employee is vaping on video calls, my speaking style seems all wrong for the South, and more

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

1. Employee is vaping during video calls

I am in a supervisory position for a state government that has moved to work-from-home during the pandemic. We are now holding all of our meetings through virtual interfaces. Recently, another supervisor and I have noticed one of our employees vaping during our meetings with her and during all-staff meetings.

Do you think this is appropriate or should we say something?

It’s ridiculously unprofessional.

I’m not going to try to defend why it’s okay to take a sip of coffee on a video call but not to vape, because the reality is that our norms about what is and isn’t professional are rooted in convention and not always logic. But the reality is, vaping on a work call does look unprofessional.

I mean, in theory it doesn’t really affect anyone if your employee started attending video calls without his shirt on either, but you’d still be on solid ground in saying, “We still expect you to show up looking reasonably presentable, which means fully dressed. Wear a shirt.” And vaping on a video call for work looks unprofessional, just like swigging from a whisky bottle or working on your eye makeup would.

The easiest way to address it, though, is to frame it around the distraction it creates: “Just like you wouldn’t vape in the office, please don’t vape on video calls either. It’s distracting to other people on the call.”

2. My communication style seems all wrong for the South

I am a transplanted midwesterner living in northwest Louisiana. For the last 15 years, I have worked for the local sheriff’s office. Moving to the South after growing up in the Midwest presented some challenges. The one that seems insurmountable is how I talk. Apparently we are not talking about my accent, nor how fast I talk … but “how I talk to people.” When I have asked what that means, people have trouble putting it into words. Some have said that I come off arrogant or sound like I am lecturing. I do know that when I speak from experience, I speak with confidence, but it is more than that.

I am willing to correct my speech if in fact there is something to correct, but I cannot put a finger on what it is. Not having anyone to accurately describe the issue is problematic. People I work with on a regular basis tell me they “get used to it” or “understand you (me) now.” This sounds more like a cultural difference, rather than a correctable flaw. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Yeah, I’d guess it’s almost definitely a difference in regional communication styles — stuff like being more blunt or direct, or not softening things, or coming across as all business and less concerned about relationships, or so forth. It can be the difference between something like “we need to do X” and “hmmm, what if we tried X?” To someone who’s used to blunter, more direct communication (not something the midwest is known for, interestingly!), this can seem exasperating — why can’t you just say what you mean? But if you’re in a culture with a softer, less direct style, you could be coming across as less polite and respectful, and that can limit what you’re able to achieve there.

I don’t know for sure that this is what’s going on, of course! But that’s my best guess based on what you wrote. If that’s the case, it is something you can work on if you want to. There are full-on courses on cultural communication styles you can take, but you can also just make a point of observing how people around you speak to each other and get things done and how it differs from your approach. This isn’t about your style being right or wrong; it’s just about recognizing what works best in the culture you find yourself in.

3. Are Karens professionally screwed?

At this rate, “Karen” is here to stay as a call-out term for racism and privilege. My name is Karen. We know that the name on a resume can put people at a disadvantage (although this is obviously not remotely in the same league as racism), and that people can have visceral reactions to names they don’t like/that belonged to people they don’t like. Given that hardly anybody wants to have anything to do with “Karen” these days, what’s the likelihood that the actual Karens are professionally screwed?

I think you’re fine. People know it’s a shorthand/meme and not an indication that all people named Karen fit the stereotype it’s come to reference.

4. Meetings scheduled over lunch breaks

I was wondering if you had any thoughts about scheduling meetings over the lunch hour. I have the time blocked off on my calendar and leadership has sent out emails stating not to schedule between 12-1, but people keep scheduling a meeting there anyway. It got so bad that at one point I had three meetings at 12:30.

With everyone working from home during COVID-19, our calendars are getting filled with meetings that normally were desk fly-bys, so I understand that calendars are packed, but is there anyway I can decline anyway? Would it look unprofessional?

In most offices and most jobs, you can decline meetings requests if you have a conflict, as long as you’re not utterly inflexible about it … meaning that if a meeting is really important or the organizer has been unable to find another slot that works for everyone who needs to be there, you should be flexible about it. And if you have another slot that day that you could use for lunch without too much hardship, it makes sense to be willing to switch your lunch around — you don’t want to be the person who absolutely must eat lunch at a specific time no matter how it inconveniences others.

But otherwise, it should be fine to push back in the same way you would if you had another type of conflict with that time — especially since your office has already told people to stop doing this. If you’re really unsure, you can confirm that with your boss, but it certainly sounds like your company supports you here.

You might also consider setting up that time in your calendar so people cannot schedule over it, if your calendaring program lets you do that.

5. Employee won’t fill out his hours in time to get paid correctly

At the small company I work for, employees may have a small number of set hours each week but can set their own schedule to be as full or as empty as they’d like by scheduling sessions directly with the clients they are connected with. We give them a Google calendar where they input their hours worked, and then I process payroll based on those calendars twice a month. The calendars are the only way I know anything about people’s work schedules, as they can change drastically from week to week.

A new employee for some reason just will not fill out his calendar in anything approaching a timely manner. He has been here for months, and so far I have been able to process his hours with everyone else’s ONCE. Except for that one time, he has completely ignored his calendar (and all of my emails) for about 1.5 months, then backfills it all and expects to be paid for all that time.

Aside from how strange this is, it creates a massive headache for me as I have to do special payroll runs for this one person. Our payroll system is time-intensive and far from my primary duty, and I am at my wits’ end. It doesn’t help that our boss is ineffective, to put it mildly. Do you have any suggestions for what I can do or how to get this to stop?

You could point out to your boss that your company is violating the law by not promptly paying this employee for all hours they’ve worked. Typically state law will dictate how quickly you must pay people for work they’ve performed, and those laws hold true even if the person doesn’t submit a timesheet. And under federal law, it’s the employer’s responsibility to keep a record of the hours people work; they can rely on employees’ assistance via timesheets, etc. but ultimately the employer is responsible for paying for all hours worked, regardless of whether the person recorded their time correctly.

Generally the way employers deal with this is by making timely submission of timesheets a requirement of the job and disciplining people who don’t comply, since otherwise the company is at legal risk. If your boss isn’t willing to do that and you don’t have the authority to do it yourself, you may need to contact the employee directly each time you’re processing payroll — and also keep your boss informed about how much time you’re spending on this and how it’s affecting other projects.

{ 798 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    A note: Letter-writer #3 is not comparing potential discrimination over “Karen” to the discrimination that people of color face. She’s noting that data shows name discrimination is a real thing and asking if another form of it is now likely to extend to her name as well. It’s a legitimate question for her to ask, even though obviously it wouldn’t be anywhere near what people of color experience (and she’s not saying that it would be). I’ve removed several comments stating otherwise.

  2. Retail not Retail*

    I’d love to know if LW2 is black or not – or at least what the racial breakdown of the office is. Heck, gender may make a difference as well.

    Also, it may just be your coworkers – do others you interact with kind of step back at certain phrases or your tone?

    I moved from the south to the mountain west and back. I didn’t have normal jobs out west, but I just know people didn’t call their older coworkers mister/miss first name. And doctor’s office staff didn’t call me sweetheart or dear heart.

    1. juliebulie*

      When I moved from north to south, a few people told me that I talk too fast. That’s an easy thing to recognize, so maybe that’s not what OP’s coworkers are referring to – but it could be part of a combination of things.

      I was living in FL, which despite its location is not the most “southern” in style because there are so many people there from other states. But I did have a coworker from Louisiana whose speaking style and manners I can only describe as “sweet.” She was very professional, not weak or wishy-washy in any way, and honestly she wasn’t even particularly nice, but her tone and diction were super-sweet.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Yes! I don’t know how to explain it either, but I 100% have a coworker from the South (I don’t know where exactly) whose tone reads as sweet even when she is being straightforwardly critical.

        1. Kay T*

          Having worked with a team from TX for a couple years, the longer we worked together the more reading “sweet” transitioned to reading “fake” to those of us from the East Coast. Our team would tell you exactly what they thought. Their team would be sweet to each other’s faces and then talk behind their backs, so we assumed they did the same to us.

        1. Admiral Thrawn Is Still Blue*

          Hats are Great: speaking as a native of Tallahassee, 45 minutes from GA, you are so very right.

      2. AKchic*

        that honeyed/sugary tone that we all see played up with the idea of a “southern belle” or “southern pageant queen” is how I describe it. And very much a way of speaking besides tone. When speaking with men and anyone they assume to have more authority, they will speak more demurely, with softer phrases. With their peers or even those they consider a rung below them, they are sweet, but assertive. Anyone they feel beneath them… very much authoritative, imperious even, but still that babying, cloying sweet way of talking. “here now, let’s have you move X over there now, think you can handle that?” kind of stuff.

        1. CG*

          Ohhhh boy, I am having flashes of growing up in NC/VA from reading this. Best description I have seen!

          1. AKchic*

            Funnily enough, I have never actually *been* to the south, with the exception of one visit to Missouri when I was 5. After that, the closest I’ve gotten is NJ a few times as an adult. The rest of my life has been Alaska. We get a *lot* of southern transplants up here (mostly military, some oil/construction workers).

    2. Mynona*

      OP2 has lived and worked in northwest Louisiana for 15 years. It doesn’t sound like a cultural difference at this point. I’m from northeast Louisiana–culturally quite similar–and I’ve lived a lot of places in the US (west coast, east coast), and just moved to the Midwest about a year ago. This is literally the most southern-like place ever in terms of communication styles. That really shouldn’t be a problem.

      What stood out to me is that people are actually telling OP they’re arrogant or lecturing. But OP is blaming cultural differences? I mean, arrogant is arrogant and lecturing is lecturing. There’s a lot less regional difference in that than you think. FWIW, I’ve never found the stereotype of southerners to be true of my hometown. People are very friendly until you give them a reason not to be and then they call you on it.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, it doesn’t sound like cultural differences to me either. People can be condescending in any state. I’m not saying that’s definitely what’s happening in OP’s case… but that’s what comes to my mind based on the words arrogant and lecturing.

        15 years is a long time, it seems way too long for the answer to people thinking you come off as rude to still be “well I’m from the midwest.”

        1. Lynn*

          I had the same thought! Like maybe this is just who OP is and also OP happens to be from another cultural background.

          1. skunklet*

            This happened to mean in Virginia – I was told I was mean (among other things) when I would tell ppl no – and in my line of work, no is really a thing (b/c I’m conveying what the US Gov’t is saying).
            I moved back north and gee, NO ONE has told me that I’m mean, and I say the same things, the same exact way.
            So I don’t think it’s the OP – many folks, esp down south, don’t like directness imo. They’d prefer “oh honey, i’m sorry, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to do that” v. “sorry, __ (enter Gov’t dept here) won’t allow this/this is illegal/no”.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              This was my experience also, moving from the northern Midwest to the rural South. I view directness as kindness, but down here it is sometimes perceived as rudeness and arrogance.

              I’ve found I get along a lot better with some of my colleagues if I ask how there day is going, about their kids, and then softly move into the question or request I was intending. It’s not my preferred communication method, but getting along with your coworkers is part of every job. And if it’s that easy to do, why not do it?

            2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

              Basically writing in to agree with your comment from a different perspective. I’m in Appalachian Virginia now, and yeah, a government official who responded to a request with “the government won’t allow this” rather than “oh, i’m so sorry, doesn’t look like we’ll be able to” would be out of place with the local culture and as a result would indeed come across as mean (or at least a little rude). I moved down here from the Philadelphia area a few years ago, where “that would be illegal” is pretty much par for the course. Honestly I prefer it down here- the softening language and relationship-forward speaking style of most people make it nicer to move through the world, IMO- but I guess the point is, matching the style of the culture (macro or micro) where you’re working is important. Up north, being the only one to routinely use softening language might make you a target for people who think they can talk you into changing a decision, which could be just as bad as being known as “that rude one” in the south (not saying you were, of course!).

              For the OP, though, “lecturing/condescending” doesn’t read to me like a lack of softening language. My first thought was something more like a conversation where someone asked “when is Johnny due to be released?”, where they wanted a “let me look that up… XX o’clock” and instead got a “every inmate’s schedule is posted online, at our website.” I could be off-base! But I don’t know that I’d jump to assuming it was a cultural thing.

              1. Mrs_helm*

                @so long, I think you nailed it with “relationship-forward speaking style”. That’s a great way to look at it. When you soften with “I’m sorry but…” you are saying *I see you and recognize this will inconvenience/upset you* , which humanizes everyone. When you say “no, that’s illegal”, you might as well be a sign on the wall – no feeling for the other person, no seeing their point of view. Someone says downthread about passing people in a group in the sidewalk and sat ng excuse me…same thing…yes, you don’t really have anything to apologize about (since they are the ones blocking the sidewalk), it is more about acknowledging people.

                1. Chinook*

                  I like the phrase “relationship-forward speaking style” as a description of this cultural difference. Bouncing around Canada, I learned to code switch between that and “being direct” and it is uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of the wrong style. I was raised to start conversations with small talk (weather, sports) before diving in to the nitty gritty and, with someone who expects that, you can get more information and cooperation, even if it takes longer. But, if you are used to “time is money, get down to business” style, then it looks like nothing is ever getting done or that everyone is treating you like an outsider .

                  The perfect example for me was when our top truck sales person (in 90’s small town and this woman was top among 5 dealerships) got told off by the city based owner for wasting time when a customer came in for 20 minutes and coffee but didn’t buy anything. She pointed out that said customer and his famiky had counted as 5 sales that year and consistent customers at the service department because she doesn’t give them the bum rush whenever he pop in for a chat. If she had told him she was too busy, said customer would have gone for coffee at the next dealership over and probably brought his business with him.

                  For some cultures, the relationship is how you gauge whether or not you want to do business with them. In fact, those relationships are probably what will save any small business that survives COVID because the customers see the human they are keeping in business.

                  As for how to do this as an outsider, listen to the topics your coworkers use for small talk. Weather is usually safe as well as common hobbies. Keep your eye on the person in front of you and not the line behind them. Apologize to the next person for taking time with the previous person and repeat. When you get frustrated by the slower pace, remind yourself that this type of relationship building is part of the job, not keeping you from it.

              2. skunklet*

                except I was dealing with folks all over the US, and it was my coworkers (who i wasn’t necessarily talking to) who would think that.
                (ftr, I was relaying what the gov’t required, i did not work for the gov’t).
                to me, it comes off as fake, ESPECIALLY the “why, bless your heart” (which means the exact opposite of what it states) when it’s being done out of rote, instead of genuine feeling…

                1. Kay T*

                  I agree with skunklet; a lot of what some describe as “sweet” from the South turned out, in my experience, to be fake. I would rather know where someone stands than have to wonder if they’re sincere or just putting on an act. I am from the West Coast but transplanted to the Philly area, and have spent time in AL and TX. CA and PA are very different, but the transition wasn’t difficult. I don’t think I could survive in the South. One of the software developers on a team from TX that we worked with for a couple of years would preface statements with, “I feel….” When it comes to the logic or syntax in your code accuracy matters, how you feel does not. I’m sure she was trying to be polite, but it came across as wishy-washy and tentative, and that impacted her credibility.

              3. TardyTardis*

                Yes, being able to switch cultures is important. I have a character work very hard at this, because in some places dealing with people means endless cops of coffee and playing ‘are we related’ even if there isn’t a chance in Hades of that being true, and in others it means ‘This is my price. Yes or no?’. He has to work at it a bit, but he understands the necessity.

            3. Yorick*

              This can be true, but the criticism would be “too blunt” or “too abrupt” or even (as you were told) “mean.” I don’t think Southerners perceive a straightforward no as “lecturing,” unless the person goes on and on about why the answer is no, which anyone from anywhere would perceive as a lecture.

              1. Nick*

                I can see how an attempt to give a “Southern” no from me would come off as lecturing. My mistake is that instead of an, “oh gee I just don’t see how we can that” I explain why the answer is no. That probably comes off as condescending/lecturing. They don’t want an explanation…they want all the frills and dressing they are accustomed to. Sadly for me this Southern “softness” as others have described it, comes off false and more than a little passive/aggressive.

                1. Nick*

                  To an extent, I can’t win unless I give in. What I mean is, If I just say, “no” I’m too abrupt. If I explain my answer, I’m lecturing/arrogant. What is being asked of me is to make my “no” phrased as an apology with the “no” hidden inside? Maybe if I just said, “I’m sorry but no.” Or, “thank you but no.” Unfortunately that reply usually results in a request for an explanation.

                2. Librarian1*

                  I think what you said above is what they’re looking for. Say something like “I’m sorry, but that won’t be possible” or something like that. Even “I don’t think we’ll be able to do that” could work, depending. I know people who are more direct get annoyed by the latter, but it’s still a soft no. But I’m not from the South so I don’t know exactly what the problem is.

                  I wanted to point out something else that I’ve noticed in your replies: You come across as being pretty anti-living in the south or even anti-Southern in general and because of that you don’t want to change and I think that’s a big part of the problem here.

                  You’ve said that you don’t want to change who you are or “become a Southern-fried version” of yourself and above you mentioned that it feels like giving in. And while I get that it’s frustrating to move to a culture where you don’t know all the unwritten social rules, but where you can’t default to the social rules you know and are comfortable with, you still need to adapt to them to some extent in order to effectively communicate and build relationships with people.

                  And I’ll be perfectly honest that I don’t fully understand this attitude, even though I also live somewhere that has a different culture than where I’m from. I tried to keep certain aspects of my communication style and cultural norms and word choice, but I still just subconsciously absorbed some of the c culture from my new city just by living here for awhile.

            4. Eukomos*

              The “oh I’m sorry” doesn’t seem terribly indirect though, you’re still coming out and saying that it’s not going to happen. It just adds sympathy, which can be a small effort that makes a big difference to the audience in some situations.

              When I was in grad school we had a similar challenge with faculty who’d come to the US from Germany, which was pretty common in that field. The amount of praise and supportive language that Americans do as standard reassurance to students that they’re doing fine felt embarrassingly overboard to the Germans. The result was that students often felt like the German faculty were telling them they were failing or at least going horribly wrong when the Germans focused on where they needed improvement without acknowledging what they were doing right, and it caused a lot of bad blood. Part of the problem there was the huge power differential between faculty and students, but in any setting where you expect the person talking to you to have some kind of positive or supportive cue in their speech and you just get bare focus on what you can’t have or did wrong, it can really throw you off.

