother me, no need to apologize” has a negative impact on OP’s career, that place is guaranteed to be a den of sexism and double standards.

        1. Lance*

          This. It’s not like OP’s going to attack the man over this, nor that anyone is suggesting they do so (they shouldn’t); it’s a matter of pointing out that this is sexist and unnecessary, in a really quite harmless way.

      4. Yorick*

        He’s not really apologizing. He’s making noises about chivalry.

        And yes, advances in gender justice should be made, even when the sexism is mild. In this case, you’re not necessarily calling the VP out. You’re just letting him know that women don’t need to be protected from swears.

      5. Aquawoman*

        “Gender justice” is not an abstract thing. “Gender INjustice” has personally cost me tens of thousands of dollars compared to equally qualified men. Women are told to “let it go,” it’s not a big deal All. The. Time. And while any individual instance may not not in isolation be a big deal, they’re rarely in isolation. If a woman is too delicate to hear swearing, does that mean she shouldn’t go to that meeting where all the guys are going to be swearing? Is she too delicate for other things as well? I’m a lawyer and it’s not a delicate profession, so if someone considers me delicate, that would not be good.

      6. Matilda Jefferies*

        It’s the apology itself that’s sexist, not the swearing. The VP can swear or not swear, but either way he shouldn’t be singling out the only woman in the room as someone who might be offended by it. The swearing itself is pretty much irrelevant.

        Also, I think it’s a great idea for OP to push back on this, if she’s willing. It’s a relatively easy situation, and she should be able to do it without saying the dreaded S-word. Even if nothing changes, she is at least laying the groundwork for other people to push back on other things, small and large. She doesn’t *have* to, of course, but since she seems to *want* to, this is a great place to start.

      7. Ask a Manager* Post author

        No one is dying on any hill here. It’s a quick comment setting the record straight. That’s it. (And she wouldn’t be swearing *at* her boss. She’d be making a joke with someone who just swore himself.)

      8. Batgirl*

        No one’s telling her to do that though. No one’s saying make him uncomfortable or highlight the situation for longer than the quick moment it will take to say “No big deal! I say fuck too!” in the politest of tones.
        Did I entertain a more prolonged fantasy in which she says “Oh boss, I had no idea you were offended by swearing!” And then becomes a blue-misted sailor purely for the purposes of repeatedly saying “Oh shit! I’m so fucking sorry boss. I forgot you hate bad language” but that would be, however warranted, unwise and impolitic.

      9. LJay*

        Because if people feel like they always have to be careful about their language around you, they’re going to not be completely comfortable around you and possibly wind up excluding you (consciously or unconsciously) because of that.

        I work around aircraft mechanics all the time. I’ve seen this a lot.

        They’re “the guys” and you’re a separate entity that they behave completely differently around. So they all know each other well and you never really get to know them or them you. They’re relaxed around each other and uptight around you. They might go to lunch or get drinks after work with each other but not you. Etc.

        Finding that I’m not going to run and report them to HR each time they say the “f” word allows them to relax a little bit and begins to break down those other barriers as well.

  7. Friday*

    For OP#2, I would agree – avoid asking her questions at all if you can. If you do need info from her, clarifications – send the questions by e-mail.

    1. Troutwaxer*

      I thought about this a little more, and next time the coworker says something like, “Do you remember what was said about it in the staff meeting on Monday? What do your notes say?” OP 2 should just turn to the coworker on the other side and say, “So why is Jake going to this particular client meeting?”

      1. Maria Lopez*

        Yes. Or she could reply to the coworker with, “I see you don’t remember either,” and then turn to the other coworker.

  8. Uberflieger*

    I sympathize with OP3, because I too hate turbulence — but realistically, jobs that require travel are not generally going to let you take three-day train trips when you can get there in a three-hour flight.

    Lots of airlines run fear of flying courses. I would suggest asking for the company to spring for one. I would also suggest checking out MentorPilot’s YouTube video on turbulence. The way I get through it (and I do at least 10 long-haul flights per year) is to remind myself that turbulence is uncomfortable, but not dangerous. Also, look for bigger planes and avoid the regional jets.

    1. JSPA*

      Depending on how strong your reaction is, consider active turbulence avoidance while flying, rather than avoiding flying.

      You may be able to regularly request an extra half day that allows you to take long layovers and thus avoid times of day when turbulence is more frequent (or at least, avoid turbulence on the landing approach, which feels more dangerous than a rough moment high up). Redeye flights are cheaper and probably statistically less turbulent, too, unless flying in the dark is also anxiety-provoking. At times I’ve picked flights to avoid landing in summer (midwest and east) from ~2-5 in the afternoon, to avoid thunderstorms. More for the risk of diversions or delays than turbulence, but it helps for both.

      Or they may even be willing to swing for a ticket with few or no flight change restrictions, so you can hop an earlier flight or take a later one, to avoid a band of weather.

      I only suggest this because it sounds like a single bad event pushed you from “can fly” to “can’t fly,” which may be more amenable to modification than a lifelong “no planes for me ever” level of fear.

    2. JSPA*

      Oh, and if you yourself are regional, so you can’t easily avoid regional jets if you fly from your home airport, most jobs won’t bat an eye if you prefer to drive 2 or 3 hours to a larger airport. Again, it may well mean a cheaper ticket for them, and maybe a direct flight for you (which means less time, proportionally, spent in the lower atmosphere, where you’re more likely to hit turbulence.) Finally, some higher cost airlines default to higher flight paths, and cheaper airlines to lower ones. It’s less eco to fly high, but it’s often far less turbulent.

        1. Bee*

          Yes, I was going to say – a train from the East Coast to Denver is almost certainly going to cost MORE than a flight, especially since Denver is a big hub. Hell, I was trying to get from NYC to Pittsburgh recently and the train was only about $40 less than a flight.

          1. Yikes*

            Had the same thought. That train ticket is not going to be cheaper than a flight. At that distance, the bus might not be less, either.

          2. Orange You Glad*

            Yep. I travel back and forth from the east coast to Denver frequently. Flight runs ~ $250-350 RT. I looked into a train last year when my Denver-based friend was pregnant and couldn’t fly back east for a wedding – ticket was at least $1200 and took multiple days to reach the destination.

        2. Relentlessly Socratic*

          I came here to say this, there are times I’d like to take the train but plane tickets are much cheaper to anyplace I travel for work.

    3. Madison*

      Hey OP4, I was you about 3 years ago. I had one awful flight and refused to get back on. I wanted to share a couple of things that helped me – so much so, I’ve taken 30 work flights in the last year and whilst I don’t love it, I can do it.
      1. Meditation – for me, classes or an app where I can sit in a chair and close my eyes and breathe has been amazing
      3. I saw a therapist/psychologist and we did CBT training. I am still terrified of turbulence, but I have so many tips now I can totally get through it. It honestly changed my life.
      3. Access to your favourite music or a tv show to watch during the flight. I go through seasons of tv shows as it keeps me engaged. Thank goodness for iPhones or iPads!
      I know how awful it is after a horrid flight, but you got this: truly!

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I recently flew for the first time in about fifteen years. I had stopped not due to fear of flying, but due to the general unpleasantness of the experience. I didn’t have anything going that really cried out for an air trip, so why do it? I had sufficient incentive, earlier this summer to make me grit my teeth and do it. It wasn’t horrific. It makes for a long, tiring day. But the leg room was perhaps a bit better than I remembered, and the front-facing employees were fine and in one instance positively helpful. Perhaps I got lucky, but I am willing to do this again.

    4. Sassy*

      OP#3 here – thanks for the tips!

      I’ve contacted a therapist to help me get over what I know is an irrational fear, and will check out the MentorPilot YouTube too. Also love the idea of seeing what time of day has less turbulence – my scary flight was into Chicago living up to it’s “Windy City” name, so hopefully I can plan flights to avoid that area altogether.

      1. MoopySwarpet*

        Flying into Denver from the east isn’t as bumpy as flying over the mountains. A morning landing is generally going to be smoother before the thunderstorms would be rolling in (I’d say before 2ish?).

        The pilot will usually warn you, too. I’ve flown in and out of Denver numerous times from all directions and the turbulence haven’t ever been too bad.

        AmTrak is slightly more expensive than flying if you get business class (I would imagine you would want to so you have a chance of sleeping). Be sure to plan on arriving the day before you need to if you take the train, though. I’ve experienced the train being delayed by 8+ hours in half the distance. Sleeper cars are WAY more than flights, but you would (in theory) arrive rested. Just plan for the possibility of delays.

        1. JSPA*

          I have a strong commitment to public transit, but one of my four trips between DC and Pittsburgh left about 4 hours late with not much advance warning, and broke down for another 4 hours between the two. If you’re going for a long weekend, that’s not really worth it (and unlike flying, no chance of an alternate flight.)

          It would be great if we had a well-funded high-speed coast-to-coast line (maybe even two, a northern and a southern route) with multiple trains a day. Especially as weather events get more frequent and more powerful, and some cities have days where the ambient air temperature gets too hot for planes to take off and land (due to hot air being less dense). Or even the legal option of someone (maybe one of the bus companies) running private charters as freight cars (not currently legal!) and connecting that to bus options at various strategic points. But for now, we don’t have that.

      2. mf*

        Hi OP–I was born & raised in Chicago and lived there the first 30 years of my life. I’ve flown in and out of O’Hare more times than I can count. If you look at the weather patterns, it’s not actually any windier in Chicago than in most other major; I’ve also not had any issues with turbulence when taking off or landing in Chicago. The likelihood is that your encounter with turbulence was just an one-off experience–just bad luck.

        1. JSPA*

          As a resident, you might be more likely to fly out earlier or later than someone passing through, though. Default time window may set you up for a heightened likelihood of hitting a storm. Not because it’s Chicago, per se (whose famed windiness has a lot to do with the downtown built environment and how it channels ground level air currents) but because it’s the midwest in the afternoon in summer.

    5. Mid*

      As someone who lives in Denver and flies in and out of Denver regularly, it’s really, really difficult to avoid turbulence in this area. But there are plenty of other places that you might travel to that have less exciting weather, and therefore less turbulence in general. So unless OP has to fly regularly for this position, I wouldn’t ask the company for a fear of flying course.

    6. Tammy*

      Something else that might help your rational brain to temper the emotional fear response is to realize just how STRONG airliners are. They’re built to withstand a tremendous amount of load, and now that we have weather radar to avoid windshear, turbulence is uncomfortable but not generally a safety issue.

      There’s a video online from when they were testing the Boeing 777 where they attached chains to the wings and bent them upward to see how much load it took to make them fail. The failure was at 154% of the “design limit load”, which is the maximum amount of load an airplane could ever experience in actual flight under any conditions. (The wings deflected more than 24 feet from horizontal before the structure failed.) If seeing this is comforting to you, you can search YouTube for “boeing 777 wing test” to find the video.

      Airplanes are engineered to be REALLY strong.

    7. vlookup*

      I hate turbulence, too. I’ve developed some little rituals that are helpful for me: as soon as I get on the plane, I start listening to loud music and either reading something engrossing or playing a mindless game on my phone. If the flight is late enough in the day for this to be appropriate, I have a couple glasses of wine at the airport bar. If there’s turbulence and I start to get freaked out, I look around at the other passengers and remind myself that most of them don’t seem bothered by it and the fear is all in my head.

      Taking bigger planes and flying direct when possible are great, too.

  9. SwearySue*

    #1 it’s sexist but probably also generational, I’ve certainly found that as a younger, female trade union negotiator. Most of the men over time have just sworn in front of me but a few older male managers still do the “apologising to the ladies” thing (I’m often the only woman there). Agree with Alison’s advice – it seems with some almost to be a reflex (esp if they’ve started to lose their temper and sworn as a result, and then are embarrassed). Call it out and get the younger guys on side though.

    1. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

      I also think older men do this more often! Which, unfortunately, may mean that it will be hard for them to stop, if it’s a habit ingrained since their young age.

      1. Shad*

        It may not be possible to get the old guys to stop apologizing at all, but it may be easier to get them to stop directing the apologies at OP. Even if the older guys continue to have it in their heads that the apology is for OP, not actually addressing it specifically will reduce any effect on OP’s reputation and likely reduce the annoyance to OP.

    2. Dr. Pepper*

      I’ve run into this as well. For men above a certain age I just let it go because what’s the point? They’re entrenched in their attitudes and I’m not going to change them. It chafes but calling them out only makes my life harder. Younger guys though get called on it, because it’s quite frankly ridiculous and I’ve often got a more expansive vocabulary than they do.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I get this at work because I work with mostly guys, even though we’re all roughly the same age and older.
      I think with my team it’s more generational than sexist, because they don’t act sexist in other ways to me. More like they were raised and made to apologize and it’s habit. I employ many colorful F bomb curses myself, but I try to refrain at work because it’s not professional of course, so maybe they don’t think I’m that bad? But definitely there is more stigma to women cursing in the workplace then men.

  10. Jane*

    I disagree with Alison’s advice for #1. I may be being overly pessimistic about the people involved, but my experience has been that guys who pull this sort of bullshit also tend to split women in to two groups – those of value/to protect, and those not of value. Not swearing in front of the “lady” is a behavior they exhibit with women in the first bucket, but not in the other. I don’t really recommend encouraging them to switch which brain bucket they have you in, which swearing back will, infuriatingly, do. However, i do like the suggestion above of “i’m fluent in French”, as it calls them out in a bantering way without swearing directly.

    Damn I overthink this stuff. It’s possibke saying fuck it and calling them out directly is the more psychologically healthy option.

    Back when I construction monitored we (women construction monitors) would sometimes compare notes on who the guys would swear around – it was usually race or weight based, and correlated accurately with who they treated well vs. ignored or were jerks to. I quit that job after 9 months.

