our new coworker is obsessed with age and says we’re all old

A reader writes:

A new person, Simon, started at our office recently. On his first day, Simon went around to different cubicles (not sure if he was being introduced around by another coworker or just wandering on his own) and asked people how old they are. On his first day at a professional office. He followed this up by saying, “Oh my God, you guys are all SO OLD!”

This is offensive no matter what, but just to make it extra crazy, no one he met is over 35!

I wasn’t there on his first day, but I am going to be responsible for training him on part of his job and overseeing that aspect of his work on an ongoing basis (although I am not his overall manager). It’s stressing me out to think about meeting him soon and having him bring up my age! I have no problem telling him he is being rude if he makes comments to me about people at our office being “old” (I’m in my 30s, for the record), but what should I say when he asks me how old I am? I don’t want to answer, on the principle that he should understand this is a completely inappropriate question to ask strangers at work, but I also don’t want to make my working relationship with him awkward right from the start. Based on other things I’ve heard about him, I have a feeling if I say something like “Why do you ask?” he’ll say “Just curious,” and if I say that’s odd, he’ll ask why or argue that it’s not. What would you advise as a tactful response?

As background, I think he is around 23 or 24. I know he has finished a master’s degree because in those same conversations, he was also asking the “old” others if they have a master’s and pointing out how he himself is so young and already has his. So he is not fresh out of undergrad, and based on his resume, he has worked in at least one other professional environment.

Simon and all of the people whose age he questioned all have the same position and title — they are all assistants. The position requires a research background and some pretty specific experience, so it’s not 100% entry level, but you could say it’s the “basic” level within the field. The job does tend toward people more in their 20s/30s generally and is sometimes a first job for people after college, but there are also people in our office with that title who are in their 50s and 60s. The person he is replacing was in their 50s!

That’s so weird. And rude! And immature. Ironically, being this focused on age is a sure-fire way of signaling “I am young and not very experienced in the world.”

If Simon asks you how old you are, you could say, “I was told you were asking everyone here that. That’s a very unusual thing to be so focused on — is there a reason you’re so interested in it?” Unless his answer is something like “my separated-at-birth twin works here and age is the only way I can identify her,” then you should say, “I know you’re earlier in your career and may not realize this, but being so focused on age will come across as strangely unprofessional. We have people of all different ages here and we relate to each other as colleagues, not ‘younger’ or ‘older.’ It’s best for you to do that too so you don’t seem like you’ll struggle with building the kinds of relationships you’ll need to build.”

You should also fill in Simon’s manager on what you’ve heard. He’s being so rude and strange that his manager really needs to be in the loop on it — both because she may want to address it herself and in case she spots other problems (which may be part of an overall part of unprofessionalism or rudeness). You’d have standing to alert her regardless, but you have particular standing — and really something of an obligation — since you’re partially overseeing his work.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 572 comments… read them below }

    1. KayDeeAye (a.k.a. Kathleen_A)*

      I find it very difficult to believe that this is an entirely innocent mistake. Ten-year-olds or even 16-year-olds can be forgiven for thinking and even saying that somebody is “old,” but this guy has to know that (1) he’s not that much younger than some of these folks, and (2) Making a personal comment that would be considered insulting by many is rude rude rude rude.

      I have no idea why he’s doing it, unless he’s just a jerk, but I highly doubt he’s doing it because he doesn’t know better.

      1. GreenDoor*

        I’m wondering if he sees the workplace as the place to find friends or even dates and doesn’t see himself “hanging” with anyone in their 30’s? If that’s where this is coming from, he really needs some schooling….

        1. Kitty Cathleen*

          I wondered the same thing. I’ve known a lot of younger coworkers who look for the office to also be the source of their social life. It’s something I was guilty of in my early 20s, too. Thank goodness for learning boundaries!

          1. Close Bracket*

            That’s part of what people get from the workplace for teenagers and some people in their 20s. Heck, even middle aged people get a sense of belonging and connection from the workplace — even if we are there to work, we can’t ignore that part of what people get from work. It’s not something that anyone is “guilty” of, it’s just something that a lot of people do. As people transition to adulthood, work takes on a different role in their life. Simon needs to figure this out, and apparently he needs some coaching to do so.

            1. the oracle of scottsdale*

              I’m in my late 30s and definitely want a sense of belonging/friendshio/hanging out in my workplace. Please stop stereotyping this as “first job out of college” thing.

              1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

                But you’re not going around the office as a brand-new team member, screening everyone as a potential buddy based on age, are you? Simon is beyond childish.

            2. SarahTheEntwife*

              Plenty of older people have work friendships, too. One thing I especially appreciate about socializing at work is that I get more intergenerational socializing instead of just hanging out with people I’d more automatically flag as being potentially “my people”.

              1. Elemeno P.*

                Yes! I’m in the “so old” range of my 30s, but I love talking to my coworkers of different ages. My older coworkers can share life experiences I have not yet had, and my younger coworkers keep me informed of what The Youths are into. We all have common ground!

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Right? Seriously he isn’t the only one to ever accomplish that. Others (::raises hand::) have done likewise and interestingly enough never felt the need to point it out to all and sundry.

            1. SusanIvanova*

              I’ve known people with PhDs at that age! Granted, they were British, where you can skip the Masters.

            2. Alli525*

              Seriously! I finished undergrad in 2008, and due to the financial crisis, an incredible number of my peers (who are now in our early/mid-30s) went straight into master’s or PhD programs just to ride out the storm.

          2. Tachy IT Lady*

            It makes me wonder if he’s going around shaming people for not having degrees either. There are plenty of folks who have years of work experience yet no degree. That’s one area that really turns me off about “Mr. I have a Master’s and a PhD” is their focus on education rather than the intellect and experience of an individual.

        2. CatMom*

          This rings fairly true to me. The company I work for has been expanding a lot recently, leading to us hiring a lot of new grads recently. Without fail the 21-23-year-olds (men, usually) will home in on me, I think because I look a good bit younger than I am, and try to talk/flirt/otherwise monopolize my time. When they realize I’ve been with the company for almost 10 years, I watch them do the math and quickly skitter off. They really ought to know better, but apparently they don’t!

          1. HotSauce*

            And this is the point their mentors should be teaching them about keeping things professional between peers, regardless of age.

      2. LadyL*

        I know someone just like this (like, for real, is this a letter about that guy from my program I hated?) and in that guy’s case it was just extreme insecurity covered up by impressive displays of narcissism. It was really important to him to remind us all how amazing it was that he was sooo much younger than us but so much more advanced! He couldn’t believe he had his degree so young when the rest of us were so old! He also would do no work on group projects then try to claim successful ideas as his own, was condescending just generally speaking, would hold grudges against anyone who ever disagreed with him on anything, and often tried to provoke reactions out of people in class (he thought he was being very subtle, but it was very clear what was going on).

        This all to say to the LW: good luck. I hope your Simon is just awkward and immature, and can be coached out of this. Be on the lookout for other examples of him not being great at working well with others though, to be ready to nip all that in the bud.

        1. Nom the Plumage*

          Ugh. People who brag about getting their degrees early need to be reminded that some of us worked our way through college (and are therefore more experienced).

          1. Fiddlesticks*

            Yep. I had my BA at 19 and my MS at 21. Thirty years later, I can look back and say with absolute certainty that all this meant was (1) I was lucky to have a family that could and did finance my education, and (2) I was very good at school from an early age and not so good at Real Life. (I was in my late 30s before I felt like I had my act together in a regular job that required me to live in the real world and interact daily with ordinary people.)

            1. valentine*

              in that guy’s case it was just extreme insecurity covered up by impressive displays of narcissism.
              I’m thinking everyone can be spared with a simple change to his cubicle that will keep OP’s colleague focused: mirror walls.

            2. call centre bee*

              @Fiddlesticks As someone in their early-mid thirties, I’m so reassured to hear it can still happen later.

          2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            Or were resuming students, starting or finishing college after years in the full-time workforce.

          3. aebhel*

            Yeah, I didn’t finish my Masters until I was 27 because I had to work full-time. In the field where I eventually ended up getting a professional job, for that matter.

        2. Jake*

          My best friends fiance is similar. She’s always trying to build herself up to make up for her lacking self esteem.

          This sounds just like something she’d do.

          In personal life, the easiest way to make her stop is to just say I don’t care about degrees and age, what have you actually accomplished?

          You can’t do that to a coworker though.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Hmm…. but Simon is junior to OP and she will be training him. Maybe it’s not so out of line.
            Simon: “How old are you?”
            OP: “That is an inappropriate question to ask at a workplace. I have six years managing teapot development and have 3 patents pending. More to the point, I am here to train you. The assignment is technical skills, but I am also more familiar with professional standards for interpersonal skills. For now, show me how far you got on this morning’s handle attachment task.”

          2. M Bananas*

            Advanced degrees are an accomplishment though. Please don’t minimize the work that goes into them, just because your friend’s fiancée is using her degree as a crutch.

            Exhausted grad student working on a Matsers

            1. Effective Immediately*

              Yeah, I dunno. Not to be a jerk or anything, but degrees (even graduate degrees) can vary wildly in terms of value. I have a boss who has a Master’s from a fairly prestigious school and he can’t manage his way out of a paper bag. But then I also know brilliant people with the same degree. But then I also know brilliant people who have no degree at all. I’d say the biggest difference between degree-havers and those without them isn’t intelligence or skill: it’s socio-economics.

              Granted, I’m pretty cynical about higher ed, having graduated into the recession and seeing the damage wrought by the singleminded pursuit of advanced degrees. It’s not that they aren’t work–they are!–but many, many people try to use them as a ‘pass go, collect $200’ into high level roles that they don’t actually have the skills or experience to do well in. I think, in terms of the bigger picture, a lot of the time the only thing a possession of a degree tells you about a person is that they had the means to get one.

              1. M Bananas*

                Like you said, advanced degrees are certainly markers of certain economic circumstances, or opportunities, though you have zero knowledge how a person actualy paid for their degree (I worked my way throughout both undergrad and my current grad degree, yet also leaned on both parents and partner – and I’m not even in the US).

                Advanced degrees are also not a definitive marker for intelligence, like you said, many brilliant people don’t have degrees, many do. They are also not necessarily a marker that one has the ability to manage other people, they are a marker that their holder has acquired certain skills and expertise. Not all people who work on a degree are considerate people (and conversly not all people who have degrees are cocky and entitled a-holes).

                Advanced degrees are by no means necessary, or recommended, for all career paths.

                They are, however, markers of time, energy, investment and creativity put into them on behalf of their earners, or put another way, an accomplishment.

                Downplaying the effort put into degrees like that implys, on the whole, that the work put into them is worthless, and that, in the bigger picture, education at a higher level is worthless, and that is absolutley insulting.

                What I’m asking is for people not to confuse their reaction to other people’s crappy behaviour with the worth of a degree and the work it requires.

                There’s a lot of value in pointing out the way the current social construction positions higher education as a form of privilege and connects it inextricably to the working world, but that doesn’t make it okay to denigrate other people’s hard work.

        3. Venus*

          I had someone like this – obsessed with age – at a workplace 15 years ago. I’m almost positive it was insecurity. She had some idea that it wasn’t appropriate, as occasionally people would respond to questions with “That’s not appropriate”, yet she kept asking. There were also inappropriate questions and comments on other topics, but otherwise she was a smart, hard-working colleague.

          At some point she matured and stopped asking, and seemed to acquire some empathy, as she is now a good colleague.

        4. LabTechNoMore*

          I worked with this guy too, only he went on about “experience” and how old he was… and how I must not know what I’m talking about being the youngest person in the office (late 20’s v. 50+). The issue wasn’t much of a thing until he managed to work the topic of age differences into every conversation (and race! For more fun.)

      3. Treats for Shelby*

        Right, and also – what did he expect? A workplace made entirely of people in their early 20s? And if he did – why would he have those expectations?

          1. One of the Sarahs*

            It’s weird thinking you can only be friends with people the same age though – I’m in my 40s, and my best work friends from my last job were 24 (we bonded over bananagram lunch) and I’ve had all-age workfriends all my career.

            1. Pennalynn Lott*

              Co-signing on this. I just graduated with my Master’s in May and I’m 53. Most of my friends from school are in their 20’s and early 30’s. And we’re actually text-each-day, go-to-brunch-every-weekend friends, not just I-had-a-bunch-of-classes-with-you friends.

              On the other end of the spectrum, my best friend of 20 years is 69.

      4. EddieSherbert*

        I actually thought maybe he’s doing it be funny? Somehow? That’s all I got for the “wow, you’re all SOO old!” comments. No idea why he’s asking ages in the first place.

        At my first office job, I had a coworker who made a big “show” of being the youngest because they thought it was funny. Many coworkers played along and the Youngster was the butt of a lot of age jokes (which they loved) such as “do you even know what a walkman is?” or “Have you ever heard of Movie?” and they’d be like “NOPE!” and everyone would call them a baby and laugh.

        …. spoiler alert: I was 2 years younger than that coworker. Never mentioned it or engaged in the “have you ever… because you’re SO young” game. I worked there for over a year.

        1. Anax*

          When I first entered the workforce, I definitely leaned a little on being “the baby”. Because I was nervous about professional norms and skills, I fell back on a comfortable “younger sibling” role to excuse my inexperience and avoid getting in “trouble”.

          I’ve realized since then that that job lacked regular, detailed feedback, so I was never quite sure how my performance measured up – and therefore, I had trouble building confidence in my role.

          The management was also very hands-off, so it took me a while to really find my footing; I wish I’d had a little more mentorship and structure, fresh out of college.

          Definitely makes me cringe now, though. Aughhhh.

      5. Workallday*

        I worked with someone who, for the record, wasn’t that young (late 30s), that constantly, from the day he met me, made rude comments about my age. For example, he would say something like “don’t break a hip, grandma”. Yes, I’m in my early 50s, but don’t look or dress old or dowdy or have gray hair, I didn’t understand why he targeted me like that from day one. It was so bizarre. I was so glad when he decided to move on.

    2. 2ManyBugs*

      I know the letter says he’s had at least one professional experience before – but I wonder if he really has, or if that ‘experience’ was something that was a huge part of his grad program. I see this attitude in people who’ve never left a single-track school; ie, they’ve been surrounded by people within 18 months of their age group for *their entire lives* and have never spent any meaningful time with people outside of that.

      It creates some weird-ass attitudes, for sure.

      1. A*

        I had the same thought. Or maybe the experience was as an intern, where he went in with the expectation of being ‘sooooo much younger’ than everyone else. Now that they are all on the same level, somehow it’s surprising?

        Either that or he thinks that humble (maybe not-so-humble) bragging about his masters will give him a leg up? So strange!

        1. Emily K*

          23/24 isn’t even that young for a masters. In the US it’s a 2-year degree following a 4-year degree, so if you graduate high school at 18 and plow straight through all 6 years, which is not uncommon, you’ll have your MA by 24. In the UK, a bachelor’s is a 3-year degree putting you ready to go into a masters program at 21, and there are a lot of accelerated programs in the US that award a simultaneous BA and MA after 5 years of study. A masters at 24 shows they were focused and diligent in their studies but doesn’t rise to the level of something you’d brag about IMO.

          That combined with the general culture of rabid ambition in many graduate programs does make me think that the “you’re so old!” is less about him thinking himself some kind of prodigy and more about him looking down on the colleagues for not having advanced any further and not understanding why anyone wouldn’t be pursuing advancement as aggressively as he has. Like he’s the “normal” and they’re “behind” instead of they’re normal and he’s advanced.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            And some places in the US have dual BA/MBA programs (or BS/MBA), and many of those are only five years long – the one at my University was anyway.

          2. Librarian1*

            Right. The other thing it shows is that the person knew what they wanted to do right after their undergrad.

          3. Genny*

            And to make it even weirder, it’s not like there’s some prize for graduating with a degree sooner than everyone else. A friend of mine started college at 16 and then went straight for a JD. He was probably the youngest (or nearly youngest) in his law class. They all graduated with the same law degree. His degree wasn’t any more “real” or special just because of his age.

          4. teclatrans*

            I think OP was guessing at his age, based on a reasonable age for someone with a master’s degree. He might be only 21 or something, and trying to prompt people to ask how young he is (and then coo and squeal over how Young and Precocious he is).

          5. only acting normal*

            Also the integrated masters 4 year option instead of a 3 year bachelors in the UK: straight from school through to an MPhys/MEng or similar by 21 or 22 is fairly ordinary here.

            1. Helena*

              Even if you do a separate MA/MSc in the UK, most of them are only a year long so most people will be graduated by age 22.

      2. fposte*

        I think that’s pretty common, though; it’s just that most people negotiate the transition more quietly. Age tracking dominates your life for the first 18 years at least, and it can take a while to let that go.

        But once you’re an adult you really can’t sound like you’ve discovered you’re the only fifth grader on a seventh-grade field trip and get any decent respect.

        1. Bee*

          Yikes, yes: I spent all my time between 22 and 25 studiously avoiding any mention of my age because I was afraid no one would trust me with serious work!

          1. Consulting Consultant*

            I worked for a company that has a reputation for hiring directly out of college so they can train their employees in the Way. They actively coached us on not mentioning anything to our clients that would emphasize our youth for this exact reason, even though it wasn’t exactly a secret that almost everyone was 22-25.

          2. aebhel*

            I think in some ways I lucked out by having a bunch of weird random part time jobs through most of my 20’s; by the time I had a career-track job, I was 28 and old enough to act like a grownup about it.