        2. Keyboard Jockey*

          My husband (from Chicago, which is definitely a direct place in the Midwest) and I (from California) live in a town with a large Southern transplant population. We both have gotten called rude and arrogant multiple times since we’ve been here, and have come up with the idea of “Southern Nice.” Southern Nice is basically, “If you call me out for being unreasonable/not following the rules/being oblivious, you’re the rude one.” In Chicago, for instance, it’s rude to get in someone’s way and slow them down, and most people seem to get this. Here, it’s rude if you pass a gaggle of slow people on the sidewalk instead of slowing down behind them. The same applies to telling people “no”: if you don’t at least *pretend* to be apologetic (even if the situation doesn’t seem to warrant it), people get pissy with you and make it clear they think you’re being a jerk. If something like this is going on, it’d explain why nobody can describe *why* OP is coming across as “arrogant” — he’s not; his society just has weird expectations.

          1. skunklet*

            Are you my husband? He says the EXACT same thing – in the south, it’s rude to call out someone for being rude.

            1. nonegiven*

              >in the south, it’s rude to call out someone for being rude.

              That’s when you pull out a, “Well, bless your heart.”

              In this case meaning, ‘you are so rude but I can’t say it.’

          2. jess*

            I’m a Chicago transplant to the deep South too, and I’ve found I’ve really needed to chill out and be more patient with people down here. For example, I live in a pretty big city down here with awful traffic but no one EVER flips other people the finger or swears at them or any of that stuff that was just kind of automatic to to my hardened Chicago self. I actually really prefer it and I think it’s making me a better person not to be on the defensive all the time.

          3. pancakes*

            I live in NYC (and have for over 20 years) and there are a couple times I’ve had really unpleasant encounters with southerners I thought I was politely moving around. It’s wild to me that there are people who’d 1) rather hold people up behind them than be passed and 2) take being silently passed by as provocation to hostility. One morning in particular there was a woman with a small group of fellow tourists very slowly making her way down wide subway stairs while loudly complaining about how many stairs there were. I passed her on the left, as did a guy behind me, neither of us close to making physical contact with her — during rush hour many more people use the stairs in each direction — and she exploded with rage. “WELL I NEVER,” etc. I was wearing a dress that I suppose she thought was too short and she also started berating my “long skinny legs.” I will never forget how strange and unnecessary it was. People were laughing at how mad she was! I’ve had a couple similar encounters over the years but will never forget that one.

            1. Keyboard Jockey*

              I think I need to change my name to “WELL I NEVER” now! Thanks for the chuckle!

          4. Tidewater 4-1009*

            “If you call me out for being unreasonable/not following the rules/being oblivious, you’re the rude one”
            So no one ever gets called out for being oblivious, unreasonable, not following rules, or all three. The behavior continues through the generations. And that’s why the south is like that…
            I grew up in southeast Kansas and moved to Chicago as a young adult. Kansas had some of the southern culture aspects and I greatly prefer the straightforward ways of Chicago.

      2. dragocucina*

        We’re transplants to the south. My husband, from Brooklyn, would often be told that he was cold and arrogant when dealing with patients. He was covering the essential, and legally required, information that is required. When he asked for someone to pinpoint exactly how he what he was saying was different from what the anesthesia staff presented the information they couldn’t. All they could point to was his accent and his physical size. Not the attitude, tone, or speed of his presentation. It sometimes is that simple.

        1. Lord Gouldian Finch*

          My wife is a southern physician. She’s said when she deals with certain patients she’d deliberately enhance her accent and speak slower, and that made them like her better.

          1. dragocucina*

            I can see that. Yet, his speed was the same as everyone else’s. It was a perception rather than a reality. After he would ask for suggestions it would get better until the new crop of OR nurses rotated through. Okay, they also didn’t like that he would point out the OR rules against wearing perfume. His scent sensitivity was mean.

      3. Oh No She Di'int*

        This was my reaction too. I have lived big parts of my life in: Los Angeles, Boston, small-town Massachusetts, New York City, Nashville, Minneapolis, Austin, and Atlanta. In my experience there just isn’t that much difference in people’s behavior from one place to the next. Shockingly I have encountered passive-aggressive people in all those places. I have found total sweethearts everywhere. I have found rude assholes, fun party people, and genuine saints in each place. People are basically people everywhere you go. Yes, there is a tiny grain of truth to the idea of different communication styles in different places, but to me it’s way too weak an explanation for 15 years of consistent friction.

        1. Yorick*

          Especially considering how much the Midwest is not known for directness. I’m from the South and live in the Midwest now, and that is a source of tension for me – people don’t seem to mind how direct I am, but I am sometimes frustrated with locals’ inability to be direct.

      4. Finkfink*

        I have lived in the South all my life and at every job where I’ve had to answer phones for more than just directing the calls elsewhere, I have had supervisors and coworkers telling me that I sound unfriendly on the phone, but were unable to point to any specific instances when I asked.

        What I eventually figured out after years of attempting to modulate my voice and the way I spoke, and begging people to point out when I was doing it because I couldn’t figure it out (nobody ever did), is that it was most likely due to me being terrible at making small talk and asking clients how they’re doing, etc. (Most of the time I can’t even recognize voices on the phone, honestly.) It’s a good part of the reason why I went to grad school for a technical career where I don’t have to answer phones, and why I dropped those jobs from my resume as soon as I possibly could.

      5. Nick*

        My experience is that moving to the South was a huge cultural change. The difference between NW LA and Central Ohio was huge. I often refer to the difference as moving to Mars. I have been to NY, OR, CA, NV amongst other states, and nothing has been as different as Louisiana.

      6. lazy intellectual*

        That’s what I was wondering as well – whether this was a personality quirk.

        I have a male friend who is generally very nice and well-meaning, but mansplains A LOT. I don’t think he even realizes he is doing it! Like, if I have been dealing with an ongoing health problem, he will email me a Wikipedia months later saying “I think I figured out your issue!” He is not a doctor, and usually people actually experiencing the health problem figures it out much sooner than that.

      7. Curmudgeon in California*

        It actually sounds gendered to me, assuming that the LW in #2 is female, but not speaking in a subservient southern female way.

        1. Anonymeece*

          Not necessarily, I think. I’m in Texas and my brother worked with a rookie (male) who was from New York, I think. Rookie got into a lot of arguments with the public because of the way he came across. It wasn’t necessarily he was doing anything wrong, but there wasn’t any small talk or softening language, and he came across as very blunt; my brother had to coach him on how to talk to people that fit in culturally to avoid making high-tension situations worse. I also had a male roommate from Wisconsin who was visibly annoyed whenever people chatted and asked how his day was at the grocery store or at the bank, which made people uncomfortable and clash culturally.

          I also am trying hard not to take umbrage, as a southern female, at the idea that my cultural background is inherently “subservient”.

    3. Hats Are Great*

      When I moved to the South from the Midwest, my sarcasm (and not, like, nasty sarcasm, just teasing or joking sarcasm) was the thing that made people really look at me funny. My friends told me when they first met me, they really struggled to grasp the emotional intent of my words when I was being sarcastic — was I mad? upset? being mean? joking? I hadn’t realized before then how very, very, very much of Midwestern conversation involves light sarcasm, being facetious, etc.

      I also did talk too fast, I had to learn to slow down.

    4. Nick*

      I did not actually expect a reply to my letter, so I kept it brief just to kick off the conversation.
      My immediate co-workers are not a problem. We get along like family, with a mix of men/women/black/white/brown. The friction is with other departments within the Sheriff’s office.

      1. RecoveringSWO*

        “The friction is with other departments within the Sheriff’s office.”

        I’m pretty sure that what you’ve really got is an office politics/workplace culture issue. The accent and speaking style are a red herring. (See my earlier comment on They Don’t Make Sunday’s thread below on that.)

        My read on the situation is that other departments don’t like being tasked by people outside of their department, even if it is their job to provide that service, so their rebuffing you and using your speaking style for an easy reason why. In a previous government job with similar politics, I found that the quickest and most painless way to get another department to do their job was to make my requests under the guise of “asking for a favor”. It didn’t matter that the request was their job and I was in the right, as an underfunded government agency, they had a long to-do list, so I needed to soften my language and suck-up to them to make sure I didn’t get stuck at the bottom. Not showing deference would get you to the bottom of that never ending pile.

        1. Nita*

          That is entirely possible. I’m seeing this play out a lot – my husband works in an office with a mix of people who are very to-the-point and people for whom you do NOT get to the point without small talk and niceties first. It causes a lot of tension, with the first group perceiving the second as “lazy and disorganized” and the second group perceiving the first as “rude and abrasive”.

  3. Letsgetvisible*

    For #2, I’m curious if it’s a man or a woman? I’ve found direct women can get flack for things a man neve4 would. So just curious to know a little more.

    1. Casper Lives*

      That was my first thought. I’m from the south, but I’d say there’s different communication styles in different communities here. I wish I had more actionable advice other than trying to study how other people are talking around you, OP!

      How I talk in the capital city here is different from how I talk in small farming towns or coastal cities. Same state, different communities. My accent thickens in the more rural areas. There are different ways I word things, usually in a roundabout or passive-aggressive style depending on your point of view. If I don’t spend at least 10 minutes chatting first, that’s just unbelievably rude! It’s hard to explain.

    2. Social Commentator*

      #2 – As a Southerner, my general perception of Midwest tone is that it comes off as a bit flat, and therefore brusque – there’s less (subjective) warmth in its intonation, and whatever is being said feels less personable.

      IF that’s the case, it’s something really hard to change, and you maybe shouldn’t try to — but rather offset it with other ways of communicating warmth, like Allison’s suggestion around word choice, or with conscious non-verbal gestures like open body posture or more smiling, if appropriate.

      1. Queen Esmerelda*

        This right here. As someone whose parents are from the South, I can say that when they do the perfunctory “How are you?” it sounds like they really care. It’s why they say people are friendlier in the South–they sound like a friend instead of a stranger.

        1. Leonine*

          That’s so funny! I’m in LA. People here come from a big mix of backgrounds, and I tend to match people’s energy pretty quickly. When someone from back East or the Midwest asks how I am, my response is, “Fine, thanks. And you?” When someone from the South asks, the response is, “I’m real good! How are you doing?” Same question, same social function, totally different energy. :-)

      2. Grits McGee*

        Also, pay attention to how/when people use sir and ma’am in conversation; in addition to being a form of address, using sir/ma’am can soften your language. 10 years after I left south Louisiana, it still feels unbearably brusque to not say “Yes ma’am/sir” instead of just “Yes” when I’m talking to customer service reps.

        1. Hamburke*

          Its funny how background can make a difference – I grew up Southern-adjacent (near DC) with one parent from SC. “Yes sir/ma’am” sounds brusque, formal and harsh – not at all friendly! But oh the trouble I got in with aunts and uncles when I didn’t use it!

        2. Cedarthea*

          My first real job was working coffee and retail in Austin, and it had a big impact on how I communicate now that I live in Ontario. It was strange to me as a Northerner/Canadian when I lived in Texas to be called Ma’am when I was 22 years old, but it is really ingrained in folks. The worst ones were the solders who had just come from Fort Hood and had been in Iraq (this was circa 2007/08) and answered every scripted retail question with “Yes ma’am” or “No ma’am”.

          I find when I am in more tense situations, like going into a Costco during COVID, I start behaving with a high appearance to compliance to the system and say Ma’am and Sir to get people’s attention. Like “Excuse me ma’am, which lineup is next” for example.

          It’s amazing the linguistic habits that we just can’t break. I have been back in Ontario for more than 10 years now and y’all is part of my daily speech patterns, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thankfully though, my father has stopped saying howdy for the most part!

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            ‘It’s amazing the linguistic habits that we just can’t break.’

            Boy, is that true. I was born and raised in Chicago, but both parents were born and raised in the Really Deep South. They never lost their accents, nor their verbal habits. Naturally, we kids picked some up some of those habits. In the 80s, in college and my first job afterward, people began pointing out the Southernisms in my speech: ‘Listen at that,’ or ‘If that don’t beat all’, or ‘I’ll tell you what…’, or ‘Ain’t that a shame.’ I was getting coached to drop those phrases because they would hold me back professionally, and I was distancing myself from my family anyway (long story short, they were abusive). It wasn’t easy, but I purged most of the -isms.

            Even so, I still have occasional lapses. It ain’t easy. I mean, it’s not easy.

            1. Cedarthea*

              So I was born in Canada but lived in the US until I was 15, first in Princeton, NJ then outside Philly. My parents were insistent that we not pick up the regionalisms like “wudder”, “woofs” and “Ruffs (roofs)”, so much so that the kids on my school bus would pay me in Gushers (this was the 90s) to say “Out and about in a boat” because I sounded so Canadian.

              These days I have just the oddest mish-mash. I mostly sound Canadian (Ontarian to be specific) but I say “huntin’ and fishin'” like a Texan, I pronounce New Orleans, Oregon, Toronto and Montreal pretty much like a local, and then after working with staff from England, I use the words “rubbish”, “bin” and “proper”. I also know that Seguin, TX and Seguin, Ontario are pronounced totally differently, and are different from Segwun.

              I like to believe that this just makes me more myself (and helps me carry my history and keep it alive), but I can image that it can be upsetting when it’s something you have be forced (or chose) to let go of and if you are separating from family (which is a totally valid choice) it’s hard not to see those ties holding too tight.

        3. Quinalla*

          Yes ma’am/sir is a big one. I would agree also with the folks above that Southerners tend to sound friendlier, but really are not always meaning their friendliness which to this Midwesterner anyway can come off as not genuine or fake instead of politeness. I also think Midwesterners tend to be very minimal/unobtrusive/not wanting to bother, not showy/demonstrative/overt like Southerners tend to be, And I’ll be honest, trying to be neutral with my wording, but I know my Midwestern bias is creeping in here :) But yeah, it is jarring on both sides. Ask me about New Yorkers, especially over email, sometime if you want jarring. They come off rude/hostile to everyone, but they aren’t I promise!

          Don’t know if that helps and you don’t have to change, but I think it is coming from your cultural politeness is seeming cold/avoidant to them and trying to do their cultural politeness will probably feel fake/overly showy to you. I have no problem with yes sir/yes ma’am so maybe you could try adding that and it might be enough of an adjustment to make a big difference :)

          1. Elizabeth Jennings*

            I actually think New Yorkers and northeasterners come off as more friendly. I’m from that area and I just remember going to school in the south and then returning and being at a Jets game with a crowd of people and everyone waiting to get inside and there was just so much energy and silliness and openness!

            In the south I always feel silently judged. And people don’t say what they mean and then it hurts my feelings. Just tell me yes or no so I’m not expecting you!

            1. Eillah*

              Agreed, I’m from New Jersey and the Southern form of “niceness” always seemed to drip with falsehood & passive-aggressiveness (from my perspective).

            2. MassMatt*

              I get the feeling that southern mannerisms can feel false but I’m surprised you specifically mention a good experience at Jets stadium, which is notoriously rude, and not just to fans of the opposing team.

            3. lazy intellectual*

              Some of my former female coworkers were from the South and I felt this way about them as well. They had a very sweet manner of speaking, but they also came off cold and judgmental.

          2. Librarian1*

            Yessss. I know a lot of people from the East Coast (New England/Mid-Atlantic anyway) think the Midwest and the Southeast have similar speaking and conversational patterns and as a Midwesterner who no longer lives there, I don’t see that at all. I’ve always thought of Southerners as more cheery than Midwesterners, but I think your comment about Midwesterners wanting to be unobtrusive makes more sense.

          3. Tidewater 4-1009*

            The straightforwardness of the NYC area along with Chicago can be jarring if you’re not used to it, but I greatly prefer it to southeast Kansas where I grew up. No one gave me a copy of the rule book. I never mastered politeness there. As far as I can tell it was ok for a man to be assertive but not for a woman, and I was supposed to “just know” how to behave with no instruction. If I asked for what I needed I was rude and arrogant and if I didn’t, I was a wimp.
            It was a breath of fresh air and an opportunity for growth when Chicagoans shared their thoughts about me, and I really appreciate it.

        4. Lucy P*

          I had no clue. I’m from New Orleans. Yes ma’am and yes sir are just signs of respect and not a forced thing. It’s not that I use those phrases every time I say yes or no, but I use them often enough. Maybe because we say it with a sweet tea smile it feels different to us.

        5. Dasein9*

          Yep! I was raised on military bases, partly in the South, by parents who did not teach us to say “ma’am” and “sir,” and it made a huge difference in how I was perceived. I didn’t realize until I was in my 30’s that this was probably why some of my friends’ parents didn’t care for me.

          Nowadays, living in Chicago, I can tell one thing about someone I already know calling me “sir” a in greetings or conversations: they just found out I’m trans.

      3. chalk bag*

        This is interesting to me – my mother is full blown southern, but raised me and my sibling in my father’s midwestern town. She was always praised for having such “sweet girls” and we were considered particularly well behaved and kind to other kids – even into adulthood, my empathy and approachability often noted by others as a strength. Of course its not ALL in speaking style, but now I wonder how much of it is rooted in picking up our mother’s speaking style even if we did (mostly) end up with a neutral midwestern accent.

      4. Alli525*

        Yep. I moved from the Midwest to the South when I was 10, and right away I noticed that Southerners are much more focused on what I perceive to be an exaggerated sense of politeness. Midwesterners are known for their politeness, but Southerners take it several steps farther – for example, I never looked a stranger in the eyes and said hello to them in passing before I moved to a place where it was the norm.

        It was easy enough to pick up as a kid, but I imagine it’s harder as an adult. I practiced smiling while talking and that helped a bit, and still helps today when I’m on a call with a CSR who has a Southern accent.

      5. blink14*

        Agree as well. I grew up in the Northeast with family from Southern states and have spent a lot of time in various East Coast, Southern communities, so much so that even my Northeast way of interacting starts to change some when I take trips south without really thinking about it.

        I think the key is to act like everyone is a friend and you know their family, whether or not that’s really true. Do the small talk, like you would with a relative you haven’t spoken to in a bit or maybe an old school friend you run into occasionally. People in the Northeast tend to be pretty blunt and to the point, and that doesn’t equal rude here, but we often cut out the small talk and get straight to the matter at hand. Southern culture, generally speaking, requires a little chatting before getting down to business, asking how the family is, how business is, etc. Act in a way that you feel is overly nice and open, and you’ll probably get to some sort of equivalent of what people in your local area are expecting from you.