    1. VictorianCowgirl*

      You’ve skillfully put into words what I was struggling to describe. Men absolutely do this and I agree that swearing back can change brain buckets for how much respect you may get. It also can apply to whether you’re unmarried and cohabitating with a boyfriend and if you “party”, and it definitely correlatesto how you’re treated. An example: When a client of mine learned I was living with my boyfriend, his demeanor changed and inappropriate jokes and thinly veiled invitations started. But this plays out over and over.

      It’s terrible and unacceptable, but I don’t know what the answer is.

      Women also make judgements on another’s level of “class” in this way but it feels more subtle.

    2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      It’s a Freudian thing called the ‘Virgin-Whore’ complex (at it’s most crude level)

    3. John*

      Jane, your comment is thoughtful and well-considered. “Overthinking it” is something we do here. I agree that while the satisfaction of adding to the boss’s embarrassment by swearing at him might be satisfying, I’m not so sure it advances OP1’s professional interests.

      1. Yorick*

        I don’t think any of the suggestions would count as swearing AT the VP, any more than the VP’s swears would count as swearing AT the other people in the meeting.

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      I agree this is a thing, but there’s a third bucket – ‘one of the guys’. It’s changing to be less a factor overall, but swearing could fit into a suite of behaviors that make men forget you’re female. This is why Alison’s ‘read the room’ is important.

      OP should make the response that fits with her overall ‘brand’ and the people she’s working with. I included mild judicious swearing (occasional shit but never f*, never slurs) with my ‘vaguely androgynous’ wardrobe, no makeup, no dating coworkers mode, and was usually treated as ‘one of the guys’ in my various computer-related jobs (tech support, web dev, game company).

      I got more feminine once I aged out / mom’d out of the ‘potential sexual partner’ phase, and it’s been just fine. Interestingly, people are reading me about a decade younger than I really am, but some of that is that I had the kid relatively late.

      1. Reality Check*

        I got relegated to the 2nd or 3rd bucket years ago. Not sure how that came about, but here I am, and I hate it. The things men have said in front of me, if I could repeat them here (I won’t), would make your hair stand on end. I’d much rather they keep it clean, and if I were OP, I’d encourage it, but that’s just me.

      2. Baru Cormorant*

        “One of the guys” can be equally dangerous. It’s harder to push back against sexist stuff because “you don’t count.” Other women can get extra harassment because they’re “not as cool as you”. If they get hired at all because “we already have 1, and she’s cool, and more women just add drama.” You think you’re joining the team to change it from the inside, but instead you’re just reinforcing the problem.

    5. Melonby*

      This has been my experience as well. Not swearing in front of “ladies” isn’t always adorable old-timey manners that can be gently corrected. In a former engineering job I once walked into a room full of older male colleagues only for the conversation to stop dead and one of them retort “ugh, can’t talk properly now, there’s a lady in the room”. They knew damn well what they were doing, and were about as helpful and responsive as co-workers as you’d expect. In that instance I did respond with a cheerful swear much like Alison suggested. It got a laugh and it changed precisely nothing because they were already determined to exclude women.
      This doesn’t sound like the case with the OP but other commentators might not realise that some men absolutely do this as part of general bullying behaviour.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      Totally agree, Jane. Been there, seen that first hand.
      OP, know the people you are talking with. If you are not sure, then to take the focus off gender you can point to professionalism, such as talk as you would to a big boss, customer/client, outside inspector, etc. In short, speak in a professional manner.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I hope that was clear, I meant that you can say to them that they should speak in a professional manner as they would with any boss, client, other people. This means basic human courtesies.

    7. Dr. Pepper*

      Yup. This is why knowing your audience is key. It’s also important to know how you fit in and how you *want* to fit in with the group you’re dealing with. You don’t need to stand on principles if doing so won’t get you where you want to be.

      That said, a good call out can be very fun. At one job my boss made a quip about women drivers and he and the other men had a good chuckle before I threw my hand up and said, “hands up everyone who has NOT crashed the forklift into something!” *crickets* “Wait, just me? Huh, interesting”.

    8. Marissa*

      Such a good point. I personally wouldn’t respond with swearing when it came up for me. I only ever said, “No apology needed, I’m good” or “Oh come on, my ears aren’t that delicate”. It’s unfortunate, but I think even if I matched the same language they used they’d see me as less professional than they are for returning the language. YMMV of course.

    9. Lepidoptera*

      If the framework they’re going off is, “gentlemen do not swear, in front of ladies, and apologize when they do” it’s not that difficult a thing to change it to, “gentlemen do not swear, and apologize when they do”.

      Changes it completely from exclusionary, sexist, misplaced chivalry into ordinary politeness.

  11. MollyG*

    #5 This happens often to professors. I know one who writes a letter of reference once for a student, then for all subsequent requests just reprints that same letter. If they get a form like the one you described, they just don’t fill it out and attache the letter to it. Otherwise they would not have enough time to do references. But that is for undergrad students, if the person is your grad student, post-doc, or another faculty member, it may be different because there are fewer of them and you know them better.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      Typically for post-doc or higher level, you’d do a master letter, and make minor edits for different applications – change the name of the institute, maybe a sentence or two to to highlights experience or strengths that would apply specifically to that job.

    2. Samwise*

      Yep, I keep a copy of every reference I write — students, colleagues, whatever. Then I tweak as needed, and I usually type in “see letter” as the answer to every question on the form.

    3. Kate*

      OP here. In this case it was not a student but research staff at another institution who’d worked closely with me in the course of a study – his former PI sucks, and I’ve served as a reference for him several times.

  12. Girr*

    OP #1 – I quite like the “I don’t f-ing care if you swear” response. If I were in that situation, that’s probably what I would respond with.

    In previous jobs I’ve had comments of how I don’t swear because I try not to at work (clients and all being in sales). My response, without thinking, was “Are you f-ing serious?” And there went that.

  13. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

    I find “Yeah, that language is f—ing appalling” always gets these types to knock it off — but it does, of course, depend on your office and what you can get away with!

  14. Zooey*

    I’m a bit surprised by the last letter because my experience (in the UK) is that references are always written! I’ve seen references on the site to calling references before, but I think I vaguely assumed these were in the nature of follow up / confirmatory calls. Maybe in business the norms are different, but I would be surprised if there was NO written reference. Is this one of those US/UK things?

    I’m also in academia and I do a LOT of written references. Those form type ones are especially annoying – I usually keep a reference on file and just tweak it, but that can be hard if they want you to fill in particular questions. (The worst is forms where they want you to rate the person on punctuality, etc – especially when the qualities aren’t particularly relevant to a student context.)

    Losing time to writing references is just one of those annoying duties of academia, I think. Whatever the form they take, you’re often not well placed to speak in detail because the person was your student (who you maybe only taught for one or two courses) not your employee. But for a year or two you’re the only person they have to name.

    1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

      U.S. datapoint: I’ve given occasional written references (on forms or written as letters), and early in my career I got a couple of managers to write me general “to whom it may concern” reference letters as insurance if they left their jobs or otherwise became hard to reach for reference calls, but in my experience, a call is the default, and there is often no written reference.

      I don’t think of writing references as taking longer than calls, but I really enjoy crafting glowing paeans to people who do great work, and I much less enjoy being put on the spot in realtime and worrying that I’ll forget to convey some vital information. I have also been on some pretty lengthy reference-check calls—the longest was nearly an hour! But that was for a nonprofit director position and I didn’t begrudge them taking the time to make sure they were hiring the right person. The forms are just annoying and I can’t imagine they collect better information than they’d get from a call or a letter.

    2. YinandYan*

      I’m also in the UK – outside academia and all of the reference checks I’ve ever needed have been written. I only know of one person who had an over-the-phone reference check and they were working for a non-UK organisation. So I think it’s a US/UK thing.

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        I’m uk and my experience is it’s mostly email – to the point of being asked to give official company emails (so difficult when best referee retired!). But then again, I’m also mostly public sector, where reference is most likely to just be “X worked here for Y years” type, because of the idea anything more could be sue-able, and the reference is a rubber stamp at the end if the process. I guess it’s all industry specific, innit?

      2. quistaquay*

        In the UK too, and I’ve had organisations phone my referees to check. So it certainly can happen. (Context, non-academic role in a University).

        I’ve worked for a couple of companies that refused to do more than confirm some basic information: dates of employment and job title, and that had to be through the HR department. Line managers were specifically told to forward reference requests to the HR department for this treatment.

    3. Adereterial*

      Was going to say the same thing – the majority of references in the UK are written, not verbal. I’ve only ever given a verbal reference for an internal job.

      I think this is just another facet of how UK recruitment processes work very differently to the US – multi-stage interviewing processes (particularly more than 2-3 stages), phone screenings, drug and background checks aren’t terribly common here, particularly outside the public sector or large corporations.

    4. Bagpuss*

      I’m in the UK too and it is more usual to have written references (I think possibly because you can be legally liable if you give a reference which is factually wrong or misleading, so having a paper trail is important. It’s also why many companies now limit it to a factual reference just confirming the dates the employe worked for them, and their job title)

      That said, in a small industry,where people know one another and talk regularly anyway, it wouldn’t be uncommon for it to come up in conversation if someone has applied for a job, and for them to be discussed in passing.

    5. paperpusher*

      I work in the public sector in Canada and written references are also the norm. The only time I’ve had a manager call another manager is when I was going on a secondment to another department, so they could be more informal I guess.

      I think that HR needs a record of the reference and managers would be discouraged from asking follow-up questions as they come up organically anyway, because it could be discriminatory. I don’t know the real reason, I’m just speculating. But the idea of a manager calling someone and just chatting with them, or even calling someone out of a company directory because you said you’d worked there, is really something that only exists on this site to me.

    6. Oxford Comma*

      Academic librarian in the US. Here it varies. Usually it’s phone calls. Sometimes they want a letter or a form. The one I hate is when they want a letter submitted with the application because it takes a lot of time to do these things and if someone is applying widely, it’s a pain.

      When I’ve been on search committees, I try to push for phone calls because you can get a lot more in terms of tone over the phone than you can from a letter.

    7. noahwynn*

      US (non academic), and I don’t think I’ve ever had a written reference. It has always been a phone call. As a manager I would prefer the phone call, sometimes it is not what is said, but how they say it that makes a difference. Most people won’t outright give a bad review, but sometimes you can ask enough questions to figure it out.

  15. CastIrony*

    I don’t think it comes from a sexist place, OP #1. I think they’re just trying to be chivalrous, like men opening doors for women.

    On the other hand, I don’t care if people swear unless it’s AT me, so voicing that you don’t mind swearing is good.

    1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

      That type of “chivalry” is explicitly sexist—it entails treating women differently from men, that’s the definition right there—so “I don’t think it’s sexist, it’s just chivalrous” is not really a watertight argument.

    2. Damien*

      So, they’re not being sexist because it might be coming from a place of chivalry, which itself is about treating women differently… *because* they are women?
      But they’re still toootally not sexist because regardless of how they’re making the OP feel, their intentions may be good, so that makes it fine? :/ Nah.

    3. Marmaduke*

      Luckily we live in a world now where men can just be respectful instead. If you feel like it would be disrespectful not to extend a certain courtesy to women, just extend it to the men around you as well. If you feel weird asking your male coworkers’ permission to use blue language, well then your female coworkers can likely get by without the express request as well. It’s much simpler and you can still be as respectful to women as you like—just hold the door for the men as well. More equality and fewer doorway traffic jams. Everybody wins!

    4. Reliquary*

      Chivalry, by definition, comes from a sexist place.

      While the chivalric code was promoted to keep soldiers from getting completely out of hand by making them feel like good men if they obeyed the king and put certain aristocratic women on pedestals, it had absolutely nothing to say against raping and abusing non-aristocratic women.

      Contemporary “chivalrous” acts like holding doors open for women and apologizing for swearing in front of women are absolutely not supportive of gender equality, and remain inherently sexist.

    5. Bagpuss*

      The thing is, whether or not they are *intending* to be sexist, it *is* sexist. They are explicitly treating Op differently to how they would treat a man.

      It’s also why opening doors for women *because they are women* is sexist even if the person doing it means well. They are explicitly treating you differently bcuase you are female.

      And while they may mean well, when it is done in a work setting it is actively unhelpful as it emphasies differences and implies that the men need to ‘look after’ or ‘take care’ of their female coworkers, and that womn are inherently less able to cope with normal working life.

      (and while I wouldn’t claim it is always true, in my personal expoerience, men who insist on this kind of ‘chivalry’ are almost always sexists, and tend to use the ‘but I’m only trying to be noce/polite’ as an excuse when they are called out on it. Men who genuinely don’t wish to be sexists but have jsut got some ingrained habits are normally receptive to being told that, while well intentioned, their behaviour is problematic)

    6. Batgirl*

      Chivalry would involve one of the other men saying “OP doesn’t need an apology for grown up words Jack, honestly!” I have no problem with men looking out for my comfort and being good allies. But patronism isn’t chivalry.

    7. CanadiEm*

      I have had far too many standoffs over doors. If I get to the door first, I will open it and hold it open for others. I frequently have someone either reach over my head to try to take the door from me or reach through the doorway to hold it open from the opposite side, blocking the doorway in the process. My colleagues are now used to it (though I do occasionally get a comment like “my grandmother is spinning in her grave” to which I’ve started replying that mine would be too if I made someone hold the door for me inconveniently). I regularly have to go through the conversation with vendors and new customers – vendors are easy, but customers can be trickier to manage if it’s a new relationship.

      1. Yorick*

        One morning I forgot whether I had bought a new monthly bus pass for my card, so I didn’t know if I would just swipe the card or need to pull out my wallet and fumble with dollars and coins for the machine. Obviously I wanted to go last so I wouldn’t hold up the line and I could get my stuff together before it was my turn. But then I had to almost yell at this guy before he would get on the bus before me.

      2. Liz T*

        I cannot STAND it when I’m holding a door open for a man and he won’t just walk through it. Stop screwing things up for everyone! Whoever gets to the door first, hold it open!