    3. lecturer smecturer*

      I did this a few times when I was younger, but in social situations rather than professional. I was dating an older guy and secretly loved brining up how much younger I was than he and his friends. I cringe looking back on it..ugh. It was just an ego thing.

  1. CatCat*

    Oof, Simon, no. Not a good thing that you need to start repairing your reputation on day 2 because of your behavior on day 1.

  2. Cobol*

    Giving him the benefit of the doubt, he just may not know it’s rude. Especially given his age. I would be understanding and say you don’t think he means anything by it, but that’s not a question that should be asked on the workplace.

    1. NoviceManagerGuy*

      Millions of 24-year-olds are successfully operating in professional environments without doing anything like this.

      1. Cobol*

        Just because millions are doesn’t mean one isn’t. To me it’s the most logical answer. Some people have no common sense.

        1. NoviceManagerGuy*

          Sure – the problem is that he has no common sense. I imagine he’ll be like this at 34 too.

          1. Not Sayin'*

            Can’t speak for everyone, but I said some pretty clueless things at that age that, thank heavens, I’ve outgrown. Everybody starts out having to learn some things.

          2. Close Bracket*

            If his manager or more experienced peers coach him on this now, he won’t be like this at age 34.

          3. LizzE*

            Agreed. Age-obsessed people often carry that obsession throughout their lifetime. It is a personal insecurity that they like to project on others, regardless of their age.

        2. China Beech*

          The logical answer is he is an arrogant person based on his braggy “I got my advanced degree and I am younger than you.” There’s no way he doesn’t know this is rude.

          1. Close Bracket*

            That’s a lot of projection. There are many possible motivations, why move right to the judgey one?

            1. Jadelyn*

              I mean, I’m not entirely sure that pointing out one’s advanced degree in the same breath as one’s younger age can be interpreted as anything *but* braggy. There’s no other reason I can think of to connect those two facts specifically the way this guy seems to be doing.

        3. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          Or manners! Since he’s SOOOO young, maybe the solution is to send a note home for his mama to sign and send back. :)

    2. KayDeeAye (a.k.a. Kathleen_A)*

      I find that very, very, very difficult to believe. He’s 24, not 14, and he has a graduate degree, which means he has to have at least pretended to be polite to lots of people a lot older than mid-30s.

      1. Cobol*

        That does he have to gain? Getting through school doesn’t mean he’s not completely oblivious to social norms. Almost everybody knows better, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t.

        1. Kramerica Industries*

          What does he have to gain? I have a feeling that if he prides himself on finishing his Master’s at a young age, this is some weird dominance assertion where he wants people to feel like he’s more accomplished than they are, especially for their age.

          1. Cobol*

            Right, but at the cost of everybody at his job not liking him. That theory is definitely not impossible, I just think it’s less likely.

            1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

              A lot of people flex on their coworkers because feeling superior is more important to them than being liked. So many people have nightmare coworker stories for this reason. I find it way more likely that he’s trying to position himself as the wunderkind for ego reasons than that he genuinely doesn’t know that what he’s asking is rude. Most people know that asking a grownup’s age is rude before they hit the double digits. It’s also an oddly specific choice of subject to keep harping on unless he’s getting something out of it.

              Mind, I don’t think he’s asking because he actively wants to offend people. I think he’s ignoring the rudeness of the question because he’s more worried about his ego or insecurity or whatever other baggage he’s got. If he’s gently made aware that he’s coming across as off-putting and naive, he’s likely to back down and will almost certainly look back on it in a few years and cringe.

              1. Fortitude Jones*

                Agreed with all of this. I’ve had humble bragging coworkers like this before, so I laughed when reading this. Those types get slapped back down to earth real quick – give it time.

              2. tangerineRose*

                Yep. Let him know he sounds like a 5 year old with these questions and when he does it, it’s not sort of adorable at all.

            1. bleh*

              Ding ding. Had a colleague who was straight-thorougher (ugrad, MA, PhD), got her first TT job in her twenties, and never missed an opportunity to mention how new and / or young she was. Of course, for a woman, this behavior has other implications, suggesting her fecundity or hip cool vibe or teh hotness or something, as well as her brilliance for not doing anything else but school ever – I mean finishing at a young age.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            But… it’s not a young age. He’s the standard “I’ve done nothin’ but school” age. It’s not like he’s 17.

        2. Perpal*

          plenty of people behave badly without obvious benefit to themselves.
          IDK, it’s worth one (ONE) blunt statement of “doing X is rude” but if they persist and or argue about why it shouldn’t be rude then they are a jerk. Someone who is just clueless will take the clue.

      2. Doug Judy*

        Right. I’m in my late 30’s and my 13 year old doesn’t think I’m old, and certainly knows not to comment on people’s ages.

        This guy just sounds like one of those guys who thinks they’ll be 23 forever.

        1. Mellow Yellow*

          I agree. And before he knows it time will pass him by and someone years later will make the same sort of oldie comments to him.

      3. Oh So Anon*

        It’s not unusual for 24 year olds who’ve never really been out of school to have only really been in a bubble of peers, and academia sometimes doesn’t hold people that age accountable for acting like adults. He’s certainly not the norm, but I can see how someone in his situation may have never received corrective feedback.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          He may not have, but he is an adult. His behavior is what it it is and the consequences will be whatever they will be because the world doesn’t take that shit forever.

          I have a nephew who when he was 21-ish came at me with an attitude just one time too many. I slapped him back over into his lane (metaphorically) and my mother tried to get in the middle of it and mitigate because he was so youuunnngggg.

          I wasn’t having it. He wants to be an adult then he needs to see how other adults, when disrespected will react…and in my nephew’s case be very, very grateful that it was me slapping him down and not some stranger on the street. <— A possibility since he had said attitude with everyone. Said nephew is now 36 and not an asshole anymore. He started changing the day of the slapping down.

          This is a long way of saying that maybe OP’s coworker will just have to suffer whatever happens, whether he is intentionally rude or ignorant/unaware of it…whatever and whether or not he every learned/was taught how to not be a jerk. Others are aware and do not like it. He’s going to do it to the wrong person and then he will learn.

          I see no reason OP can’t be that person…if she wants to be. If I were OP though I would certainly make no bones about the fact that the isn’t allowed to act like that with me!

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Depends on the academy. My kids are this age range, and this would be freakish behavior from their friends.

    3. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

      Yeah, this is probably the first time in his life where he’s colleagues with people in such a wide range of ages. This was a jarring transition for me when I first started working (and still can be even years later) but his way of fixating on it is quite unusual for sure.

      1. Myrin*

        The “fixating” is exactly it – it’s not really considered rude to ask someone their age where I am, even in the workplace, but it’s the strange procedure of asking everyone one after another (!) on a first day (!!) and then making some kind of derisive comment about it (!!!).

        1. Alianora*

          Exactly. I just turned 24. The next youngest people in my office are in their early 30s. It took a little getting used to but I would never have gone around asking people how old they are. And it’s also really weird that he thinks mid-30s is old.

      2. Cobol*

        It’s absolutely not normal, or acceptable. You could speculate endlessly on why he does it, but clearly he’s in the .oo1% somewhere.

      3. Pommette!*

        Yeah, I remember being surprised when I first found myself in an environment where my coworkers and peers were “real adults”, many of them “old” by my then-standards.

        Growing up, most of my interactions with older people were asymmetrical. My friends were all my age; the older people I interacted with were teachers, or relatives, or friends’ parents. I’d worked through school, but always in jobs where my colleagues were all students, and where the only older people were supervisors with whom I had very formal and distant interactions. Older people were carers or authority figures to me; never peers.

        I remember being 19 and sitting in the break room at my new job, realizing that I was having a fun and relaxed conversation with a forty-something colleague, the same way that I would with another 19-year old. Whoooaa! I also remember getting to know colleagues as people and seeing that they were still figuring things out, for better or worst, even though they were long-time adults. Whooaaaa again!

        Anyways, all that to say that the transition was jarring for me, too, so I get where Simon may be coming from. Working with “old” people felt like a momentous change. Like a first step in becoming an adult – and eventually even an old person – myself! That said, while I am bereft of social graces, I still knew not to make an awkward fuss about it, and not to ask about or comment on other people’s ages.

      4. JoJo*

        Honestly, it’s really only because I did a few summer internships that I wasn’t totally gobsmacked when I started my professional career. I was used to all-student operations, etc. I mean it sounds stupid in hindsight; it’s not that I was stupid, I was just inexperienced.

      5. Liz*

        My first job out of college, I had no clue how old anyone was. While I never said anything to anyone, or asked, I couldn’t fathom anyone being older than early 30s, but as I got to know people, and found out about their families, kids and even grandkids, i realized that yeah, there are people of ALL ages working here. I was so used to being around my peers in college, and really the only “adults” i spent much time with, aside from my parents were my friend’s parents, professors, and empoyers, all of whom had some kind of “authority” over me, for lack of a better word.

        So it was a bit of an adjustment working with people old enough to be my parents, on an equal level.

    4. pleaset*

      “Oh my God, you guys are all SO OLD!”

      “Oh my God, you are so clueless!”

      Really, I think somewhere between 14 and 20 people learn not to fixate on age like that. And also not to consider people 10 yeas older particular old.

      At least in my context (upper middle class, NE United States).

      He’s a dope. So yeah, he might not know it’s rude. He’s just a dope.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I met someone in my partner’s PhD cohort and told her some minor story about my life. She stopped short and said, “Waaaiiit… how OLD are you guys?” It was an indication of some general cluelessness, and yeah, there were a lot of things that she didn’t think were rude but absolutely were.

      2. Elizabeth R Dickson*

        Ahaha I would totally tell him to his face that he is a clueless child and needs to get over it, like, immediately. There’s no excuse for this, at all. I mean, I knew how not to ask about age at 12, unless it was relevant, and that only happened if I had to write it down for a school project.

        1. Washi*

          Yeah, I probably play along with it and start earnestly calling him a whippersnapper, young grasshopper, etc.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Eh, I feel like he’d take that as encouragement. If you want to go this route and have it work, you gotta break out the baby-talk, crayons, coloring books, maybe a tonka truck and some ABC blocks…get real patronizing with it and he’ll probably stop.*

            *don’t actually do this. It’s tempting to imagine doing it, but mostly it would just put him on the defensive and make you look like the asshole.

          2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            Ehhh, what’s that you said, sonny? A little hard of hearing now that I’m so old–comes from years of blasting the Rolling Stones (those old guys) on my 8-track and Walkman. Y’know, there hasn’t been any real music since Sgt. Pepper.

      3. littleandsmall*

        Yeah, I figured out somewhere around adolescence that it was not polite to outright ask adults how they old they are (at least without having a relevant reason for doing so), so I’m side-eyeing people who are using his age as an justification.

      4. Shell*

        A little off-topic here, but my older sister does this, only in reverse. She’ll say something to me about somebody who is 58 or whatever, and say, “Oh, I bet that sounds really OLD to you, doesn’t it?”

        I’m 50. So, no, 58 doesn’t sound unthinkably old! I have no idea why she does this, and it makes me nuts.

    5. LawBee*

      He’s 24. His actions wouldn’t be cool in most situations, so there’s not really a lot of doubt to give him.

      1. Cobol*

        It’s not cool in any situation. That’s not the point. Either he came into work and is trying to assert dominance in a way that will sabotage him from day 1, or he is amazingly clueless.

        The later makes more sense to me.

        1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          Why choose between the two? Maybe it’s because of the industry in which I work, but I have seen this type of behavior too many times. It usually comes from someone who has that endearing combination of being both arrogant and socially obtuse. The underlying message is “I may not be cool, but I am sooooooo much smarter/better/successful than you, so there!”

          1. Nessun*

            I’d buy the clueless scenario more if he hadn’t doubled down – once one person asked why he was asking, or reacted with confusion or annoyance at the question, he should have stopped and thought about why he was being asked about his question. (I’m basing this on the assumption that at least one person must have shown that on their face when he asked, which seems reasonable.) To not examine something he’s asking, in the face of people being (at the very least) surprised and possibly upset to be asked, is the part that makes me think he’s consciously chosen to be rude/obnoxious.

        2. Scarlet2*

          I could see cluelessness if it was just about asking everyone’s age. But if you really don’t know that telling anyone “omg you’re so OLD” is rude by the time you’re 24, you were probably raised by wolves. Paired with the bragging about his degree, there’s a 99.9999% chance he’s being a jerk.

          But it doesn’t really matter anyway, because the solution is the same: telling him to cut the crap already.

    6. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I would buy that if he asked out of curiosity. Like the questions here from people whose culture allows/expects one to ask, “how much did you pay for that?”
      Those people ask because they are curious. They don’t turn it into “OMG, you paid WHAT?”
      He wanted to confirm that he’s the new Wunderkind and let everyone know.

      1. Doug Judy*

        Or if it was someone’s birthday, it’s not that unusual to ask how old someone is turning, but then you just say “Happy Birthday” not “Wow, that’s old”

      2. Cobol*

        It’s such a self sabotaging thing though. Unless there’s praise of how amazing he is from above, which OP doesn’t mention, Occam’s Razor for me is he doesn’t know better.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          My experience was obtuseness mixed with ego. She didn’t so much not know better, but rather she knew she WAS better. She went to the well one too many times with this crap. Sent an email to a peer stating how this person’s incompetence was the reason she (Wunderkind) was home with a migraine, and that she and everyone else in the group better get their act together.
          She transferred departments as soon as possible, after HR got involved with her insanity.

      3. littleandsmall*

        _He wanted to confirm that he’s the new Wunderkind and let everyone know._

        This is my read on the situation.

        1. Mama Bear*

          Same. And I’d tell him his question was rude and I wasn’t answering that and get right back to the work at hand.

      4. Elbe*

        Agreed. He thinks that his accomplishments are really unusual for his age (they’re not) and he wants to make sure everyone knows so that they can be as impressed with him as he is with himself.

        I would love it if the office grouch would make some ultra sarcastic comment about how a master’s at 24 is SO RARE and then refer to him as Doogie Howser from then on. Bonus points if he doesn’t get the reference.

    7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think it would help for someone to tell him very bluntly that he’s behaving inappropriately and in a manner that can be perceived as discriminatory.

      I will note, however, that I’m disinclined to give him leeway based on his age. It’s entirely possible he’s very sheltered and never had anyone tell him he’s behaving inappropriately, or this may be a manifestation of his own feelings of insecurity regarding his competence or experience. But that’s not a great excuse if you’re 23/24. It may help OP to think of the interaction that way because it may help OP shift into a compassionate brain space when addressing Simon (the whole “assume good intent” framework). But based on my own judgmental nature, I’m very skeptical that this explains his bad behavior.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s entirely possible he’s very sheltered.
        Agreed, all the more reason to start body slamming through the school of hard knocks. Some actions have negative consequences for you, which are unpleasant, which is how you learn not to do them again.

    8. MsClaw*

      I have a younger coworker (not this young, so even less excuse) who often exhibits a total lack of knowledge of workplace norms. One is that she was put on a group that skews ‘older’ (35+) and makes every disagreement, or difference in upbringing, or taste in food about age. I’m not sure what liking pistachios has to do with your birth decade, but with her *everything* is about your age. She absolutely asked everyone their age within the first week; I had worked with most of these people for 5-7 years and while I had an idea of their ages based on conversational clues, I did not know or care what their exact ages were. At one point, she asked me about another colleague’s age and I told her that I didn’t know and that I didn’t consider the information relevant.

      I would totally vote for telling this guy that this is not an appropriate question to ask people when first meeting them. This may be his first job working in a group where people’s ages vary widely and he may genuinely not understand what an odd and intrusive question this is to ask.

    9. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I’m sorry, but there is no context in which asking people their age and responding with “You’re so old” would not be considered rude, and if he truly doesn’t know this, he is 100% clueless in life. I expect my 14 year old to tell me at 45 that I’m old, but at his age he should know better.

    10. BigLo*

      Nah I think he knows he’s being rude. My take on this is that he expected all of the assistants to be very young like him and fresh out of school. When he learned they were older and some of them *gasp* didn’t even have a masters degree, he started feeling (very unreasonably) like he was overqualified for the position and such a self-proclaimed prodigy. I’d guess he’s going to be difficult to train if he feels he’s already above everyone else.

    11. Kim*

      Telling people they are “so old” is very rude. He knows it’s rude. And if he doesn’t, he needs to be taught some manners.

      1. Cobol*

        I’m not just responding to you with this, but tell him he’s being rude. I’m honestly agahst at all the people leaping to the conclusion that this guy must be some sort of horrible, antisocial, diobolical, mastermind.
        The argument that most people do x doesn’t hold weight for me. I don’t care what are they are (and 24 just out of school is young).

        Two common themes on AAM are 1) people not knowing norms (all the gumption kids, people with non-normative social situations, etc..) and 2) people thinking they said something to somebody when they actually hinted/indicated it.

        OP should definitely talk to his manager and let Simon know it is NOT OKAY. If he persists that’s another story, but right now I don’t know why you would jump to assuming the worst.

        1. Scarlet2*

          “I’m honestly agahst at all the people leaping to the conclusion that this guy must be some sort of horrible, antisocial, diobolical, mastermind”

          I… don’t see anyone doing that. I see a lot of people calling him a jerk with a bloated ego, but those types of people are a dime a dozen. They’re certainly not “diabolical”, they’re just boring, run-of-the-mill arrogant a-holes. (And one thing he certainly ISN’T is a “mastermind”, even though he seems very impressed by his own intellect).