      6. Smithy*

        I worked in Israel for years, and feel confident that as a style of cultural communication it’s more brusque than Americans overall. This was particularly clear when I returned to the US, and there was junior Israeli colleague who kept on struggling with getting feedback that his tone was rude, curt, talking down to others, etc.

        While tone and style were much harder to change, he did get a lot of technical tips to add into emails or speaking. For internal emails, things like adding exclamation marks or smiley emojis helped him soften emails without over thinking the exact language he was using. For speaking it can be harder, but I think one of the suggestions he was given was that instead of responding to assigned tasks with just “yes”, was for him to restate the assignment. Not that his struggle was he wasn’t doing the assignments right – but that his communication of “I understand, will do” was coming across as dismissive.

        While some of this stuff may seem small, it really can help when the differences truly are a culture clash – and especially when it’s clear that it’s hurting you with your supervisors/senior leadership.

      7. Mallory Janis Ian*

        “As a Southerner, my general perception of Midwest tone is that it comes off as a bit flat, and therefore brusque – there’s less (subjective) warmth in its intonation, and whatever is being said feels less personable.”

        I’m from the south, and this is my perception. I mean, you can’t accuse the Midwest style of not being polite, but the warmth just isn’t turned up as much as I’m accustomed to, so I get the feeling that they don’t like me very much. If I think about it intellectually, I’ll realize that it’s a cultural communication style difference, but in the moment, the vibe just feels a little off, like the person is giving a very subtle brush-0ff because they don’t want to interact with you for longer than necessary.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I think in the South, that the default setting is to be warm until and unless someone does something to you to cause you to cool toward them. If you haven’t met them or they haven’t offended you, you’re warm toward them; coolness is reserved for people who have committed an offense against you or if you just don’t like them for whatever reason.

          Maybe in the Midwest and North, warmth is reserved for more personal relationships? So the default setting is cooler, and they treat you with more warmth as you become more familiar? So to someone from the South who isn’t in their circle of familiarity, it feels like we’re being treated a little coolly, like someone who has committed a small offense or who you mildly dislike?

          1. blink14*

            You’re pretty much on point here, from my experience. I would phrase this as people from the Northeast tend to come off as more on guard with a stranger or someone they don’t know well. It’s not that we won’t be nice and help you, but we need to figure you what you want first. The flip side seems to be true in the South, like a friend to everyone, even if you are unsure of the person.

            I think a lot of this stems from cultural differences and lifestyles – Northeast towns and cities tend to be fast paced, not much patience, even in rural areas (I grew up in one and now live in a major city). Southern communities, again from my experience, tend to not have that rushed feeling, and that gives the time to chat with people, say hi on the street, etc. As much as I’ve spent time down South, it is still jarring for me at first to have random people say hi on the street so openly and warmly. That’s not just not as much of a thing up North, it’s more like a quick head nod or smile acknowledgement, but no insult if two people pass each other with no acknowledgement at all.

          2. Nick*

            “Maybe in the North, warmth is reserved for more personal relationships? So the default setting is cooler, and they treat you with more warmth as you become familiar?” I think this is very true in my experience. Business is in the North more direct, until you have an established relationship. In the South I have heard coworkers call someone on the phone they have never talked to, and start off the conversation like they are talking to an old buddy.

          3. Shirley Keeldar*

            This makes a lot of sense! And I’ll add, as Quinalla said above, that Midwestern politeness is very much tuned to “I hate to be a bother” or “Oh, I don’t want to trouble you”–so leaving people alone if possible is considered polite and kind. You assume they are occupied with what they are doing and wouldn’t want to be interrupted or distracted. I can see how that could also come across as cold or unfriendly in another setting. (Says this transplanted Midwesterner now living in the Northeast–which I find quite similar in conversational styles.)

        2. Librarian1*

          When I first moved from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic I would sometimes get comments about how I sounded like I didn’t actually like people and I think part of it was that there are so many Southerners here and the communication styles are just different.

      8. sb51*

        As a Midwesterner: yes! Theyr’e similarly indirect, but Southern indirectness sweetens the wording enough that it actually sounds sarcastic in the northern Midwest, and conversely, Midwesterners seem flat. And we all seem passive-aggressive to New Englanders/other areas that value directness.

        Since it’s not a pure directness thing, it’s harder to explain than just simple direct-vs-indirect, and harder to tweak.

    3. Katefish*

      An idea for the transplant to the South… Try to start using “y’all” in its appropriate contexts. I’m from one of the U.S.’s direct cultures, but lived in the South 10 years and noticed this made a difference. I’m back in a direct culture, which is more intuitive for me, but I do miss the South!

      1. Alli525*

        Yes, “y’all” will help OP assimilate quite well! It’s also finally getting its due as a lovely gender-neutral plural pronoun, which we are all in need of these days.

        1. Eukomos*

          “You” is now, as it has always been, a gender-neutral plural pronoun. It’s been drafted into semi-functional use as a singular as well, but it’s still gender-neutral there. Third person pronouns is where we struggle with gender-marked language.

      2. Fake Eleanor*

        As someone who grew up in the South (northwest Louisiana, actually! Hi OP!) I had NO idea how much I say y’all until I moved to Colorado! No stopping now, lol.

      3. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I remember when I was a kid and our cousins from up north came to visit, and they started using “y’all” a lot, and not always in the usual contexts. We got some amusement to ourselves about it, but we were pleased and flattered that they wanted to match our language.

        1. Alli525*

          My midwestern cousins teased me (gently) when my family moved to the South and I started saying y’all almost immediately. A lot of them use it now that they’ve realized what a useful word it is!

    4. Not a Girl Boss*

      Oof I found that letter so relatable. I’m a woman from New England (where our default communication seems to be sarcastic and efficient) and moved to the deep south for a job managing union employees. It was ROUGH, and a lot of it was because of my gender. But here’s some other things I picked up. Most of them revolve around adding more qualifiers.

      -I have Resting B Voice, where its just kind of flat. To correct it, I work on actively smiling while I talk. It turns the cheeriness up on my voice.
      -My default communication style used to be to state something basically as fact – if people disagreed, they’d voice it. Here I have to actively invite dissent. Instead of “I think TPS report is fine as is.” I say “You know, I think the TPS report is fine, but you have to work with them more closely, so what do you think?”
      -I employed the compliment sandwich liberally.
      -I worked really hard at making small talk, which is something the efficiency freak in me loathes. But I try to remember one small detail from the last conversation to ask about at the beginning of the next conversation – “Did you ever get your A/C Fixed? Oh yeah, how did you like the company you called with?” I also got a lot further when I invested in learning about football, because it gave me a default happy conversation, I even bought a Patriots hat so people could have something harmless to tease me about.
      -Referring to people by their title’s, defaulting to sir or their last name.
      -In New England, I’d often go straight into “debate mode” as a sort of problem solving methodology. I started listening to people more closely, asking them a few questions with lead ins like “let me make sure I understand, I think you’re telling me ___” or “Can you please give me an example?” Then, thanking them earnestly, saying I’d think about it, and going away for a bit. Then I’d come up and present them a few options and ask their opinion. Even if I felt I didn’t need the time, it made them feel like I took their concerns more seriously. And it often ended up that the extra time really did help me think of a better solution.

      At first all of these things felt really brown-nosey and disingenuous, and my attitude probably reflected that. But then I rephrased it in my mind that an essential part of being a manager is having positive personal connections with my team. Small talk wasn’t “inefficient” it was an essential component of my job. Once I embraced it, I found it really did make me a better manager. For example, I’d know if someone was being difficult to be difficult, or because they had family stuff going on. And people felt more at ease bringing problems to me.

    5. Butterfly Counter*

      I was in the opposite position of #2. I moved from the South to the Midwest and realized how much my gender played a role in the way I spoke. I know Alison thinks OP2 is a man, but my experiences in having to change how I talked the other way was a complete eye-opener.

      For example, I had a professor ask me why I kept saying “I’m sorry,” every time I rose my hand and started to speak in class. I realized that what I said seemed to sink deeper in the South if I first just apologized for having an opinion in the first place. I realize, at 41, it’s still something I default to when speaking to a room of primarily older white men.

      Just the act of not being sorry for having an opinion I want to share has really changed my perspective in what flies culturally in the South vs. other places.

      1. blink14*

        The “I’m sorry” thing seems to be heavily ingrained across the country in the female population, generally speaking. I notice it a lot at the university I work at, where men charge right in with their opinion, while women often begin with “I’m sorry, but” and then negotiate to their own opinion. It is definitely something I’ve worked on trying to stop doing myself.

    6. Show Me the Money*

      I know that this is a stereotype, but I work with a brusque speaking man and I find him very offputting.

  4. Hello From the South!*

    Fellow Northeasterner/Midwesterner (my hometown is somewhere in between, and also almost Canadian) now living in the South here. I also happen to work in a rather stereotypically southern profession as well, and I’ve been told the exact same things as OP2. It’s frustrating, especially as a person who, although pretty blunt and sarcastic, tries my hardest to always be kind, especially to people I’m just meeting.

    I’m lucky that I generally work with a lot of the same contacts repeatedly, so they’ve started to “get” me and vice versa, in the same way colleagues say they now “get” you. If you’re in the same position, that’s super helpful. Beyond that, I’ve learned when I can be more myself and when to lean into the softer communication style. It took time, but it’s been helpful!

    1. AP*

      You don’t have to say, but I’ve spent several minutes trying to guess what a ‘stereotypically southern profession’ would be. NASCAR driver? Tobacco farmer? Bootlegger?

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I have friends, family, and co-workers from the area, a vast swath from Texas to Kentucky and down east to Florida. So I’ve actually had this conversation before. People forget how much high tech is based in the American southeast. Even agriculture is genetic engineering and computer-controlled now.
        But brainstorming stereotypes. ..
        Agriculture …citrus, peaches, pigs & peanuts. Commercial fishing. Theme parks & tourism. Firearms and military service. Airlines. Call centers. Petrochemicals. Trucking & tractors.
        Country music.

      2. bwayne*

        I despise southern stereotypes! Yeah, typical? What? A grits cook I guess. Just speak real slow when giving directions to the southern cook!
        But I will say, with retail especially I’ve experienced people from other regions sound rude or make me seem uncomprehending or less intelligent. And I’m barely across the Ohio River, God knows how people feel from the actual South.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          ” . . . I’ve experienced people from other regions sound rude or make me seem uncomprehending or less intelligent.”

          So, in the South, we have the pin/pen merger (as in, the pronunciation of the two words sounds exactly the same). This guy at college from the northeast asked to borrow a pen and then mocked my pronunciation as if I didn’t know the difference between a pin and a pen.

          1. Disgruntled Pelican*

            OMG my mom used to *relentlessly* mock me for pronouncing them differently (I grew up in suburban NC) because she thought I sounded snobby. I’ve lived in the northeast for nearly 16 years now, and my accent has largely (unintentionally) dropped, to the point that no one guesses I’m from the south… until I drop a phrase like “come to Jesus meeting” and they have no clue what I’m talking about hahahah.

            1. generic_username*

              Ugh, my old college roommate mocked me for pronouncing them differently too… My parents had a dog named Penny at the time and almost every time I said the dog’s name she would repeat it back at me in an exaggerated version of my “accent” (“PEHHHH-ney”). She said it sounded like I was “putting on airs.” I recognized it as a manifestation of insecurity over her southern accent, but it was still obnoxious. She also mocked our other roommate for her southern accent, which was from a different region than the southern city where our university was based.

    2. sequined histories*

      FWIW as a Southerner who has lived all over the place: I think any Southerner with a shred of common sense does understand the difference between adopting this communication style and being a truly kind and morally decent person. It’s entirely possible to do loads of evil stuff (see: white supremacy) and adopt this warm, gracious communication style. That’s why people who know you and the LW are acknowledging that they realize you’re actually okay people despite this difference.

      My personal theory is that it started out as an honor culture thing. In an honor culture, any kind of personal slight, any kind of insult or disrespect, MUST be addressed with violence.

      Therefore, to avoid unnecessary and unwished-for violence, you must avoid saying anything that could be misconstrued as a personal insult. You MUST avoid causing the other person to feel embarrassment if it is at all possible.

      For example, if I have to point out that someone has done something wrong, it’s 100% more comfortable for me to take the blame on myself: “Oh, my goodness, I’m sure it must have been my misunderstanding!” or “I’m sorry I didn’t do a very good job explaining what I meant before!” Especially if the other person seems even slightly upset I default to this. It has nothing to do with a lack of self-confidence or self-doubt. It’s also usually NOT intended in a passive-aggressive way. It’s about helping the other person get through the situation without unnecessary humiliation or loss of face. In this cultural context, people reciprocate with similar rhetorical gestures: “Oh, no, it’s all my fault!” or “Oh my goodness, you were clear as could be, it just slipped my mind!”

      I’ve lived in New Jersey for years, and have found that defaulting to this mode at times can help de-escalate a situation and lead to a better outcome even in the context of culture in which a lot people are prone to be a lot more direct and confrontational.

      So I would encourage the LW to consider that there might actually be some advantages to adding a few face-saving rhetorical gestures to your verbal repertoire even though you seem to be doing fine overall. LW, my best guess is that when you correct someone or disagree with them, you’re not doing anything to signal that you intend no personal respect, but over time people have realized that you’re intentions are good, which is why they say they “understand you now.”

      1. Cedarthea*

        SAME! I’m in Ontario and I default to Texas style customer service (which I learned working customer service in Texas) when I need to deal with tough de-escalations.

        I think there is a factor of matching the person you are with, or being more deferential that can be helpful in these ways. I know that I’ve had some great success over the years getting what I need/want from folks because I was nice to the person who answered the phone or took back my return.

        1. HR Exec Popping In*

          I totally do this. I grew up in the Northeast and lived in Virginia for years. I find that I tend to get a little southern when I need to be a rude/pushy. It is funny what you pick up. But it works. Suddenly I’m saying ya’ll and using a sweeter / sing-songy voice. hahaha

      2. Hello From the South!*

        Oh my gosh, yes — I have definitely picked this up. It’s a little exhausting, honestly.

        1. sequined histories*

          The reverse can be exhausting too. Adapting to another cultural style always requires more effort than just being surrounded by people who share your underlying assumptions and premises and handling things in the way that feels most natural to you.

        2. TL -*

          Yeah Texas to Boston transplant here and my default to any praise is “oh,thank you, but it was no big deal/I was glad to do it.” And it’s exhausting that I actually have to be like, “no this project that you clearly saw took me hours and hours and was very well-received was obviously a huge effort, thank you,” when I was transparent about the amount of effort all the way through and I don’t want a lot of effusive praise anyways.

      3. Lord Gouldian Finch*

        I think the concept of “face” in North American culture is a fairly underappreciated one. Having moved from New York City to the rural south, there really is a huge culture shock. Some of it I am coming to realize is that the concept of saving face between the two is often applied exactly backwards.

      4. anonaccountant*

        Yes! I actually read some kind of article/analysis of honor culture and how that impacts the regional cultures of the US. It described honor culture as strongest in Appalachia and the South, which is where we see the classic family feuds (e.g. Hatfields and McCoys). The article tied it to the heritage of different geographical cultures- IIRC it said that Appalachia was settled by regional groups that mostly dealt in herding, where independence and separatism was very important to the livelihood of the family (as opposed to crop production, or even other livestock). It also went into detail about a study done where ‘offense’ was measured from insults and some other interesting data that helps explain some of the behavior. I can’t recall the article I read, but I believe it’s based off a paper called “Insult, Aggression, and the Southern Culture of Honor:An ‘Experimental Ethnography'”

      5. Gila Monster*

        Yep. In the South, civilization is a house of cards, there is no infrastructure to support true civilized cohabitation, because everyone is out for themselves, and everyone walks as softly as possible on this house of cards, else it collapses and shows the true extent of the devastation of psyche and decency that pervades the area.

    3. HappySnoopy*

      I had a family member in sales profession that traveled the East Coast. If he had to go from NYC to somewhere like Atlanta (or v/v) he’d stop in Mid-Atlantic in between to reset his brain.

      In the South, he’d have to “make small talk” ask about the family etc. If went straight to sales pitch, no sale because customer found him rude and abrupt. In metropolitan NE, the opposite. Cut to the chase and explain why product benefits customer. If do social niceties first, no sale because customer found him rude for not valuing their time.

      Neither was right or wrong, just adjustments on what different areas thought of as normal or polite.

    4. Raccccc*

      I lived in the Midwest then moved to a southern state and was told the same thing. I would be on the phone (in an open office) and my co-worker BFF would make comments to me about how blunt I was. She also said it was how I accurately pronounced words. I wouldn’t slow draw a word out or end a word with an uptick making it sound like a question. (ex: Correct. vs. Correct?”

    5. Nick*

      I have seen many comments that lead me to believe the main issue is my directness. Southerners in my experience, take the long way around everything. They are very polite, even when they are insulting you. For example, where a Northerner might say, “you’re and idiot”, a Southerner will say, “well bless your heart”. Means the same thing.

      Now I always address people I’m not familiar with as sir/ma’am, which goes a long way down here…but that is how I was raised. I try to be as pleasant and accommodating when dealing with people, but when I need something picked up at the courthouse I’ll say, “Would you run to the courthouse and pickup X?” From what I gather, I’m supposed to add a please and thank you.

      As to picking up their style of speech and colloquialisms, I have resisted…probably to my detriment. That has largely to do with wanting to keep my identity. I want to be me, not some Southern fried version of me. Also there is still an underlying hostility here to Northerners. You can only be called a “damn Yankee” so many times before you realize that many are only half joking.

      1. Another Northerner*

        To be fair, “please” and “thank you” are pretty widely expected (or at least appreciated), not just in the South! So I think you might be facing some cultural communication barriers, but you might also just benefit from dialing up the politeness. You may actually be a little past “direct” and someone in the realm of brusque. You are identifying hostility toward Northerners, but it sounds like you may have a little hostility toward Southerners too that is coming through in your communication.

        [I genuinely mean this comment not to criticize you, but in the spirit of providing advice based on the info you provided, I hope it comes across that way]

      2. Half-Caf Latte*

        Agree with Another Northerner, please and thank you are pretty widely expected.

        I do a lot of coaching to people new to roles where they need to delegate, and we talk a LOT about how please and thank you, or asking someone “can you please…” is still understood by the delegatee to be a direct order, but it’s a sign of respect, and opens the dialogue for “sorry, can’t because valid reason.”

        I say this as someone who often has to go back in emails and add greetings and sign offs, because my default is to just write the message and send.