        1. Shan*

          I find that with leaving an elevator – if it’s mostly empty, fine, let the woman exit first if it’s really important to you. But there have been so many times where there are twenty of us packed on, and I’m in the very back, and they all still try to let me off first. It’s SO AWKWARD.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          This. Whoever gets there first unencumbered holds it open for the rest. If I spot someone with a lot of stuff, I’ll try to get to the door first. If there are a lot of folks, or a line, “passing the door” is fine.

          That way it stops being a gender thing, and becomes a general courtesy thing.

    8. Lepidoptera*

      Sorry, if the guy trying to be “chivalrous” isn’t jousting on the weekend I want no part in his only knowing like two lines of the entire code.
      Only apologizing to women in the room for swearing is sexist, it’s not polite if you just continue to do it the next time.

  16. anon-for-this*

    For #1 often the translation isn’t sorry for cursing in front of a woman, but often should be translated as “don’t turn me into HR”.

    1. Batgirl*

      Hmm. No.

      Because singling out a woman for a bit of needless patronising is far more likely to get you into HR than using some grown up words. Also! Most women won’t go to HR even then because this stuff happens all the time and you have to deal.

    2. Observer*

      Really? So these guys think that all women are just raging anti-males who are looking for an excuse to “turn [people} in to HR”? and get them into trouble?

      I’m just SOOO tired of people downplaying the very real issues being exposed by #MeToo with this kind of nonsense.

    3. Lepidoptera*

      If they thought this was actually and HR involvement possibility, they would stop after the first time.
      A “sorry” doesn’t actually count if you continue to do what you previously apologized for.

  17. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    Lots of people (like me!) avoid flying for environmental reasons these days too. Here in the UK it’s becoming more common for people to use the train from, say, London to Glasgow than to fly. I don’t think OP3 necessarily needs to explain WHY she prefers not to fly.

    1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

      London to Glasgow is four and a half hours on the train. That’s like New York to Boston or New York to D.C., and it’s very common to do those trips by train or bus, to the point where a friend mentioned flying from NYC to Boston and everyone else in the conversation was puzzled as to why one would do such a thing.

      From the Northeast (New York/Boston/D.C.) to Denver by train takes two consecutive overnight journeys (origin to Chicago, Chicago to Denver), each way. You leave Monday afternoon and arrive Wednesday morning. If OP4 is in the Southeast it would take even longer, because the U.S. rail network is crap and she’d still have to go all the way up to Chicago to get the train to Denver. That’s a totally different matter. It’s highly unusual to take a train journey of that length in the U.S. for pleasure, and even more unusual to do so for work. OP4 is potentially asking her company to allocate her four additional days for travel, plus however long it takes her to recover from being in motion for that time. I love taking train trips—I’ve done New York to Montreal (11 hours) several times, and Chicago to New Orleans (20 hours) once—but they’re wearying and one rarely sleeps well in those little pull-out bunks. I can’t even imagine going from two full days of train travel to two weeks of training to two days on the train to home.

      That old adage of “Americans think 100 years is a long time, Europeans think 100 miles is a long way” holds very true here. :) New York to Denver is about 1800 miles. That’s like London to Moscow. I don’t expect most Londoners would be eager to do that by rail!

        1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

          Even Americans tend not to really grasp how HUGE America is. I guessed “New York to Denver = London to Moscow” off the top of my head and was still startled when I mapped it and it was right. I’ve driven across the U.S., and you’d think that would give me a visceral sense of how far 3000 miles is, but it’s so big that it’s hard to keep in one’s head. I don’t at all blame Europeans for not really understanding that New York to California is like London to Lagos.

          On the bright side, now I know that the next time I’m in London, I can pop up to Glasgow with no more fuss than going from New York to Boston for the weekend.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Right? The US is what third largest country? Like Russia, Canada, USA…then China, etc.

            I think most people don’t realize that. Everyone knows Russia is huge but then think “China, India…” and forget about how big Canada and the US are.

            1. Baru Cormorant*

              Technically the US and China duke it out for 3rd place in size, depending on what borders you count.

          2. embertine*

            Yes, I’m in the UK and a friend from California and I met in New York once. She flew from LAX, I flew from Heathrow, my flight was half an hour shorter.

            1. blackcat*

              I was really puzzled the first time I flew Boston -> Dublin, and it was shorter than San Francisco -> Boston!
              The only non-Americans I’ve met who seem to rally get how big the US is are from Canada, Russia, and China.
              BUT I’ve met more than a few Chinese people who understand quite well how long the distance from, say, Chicago to NY is (it’s roughly the same as Shanghai -> Bejing), yet are shocked to find how long it takes by train. Trains in the US are very slow when compared to those in Europe and China. They’re not really a viable business alternative. If we had high speed trains going 150mph+, it would be one thing. But most passenger trains top out around 80mph. Even the Acela is extremely slow compared to something like the TGV or the high speed trains in Asia. Shanghai -> Bejing is only like ~4-5 hours on the train, compared to 20-26 for Chicago -> NYC. One of those is reasonable for a business trip, while the other is not.

              1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

                A chunk of that has to do with the latitude, and how much the East Coast slopes inward as you go south. Flying SFO-ATL is a whole hour shorter than flying SFO-BOS, because SFO and ATL are roughly at the same latitude but BOS is both much further north and east than ATL.

          3. Snark*

            I’ve noticed that a lot of people from the East Coast tend to underestimate distances, too. It’s more developed, it’s denser, cities are bigger, and states are smaller. Then they’re just flabbergasted when they get to Texas or Colorado, because there’s ranches the size of Delaware out here. It’s just a whole nother scale.

            1. blackcat*

              10 national parks are larger than the state of Delaware. (though only 3, Death Valley, Yellowstone, and the Everglades are in the lower 48).
              The biggest national park in the lower 48, Death Valley, is roughly the size of the entire state of Connecticut.
              The shear amount of land the US is very large, but the lack of usefullness of trains has more to do with the lack of investment in high speed rail. It’s possible to build a train that could take you from Denver to New York in under 24 hours, probably less than 18. West Coast to Denver is much harder, because of all the mountains.

            2. LJay*

              Yeah, I grew up in New Jersey and moved to Texas, and I still don’t think my mom grasps how big Texas is.

              She’ll ask me or worry about things that are nowhere near me. One of the virus outbreaks (I think it was Ebola). I was in Galveston. The virus was in Dallas. I pointed out that she was way closer to the person in NYC who died than I was to the Dallas cases.

              It was snowing in El Paso. That’s further away from me than Vermont is from her. Like by 1.5x.

            3. bonkerballs*

              For sure. I grew up in Delaware and every distance was measured in minutes and anytime you wanted to go somewhere nice you had to leave the state.

            4. noahwynn*

              This. I had someone in front of me in the rental car line in Tucson once that had a six hour flight delay. They were planning to rent a car for a quick trip to the Grand Canyon. The rental car agent had to break it to them that it is 5 hours one way to the Grand Canyon from Tucson. Their reply “but its in the same state.”

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I’ve done the train criss country, both ways a few times. It’s three days and nights. OP is talking about half that distance give or take. I did it just because.

        I had a sleeper car every time because no way am I sitting in a seat for three days. I was still wiped out on arrival every single time. Doing it for work? Even only about half of the distance coast to coast and then being ready to work? Nope.

      2. Carlie*

        The other issue with trains in the US is that passenger trains don’t have right-of-way, so they get delayed by any and everything. Planes do too, but for trains it’s almost a given. I’ve done a 24-27 hour train trip several times, and had delays on about 70% of the legs. That’s not a big deal for personal travel, but missing work meetings would be a bigger deal.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Also outside of certain dedicated routes (e.g. DC to NY) there isn’t much money (or interest?) put into making commute via rail a viable reality.

          Just getting through California N to S (163,696 sq mi) is about double the length N to S of GB (80,823 sq mi). That’s just *one* state. London to Glasgow? I’d do that on a lark.

          I had to go to San Jose (CA not Costa Rica) and someone suggested the train (sure to Coast Starlight is a cool trip if you’re up for it). I just smiled.

          Nah…I can be there in like an hour and a half by plane and still have time to meet up with my niece for a relaxing lunch before I need to work.

        2. Smithy*

          If you’re switching trains, concerns with delays can also be a concern. For a lot of trains switching out of Chicago there may only be one or two trains leaving a day in that direction. So Amtrak will often suggest leaving a huge number of hours the time between trains but also should you miss your train the wait until another one leaves could easily be 12 hours if not longer.

          As others have noted, for getting there in time for training the OP might have luxury of extra days, but it’s worth flagging that cross country train travel is not a great option provides you’re not looking at the corridor between DC and Boston.

        3. ThursdaysGeek*

          A friend did a round trip from WA state to California to Chicago and back, getting a sleeper, and going for pleasure. The last leg, coming back from Chicago was not pleasurable, with the train not taking adequate food, and then having a train break down, so he ended the trip with a long bus ride.

      3. Jules the 3rd*

        VERY MUCH amen to the US SE trains are crap. VERY MUCH.

        And in the US, train is more expensive than plane once you get out of the NE corridor, so don’t mention that as a possible advantage. I regularly check train vs plane just because I think trains are cool, and train prices are anywhere from 20% – 50% higher than a plane.

        OP *can* do this, but it is significant and unusual. It probably won’t affect her reputation or anything like that, but OP will need to contact her travel office and specify that she book her on a train. The travel office should be able to make that happen.

        OP, you do not need to get into details or anything, just call them up and say, ‘please book a train ticket from X to Denver, arriving in Denver by Y (date and *TIME* – you don’t want to arrive at noon when training started at 9).’ This may cause an extra overnight, in which case you might have to talk to your manager to get approval. Some will be ok with it (so that you are well rested!), some will ask that you pay for the extra night.

        1. LJay*

          My travel office would not do this.

          We have specific accounts and arrangements with the airlines and rental car companies and hotels that allow us to book cheaply.

          And specific guidance as to how to book things in terms of numbers of transfers, pricing, routing, overnight stays, etc.

          We have nothing for trains.

          At best they might be able to get a dispension to book it on their company credit card. But it would be very unusual to ask for and would have to go through management in the employee’s department, not through the travel department, first.

    2. Snark*

      Your entire country is less than half the size of my entire state. And my state, Colorado, is not even one of the bigger ones. I spent 9 hours at 85mph to cross about half of Texas. A train from New York City to Denver would take over two days, and that’s not counting layovers. Even for environmental reasons, until and unless we get bullet trains, the sheer physical size of the western US makes train travel incredibly impractical. And so yes, she absolutely would have to justify two and a half travel days with associated per diem on top of the week or so she’s actually at the destination. That almost doubles the length of the trip.

      1. Koala dreams*

        I think a big difference is that many companies wouldn’t even consider sending someone that kind of distance for regular training in Europe, especially in the Schengen area. A trip from let’s say Madrid to Ankara for a group of new employees would have to be very important to be worth the hassle of visa questions, language barriers and so on.

    3. Koala dreams*

      I think it’s good to start out assuming that people will be fine with train/bus, but there is a risk it won’t be accepted, for example if they need to be back at work the day after the course ends or if flying is a frequent part of the job. Then they need to chose if they want to explain and hope for an understanding workplace, fly despite the fear or decide to not accept the job.

      For me here in Europe, I think 12 hour train trips are the longest I would like to deal with. Obviously everyone has a different threshold.

      1. Hope*

        I would never start out assuming people in the US would be fine with train/bus for a trip from the East Coast to Denver. It’s an insane distance to go by train or bus–at least a 2 day trip going 1-way, assuming no delays (and there are always delays). Plus it’s more expensive, not even counting the increase in the per-diem. Per comments above, people on the East Coast (and Europe) often vastly underestimate the distances and even more importantly, availability of train/bus/public transportation outside of the NY/DC corridor. It’s the logistical equivalent of taking a boat from Barcelona to Istanbul.

        Just because it’s technically possible doesn’t mean it’s feasible or reasonable.

  18. GM*

    Can’t OP#1 just reply: ‘No worries, if you’re not apologizing to [male corworker], you don’t need to apologize to me.’

    1. juliebulie*

      YES! Because that’s the real issue (at least it’s the one issue in this letter that I care about).

  19. Everdene*

    OP1 reminds me of a client my team was supporting. He was trying to tell me what he needed help with (multiple problems at that time inc alcohol abuse) on the phone but every 3rd or 4th word was a swear word. Each time he would stop and apologise (ie I’m F’ing sorry doll) and I had to mute the call to laugh. It took forever to get his story out and however many times I told him not worry he couldn’t not swear and he couldn’t not apologise. Ideally I would have called him out on the genderdd language too but if I did that I’d probably still be on that call.

    1. JSPA*

      That’s actually kind of touching. The “very rough diamond” variant of salt of the earth, often, those guys.

      Except for the ones who eventually hit on you, if you don’t push back on the sweariness. That’s a thing too, and a reason for looking a bit askance as anyone who might be using swear-tolerance as a gauge for “girls gone wild.”

      Mind you, in swear-free offices, just as much “feeling out before feeling up” can take place. I’d almost rather keep it in its most recognizable form, so I can shut it down if it starts to push actual boundaries while still in the verbal stage. So much easier to address than stares, someone’s hand position on himself, relative body positioning, etc.

    2. juliebulie*

      I just laughed out all. All this talk about cussing, but the first word that actually made me cringe today was “doll”!

  20. Blobola*

    I had some sweaty builders doing work in my house recently and at one point one of them popped his head round the door and said “sorry for the f**king s**tting swearing missus” which made me laugh for about a week,

    Despite the apology fail, I wasn’t bothered by the language but did dislike the sexist assumption that my female ears couldn’t cope with it. I have one male colleague who makes a big show of holding doors open for women which irritates the heck out of me in the same way. Everyone else in the office has happily worked out that it’s about who gets to the door first and what is most convenient, but this one guy doesn’t get it.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      to follow up on your second point, I used to get stuck at doors with a senior colleague who was firmly stuck in chivalrous codes. I would refuse to go through, and insist on holding the door for him on grounds of seniority (and, when he insisted, age). He was amused but couldn’t reprogram.