          And whether he’s a jerk or he was raised in a cave away from human interactions doesn’t change the solution anyway, which is to tell him he’s being rude and he needs to stop.

        2. LawBee*

          “I’m honestly agahst at all the people leaping to the conclusion that this guy must be some sort of horrible, antisocial, diobolical, mastermind.”

          Who is doing that? At most, people think he’s rude (which if he isn’t inherently, he’s acting it) and pretty full of himself for a weird reason. I find it odd that you’re arguing the why about this so much when your advice is the same as Alison’s and everyone else’s – tell the dude to cut it out.

    12. Samwise*

      Most American teenagers know that it’s rude to ask people their age and that it’s even ruder to call people old. Simon gets no slack for not knowing that. Maybe he thinks it’s funny.

    13. hbc*

      He has had 24 years on this planet to observe that people don’t go around introducing themselves with their ages. He might not know that it’s rude, but if he needs overt instruction on something that basic, I’d be very concerned about what other norms he managed not to absorb. I’m sure no one told him that he couldn’t borrow a coworkers car without permission, or bring his SO to meetings, or take seven doughnuts to stash in his cube.

      Frankly, this being his one area where he knows people think it’s rude and he’s under the impression he can get away with it is the *best* case scenario.

      1. Queer Earthling*

        Ouch. I’m neurodiverse, and in my early twenties I was still learning the difference between “jokes you can make with friends” and “jokes you make with strangers”. I don’t think I was as bad as this guy, but there are things I could have used “overt instruction” on, without thinking I could steal a car or disregard other people’s donut needs.

        1. Queer Earthling*

          I’m not saying he is necessarily neurodiverse, obviously, but sometimes things aren’t as obvious to people as you might think, is my point.

    1. Lemon Squeezy*

      Seconded. Don’t consider it injecting awkward, consider it course correcting his bizarro-behavior.

    2. Artemesia*

      The OP needs to reflect on why she thinks she needs to soften this or have an excuse for not answering or even to answer. If she is training him she needs to come down hard on this type of thing. It is unprofessional to do what he is doing and she needs to let him know that and that it is not acceptable behavior.

      1. Cobol*

        In this case too, I’m imagining somebody this out of touch won’t pick up on anything subtle/softened.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, this seems pretty straightforward: New colleague asks me how old I am, my response is, “Wow, that’s an inappropriate question.” The end.

    3. Lira*

      I’m going to paraphrase Captain Awkward on this.

      When someone is being rude and creating an awkward situation, sometimes the best thing to do is to “return the awkward to the sender.”

      Make him uncomfortable by playing dumb and asking why he’s so obsessed with something that others aren’t.

      1. Important Moi*

        Agree 100%. Thank you for saying this. My tone might not be soft enough for this discussion.

  3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Did he say “you’re so old!” to his faculty advisor when he was getting his Master’s degree?

    1. OrigCassandra*

      I rather wonder if that isn’t where this is coming from. (No way to tell from the letter.) The student zeitgeist in some master’s programs can be painfully ageist sometimes.

      1. Oh So Anon*

        Agreed. Most people with a master’s by his age aren’t like this, but there are a lot of environments that breed people who just cannot deal with someone over the age of 25 being their peer.

        1. Vicky Austin*

          I’m currently studying for my masters at the age of 42, which means most of the other students in my classes are young enough to be my daughters or sons. So far, none of them have given me a hard time about being “so old.” It’s a bigger deal to me than to them.

          1. OrigCassandra*

            The professional master’s program I teach in has a wide age range among students, and I appreciate it a great deal. The older students contribute so much by way of varied experience, workplace savvy, and general finesse — and not uncommonly they have useful things to teach me!

            All this to say that I hope it’s not “a bigger deal” in a negative way, Vicky Austin. You have plenty to contribute — not in spite of your age, but by virtue of it.

            (I was 30 when I started my own master’s. Right in the middle of the program’s age range. I found it a good mix.)

      2. Sabrina Spellman*

        I had my master’s degree at 25. I was always assumed to be a student worker when I started in my current position at that age. People constantly commented on my age because I was much younger than many of the people working at my institution. It goes both ways sometimes, but that doesn’t excuse his behavior.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      No, he basked in the faculty all applauding how much he achieved for being so young. “At your age, I hadn’t even…”
      Which is the purpose of his question. Since he’s following it up with “I have a Masters. Do you have a Masters?”
      pause and wait for “wow, yes, you’ve accomplished so much at 24.” But he’s at work and nobody gives a rat’s ass.

  4. WellRed*

    Simon is obviously a snowflake who would have been well served by some part time jobs in HS and college so he could learn there are lots of different people outside his bubble.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      God help us…I don’t think he would have survived part-time jobs in HS if this attitude has always been brewing. I imagine that awful things he’d say to life-long service people, being some snotty teenager who was all “Oh I’m not going to stay in fast-food my entire life! I’m on my way to college! I’m gonna be super important!”

      1. Antilles*

        Sure, he’d go in with that attitude…but most people who have worked in service have been there, done that enough that they’ve got very clear methods for dealing with those better-than-you attitudes – sometimes by straight up verbally shredding him to tears; more commonly by just watching him faceplant. Oh, guess Mr. Suuuuuuper Important College Kid wasn’t smart enough to assume that a pan on the stove is scaldingly hot.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Oh for sure…which is literally what I’m hoping happens to this guy as a smarmy 24 year old with his “fancy” degree.

          I’ll shred a 24 year old faster than I’d shred a silly teenager who at least you give the benefit of the “You’re cute and not fully developed at all” doubt to usually.

  5. juliebulie*

    he was also asking the “old” others if they have a master’s and pointing out how he himself is so young and already has his

    This suggests that he has very warped expectations of what his life will be like. Lots of people “already” have a master’s degree at age 23 or 24. It doesn’t mean that he’s on the fast track to becoming the company president.

    As for his manners, I would have no problem telling him that it’s an inappropriate question. Doing so will not make things any more awkward than he has already made them.

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, I was gonna say – I was 25 when I got my master’s but that’s only because I added an extra semester to both my bachelor’s and my master’s, so I would’ve been freshly 24 had I gone the normal route, which plenty of my cohort did, even if they weren’t academically outstanding.

      1. The Original K.*

        A family friend finished law school at 24 because he skipped a grade in school and went straight through, so he came out of undergrad at 21 and law school at 24. He said it actually worked against him because he was both young and young-looking, so people didn’t take him seriously. (That didn’t last long once he started working. He’s very, very successful now, in his 50s.)

        1. Joielle*

          That’s exactly what I did, and I usually tried to hide it, if anything.

          OP’s coworker is just a dick with an inflated ego and no manners. Maybe he can grow up and act like an adult, but his reputation at this company is probably permanently damaged. I know I’d never trust him with anything even slightly political or requiring diplomacy or customer/client interaction.

        2. TardyTardis*

          Tell me about it–I was 21 when I first began my first duty assignment in the USAF, and looking 12 did *not* help.

      2. Jadelyn*

        My ex did a fast-track undergrad, finished in three years, and then I think she did an accelerated master’s program too. She was done by 23. It’s…really not that incredible in the grand scheme of things.

        And, as someone above pointed out, having achieved it young doesn’t make the degree itself worth more. I got my degree at 31. It’s still the same degree as someone who went right out of high school and got it at 22.

        1. Perpal*

          Yeah, usually accomplishing something young just means you reeeeally wanted to know what you wanted to do at a young age (or someone was making you do it). Most people don’t know exactly what they want to do in grade school and honestly not sure the hustle gains much except maybe more working years. The risk is if you realize you actually hate whatever you were gunning for, then you kind of reset a bit. Which is also ok but anyway, bottom line is it’s not a race.

    2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      Right? Not to knock the achievement of a master’s, but getting one by the mid-20s isn’t exceptional. But more importantly, nobody cares about his master’s if he can’t conduct himself like a non-asshole in the workplace.

    3. DataGirl*

      Yeah if you start at 18 and don’t take a gap year you’ll have a Masters by age 23-24 (many schools offer 5 year combined Bachelor’s/Master’s programs now). That’s not young to have a degree. This guy is seriously out of touch.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Ha – I should have kept scrolling before commenting above. I said the exact same thing – these combined programs are A Thing now, so he’s not unique.

        1. JustaTech*

          Heck, my dad did a combined BA/MA back in the 70’s, so they’re not even new.

          I did the opposite, a Master’s for working professionals program after I turned 30 so I could keep working full time. I really liked the range of life experiences my classmates had; it brought in a lot of different (good) ideas.
          (One of my classmates was one of the first women to get a computer science degree at Berkeley, then went on to get a degree/ do archaeology in Peru, and then was in my public health program. Now that’s a life well lived!)

    4. Archaeopteryx*

      He’s also setting people up for the kind of uncomfortable Catch 22 that I hate- where if they try to tell him that’s rude, he can react as though they’re insecure about being so old. Shut that ish down hard!

      1. juliebulie*

        I wouldn’t be uncomfortable with that or consider it a catch-22. I think it’s far more likely that he’s insecure about being “so young.” I would try to assure him that if he acts like a mature adult and professional, he will improve his credibility; but that means no comparing ages with people.

      2. Joielle*

        This is where I think an amused facial expression and a light “Well, regardless” would work well.

        “How old are you?”
        “Why do you ask?”
        “I’m just curious.”
        “Ah! Well, regardless, let’s go over the work you did today.”

    5. Close Bracket*

      Yes, he is an unremarkable age for receiving a master’s degree. I wouldn’t call him special based on it.

      1. Not Sayin'*

        Simon: “I got my Master’s degree at 24.”

        OP: “You didn’t learn much, did you?”

        1. Close Bracket*

          That’s a little dismissive, considering that most Master’s programs are only 2 years. Two years in your early 20s doesn’t mean you learned less that taking that 2 years in your 30s.

          1. juliebulie*

            I think the joke there was “despite your Master’s degree, you’re not very smart.”

          2. pentamom*

            I think that’s just a swipe at his not having learned how to behave properly, not as a reflection on how fast he got his Master’s.

      2. Environmental Compliance*

        Right? I had a MS by 24.

        Obviously I should have been thinking higher of myself rather than grumping internally about how damn long it felt that it took. /s

      3. The New Wanderer*

        Simon: “I got my master’s at 24”
        OP (confused, not sarcastic, tone): “Wow, that’s very … average for people who get master’s degrees.”

        Because it is. Maybe he was in a program with mostly people who had worked a few years first before going to grad school (like me) so it feels young to him, but yeah, it’s not especially young by most measures. I do remember a few of the PhD people in my program who were a little impressed with themselves for expecting to be 26 or 27 or so when they got their PhD, but that also doesn’t make you special per se, it just means you went straight through from undergrad and didn’t have any real hiccups in the process.

        Hopefully it was just first day jitters that manifested in a weird way and isn’t a sign of anything else.

    6. Spreadsheets and Books*

      I was 24 when I finished my master’s, too. I took a year and a half off after undergrad before deciding to switch fields and then spent 9 quarters in grad schools.

      That’s nothing special. If he’d finished med school by 24, maybe that’s something worth discussing.

    7. sofar*

      Yep. I got my master’s just before my 27th birthday. And I actually skewed “old” in my master’s program because most participants had gone straight from undergrad. In a program of about 40, there was me (age 25 when I entered), the 30-something changing careers and a 40-something whose company was putting him through the program. Literally everyone else was 22 and straight out of college.

      So getting a master’s at 24 is not that special in many fields.

    8. Miss Bee*

      I’m also reading it as him having an expectation that everyone will/should have a master’s degree, and he’s ahead of the pack by already having done his.

      1. aebhel*

        Yeah, that’s weird, even in a field like mine where a master’s is a minimum professional requirement. Like… we all have one? It’s not that unique.

    9. NotAnotherManager!*

      It’s so weird that he fixates on that! I think a master’s degree is one that you really need to assess to see if it’s worth the financial/time investment (definitely would not be for my industry – I did mine for fun in an unrelated subject and understood it would not impact my job at all). Of my ~40 employees, maybe 6 have a master’s degree and all but one (with a highly-specialized and technical degree) do the exact same work as their peers who do not.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yeah, a master’s would make no sense for what I’m doing (writing and editing). I could go and waste the money, but it wouldn’t do much of anything for me career-wise because most of the jobs I end up in don’t require them and wouldn’t pay you more just for having it.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          Seriously, in my career a Masters without any work experience would actually work *against* you… and then probably not help (but also not hinder you) if you went back and got one later.

    10. SayWhat*

      I have only met one person who I felt had a right to brag about their degree (and he didn’t). He completed a PhD in Number Theory in four years (maybe less)… and it took that long because he was procrastinating.

  6. Myrin*

    What a very alien way of conducting oneself!
    I always love scripts that lay things out plainly in the open, in this case, the fact that he’s been asking around about age – in addition to simply being true, it also adds a layer of “you’ve come across so strangely on your first day already that people’ve told me about it before I even met you” (although someone like him – he seems pretty self-absorbed to me – might not even realise that subtext but if he’s as clever as he’s making himself out to be, he might too).

    1. Lison*

      Maybe a “Oh yeah, I’ve heard you were asking a LOT of people that same question, why would you think that is appropriate in a professional setting?” And see what the answer they can come up with is. If it were me I’d follow up with “My age is not a secret but this is never the way to START a conversation” because my age is not a secret.

  7. Drew*

    One of the hard things for people just coming out of school to realize is that they’ve been immersed in an environment where a difference of one or two years in age is a really big deal, and in adult life, it’s…not. It would be a kindness for OP to explain to Simon that over his working life, he’s going to have peers both older and younger, and age doesn’t define hierarchy in most workplaces the way it does when you’re a student.

    1. Lucette Kensack*

      I don’t think that’s hat’s going on here. Even in school, folks don’t wander around saying “WOW, you’re old!” to people the first time they meet. Between friends you might compare ages, or even exclaim with surprise over someone else’s age, but folks with normal social skills don’t bring it up, over and over again, to strangers.

    2. Liz*

      Very true. one of my closest friends, who I met at my previous job, is 8 years younger than I am. Now? Not a big deal at all. When we met, and we’ve been friends for about 20 years, she was a couple of years out of college, so maybe 25? and I was 32 or 33, 10 years out, and a few jobs in.

      While we got along well, and still do, i sometimes felt funny when i realized she graduated from HS four years after I graduated from college! and sometimes in conversation stuff would come up that I knew or remembered, and she hadn’t yet had the life experience of yet. But now its not a huge deal at all.

      1. Witchy Human*

        I ran into a former teacher a couple weeks ago. He felt like such an authority at the time, but his first year of teaching was my senior year of high school and he’s only like five years older than I am.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I went back to school at 40, and even attended some “day” classes where I was definitely the oldest person in the room! Not one student ever remarked on it like that.

      I was even invited to the dorm for a study session.

      Soo, I can’t tell if this guy is just super weird? But sometimes older people get like that too with the “Oh you guys are so young!” Or “Back in my day we [insert some pre-digital thing.]

  8. Clorinda*

    “Simon, you’re not in school anymore. It doesn’t really matter if you got your master’s degree at 22 or at 32; what matters is your professionalism and the quality of your work.”

  9. Snarkus Aurelius*

    You may also want to tell him that age is a specifically protected class in the workplace. (I know you said no one was over 35, but that detail is irrelevant.) Surveying employees on their ages is no different than asking about race, sex, national origin, religion, etc.

    1. LawBee*

      I think that’s making a bigger deal of it than it is. He’s not making policy, just being rude.

      1. DreamingInPurple*

        It’s not too early to get him thinking about that. In my workplace, current employees are often sent to have lunch with job candidates who are there for multi-part interviews. I would hope his employer would have the sense not to choose him for that, but what if they did and he said something like that in front of a candidate? It’s a real concern.

      2. A*

        I don’t think it’s too early – if he ends up progressing up the ladder at that employer (currently seems unlikely, but you never know!) and ends up in a position where he decides who gets what projects etc. it could come back to bite him. Rightly or wrongly, one of the individuals on the receiving end of ‘OMG YOU’RE SOOO OLD’ could point to that as possible ageism if they get passed over for something.

        It’s a stretch, but it’s something that could snowball down the line and is easy enough to nip in the bud.

      3. Yikes*

        I disagree that it’s inappropriate. Age discrimination against older workers is illegal, just like discrimination against any other protected class. He should know that part of why people don’t remark about age or harp on any sort of immutable characteristics of their coworkers is because it can contribute to creating an uncomfortable work environment that is less than completely conducive to productive, happy workers.

      4. PollyQ*

        He’s displaying negative attitudes about older-aged workers, and if there were people over 40 (p.s., why aren’t there?), then it could definitely be considered part of a “hostile work environment.”

      5. MicroManagered*

        You are incorrect. My company has had to issue legal settlements to people (in the protected age group) because of rude comments related to age.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Whether or not it would be legally actionable depends on the specific comments. I’m skeptical that what’s in the letter would be, but any sensible company would still tell him to cut it out.

          1. ArtK*

            Exactly. What he’s saying *now* may not be an issue, but it’s important for him, his current employer and any future employers for him to be aware that it could be the first step on a sticky path.