      3. Rebecca1*

        I have lived in most regions of the US, and nobody in any region has ever objected to my saying “please” or “thank you.” You can safely add those in without losing any sort of identity.

      4. biobotb*

        Not including please and thank you when you make a request of someone seems, well, straight-up rude to me, and I’m not from the South.

      5. Spero*

        It’s not that other areas don’t say please and thank you, it’s the frequency. I wasn’t raised to say themb with familiar people in routine interaction, just unfamiliar people or unusual/out of the way requested. In the South I say it to my staff dozens of times a day, ex bring me x file, do you have y info, let’s meet are all prefaced by pleasantries. My Midwestern roots get frustrated at the amount of time it wastes but oh well.

        1. sequined histories*

          Does saying please and thank you a lot really take up so much time as to be inefficient, or are you actually feeling taxed by the cognitive burden of remembering to do something that feels unnatural and unnecessary to you?

          If it’s the latter, habit makes everything easier over time.

          Also, think about what you might stand to gain by developing the habit.

          Suppose you like, respect, or otherwise value the people who want to hear please and thank you. Do you really want to communicate with them in a way that they tend to hear as an expression of contempt?

          And if you actually do dislike and disrespect people you have to work with—well, in my experience, it’s usually best to strive for a calm, courteous demeanor if I really don’t think much of a coworker, so it’s just matter of “inoffensive courtesy” requiring more of a please-and-thank-you habit.

      6. Gila Monster*

        That hostility towards “northerners” isn’t underlying. It’s blatant.
        Frankly I find the whole fake-warmth/fake-politeness/bless your heart/two-faced culture disgusting. I don’t blame you for not wanting to lower yourself to it.

    6. RussianInTexas*

      I experienced this coming from a VERY blunt and considered cold culture from outside of the US straight to Texas. In Russia we don’t really do small talk, or round about on questions, or don’t say “how are you”, and in Texas – well. Y’ll know.
      If you google coconut vs peach culture, it sort of explains the different communication style, and even though all of the US usually gets lumped in to the “peach”culture, there are 100% gradations from North to South.

    7. cmcinnyc*

      I feel for the OP. I’m a New Yorker to the bone and lived in California for a couple of years. “Wow you are aggressive” was the general feedback. I am fairly aggressive in my communication, yes, but I really don’t approach “Wow” territory in my home state. I have family all over the South (transplants via jobs), and they all stick out with Maximum Wow Aggressive Factor, but they’ve all made it work. Once people “get” you, they do tend to cut you some real slack.

  5. They Don’t Make Sunday*

    For LW2, I’m wondering if you’ve tried asking people (the ones who say they “understand you now”) in the moment how they would have said what you just said. Even if they can’t articulate the way your style is different, perhaps they can do a translation for you into their style.

    1. Vichyssuave*

      To me the letter reads like LW has been told this about his or her communication style in a general sense, but never in the moment. So I think the first step should be asking the coworkers if they are comfortable pointing out instances as they happen. And then, per your advice, asking what might be better phrasing.

    2. Mimosa Jones*

      I was thinking this as well. Map out a couple common situations and then ask a friend or coworker how they would say it.

    3. RecoveringSWO*

      Yeah, I also wonder if her duties in the Sheriff’s office and the culture of small government workplaces exacerbates the issue. When she’s directly requesting something from someone, is there a reason for them to react defensively? Is there a culture where workers stick to their prescribed duties and might take issue with requests for things outside of their normal duties or typically given by their supervisor instead of a colleague? (especially if there’s a union contract dictating the scope of duties)

      I had a French colleague who was very blunt and I had a subconscious negative reaction to his requests. But when I really thought about it, I wasn’t upset at his bluntness, I was upset because he was asking things of me outside of the normal channels/processes, in a manner that did not recognize my role in limiting distribution. Yes, I am provider of X so you should ask me for X, but I also cannot give out excess amounts of X. So when you say, “I need 10 of X” without explanation and every staff member is allotted 2 of X by using a specific form, I will react defensively. With an explanation as to why he needed more of X than others, I’d be happy to oblige given his circumstances. But his initial requests never had that information that someone with a “softer” style of speaking would provide. Admittedly, I initially just correlated his French speaking style and bluntness to my feelings. By asking what common moments LW comes off as potentially rude, they may find a similar pattern.

  6. nnn*

    #3 would be an interesting idea for a sociology research project – track the pervasiveness of the “Karen” meme and compare it with various indicators for people named Karen, compared with their demographic as a whole.

    It might also be interesting to do something similar for people named Dick.

    1. Kisses*

      I will never comprehend naming someone Dick. Did it mean something else at one point?

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          Still is. I know several Dicks, and people are generally able to pull their mind out of the gutter and not descend into middle-school level giggling about them.

          As for OP3: No, of course not.

          The comparison with Kevin in German doesn’t apply, I think, as this was a class-marked naming *fashion* (possibly linked to the “Home alone” movies [in Germany released as “Kevin allein zuhaus”, or maybe a football player[?]). So Kevin is a working-class connoted name in Germany. (Not to mention, obviously not a traditionally German name.) Very different situation from Karen. Karen reminds me more of past fictional monikers that were meant to connote privilege that is not properly appreciated by its bearer. Along the lines of “Lady Bountiful” or “Miss Priscilla”, or even referring to an imagined Russian geopolitical adversary as “Ivan”.

          1. Ariaflame*

            Though I will never understand why some parents with the surname Head, choose to name their son Richard. (Yes, I have seen examples… no I don’t know why they would… I think there’s some merit to some society’s customs to not name babies immediately after birth when everyone’s brain is frazzled.)

            1. EvilQueenRegina*

              I’ve seen an example with something that’s not Head, but is close enough to it that it raised a few eyebrows when this guy introduced himself as Dick. This guy chooses that short form of Richard.

              One of my ex’s friends at university had a surname, and one possible shortening of his first name (although he did choose to use a different one, but people still picked up on it) that both had that connotation. I don’t know why the parents picked that first name to go with that last name.

              1. Daisy*

                I once knew a guy called Dick Ears. He cleaned septic tanks for a living, and my dad called him ‘Body Parts’ behind his back.

                1. EvilQueenRegina*

                  In the case of the guy I knew with the bad name at uni, okay I’ll admit the last name was Mycock, his dad worked with my ex’s dad who used to call him “Suck”. You would think that since he got stick himself he wouldn’t have chosen a first name that could be shortened to something with a genitalia connotation.

              2. Mallory Janis Ian*

                I was completing a contract for work, and the guy’s name on the paperwork was Harry Beaver. It kind of broke the ice between me and the new accountant in our department. We both read the name at the same time and slowly looked up from the contract and made eye contact before descending into giggles.

            2. Vina*

              Ohhh, I can beat that one. I knew a young man in the 1970s whose name was Harold Richard X.

              Guess what the kids in school called him?

              Think parents. Think.

              1. AnotherAlison*

                My son played baseball with a kid named Harrison Manlove. This kid would have been born in the late 90s.

                1. AnotherAlison*

                  @Aitch it helps if you’re an NFL kicker on the Super Bowl winning team, I think. This kid’s dad was a very large man and ex-LEO, so I don’t think he got too much grief f2f, just behind-the-back snickering, and he seems to have turned out well.

            3. IcicleToes*

              I had a lecturer at university called Prof. Dick Bacon. This was the name on his door and all his lecture slides. Always made me giggle internally. Never understood why with a surname like Bacon you wouldn’t choose to go by Richard. If he had chosen to go by Rich Bacon that would have been pretty funny too.

              1. MsSolo*

                Richard Bacon is the name of a disgraced kids tv host in the UK (drug use, rather than anything more grim), so it might have been an attempt to distance himself on Google? Or just his personal preference – maybe the former Blue Peter presenter wanted to be Dick Bacon too but couldn’t get away with it!

            4. juliebulie*

              I used to work with a Mike. If people needed to distinguish him from another Mike by using his last name, they would call him Michael.

              His last name was Hunt. I always wondered how it didn’t occur to his parents that they were naming their son after a popular crank phone call.

              1. A Simple Narwhal*

                I also worked with a Michael Hunt! He was very clear that his name was Michael, never Mike.

              2. Queer Earthling*

                In rural SC where I live, there’s a guy who runs for small-time political office every election year, so gloriously, there are tons of signs and even massive billboards reading “Re-elect Mike Hunt.”

                I do not know why he doesn’t go by “Michael.”

              3. Bear Shark*

                I once worked with a Mike Hawk. The looks new people would give us the first time they heard him paged over the intercom were hilarious.

            5. Leah K*

              I used to work with someone named Dick Hayter. My boss thought this name was the most hilarious thing, so he would always refer to the guy by his first and last name (not to his face, of course).

            6. Aitch Arr*

              Every time I drive by a particular attorney’s office in a nearby town, I giggle.
              The sign prominently says “Richard J. Butts, Attorney at Law.”

          2. Bookworm (also a librarian)*

            Worked with a Michael Hunt. For some reason he never went by Mike.

            1. juliebulie*

              So now I know there are at least two Michael Hunts in the world, because mine never worked with a librarian.

              One Michael Hunt is a fluke. Two is a coincidence. If we can find a third, we’ll have a conspiracy!

              1. A Simple Narwhal*

                I worked with one! He also never went by Mike.

                Time to put on a tinfoil hat. <(:-D

            2. AnotherAlison*

              Reminds me of an old KC Royals (baseball) joke from back when Mike Sweeney played here. “Why don’t they let female reporters in the locker room? They don’t want them to see Mike Sweeney.” Sorry, folks, I’m 7 years old.

          3. tamarack and fireweed*

            I think we should all remember that making fun of people’s name is really really inappropriate. And if you have a quiet bonding giggle, please folks, keep it quiet. I might with my spouse, as a shared instance of sharing the darker corners of our minds, but it won’t leave our kitchen.

            This subthread is not a pleasant read.

            Plus, for most of what you folks write here I’d have to puzzle it out. I know someone with a name like Mike Huntsville and it would never have occurred to me in a thousand years to misread his name, intentionally, as My Cuntsville. Also, it won’t make me giggle next time I meet him. FFS.

        2. The Original K.*

          I’ve known a few men named Dick (all used it as a nickname for Richard) and they were all born before 1965. I’m an older millennial so Dick has the slang connotation for me, but for some reason I never chuckled when I thought of or spoke to those men. I think I just chalked it up as another older name.

          1. Filosofickle*

            My uncle was named Richard, always went by Dick, born in the 40s. It didn’t seem weird to call him Uncle Dick to his face and within the family, but around other people I tended to just say “my uncle” to avoid saying his name. After I was an adult it just began to feel unbearably awkward to me!

        3. Richard Hershberger*

          The “somehow” is actually pretty straightforward. There was a pattern in Middle English of rhyming nicknames. There was another patter of shortened nicknames. Combine these and you get Richard>Rick>Dick. Also, Hick. Which is worse is left as an exercise for the student. Another pattern was add -y to the end. This is how we get Ricky.

          These patterns explain a vast multitude of otherwise mysterious nicknames. How do we get Peggy out of Margaret? Margaret>Meg>Peg>Peggy. Sometimes the shortened version uses the back part of the name: Elizabeth>Beth>Betty.

          1. leapingLemur*

            Thanks! I’ve always wondered how Peggy could be a nickname for Margaret.

            What about Jack being a nickname for John?

          2. LunaLena*

            Minor nitpick, but you missed a step. I think it’s supposed to be Richard > Rich > Rick > Dick :)

            I’ve actually always wondered about Mary/Polly. The best I can figure is Mary > Molly > Polly?

            @leapingLemur Apparently John became Jack during medieval times. John > Johnkin > Jankin > Jackin > Jack

            1. Laura D*

              You’re right! It’s from the nickname Molly.

              My favorite is Daisy for Margaret because Marguerite is French for a daisy.

      1. Sharpie*

        It started out life as a short form of Richard. I have an uncle named Richard who was universally known as Dick to his colleagues until his retirement.

      2. Elizabeth Jennings*

        Dick Pound is on the Olympic Committee. Don’t know why he doesn’t go by Richard.

    2. Gen*

      There have been studies in the past into the name ‘Kevin’ in both France & Germany where it has a bad reputation, though those studies seem to be focused more on children then adults.

      Dick isn’t entirely comparable to Karen because most people known as Dick can go back to Richard, though I don’t know any under 40 Richards who’ve been kindly known by that nickname so maybe it is

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        I’ve seen a few articles noting that you can be named Karen without being A KAREN, which might end up becoming the line people named Karen who are not jerks end up using. People know the difference. The issue is not with the name on your birth certificate; it’s with the attitude that’s being called out.

        People named Karen will have to put up with annoying and not-funny jokes* for the next few years, but … not being a massive jerk toward people (in general, and of color specifically) will solve 97% of the problem.

        *annoying and not-funny jokes like the ones people with other names that get called out in songs or scandals or movies or whatever have had to put up with for centuries. You can just sigh and grimace tiredly like every Jenny or Cecilia has been doing ever since those songs became hits, like every Monica has been doing since the Clinton years, like every Luke has been doing since Star Wars … et cetera.

      2. Anonys*

        Yes in Germany the name “Kevin” carries a lot of stigma along the lines of “lower class” and “chav” and studies have proven quite conclusively that the name puts primary school children at a disadvantage because of how teachers perceive them as less capable and more likely to cause trouble. The famous quote from the study is: “Kevin isn’t a name, it’s a diagnosis” and the phenomenon has been dubbed “Kevinism”.

        That’s why I don’t quite agree with Alison that most people can distinguish between the meme and the name. I do think the name Karen now has very negative connotations and of course it’s unpleasant for innocent bearers of that name to be associated with what has become a synonym for an intolerant, racist person. I don’t believe it’s necessarily wrong to call someone a “Karen” and I don’t think it will ever get to a point where OP won’t get a job because of it, but it’s not great. Plus, there’s the whole issue of there being no male equivalent.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          I have heard “Cody” and “Bradley” commonly used as the entitled middle class husband figure to be paired with “Karen” but I think there’s not a meme-level male counterpart because in the news stories about white women calling police on POC to weaponize systemic racism in their favor, those white women were alone.

          1. Anonys*

            Yeah, but before recent events, I saw “Karen” refer mostly to women who make a fuss at the store when they don’t get their way, often in a context that has nothing to do with race. I think it’s weird that type of behavior is seen as so “female”. In my personal experience, it’s actually been mostly men who have kicked up a fuss when their coffee isn’t hot enough or service doesn’t move fast enough. And in general, all genders are equally capable of being rude (and racist).

            1. Vina*

              I’ve been extra attentive for a few years now.

              White men are the biggest space hogs. They don’t pay attention where they walk. They cut in line. They demand custom orders. They want it now, now now.

              White women don’t do most of this, but there is an entitled subset that can go off on a Karen tangent.

              I almost never see BIPOC men do this. I never see it from non-white women. Well, maybe an Asian woman once, but I didn’t speak whatever language she was speaking, so not sure what she was on about.

              1. I can only speak Japanese*

                Japanese men are awful space hogs, but they are the majority in Japan, which is obviously different.

                (When I saw awful space hogs, I mean shoulder-checking women walking down a designated path on purpose instead of going back on the right track, spreading out on the train to the point 0f squishing women between them, and being physically intimidating in other ways. Not all of them – but even my Japanese husband who doesn’t do those things (afaik) is completely blind to them happening around him.) Must be so nice to be a majority culture man…

          2. Gazebo Slayer*

            True, but the vast majority of white people who murder black people are men. And I’ve seen and heard more racist comments from men than from women, online and in person. (I am white, so obviously not comments directed at me. Not to mention how white men are even more inclined than white women to vote for candidates with racist policies and rhetoric….

            I definitely don’t want to let white women off the hook for racism. But making racism a Woman Problem is inaccurate and, frankly, misogynistic.

              1. bleh*

                It is easier to make a meme about women because they are lesser status. To talk about the real perpetrators (men) is too dangerous. Hence the Karen phenomenon.

                Which is not to say that white women aren’t a problem – clearly there is a problem, but yeah most of the violence and racism comes from white men.

                1. Jennifer*

                  Calling the police on a black man who’s done nothing wrong IS in act of violence. Sending your racist, gun-toting husband out to confront him is also an act of violence. The Karen phenomenon is about calling out the “passive” ways racist white women have used violence against black people for years.

                2. Jennifer*

                  Also, as a minority, I REALLY don’t think that most of the racism in this country comes from white men. It seems to be pretty even between racist white men and women.

                3. IdrilCelebrindal*

                  Ok, no. Full disclosure, I’m a white woman, and no it is not the case that most of the racism comes from white men. Maybe most of the physical violence, but white women are perfectly capable of inciting the violence via the white men in their lives. Also, the way that white women perpetuate racism is just as damaging as the way white men do. Maybe they won’t physically beat someone, but they are perfectly capable of calling the cops/ruining careers/breaking up families via calling CPS/doing all manner of things that don’t result in physical violence but are violence just the same.

                  One example that leaps to mind immediately is the fiasco that was Romance Writers of America. Basically white women took over an organization started by a black women that was designed to help all romance writers, and then when WOC pushed back publicly, the white women got really offended because the WOC used “swears” and weren’t nice enough, and really if they’d just be polite enough everything would be fine. They coordinated an attack on the minority chair of the ethics committee and then hid behind the white man who was the president and blamed him for everything (not that he isn’t an awful human being, but this had been going on much longer than he was around). They failed because they were incompetent in their attempt, and the minority communities rallied around their target, but not for lack of trying. And they still claim that they’d listen and everything would be ok if only “they” would be “diplomatic” and “polite”. So, no, white women are not less racist, they are just more passive-aggressive and insidious about it.

                4. IdrilCelebrindal*

                  Also, I would like to point out how many times here and elsewhere on the internet (like Captain Awkward that so many readers here also love) that abuse isn’t just physical, and just because someone doesn’t hit the abuse victim, doesn’t mean that they haven’t been verbally, emotionally, or financially abusive. Same holds true for racism, just because a person hasn’t beaten a black person to death doesn’t mean they can’t be racist in lots of other ways.

                5. bleh*

                  Thanks for this perspective, Jennifer et al. If a person of color tells me the level of racism is even between men and women, I defer. More work to be done, and I appreciate the heads up.

            1. JSPA*

              It’s because it plays into the long and sordid history of black men being accused of attacks (sexual or otherwise) on white women and sexual designs (forceful or otherwise) on white women, or being offensive by simply existing too visibly in the presence of white women, and the resulting history of lynchings.