    2. Grace*

      My parents have builders right now who quite happily swear amongst themselves but not in front of my mum (who is at home 24/7 at the moment since it’s the summer holidays). Since they didn’t swear the two or three times they’ve spoken to my dad, though, I think it’s more of a “These are the people employing us and we’re in their house so we won’t swear in front of them” thing, rather than just “No swearing in front of the lady”.

    3. Asenath*

      I don’t see this as a big sexist thing. I don’t like swearing. I sometimes (but rarely) hear it at work, and generally ignore it as one of those annoying things you sometimes have to put up with when working among a group. If someone did apologize to me, I’d probably smile faintly, murmur something non-committal and move on. They’d probably drop the apologies anyway, when they saw I wasn’t clutching my pearls. I wouldn’t want to normalize swearing at work because I dislike it. If OP does want to normalize it, sure, Alison’s suggestions are the way to go.

      This is, of course, what I might call “swearing as conversation”, not the much more serious offence of “swearing as part of a knock-down screaming verbal assault”. That’s a whole other matter.

      1. Scarlet2*

        What’s sexist is making a big show of apologizing to *her* alone. I’d rather normalize swearing at work than sexism.
        Swearing has never hurt anyone. Being treated differently based on gender is hurting us every day.

        1. Asenath*

          I understand the reasoning, but I don’t agree with it. I think swearing is disrespectful to everyone, and the courtesy traditionally extended to women (of assuming that in a formal work environment, formal and courteous language should be used) should be extended to everyone.

    4. Quill*

      In the midwest I grew up with everyone holding doors for everyone, which makes entering any building in a group a terrifying dance of “I’ve got it” “no I’ve got it” “No I am already holding the door go IN before the mosquitoes find us.”

      But in general deference appears to go to people who don’t have their hands free, which is about as fair as that’s going to get.

  21. Lady Kelvin*

    Number 3, asking to go by bus or train from the East coast to Denver might not be an option because 1 it’s probably not actually cheaper (I’ve found Amtrak to be as much or more than a flight when looking) and 2 some companies (like mine) offer comp time for any time travelling outside of work hours. My company wouldn’t let me take a train over a plane because the train would be much more time travelling and therefore more pay to me. Also, it might be ok for you to take an extra day to get there, but it’s not always feasible if you need to be there midweek and your work doesn’t want you travelling a extra work day where you could be in meetings, etc. Its fine to ask, but for long distances you can’t assume that a train or bus is equivalent to a plane to many companies.

      1. Ruthie*

        In my experience, they are often much more expensive than flights, in particular long-haul train rides. Especially if a sleeping car is booked. My husband and I considered an overnight train trip for the fun of it, but ultimately couldn’t justify the cost of the tickets.

    1. CheeryO*

      Yeah, I was surprised that this wasn’t addressed in the answer. I really think most people would be taken aback by a request to travel by bus or train from the east coast to Denver. That is a LONG way and is likely to be as expensive as flying, if not moreso. I could maybe see pitching it as a road trip before you start the new job, but even that would be on the strange side.

      I really think OP needs to take the flight – it’s unfortunate that it will make them anxious, but a lot of people have intense fear of flying and do it anyway. Sorry if that seems unkind, but I think it’s realistic, especially if there is any chance of air travel being required for the job down the road.

    2. Smithy*

      Not to pile on the OP – but the cost of the ticket likely really will be far more pricey if looking at a sleeper car. And that’s not accounting for the realities of paid travel time or meals (which if I recall, are not included in the price of the train ticket?).

      As this is the start of the job, if the OP wanted to explain the train travel as part of more general vacation plans before arriving in Denver – I could see that working. However, I think requesting a train or bus back from Denver to the east coast will be a far harder request. Assuming that there’d be at least one train transfer, if training ends Friday at 5pm – it may be that the OP wouldn’t be able to start train travel back to the east coast until Saturday or even Monday depending on train schedules. If this truly is the only traveling the OP would ever be asked to do, I could see an employer making this kind of accommodation. But if there’s any kind of regular travel to Denver it’s hard to see an employer being accepting of this on a regular basis.

    3. paperpusher*

      If the OP’s first day of work was in Denver, I suppose it could work to use their own time off between jobs, but the employer should be paying the OP for the time in travel. Extra time off might require vacation time unless it lines up with the weekend.

  22. Qistina*

    #2 – I had a coworker like this. The first few times it happened I’d play along and meekly answer her quizzes and sound like a total idiot, then somewhere along the way I’d go straight to anger and frustration and raise my voice and get sucked into an argument (she’s really fond of those), which would inevitably result in us not speaking to each other until she tries to break the ice. The last time she pulled something like this and then tried to play nice again a couple of weeks later, I ignored her. We never spoke again until I left that job, something like almost a year later. Our jobs didn’t really intersect so I got away with that. I’m not proud of it though and I wish I’d had the balls to be direct with her right from the beginning. It would have saved me a lot of stress in the 2.5 years I was there!

    1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

      U.S.: He should apologize to anyone within earshot and then never say that word in the workplace (or probably anywhere) again.

      U.K. (where I’m guessing you are based on “apologise” with an s): Read the room, I’d say? I think U.S. mores on this one are infiltrating the U.K. a bit, so proceed with caution. It’s not a word I’d think of as workplace-appropriate in most cases.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        (UK) I tolerate a lot of swearing, but the c-bomb should not be dropped at work except in extreme emergencies. Apologies definitely required on all sides if it should slip out by accident.

        In a noisy pub with friends, knock yourself out. Perhaps intensify with thunder-.

        Incidentally I gather that Australians are very much more casual about using the word than we are!

          1. Reality Check*

            In the US, the C word is a nuclear bomb, and anyone saying it in the presence of an American woman, anywhere, is risking death.

              1. Bagpuss*

                It’s vulgar anywhere.
                So are lot of swear words, inluding the F word which is generally perceived as not being as bad as the C word.

              2. Emi.*

                To me the issue is less that it’s vulgar and more that it’s a slur. It’s a huge, flashing, red “Hi I have no respect for women” sign.

              3. boo bot*

                Yes, and I think it’s a little more than vulgar, actually; my understanding is that in the UK, it’s pretty much just an intense swear word, kind of how the US uses “f*ck”.

                The way it’s used in the US, though, I think it’s closer to a slur: like “b*tch,” but much worse (and as you say, with a more vulgar implication). So, if you say it in the US, you’re not just swearing, you’re actively insulting someone, even if you’re not intending it to be directed at anyone specific.

                This may vary – the US is a large country – but my sense is that it’s also not really symbolically distanced from the literal meaning, if that makes sense: here, you can call a man a dick without suggesting that you see him, and all other men, as nothing more than extensions of their genitalia. To a lot of people, anyway, that’s the implication of the c-word: this woman is nothing but her sex-parts.

                So, definitely don’t use it at work.

          2. only acting normal*

            It’s a bit regional too in the UK: regions have different tolerances for different words.

              1. Lierre*

                From an American who recently finished post-graduate work in Glasgow: I was honestly shocked at how often the C word is used in Glasgow, but intrigued that it isn’t gendered there like it is in the States. The sheer variety of usages and meanings was impressive! :-)

                Please say “heya” to Glasgow for me; I miss it in my heart and soul.

    2. londonedit*

      I don’t think men should single out women to apologise to in particular for swearing, whatever the swear word is. Women are not delicate little creatures who can’t handle the odd bad word.

      However I do think the C word is pretty much workplace-inappropriate in the UK apart from in the most relaxed environments. In my workplace it’s fairly normal for people to say ‘fuck’ in general office parlance, but not in meetings. I can imagine someone dropping a C-bomb in extreme circumstances, but they’d probably apologise and we’d all have a laugh about it. I can’t imagine anyone here being offended, but again, you DEFINITELY wouldn’t say it in a meeting or if the top bosses were around, and if you did accidentally say it among colleagues you’d probably follow up with a ‘Ha, whoops, excuse my language’.

    3. Shell*

      Yep, I think the c-word is far stronger and far more offensive in the US than in the UK. I’ve worked at any number of US places where no one would bat an eye at “shit” or “fuck” but the c-word would be as offensive and shocking as a racial slur.

    4. Mookie*

      Why not just apologize to the crowd at large? When someone uses a bigoted pejorative that has no power over me, personally, I still don’t want to hear it and I’m going to be angry if the people around me feel it more deeply and personally than I do. I appreciate the open solidarity when the situation is reversed and try to exhibit the same when I’m not the one targeted. It speaks to a slightly deeper understanding when somebody acknowledges they fucked up, and instead of promising never to fuck up again in front of the ‘wrong’ audience, they disavow doing it ever again period. We’ve all had to do that about something, I reckon. It’s how you become more grown-up.

    5. OP1*

      Yeah there’s an obvious distinction here. F**k can be used in many contexts. As an adjective, when you’re annoyed, when you’re happy, etc. The c-word is not used as an adjective and any context that’s used in, someone would be talking about a specific woman. So yeah they absolutely should apologize to everyone at the table and the woman they referred to by that word and then never use it again.

      1. Bagpuss*

        UK here, and I would say that the C word is used in lots of contexts which don’t involve a specifc woman, or indeed any women at all. In the same way that people use the word ‘dick’ without it always being about a man, or a specifc individual man.
        C*** is much more offensive, but the distintion you make doesn’t hold true here.

        I’d agree with the first couple of comments –
        it’s not a word which is generally appropriate in a professional setting, except perhaps in a major, the building is on fire type emergency, so an apology to anyone in earshot would be appropriate if it slipped out.
        Using it to/about someone is definetly much worse and in most contexts likely to be viewed as verbal abuse / harassment.

        Using it in private / social situations is a bit different and depends very much on knowing your audience.

        1. smoke tree*

          I think the main distinction between US/Canadian use and UK/Australian use is that in North America, it’s much more frequently used as a violent slur aimed a specific woman. I think this is why it’s taken that much more seriously–most of us will have experienced it more in a violent context.

    6. Lynca*

      Absolutely but that’s really not going to fix the situation. They’ve effectively ruined any working relationship they had with the women in question.

    7. Observer*

      As others said, he should apologize to everyone present. And people should be paying attention to his behavior thereafter. That kind of language generally comes from somewhere , and you don;t want that seeping in to work.

      1. Observer*

        To be clear, I’m talking in a US context where the word is totally derogatory and totally sexist.

  23. JSPA*

    OP #2,
    some people’s memories are more categorical, others are more geo-tagged, others are more temporal, others are more specific to “who was there.” Furthermore, some are more auditory or more visual or more conceptual (in a way that’s divorced from the original sound or visual prompt).

    It’s not at all unusual for people to think they’re giving a useful prompt that’ll send someone down the right memory lane (which is empowering and efficient, when it works)…and instead make them feel like they’re being dog-piled with a whole bunch of pointless anecdote. Additionally, she may assume you’ll hold the information better if it’s (re) presented in context. Finally, she may, in fact, she may be jogging her own memory in the process of revisiting the moment, in search of the information for you.

    I’d make the conversation be one about “what sorts of prompts are useful to me because of how memory works for me, vs what sort of prompts come naturally to you, because of how memory works for you.” Or simply, “those sorts of prompts don’t work for me, and I’ve already used the memory tools that do, so it would be kind of you to just tell me again.”

    The coworker’s method would actually work really well for me. If I can put myself (down to quality of light from time of day, how far back in memory it is, time-wise, and where the other people were, in the room) I can sometimes pop conversations back up practically verbatim. If that’s how she works, she may be under the misconception that this is something most people have access to. (I’ve bee given to know by other people that it…isn’t.)

    (For all the time companies spend on “temperament / management style” tests, think how much more effective it would be to find out and share the ways we catalog, store and share information best.)

    1. Orange You Glad*

      Agreed. I didn’t read it as intentionally rude; just a mismatch of helpful.

      I’d probably go with a light tone, “I’m curious why when I ask you for X information, you respond with asking me if I took notes in the meeting? I’m assuming your intention is to help me remember but it’s not really coming across that way? Is that why you are asking about my meeting notes instead of giving me the information?”

    2. BRR*

      This is interesting (and an example of why I love this comment section!). While I’m still not sold on the coworker’s motives, the LW could use this thinking as a way to maintain a peaceful working relationship. The “it’s a me thing.” Thanks for trying x, but I’ve never been able to learn that way.

    3. Samwise*

      I’d agree that the co-worker is trying to be helpful, except that when the OP doesn’t remember, the co-worker doesn’t just give the answer. And why wouldn’t she just give the answer anyway? It doesn’t sound like info that’s crucial to always have at your fingertips. It’s the repetition of asking the “helpful” question and not sharing info that’s obnoxious and undermining.

      Best answer from the commentariat, OP: “Oh, I guess you don’t remember either! [turn to another co-worker] Betty, could you tell us…”

    4. Observer*

      While it may be helpful to the OP to frame this as a “me thing”, I think it’s important to realize that this really is not relevant to the fundamental issue. A large part of the problem is that the CW is not supposed to be training the OP in the first place, so trying to prompt them etc. is not all that appropriate to start with.

      Doing even appropriate prompting in front of colleagues is not a really great look. And doing so repeatedly – both in the moment and on multiple occasions is inappropriate even for a trainer. If you ARE someone’s trainer, you don’t keep on doing the same thing and showing frustration – you have a conversation about it. When you are doing this kind of thing to someone who you are not managing and not training? Rude at best, bullying at worst.

  24. JSPA*

    OP #3, adding to the “they can’t tell you why” list:

    Could be Jon eats a lot of garlic, and someone nearby is pregnant and smell-sensitive.

    Could be Jon needs to be nearer to a bathroom.

    Could be someone has misphonia and can’t stand your fingernails on your keyboard, and when a short-timer / intern is involved, they move the intern, rather than looking for more complex accommodations regular employee.

    I’m assuming you yourself wash regularly, use deodorant, don’t chew gum at work, don’t have loud conversations, don’t tap your pencil, don’t use perfume, scented body wash, baby powder or highly scented hair products, don’t burp and loudly excuse yourself every 5 minutes (or any of the many similar issues that people have written in about.) In which case, it’s unlikely to be you.