          2. MicroManagered*

            Oh absolutely! I was not implying that the circumstances in the letter would be actionable, but if he’s going around asking how old people are and then calling them old and making other ageist comments, he could easily do something to get him/the company in hot legal water at some point.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          “Wow, you’re old.” <- Rude
          "Why would they promote someone as old as you?" <- Rude and possibly actionable

          1. MicroManagered*

            And if you don’t know not to say the first one, me guesses you don’t know not to say the second one either!

      6. ArtK*

        Nobody said that he was making policy, but behaviors like that can be problematic *despite* policy. A company can have all of the appropriate non-discrimination policies and can still end up in hot water if an employee starts discriminating by age or any other protected class. A policy is only as good as the people who implement it.

        Pointing out that what he is doing carries overtones of discrimination is very appropriate *now*, rather than waiting 20 years when the company is being sued over his behaviors. There have been several high-profile cases recently where behaviors could have been cut off much earlier (e.g. John Lasseter.)

      7. Lucia Pacciola*

        I tend to avoid certain topics at work, not because I’m making policy, but because I know those topics open the door to policy concerns I’d rather not raise.

        “There’s no policy against talking about a co-worker’s age. But discriminating against a co-worker because of their age is illegal, and it’ll cause a lot of legal (and morale!) problems for us if there’s any question of age discrimination. So if you make a big deal about how old your co-workers are, and then someone complains that you’re not treating them fairly, it’s going to cause a lot of trouble we don’t need and wouldn’t have if you hadn’t made a big deal about age in the first place. Please stop making a big deal about age.”

      8. NotAnotherManager!*

        Were it my employee, my HR director would expect me to shut it down, technically illegal or not. Ageism is a thing, and no management team worth its salt is going to allow an employee run around unchecked tallying up ages and commenting on how long in the tooth others are. It’s one of those things that, in a vacuum, just seems annoying, but has the potentially be problematic in a larger picture and used to interpret hiring/firing decisions in a negative light (the lack of shutting it down; not the low-level employee).

      9. Jadelyn*

        It doesn’t have to be policy to be harassment, legally or otherwise. And there’s no guarantee he’d grow out of this attitude by the time he’s in a position to be making policies. Best to nip it in the bud now, before he tries that with someone who *is* over 40 and takes exception to it, and who may have legal recourse as a result.

    2. Close Bracket*

      You may also want to tell him that age is a specifically protected class in the workplace.

      This is not correct. People over 40 are a specifically protected class, not people of any age generally.

        1. Close Bracket*

          Yes, that’s correct. I was not careful in how I said that. However, “age” is not a protected class. *Certain ages* are protected.

      1. TiffanyAching*

        Federally; at the state level it can vary. My state protects anyone 18 or older from age discrimination.

      2. Snarkus Aurelius*

        In this case, that distinction is irrelevant because eventually he will encounter someone over 40. Plus that assumes it’s not an issue for anyone under 40. His comments are problem for everyone.

  10. The Original K.*

    Good grief, Simon seems to lack common sense. It’s weird enough to ask people at work how old they are, but to then be all horrified that they’re over 25 is really bizarre. It’s something you’d hear out of a (rude) 13-year-old’s mouth.

    Him touting earning his master’s at a young age is a flag to me that this isn’t a quirk; I suspect he’s just generally rude, and it wouldn’t surprise me if more rude behavior surfaces over the course of his time there if this isn’t nipped in the bud quickly.

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      I have a similar administrative ‘not entry level exactly but basic’ jobs and one very immature and generally unprofessional coworker asked me why I was “still a [job title]” at 31. I am very proud of myself that I didn’t reply with, “you’re 22, why aren’t you a GOOD [job title]?” So this dude might be used to being rewarded for achieving things young and assuming people will still care about that in the working world.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        That would have been great had you said it – some people really do need to be put in their place.

    2. Lynca*

      I have a co-worker who will just prattle on about how anyone over 30 is old. “You’re so oooooold.” is a frequent comment I hear them make. Despite the fact they’re almost 30 and more than 2/3’s the office is over 30. It was a red flag for a lot of other really rude behaviors and a very immature personality.

    3. Miss May*

      This so much! Everyone is saying that he’s young, and just not aware of workplace norms. Even if you haven’t worked in a professional setting before, this is something that a 20-something just out of a master’s program SHOULD know. He’s acting exactly like a 13 year old.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Yeah…. I was wondering if I happened to only hang out with at least somewhat mature early-twenty-somethings as an early-twenty-something in grad school (for a STEM major). Most of us didn’t want to mention our ages because we wanted to be taken seriously and not have the “but you’re so youuuuuuung” bullcrap dancing over our heads.

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        Nah, he’s acting like my 5-year-old niece, who thinks I should be dead by now at the ripe old age of 32, lol.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          My tweens unironically ask my spouse and I about our childhoods by starting out with, “Back in the olden times…”.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Ahhhh! That’s literally the only explanation! He must be a young child magicked into a grown person’s body!

    4. Cat*

      Yeah, this reminds me of an intern we had who got steadily more bizarre over the course of the summer. This is such a blatant violation of social norms AND is insulting to people (“you don’t have a master’s degree????”) that I’m disinclined to think it will get better – that’s just a bad combo, IMO.

  11. RainbowBrite*

    Oh boy, this one hits home. I worked with a woman a few years younger than me who told me on my 29th birthday and a week post breakup from a long term relationship that I had a year to find a man and have a baby because over 30 is too old for it. Then said she convinced her husband to have a baby with her by saying “well you don’t want to be an old dad do you?” He’s my age! My friends are having babies well into their 30s and the world hasn’t ended! I have no patience for people who think your life ends at 30.

    This is just so beyond appropriate. I agree with telling his manager because there’s no way this guy is getting in anyone’s good graces with this.

    1. LKW*

      A colleague and I have birthdays two days apart. When she was born, I was a freshman in college.

      The only thing that really gets my goat about working with the youngsters is that they don’t always understand my pop-culture references.

      But they also know to say “Oh my goodness, you don’t look your age! You look so much younger” and I do not care if they are lying.

      1. Elizabeth R Dickson*

        Yeah, this. I literally had to show my ID to folks at one place to get them to believe I was 38, not 25, like they’d assumed. I look young, and it doesn’t help that the grunge/punk style I prefer doesn’t added age to me.

        As for the other thing. Ugh no. Just no. One can reasonably be 45 and have a baby and still keep up well with a teen in your 50’s.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          Hi, kid of mid-late 40’s parents here to confirm just that. With my chronic illnesses, I’m the one having trouble keeping up with my mom!

        2. Anon for*

          Hang on – I don’t agree, I think that is pretty subjective. I don’t find any of this behaviour appropriate and think it is 100% off limits to discuss colleagues reproductive choices. But, we have to be realistic- it can be incredibly hard to deal with teens into your late 50s/early 60s. We have two examples in my family, my grandfather (baby at 48) died before his daughter finished school and my own father (youngest baby at 47) had major health problems and couldn’t retire because his son is still dependent (he’s 19, dad is 67). If you have kids at 45 you are chasing teenagers well past your 50s.

          1. Samwise*

            I am 59 years old. I have a 19 year old, and I have worked with undergrads for many years (mostly 17 to 20 yrs old). I assure you, I got no trouble keeping up w the youngsters. Frankly, teenagers are easier and much less tiring than very small children.

          2. Geek history*

            Hold up, you do realize 40 isn’t really middle age anymore and that people live longer and healthier lives a lot of the times, and 50 is no longer retirement age.

          3. pandop*

            Because the plural of anecdote is not data, in my group of close friends we have the following: one who’s Dad was in his late 20s when she was born, lost her Dad when we were 12, I was born when my Dad was in his early 30s, I was 19 when he died, our other friend who’s Dad was in his late 40s when she was born, buried him last year when we were 39. You don’t know what is going to happen.

      2. Jadelyn*

        Oh, the pop-culture references! I’m the youngest of my team (34, the rest are all over 40 and most are over 50) and there are definitely references that go right past me – they’re all laughing and I’m just sort of staring blankly waiting for someone to explain the joke.

        On the other hand, I can confuse the hell out of them all with my meme-fu. So it balances out.

    2. Aquawoman*

      That is so wrong on so many levels it’s like an Escher painting of wrongness. Hard to know where to start.

    3. The Original K.*

      I have no patience for people who think your life ends at 30.
      I have a friend who is thinking of making a career change; the field she’s thinking of will require a PhD. She wonders if she’s too old to do this at 41; I’ve been insisting that she isn’t, pointing out that even if she’s in her late 40s when she enters her new field, she could work in it for 20 years (or more, if she wants!) before retiring. I also pointed out that my grandmother didn’t start her post-secondary education and career until her 40s when her kids left home, and she worked in her field for 20 years. Life is long.

      1. Pommette!*

        Whenever I’m besset by the “am I too old to make this change?” doubts (which is often, these days), I try to remind myself of all the times I felt like I was too old for something before, and of how silly those doubts seem with one or more decades of hindsight.

      2. Filosofickle*

        Wisdom from a friend: In 5 years, you’ll be 5 years older no matter what you do. Would you rather have reached that goal by now, or still be where you are now?

        My SO started on a master’s degree just as he turned 47. He won’t finish til he’s 50. He went through a period of doubt, kept saying he was too old. I told him he still has at least 20 years to go, and do you want to keep doing these random jobs you hate, or build the career that’s been a lifelong calling?

        There was a woman in my MBA cohort who was 60 when we started. She started a new business at 65. She just turned 70 and is kicking ass.

        1. Filosofickle*

          Oh &: My grandmother got her masters and PhD in her 40s, once her kid left for college. She worked happily into her 70s.

        2. The Original K.*

          Wisdom from a friend: In 5 years, you’ll be 5 years older no matter what you do. Would you rather have reached that goal by now, or still be where you are now?
          I say a version of this to her too! I say “The time will pass no matter what; you might as well have a PhD at the end of it.” Really, I’m talking to myself as much as I am to her – I’m younger than she is but am also contemplating a career change. I read an article about a man who used to be a mechanic and is now a physician, a career he started at 47. I think that’s fantastic. (And wow, talk about useful sets of skills!)

        3. Antilles*

          Wisdom from a friend: In 5 years, you’ll be 5 years older no matter what you do. Would you rather have reached that goal by now, or still be where you are now?
          That’s like the old proverb: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.

          1. Filosofickle*

            I recently put that one up in my office! One of my biggest struggles is forgiving myself for lost time and all the things I haven’t done. I find myself getting stuck in guilt / shame and it keeps me from taking action now to move forward. So I’m trying to keep that message front and center.

      3. Perpal*

        It’s never too old; I think the only real things that come in to play for major career changes that take several years to accomplish, is earnings potential and retirement. It doesn’t always make financial sense to embark on a 4-6 year degree if it will cost more in lost-earnings than will recoup; of course if it is done for pure life satisfaction that can be it’s own value.

      1. RainbowBrite*

        I honestly don’t know how I didn’t kill her on the spot. This was 2 years ago, she’s been gone for 18 months, and I’ll die mad at her over it.

    4. A*

      Ugh, I feel you! I’m 32 and usually feel like I’m still fairly young – until those kinds of situations come up. Up until a few months ago I lived outside a major city that is very white collar career-oriented, and very expensive. The vast majority of people I know, and certainly within my own social groups, don’t/didn’t get married or have kids (if they want those milestones) until mid to late 30s. It didn’t even occur to me to try and settle down in my 20s – I just naturally wanted to live my own life before sharing it with someone else, and god forbid if I had been raising a child they would have been wearing a burlap sack and eating ramen off the floor.

      I thought I’d have culture shock when I relocated to a more rural environment ~2 hours from any major metropolitan city. While there are definitely more people that settled down in their 20s than where I moved from, it still seems to be the minority.

      It sounds exhausting to set unnecessary age-related milestone expiration dates lol. I already have a real biological clock to contend with, no need to create an imaginary one!

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I also live in an urban, expensive, career-oriented place, and having a kid before you’re 30 is unusual. A friend of mine had her first child at 27 or 28 and was the youngest person in her mom’s group by a lot. RainbowBrite’s former coworker would be appalled at all the “old” parents around here.

        Hell, my parents were married straight out of college at 22 in the early 70s, and they didn’t have me until they were 30 (fertility issues) and my sibling until they were nearly 40. This “no babies after 30” is apparently not a well-publicized or enforced “rule”.

        1. aebhel*

          I grew up in a poor rural area where having kids right after high school (or, uh. in high school) is not particularly unusual; I’m 34 and can name a dozen people I graduated with who have teenage children now. I always thought I was on the old side for having my first kid at 28, and it’s a little weird that in the circles I run in now a lot of my kids’ friends’ parents are 10 years or more older than me.

        2. Serin*

          My best friend and I are exactly the same age, but my kid is in college and her kids already have kids of their own.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Do you work in 1986? In 2019, people are still acting like if you have a spouse and kid, you’re gonna die alone and childless…no thanks.

      The millennial generation and then with Gen Z coming up so quickly behind us has really been slower to marry and reproduce in general. The world has not stopped turning due to it.

      Which is hilarious since I’m in my 30’s and my parents are on the “older” side, having had me at 26 and 32. I have a better relationship with my parents than their friends who had kids much younger *shrug* Guess it worked out fine for them, should work out fine for me too. I’m so unworried about what nonsensical people think about how I’m supposed to live my GD life.

    6. Third or Nothing!*

      “I have no patience for people who think your life ends at 30.”

      Oh goodness yes, people who get so sad about turning 30 as if they’ve got one foot in the grave drive me a bit nuts. I turned 30 last month. There was no mourning. I played with an otter and ran a 10k with my daughter instead (new age bracket aww yeah!). My 30s are gonna be awesome.

      Oh, and we’re trying for Baby #2 after my half next month. So your old coworker can go suck an egg or whatever the insult is nowadays.

    7. UKCoffeeLover*

      I finally got a degree when I was 49. Never did an undergrad, went straight to a Masters. Life certainly does not end at 30!!

  12. Mellow*

    Can’t help but wonder how people like Simon make it past the interview without some warning of this kind of behavior.

    1. Cat*

      I totally hired an intern like Simon once! (He didn’t grill people about their ages but did do bizarre and inappropriate things.). I was doing on-campus interviewing at his school and he seemed intense and passionate. Once he started working, I realized that it was less “intense” and more “aaaaaaaaagh.” (In my defense, three other people interviewed him too and had the same reaction.)

    2. CM*

      The flavour of the question and the fact that he’s only asking other assistants how old they are and what their academic credentials are makes me think that he’s building a pecking order in his head. People who are super focused on that kind of thing tend to suck up to those they see as being higher in the pecking order, so he was probably extremely polite and deferential to the hiring manager.

  13. SomebodyElse*

    As to what to say if he asks you…

    “Old enough to know how inappropriate that question is in the workplace” with a raised eyebrow followed with an “Ok, then now here’s where you are going to find those files”

    1. SomebodyElse*

      Adding because I hit post too soon.

      Really I’d be disinclined to spend a lot of time and effort educating Simon in workplace norms. That’s for his boss to do. Really this should have been done long before he entered the workforce. I have a feeling he’s been doing weird things like this for a long while. I would, however, model workplace norms and not entertain his odd questions.

    2. Parenthetically*

      Or, “Old enough to know better than to badger coworkers about something so entirely irrelevant to work.”

    3. Goldfinch*

      A musician interviewed in Cosmo in the 90s gave her age as “Young enough to smell the flowers, but old enough to know when they stink.”

    4. Poppy the Flower*

      This is probably what I would say! I’m a doctor and a lot of times patients/families are stressed and lose their sense of boundaries. I’m a short female and I get this a lot. My typical response is “old enough to be your doctor” or maaaayyyybe if they are asking after we’ve already built up a rapport I’ll say “in my 20s” (the point is I want to establish competence, not answer and not get bogged down in this conversation). I also have no qualms about saying “that’s not relevant”, “that’s inappropriate” or “I don’t want to answer that” if I sense they are getting pushy. I always say these in a polite, firm tone and immediately change the subject. I’ve learned some people just do need you to be that direct. I think either a longer conversation or this shorter reply would help him “get it”.

  14. KHB*

    Every time a man has asked me out of the blue how old I am, it’s because he was sussing me out as a romantic prospect. Could something like that be a contributing factor here?

    1. Elbe*

      Ugh, that!

      As a PSA: People, don’t do this! Don’t ask someone person info in a clear attempt to determine if they’re shaggable or not. No one likes to be so blatantly sized up, particularly if it’s in a scenario where they likely aren’t considering you as a romantic partner.

      He seems to be asking a lot of people, so I hope that this isn’t what Simon is doing.

  15. Shay*

    “Why do you ask?” Just curious
    “That’s an odd question at work.” I was just wondering
    “Why does it matter?”
    “How old are you?” 23
    “Funny – I would have thought you were much younger.”

  16. Kiwiii*

    While it’s weird that he’s quizzing everyone on their ages and remarking that they’re old, the part of this that irks me in particular is the mention the comment that he’s “younger and already has his master’s”.

    1. LKW*

      Almost everyone in my family has either a post-grad degree or doctorate. So the achievement doesn’t really raise an eyebrow.

      I’m sure he’s too young / inexperienced to know there are plenty of MBA programs that require people to have a minimum number of years experience.

      Sometimes youth is a hindrance.

      1. Filosofickle*

        For real, the youngest people in my MBA programs had so much less to offer the cohort. They were smart and eager, and of course people have great ideas and contributions at any age, but they had little business experience to bring to our conversations. They got a lot out of the program because everything was new, but they couldn’t give as much back.