              If we’d all dropped in from Mars, and been handed entitlement cards that were not fairly distributed by race but had no other history attached), things could be different. But we didn’t, and they’re not.

        2. some dude*

          “Karen” absolutely has some misogyny associated with it. There was a recent “karen” episode in San Francisco where a couple got mad at someone for writing black lives matter (in chalk) on what turns out to be a building he lived in. Despite a man being involved, it was the woman who got all the hate/jeering, and most of it was focused on the fact that she had had plastic surgery.

          I’m all for calling out how white women contribute to white supremacy. But leave the misogyny out of it.

            1. JSPA*

              The plastic surgery / critique of her body was standard misogyny and never justified. Calling her out for jumping to racist conclusions, lying, threatening, IRL concern-trolling and calling the cops on a neighbor was entirely justified.

      3. Matt*

        The German “Kevin” thing is that the name became popular in the early 1990s because of the Home Alone movies (which have German titles starting with the name) which was associated to, let’s say, not the brightest type of parents. It’s easing off now since the Kevins of the 1990s are now adult men.

      4. Lucia*

        This is amazing information! In elementary school, in each of my classes, every single bully was named either “Kevin” or “Brian” – yes, all different people. It was a mystery. I had no idea it was linked to class.

    3. Hangul*

      Any research project on the meme better happen quickly because it (not the name) is derogatory, being both racist and sexist. Time for it to ‘bye-bye’.

        1. MayLou*

          I’ve seen that argument made multiple times. By people who believe that calling out racism is, in itself, racist because you’re “attacking white people for being white”. I very much hope that Hangul isn’t making the same argument.

        2. Ego Chamber*

          Don’t try to make it make sense: it doesn’t. It’s just meant to shock and pull well-meaning people into the nonsense for reasons I don’t fully understand.

          Source: Comes up on twitter at least every other day, and it has some big TERF energy the way it’s trying to create a wedge to pull focus from BLM/other social causes and re-center white women in the conversation about all the -isms we’re currently trying to dismantle.

          1. Crivens!*

            Someone should just start replying to them with the Birds Rights Activist “I am feel uncomfortable when we are not about me?” tweet. Every time.

          2. Bratmon*

            Wait, did you just try to shut a conversation about discrimination some women face by accusing them of trying to shut down conversations about discrimination?

            That’s beautiful.

      1. Anonys*

        I think part of the notion of the “Karen” meme is in fact sexist. Also, before recent events I saw “Karen” used less often for a racist person, but mainly to refer to a “get me the manager” type person and a brand of obnoxiousness that for some reason is mostly ascribed to women.

        However, calling a white women a “Karen” isn’t racist. Even if an individual was genuinely biased against all white people, that would not be racist. Don’t get me wrong, it would be wrong and prejudiced of course, but white people as a group have all the power in society. Being the one not in power is a prerequisite for experiencing racism. Racism refers to a system of oppression and a systemic power relationship. So, racial prejudice against white people = possible (though not really widespread), but racism against white people = not a thing because there is no systemic discrimination/oppression.

        Don’t mean to lecture here, but it’s important to keep these concepts straight. I think it’s totally possible to criticize the Karen meme and be against it, but please don’t create false equivalencies to centuries old systems of oppression.

        1. Vina*

          I think it is inherently sexist and classicist (as I see it mostly lobbed at middle class women).

          I don’t see the insult made against men.

          I agree it’s not racist. It may or may not be bigoted against whites. But racism is structural.

          Similarly, one can be misandrist but that’s not the same as the systemic sexism against women and persons whose gender is not male. Because I do think it’s more than misogyny, it also encompasses bias against anything other than cishet men. Being other than male is the problem, not merely being female.

          I am sure a lot of people don’t want to acknowledge the systemic aspects, but not all bias is the same in pervasiveness or impact. It’s high time we shifted from individual thoughts and actions to how the system as a whole is fraught with bias toward rich, white, male, heterosexual, cis, Xtian, educated, etc….

          1. Ego Chamber*

            I’ve seen men called “Karen” as an insult but the intent is to emasculate and shame them for going to a higher authority instead of brute force threatening violence to get their way “like a man” or whatever it is dudes are socially expected to do when something doesn’t go their way.

            Example: A male politician was recently called “a Karen” and accused of wanting to talk to the manager of Twitter when he threw a hissy fit after Twitter made up a whole new policy just for him so they could continue to avoid enforcing their ToS against his constant rules violations.

        2. Lucia*

          Yes, I think it‘s anti-woman. It is also super ageist, since only women in their 50’s and 60’s are named Karen.
          Personally, I wish we could move beyond insults and name-calling. Why not just name the offending behavior, rather than trying to make a meme about it which most people don’t understand?

          1. Beehoppy*

            I have a good friend in her 40s named Karen so I’m not sure I’d say it’s ageist. If you are in the US, Amy Cooper was recently called out as a “Karen” and she seems to be in her 30s. “Karen” evolved from videos of (mostly white mostly women) asking for the manager over minor issues. Now it has evolved to calling the cops. I think the point is to distill the behavior into a single recognizable word so that people know what it is when they see it. Honestly, I almost think it could be used as an icebreaker by an actual Karen in an interview or introduction setting.

            1. leapingLemur*

              We need a new word for this. It’s unfair to the women named Karen that I know, who are perfectly nice people and now get to see their name turned into a nasty meme.

          2. WantonSeedStitch*

            Not really. I’m 40, and I remember two Karens and a Caryn in my high school graduating class.

          3. ThatGirl*

            I’m 39 and have a friend from college named Karen.

            I’m also a woman and don’t really find it sexist – it’s shorthand for rude, entitled behavior that comes with certain types of white women (and I’d say many of them called out on the internet, at least, are in their 30s or 40s). It’s often been applied, especially recently, to women who call the cops for minor or presumed but nonexistent infractions which is where the racism part comes in, but it was used before that to refer to say, someone at Target pitching a fit over an expired coupon.

            There ARE similar names out there for men used as mocking shorthand, they just haven’t all caught on the way Karen has.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              In saying its not sexist, though, you pointed out the problem with it. You point out that there are names out there for men used as mocking shorthand, but they haven’t caught on. [E.g., “chad” has been used for a while on the internet for a certain type of white guy but not for this kind of behavior] And that’s pretty common (not just in the US but in many other cultures/countries as well)–that we really latch on to mocking women for something (sometimes unfairly, but in the case of Karen it’s more than fair) but basically give a pass to men for the same behavior.

              Context matters, of course. If I see a Black woman mocking a “Karen” on social media, it doesn’t feel sexist at all. But when I see some white men doing it, it gives me a moment of pause because I sure didn’t see those same men making fun of white men for engaging in this same behavior back when the Karen meme first started. It feels quite different in that context, and some of them seem to take a certain amount of glee in having an excuse to attack women? I don’t know how to describe it, but here’s an example. This week on twitter I saw a promoted video of some white guy (a youtuber I’ve never heard of, I guess) in a short blonde wig doing a “how to be a Karen” thing. I didn’t click on it, but I would bet money that this guy’s channel isn’t focused on videos about dismantling structural racism.

              I think, for now, the benefits of the Karen meme outweigh the negatives, and I don’t think anybody named Karen is going to suffer any real consequences for having the name. But the way some men, particularly white men, use it does sometimes have the smell of sexism about it.

              1. kt*

                You put your finger on something that I too have felt: that context. And I’ve seen the conversation be more nuanced, especially between women: throwing back to the earlier meme of “I want to speak to your manager” I’ve see women encouraging other (white) women to “use that Karen energy” for social justice and reform. Like, yes, call you state representative and demand reform in the tax code or sentencing laws or police accountability the same way you might ask for a change in the warranty or a reconsideration of your kid’s application for something. I’ve seen a few pics of white women at BLM events with shirts saying “Karens for Black Lives”. I’m trying to channel that energy in a positive way when we talk about equity, diversity, and inclusion at my company, so that we can make it useful & not a whitewashed waste of everyone’s time: I did email our EDI people with suggestions that tried to amplify what I’ve heard from Black employees & people in my field, combined with my experiences with successful & failed EDI efforts at other institutions. When white guys make fun of Karen, it’s a pretty different feel.

                So for the LW, I hope it doesn’t hold you back when resumes are reviewed, and if you feel like it’s an issue in interviews you can come up with a teeny short joke about it.

            2. Bella*

              “There ARE similar names out there for men used as mocking shorthand, they just haven’t all caught on the way Karen has.”

              Isn’t that kind of the point, though? The catching on?

              It’s like saying “slut isn’t sexist against women because we COULD use it against men, it’s just more popular to use it against women” which ignores why certain words are weaponized against women more often in these contexts.

              1. Bella*

                though to be clear Karen/Becky/etc isn’t the same as other words… but I think it’s worth examining why we focus on them over men. There’s been a ton of Karen-esque men in media FWIW (even violent ones, like the guy that was talking down to teens about COVID and then choked the black girl??) but they’re just evaluated individually and never given a label.

                1. kt*

                  I do agree that it’s worth thinking about. One reason that Karen has caught on is specifically because of the gender thing; the ‘sanctity of white womanhood’ was literally in the past a reason to kill and control Black people and the echoes of that through history are loud. It’s the ‘virgin’ side of the virgin/whore dichotomy. White men used this as an excuse and accelerant for violence and restrictive laws.

                  But it was the white men carrying out the violence and the lawmaking during slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow — women simply were not allowed in those spheres. So why don’t we have memes for that? Why isn’t that named? Is it just the water we swim in?

            3. Aitch Arr*

              The usage of Karen by black women to describe entitled, white women precedes the now more common usage by everyone for a rude woman.

            4. MusicWithRocksIn*

              I just don’t think it’s actually fixing anything. To me the whole Karen thing is like the all office email that goes out because a few people are doing something wrong, the whole “Everyone needs to stop taking such long lunches” email never fixes anything. The people it’s actually directed at don’t think it’s about them and ignore it, and the people who weren’t taking lunches too long start eating at their desk while they work because they are worried it’s about them. I know women who don’t want to send an incorrect order back because they don’t want to be a “Karen”.

              1. Altair*

                The use of “Karen” in this sense started on Twitter, I believe, among Black women complaining about a certain pattern of behavior among some White women. When it originated it was about mutual venting rather than “fixing anything”.

                Not infrequently, when POC complain to vent, we’re told we’re not fixing things or not helping or encouraging people to not listen to us because we haven’t tailored everything we say to be externally-directed messages rather than intra-group discussions with others who share some of the same background. The publicness of many social media sites, such as Twitter, blurs the lines between public and private, but I still think it’s not quite fair for POC to be expected to make our every public utterance about teaching others and improvement and never about connecting with those who share our experiences.

                Also, I think the worry that many women have about asking for anything lest we ask too much predated the use of ‘Karen’ and is not based in it.

                1. Mahkara*

                  I remember it starting on Reddit. The whole r/f-you-Karen subreddit was about an angry (white) man who was angry that his wife, Karen, got custody of their kids in a divorce.

                2. Altair*

                  Mahkara, it seems that a couple different streams came together to form this concept. I’ll have to find out if Know Your Meme has any information.

          4. AnotherAlison*

            I also am in my early 40s and graduated with 1 Karen. However, you can look at the actual data online, and Karen reached peak use in the 50s and 60s, with a sharp drop off by the 80s. Most Karens are in their 50s and 60s. Carrie (or Kari, Kerri, etc.) was a much more popular name in my generation.

          5. Sharpie*

            I’m coming up to forty and I’m of the generation of Karen, at least here in the UK. Every single Karen I’ve met has been within a couple of years of my age.

            I’ve got a really unusual first name very similar to it that my chemistry teacher at school just couldn’t seem to get, so it was natural for her to default to ‘Karen’ when she reached my name in the register.

          6. Reba*

            The thing is, “Karen” IS a shorthand for the offending behavior. (And lots of people do understand it, that is why it has caught on.)

            I strongly disagree that the term is sexist and racist and ageist. It is *calling out* a behavior that is perpetuated by white women, often of middle age. I see it as akin to the term mansplaining, which refers to a gendered behavior — that doesn’t make the term itself sexist.

            And “Karen” does not presuppose that no other category of people ever does anything shitty. It is naming a particular way that privilege plays out for white, middle class women.

            1. Andy*

              “Karen” had nothing to do with racism or calling out racism until viral video a month ago when people started to use general purpose insult in racial scenario.

              So yes, it is still as sexist as a month ago.

              The most used scenario is woman angry in store. Which is absolutely not something special for white women.

          7. New Jack Karyn*

            As a card-carrying Karen-American (in her 40s, tyvm), it’s not anti-woman. It’s anti-entitlement, especially class-based entitlement. I take the attitude of, if I’m not acting like that, then they’re not talking about me. If I AM acting like that, I need to check myself.

          8. Jan*

            Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs wasn’t born until 1979, making her only 41 now.
            I’m 33 and was at school with a Karen.

            I wouldn’t consider it an old person’s name.

        3. some dude*

          Most of the time I have seen people say that something is racist against whites, they are making that argument in bad faith and to deflect against their own bs.

          However, most of the time I have seen someone make the “POC can’t be racist” argument, they are making it in order to minimize something bigoted that they said or did. The distinction between whether something is racist or merely bigoted feels pointless to me. I don’t see how we dismantle racism if we are privileging some forms of bigotry over others, or replicating racist/bigoted patterns of thought and behavior. It is distressing to me to go from hearing conservatives frame things as “those people are inherently bad, we are good, if only we get rid of them everything will be fine” to seeing those same arguments being made in some social justice circles, only this time about white people, or men, or straight people, or christians, or whatever group. Is there the same power behind it? No, but it is still lousy.

          1. Anonys*

            Your statement is reading quite a bit like “All lives matter” which I hope isn’t your intention.

            Saying that racism cannot be perpetuated against white people isn’t at all privileging some forms of bigotry over others. Some forms of bigotry simply ARE worse than others because they come with privilege to actually discriminate. If I, as a white woman, am prejudiced against blacks, I have the social power to do real harm, for example by calling the cops without good reason and putting a persons life in danger. And all people have some form of bias against black people and other minorities, even good people, that is the reality of systemic racism. If a black woman is prejudiced against white people, of course it’s bad and not in the spirit of equality, but due to power structures she wouldn’t have the societal power to do real harm to white people as a group. Even if she harmed an individual white person, that would be an individual act of violence and not the same as a whole social system based on the oppression of certain groups.

            Noone in social justice circles is saying all white people (or men or whatever) are all bad, but racism IS a white people problem, because we are the oppressors in the system of racism, even if we are individually good people. So we need to do better. Also yes, “POC can’t be racist” is an untrue statement. POC cannot be racist against white people, as racism against white people isn’t a thing, but more privileged ethnicities are often racist against black people, there’s colorism within the black community and just as internalized homophobia, internalized racism is also a thing. Truly, EVERYONE living in a racialized society has (unconsciously) been socialized into racism.

            1. some dude*

              I’m not saying “all lives matter.” I won’t go into what my experiences have been, and I don’t want to center this thread around anti-white bigotry, which, given that we have actual white supremacists in the white house, isn’t the biggest issue this country is facing. . I have just been disappointed in how sometimes the social justice discussions I have been a part of seem to use the same racist/bigoted framework that I am trying to get away from, only directed at people in the majority rather than the minority. And, at least in online discussions, I have generally see the “POC can’t be racist” argument used when someone says something pretty egregiously prejudice or bigoted about white people, especially Jews.
              I get the academic theory of it, but in a practical, person-to-person sense, it just seems to justify people being a-holes.

              1. Anonys*

                I understand your point, especially with reference to anti-Semitism which is still widespread among both POC and white people. If anyone is using their POC status to excuse their anti-Semitism that is very wrong.

                If by the same bigoted framework you mean statements like “men are trash” and equivalents about white people I don’t quite agree. Statements like that are generalizations. Not every individual man is trash, but men as the oppressive group in the gender dynamic are trash and almost all men somewhat contribute to that, just as almost all white people contribute to the reproduction of racist societal structures, even if passively and unconsciously.

                1. some dude*

                  I don’t think saying all men are trash is great. Again, it’s just replicating the binary us/them bigoted dynamic is is attempting to replace. I’m not saying it needs to be the focus of our attention, and if people want to vent, whatever, but it kind of sucks. Making massive dismissive generalizations about an entire group of people is, in general, a bad look.

        4. Caitlin*

          From what I understand, Karen has more to do with excessively calling the manager in retail situations and Becky was more about frivolous calls to the police.

    4. Mookie*

      Did the world’s supply of Beckys ever get this ruffled or out of joint, do people know? What about Chads?

      Be interesting to see whether this makes Beckys and Karens of this world more receptive to research that has long demonstrated actual bias against and substantive harm done to people, job and school applicants particularly, whose names are culturally and racially marked.

      1. John*

        To OP3:

        My name is used for toilets and for men who hire sex workers. I guess people are used to it.

        1. Amy Sly*

          I was wondering if someone would note that “John” has two unpleasant connotations.

          Question: if “Karen” is sexist for implying that an “I want to see your manager!” attitude is a female thing, is “John” sexist for implying that hiring a sex worker is a male thing?

          1. Vina*

            They aren’t comparable in that way. The majority of people who hire sex workers are men. By an overwhelming percentage. So, hiring a sex worker is a male thing. It’s not exclusively a male thing, but it is overwhelmingly so.

            When it comes to “I want to speak to the manager” it is not as gender lop-sided. We have a society that thinks men don’t do it, but that’s because we tend to think it’s justified when white men do it and not when women do.

            I think it is apples and oranges.

            1. Amy Sly*

              Are you really saying that stereotypical language is okay if the stereotype is accurate enough?

              The overwhelming percentage of people who have penises are men, yet saying having a penis is a male thing is to be anti-trans.

              1. Anonys*

                There’s a difference between being stereotypical and generalizing. You can generalize without being derogatory. Also, stereotypes and prejudice aren’t necessarily the same thing.

                John is just a slang term for a man who solicits a sex worker. Having a word for something isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And in this case it’s definitely not sexist (also just as you cannot be racist towards white people, you cannot be sexist to men, because they benefit in the system of oppression, even though of course, our sexist, patriarchal society also harms men in many ways). There is even such a word for women (Jane) it’s just not used often because we don’t often need a word to refer to women who solicits sex work because it’s not very common. The reason people are saying there are sexist elements to the Karen meme is because Karen behavior (being racist, kicking up a fuss about perceived customer service issues), unlike soliciting sex worker, is as likely to come from men, as women. Yet the men aren’t called out.