    If that’s not so, or if the fear that it’s not so is lingering with you, you can ask your manager. “I recently realized my regular shampoo / lotion has quite a strong, perfumy scent. I’m new to the work-world, and wanted to check if that’s bothering anyone, or if it’s inappropriate in an office setting.” And, “I read an article about how other people noticing our annoying habits when they’re invisible to us. Do you agree that an internship can include feedback on professional norms and any annoying personal habits? If so, I wanted to let you know that I’d welcome feedback on those things, if you’re comfortable doing so.”

    Do it at a time when you’re not going to feel terrible if you hear, “a coworker mentioned that your deodorant is not always doing what you need it to do, but I didn’t feel comfortable bringing it up” or “hm, you click your pen nearly constantly at your desk and in meetings. It’s not a big thing, and I wouldn’t have brought it up spontaneously, but it is audible.”

    It is also possible that the writing team is gelling better with the other intern. That does not mean he’s good and you’re bad, though. Writing is one of those things where “being objectively excellent” and “working well together” don’t correlate very strongly. They can think that you’re excellent–heck, they can love what you do, solo–and still not find extra benefit in bouncing ideas back and forth in real time.

    It’s also possible that he slacks off on the writing if people are not in his business, or needs more direction on writing than you do.

    It’s also possible that he was asking too many questions and distracting the research team, and they decided he’d be less likely to disrupt the writing team. It’s also possible they want to give both of you some time in the heart of the writing team.

    1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

      This is a really kind and thoughtful comment. I’d hope the OP’s boss would bring direct feedback to them if their behavior were an issue, but for an issue like personal scent or a slightly irritating habit, a lot of people feel too awkward bringing it up. And especially in the case of an internship, it can seem simpler to just move desks and be done.

      But I would raise the topic a maximum of once more, just in case the issue is something more along the lines of “Jon was bickering with someone on the research team” that your boss really truly can’t tell you about. You don’t want to look like you’re prying for gossip.

      1. Lance*

        I’d personally raise it with zero mention of or relevance to Jon; OP states that they find it harder to work with their team now that they’re situated further away, so that’s the point I’d focus on, and see if the boss can work something out. Could be taking an open, nearer spot, could be swapping with someone else… who knows. Either way, OP’s main issue is their proximity to their team (never minding the oddly chilly behavior from the research team); that should be their focus.

        1. Bagpuss*

          I agree.

          OP, it’s reasonable to ask whether there is anything you should change just to check that you have not inadvertently done something that resulted in the move, but it is as at least as likely that it is related to Jon, not you . If the research team are being chilly towards you it is possible that Jon was being too chatty with them and that’s why he was moved, but it is just as likley that they are not really being chilly, it’s moe that you don’t ned to work with them them so you are getting the ‘normal interaction with someone not in the department’, rather than anything aimed explicitly at youas an individual.

    2. Triplestep*

      My previous jobs all involved Space Planning and Move Management. Nine times out of ten the reason people got moved with no reason given had to do with socializing – they are being moved away from someone.

      Things like odors, fragrances, or annoying behaviors go with a person to their new location, so it’s rare that moving the person is seen by management as the answer to the problem. The tendency to chat too much with one or two neighbors does not follow someone once they are moved away from those neighbors. Especially given this is an internship (which I assume has a time limit) the manager here likely just wanted to solve the problem without having to tell someone they were talking too much.

    3. epi*

      This is really kindly worded, but it’s a lot! I don’t know if thinking about all this would have soothed my anxiety as an intern. There are also some really common things in your list, like using scented body wash. Lots of people do that and are not considered rude and unprofessional by others in their office. Things like scents and really specific noises don’t typically matter unless someone in your office is sensitive to them. An average level of scent, on a brand new intern, who has never even been told it is bothering anyone, would never be something that intern should be expected to worry too hard about. It’s on those around them to correct them.

      I think in most offices, the explanation for what happened with OP3 is really quite simple. When you have to change someone’s work duties and environment, often there is one person who needs that done, and one person whose change is more instrumental, just to make room. The person who needs to change gets the one on one meeting and candid explanation– if only because they may be the one who requested it. The person who is just making room may not get an individual sit down. Apparently, OP3 is in the second group.

      If there was some reason to move OP3, as an individual, their boss or someone on their team should have told them that. This meeting sounds like Jon requested or needed this move for some reason that is none of OP3’s business, and the boss did not think ahead of time of an explanation that would soothe OP3 while preserving Jon’s privacy. If OP3 is really still worried about it, they could go to the person they have the best rapport with, who they think would give them honest feedback, and say something like, “I really like working here but I still miss being with the Writing team sometimes. I hope you know that if I was doing anything that contributed to the need for me to move, I would want to hear about that so I could work on it.” But I strongly suspect there will be nothing, because this was about Jon. If the OP was annoying people enough to be moved and was never given an explanation or even a one on one, that is just bad management. Especially of interns.

  25. Knitting Cat Lady*

    #4: I have a colleague who is terrified of flying.
    So much that he refuses to go on business trips where a plane is the only option.
    He manages to fly short haul for holidays by getting wasted just enough he doesn’t care. Which he can’t do on business trips.

    I don’t mind flying. Airports are hell for my autistic self.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      They’re getting better! Check out Pittsburgh’s ‘sensory room’, it’s pretty awesome.

      I’ll be interested to see if anyone does research on what impact improved amenities has on travel choices, and if that changes anything in the businesses. I know I picked a route based on their dog facilities a couple of years ago, and I can totally see people choosing to lay over in a place with a decent sensory suite.

  26. Kathlynn (Canada)*

    On one hand, the “no swearing in front of women” is incredibly sexist. On the other hand, unless I’m swearing around children, the only people who have had a problem with me swearing have been other women (and still only rarely).
    I’ve had people swear and apologize for it, but I’ve never assumed it’s because I’m a woman, I just assumed it was because of the idea it’s just plain and simply rude to swear. (my response has always been close to: that idgaf if someone swears unless they are swearing *at* me)

    1. Batgirl*

      You’d know if it happened to you. It’s different to the ‘oh excuse me everyone’ or one-on-one apologies. It’s usually when there’s a couple of men and you’re the only female. Then you’re apologised to by name while the others look on in concern. I was very young in my first job when this happened to me, and I didn’t even register it as sexism initially (like the OP) but it is immediately jarring. Like you’re not supposed to be there.

    2. Mookie*

      Wow, I’ve had many men (some boys) waggle their fingers at me for my curse words, mostly because it is not What Women Ought to Do, very gate keeping-like.

      1. Batgirl*

        That’s one step worse and I’ve only had it happen in social situations with frat boy types in neg-flirt mode. Appropriate response is to glare with the fire of a thousand suns. I have no idea what I’d do if it happened at work.

        1. Batgirl*

          Actual quote: “It’s not big and it’s not clever”. Oh, thank you so much for telling me that I’m little and stupid. Will you just take me right here?

          1. Observer*

            In my ideal world I’d reply “and why do you think I would care what you think about it?” And I don’t swear…

    3. RUKiddingMe*

      But in OP’s case it *is* sexism because he apologizes only to her. He even says “sorry OP” calling her out by name while never apologizing to the male colleague. How she feels about swearing at work, or in general is irrelevant. Her boss is being sexist.

      1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

        I never said it wasn’t sexist. The point I was trying to say was that it’s one of those things with different cultural issues keeping it present. Like holding the door open for no one, everyone, or just women.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Bah. My response was unclear. To *be* clear I was agreeing with you. I’ll show myself out now…

  27. T2*


    This is why I never swear. No need to worry about who might be offended, no need to apologize. No need to act on some weird sexist tendencies to protect the ears of my coworkers.


    25 years ago, I was in your position. I worked with someone who was obviously smart and experienced, but who just loved embarrassing me in public about my lack of experience and what he previewed as a lack of preparation. I got really tired of it after 2-3 weeks

    But we had a holiday weekend, and I went to the store and got two of those nice writing journals. I spent the whole weekend developing a system of taking notes of everything I ever said and everything anyone ever told me. Then on Monday, I started taking notes of everything around me and every detail. I also started coming in to eat breakfast before work to review my notes and plan my day. It wasn’t perfect, but I became the detail guy over the years.

    I have kept up the habit. I have complete records of every meeting I ever attended, who attended them and what was discussed going back 25 years in 54 of those journals. It has saved my bacon on numerous occasions. I have a reputation for thoroughness and and not missing deliverables. It is extremely rare to find someone who out documents me. I am not perfect, but i am always refining my system. But it works well and has gotten me many jobs and clients.

    And it all started because this guy wanted to demonstrate his superiority. Meanwhile he never developed his personality or skills. Because I found a way to work smarter, within 2 months, I was made his equal. 3 months after that was promoted to team lead. 18 months later, I was running large scale projects for Y2K preparation. And on and on and on. He never left that entry level job.

    The point is that jerks were put on this earth to toughen us up and make us better. You can literally learn lessons from everyone and in every situation.

    1. T2*

      I forgot an added detail.

      When I was promoted to team lead, (essentially his manager), it was down to me and him for the job. He was shocked that I got it despite being there for a couple of months while he had been there for 2 years. He was a real jerk about it too.

      I got him a lovely card thanking him for being hard on me and helping put me in a position where I could grow and develop. I specifically referenced the times where he was hard on me as motivation to be better in my job. I told him how much I looked forward to us helping our team succeed. And I concluded by saying that I couldn’t have done it without him. (Think like an academy award speech in tone.)

      It was lovey and sweet, and 25 years later I am not ashamed to admit that while I was sincere, it was one of the more passive/aggressive things I ever did. He hated the card, hated the idea that I was promoted above him, hated the idea that he couldn’t do anything about it when HR told him it was a nice gesture. He fumed and fumed and fumed and within 6 months was demoted to the warehouse.

      I had immense satisfaction.

      1. Miss Astoria Platenclear*

        Great anecdote and lesson. I agree about the swearing – never hurts *not* to swear.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      We just got an experienced hire, entirely new to my employer, and what impressed me was that she immediately focused on the people she’d be working with. Her notes were very much based around people and their roles. For her role (project-management-ish), that was exactly the information she needed first and most.

      So, OP2, while I agree with ‘avoid the obnoxious lady’ if you can, you might also sit down with someone with a set of names you pull from meeting invites and emails, and ask them to help you map out these people and relationships. Put each name on a sticky note, then take notes about job roles and projects, group them on pieces of paper with lines to show relationships, etc.

      I am not an office politics kinda person, but the new employee made me aware of all the org relationships I’ve learned over the years, and that I need to pay a little more explicit attention to them as I advance in my career.

      1. T2*

        I like this suggestion a lot. I am terrible with names. So what I do on my notes is number everyone at the table around me in clockwise order. Then I place the business cards on the table in order as well until I number them.

        For conference calls I put down the names as I hear them.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          I am also Very Bad with names, so I think of things like this to try to help.

          The one that has *really* worked is to associate that person with someone else with the same name, and if I can’t think of someone, then write it into a reminder that pops up a couple of times over a half hour. Give it time to fade and aggressively refresh it. But I spend all my time on my computer which makes that easier.

      2. Caramel & Cheddar*

        I used to put this kind of information in my job manual so that people would know who to talk to if I won the lottery and never came into work again.

        The only other thing I’d add is to pay attention to not just someone’s role but their *level* in the organization. At an old job, I asked my boss who to talk to about X and he’d say “Oh, talk to Jane” — except both of them were director-level employees and Jane was 100% not the person actually taking care of whatever task it might have been. My boss and Jane might have had a relationship where they talked to one another about doing X, but both would have ended up delegating those tasks. Find out who gets delegated to.

    3. LJay*

      Honestly, I really appreciate your comment because I’m very much not a details person and my boss very much is.

      I’ve never been embarrassed by another person about it, but I’ve definitely felt lesser when others can rattle off information like part numbers or remember what vendor they purchased this specific thing from 5 years ago off the top of their head.

      I jot down the important things in my notes – my to-dos and takeaways, but I think writing down everything and reviewing it might help me be more detail oriented and retain the non-essential information better.

  28. Monican*

    Regarding #5, those kind of questionnaire references seem to be becoming increasingly popular, at least in the non-profit sector. I’ve used these questionnaires as both a hiring manager and as a reference and I don’t think they are as bad as Alison suggests. When I complete them as a reference, I don’t spend more than 30 minutes filling them out, which isn’t much more time than a phone call would take and I like that I can fill it out on my own time. As a hiring manager, I find it a convenient way to get answers to my questions without having to schedule a call and I haven’t noticed a substantial difference in the quality of information that I receive by using these questionnaires vs a phone call. I’m curious to hear what other hiring managers think about these kind of references.

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      Hate em.

      I have never used them for hiring, so I cannot vouch for how effective they are in getting information about candidates. I can say, however, that filling them out tries my patience to its very end. I find them repetitive, and by the 12th question asking for how they deal with this or that kind of situation, I am usually fighting the urge to respond with “Jesus, I don’t know! Didn’t you get a decent picture from the first 8 times I answered this same basic question?”

      Because I’ve had this experience, I would be hesitant to use them as a tool for hiring. I would be suspicious that the people filling them out are at least as motivated by the desire to simply get through it as they are to relay useful information.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Sooo much this. I feel like I’m taking a mid-term and I have to finish.

        Not be because of a grade though but because *someone else’s* career depends on me finishing and I’m just not a big enough asshole to let someone down that way.

        Other ways sure, but that’s another story for another time… (•_•)

    2. Nuss*

      What you’re saying is that it more convenient for you, the hiring manager, so you like them. People on the other side, the actual references, are saying they don’t like them because they’re time consuming. The problem with pushing off the inconvenience to the reference is that often they are a favor being done by the reference to job-seeker, and at some point I can see people refusing to write those references because they’re repetitious, time-consuming, and inconvenient.
      As a hiring manager it’s part of your job to seek out references; generally it’s not part of the job (though academia is different) to give those references.