        Later, I consulted for another MBA program that wanted to increase enrollment. My research ran into a conundrum: Women gain the most benefit from an MBA the earlier they get it (in terms of earnings & promotions), so young is good and pitching more at them could raise enrollment. But the community didn’t benefit from having a high proportion of younger students, it would deter enrollment by older students.

      2. EddieSherbert*

        +100! A Masters degree with no experience would hinder someone in my field (though, to be fair, having one with experience probably… won’t make a difference either…)

    2. Pommette!*

      Yes. It’s as if he thinks that life is a race that follows a single, linear path that human life can take, and he’s ahead of others already – which is ignorant and silly but forgivable – and is arrogant about being “ahead” of others. That attitude is a problem, even if his arrogance is premised on an error.

      1. Pommette!*

        Too late to edit. That should be: “As if he thinks that life is a race that can only follow a single, linear path, and that he’s ahead of others already”.

    3. Lana Kane*

      It definitely comes across as insulting – like people older than him in this job are underemployed, or underachieving.

  17. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    Honestly, you do not need to worry about making things awkward with Simon! He’s making them tremendously awkward.

    If I give him the benefit of the doubt and think that he is extremely sheltered, extremely naive, with no bad intentions but absolutely no clue how to conduct himself as an adult, I think you’d be doing him a favor to very explicitly flag for him that this behavior is weird and not okay.

    If I withhold the benefit of the doubt and think that he was deliberately instigating these conversations, calling everyone old, and tooting his own horn about having a master’s degree at an age he thinks is young and impressive as some form of very weird power play, I think that you’d be doing the rest of the office a favor by making it clear that he’s not carrying out an effective power play, he’s in fact weakening himself in everyone’s eyes.

    And yes, absolutely flag this up the chain — this is not okay behavior. If Simon weren’t a newbie, I’d call it bullying.

    1. lyonite*

      I think your second guess is right on the money, and this is all going to become increasingly clear as he runs headlong into reality. Probably no way of stopping it, but at least OP can say they tried.

      1. Angwyshaunce*

        I find it amusing when someone thinks they’re being clever, but really are being clumsy and transparent.

  18. Jk*

    Omg lol!

    I actually say that I’m so old to make fun of myself when I’m out of touch or pull a muscle… Well I was surrounded by 20 year olds at my last job so it made sense.

    I’m the middle kid now and feel young again, kind of? I don’t comment on other people’s ages..just mine!

  19. Jennifer*

    This is definitely weird and rude. I do think the “you guys are so old” comment was an ill-advised “joke” and you might be stressing over it a bit too much. Use Alison’s suggestion is he asks you directly but I’d suggest trying to put it out of your mind.

    1. Jennifer*

      PS I jokingly refer to myself as “old” all the time, even though I don’t really consider myself to be. It’s a pretty common joke.

      1. LKW*

        I refer to my “old lady eyes” when I ask someone displaying their screens to embiggen the text.

        1. Close Bracket*

          I like to reference the under 40 font they are using. I’ve been using that since I was 30, and it gets a laugh from people of all ages.

  20. voyager1*

    I think I would go with the “scare the **** out of him” approach.

    When he talks about age point out to him that bringing up age like he did on his first day not only sets him up to come off as rude and arrogant but also sets up a precedent of an age discrimination case since he already has shown he has some deeply held views on age and made them quite public. I would further explain that his views would hold his career back and even go so far to get him blacklisted in your field, since nobody wants to have a walking EEOC claim walking around the lab.

  21. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    I can recall getting stupid comments like this when I worked with lifeguards. Usually the ones who were 15/16/17.

    “Oh wow you’re like, old. Do you like, even know, like, what Snapchat is?”

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Sweet children of Jesus, who want to talk to us about “do yo know these apps.”

      I turned to my nephew who was about 15 at the time who told me I didn’t know “whatever app” and said “Who do you think builds these things? People my age. Sit down.”

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Perfect answer.

        I get very irritated when younger people think that older people don’t “get” the internet. Who do they think invented this stuff, anyway? I get real snarky when people start patronizing me about “cloud” and other stuff. I worked for a cloud provider over a decade ago, while most of them were still in school.

  22. Hope*

    I would bet a lot of money that Simon is trying (and horrifically failing) to impress (or even intimidate) people. The “oh, though I am but a sweet summer child, I already finished my master’s degree; everyone who hasn’t got one yet or got theirs later just isn’t as smart/on top of things/dedicated as I am” thing is something you run into a lot from people who have no idea how to handle not being the big fish in the little pond.

    1. T. Boone Pickens*

      Simon needs to dummy up before people start asking him to go grab his shinebox (I fully expect this would go over Simon’s head because the movie came out before he was born.)

  23. MonkeyPrincess*

    I think it’s not uncommon for people starting careers to FEEL this way… up until this point in your life, most people are in very age-segregated environments where most everyone is within a few years of you, and I think that it can be jarring to realize that you’re now an equal with people that just a few years ago you were expected to call Mr. and Mrs. when your parents introduced you, and your primary goal in this interaction was to get out of the conversation as quickly as possible so you could go hang out with your friends in the basement.

    That he’s VERBALIZING this is extremely weird, and is making me wonder if he is is not neurotypical in some way.

    1. pleaset*

      I agree with you in general, but my 7 year-old thinks 35 is OLD.

      Someone 23 thinking that is just stupid.

      It’s not the Middle Ages. Or a gymnastics competition. Or a rave. 35 isn’t old in the workplace.

      1. Jennifer*

        When I was 23, I thought 30-year-olds had one foot in the grave. No 35 is not old, but I can see someone that young thinking that. Of course, it’s rude to say it. He’ll learn soon enough. We all get old. If we’re lucky.

        1. pleaset*

          “When I was 23, I thought 30-year-olds had one foot in the grave.”

          WTF. By the time I was 18 I knew people typically lived into their 60 or more.

          ” still very far away in time and life experience from where I was”

          Sure. But then what would you call someone who was 50? 70? 80? Super-duper old?

          1. Jennifer*

            Lol, I was being hyperbolic. Surely you didn’t think I really thought 30-year-olds were a heartbeat away from death?

            I was just trying to convey that I thought they were much, muuuuuuuuuuch older than me. I got older and learned.

      2. Lizzy May*

        When I was 23, I absolutely thought of 35 as old. Not like a senior citizen, but as something still very far away in time and life experience from where I was. I wouldn’t go around calling 35 year olds “old” because that’s rude (except for when I was teasing family and friends I knew very well and then it was fun!) but I did see 35 as something very distant from myself.

      3. Librarian1*

        Yeah, I have to agree with Jennifer and Lizzy May. When I was 23 I thought even 30 was old. I just didn’t get it. Even though I briefly dated a 30-year-old at the time. BUT I never told anyone that they were old. Unless they commented about how I was “so young” first. Then all bets were off.

    2. JSPA*

      This is one of those, “no need to speculate, because you shut it down, explain why you’re shutting it down, and instruct on what else to do” pretty much the same way for someone who’s on the spectrum and someone who is terminally clueless or ignorant or shit-stirring for any other reason. Which is to say, directly, completely, and without room for argument.

    3. Elenna*

      Yeah, I’m 23 and I do feel like 35-year-olds are significantly older than I am, not in the sense of “one foot in the grave” but in the sense of “they have noticably more life experience and are generally at a different stage in their life”.

      There is a 0% chance that I will comment to future collegues about how OLD they are, because, what???

  24. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    We brought in a new person about five years ago. She asked us all our ages. “I younger than all y’all!” she shouted, gleefully.* Um, 18 months. Yes, for three of us it was around 2 years. It came up a few other times. Along with other competitive impulses, like “I always fill my time card out first.” And immature responses, “Can you just do it for me/get it off the printer for me?” And my favorite, yelling across the open plan, “Karma! You put the document in the X: drive not in the Month/Year folder on the X drive. Can you move it so I can check it?”
    So yeah, his picking something to make himself stand out over everyone is indicative of things to come. None good. All resulting in him pissing off his coworkers.

    Apologies to Mickey Spillane, but it is important to include an adjective sometimes.

  25. GreenDoor*

    Definitely coming from immturity. The age thing, yes. But also the announcements about how he “already” has a master’s degree. My response to that would be “Oh. So you have a piece of paper that says you went to school. So does just about everyone else here. In fact, many of us have an entire vegetable soup after our names. Why do you bring that up?” Just the attitude that “having a degree” = “better than you” just ticks me off to no end. Yes to calling him out on this in a mentoring manner – and to raising the issue with his manager.

  26. Aurion*

    “Simon, you’re being rude and alienating to your colleagues without having done any actual work yet. Is this the way you want to build your reputation at Widgets Co?”

    Say it coldly, calmly, with a look that will freeze water. Watch him shut up and/or slink away. Then change the topic to something work related.

  27. RC Rascal*

    Alternative approach: look Simon directly in the eye and explain you were born in a cave, &need your tablet & chisel instead of a laptop. Frame your answers with “ When dinosaurs roamed the earth.” Remain very calm when you do this and do not smile or laugh. If he looks puzzled , you get quiet for a bit. After he squirms you can let him off on the joke. Repeat as necessary.

    1. Lora*

      I say this sort of thing when people ask me how old I am. Gonna keep my notes on parchment, let me get my quill pen, oof my knees…

      I’m an old Gen Xer who can afford Botox, chemical peels and hair dye and was already shoved out the door of one job at age 42 for the sin of being Over 40 in a startup that was trying to “get a young crowd with fresh ideas and lots of energy!” Mysteriously they did not do the same for *men* over 40…so yes, I AM sensitive about it.

      Jeez Simon, I must have gotten my degree later than you because I went to finishing school, where they taught me not to make rude comments.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Yeah, I get that too – I’m female apprearing and over 40. With some of these places, if you have more than three jobs on your resume they don’t want you – “RCGs only.” (Code word for “under 25”.)

  28. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Awww he sounds like he’s been “praised” for being “so young” and “so accomplished” and “so mature of his age”, with having his masters by 24 years old. Yawn.

    I would tell him that not only is it rude AF but it’s something that given the discrimination issues, is absolutely inappropriate to bring up in a work place. Sure it doesn’t kick in until 40 but we’re all hopefully going to make it to 40 long before this idiot grows up most likely. He’s old enough to know better, that’s absurd to ask in a professional or private life after the age of about 12.

    1. voyager1*

      The word lab jumped out at me. I find that a lot people who work in STEM fields at high levels are used to being the smartest in the room, when they are young. When they get further along in their careers they struggle with being only a smart person in a room of smart people.

      I could see the whole focus on a MS and age being a manifestation of that insecurity of not knowing if they are really the top person in the room.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Ah yes. The old formally the big-fish in the little pond meets lake full of sharks kind of story.

        I think it’s best that the OP is firm as possible without biting his face off because someone should at least try…before someone like my salty butt shows up and starts snacking on that Fergus Face.

      2. Earthwalker*

        I remember in the 90s reading some HR texts in the company library that said that HR should recruit so as to maintain a vibrant, youthful workforce. They said that 40 was technically an “older employee” in most fields but 35 was “older” in technology. Such “older employees” lacked drive and creativity, had outdated skills, and had difficulties learning new technology. I hope those old books found their way to the dumpster since I saw them, but surely the attitude – that 40 is, like, ancient and technically decrepit – must be hanging on in some places still, being passed on to gullible members of the next generation. Bet Simon doesn’t realize he’s echoing such antiquated prejudices.

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          “vibrant, youthful” = cheaper salaries, less likely to use their company health insurance.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Plus they are not likely to have started their own families yet, so they can be conned into working long hours every week.

  29. SigneL*

    “How old are you?”
    “Old enough to know better.”

    Or you can give an answer like “Twenty-nine parsecs!” if you think you have to reply with something.

  30. banzo_bean*

    Curious why Alison would have OP ask “is there a reason you’re so interested in it?” rather than immeadiately replying with the second response that such question are unprofessional.

    1. LawBee*

      I’d probably ask that – “why do you want to know?” It turns the awkward around, and then she can shut it down.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I agree. “Why do you ask?” then “Huh” and under no circumstances answer the question.

        I briefly had a co-worker who continually overstepped boundaries like this, despite coaching and warnings. He was not made permanent at the end of his probation. Simon would need to be an absolute rock star to keep a job despite such inappropriate behaviour.

    2. Jenn*

      I like the idea of asking the question, because sometimes forcing the person to say the reason out loud (or really even just stopping to think about it) is what makes them realize how ridiculous they’re being.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      It’s a great response when there could possibly be a legitimate reason for the question, and you don’t want to go adversarial right away. And it’s also a great response when there is obviously no legitimate reason for the question, because it sometimes forces the person to admit/realize that it’s an inappropriate question. And sometimes it’s just a fun way to shut them down. “Why do you ask?” “Just curious.” “Oh. Okay.” {silence.}

  31. Lime Lehmer*

    I am a 65 year old woman with a variety of life experiences, working at teapot university.
    I was hired into my current position because I was “old” or rather that I have institutional memory ie. I have been around long enough to know how things work, and remember how things have changed; which can be very important when analyzing processes. Youth and advanced degrees are not the only road to competence. Some of us have either chosen not to get advanced degrees, or did not have the opportunity. Letters after ones name sometimes denote financial leisure rather than knowledge.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      This. I’m glad that the university I work for has a broad range of ages working in IT. Even so, I’m older than most of them, this being my second career. But it’s pretty cool to help someone celebrate retiring.

  32. MAB*

    It’s very clear to me that he’s asking the ages of other people in his same position to that he can “subtly” feel superior in some way, as he is achieved that same position at a younger age. Seems like a major red flag.

    1. Alexander Graham Yell*

      Oh for sure!

      My company typically hires straight out of school, whereas I took a more meandering path towards the job, so I have about 10 years on everybody at my level and am a year older than my manager. As we’ve all become friends, the, “Wait, how old ARE you?” question comes up in part because we’ll miss pop culture references another person expects us to get, or will reference something happening in high school/college and get blank stares. I’m exactly who this kid would be comparing himself against, and I have exactly zero patience for it and would delight in telling cool stories about life experiences I was only able to have because I’m “old” and decided not to take careers too seriously in my late 20s.

      As for how I’d answer, though, I’d probably wind up with, “Old enough to get a job, young enough not to qualify for AARP,” because I’m kind of a snarky jerk like that.

  33. 1234*

    I remember as an intern, I had to fill out a form for my boss and it said “what is your age?” I felt so uncomfortable asking him because it was none of my business. But I had to get the info for the form!

    I cannot imagine going around asking EVERYONE “how old are you?” and then commenting “that’s so old!!!”

  34. CA in CA*

    There’s also the potential for Simon being someone who struggles to understand social norms. I could absolutely see my ASD child doing this sort of thing in an attempt to make conversation in a new situation with new people. Not that it would make this question okay to ask, but it certainly could explain it. Do Simon a favour OP, and politely tell him that’s not a workplace-appropriate question.

    1. HRach*

      This is exactly what I was coming to say. This particular behavior seems like it may be indicative of someone on the ASD scale and, after OP uses Alison’s suggested script and conveys this feedback to his supervisor, I would encourage OP to consider not holding this (admittedly uncomfortable) behavior against him unless and until there are future issues.

    2. Aspie AF*

      I agree completely. It’s not his fault (or that of any person in this scenario) that we’re so obsessed with youth…

    3. Jedi Squirrel*

      I was thinking this exact thing. And it wouldn’t be necessarily disseminated to other employees.

      A lot of people here are advocating a “fight rudeness with rudeness” approach, but that’s the exact opposite of what’s needed here. Simon needs someone to tell him what he’s doing wrong, why it’s wrong, and to suggest a better approach, especially if he is on the autism spectrum.

    4. Washi*

      I can see this for just asking everyone how old they are, and even for “you’re so old” which I guess could be a poor attempt at a joke. But all of that combined with bringing up how he already has a master’s degree when others don’t? I think this is deliberate (and misguided) rather than a case of missing cues.

    5. KoiFeeder*

      Unless your child is 24 and still acting like that, I think my money’s on neurotypical. I don’t think I’ve said anything like that since before I was a teenager, and my social skills were notoriously bad (something something old complaint about I was not “high-functioning” at the time of diagnosis but in reality that diagnosis just means “white and can speak” and not what the DSM actually says it means and functioning labels are bad anyways grumble grumble grumble).

      1. Tau*

        Also ASD, and really tired of us getting dragged in the mud whenever someone somewhere behaves inappropriately. (I would like to point out here that armchair diagnosis is against site rules, too.)

        And – IMO – even if the guy was on the spectrum (which I doubt for the same reasons as you), “but what if he’s on the spectrum and can’t help it? be nice!” is the wrong advice to give. The kindest thing you can do for someone who’s missing social norms out of genuine obliviousness is to clearly and firmly let them know they’re behaving inappropriately. The problem is that “clear and firm” reads as “overly blunt and rude” to (especially NT) people a lot of the time, so what generally happens if someone tries to “be nice” is that they soften things via shifting the “please stop doing this” part of the message to subtext, body language, commonly understood cues, etc…. which is precisely the sort of thing that people who struggle with social skills won’t understand.

        Alison’s script is great, and one of the great things about it is that it works equally well if Simon is super-sheltered and naive, if he’s on the spectrum, or if this is some sort of weird power play or what.