                Also “john” isn’t trying to say the type of man called John is more likely to solicit sex workers than other men. The slang it thought to have come from the fact that, because John is a common name, men would tell law enforcement their name was “John” if caught with a sex worker.

          2. Anonys*

            It’s a pretty well-established fact that the majority of sex workers are women and the majority of their customers are men. It’s a fact of the patriarchal society we live in with the male gaze which objectives female bodies far more than male, that it’s also easier/more lucrative for women to use this objectification to commodify their bodies for sex work. (This is not a criticism of sex work or sex workers).

            I’m not aware of any studies on whether women ask for the manager or kick up a fuss over customer service more often than men, but from personal (anecdotal) experience I doubt that’s the case.

            1. Vina*

              I agree. I don’t think it’s anti-sex worker to acknowledge the system in which they work. Because the larger culture exists in that same system and a lot of women who aren’t in that industry still trade in the male gaze.

              I think a lot of behaviors we code as women aren’t. A lot of studies show that gossip, for example, is something men do more than women. As is being chatty. It’s an anti-woman stereotype we are catty, chatty gossips. But it’s not true when held under a microscope.

              Similarly, I don’t think the complain tot he manager thing is female. It may well be white. I don’t’ know. I’d like to see some studies on it.

              I would suspect that it’s something black and Native American folks don’t do (for obvious reasons). I don’t know about other groups.

        2. juliebulie*

          Your name is also used for unidentified corpses and crime suspects. It’s like people were too lazy to pick on other names.

      2. EvilQueenRegina*

        Those two names actually happen to be the names of my boss and grandboss, and I haven’t been aware that the names have been an issue for them.

        I am in the UK though and don’t know that they have as much of that reputation here.

        1. TechWorker*

          I think they still have that connotation but the name ‘John’ is so so common (my not-that-big office has 4) that it’s not where people’s minds go first? Unlike say, Dick, which now is much more commonly used as slang than encountered as a name.

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes, I think how common a name is can affect this hugely. That’s not where my mind would first go with “John” in the UK but perhaps that’s because using the word for a toilet is less common here than in the US. If someone asked me where the john was, I’d expect the question to have an American accent of some sort. A British person is I think more likely to say “where is the loo” or “where is the gents” if they didn’t just ask where the toilet is.

            The one that does catch me off-guard is Randy which in the UK is slang for aroused. The first time a US counterpart came over and shook my hand and said “Hey I’m Randy” I did a doubletake and repressed the urge to say “Glad to hear it but what’s your name”. I can’t think of anyone in the UK who would call their child that but it’s still common in the US because the connotation is not the same.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              The connotation is absolutely the same in the states, but the term is used less frequently except within groups where people are unlikely to use more blunt terms.

              My church-going friends from two-parent homes would giggle and squirm around like someone had said a big swear whenever someone named “Randy” was introduced—this only happened like 4 times thru middle school, it’s not a super common name, and the church moms said those were bad boys.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                The connotation is the same but uncommon, a little archaic or maybe upper class. In the US, ‘horny’ is the more common term. So if I met a person named ‘Randy’, I wouldn’t go there immediately. However, the two Randalls I know go by Randall.

                I know two pets named ‘Randy’ though, and both were intended to include that connotation.

            2. KaciHall*

              Someone I onboarded was named Randall Paul Ness according to his driver’s licence. He filled out all his documents as Randy P. Ness.

              I am so glad I never worked directly with him. Seriously, who names their kid Randy Penis?

              1. Jan*

                Our local corner shop in east London is run by a woman called Purvi (pronounced Pervy). My flatmate wouldn’t go in there after he realised because he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop himself giggling. I did point out that he probably wouldn’t have to use her name – I never have – but if he did, just call her Mrs Patel. But some people are childish. I’m sure in India, Purvi is no more strange than Polly or Pam would be to us.

      3. not-a-karen*

        I was going to add, I’m seeing some indignation in this thread about the use of Karen as a meme. I have a recognizable but uncommon female name and and a less common spelling of it, which is not typically associated with my race and is, unjustly, sometimes associated with a low socioeconomic class. I heard jokes about having a “stripper” name before I hit puberty. I wonder how many Karens are frumpled by having had a lifetime of a totally unnoteworthy name and don’t like it having any connotation now. A lot of us have been dealing with it forever, life goes on.

        I’ll admit I very, very briefly considered going by my unremarkable middle name on my resume in college after learning about name bias, but decided that it was a good built in filter against employers who would make decisions on that as a factor deliberately or not, because I had no interest working for those groups anyway.

        1. Laney Boggs*

          Yeah, not going to lie, I’m more interested in studies about how cultural names (Jose vs Joe) affect peoples jobs than I am about how Karen affects white women for 3 months. Main comment is so out of line.

      4. Anononon*

        I’m a Rebecca who goes by Becky, and I think it’s extremely different as I have “Rebecca” to list on my resume, which is much more professional sounding.

        1. k*

          Well, Karen is a nickname for Katherine (even if it isn’t really used as a nickname anymore), so I guess if someone is really self-conscious they can go by that. Or maybe switch to Carrie.

      5. Rebecca, Not Becky (Or Becca...)*

        I actually stopped going by Becky professionally a few years ago, and only go by Rebecca to anyone other than close friends and family. I introduce myself as Rebecca, and correct people who refer to me as Becky. I do worry about how people will treat me as “Becky”. I’m a young woman in tech, and I typically work on all-male teams (and have to fight to be taken seriously and “non-hormonal”). I believe there is a real bias against names, which is why I did it.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I also go by my full name and not a nickname that also ends in an -y/-ie sound. I was concerned about the ‘young’ sounding of the nickname within a heavily male dominated workplace.

      6. Real Name*

        I mean, my real name is Karen Rebecca Lastname, and I was already receptive to the research? It’s solid. I got it before my first name became a standin for b-tch. What a weird thing to say.

      7. Reba*

        I went by Becky growing up (very glad I switched before I became an aunt last year!) and my mom’s name is Karen. We are coping ok :)

      8. Anon_This_Time*

        My first name is Rebecca and I was braced for “Becky” to be a bigger or longer lasting thing than it seems to have become- although it’s conceivable that either the people I know don’t use it, or because I never go by Becky, it just sort of passes me by.
        However, I was recently given an ASL name that’s the letter R moved in a way that invokes my hairstyle (very long and straight) so other hearing people do make the occasional Beyonce reference, which I don’t mind.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      The head of our department for a few years was named, no word of a lie, ‘Wally Willy’. He was about 62, had been through the armed forces with that name and as he said had ‘heard every joke’.

      Damn fine IT executive director. You just didn’t tease him about his name unless you wanted to hear some of the language he’d picked up from the Royal Marines!

      (Also, my real name is the punchline to a joke. Seriously. Did think of changing either my first or last name to avoid it but couldn’t be bothered.)

    6. JSPA*

      Baby names (link to follow): Karen was slowly dropping in popularity until 2014. The Karen meme launched in 2014 (per a couple of sources). The name plateaued. If the meme were causing a backlash, the popularity could have cratered further. So, no backlash. No attention. Nothing but whatever level of personal pain someone might feel from, uh, “happening to share their name with a meme.” Which belongs in the same general class as, “happening to share your name with a misbehaving celebrity.”

  7. Gaia*

    OP 2 this reminds me of when I worked in the UK and was constantly being asked if I was angry or upset when I made firm decisions to end further discussion or said I needed X and didn’t ask, but rather stated it.

    Where I live in the US I’m considered professional and polite and would never be thought of as angry or upset by any of these interactions. No one could point to what, exactly, was wrong with what I said or my tone. It was just a cultural difference. They got used to me pretty quickly.

    1. Double Dutch*

      As a Dutch person working and living in the UK for a long time, we often joke about my perceived directness/brusqueness and vice versa (I would for example jokingly ask “Do you mean this as a ‘maybe-maybe’, or a ‘no-maybe’ for this project?”). I know my communication style is different, even though it has adapted now. When I went back to work in the Netherlands for two years, I was even shocked how ‘rude’ and direct my Dutch colleagues were!  I also live in the North which (I think) differs from Southern England as well in style (it’s closer to the Dutch way).

      I think it also depends on how much colleagues and those you interact with are used to working with people from different cultures and backgrounds. If everyone you interact with is Southern, you will stand out more/be perceived as more different than working in a more mixed environment where people have been exposed to more styles.

      I find it fascinating though that, just like with experiencing culture shock, you can know all the theory behind communication/how different styles are perceived and be an open-minded person, this still won’t stop you from having some (irrational) judgements and feelings about the language and communication styles used (deep down I will still thing my way is the best way!).

      1. Helena1*

        I’ve had similar conversations with frustrated German colleagues: “Why can’t you English just say no when you mean no? Nobody will be offended”

        “We did say no! We said that idea definitely needed further work, what could be a clearer “no” than that?”

        1. Pretzelgirl*

          My sister is lives in Germany (we are from the US) and her biggest adjustment is getting used to how direct and blunt Germans are. She’s been there almost 3 years and its still a struggle.

          1. I can only speak Japanese*

            I’m German and most Germans are too rude for me after living abroad.

        2. Gaia*

          This is funny because my coworker in the UK that was from Germany once told me he liked having me in meetings because I just say no and move on when that’s the decision.

        3. Gaia*

          “could do” was the one that got me.

          “Why did you move forward with that idea”

          “Because when I asked if I should, you said ‘could do!'”

          1. Armchair Expert*

            “Could do” clearly means “I mean, that’s an option available to you, technically, sure”.
            Which is a no.
            I fail to see the ambiguity.

      2. Tink*

        My grand boss for the last 2 years was from the Netherlands and frankly I thought it was great. I always knew exactly what he meant and where I stood. I much prefer direct vs circuitous communication especially in the office, so much easier to get things done.

      3. Quickbeam*

        I’ve been waiting on a package from a Dutch seller and sent her an e-mail about the extended time frame. Her response in English was “You will wait for it to get there”. Ok then, I’ve been told!

      4. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I remember at college a Dutch friend explained that if someone asks if you want to get lunch, but you don’t, then in the Netherlands you just say you don’t want to, and everyone is totally cool about it.

        Imagine the freedom!

        1. Gaia*

          See now I’m wondering how many people had lunch with me against their wishes. I was probably the office lunch kidnapper lol

    2. Liz*

      I wonder if the culture in the US puts less focus on the need to justify or explain a decision? I’m British and this conversation with a friend who was on an international forum. She said she would often be thrown by the American contributors because they would say things like “we should go with X” or “yes, Y is better” and offer no reasoning as to why they thought that or how they had reached than conclusion. I can’t speak for everyone, but we concluded that the Brits have a tendency to frame our ideas in more subjective language – “I think…” etc – rather than objective facts. Not that pushy Brits don’t exist: never underestimate the power of a very assertive person declaring “well I happen to think you’re wrong!” Obviously there will be regional and individual differences, but based on our own interactions, this was our conclusion.

      And then tone is a whole other thing on top of that. It can be really hard for people to verbalize what they find “off” in these interactions, because I think a great deal of it is subconscious. It took me a long time to pin down the uneasy feeling I get when I visit the States and try to interact with people. It just feels like I’m trying to follow instructions with only half the information. Trying to decipher that gut feeling to figure out the block is hard, so it’s not surprising people can’t name the problem.

      1. Saby*

        I really recommend the book The Culture Map by Erin Meyer! There is a really interesting chapter about this and about how differences in education systems in different countries set us up for the “present your reasoning for how you came to this conclusion” vs. “get straight to the most important outcome” tactics in group decision-making.

        Also a lot of interesting stuff on how the level of cultural homogeneity within a country/region influences how direct or indirect communication is, because with more homogeneity it’s much easier to say something in a roundabout way and have everyone immediately get your references and know what you mean.

      2. Gaia*

        We do tend to be very direct in my part of the states (other areas are infamously passive aggressive). And if anyone had ever asked me to explain my decision, I would have. But why waste time? It is fascinating how our cultures are so similar and yet so different.

    3. Anon342*

      I’m from the UK (from Cornwall) and I think I saw a study showing that we say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ more than anyone else. It kind of punctuates an exchange, such as paying for something at a cashiers. It’s not necessarily that you’re eternally grateful to them for letting you buy some gum!
      I’ve lived in North America for 5 years now and it still freaks me out when my kids think it’s ok to say “Can I get xyz” without please/thank you, but I think this is totally normal over here so I try and suppress any misgivings. At first it seemed so rude not to have little pleases and thank yous peppering conversations.
      And the work emails sometimes used to raise my hackles until I got used to the bluntness. But I also find it works well in that at least it gets to the point.
      So yeah, I don’t know for that OP2 is being rude or just perceived that way, but perhaps copying folk around her might make her life easier?

      1. Gaia*

        Oh yea , work emails. I am sure my one line “here’s the report” emails probably raised a few eyebrows. I did get better about that … but it always seemed so tiring.

  8. nnn*

    #5: If you haven’t already, someone (you?) should specifically tell this employee that not filling out his time sheet means you have to do a special payroll run and it’s time-intensive.

    Until I read your letter, I always thought payroll was something done automatically by a computer – you click submit on your timesheet and a computer does all the math and generates a direct deposit. Maybe your employee also doesn’t know that it’s actual work for an actual human being.

    1. Kisses*

      Have em put in a digital timeclock if they are hourly. There is a lot of software available!

      1. Ego Chamber*

        I’m obviously guessing but I would think a company that decided to process payroll by having an employee manually add up the blocks of time in employee calendars isn’t going to be super receptive to implementing new software or hardware to streamline the process.

        Personally I’d be advocating for real timesheets since keeping track of payroll in multiple calendars sounds like an auditing nightmare, especially if the calendars are digital and can be altered at any time.

        1. Hamburke*

          THIS!! I do payroll for several small businesses. Being able to change the time clock would cause problems. Not being able to change the time clock has its own problems as well (I forgot to clock out or I put in straight time rather than PTO) but not as sticky as changeable calenders. I think the business is setting themselves up for an investigation into their payroll records.

          Also, something to consider that I do bring up with my clients is that they aren’t saving money by using paper timesheets or some weird work-around like this – they are paying my billable rate to sort it out which is way higher than a monthly fee for a timeclock app…

    2. TexasRose*

      Since this is already making a large amount of extra work for you (and since your boss is ineffective and unlikely to change), here are few other things you might try:
      1. Ask the individual what the problem is. Is it the time sheet itself? Might a different format be better, such as an Excel spreadsheet, that they could email? (Use your words, and try to work with this person to get what YOU need – reminding them of the legal and financial liability to the company of noncompliance.) Possibly spend a few minutes looking up the state laws, and calculate how much fines would be due if your company didn’t pay on time. Mention this total to your boss, and possibly the business owner (if they are different individuals) – but NOT the special I-can’t-be-bothered M. Snowflake.
      2. Ask this person if leaving you a DAILY voice message or email might be easier (thus leading to more compliance). You still would then need to fill out the time sheet because M. Snowflake can’t be bothered (and your boss can’t be bothered to get it done), but you’d be helping your company comply with the legal requirements, and taking control of when you have to deal with this task. (Yes, you shouldn’t have to do this for an adult. Yes, the boss should be the nag here. If this is not the hill you want to quit over, taking control of the annoyance and chasing the data so you don’t have to run a special payroll for them [basically resolving the time sheet in the current pay period] may be the best you can hope for.)
      3. Alternately, accept that M. Snowflake isn’t going to fill out a time sheet except once in a blue moon (that is, about twice a year), and schedule a weekly phone call with them to get the data so you can fill out the time sheet for them. Point out that it’s illegal for the company NOT to pay them for time worked within a certain time frame.
      4. (Clear this one with the boss.) Look at a few weeks/months of existing time sheets for this person. Is there a pattern? Create a default time sheet that goes in, and then try the weekly phone call to get deviations. Alternately accept that you will be doing corrections each pay period for the previous pay period.
      5. Try a charm / sweet talk offensive. Of course, they want to make your job easier! What’s the data this week? Here’s a cookie for sharing your crumbs of info so you can get paid on time! (This last one only works if you’re co-located where you can pass along cookies, and you can refrain from adding cricket meal* to the oatmeal raisin cookies you bake…)
      *It adds a nice crunchy, nutty flavor to cookies, along with some protein, although it can be a tad pricey based on my last time I tried it about a decade ago. And cricket meal is not harmful, the way some other additives might be. And it will help you smile when you pass along the special cookies to reward M. Snowflake.
      6. Sic your boss onto getting the time sheet, and call the boss every two hours on the days the time sheets are due until you get the information you need. (In short, make the BOSS make up the numbers.)

      In short: these suggestions might not reduce the total amount of time you have to spend on getting M. Snowflake paid, but
      a. you will have more control of when you spend the time, and
      b. you will have pushed some of the annoyance back to where it belongs, onto M. Snowflake and possibly boss

      Good luck!

      1. Patricia*

        This is insane. Just tell the employee what he has to do and why. I also work in a position that relies on people inputting their time (which we then bill out) and while we are accommodating to circumstances (people out in the field, etc) we would never go to that level. You want to be paid, you input your time.

        1. Natalie*

          You want to be paid, you input your time.

          Unfortunately that solution isn’t legal, as Alison already outlined. You can’t make receiving timely pay contingent on anything, including submitting a timecard.

          1. Helena1*

            Ok, you want to keep working here, you fill in your timesheet when we tell you. Same difference.

            1. Thankful for AAM*

              This right here!
              If you want to keep working here, we need the hours for each week by x date or we are risking 1,000s of dollars in fines and we cannot afford that risk.

              I have to punch a clock and if I am 1 minute late or punch out 1 minute early 4 times in a year, I will be at HR explaining why. It is a silly and demoralizing way to organize professional jobs and I push back when it comes up but it is the cornerstone of our municipality. A similar employer in the next county does not have a time clock and if someone is late on a regular basis, the manager, you know, manages them.

            2. Junger*

              I doubt OP has the authority to fire this employee, and their boss sounds unhelpful.
              They shouldn’t have to do things like this, but it might be the least bad option they have.

              1. Ego Chamber*

                Feeding a dude expensive homemade cricket cookies at his desk to get him to fill out paperwork to get paid on time? Lol no wtf absolutely not.

                Sounds like a less than ideal payroll system. Sounds like dude doesn’t use his work calendar to manage his workday or else he’d be using it like a calendar instead of an afterthought. Sounds like there’s some potential for fraud if he’s filling in his time worked weeks after the fact.