      1. Oxford Comma*

        All of this. My first choice as a reference, is a phone call, preferably one that’s scheduled. That’s 15-25 minutes of my time. A letter, or worse a form will take me longer.

        It’s also likely that you’re going to miss things that I won’t put in writing.

        1. Antilles*

          That’s 15-25 minutes of my time. A letter, or worse a form will take me longer.
          Yeah. Maybe the form that Monican is using is streamlined and simple, but every single one I’ve received has been at least one full page of questions, most of which require at least a paragraph to properly answer…*Especially* if the feedback isn’t universally positive.
          If my answer to “What is Bob’s greatest weakness?” is “I don’t know, Bob was one of the best workers I’ve ever had”, then sure, I can shoot that response off in a minute or two (including time to read the question, write the sentence, re-read the sentence, and make a minor edit if needed).
          But if my answer is that he sometimes tried to take on too many projects or that he got irritated with bureaucracy? I’m going to take at least 5-10 minutes to craft that written answer – knowing that all you’re getting is what’s written on the page AND that it is going to be recorded for posterity forever, it’s going to take a decent bit of effort to respond in a way that’s crystal clear and fully explains the context/extent of the concern.

      2. Oh No She Di'int*

        I agree with all of this. The last one I did had a bouquet of unappealing qualities:

        1. Had 14 questions, which is way too long.
        2. Felt repetitive. I’m not sure if it really was repetitive, but by question 8 or 9 it all starts to run together.
        3. Asked for a letter of recommendation in ADDITION to the question responses.
        4. Response was requested within 3 days of receipt.
        5. Was sent from a donotreply email address with no way of contacting the hiring manager.

        It was awful. I felt like I was being forced to apply to college all over again.

        1. emmelemm*

          A letter in ADDITION to the questions is so over the top, I don’t even know what to say…

          1. Oh No She Di'int*

            It was nuts. At first I assumed it was either/or. But no, it was actually impossible to submit the form without uploading a letter. At that point, I just uploaded a Word document that said something like, “All of my thoughts have been communicated in the form. If you have further questions contact me at . . .”

      3. bonkerballs*

        Monican also said “When I complete them as a reference, I don’t spend more than 30 minutes filling them out, which isn’t much more time than a phone call would take and I like that I can fill it out on my own time.” So she is an actual reference who has actually used them and found convenience in them.

    3. Antilles*

      I think they’re much less useful to the hiring manager. There’s a lot of times there’s issues which might be worth mentioning, but aren’t necessarily something you’d put on paper. Let’s take a real-life example of a former coworker at ExJob who’s really brilliant but needs fairly good direction from above. In fact, part of the reason he was trying to leave ExJob is because the new department head was a lot more lasseiz-faire and big-picture, so he was struggling with vagueness.
      When I was talking with the reference checker and they asked about his weaknesses, I emphasized his strengths but also was able to explain his issues with lack of oversigh. The HM appreciated the candor, but then said that the job was very process-driven, so there’d always be something he could fall back on…which meant that it wasn’t an issue at all from the HM’s perspective. Andy got the job, and it seems to be working out well as far as I can tell from LinkedIn.
      But in a questionnaire? Not a snowball’s chance in heck that I’d have mentioned it. Partly because I wouldn’t want to put that in writing (Andy isn’t vindictive or litigious, but you never know…), but also because I wouldn’t have been able to phrase it in a way to really explain it. The whole purpose of the questionnaire is that you don’t give me follow-up questions, so there’s no way for me to convey what I would have wanted to convey.
      In this particular case, sure it wouldn’t have mattered…but if the position *was* one that required a very independent self-starter, that hiring manager’s reference check would have been near-useless with a questionnaire.

    4. Observer*

      If your forms REALLY only take 30 minutes, that’s one thing. But what the OP described takes considerably longer. And I find it really presumptuous of an employer to expect someone who has no relationship or obligation to the company to take that kind of time for their convenience.

      It also means that you ARE going to wind up screening out good employees – a lot of former employers just won’t / can’t take that kind of time even for someone they like.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        “… really presumptuous of an employer to expect someone who has no relationship or obligation to the company to take that kind of time for their convenience.”


  29. JustMyImagination*

    LW2, I’d also suggest taking a reflective look at the questions and type of questions you’re asking. I worked with a new hire who would ask the same questions over and over. They were things that had been covered in meetings, trainings and were in our written procedures. It was important that she become more self-sufficient so after answering the same types of additions and explaining where the answers could be found, I had to start answering questions with questions. It was to get her to research before she came to me with questions. So think about the what you’re asking and, while you’re coworker is being rude, maybe she’s trying to get you to pay attention to the right topics during staff meetings, or search your email threads, or consult your training notes because they’re items that have been covered and you should know at this point.

    1. LarsTheRealGirl*

      I was looking for this type of response. Obviously one option is the coworker is just a jerk, but I think Alison dismissed her first inclination of “legitimate frustration” too quickly. I’ll often point people who ask tons of questions to their own notes or other sources. Teaching a man to fish and all…

    2. Kes*

      Yeah, I was thinking this as well, and I was a little surprised at the answer given – I feel like in other questions written from the other side (this new person keeps asking me questions they should know the answer to) what is recommended is pretty much exactly what OP’s coworker is doing
      I get that it’s frustrating for OP but it’s likely also frustrating for the coworker which might be why they’re pushing back. OP should consider how many questions they’re asking and whether there are steps they could be taking to retain some of these answers (for example, taking more notes in meetings if you can’t remember later why a certain decision was made)

  30. Cheeseboard*

    Re: cursing—since she says the she herself does not curse in the work place, isn’t the simplest reason for their apologies that they have noticed this and assumed she has a problem with cursing? Does the male colleague curse? Maybe they aren’t apologizing to him because he does and therefore they assume it doesn’t bother him. Sure, it could be a “delicate lady ears” issue but it could just be them taking notice of her habits and trying to be thoughtful/respectful.

    1. Cheeseboard*

      I see that the male colleague does curse a bit. My thought still stands. If she doesn’t curse at all, that might stand out to them.

    2. Gabriel Conroy*

      I wondered about that, too. The letter writer says her male colleague “doesn’t swear much,” which suggests to me that he does (or might) swear at least a little at work, while the letter writer says she “do(es)n’t swear at work.”

      None of that rules out the possibility that the apologizing is sexist. It can still be sexist even if the male colleague does occasionally swear.

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      The ‘apologize to women for swearing’ is so entrenched in US culture that I don’t think you have to reach past it for a different explanation. And even if there is a perception that’s based in something other than gender, it doesn’t much affect the answer.

      1. Yorick*

        Yes, this is a very common thing. And if there was some other reason they’d apologize specifically to OP, she’d know it better than we would

    4. RUKiddingMe*

      No the simplest answer is sexism for allll the reasons outlined in all the comments thus far.

  31. CTT*

    For number 3, I wonder if this was a not-entirely-thought-through way to get you and Jon exposure to the other departments. These were legal internships so I can’t speak to its universality, but in two of the three internships I did, we switched offices at the halfway or quarter-mark to sit with different departments; even if you never wanted to practice corporate law, by god you were going to sit on the corporate floor for two weeks to meet those people. Maybe someone floated this idea and the higher-ups got very excited about it but bungled the roll-out?

  32. Kimmybear*

    #5 – I will say that my office often uses written references because we work internationally and 1. This allows us to get references without anyone having to make phone calls at odd hours and 2. People can take advantage of translation software (We don’t always have someone available to do the reference check in the reference giver’s preferred language.)

  33. Under Suspicicion*

    LW#2: I know that we don’t like to speculate too much here, but is it all possible that you’re asking questions about things that you should know or that there are other resources to look up the answer? While you see it as your co-worker quizzing you, I’m wondering if she’s trying to redirect you and make you more self-reliant. I only think this because I’ve had to put up similar boundaries with coworkers otherwise I end up having to be a directory of knowledge when we have legitimate resources for these things.
    Example: Jane: What are the new specifications for the teapot nozzle?
    Me: Have you checked the Sharepoint document that was uploaded?
    Jane: What is the new compliance manager’s phone number?
    Me: Have you checked the directory?

    While I’m happy to help my coworkers, I also want to know that they’re using the resources that we have available.

  34. Environmental Compliance*

    OP 1 – I ran into this at my current job. I do have a bit of a mouth on me, and apparently the woman who was in my position before me was Very Delicate (as in, in one of the maintenance guy’s lockers, there was a small bikini girl calendar, and she threw a fit at HR because it was offensive. It was basically a Sports Illustrated calendar, and she said nothing to the guy, nor was it in an actual public area….it was in. his. locker.). So most of them were assuming I was also Very Delicate.

    My response was “Well shit, are we not supposed to swear?” It went over well.

    1. CheeryO*

      We’re in the same industry, and I’ve made comments on bikini girl calendars before, as a regulator visiting a facility. It’s not because I’m delicate; it’s because that’s the kind of thing that makes the industry unwelcoming to women. Being in the locker is not as bad as being out in the open, but it’s still not necessary to have it at work at all.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        It’s not – but she could have talked to him about it, rather than going to HR and demanding that he get fired.

    2. Yorick*

      Yeah, objecting to a bikini girl calendar is not Very Delicate. And if it was the woman before you (as in you weren’t working there yet), you don’t actually know that it was very small, that it wasn’t out in the open, or that they weren’t behaving inappropriately about it.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        No, I have seen it. The objection wasn’t the delicate part, it was the escalating immediately to HR instead of talking to the guy like an adult.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        Right? If it was *in* his locker how did she see it? I think stories reported like “she was super delicate (read: hysterical) and went right ti HR demanding he be fired” have probably been embellished…a tad.

        I would tend to believe it was probably something more like it was out in the open, he refused to remove/hide it, made sexist comments/“jokes,” and *then* she went to HR.

        But she will forever be the very delicate evil shrew harpy that “ruined” this guys life by his own actions.

    3. Bagpuss*

      Hmm, objecting to a bikini girl calendar isn’t being ‘very delicate’, it is a very reasonable request. If you heard about it from your male colleagues after she had gone, I would take with a pinch of salt their claims that she ‘threw a fit’ – that sounds a lot like people downbplaying their inappropriate behaviours by blaming the one eho called them out.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        This was from the other women in the office, the guys never mentioned it to me. Plus, as I said up above, it wasn’t the objection to the calendar that rubbed me wrong, it was the immediate escalation to HR without any discussion with the guy. He was blindsided with a full write up. I know this guy well – he would have just taken it home and called it a day if she would have said anything to him.

  35. MommyMD*

    Maybe some type of cognitive therapy aimed at dealing with fear of flying? Especially if job will require travel.

    1. Yvette*

      Would being diagnosed with a genuine phobia put this under ADA? Or would it end up being problematic if flying was a bona fide job necessity?

      1. Yorick*

        I think if flying was really necessary, the employee wouldn’t be able to fulfill the job requirements with accomodation.

      2. WellRed*

        In this case, she doesn’t say it’s a phobia, though. Her last flight had turbulence, now she’s afraid. I agree maybe some therapy would help, though likely not fast enough for Denver.

        1. Observer*

          Well, for the Denver situation, it shouldn’t be a big issues. But the OP does need to look at he future, because in general, it’s not going to be reasonable to use significantly slower modes of transportation for most business trips.

          1. Psych0Metrics*

            Yes, I wouldn’t consider taking several additional days for travel back and forth to fall under a ‘reasonable’ accommodation for most employers.

  36. HappySnoopy*

    #3 just engage with seatmates cordially. If opportunity in convo arises, shrug off the switch. “No idea why tptb switched us up, but I’m looking at it as an opportunity to meet more of org.” Play it down, be nice an blase.

    Even if you hear a reason why, in your role as intern, and new person stay neutral. “Oh I never heard that [or someone may have mentioned that if its a retelling], but I have no direct knowledge of it.”

  37. Parental Leave Angst Help*

    OP1 – I get this a lot because I myself don’t curse a lot and if I do it’s very mild such as “Sh*t”. My manager is one who often drops F-bombs every other word when he’s stressed. Eventually people catch on that the language doesn’t startle me etc.

    But when people try to apologize for their language I try to say something along the lines of ” if you think it’s ok to curse around Bob and Fred, then it’s ok to curse around me”. Which is really my take. Either you think it’s rude to curse in a professional setting and should apologize to everyone, or you don’t think it’s rude and never apologize.

    1. Yvette*

      ” if you think it’s ok to curse around Bob and Fred, then it’s ok to curse around me” I like this. It points out the sexism without being obvious.

  38. jDC*

    I wonder if LW2 is constantly questioning things that she just needs to go with the flow with. I very well could be wrong but if my new employee constantly asked me “why is Bob on this call” it would come across to me as either questioning my work or basically complaining. I am sure that isn’t the intent and the woman just sounds like a brat with her responses but it did cross my mind as soon as I read it.

    1. LITJess*

      The co-worker is asking OP why someone is on a call not the OP asking. But I do agree that in addition to all the suggestions about redirecting the question when co-worker begins the interrogation, it couldn’t hurt for OP to examine what kind of questions she’s asking and with what frequency.

  39. Emi.*

    Ha, this reminds me of when I was a highschooler “helping” in an engineering lab. One experiment turned up a very surprising result (it looked like ultrasound was amplifying a laser; it turned out a diode was installed backwards) and the professors exclaimed “What the f— is going on?” Then he remembered me and said “Oh, sorry — what the hell’s going on?” I think that was more my youth than my sex, though.

    1. Quill*

      In my experience middle and high school were the swear capitals of my life. But I did crew for the school theater, where we had fun with it.

      Our set manager, upon cutting his hand open on a surprise staple left in a prop: “Which g-d- f-ing chucklehead was supposed to be in charge of staple removing?” He then held up his bleeding hand and one of the crew discovered their blood phobia by fainting. I got to iodine him and tie his hand up while everyone else fanned the fainter with binders.