    6. Arts Akimbo*

      My ASD kid is obsessed with age and dates and birthdays, but he would never in a million years follow it up with “You’re so OLLLLLLD!” He would ask, then tell each coworker what song was most popular in their birth year. (Still not ideal to ask everyone for their personal data, we’re working on it ;)

      Simon’s thing sounds way more to me like someone who thinks he’s better than everyone else (spectrum or not).

  35. Dust Bunny*

    “Simon, I have socks that are older than you are.”

    Please feel free to make this awkward. More specifically: You have no reason to feel awkward, but he sure does. You don’t need to answer this.

    1. emmelemm*

      That would be my answer. Either that or “old enough to be your mom, so I’m telling you to cut it out.”

  36. LawBee*

    I may be wrong here but I always thought that Master’s programs were only a year or two. I mean, it sounds like he’s right in line with someone who went school school school school.

      1. Jenn*

        Yep! That’s what I did because the job market was terrible after undergrad. I think having work experience and then going back to get my masters would have been more beneficial.

        1. Oh So Anon*

          I agree! It’s interesting, because there are definitely milieus where entering the workforce between undergrad and grad/professional school is looked down upon.

        2. Allypopx*

          I have found this super beneficial. I’m getting a lot more out of my masters program having real world experience to ground it in, and I feel like I’ll be incredibly hireable when I’m done.

    1. banzo_bean*

      I think Simon is hinting at the fact that he did school school school school rather than school school school work school or school school work school work school.

      Essentially he is expecting praise for finishing without any gaps in his schooling, which is stupid because in some masters programs work experience is beneficial if not preferred!

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Right? I mean, yay, you got to go to school without any of those silly “real world” gaps in between. I’m glad he’s had a charmed life and isn’t old!

    3. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

      A masters at 21 or younger is impressive, but after that it’s just…staying in school an extra two years instead of entering the professional world after undergrad. I got my first job in my industry at 21 and another assistant came in a year after me with a masters at 24, and was pretty put out that I was ahead of her and making a slightly higher salary (COL and a small merit raise after my first review). I had a year of experience in the field over her — I don’t know what she expected, that I would be demoted in light of her degree?

      1. CheeryO*

        Eh, she should have kept those thoughts to herself, but that one might be on her university. Schools really need to stop pushing the idea that a Master’s will guarantee a bump in starting pay, because it usually won’t. I have an M.S. in a STEM field, and I very much did expect it to net me an extra $10K a year salary and was surprised that no one wanted to give it to me in a competitive job market.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I wish I could whisper to every college student as they sleep to not listen to what the university tells you about “your future” and what money you’ll be making. The reality is, unless it’s a field that requires a masters, most people aren’t going to pay you more for having more than necessary education. It just doesn’t work that way!

          Just like the degree from your state colleges and stop trying to go to fancy pants colleges elsewhere. It’s not worth the extra money for the name.

          1. 1234*

            Facts. At OldJob, Manager 1 with a bachelor’s made more than Manager 2 who had an unnecessary master’s degree.

            I think my parents were relieved I didn’t get into Fancy Pants College costing $50K/year. I knew that if I had gotten in, I would’ve demanded to go and my dad would’ve given in. Fancy Pants College also had a reputation for providing limited financial aid which meant that I would be in SO MUCH DEBT right now.

            I ended up going to State School which cost less than half of Fancy Pants College. I lucked out and had generous/financially savvy parents who were able to pay for school without me taking loans. It also helped that going to State School meant that I received grants from the state to offset the cost.

          2. Fortitude Jones*

            The reality is, unless it’s a field that requires a masters, most people aren’t going to pay you more for having more than necessary education.

            This is the gospel truth.

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

      The letter writer was speculating on his age though. “As background, I think he is around 23 or 24.” He could actually be a year or two younger and completed his master’s at 21 or 22. Occasionally there are master’s programs that run concurrent with a bachelor’s; or he could have completed a year’s worth of college credits while still in high school and gotten his bachelor’s in 3 years instead of 4…

      1. LawBee*

        That’s true. I wonder if he’s asking so many people their ages in an attempt to get them to ask him HIS age, so he can then amaze them with his youth.

  37. Librarian1*

    Lol. I get that our culture places a lot of emphasis on people achieving things when they are young, but that’s because it’s relatively rare.

    Also, it sounds like he got his master’s right after undergrad, which is not at all unusual and is not something to be bragging about. It sounds weird.

    I wonder if he skipped a grade or two or finished college early or something?

    Anyway, no one in the real world cares about any of that.

    1. Caliente*

      Yes – this is something I’d do while looking totally innocent and serious and polite. I have no problems being ludicrous with people who are ridiculous and rude.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Or simply just say you’re 22.

      And watch the wheels in his head turn…

      I wonder if he’s awful enough to say something about “you look so much older.”

  38. Llellayena*

    Side glare: “The only people that question does not sound exceptionally rude from are in grade school*. Are you still in grade school?”

    *This response is born from my mom refusing to tell her 3rd grade class her age until her birthday, when she would use it in a math lesson. I’d come into the classroom and inevitably some kid would ask how old I was in hopes of guessing my mom’s age before she told them. Best response:
    Kid: So how old are you?
    Me: 31
    Kid: (wide eyed stare of awe) Wow that means your mom must be 32!
    -Yes, yes she is…

    1. Librarian1*

      Lol! I used to work with young (preschool/kindergarten) kids in my summer job and they liked to ask us (the college aged staffers) how old we were. I like to have them guess how old I was and they were almost always way off in one direction or another. Half of them would guess 12 or 14 or so because they had an older cousin who was that age who they looked up to and the other half would guess 30 or older because they had no concept of adult ages. It was adorable.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        I used to teach freshmen in college. 99% of them were 18-19 years of age. The number of them who legitimately were confused by me not living at my desk and having a life outside of teaching them was……somewhat depressing.

        The one that told me at the age of 22 that I was “old” was funny only because his friend immediately looked horrified and chastised him with “okay, 1, that’s rude, 2, that’s like only 4 years older you moron, and 3 omg you idiot don’t insult the person giving you your grade!! you just don’t SAY that!”

        1. Close Bracket*

          I went to a movie the other night and ended up sitting in front of a group of grad students from my old department. They must have been relatively new bc they were talking about all the friendships between faculty and staff as though that were some strange thing. Faculty being friends! Who’da thunk! They were fascinated by one faculty member’s tattoo which was apparently visible when he running with one of the staff. Faculty with tattoos! They couldn’t even! I tried to think back to when I was at their stage in life, and I’m pretty sure I knew that faculty were people with lives and stuff who sent to the gym and interacted socially even if I hadn’t yet reached my current understanding of “professor is just another kind of job and people make friends at work.”

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            Right? I remember having this epiphany of “teachers have lives outside of school!!” in elementary school. Have these individuals never gone to school with the teacher’s kid(s)?

  39. Caliente*

    If he asks your age just say None of your business, in a neutral tone. That’s what I do, because its…none of anyones business.
    And I’ll say that people have always commented on my kindness/politeness/charm/easy goingness. Because of that when someone oversteps with me, I have no problems doing an easy shutdown. I would never go off but I will directly be like – Uh, yeah NOPES.
    I was even under high high pressure to tell someone my age – at work, for months, she even complained to other people that I wouldn’t tell her my age! – and I eventually was like Is there some kind of problem that you have? She finally stopped asking and then later quit over I have no idea what but the bottom line here is that she was just strange. People are weird. I pretty much never ask anyone their age unless I’m trying to figure out whether they’re 3 or 4, now they LOVE to answer this question! LOL

  40. C in the Hood*

    My initial thought: “Didn’t your parents teach you that it’s rude to ask someone their age?”

  41. Elenia*

    People have already made some great points but I would like to share my funny story about age. Last year Burt Reynolds died and me and a coworker were talking about it. We are both in our forties. A young coworker – 22 or 23 – overheard us and asked what we were talking about. We told her we were talking about Burt Reynolds’ death and she said,
    “Oh, that’s sad. Did he invent Reynold’s wrap?”
    She had no idea who he was!
    I told my older coworker I felt old and needed a hug!

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Ha! That reminds me of the old Gary Shandling (I think) joke about how young his girlfriend was, when he asked where she was when she heard Kennedy was shot and she said “someone shot Ted Kennedy???”

      (Like I said, it’s an old joke.)

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          But if I remember right, they “borrowed” it from Gary Shandling.

          (I may not remember right.)

    2. Lizzy May*

      I have a 24 year old coworker who didn’t understand the purpose of postage stamps. That day, I wanted to cry.

      1. Phony Genius*

        I’m dealing with people who think licking them is weird. You must be dealing with the next generation.

        1. Carlie*

          I recently had a conversation with three people old enough to have real jobs, none of whom had ever even heard of going to the bank and filling out a physical deposit slip.

                1. Elenia*

                  Yeah my main bank has hours 9 am to 4 pm. THAT IS RIDICULOUS. I e-deposit all of my checks. But I still have to go in sometimes for other transactions.

    3. DivineMissL*

      This reminds me of a conversation with my sons, who are 12 years apart.
      We were in the grocery store and an 80’s Madonna song came on the PA system. I said to my older son (who was about 20) if he had ever heard this Madonna song before, and he said “No, wow, this is Madonna?” Then I asked my younger son (about 8) and he said, “Who’s Madonna?”

  42. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    Ugh, I haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate stuff like this! There are three people working in my (current) office–me, the assistant manager, and the manager. And I am the oldest (just 3-4 years older than the manager, about 10-ish years older than the assistant), and it is CONSTANTLY brought up! Mostly by my manager. I have yet to figure out a way of short circuiting it without being weird or chilly.

      1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        How old are you?
        How old were you when 9/11 happened? Wow, what, you were THAT old?
        What year did you graduate high school? WOOOOOOW, I WAS ONLY IN GRADE!
        When did you graduate from college?
        What was X like while YOU were in school?
        What year were you born again? WOW I WOULD NEVER HAVE GUESSED THAT.
        How old were you when X President was elected?
        What was the first election you got to vote in?
        How old are your parents? When did they have you?
        What was like participating in X event when you were X years old?
        How old were you when you started dating your boyfriend? But you’re X now, when are you getting married?
        So, big birthday coming up, huh? Man, I just don’t know how I’ll feel when I hit that age.
        Etc, etc, etc.

        1. Earthwalker*

          Sounds like a student. Remember when you were starting grade school and the kids in the third grade seemed really tall and old? What is there to talk about in school outside of what kids wear, how they look, and what it must be like to be a grade older? Your list of age questions sound like that: what a kid contemplating someday becoming a real grownup would ask.

        2. Arts Akimbo*

          That is bonkerballs. I cannot believe they are having multiple conversations around it! (Except I can, because people are bonkerballs.)

      2. Elenia*

        They do. When I was the youngest person in the office it was CONSTANTLY brought up – “you’re so young you probably don’t even remember the shuttle challenger! (I do) You’re so young you don’t have these aches and pains! “You’re so young you don’t have to worry about retirement! (Of course I do).

        People are totally obnoxious about age. I still resent the BOSS who bullied me about age – and yes, I did consider it bullying because she basically used my age to imply I didn’t know anything.

        1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

          Yeah, I would consider that bullying, too. YUCK.

          I’m curious… do dudes get the age stuff as much as women do? It seems like women get it for being young AND for being older.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Shivering that managers are doing this to you, it’s extra unacceptable when it’s from people who are usually trained to you know…not bring that kind of thing up.

      I just embrace it when they’re so focused and start saying things like “Yeah I used to ride a dinosaur to school” and flip it back around of “Oh yeah, you wouldn’t get it, right? Since you’re a fetus after all.”

      1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        Yeah, I’ve been laughing it off (while privately gritting my teeth), but I’m reeeeeeaaaaaaally looking forward to getting my start date for my new job (and getting to give notice–maybe by carrier pigeon, as befitting for one of my advanced age), where even if people feel the need to go on about age I will neither be the youngest nor the oldest and there are way more than three people around. And yeah, the fact that the worst about it is the manager IS super cringe worthy–I don’t know why he’s so fixated on it.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          and getting to give notice–maybe by carrier pigeon, as befitting for one of my advanced age


    2. juliebulie*

      I’ve sometimes had occasion to remind certain people, “You’re on the conveyor belt too, kiddo.”

      I think it should be a little chilly. And THEY are the ones being weird.

      1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        True, but it’s a three person office, I’m lowest on the totem pole, and I’m outnumbered. They’re otherwise nice enough weirdos, so I kind of have to pick my battles while I’m here. But yeah, reminding my manager that 3-4 years isn’t exactly a huge difference might help.

  43. Lady Kelvin*

    I typically reply to questions like that with “Old enough to know better than to ask that question, young enough not to hold it against you.”

  44. e271828*

    If Simon asks you how old you are (assuming his manager has not already come down on him for this behavior), you give him a cold stare and a choice of “What? What did you say?” or “None of your business, why would you think it is?”

    If another coworker was taking him around, why didn’t they shut him down? This is such a weird thing to do, I cannot imagine watching it unfold without speaking.

    Is he on probation? Please document this and every other weird/boasting/inappropriate thing he does. The work world does not owe this guy a soft landing for going so far out of his way to be inappropriate. Maybe he’ll be better at his next job. I’m really not into making excuses and guessing at underlying conditions and internet-diagnosing Simon’s behavior here. He’s old enough to know how to behave in public settings and at the moment the company’s investment in him is minimal.

  45. Recreational Moderation*

    “How old are you?”
    “Old enough to recognize the kind of damage I can do to my professional reputation by asking lame-ass questions such as that one. Now, about the XYZ file …”

  46. CookieWookiee*

    What a weird thing to focus on and obsess over, especially on your first day.

    I’m a fan of “I’m old enough to not have to answer that question.” Said while smiling, of course. Or there’s the Kris Kringle answer, “older than my tongue but younger than my teeth.”

    1. CookieWookiee*

      Whoops, sorry, had it backwards, it’s “younger than my tongue but older than my teeth.”

  47. Jodi*

    A young admin started asking people’s age where I worked and then started to grouse to me about how a couple of the employees were too old and should retire as they were taking jobs from young people like her as she had to wait to move up in the company. I pointed out that 1. they were great at their jobs and 2. not everyone was in a position to retire and 3. it was an entirely inappropriate thing for her to be focussing on. When I asked if she also meant me as I’m only a few years younger than the people she was concerned about, she turned red and we heard no more about it.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I love when people think that’s how getting spots work, like if they retire tomorrow that she’s going to get all their jobs. Also that she’s capable right now to just slide on in there.

      I’d just get up and say “Oh you can do my job? Okay, have it. Take a seat. Tell me how you like it…” and just stare at them.

      1. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

        At my work they often take the opportunity to re-structure and divide up a role or departments differently when someone who has been there a long time retires. It’s rare that there is a one-to-one replacement for some roles, especially in locations in high-cost markets. So it could be that they shift things around, put more senior people into the responsibilities in a different configuration and then rehire at mid-level to fill in on some gaps from whoever was pushed up. But this would not affect junior staff like this little twerp. But it’s totally possible this company will just…find a suitable senior level replacement from outside and this dude won’t even know until the announcement is made or until the new manager’s first day.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          That’s true too!

          It’s really filed under “This “child” doesn’t even know how business works but is trying to act like they have a clue.” [I say “child” because clearly they’re not a child but they’re acting like one and acting like those of us a few years ahead of them are just sitting there ready to be rolled into our grave any time now!]

  48. BTDT*

    Besides the possibility of special needs, another semi-legit explanation could be that he grew up in a culture where this is acceptable. I once lived in one and it was not only ok to ask someone’s age, it was expected because the social rules of behavior and language changed depending on whether you were talking to an older/younger person. So if this person grew up in that framework he may have just internalized that this is acceptable everywhere. I’m guessing that isn’t the case or the OP would have mentioned it. But just pointing out that these places do exist and it’s culture-dependent whether the age question is rude or not. Either way it needs to get shut down immediately since it’s obviously not ok here.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      In that culture, was it also appropriate to exclaim, in shock, at how old the other person was?

      1. BTDT*

        of course it’s not ok there to run around feigning shock at everyone’s (still young!) age. However, in the culture I’m referring to, being old isn’t a bad thing at all. The culture is also very direct, much moreso than Americans are, about appearance. People will tell you to your face that you look fat, for example. Now I’ve never met anyone from this culture who moved to the US and acted even remotely close to what the OP described, so dude has issues. I just wanted to provide a possible context for how someone could get to his 20s having no clue that he’s WAY out of line. Certain kind of upbringing + impaired social skills…it’s possible. Im only saying this in case it helps the OP feel less frustrated before he approaches/corrects this guy. Instead of going into that conversation thinking the only explanation is that this guy is an irredeemable spoon.

    2. ErinFromAccounting*

      Are you talking about Korea? I have heard that the way you refer to someone older, younger, or the same age is different.

      That said, the context of this letter makes it sound like he’s doing it to boast about how he’s soooo accomplished at such a young age and everyone should be impressed by him. (oh my…)

      1. Elenia*

        Indians also refer to older people respectfully with a different tone of voice. We’re not supposed to ask age. If we do and get an answer, then proceeded to tell them how old they were, we’d get a smack! :)

      2. Blue*

        In Korea it’s common in college to ask what year someone was born in when you first meet them. Because as you said, you address people a bit differently based on whether they are older or younger than you.