            3. Patricia*

              Exactly. It’s a condition of your employment just like turning up and doing other duties. *shrug* The longer you make exceptions for everything the harder it is to make them do it because you’ve already told them they don’t have to.

        2. Amethystmoon*

          Yes. We all have to fill out our own time sheets. We also all have to be honest with our time, at least the hourly people do, by punching in and out electronically. Maybe institute something like that, a time clock button, that all a person has to do is click on it and it gets recorded? We also have a rule that there has to be a certain amount of variance to get OT — for example, 5 minutes of overtime due to varying clicks, like at 11:59. 12:31, 4:31, etc. won’t get you paid overtime.

          1. Sharikacat*

            I’d argue that “rule” in your workplace is some level of illegal. True that in a good workplace, workers won’t care about a few minutes here or there, but this is in strict regards to the legality of paying people appropriately for the time worked. I had a workplace where the timeclock rounded to the nearest quarter-hour for payroll purposes, and it never sat right with me because that’s a potential 2.5 hours each week that could go unpaid.

            1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

              I think that’s legal if the rounding is as likely to increase as decrease the person’s pay–no overtime if you clock in at 11:59 instead of noon, but you get paid for the full hour if you clock *out* at 5:59 instead of 6:00.

            2. Colette*

              Assuming it rounded to the nearest quarter hour, that’s potentially 7 minutes per punch. To get 2.5 hours, you’d have to punch in/out 21 times in a week (and always be the maximum number of minutes away from the nearest quarter hour.) As long as they do it in both directions, it’s probably fine.

            3. doreen*

              There’s an actual rule about rounding that requires rounding to the nearest quarter hour, and doesn’t allow always rounding down. I can’t see how rounding to the nearest quarter hour would result in 2.5 hours of unpaid overtime a week – even if someone always punched in at 8:08 , and was credited with punching in at 8:15 , that’s 7 minutes a day. If they punch out at 4:07 and get credited with 4:00, that’s another 7 minutes. About an hour and ten minutes a week -even if you add two minutes a day to account for seconds, that’s still only an hour and twenty minutes. And that’s assuming you always clock in/out at those times- there could also be a reverse situation, where someone clocks in every day at 8:07 ( rounded back to 8:00) and out every day at 4:08 (rounded to 4:15) and gets paid for 15 minutes of overtime they didn’t work every day, so an hour and 15 minutes a week. Of course, clock in/out times are usually more varied and it probably balances out for most people over a period of time.

            4. Amethystmoon*

              Overtime does have to be approved by managers. It’s a fairly large corporation so I would think they had to research it out first.

      2. Um, yeah, no*

        I was going to suggest #3, weekly phone call to get the info.
        I used to work at a university which insisted on hand written time sheets from student workers. Believe me, there was nothing I could say to students to get all of them to turn in their time sheets on time. Which meant I had to revise my payroll submission multiple times and run therm over to payroll as I received then. Several times I received a time sheet for May work in August or September. And I would get in trouble for it, even though the student was the one to leave town the minute their last final ended without turning in their the sheet.
        I really disliked that part of my job…

    3. Liz*

      It sounds like LW’s org isn’t using timesheets at all – just the calendars. And I think that might be the root of the issue. I’ve only ever worked in places where we either fill out timesheets or physically clock in and out, and then both employee and manager had to sign the sheet/card to confirm its accuracy. Maybe the calendar thing is more standard in some places, but it can’t be reliable. People will not always stick to (or even use) a calendar, or remember to make alterations when required. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there are other inaccuracies from other employees, and this one guy just stands out because he noticeably is not using the calendar.

      There is nothing mentioned in the letter about him being disorganised or missing appointments, so presumably he has another system that works for him. That leaves him having to fill out a calendar in lieu of a standard timesheet! I think if I had to log hours by creating retroactive events on a calendar, I’d be late, too. It would be far easier and more foolproof to have a template document in word or excel whereby employees can fill their hours in as they go, or at the end of the fortnightly pay period. Typing in a few columns of numbers is far less time consuming, and hopefully enable the employee to be more timely.

      1. BethDH*

        Why is it less reliable? If your work entirely revolves around meetings with clients, it’s reasonable that you’re keeping track of them in something resembling a calendar, even if it’s more like a day planner.
        You’re probably right that the format is bothering this guy, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad system. I’ve had places where I had to submit written time sheets, and there was always someone who didn’t do those too and had to be chased down.

        1. Liz*

          Primarily because a calendar is a “forward planning” document and a timesheet is retrospective. To me, that would leave opportunity for changes to fall through the cracks, because plans and actuality do not always marry up.

          Secondly, a timesheet seems like a more formal document stating. If there was a dispute over wages, I would imagine it would be far easier to resolve (and cover the backs of everybody involved) if there was some sort of proper documentation to produce. My experience is very limited though, so I can understand if this is a cultural or office specific thing and I’m the outlier here. In my brief research online I found numerous software claiming to transfer calendar content to a timesheet, so it would seem this is indeed a thing. I am just largely very cynical about these types of “shortcut” as I find them inflexible and far too reliant on other factors being correct and perfect before they can work the way they are intended. Personally I would not be comfortable if payroll told me “don’t bother with a timesheet, we’ll just go through your diary and figure it out for ourselves!” which is how this system feels to me. As I say though, I might be the odd one out here.

          1. Joielle*

            The calendar may be an unusual way of submitting a timesheet, but that’s the system the employer has and the guy still needs to do it. It doesn’t matter what the format of the timesheet is for legal purposes, there’s nothing about a calendar entry that’s legally “less formal” than a timesheet in list form, or spreadsheet, or whatever. “Proper documentation” is whatever documentation the employer decides to use, and if someone chooses not to use it, the appropriate response is to discipline them.

          2. Librarian1*

            Yes, this. It seems like such a hassle to use the calendar for both planning future events and for tracking past events. Not to mention that someone then has to manually add up all the hours.

            And I 100% agree about a calendar feeling a lot less formal.

      2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        Years ago, we did exactly that – we entered “appointments” of a certain type with a project number into our Outlook calendar and generated timesheets, neatly separated by client and project, from that. This was to facilitate billing. As we were all exempt, payroll was not involved but it was essential for the company receiving the money to pay us.
        It worked fairly well.

        1. Liz*

          Ah, that’s good point. I’m guessing if different clients are being billed, multiple timesheets per employee would need to be generated? I hadn’t thought of that.

    4. Lucy P*

      We have a computer that “does the math” but there are so many other factors to this that require human intervention.
      Because of the type of work we do, before we get to the payroll portion of the system, we also have to look at what work the employee did on each job and the hours to each specific task for that job. For us each person filling out their timesheet daily is critical. If we have a job doing llama grooming, I can’t just invoice for 40 hours of llama grooming for the week. The client is going to want to know, 5 hours of brushing, 2 hours of bathing, 1 hour of applying lotion, etc.
      Plus, it’s amazing how often people don’t fill in their timesheet correctly. They have to account for 8 hours a day, minimum, and some people often turn in timesheets with hours missing.

    5. Academic Addie*

      This is worth telling the employee.

      But I also think it’s worth probing into why this is happening. My husband is the only person at his job who routinely has trouble getting his hours documented. But he’s also the only lawyer covering his practice area at his firm, which means he typically has to spend extra time on his nights and weekends documenting his hours because he has over 100 active clients right now. There were a couple times during the pandemic when we were both working from home that it didn’t happen.

      OP5, you mention that this person started a few months ago. Have you all had the time to be in the office together? I know I’m not mentioning things at work that could be smoother because my perception is that they would add to someone else’s burden in a way that is unhelpful, where if we were chatting at the coffeemaker, I might just bring it up. I think this is a situation for some directness. You’re a person, not a calculator, you’re actually doing this labor. But in an expanding business, sometimes needs change.

    6. Librarian1*

      That’s what ours does and I think a lot of them do. I was assuming that the OP’s company has this type of software, but the employee still needs to fill out their own hours and then click “submit” an wasn’t doing that.

    1. Casper Lives*

      You’re right, those went away.

      All I can think of now is “Becky with the good hair.”

        1. Rebecca*

          Yes, those are my favorites – not so much the woman who called the police for people in the park – was that BBQ Becky? Sighs.

        2. Vina*

          Oh, that song intro is absolutely perfect. The song is perfect. The video was perfect.

          I’m old enough to remember when it came out and radio stations wouldn’t play it. When it aired on MTV, a lot of old white people lost it.

          1. JustaTech*

            I just saw a video where Sir Mix a Lot performed it with the Seattle Symphony.

            Just shows how times change.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Bye, Felicia was from the movie Friday and had nothing to do with white women, though.

        1. Beehoppy*

          No, but it was used to reference a woman who was annoying or clueless and I can imagine may have been awkward for women actually named Felicia in much the same way.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            It was used in the movie towards a black, begging crackhead, so no, I don’t see the correlation.

            But I guess this is what happens when white people co-opt terminology from black culture 20 years late and then run it into the ground with unfunny memes – it loses its original context.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              Preach!

              Many people who use the phrase haven’t seen nor would they every watch Friday.

              Despite the fact it’s a classic.

    2. Real Name*

      Yep, it’s my name too, and it’ll fade. It also hasn’t been a problem at work.

  9. Vendelle*

    OP#2: You could maybe find a local speech therapist/SLP who can help you to make sense of the difference in communication styles.

    1. pancakes*

      The letter writer’s colleagues could do the same, but that seems unlikely and unnecessary. I’ve lived in the northeastern US all my life and have occasionally worked with southerners whose communication style grates on me for assorted reasons—seeming indirect or obsequious, for example—but I’d never have considered suggesting that any of them work with a speech therapist to blend in better with locals. I’ve never seen anyone else suggest it, either. I doubt the letter-writer’s coworkers make a point of changing their communication style when visiting other regions of the US or talking to people in other regions of the US. It seems more sensible and more equitable for people to learn to be more accepting of different communication styles rather than put that much work into conforming.

  10. Thankful for AAM*

    You have my sympathy, OP #2!!
    I get this kind of feedback; I think it is about my NE speech style (not NY or Boston). I’ve never really figured out what it is or how to adjust but I did have someone point something out that helped me understand a little.

    Back in the day I was part of a pretty tight knit group of parents of preschool aged kids. Lots of convos about parenting, how do I do this or that, etc. One day, one of the moms (grew up in this southern state b4 it became a bedroom community of NYers) says to me, I used to thinkyou were so pushy and always telling everyone what to do but then I realized you are actually the only one who does not do that.

    Here was her reasoning: when other moms asked a question, I’d answer, as part of the general convo, if I had a suggestion. I did not always answer or talk more than others did (at least it seemed that way to me). She said she never answered unless she was 100% sure she knew the actual answer while I answered comparatively more often. She thought I was full of myself and thought i had all the answers. She also said that she noticed other moms all told each other what to do, unsolicited, when they noticed a mother doing something wrong.

    She apparently had an epiphany one day when she realized I was just responding with concern when someone asked a question and that I never ever gave unsolicited advice.

    I don’t know that I could really have figured out not to answer a question when asked or I would appear full of myself or that unsolicited advice gave the appearance of care and concern. But there I was!

    I know it is likely the right advice but I find AAM’s advice to soften things exhausting. And very close to demeaning and like I’m trying to make myself appear less smart so the men in the room don’t feel threatened (though I know that is not what she is saying at all). It can take a lot of mental effort to reframe everything or to try to figure out which things need reframing when you have no idea when what you say is bothering ppl. It is clearer if it is just meetings or just when proposing an idea to the boss. But all the time is exhausting.

    I hooe my sympathy and my little story bring some comfort, this is hard!

    1. lazy intellectual*

      Wait – what? Answering a question makes you seem full of yourself? So what do people do – not answer? This seems hard enough to work around socially, and 10x harder in a work setting.

      1. Vichyssuave*

        Not the original person you were asking, but this is something I had to work on myself, so possibly I have some insight. For me, it wasn’t answering questions necessarily that was the issue, it was *always* answering the question. In group settings, if a question was asked, I was always jumping in, even if someone else there probably knew way more about the subject and would have much better insight. Sometimes (and I cringe at this now*) I would even answer for someone else who was literally right next to me, when they had been directly asked, but I knew the answer. It’s unfathomably rude and I am mortified at how I must have come across. It was a horrible habit that I’m not sure where or how I picked up, and I’m still working on unlearning it (clearly).

        *Oh the irony… Answering yet another question not asked of me!!! I hope the sin is less when it’s a in comment section format :/

        1. Avasarala*

          I think this was helpful though!
          For example, always answering questions and never asking any. Subconsciously placing yourself as an authority, as put-together, maybe subtly judging or putting down others for not doing things the “right” way or letting others take the lead and show their expertise.

          I remember at a party someone found out I’d recently moved to their part of town and then started trying to explain the town to me, giving me recommendations on things and subtly placing themselves as the authority because they’d been in town 1 year already.
          Well, it just so happens that I was new to that part of town, but I’d lived in that area for 7 years and knew the area quite well! And didn’t appreciate them trying to take me “under their wing” like I didn’t know anything. They’d only been here 1 year and they’re trying to give me traffic directions! It was like localsplaining.

          In my experience people who always have to place themselves in a position of authority have a lot of insecurities about their knowledge and status and feeling vulnerable or disrespected. They don’t know how to relate to people except on this one-sided-mentor level and don’t listen very well.

          1. Part Cheesy*

            “for example, always answering questions and never asking any.”

            This is an excellent example. Whenever I’ve seen someone in a higher up position genuinely wonder about something, indicating that they’re not sure and open for opinions, it sends a clear message to everyone listening that he/she does not consider himself to be above the others.

        2. Allonge*

          I also need to be careful about this – in professional settings at least. I blame it on having been a reference librarian for 8 years – literally my job was answering questions.

          So yes, in, say, group trainings etc. I need to be able to shut up, even if the answer is obvious – others need the space and time to think and say something, and that has to be ok. And yes, also in team meetings I need to shut up and let my colleagues asnwer when the boss asks a question – after they tried, I usually get the chance to add more info if needed.

          I recognise this less in personal settings – no one should dominate a conversation but, like, we are talking, no?

          1. Thankful for AAM*

            In the case of the mom convos, according to the mom who said something to me, it was answering at all that was the problem. Example, if the question was about sibling rivalry, she would never join in the convo bc she had one child and knew she did not 100% know the “right” answer.

            I don’t think I set myself up as an authority or spoke over others or spoke more than anyone else.

            I just know it can be very hard when someone is saying you are not fitting in and cannot explain to you why. And to feel you are only tolerated.

            1. Allonge*

              I think that is ridiculous though. For one, it’s an informal discussion and not an academic panel.

              The other thing is that for these things there is very often no right or wrong, there are just things that you can try – this is not arithmetic, it’s kids! All of them are different!

              It does not hurt to think before advising something, to consider that someone may not be able to use the tools that worked for us, but that does not mean that we cannot say anything! If I had a difficult time growing up with my brother, I may know a bit more about sibling rivalry than an only child whose toddlers are starting off on it. And having multiple kids does not automatically qualify anyone to discuss it either!

              So, all in all, I think the expectations in that group of moms were really weird.

              1. BethDH*

                I don’t think it’s that you can’t ever speak up in that situation — it’s about balance. If you very frequently do it, and it is noticeable that it is in situations where you’re theorizing rather than speaking from experience, that is annoying in personal situations as well as professional ones. It seems to be very common in parenting, unfortunately— everyone thinks they have the answer for other people. It sounds like that’s what Thankful for AAM’s friend initially thought TfAAM was doing, probably a trigger reaction based on previous bad experiences, and then the friend apologized when she realized she was misinterpreting.

          2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

            Oh, that’s so me!
            My excuse is being a consultant, so knowing more about the subject at hand, or at least appearing so, is a core part of my job. Still, I actively monitor myself to rein it in before I make an ass of myself.

        3. lazy intellectual*

          Ok this makes more sense. I thought the OP was talking about being directly asked a question about herself and then being judged for answering it, which sounded quite odd.

    2. Kisses*

      I’m super familiar with the whole dumbing yourself down thing. It took years to out learn that.
      And my mom is the queen of southern pettiness. Dear god the passive aggressiveness is almost unbearable.
      I remember my blunt cousin coming to town and no one liking her at first because she didn’t sugar coat anything. They had to ‘understand’ her too.

      1. lazy intellectual*

        I know they’re technically not Southern or, well, real, but the characters Emily and Richard Gilmore from Gilmore Girls gave me a little bit of insight into how pettiness and passive-aggressiveness can look in American culture. The show makes it obvious that they are being passive-aggressive, but in a real-life setting it would be hard to know without knowing them well. The show made me realize that I had definitely met people like them and they were probably dissing me the whole time ha.

    3. Ego Chamber*

      “like I’m trying to make myself appear less smart so the men in the room don’t feel threatened”

      No, a lot of the time that is the exact point of it. Sexism sucks and I hate how much effort it takes to work around it to get the intended result instead of just burning the whole thing down, but here we are.

    4. Yorick*

      This is not like making yourself seem dumb so men feel better. This is about adapting to another culture and not assuming that your communication style is objectively the best.

  11. Observer*

    #3 – As Allison says, most people have enough sense to look at the Karen meme (as sexist as it is) differently than the actual name of a particular person. Having said that, this is a potential learning experience for you and anyone you know who is aware of the concern.

    Think about it – you’re worried that you might have a harder time with getting a job, etc. because of your name (which is something you can change if you really had a hard time with it.) That’s frustrating and upsetting. Think about what it must be like for someone who KNOWS that they are having a harder time over externals – externals they couldn’t change no matter what they wanted to do. And, not just having a bit of a harder time, it’s jobs, it’s access to education, it’s having the police called on you for things others don’t have to think about, etc.

    In other words take your angst over a POSSIBLE piece of discrimination and raise it to the power of 10 and you will start scratching the surface of what BIPOC (but especially black people deal with.)

    I’m not saying that you are racist or actually think that what you are concerned about is the same as anti black racism. But since you make the parallel in your letter, it’s as good an opportunity as you get to think about (or remind yourself) about what others are dealing with.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      Yeah…a meme is nowhere CLOSE to the implications of systemic racism. I know that’s not exactly what the OP said, but since they mentioned it, it’s clear they made some connection.

      Also, if I’m correct, I believe the Karen meme actually originated in Black Twitter??? Basically as a way to jokingly describe very entitled White women.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The connection the letter was making was “getting rejected over your name is a real thing.” Which it is. She wasn’t saying name rejection for her would be in the same league as racism.