      “Be careful, Set Manager can swear so hard that people faint,” meant that he 1) never lived it down 2) actually swore less.

  40. Paperdill*

    OP1: There’s an iconic Australian movie called “The Castle” featuring this quote:
    Darryl: That’s fuckin’ fantastic! Excuse the French, Yvonne.
    Yvonne: Get ya hand off it, Darryl.

    Maybe that could work as a response?

  41. Bibliovore*

    For the “letter of reference” writer, may I suggest “Dear Committee Members” by Julie Schumacher, a novel written in letters of reference by an English professor. (both the author and the main character are English professors)

  42. Phony Genius*

    For #1, what should the OP say if she is offended by swearing, and also offended that they didn’t apologize to the men?

  43. Anonymous Engineer*

    #1, I’ve literally said “that’s F&*%ing sexist” to a man who apologized to me for swearing. Obviously not to a VP, this is a very “know your audience” response, but I have worked in some pretty rough environments.

    As I said above, I’m in the southeastern US, where many men were raised with this version of chivalry, and I understand it can be a hard habit to break. In cases where I’ve felt it would help, I’ve explained to these men that their policy of not swearing in front of women is less bothersome than their policy of immediately apologizing if they slip up. The former, I never have to know about. The latter immediately calls attention (to me and any audience around) to the fact that I am, in this guy’s eyes, a woman first, not a coworker.

  44. Exhausted Trope*

    I remember once hearing swearing at work ( in my very conservative, woman only, HR office) from my supervisor, a woman, who I had never heard swear before. I laughed aloud from the shock. It seemed so uncharacteristic at the moment. I think I told her “I’ve never heard you swear before!” None of us in the office really does much and we don’t apologize when we do.

  45. DaniTheGirl*

    Re #1
    It’s the most common (but not only) way I’ve observed sexism. It’s particularly interesting because I have religious male coworkers who don’t like swearing or hearing it, and the vibe for trying not to swear around them is way different than it was when the guys were worrying about their words around me. A lot more darting glances and shifting around in my case vs just a pause and neutral rephrase. Since I do swear myself, my path to breaking the glass there was a couple of really off-color zingers that left jaws hanging followed by raucous laughter. But if I weren’t the type to swear or preferred not hearing it at work (which I totally think is a reasonable position) I’d probably look around the room in exaggerated confusion and ask if the Pope was in earshot and such until they realized. If there was someone who didn’t get it then or was the main perpetrator, I’d have a one on one with them to just point out that they’re inadvertently singling me out if they let one slip and it brings our collective focus to me being the only female in the room instead of the topic we’re working through. Erring on the side of assuming of course its unintentional on purpose, because kill ’em with kindness or let them give themselves their own rope to hang.

  46. Trendy*

    OP #1. It’s funny how your perspective is that they are sexist but we had a male co-worker that cussed like a sailor and it was the women who went to his boss and asked him to address it with him. I personally feel, that as a woman I wouldn’t have been allowed to cuss like that (and have been smacked down in another job for saying the F word in my office, by myself with the door closed!) and it was offensive and came across hostile. If you want to say something to HR I would address it not as a male/female issue but point out that cussing at work can be seen as hostile and it might offend men as well as women. (It’s more sexist to assume it doesn’t offend men as well)

    1. "Champ," Lemon. Horses champ.*

      It’s very clearly an issue of sexism in her office. How did you misinterpret that?

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      “It’s more sexist to assume it doesn’t offend men as well.”

      Which is what they are doing while they are being sexist towards OP by pointedly apologizing only to her.

      To recap:

      They apologize only to OP, calling her out by name…sexist

      They fail to apologize to the male who might be offended…sexist

      They are being sexist…full stop.

  47. CMK1219CMK*

    Alison – Just a comment that your suggestion of “I give not one shit if you swear” while correct, comes off a bit formal. My suggestion would be to use the more common vernacular of “I don’t give a $hit if you swear” or “Swear away – it doesn’t f***ing bother me”.

    1. we're basically gods*

      I assumed that was the point– it’s mixing the incredibly formal phrasing with dropping in a swear word, which is both funny and plays to the apparent perception that LW is very stuffy.

      1. Observer*

        I agree. The oddly formal phrasing makes is a bit humorous and the use of the work totally intentional.

  48. Seven If You Count Bad John*

    I haaaaaaaaaate that “Oh it’s fun to switch things up” line. Almost as much as I hate hearing “We’re just keeping everyone on their toes!” I don’t need to be kept on my toes. I WORK HERE.

    1. Reliquary*

      I hate it too. “Fun for whom? For you? Are you a sadist who enjoys the discomfort of others?”

  49. austriak*

    #4 – One of the things I’ve learned in my career is that first impressions mean a lot. You start off as a superstar and that is what people think about you as even if you are not always a superstar. You start off poorly and it is hard to overcome it.

    This is my way of saying that if there is any way you can get yourself on that plane, you need to. Right or wrong, the first impression is going to be either you are a nut job and/or difficult. This is going to follow you. I know some people are going to jump on me for this but I’m just keeping it real. Right or wrong, your first impression is not going to be good if you start off by telling them you can’t fly.

    1. LITJess*

      OP has responded above saying it’s something she’s looking to address which is good because I agree with you. Asking to take the train more than halfway across the country would come across as looking out of the norm and potentially label OP as difficult (nut job is going a bit far).

      If this isn’t a job that requires travel and this is just a one-off thing, I think OP needs to knuckle down and figure out how to fly. If it’s a job that will require travel, she should really consider if this is a good fit right now.

    2. Sassy*

      Fear of Flying OP here – thanks, this perspective very helpful. I wouldn’t want potential new place to think I’m difficult or some weird Train Diva and it impacts impressions for my new coworkers of me.

      Hoping therapy or right magical mix of medicine will work for me. :-)

      1. Agnes*

        Yeah, and if this was one particularly bad flight, there is something to getting back on the horse.
        I totally sympathize – I am a nervous flyer and had one bad one that sent me to a therapist and another that had me vowing never to fly again (I’ve probably flown 20 times since then). Personally, I find flying first thing in the morning, when there’s less chance of storms and fewer delays, helps a lot. I also like to get a window seat so that I can see that the turbulence is caused by flying through a cloud or that, even though the plane bounced all over the place, we are not actually plummeting to the ground (I know other nervous flyers like an aisle, just what works for me.)
        But if you’re in a professional-type job that apparently sends everyone to a central location for training, I think it’s unlikely you’ll be able to never fly again for work. Or, you will be held back in your career if you do.

      2. Reliquary*

        See your doctor. I have a couple of friends who are extremely anxious when flying, and they have prescriptions that help them quite a bit.

        One thing – if you do get prescription medicine, test it *before* you fly to make sure the dosage is right for your needs.

  50. soon 2be former fed*

    OP1, why not suggest a training seminar on working in a diverse workplace? People who are used to a non-diverse workplace may need education about behaviors that are not approprate when the environment changes.

  51. Automotive Engineer*

    OP1: I have this problem all the time at work. I’m a relatively young woman in a male dominated field. I also struggle because in general I prefer not to curse. I’ve gotten over being bothered by other people doing so but I haven’t figured out a good way to get men (particularly older, senior men) to stop apologizing to me for their language.

    1. Lehigh*

      IDK if this would work for you or for the OP, but when I was in a new workplace and my manager (a woman) apologized to me for swearing, I went with, “It’s all right, we’re all friends here.” There wasn’t sexism in play; I’m not sure how much that would complicate things. It got a laugh and everybody seemed to relax. And I didn’t have to start swearing at work to keep up.

      1. Automotive Engineer*

        Yeah, I’ve had some luck with that in the past. Recently I’ve started a new job where I’m interacting with senior clients so there is a lot of pressure to not rock the boat when they say things so I usually just say “oh, it’s okay.” but when there’s clearly a sexist dynamic it’s so tempting to point that out and I really can’t with a client (I have with coworkers).

    2. juliebulie*

      If they’re really sorry, they’d stop cussing around you. Perhaps there is a tactful way to point that out.

  52. Blarg*

    #3: I lived in Colorado most of my life, and I think you’re being wildly unrealistic about the non-flight travel options in and out. Getting there by train will take days, and requires going through Chicago from the east coast. I think that if you say you want to travel this way, you will be seen as out of touch/using company time and money poorly.

    That being said … because of its proximity to the mountains, flying into Denver is often bumpy. You are almost certainly going to have to fly, and you should be prepared that it is likely going to have some turbulence.

    Best wishes to you. Denver is a fun city and a great place to spend a couple weeks during training! I hope it works out for you.

    1. Snark*

      Yes, this. To be blunt, people who have not spent much time in the West often entirely underrate the distances and sheer physical space in play. Just the train from Chicago to Denver takes something like 21 hours, and you have to get to Chicago first. You’re gonna have to fly. Unless you’re a train buff, there’s no good reason, even a fear of flying, to take the train.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Oh goodness, yes! The west is far more spread out than most on the east coast understand.

        The time doesn’t take into account the fact that Amtrak doesn’t own any tracks out here either, so they are always behind schedule by hours. 32 hours. On a train. That’s a 14hour car ride, that’s all I’m saying.

        Please, at least take the bus if you are going to do it.

        1. Observer*

          I was wondering why no one suggested the bus. In a case like this, I’d think it would be a lot more flexible than the train and at least as fast.

          1. A Perfectly Cromulent Name*

            Not really. The bus can take just as long. You stop all the dang time to pick up/drop off in every podunk and major city. The train might be faster, or at least not slower.

            1. Observer*

              I didn’t say the bus would be faster, but that it’s probably not slower. But it IS more likely to be a bit more flexible.

              1. Snark*

                Maybe, but I would still not authorize that mode of transportation for an employee when a flight is a fifth the time.

                1. Observer*

                  I totally agree with that overall, and mentioned that problem elsewhere. (So did a lot of other people.) I was really only responding here in the context of this first training.

  53. Entry Level Marcus*

    OP4: Doctors will often prescribe a few tabs of a benzo (think Xanax, Valium, etc) for people who have flight anxiety. They are powerful anti-anxiety drugs and can be addictive if you take multiple doses daily, but taking 2 over the course of a week or two is fine (I know from personal experience) and basically zero risk.

    If you have to fly more than a couple times a year for your job, though, you probably don’t want to have to rely on such medication.

  54. Snark*

    OP3, if your job requires travel on a somewhat regular basis – even once a year or so – it is not reasonable to take buses and trains. Getting to Denver from the east coast by either method is a roughly three-day trip one way, and doing the round trip will absolutely result in your absence from work in addition to the time at the training. I would not approve those travel plans.

    I realize that turbulence can be distressing. It was hard for me to get back on planes after one I was on literally caught fire and had to make an emergency landing. But when the alternative to several days on a train is a three-hour flight, I think you need to either look into therapy or classes to manage the fear, or find a job that doesn’t require travel for any reason.

  55. Amber Rose*

    “I’ve never heard such shocking filth in my life, Joe”

    I wish I’d thought to say this when someone apologized to me for another coworker’s vulgar rant involving some pretty improbably sexual actions. I didn’t actually say much because I was cracking up, which also worked because nobody has apologized to me again.

  56. nnn*

    Silly idea for #1: swear in front of them when a natural opportunity arises, and then apologize to them

  57. we're basically gods*

    #1: I don’t usually swear much at work or around people who aren’t close friends in general– yaaay, years of shame and fear around saying a bad word! But when people do express worries about swearing around me, I put on a bit of a show of covering my ears and exclaiming something like “Oh no! I’ve never heard a swear before in my life! My ears!”. But I’m known for being a bit silly, so it works out.

  58. Little Beans*

    I am a mid-thirties woman and I do mind if people swear in the workplace. So I assume the reason men are apologizing to OP #1 is because of people like me. Is this a gendered thing? Am I contributing to sexism by having “delicate ladylike ears”? The only coworker I’ve had who regularly swore in the office was an older woman – I got along with her fine and just pretended to ignore it, and it made me internally wince every time and I generally viewed her as less professional.

    1. juliebulie*

      There are quite a few comments here from women who don’t want to hear profanity at work, and people who know women who don’t want to hear profanity at work.

      But I’m absolutely certain that there are men who feel the same way. Perhaps the gender bias of the apologizing attitude discourages offended men from protesting the use of profanity. For sure it discourages potty-mouths from thinking they need to apologize to men for using profanity.

      But this sort of doesn’t change anything. If someone cusses at work and is sorry, they should apologize to everyone (regardless of whether or not each of them might be offended), and then stop cussing.

      What to do about profanity if it offends you, I don’t know. But I still don’t think they should single you out by focusing their apologies on you alone. That just makes it worse.

  59. Lauren*

    #2 – I’ve experienced my own hostile coworker just like this. She would berate me after asking me a question and say if I wanted to know I would have Googled it. What a psycho she was, but she was a favorite – she left recently which is good since no one was ever going to fire her. I would ask what a client scope included and she would berate me about me being in the last call, and I should have asked then. No, the client was on the call – why would I admit that I knew nothing about what she was pushing for? They hadn’t even signed yet, but when they did – I asked what the work included. She was such a hostile person. Turns she kept calling it the analytics scope with generic language and had no idea what she was promising and couldn’t give details at all. That came out afterwards and even the client kept saying – but what is the result – a document? switching from manual reporting to be on a platform? coding? She was so evil and full of herself that she would make you feel bad for asking anything that people would stop attending her meetings, senior people would request to be removed from her accounts, multiple clients fired her and requested someone new. She was a total bulldozer who didn’t really understand anything that we were asking so she’d flip it back on us to make us feel stupid and incompetent.

    OP – Its not you! Some people are just jerks trying to hide their own insecurities.