        But it’s technically based on rules of hierarchy and formality, which means that in the workplace you start out with assuming the more formal/deferential form of address, i.e. you show them MORE respect. It would still be incredibly rude to go around saying, “You are all so OLD!”

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That sounds like a culture that puts emphasis on “respecting your elders”, since they change how they speak depending on age. So why would someone from that background then respond to someone’s age as “Oh that’s so old!”, that kind of defeats the purpose of asking so you know how to properly address them…

      Also please don’t refer to someone with a possible cognitive impairment as “special needs”, it’s outdated and inappropriate.

    4. Aurion*

      Yeah, no. I’m also from a culture (though not Korea) where age matters…and being older demands deference and respect from the get go. If Simon were from that kind of culture, he would not be exclaiming “oh you’re so old!” and “hey look, I got a masters degree whilst being MUCH younger than the rest of you.”

  49. Nethwen*

    When someone old enough to know better or old enough that someone should teach them better asks me my age, I tend to respond with a cheerful, “Old enough that most people don’t ask.” I’ve been giving that response since my 20s and haven’t had anyone push the point.

  50. Liz*

    Snarky me would be tempted to answer “947” and see what his reaction is. but that really is rude. and very unprofessional. I personally am not bothered by my age as I look much younger than I am; early 50s and am mistaken for someone in my 30s all the time. Not that I go around broadcasting my age, but if something comes up in conversation, like a tv show that was on when I was a kid, etc. people sometimes are surprised that i know it, since I don’t look old enough to have watched it. But i don’t bring it up. no reason to!

  51. JSPA*

    Normally, cutting someone off is rude. In this case, do it.

    Him: “How old a—”
    You: “Let me cut you off right here. As a favor. Look, I’m sorry I wasn’t here to catch this habit before you got the reputation as the Guy Who Asks About Ages And Calls People Old. You don’t want that to follow you around. It was only one day. So people are going to get over it, if you let them. Your job is to stop asking that question. Age is personal information, and it’s a characteristic covered by law. You’re not going to question or comment on people’s gender, race, religion, or age in the workplace, just to satisfy your curiosity or have something to talk about.

    If you have a legitimate, job-assigned reason to ask those sorts of questions, we’ll let you know. But you’re not the office demographer. Clear?”

    If you get any answer other than “Clear” or “OK” or “Sorry,” you can put their training on hold until they get clear on the concept.

    If he answers that he’s not the employer, he’s just an employee, you can tell him that if the employer tolerates invasive questions, the employer can end up on the hook for those questions.

    1. JSPA*

      you: employers can’t ask certain questions during hiring because they create a presumption of an intent to discriminate. Here, I printed this out for you. Take a look.


      Those same topics are also awkward in the workplace, for overlapping reasons, even when the person doing the quizzing is some random new guy.

      Same way you would never comment on people’s bodies or how their clothes fit, same way you don’t follow someone out to their car, same way you don’t google their information and quiz them about it or show up at their house. That sort of thing doesn’t just make a person unpopular, it makes them unemployable. You seem like a good guy, so let’s make sure you have a smoother path, from this point on.

      If you think you’ll have any problem sticking to these rules, do some googling for “appropriate work conversation topics” on your own time. For now, let’s start in on your training.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Actually, this is one of many, many articles that get this wrong. The questions themselves aren’t illegal (with the exception of asking about disabilities); what’s illegal is making a hiring decision based on them, and so smart employers don’t ask. But that gets misunderstood (and reported on) as “it’s illegal to ask,” when it’s actually not.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I was looking for a citation for this recently, because I was correcting someone else’s writing, and it was harder to find an accurate article than it was to find one that says *asking* the questions is illegal.

        2. JSPA*

          In some states, asking the question officially creates a presumption, no? And in general, it creates a significant risk of a presumption. (A presumption can still be refuted, thus the question is formally not illegal in itself, but it’s a Bad Idea all the same.)

        3. JSPA*

          And, yes, saying “illegal” to the guy is a gross oversimplification. But OP will have weeks, presumably, to fine tune the details. For now, the guy is giving signs of maybe not having the first clue. So why not have the “starting point is never do any of this” talk on the first day?

          Broad strokes first. Detail work when ready.

      1. Anita Brayke*

        Wouldn’t it be great if the “all-important” college degree went over how to be a basically decent human being at work? In this case, with Alison’s comment, then I’d say “questions like that are dangerous to ask in the workplace, because they could get us accused of basing hiring decisions on age, so we don’t do that here.” Then go on with “those same topics are awkward in the workplace…”

        College degrees…they guarantee nothing most of the time (with some exceptions).

    2. Amethystmoon*

      Clearly no one’s told him that there are several things you should never, ever ask women. Age is one of them.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Eh, I think this rule is actually hella sexist — poor fragile ladies whose identity is tied to youth and desirability, mustn’t upset them by asking their age! Asking people’s age is generally irrelevant, though.

        1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          It is sexist, but I think it’s at least as much “women over 25 [or some other relatively young age] will lose status if people know how old they are, so don’t undermine them by asking” as “don’t upset the poor fragile ladies.” If having her age known would harm a woman’s social standing, or her chance of marriage in a culture where that’s important economically as well as socially, asking could be actively harmful.

          The sexism isn’t in not asking, it’s in the potential consequences of answering.

  52. ErinFromAccounting*

    Oh my. I think this merits a to-the-point “That’s not an appropriate question to ask your coworkers” response. And considering the LW is supervising him, I think LW can add some advice to him that he is going to damage his work reputation if continues asking unprofessional questions like that. I mean, he’s already made a rough first impression.

  53. E*

    I hope the update on this is that Simon was in fact looking for his separated at birth twin who works there and he can only identify via their age.

    1. Shiny Onix*

      I’m glad someone else pulled that bit out, because I had to stop reading for ten minutes while I stopped laughing. Alison, you’re comedy gold. Hilarious!

  54. Kate Daniels*

    People can be super competitive about age. I’m wondering if his mindset is, “I have the same position as many of these *old* people… I’m really ahead of everyone else in this career path”?

    … You could tell him “Oh, wow! You don’t look 24! I thought you were 35.” :-)

    1. Natalie*

      I mean, if you haven’t watched the Three Identical Strangers doc I’d definitely recommend it. Their story gets a helluva lot weirder.

  55. Lizzy May*

    I’m a bit of an outlier because I don’t find asking someone their age all that rude. I wouldn’t do it ten seconds after meeting someone but I do know most of my coworkers ages because it either came up as part of conversations (when one coworker retired, we all joked about how long we all still have to work) or because I asked once I knew the person a bit better.

    What’s rude is calling people old and bragging about having a Masters. That just screams insecurity. He knows he’s young so he’s trying to make not being young the negative and he knows he’s still inexperienced so he’s trying to make himself seem more important and qualified. It’s kind of sad, really, but once he’s more comfortable in his new role, it might calm down.

    1. Oh So Anon*

      What you’re doing is totally different because the age questions are coming up in an appropriate context and because you’ve already built rapport with them. I don’t know if you’re that much of an outlier – I’d harbour a guess that most people who are closer with their colleagues know how old they are (roughly).

      1. Lizzy May*

        But even if a new coworker asked me my age right away, I wouldn’t be bothered by it. If they said “you’re so old” once I told them, however….

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      In general, most questions are only rude when you’re fishing for the information so that you can use it as ammunition against the person. “How old are you?” is one thing, “how old are you?” “Answers” “Oh dang, you’re old! I do the same job as you and I’m only 24!”

      Just like I imagine he also says nonsense like “Do you have your masters?” “Sure do.” “How old were you when you got it?” “27” “Oh wow, you were old! I had mine at 24!” Barf barf barf barf.

  56. Flash*

    Imagine the horror if he does this with a client or vendor. Time to sit him down right now and remind him that this is not only rude but a potential legal issue with a protected class. His coworkers will be in that class soon.

  57. Rainbow Roses*

    I had a coworker tell me that I’m so old. She was 22 and I was 25! She’d be in her late 40’s now. She probably doesn’t even remember because it was one time with one person (me). This guy is going to look back one day and cringe since he involved *everyone!*

  58. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

    You’re 57. You just kept your looks really, really well.

    See how long he believes you.

  59. UsedToBeYoung*

    I once was a young hotshot too. But I never pointed it out to anyone, it just lived as a little grain of smugness in my head.
    I was the youngest in my HS class, graduated with my Master’s by 20. It was always pointed out to me my entire life that I was the youngest to be in/do X. I was the youngest person to ever be hired into that first position, age was so important to other people. I remember when I suddenly realized I was 36ish and no longer the young hotshot, I was just the average approaching middle-aged woman. Again, please note I never said anything to anyone about them being OLD and me being younger.
    I wonder if he has a little bit of that? “I am so young and a hotshot. I’ll never be working in THIS position at 30.”
    He certainly needs to be told he is being rude and condescending. Some day he too will be just another average middle-aged person grinding away.

    1. Oh So Anon*

      Except that there are few circumstances where he would be a young hotshot if he has a master’s at 24. That’s like the modal age of graduation for a lot of programs.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I mean we all feed ourselves some level of silliness like that in our heads, it helps stroke that ego and keep it nice and warm at night.

      I have snobbish tendencies because I came from a family with that nonsense in their heads, my hate for them has made me really focus on being anything but that way. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t creep up in my head though!

      So I’m fine if he’s having these weird conversations with his other young-hotshot friends, I know I sure did back in the day. I’m still not done climbing though but now I’m seeing my friends start to really cap-out and struggle in some pretty low rung jobs. So it shook me to see it being people I frigging know, instead of just the “competition” that some folks view their coworkers as.

  60. Close Bracket*

    on the principle that he should understand this is a completely inappropriate question to ask strangers at work,

    He should, but he doesn’t. Don’t dance around the question hoping he will pick up on your cues based on some principle that he does not share with you. Use Your Words. Either make it about you by figuring out some direct but kind way to tell him it’s a personal question that you aren’t going to answer or make it about workplace norms by finding a direct but kind way to tell him it’s an inappropriate question in the workplace, but either way, say something direct with words.

  61. Jellyfish*

    I don’t see what the degree has to do with age either. If I’m 50 and have a Master’s, maybe I got my degree when I was 24 too, Simon doesn’t know. Maybe I just graduated six months ago – it doesn’t matter. Hopefully Simon doesn’t think learning or achieving, whatever those may look like, end at 25.

  62. Elbe*

    It sounds like he may think that bringing up the topic of age will reflect well on him (that his new colleagues will notice how young he is to ALREADY have a master’s) but it’s actually doing the opposite. He’s trying to build himself up by tearing other people down in the comparison, and it’s just making him seem rude and tone deaf.

    1. Mazzy*

      Yeah…I’m in my early 40s and had a 15 year younger coworker say that we were all basically the same generation. It was a weird power play. I semi agree that we basically grew up in the same historic era, but he’s wiping out our experience and if he thinks we are the same, then just be it. But googling things I experienced does not make us the same

  63. Semprini!*

    My first thought was to be kind of surprised that a person would want to emphasize being so much younger than the rest of the team, because when I was younger I found people taking me less seriously because of my age, even when I was perfectly qualified for whatever I was doing. Has Simon never experienced this or something?

    My next thought was that it could be amusing (although probably irresponsible and a bad idea) to respond to Simon from the baseline assumption that being younger would be seen as bad. “You’re only 23? Oooo…I’d keep that quiet if I were you!”

    Another amusing, irresponsible bad idea would be to use this attitude when he asks you how old you are. “It’s my policy not to disclose my age at work – between you and me, I find that people tend not to give me professional respect when they find out how young I am.”

  64. Jellyfish*

    I have a feeling if I say something like “Why do you ask?” he’ll say “Just curious”

    You could take a line from The Princess Bride and tell him to get used to disappointment.

  65. Former Young Lady*

    Simon sounds like he’s actually three toddlers on each other’s shoulders, wrapped up in a trench coat and a fake mustache. Anyone old enough to vote has the right to tell him he’s embarrassing himself.

  66. Jamie*

    As someone who grappled with abject terror whilst unemployed last year that my age would keep me from ever working again I really hope the OP sets her new co-worker straight.

    Age isn’t something I’m insecure about in other aspects of my life, but when it comes to the workplace I’ve had to have too many uncomfortable conversation about why people can’t discriminate against those over 40, and heard too much bragging about how young the staff is, to be comfortable about being middle aged here.

    My age doesn’t bother me, but I know it bothers others (in general, Idk at this job) and it scares me.

    1. Buttons*

      Just one hour ago I had to say to the head of HR “we can’t exclude them from the development program because they are in their 50s. Their past performance reviews and potential rating qualifies them. Their age should never have been listed on the report to begin with. ” Sigh.
      I have reached that age when I am now scared about being laid off, 44 seems to be the magic age when women become invisible.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I have reached that age when I am now scared about being laid off, 44 seems to be the magic age when women become invisible.


        I am looking for a new gig now, and I am being super careful where I apply because of this. (I’m in my late 50’s.)

      2. Close Bracket*

        Oh man. I keep hearing about the “young enthusiastic engineers” here. I keep hearing “we should give this task to a young engineer.” Meanwhile, this middle-aged woman is panicking that I won’t have any work after I finish my current task.

  67. time for lunch*

    “Our new coworker is obsessed with how advanced he is for his age and how behind everyone else is in the project of always moving up a level.” This bespeaks a worldview that is still in elementary school. Yeesh. Good luck, OP.

  68. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

    This guy has obviously been living under a cave. Calling people “old” will totally not endear them to you. Also, if you are actually the youngest person in a work situation, you want to downplay that as much as possible, because you have to battle against people’s inclinations to see you as immature and unskilled.

    1. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

      I can’t English today. It’s “endear you to them”, not the other way around !

  69. House Tyrell*

    I’m 23 and I can’t imagine doing this. If anything I try to avoid emphasizing my age, which is difficult because I’m so much younger than all my coworkers and everyone is obsessed with pointing out how young I am.

    I also already have a master’s degree but that doesn’t make me any better than my coworkers (only one of them have an advanced degree and it’s 50/50 on even having a BA for the rest.) He’s probably like me and spent his whole life being told that being young and smart were his only good qualities and so his entire identity is wrapped up around that and he just needs a reality check that outside of school he has the opportunity to be more than that.

    1. thatoneoverthere*

      I couldn’t stand it when people made a show of my age, when I was in my early 20s. OMGAH you’re so young to be doing XYZ. Drove me nuts. I try really hard never to do this now to people.

      1. House Tyrell*

        I routinely get quizzed on pop culture from the early 90s and before that I never really understand because I didn’t grow up with it, followed by “I can’t BELIEVE you’ve never seen [show that stopped running before I was born.]” Or “my kids were born in XXXX year… hmm kind of around when you were born! It’s so weird to be working with someone so young!”

        It’s so uncomfortable!

        1. annakarina1*

          Seth Meyers’ show does a bit with a 24-year old writer when he quizzes her on pop culture stuff that she would be too young to remember, but the show keeps it equal by then having her quiz him on more recent pop culture from her youth, so it’s more fun and not age-shaming on either side.

        2. Buttons*

          Every generation has had that! LOL! I am so careful about this, I run a recent college graduate program at my company, and if I have a movie or tv quote/video clip in my presentation, I always make sure to look it up to see what year it came out. Every now and then it hits me that many of them are young enough they could be my child.
          As I said, I am so careful about it I do not want to alienate them, and honestly, I don’t want them to think I am old an out of touch!

        3. Elenna*

          Yeah I’m also 23 and if anything I try to downplay my age at work because I don’t want to be “the young one”.

    2. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

      I was 23 when I got my MA and got similar reactions. Which is why I’m so mystified by the OP because I’m so used to trying to hide my age.

  70. thatoneoverthere*

    My guess is this guy has led a sheltered life, followed by a bro-esque college experience. He sounds pretty naïve in many aspects. To be fair when I was in my very early 20’s, mid-30’s sounded ancient to me. However, I doubt I would have ever said what he did. He likely just doesn’t know any better, despite “How other 24 year olds behave”.

    1. Miranda Priestly's Assistant*

      This is my guess as well. Getting a college/master’s degree is actually more a sign of privilege than talent. Not everyone can afford to not enter the workforce until 24/25.

  71. Essess*

    I would point out to him that he needs to knock it off quickly before he becomes a legal liability to the company. If any of your employees are 40 or older, his constant fixation and comments about their age falls under the legal definition of age harassment if he continues after being told to knock it off. One or 2 quick comments doesn’t reach the level of harassment, but if this is his constant conversation then he needs to be shut down quickly. https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/harassment.cfm

  72. Workerbee*

    I always wanted to answer the age question with “As old as my tongue and a little bit older than my teeth,” a la Kris Kringle, or “Professional interest or morbid curiosity–which?” via Doctor Who, but I haven’t actually done either yet.

    Instead, I say variations such as:
    “I don’t answer that.”
    “I’ve found that people who ask this either respond with shock, respond with horror, fall over themselves assuring me ‘you’d never know,’ or generally assume that I have a problem with having lived up to this point. Regardless, it’s a waste of my time.”

    (I’m feeling a bit salty as this chap has made me think of friends I’ve had to distance myself from due to their continual insistence in lumping me in with their “WE’RE so OLD!” laments. It’s like, well, the alternative is death, soooooooo….

  73. Treats for Shelby*

    This brings back memories of going out for a team lunch (about 20 people) for a co-worker’s 23rd birthday. She’d been hired straight out of college and she repeatedly said, loudly and with a drawn-out, sad tone, “I’m soooo old nowwwww…” – to her co-workers in their mid- to late-30s (a few), 40s (many) and 50s and 60s (even more). It did not go over well.