  60. Missy*

    #3: One reason to move people around, especially the writing team, is to help break up silos of information. We did this at a non-profit I worked at with people breaking up so that marketing and policy were intermingled instead of in different areas. It was hard at first but over time it was really helpful because when something would come up they felt more comfortable coming to us. For example, a policy people we were very detail focused and writing towards a more specialized audience. They were trying to explain our stuff to the public at large, but sometimes they would do so in a way that wasn’t technically correct or left out what we thought were important. Before there was a lot of back and forth over drafts because we’d make it more technical and they’d make it more broad and we’d all get annoyed. But being closer meant that they often understood the specific technical details that we had struggled to get clarified and were more understanding of our concerns, and we also got more comfortable with allowing them to take a big picture approach.

  61. YetEvenAnotherOne*

    I work on a engineering team – we have 19 male engineers and one female engineer – me. I find that in some circles in my office – male or female – swearing frequently makes one appear less professional. My personal rule is when I am with a client, or a prospective client, male or female, in meetings or any interactions – I do not swear – at all. It is just too easy to offend people because you just don’t know where people stand on swearing – people do business with people they like – why risk it? I am very accustom to my co-works using an occasional F-bomb or other words and I do it too. Does not faze me – however, if someone uses the C&NT word – it makes me very uncomfortable.

  62. Milton’s Red Swingline*

    #1 This is what was called ”proper manners” once upon a time. ”Mad Men era” or ”when you could smoke in the office”. That VP probably was brought up bu folk when you had a bar of soap to chew on and was taught how a ”proper gentleman” acts, and this can be very regional. It was also a learned reflex because some other gentleman could and would take offence to protect the honor of the ladies present and give you a proper asswhooping if this happened in public.

    Now times change of course, but you can’t expect every generation to change after the latest whim. You learn what is ”proper” and its very hard to unlearn the older you get.

    What can I say, I used to have proper manners, but as modern people don’t appreciate elder gentlemen having manners towards ladies it requires too much effort, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. And don’t complain if the new generations have no manners as there is nobody teaching them by example.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*


        FFS, I don’t melt if you cuss around me. I don’t dress or act like a Sunday school teacher.

        Quite frankly, if someone is expecting me to act like a “lady” at work, I don’t like it – it’s sexist.

    1. Marissa*

      But that’s the thing. I just want to be your colleague. I want to be trained like you do with the men my age. I want the same opportunities. I don’t want to be left out because you’re afraid of how to talk to me. I don’t want to watch the guy in the office next to me get invited to client events while I’m passed over because you don’t want to take a lady to an event with drinks after work. I want to be treated as a professional.

    2. Marissa*

      Also, “Mad Men era” included making passes at subordinates… just not using foul language in front of them. So, I’m much happier with the reverse.

    3. Lepidoptera*

      You can just have politeness at everyone.
      If you apologize to “ladies” for something, do the same for the “gentlemen”.
      There’s really no difference with choosing not to swear in front of women and choosing not to swear in front of men, save for the expectation that it’s “okay” to not care in front of men.
      Just make it your choice to not swear in front of anyone and the manners stay intact and the sexism goes away.

    4. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      No, proper manners aren’t swearing in front of your colleagues, of any gender, and then apologizing for saying those words in front of them. Those proper old-fashioned manners would have meant not swearing in the first place. I doubt that the sort of person who would wash your mouth out with soap for saying “shit” would have shrugged and said “that’s okay” if you said “Shit! oh, sorry, I shouldn’t have said that in front of a lady,” even if they suspected that you were using those words when they weren’t around.

      If you’re about to do something that you expect to immediately apologize for, don’t do it. Then you won’t have to apologize for swearing in front of a woman, and hope she shrugs it off instead of saying “apology accepted” the first time and “yeah, you were sorry last time too. When are you going to stop?” the second or third time. That hypothetical strict upbringing doesn’t seem to have been very effective at teaching you not to do things, only at teaching you to say “sorry, Jane” while assuming Fergus doesn’t mind hearing you swear.

  63. Wren*

    I’m imagining Letter Writer #1 throwing her hands over the ears of her male coworker in a mockery of protecting his delicate sensibilities, while saying, “I don’t give a shit about your language, but Percival is far more innocent.”

  64. sunny-dee*

    I know I’m late to the party, but it may not be a sexist thing so much as a “you don’t swear” thing. I get this in two ways — I don’t drink and I don’t swear and my (female) boss and (female) VP both drink and swear like sailors. They constantly apologize to me, usually joking or casually, but it’s simply because I don’t do those things and it seems to make them hyperaware that they do. When I had male managers, they did the same thing, with both the drinking and the swearing (even though neither both me).

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      But the difference is they know you don’t drink or swear, so it makes sense to apologize to you in that way.

      However it sounds like the VP in this situation isn’t aware one way or another and is just assuming the OP is not one that swears, which is what leads one to believe it’s sexism.

      This is one of the few sexist things I’ve had happen in my life, thankfully. I work with a lot of truckers over the years who would do the same thing, very much so in the “Don’t swear in front of women and children” old time nonsense, from back when they wouldn’t let women into bars.

    2. Anecdata*

      I was reading the comments and was surprised that more people didn’t say this! I personally don’t swear. I have worked at workplaces with entirely female higher ups, and I have been apologized to by my bosses when they swear on multiple occasions. Swearing doesn’t bother me, especially when it’s funny and justified (sometimes a client is super frustrating!) but I think I present as a bit buttoned down so people apologize to make sure I’m not offended.

      It’s certainly not a sexist thing in my case (we’re all ladies!) but it is about the way I present. I always just smile and laugh away any apology. I would suggest if the LW pre-emptively smiles, laughs, or nods sympathetically when they swear, they may stop apologizing; she may just be looking a bit solemn and they want to be sure she’s not offended.

    3. banzo_bean*

      Except OP’s managers are apologizing to her when they swear and not her colleauge who is the same age/senority as OP.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Yeah, but what I’m saying is is that the OP said she doesn’t swear, and her male colleague does, just not nearly as much as the VPs. If I’ve heard Joe drop an F-bomb, I’m not going to be that self-conscious around him, even if he only does it once in a blue moon. If I know Joan (or Jack) is a Sunday school teacher, I’d be a lot more aware of blue language.

        It could be sexist, but it also could not be. Personally, I’m really hesitant to jump to a malicious motive when there are a lot of other simple, common, innocent explanations.

  65. big X*

    #1: I do think there are sexist elements at play, basically saying “men are ok with swearing but women can’t handle it.” It’s just weird. I think Alison’s “I give not one shit if you swear” line is golden – short, sweet and to the point.

    However, just to look at it from another view: LW#1, do you present as very formal/professional? There could be an element of that at play as well – there are coworkers of mine that are very button up from the outside view that I apologize to when I let out even a “damn.” They don’t care, obviously, but I am reacting to their presence rather than anything else as I just feel super unprofessional having let it out. Not the excuse their behavior, of course.

  66. animaniactoo*

    OP#2 – before you start digging in with this co-worker, I would check with your manager and some other co-workers to make sure that it’s her and not you being not as up to speed as expected. Just a general “Jane pushes back at me a lot when I’m asking questions, and seems to think I should know the info already. I’m not sure if it’s because I really should know – am I often asking questions I shouldn’t need to be asking?” Let them help you figure out whether you’re not taking detailed enough notes, missing what information is important to include in your notes, not checking info that is in your notes, or Jane is just… Janing.

    If you’re really missing out, then take a look at what you’re doing, and work to clear it up and tell Jane “You’ve pushed back at me a lot when I ask a question and I really wish you would have talked to me privately instead of continually calling me out in front of others, I have realized that I need to do a better job of X. I am going to work on that, and going forward when I ask you for information I’m missing, I’d appreciate it if you would just answer the question. If the number of questions stays or gets too high, please let me know that as an overall thing.”

    However, if it’s just Jane being Jane, I think the answer would be something more like “If it was in my notes, I wouldn’t have asked you. It did not seem to be an important detail at the time – do you know why Jack was asked to be on the call or should I ask someone else?”

    If she pushes back at you about not taking stuff down at that point, the answer is a calm “In my experience, people always miss a little bit of stuff, no matter how long they’ve been working somewhere. It’s going to happen and I need to be able to ask you for the missing info without it being a problem that I’m asking.”

    At that point – if she won’t drop it and you can’t avoid asking her stuff, take it up with your manager and ask for help in getting it resolved, whether that’s help for what you can do, or help in having somebody else telling her to knock it the fark off.

  67. Foon*

    For #4, I’m not sure it’s actually true about train travel costing less than airline travel. I did a quick search (DC to Denver) and found flights starting at $49, the cheapest train option I found for the same date was $225.

  68. mynameisnotjane*

    For #1 – I work in a very male-dominated, blue collar environment where swearing happens fairly often and it’s not a big deal. Whenever a new guy swears in front of me then apologizes, I look him right in the eye and say in a fake-angry tone “Yeah, watch your f*cking mouth!” It always catches them off guard because I’m a petite, innocent looking middle-aged lady. And little do they know that I probably swear more often than any of the dudes in the office.

  69. Lepidoptera*

    If you think you can get away with some playfulness, my suggestion would be to bring an unwrapped bar of soap to any future meetings and casually place it on the table after he apologizes for swearing in front of you for the umpteenth time.

  70. Hermione Stranger*

    I think you’re missing a golden opportunity for arched brows and “Frankly, I don’t give a damn.”

    Depending on the relationship, obviously. YMMV.

  71. Ahoy Hoy*

    LW 4

    I too have a fear of flying, and had some travel for my job that I needed to work around. For some trips, I would lie. I felt 100% comfortable with saying “wow, in an amazing coincidence, I’m going to be near Denver on vacation and can go directly to the training!” Then I would drive, and pay for the associated costs myself, and planning for travel on the weekends whenever possible, or sometimes taking a vacation day.

    Obviously I had to weigh whether the time and expense was worth it to me. Not having to negotiate this with my boss was a big deal for me, I didn’t want to have a lot of conversations about flying and anxiety with my coworkers and my employer. I was fortunate that I was able to make it work. I felt like it was 100% worth it TO ME to not have to deal with the anxiety of flying (which for me, included anxiety attacks on the days leading up to the trip, so it had an impact beyond the actual hours in the air) or the hassle of raising this in the workplace.

    I get that secretly taking the train or driving is not helping with the actual fear itself, and people in other comments had some great suggestions for dealing with that.

    1. Sassy*

      No-can-fly OP here: Yeah, that was a thought and why I wanted other opinions. I was thinking maybe I “happen” to have a friend in [random city] nearby I was going to visit on my own between jobs and POOF I’m already in Denver, and they don’t need to know how I got there.

      I’m also starting to have just-thinking-about-flying mini-panic attacks, so we’ll see how it goes.

  72. Hanna*

    A C-level exec years ago said something similar to me, “I guess I shouldn’t talk like that around you.” and I said “I was thinking about that Sir, and I guess if that is how you normally talk you shouldn’t do it any differently when I am in the room.” He responded, ” I guess I shouldn’t talk like that around anyone.”

  73. Holy Carp*

    I’m not bothered by the occasional profanity, but I *am* bothered when it’s OK for men to swear but not for women. I had a job in a very male-centric profession, and once when we were out in the field (OK, it was the military), a major came into the ops tent, cursing a blue streak. The colonel didn’t bat an eye. Later I (a woman) made a heated comment about an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver and referred to the offender as an a**hole. The colonel sputtered, “Captain HolyCarp! Language, please!”

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      I hate that. I deal with it now, in academia. My gut response is “Why is it ok for a guy to curse like a sailor, and not me? Double standard much?” But it really burns my jets – do I need to change my gender to be taken seriously?

    2. Milton’s Red Swingline*

      Well, ”it is not seemingly” as they would say. A few generations and nobody bats an eye.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      Yes, I’ve been in the workplace a long time and if you swear, especially the F-bomb words, as a female your punishment will be more swift and severe.
      Usually it’s the women who report you too, but they won’t say boo to the men. It’s a sucky double standard that reinforces the sexism.

      I’ve been reprimanded because someone overheard me on my cell phone on a private call with my door closed for saying “What the F” even though I just said F not f@*k

  74. Jay*

    Scene: mid-1980s in the resident’s lounge. I was a med student and the only woman in the room. We were watching a “Miami Vice” episode where one of the heroes is betrayed by a prostitute.

    Surgical resident: Just goes to show you’ve got be pretty f***ing careful.

    All eyes swivel to me and one of the other guys pokes him and makes a face.

    Me: Or pretty carefuly f***ing.

    The rest of the month was much more comfortable.

  75. Karyn*

    I worked for general counsel at a company while I was in law school, and he had a very colorful personal dictionary, let’s put it that way. When I first started, he let a f-bomb drop, and then quickly looked up and went, “Oh shit, sorry!” And then slapped his forehead for saying shit, lol. I looked at him dead in the eye and said, “My father was in the army.” After that, he knew almost nothing he could say would offend me. HR, on the other hand (whose office was right across from his) would frequently be heard groaning…

  76. TrekMyStars*

    OP1: People apologize for cussing in front of me all the time. I guess I come off as innocent (or so I have been told). I have never done this at work but my favorite way to address this is to go “I don’t give a fuck.”

  77. theletter*

    #2, This is going to sound rather pessimistic: I have a coworker that I feel compelled to quiz. This person often seems more than a little behind in a job that requires a lot of troubleshooting. They also seem to be unaware of the reputation they’ve gained for being lost/bewildered in tasks that they should be able to accomplish by now without so much hand-holding. This person will sometimes ask questions at inappropriate times, or basic questions about a project that completed last year, where they attended every meeting. I get a lot of “OOOOOh” of realization when I need full attention! They’ve been in this job for a little more than a year. I continue to try to work with this person. I still think there’s potential.

    So that’s the pessimistic answer.

    More optimistic answers are: your quizzer does this to everyone, or to everyone who is new. Your quizzer is frustrated with some aspects of the questions that have nothing to do with you. The quizzer doesn’t know the answer and is trying to hide it. The quizzer is just obnoxious when they have the answer.

    I think it will be worth it to use Allison’s script to get to the bottom of the quizzer’s thinking on this. Perhaps there is an email thread that you didn’t get included on by accident, or some context was missed in training. Maybe th