  74. Phony Genius*

    Is there any country that this would be considered acceptable, in case this happened outside the U.S.? Assuming no, I wonder if he’s delusional to the point of believing that if he can prove everybody else is inferior to him, the company will recognize this and promote him straight to the top. I have actually seen this, though not with the age question.

  75. Amethystmoon*

    He should meet my grandma. She is 97 and still lives in her own home, and has her mental faculties. The only thing is she uses hearing aides. She plays bridge and is active in her church. You are only as old as you feel.

    Also he should be made aware that age discrimination is illegal.

  76. Amber*

    Ha – I remember my first year of grad school (I was 24) I was invited to a party where there were children – and I threw a hissy fit! Because how could I be at the same social gathering as the Olds with kids! *cringing forever*

  77. Jam Today*

    “Unless you’re planning on dying young, you will also one day be ‘old’ so I suggest you figure out how to get over it, right now.”

  78. Not putting my usual name on this*

    Oh gawd last time I went out with my team I started telling them all they’re too young (in what I really hope was a jokey way). When they (justifiably) asked what definition I was using for too young, I thought about it and said younger than my baby sister (who’s early 30s, I’m 11 years older). They complained (I hope also still good humoredly). I had already decided on the basis of this that I really shouldn’t a) drink with work people, especially not b) on an empty stomach. Reading this I’m even more mortified. No one wants to be That Guy. I have learned my lesson!!

  79. Heidi*

    I’d be tempted to make a preemptive strike. “I hear you go around telling people that they’re old.” It might help him understand that this is creating an unflattering reputation that precedes him.

    It’s unfortunate that the rudeness is the thing he’s known for now. It’s going to be hard to dig himself out of that hole.

  80. ShadowBelle*

    I think I’d just go with my default: the deadly raised eyebrow and the cold, “What’s your point?”

  81. Josie*

    I’m not one of those ‘never-tell-my-age’ people – I don’t care who knows how old I am.
    BUT…if some STRANGER asked me that at work, I would have said “Excuse me?!” as if I didn’t hear it correctly, and then I would have said “I don’t tell people my age (and – maybe- “and it is very rude of you to ask.”) This dude is a FREAK. There’s NO excuse for it, unless he is WAY on the spectrum. And if he IS, he needs to be told that this is VERY inappropriate behavior.

  82. Snark*

    “Are you asking because you’re desperately clueless and rude, or because you’ve recently discovered a fear of mortality you can only assuage through verifying that you’re surrounded by people whom the actuarial tables suggest will die sooner?”

  83. Council'd*

    While I certainly didn’t go around asking people how old they were and commenting on it my first day (or week; or month) I’ve noticed that in a lot of my first jobs I’ve been asked how old I am or been told how old my coworkers were in regular conversation. My age comes up a lot because I tend to be one of the youngest on the team (part of a team of recent grads in support roles, then the office admin where I was the youngest by about 20 years and also significantly younger and perceived as more reliable than my peers (also all about 20 years older than me) in other offices (it was 98% because my manager liked me and the other admins’ managers didn’t, 2% I was a slightly better google-er), and now part of a just-above-entry level helpdesk team where I’m the youngest, but only by about 2-4 years.)

    I don’t think asking/talking about age is completely taboo in a workplace, but it’s the when and how in this letter that is coming off very poorly.

  84. Granny K*

    “How old are you?”
    Me: How old do I look?

    “You are So OLD!”
    Me: Like a fine wine….

  85. Ali A*

    This very much reminds me of “negging” culture – when guys casually insult women in a toxic attempt to have a reverse psychology affect on them and/or take advantage of their perceived insecurities.

    Yuck x 1000.

  86. awesome*

    “Unless his answer is something like “my separated-at-birth twin works here and age is the only way I can identify her,” then you should say, “I know you’re earlier in your career and may not realize this, but being so focused on age will come across as strangely unprofessional. We have people of all different ages here and we relate to each other as colleagues, not ‘younger’ or ‘older.’ It’s best for you to do that too so you don’t seem like you’ll struggle with building the kinds of relationships you’ll need to build.”

    Even if he is looking for his long lost sister, asking everyone for their age without context still isn’t the best foot forward.

  87. Sled dog mama*

    This is so strange but also made me stop and think about my masters program. I realized that at 24 when I started my first masters I was the youngest in the cohort and the only one working on a first masters.

  88. Jaybeetee*

    I’d admittedly probably laugh if someone did this at my current job. I’m 32, but decidedly the “baby” of my team, who otherwise consist mostly of people aged 50+. If some young’un asked me my age, then called me “old”, I’d be entertained by the sheer contrast of it. But after that, I’d probably follow up any further forays on the subject with, “k”.

    You want someone to know you don’t give a f about whatever they’re trying to tell you? “K”. Back to work/back to training conversation.

  89. Ed*

    Someone else has probably raised this but this was weird to me until the final paragraph. He’s doing it in a really weird way but it kind of seemed like he was trying to get a feel for what progression might be available, how long people stay in this role etc. Like its not an ok way to do it but he’s coming in seeing people in their 30’s, 50’s and 60’s still in what the OP describes as pretty much an entry level role- I’d have questions too. (not judging, not everyone wants progression and more responsibilities and more stress) And the thing about the masters could be to gauge if it’d be a help to him to move up? if everyone else also has a masters he is at the bottom of the queue for promotion.

  90. Peacemaker*

    I think if this happened to me, I’d be inclined to use Alison’s first words almost verbatim: “That’s so weird to ask that. And rude! And immature. Ironically, being this focused on age is a sure-fire way of signaling “I am young and not very experienced in the world.”
    Of course, I’m 62 and a little grumpy about my age…

  91. Curmudgeon in California*

    If he said that to me, my response would be a pointed “Yeah, I’m not a total neophyte. I’m on my second career, in fact. Fortunately age discrimination is illegal.”

    If he kept it up I would be more blunt “OK, we know you’re just a kid. But we don’t rub that in around here.”

    Seriously, that garbage needs to be shut down fast. It’s the same mentality that has high tech startups and trendy places not willing to hire people over 30 or 40. (I’m in my late 50’s.)

  92. CatsAreImportantToo*

    My response would have been something like “wow, a masters so young? Crazy that you’re working here with the rest of us and not at Google or something!” Who knows, maybe he’d realize he isn’t so special.

  93. Jane*

    My very first professional job put me in an office with 11 other people all of whom were at least a decade older than myself.

    I was the only one with a master’s degree except the boss.

    I NEVER ONCE MENTIONED EITHER FACT over the course of normal conversations.

    This guy seems like .a tool and needs to be told as such.

  94. Batgirl*

    I wonder if this is an awkward attempt at friendly piss taking. Like, he doesn’t really understand that work friendships are quite superficial and you can’t really ask personal questions, much less mock and bust people on (non) milestones.
    For the love of sanity he needs to be told to pack it in with frowny eyebrows.
    “Uh Simon, you’re talking about different ages again as though you’ve never met a group of working adults before.”
    “Uh what? My age? Ha no.” (Followed by an “Anyway, as I was saying” subject change/refusal to answer)
    “I’m sure you’re joking but it’s just coming across as though you have an odd thing about people’s ages”

  95. Ciela*

    that’s like running around asking everyone their shoe size…

    Although when I was 18, I did have a conversation about age with an older co-worker my first week.
    My job description was “help Oscar”. So he’d give me something to do, I’d finish it, and ask him what was next.
    Finally he said “go get me a beer”
    “Can’t, I’m too young”
    “Yes, I’m 18”
    Then several more times that day and the next, he asked me to get him a beer, “Can’t! Still too young”

    And then I figured out that he was older than me and Wakeen put together. So my very naive self would say “hey Oscar, guess what? You’re older than me and Wakeen put together!” 20 years later it’s a rather amusing story, and he and I commiserate about how all the new people don’t appreciate how good / easy they have it.

  96. Ana*

    I went prematurely grey (in my 20s) and sometimes people ask me how old I am and I always answer “Old enough” and that shuts them up.

  97. All Outrage, All The Time*

    I bet this is just the tip of the Weird Simon Iceberg. Please keep us updated, OP.

  98. Food Sherpa*

    Good Grief! Maybe someone should get this guy a subscription to the Miss Manners column. Asking generic questions about age is rude in any situation. If he asks you can always answer “Old enough to know not to ask such a rude (or inappropriate) question.”

  99. Queery*

    This behavior is against norms but honestly sounds a lot like the behavior of my brother, who’s on the spectrum but very high functioning. These social norms just aren’t a part of his vocabulary and he fixates on odd things at times. I do wonder if that’s a possible explanation of what’s going on here. He’s not required to disclose this to co-workers, it would be inappropriate for managers to discuss with co-workers, but it’s how his brain works and doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to be bad at this job.

    1. Scarlet2*

      It does mean that he’ll have a hard time getting along with his coworkers though. And if he truly doesn’t realize he’s being rude, telling him is a kindness. Otherwise, he’ll wonder why everyone is avoiding him.

  100. cheeky*

    Also worth mentioning that this kind of behavior, if focused on workers over 40, could be considered age discrimination under the law and needs to be addressed.

  101. Dancing Otter*

    If (when) he asks you, say you’re older than your teeth. (After all, everyone is, by at least six years, right?). While he’s digesting that, you can change the subject back to work.

  102. Anonchivist*

    I had two Master’s degrees by the time I was 24. Everyone in my [very rigorous, hard academic, dual degree] program joked about how I was “a baby” and it made me feel superior. I only held onto that attitude for 2 or 3 years after graduating, until I realized that the people who let themselves grow and mature and get life experience before diving into rigorous graduate programs were the ones with the true wisdom. I’m 30 now and I like being “old” and having my colleagues see me as a “grownup.” I like being among my professionals peers regardless of age. It’s so much nicer than being the wunderkind baby, and I hope this person matured enough to see this.

    1. Kiwiii*

      I got “the baby” a lot in my undergrad and took a lot of pride in it — I’d managed to stack my credits in a way that I was about a year younger than the rest of the people in my major (my last year was a little bit of mid-level or so degree requirements, but not major-related courses and then a marketing minor that I cranked through) — but I don’t think I would have ever considered bringing that pride in it out of college and into the real world, much less something I tried to leverage over people in a new work environment like weird Simon.

  103. Kevin*

    Funny, my workplace has a situation that’s sort of the inverse. Most of the department is people in their late 20s/early 30s, myself included. There’s one woman who is in her late 40s who loves to talk about how much older than she is than everybody else. She frequently plays this card whenever somebody mentions their new phone, a new band they like, or weekend plans, she’ll mention how she doesn’t know anything about that because she’s so much older than the rest of us. She also says “I’m old enough to be everybody’s mom!”

    Our department is sort of entry-level so I take this as insecurity or self-depcrecation on her part that she’s at the same peer level as people who are younger than her? I pretty much refuse to engage her on this topic and ignore these comments but there are people who indulge her and call her the “department mom” which she says she hates.

  104. Róisín*

    I’m the old one at my restaurant job, at 24. Last year on a shift with 2 hosts (including me), 2 bussers, 2 managers, 7 servers, and 1 expo, I realized I was the oldest person on the staff that day. (The managers were 20 and 22.) Being a somewhat laidback environment, I sometimes make new servers guess when the subject of age comes up. I typically get pegged at 21, which is about the median age around here.

    1. Kiwiii*

      I found that this happened a lot when I was supervising at a grocery store. While we had a couple 30ish and 60ish cashiers and the front managers were in their 50s, the rest of the supervisers were either just out of high school or had been working there for 4+ years and had worked their way up from part-time high school cashier to supervisory work — I’d been hired at 23 to be a supervisor and do some pricing work, but kept getting guessed at 19/20 or even sometimes /still in high school/. But that was mostly by high schoolers in a retail setting, definitely not something I’d expect in my current workplace or any office job, really.

  105. Flash Bristow*

    My grandmother used to reply (smugly): “As old as my tongue and a little bit older than my teeth!”

    Which I’m sure you can imagine is infuriating as heck to a primary age kid who hasn’t yet learnt full social manners – but when repeated to Simon (“I told you! As old as…”) may stop him from getting any satisfaction, and realise its a weird thing to ask. At least it’ll make clear “I’m not giving you my age. Wtf?”

  106. CM*

    Simon is being rude, and you should totally start calling him “baby Simon” from now on, BUT, I also think it’s worth noting that you seem pretty scared of smug 24-year-old and his diabolical questions — it might be worth thinking about why. Again, it’s not that he’s not being inappropriate, but, if it’s pushing your buttons A LOT, to the point that you’re stressing out and asking an advice column what you can say if he questions you too, it might be worth taking some time to figure out why you feel so vulnerable about this and whether there’s something you can do to heal.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*


      “Rude person annoys me!”
      “Huh. Might be something wrong with you.”

      You see the problem here, right?

      1. Close Bracket*

        I read that more as,

        “Rude person annoys me!”
        “Rude person is rude, and your reaction is disproportionate to the actual rudeness.”

        I don’t see a problem with that.

  107. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    Simon says…WHAT?!!!

    For these kinds of questions, my fallback is “That’s none of your business” or “I’m not going to discuss that with you.”

  108. Bowserkitty*

    Alison, one of my favorite standard pieces of advice you give is to blatantly acknowledge what the person is saying is just weird. So tactfully stated, just “That’s an unusual thing to say.”

    I love it!!

  109. Rexish*

    I don’t know why, but my first instrict was that Simon is doing all of this on purpose. He wasn’t to establish himself as an “alpha” and a child genious cause he is “better” educated at a younger age. He wants to put others down. In general I’m the one giving a benefir of the doubt to people but something about this doens’t make me want to do it.

    Also, masters at 24 is hardly impressive. It just basically means that after college they went to grad school instead of work.

  110. Yazeep*

    I came back to my home country and started a job a couple of weeks after I turned 30. My boss and several other managers were my age or older. But everyone else was in their early to mid 20s. For some reason, my age became a “joke” and was brought up almost daily. It really stressed me and made me so uncomfortable. I really hope hour colleague stops pronto.

  111. MistOrMister*

    As soon as Simon asked my age, I would come right out and tell him that it isnt appropriate for him to ask that of every single person he meets and that I wouldn’t be answering. And furthermore that it is rude, off-putting and completely unprofessional for him to comment on people’s ages (it really makes no difference that everyone he asked is under 35….it wouldn’t matter if they were all 65!!) and he needs to stop it immediately. You could also throw in some talk about how it’s fine to,discuss age if it comes up organically, but really this just seems like someobe who should keep their mind off ages. I dont get it….I rarely know how old my coworkers are. Some people will announce their age and some you can kind of guesstimate based on their work history and appearance but when it gets down to it, who gives a flying f***? Unless their age somehow directly impacts my job, I just do not care.

    I am not really sure why OP is concerned about answering so as not to make things awkward. This guy is making them awkward by what he’s asking and how he’s responding. If it’s going to be awkward no matter what, you might as well do everyone a favor and tell him to shut that ish down.

  112. London Calling*

    My age is none of your business unless you’re asking for a date, young man. And even then it’s none of your business. You’re busting for a punch on the snoot.

  113. Overagekid*

    Simon sounds unpleasant.
    I could sort of understand making jokes about everyone being old if he wants to be seen as fun and outgoing, but just doesn’t realise that he is being rude and unprofessional with that specific joke.
    But if he’s also defensive when questioned on it, I would be on the lookout for any other aggressive tendencies he has.

  114. Auntie Social*

    I am over 60 and went to the DMV for a license renewal. The sweet very young thing directing people asked very loudly (?) if I knew how to use a computer. I said just as loudly, “YES DEAR, SHALL I SHOW YOU HOW??” Laughter and high fives from everyone over 40 in line. . . .

  115. Luna*

    “My age is none of your business. I will also advise you to not inquire, or comment on, the potential age of the others here because otherwise you will be getting called into a lot of meetings with HR regarding behavior.” because I’m pretty sure commenting that much on age can be construed as behavior ranging to harassing or even discriminating.

  116. Shoes On My Cat*

    Admittedly not knowing all the facts, my sense was that this kiddo is going for a “Oh my gosh, you must be a Wunderkind!” Ugh!! Not a good strategy. That status develops over time by building a reputation and requires the WK keeping their mouth shut about it! Work your booty off & leave it to others to assign that label! It’s not one you can assign to yourself (out loud). I think as a partial supervisor, OP could help this kid by shutting him down, explaining that it’s an inappropriate workplace question and see what he says/how he handles it.

  117. Judge Crater*

    I think rather than reply “why do you ask,” a better response is “that’s not really an appropriate question to ask in a workplace.” You don’t want to start a dialogue, you want to provide some feedback on workplace norms.

  118. Jo*

    My boss used to comment on how much older he is than me. I didn’t much appreciate it but at least I knew what he was thinking.

  119. Laura*

    Good response, Alison – I agree that the question the employee in OP’s letter is odd. I like how the initial response ends with, “is there a reason you’re interested in that?” but I would also go a step further with a more direct response of “please stop asking that question” if he doesn’t get the hint the first time.

    I used to not mind being asked about my age, as I do look younger than my late 20’s. My feelings changed when I was asked about my age in an interview – along with other off putting, illegal questions about if I was married/had kids and what my medical issues were. I reported that employer to the EEOC as an employer is not allowed to ask these questions.

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