        Given that this keeps coming up, I’m going to edit the letter to take that piece out. It seems to be making it too hard to focus on the question she’s asking.

        1. Avasarala*

          I agree with this decision.
          I still don’t think it’s really a legitimate question, because people get rejected for their name as part of racism, and people don’t get rejected for being ACTUALLY racist or for belonging to categories of social power.

          I think we can only discuss this in the sense of “meme” names.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The question is, “My name has become associated with being an unpleasant, rude person. Will it affect my chances of getting an interview?” Of course that’s a legitimate question.

            1. Avasarala*

              Sure, that is what I mean by “meme” names like people naming their kids Daenerys.

              But that’s not name discrimination and I don’t think it has the same root cause, and therefore won’t have the same result of putting OP at a disadvantage over their name.
              In my experience, people who know about the Karen meme won’t discriminate either because they recognize it’s a meme not a rule, or because they don’t think “Karens” are unpleasant/rude. And people who don’t know about the meme won’t discriminate.

              Maybe other commenters have heard of discrimination against stereotypical “Karens” but I have never encountered any, so I don’t see how that would splashback against OP either.

              1. TechWorker*

                Not all bias is conscious, it kinda amuses me when I see people confidently state that OF COURSE x would never affect a hiring decision, because people who hire are not uniformly thoughtful or bias free!

                If someone say, shared a name with a famous criminal, then I could absolutely imagine that subconsciously putting a recruiter off. That’s a more extreme example than Karen but I don’t think it’s an unreasonable question to ask. (And yes, I agree it’s not comparable to racial discrimination).

          2. The Meg*

            Avasarala, you know that individual persons can face prejudice or discrimination that is not systematic or racist and not close to the same level or experience BIPOC or religious minorities or LGBTQ+ individuals right? I’m mixed race and I could pass for white if I never went out in the sun. I did see this with my white parent, though it wasn’t the same level or the systematic racism that my black parent faces. Someone asking a question about her chances being affected because of negative associations with her name is legitimate yet not the same as racism faced by BIPOC. The OP never says otherwise and it is insulting to her to insinuate otherwise.

            1. Avasarala*

              Hello, yes I know how prejudice and discrimination works. I think there is a legit question of “will my resume get rejected if my name is Daenerys or Anakin” but it’s not the same question as “will my resume get rejected if my name reveals my ethnic/cultural background”. And couching the first question in terms of the second implies comparisons and parallels that detract from the question. The symptom is similar but the cause is different, so the diagnosis is different.

              Alison has since edited the question that will hopefully make this clearer to everyone.

  12. gltonwry*

    LW#3: The ‘Karen’ thing has been around for years in reference to the ‘can I speak to the manager’ memes that mock women with a certain sharp hairstyle and pushiness. I think that’s what it jumped off from — the bossy, entitled woman. I think it’s just a meme for the times and don’t personally equate it with racism, just Bossy-Boots entitled-dom. I know a lot of Karen/ Karin/ Karyns, and none of them are like that. I don’t think it’ll last beyond the next big meme.

    1. gltonwry*

      I actually tried to find the origin of this saying (I thought it was on a different, now defunct blog) to illustrate and I can’t. There is so much information about what a ‘Karen’ is, and it encompasses inter-worlds and definitions way beyond mine. And there a is Wiki page that is much more explicit than my own little hopeful defintion.

      So, I guess this is a trend that will eventually have its day and fade out.

      Hope: All the Gillians I run into in literature are horrible people. I stare them down and keep going.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Re: Gillian
        Look up Dork Tower for the wonderful “Gilly the Perky Goth”. (Quite poosibly the origin of that phrase.)

      2. Real Name*

        I saw it on Reddit for the first time maybe five years ago? There was a person whose username was fuckkaren, maybe with an underscore, then later a subreddit with the same name. The person had a story about an ex-wife named Karen who got custody of their kids and kept commenting about it in r/askreddit.

    2. Joielle*

      Basically – even if you’re literally a Karen, don’t BE a Karen and nobody will think you’re a Karen. If you have to say “not all Karens” then you’re being a Karen.

    3. JustaTech*

      When the “Karen” meme came up in conversation at work everyone agreed that the people-named-Karen we work with are all lovely people we are very happy to have as coworkers.
      There was also general agreement that most of the people we know who fit the “Karen” meme are not actually named Karen, and in some cases aren’t women.

      So I would hope that most reasonable hiring managers would look at a resume that says “Karen” at the top and just keep reading. But then again, the world is full of unreasonable people.

  13. Umiel12*

    LW#4 Makes of point of saying he blocks his calendar off for lunch and people schedule over it anyway. I’m a big believer in having good boundaries at work, and for me that means most days I take a real lunch break. I may be using that time to eat, go to doctor appointments, or take care of other personal business. I feel comfortable declining invitations that conflict with my lunch break, but I do it on a case-by-case basis. If it is clearly something urgent, or a meeting from my boss, I will go ahead and accept it. If it is just a peer who makes a habit out of it, I will usually decline it. Even on the days I accept the lunch-time meeting, I make it up either right before or right after.

    1. Allonge*

      Absolutely – people schedule meetings for all kinds of inconvenient times all the time, in meetings-heavy orgs. As we cannot realistically dictate what others do, we need to enforce our own boundaries.

      In other words: it’s a meeting _request_, not a meeting order or meeting command. Decline (with reasonable exceptions of course).

    2. Anonys*

      I think part of why people tend to schedule over lunch in quarantine is that people have different rhythms now to in the office and might have lunch at different times. Also, just in general, people have slightly different understandings of what lunch hours are. for example for me, 12-1 is absolutely NOT lunch, 1-2 is more like it (in the office I usually eat at 1:30). In fact, our weekly team meeting is usually at 12 and everyone has lunch after, and I often have other meeting at 12, but I have never ever gotten a meeting invite for 1 o clock, so I’m not alone is that assessment

    3. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      I agree that it’s good to set boundaries. I have lunchtime blocked off on my calendar because I work with people across different time zones and others might not realize when they’re scheduling something at someone else’s lunchtime, etc. So it just shows me as unavailable at that time. I learned to do this in a previous job, where I also worked with people across different time zones. There were so many calls that if I didn’t block the time, I would never be able to eat lunch.

      But lo and behold, I have one coworker who seemed like she was calling me out for being busy at that time by frequently emailing to ask me if I would be able to have a call during that time. At least she emailed me first to ask, but this happened for a few calls for a while there. She has a tendency to be controlling, so it felt like it was her passive-aggressive way of letting me know she noticed I had blocked off my lunchtime (as if it mattered whether she had noticed that). Of course, I agreed to having the calls at that time because I agree you don’t want to be that person who refuses to budge on that. Even though I had several other hours available all week. And even though my boss was okay with it and there was no office rule (written or unwritten) saying we had to be available at lunchtime. She has lightened up since, but for a while there it was weird.

      At the previous job, there was someone (not my boss) like that too. I think some people don’t like it when you set any boundaries, no matter how reasonable those boundaries are.

    4. Elizabeth Jennings*

      I really hate when people don’t do the “scheduling assistant” to see if someone already has a meeting. I try and put all my appointments and meetings on there so that people can see them, and I use it before sending a meeting request to others. Sigh.

      1. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

        Same here! It’s not difficult at all to use Scheduling Assistant but some people just won’t. So annoying!

    5. White Peonies*

      The key is how important is the meeting or the person scheduling the meeting is to the job and to your career. I know in my job there are a few weeks out of the year that I need to have desk lunch options & snacks available, because a real lunch may not be possible at all because of our work. If a meeting is detrimental or important to your work reschedule your lunch or make other plans, otherwise try and push back to reschedule the meeting or ask for notes in meetings where you are not a major contributor.

    6. Aggretsuko*

      I normally have a therapy/lunch appointment at 11 a.m. one day of the week. Now that we’re all home, I always have someone schedule me for a meeting from 10-11 and then it runs for 2 hours instead of one because an emergency came up. I do NOT feel like pointing out that I’m insane and need to end this meeting now for my therapy appointment, so I’ve missed appointments several times now.

      1. JustaTech*

        Can you tell that person, at the start of the meeting, “I have a very hard stop at 11, so if there are still topics to discuss we’ll need to schedule another meeting.”
        That way they know that the time is limited so they need to get to the most important things first, and you’ve made your expectations for the meeting abundantly clear in advance.

        1. valentine*

          I do NOT feel like pointing out that I’m insane
          They don’t need to know why. You’ve “already committed that time.” Block it off in your calendar and, when accepting requests, include a note that you need to leave at 10:45.

          I misread it as you were protecting your time by having someone schedule a nonexistent 10:00 so no one could infringe on your appointment. You can schedule it from 10:30 or 10:45, so I you can have a comfort break or otherwise prepare.

      2. Umiel12*

        I like JustaTech’s solution. Set that expectation up front, and it is likely to work out better. If people ask you what you have to stop, all you have to say is “I have another appointment” or “I have a personal appointment.” No one needs to know the details.

        1. MassMatt*

          I agree, but also if someone is frequently holding meetings that are supposed to run an hour and they run TWO HOURS they stink at running meetings. Few long meetings are productive, period (people’s eyes tend to glaze over after about an hour), but ones bloating to double their allotted time are worse still.

          All the more reason to announce your hard stop up front.

  14. Observer*

    #5 – then backfills it all and expects to be paid for all that time.

    Yes, he expects it, as he should. You are legally required to pay him, no matter how late his calendar is.

    I know, it’s not reasonable, but that IS the law. So, you need to bring this information to your boss – not just Allison’s word, but what the DOL says, so that your boss understands what’s at stake here.

    And your boss should either be willing to escalate this, or require this person to keep you posted on his work. Ultimately, the boss needs to be willing to fire this person if he doesn’t clean up his act.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      About firing him — maybe, but it’s also possible that the work he does brings enough value that the boss is willing to live with it causing the OP some extra work and hassle. I used to manage someone like this, and it was aggravating — but he was an incredibly successful fundraiser who could generate six-figure donations and secure tricky relationships that paid off in significant ways for the organization, and it would have been short-sighted to fire him because he added half an hour of work to the payroll every month. Sometimes in this situation people feel like, “Well, if he’s not willing to just get this done, surely there are other problems with his work too?” But there really weren’t. He was just not a paperwork guy, and the skills we’d hired him for were in a totally different arena.

      I’m not saying that’s the case here — it might not be. But it’s not always as simple as “fire him if he won’t do it.”

      1. Observer*

        Well, if ultimately this guy gets paid even though it causes the OP some headaches, then it can definitely be reasonable for the boss to decide that the headache is an acceptable price to pay for stellar skills or ability to bring in tons of profitable business. BUT – If the person is not getting paid or getting paid really late, that HAS to change. And if the guy just is not getting this piece, then the choices are getting rid of the guy or, if he is REALLY worth it, adding whatever it is to the payroll processing to make sure the guy gets paid.

    2. M from NY*

      That’s not entirely true. If there is a format to submit time and employee doesn’t comply they can’t rely on “legal obligation” to get paid when they feel like it. Payment from employer is reliant on submission of timesheet. No proof of time owed is in this case entirely the employees fault.

      With some bigger companies refusal to follow submission format can result in no payment at all if too much time has passed.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s actually not the law! The law says it’s the employer’s responsibility to track hours and pay accordingly. They can enlist employees for help in doing that, but ultimately it’s their responsibility to ensure it’s done. The law doesn’t have a “he didn’t turn in his timesheet” exemption for paying people on time.

        1. Patricia*

          Then pay him 40 hours a week if he doesn’t submit his timesheets. If he goes over that and isn’t paid for that then it’s his fault.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Again, it’s not legal. He has to be paid for all hours worked, in the timeframe set out by the state. It’s the employer’s responsibility to ensure that happens.

            1. Patricia*

              Well if he doesn’t submit his timesheets/calendar/whatever as far as they know it’s 40 hours. If he doesn’t tell them how are they supposed to know? I get that it’s illegal but the crux of it is this guy needs to do it and he’s not. So if they can’t just pay him 40 hours a week because he won’t fill in his time sheet then he needs to be put on a PIP because he’s not fulfilling his duties. If his boss won’t do it then go up the chain. I’m not sure if they are billing clients for his time but that’s the solution. If they are potentially losing money because they can’t bill out correctly because of him then that’s the case you make.

              1. Joielle*

                Right, the solution is to discipline or fire him if you can’t live with tracking down his hours every pay period, not to pay him some random, arbitrary amount. The OP says his hours can vary wildly from week to week, so he may well be working less than 40 hours.

              2. Observer*

                That’s exactly my point. Reasonable or not, the guy needs to be paid even if he won’t cooperate. Thus, it’s reasonable for the company to consider firing him if they can’t get him to cooperate.

              3. NerdyKris*

                They’re supposed to know because they’re supposed to be tracking it. The employer is responsible, not the employee. There’s all sorts of ways they can track time without having him tell them directly what hours he worked.

                1. valentine*

                  There’s all sorts of ways they can track time without having him tell them directly what hours he worked.
                  Without his cooperation?

                2. Observer*

                  If he’s THAT uncooperative, fire him. Because then you also don’t know what he’s done, what is billable etc.

      2. Vichyssuave*

        Unless the employee is a contractor (and possibly there may be some other very limited exceptions), that isn’t how it works and it is indeed illegal. Just because some companies have policies that run afoul of the law, doesn’t mean it’s not illegal.

        Like Alison said, it is the employer’s responsibility to keep track of how many hours their employees work. A timesheet is a tool to do so, but in the end, it falls on the employer.

        1. S. Dedalus*

          That’s what I’m thinking, They’re not employees, but “employees”, that is people misclassified as 1099 contractors.

    3. allathian*

      Sounds like the company needs some other way of tracking hours worked rather than relying on him submitting his work hours on the calendar. This looks like a performance issue to me. When the employee submits his hours worked late, the employer risks breaking the law, since the employee must be paid for hours worked. If I understand US regulations correctly, it’s ultimately the responsibility of the employer to ensure that the employee gets paid.
      That said, I don’t understand why it’s so difficult for the employee to track his hours worked on the calendar. You’d think it would be in his best interests to do what is needed to be paid on time…

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        Would it actually be a timesaver for OP to just call the problem employee every morning and get the hours for the previous day? I know it seems like babysitting, but if out-of-cycle and retroactive payroll is such a pain, this might be the quickest path to reducing that time suck to something more manageable.

        That’s assuming the problem employee will pick up the phone, of course…

      2. Mama Bear*

        There are programs that will nag you to fill out your timesheet, and will also notify your boss. If I don’t fill out the previous day’s time by 8AM, the emails begin. We are legally and contractually obligated to fill out our time every day and can receive a formal reprimand if we fail to do so. If there is no automatic system or it’s not worth the investment for this one person, then perhaps OP could simply email this person (and cc his boss) to remind him to fill it out every day. I recognize the boss isn’t being effective, but if they are affected, perhaps they would be willing to act. Same with the whole “I’m sorry boss, but I couldn’t do x and y because I spent five hours aggregating Coworker’s time and running a new payroll just for them.” Make it clear how his lack of accountability is affecting you. Also, if there are any labor laws or contracts where the company would be in a lot of trouble if there was an audit, I’d make that known.

        1. Yorick*

          Our managers have to approve the timesheet every two weeks and there’s a deadline. At the beginning of the day they’re due, we get an email reminder. Then if we haven’t done it our managers can tell us to.

          It sounds like you need to get this guy’s boss involved. Call the boss every time you’re processing payroll. If he doesn’t want to deal with it, it’s on him to get the employee to do it.

  15. Also a Karen*

    In response to letter 3; I work in a field where you are required to be licensed if you want to be a part of the profession [like a lawyer, accountant etc.]. Your full legal name is posted on our licensing board website. Your college diploma and the certificate you receive from our licensing board when you complete the required hours under a professional mentor / pass the exam must be displayed at your workplace and both of these must have your full legal name on it. On our email signatures and anything else has to display our full legal names. We can’t use nicknames, anything I do professionally is with my full name. I feel your pain because my first name is also Karen and my middle name is Becky (not Rebecca). Solidarity, Karens of the world unite!

    1. Wanda Maximoff*

      In a way I feel your pain. In my profession it is the name. Someone named Michael James Smith can’t even shorten to Mike J. Smith on work stuff. It has to be the full version of what ones legal name is. I have a name that is used in many countries and cultures. The nickname I go by doesn’t match either my first name or middle name. The best way to explain it is to imagine someone named Christina Sarah Smith going by Jane. In my culture (which is a small minority back home) my nickname does match my name but it doesn’t for 99.9% of the world it doesn’t. So I can’t even use my nickname informally amongst my colleagues. I have been called by my nickname since I was a baby and it is weird to go by my legal name at work. I also like my legal name because it is after a special person and I like having it in honor of them.

    2. JanetM*

      If you don’t mind my asking, how is it handled if someone changes their name after receiving their diploma or certificate (gets married, gets divorced, transitions, other legal name change)?

      1. Joielle*

        For me (lawyer) you just change your name with the licensing board, and the licensing board website displays your current and previous last name. Diplomas still have your old last name on them, but if you look up that name on the website you’ll see both the old and new name.

        Interestingly, if you change your first name, the old first name does NOT show up on the licensing website, so this doesn’t work if you transition. I don’t know what you do in that case! Maybe you’d get your diploma re-issued with your new legal name.

    3. Another Karen here*

      one can only hope it dies down. I just wonder how many times, someone named Karen with a legitimate reason to complain or address a problem, hesitates to do so now.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        I’m a Karen too, but I am trying to embrace it. Not to be a Karen, but to know that it helps me understand just a little bit what other people feel, when judged for something that shouldn’t matter. If it helps me gain more empathy and understanding, it’s worth it.

  16. BuildMeUp*

    #2 – I definitely think listening to how others are communicating could help. For example, do people get straight to the point, or is there a lot of padding – small talk, etc. – that you’re not doing?

    You do say people have specifically said you sound like you’re lecturing. Do you come in with a fully fleshed out idea, including how it should be implemented? It sounds like it might help to make things more of a conversation/collaboration. Suggest an idea and then ask what everyone thinks, or say you’d like to get input from a specific person or department.

    I don’t want to say you should sound less sure of yourself, but it’s possible the culture of your office/area is more about teamwork than you’re used to, and that you’re stepping on toes by not bringing others into your process.

    1. Auntie Social*

      Good point. I don’t hear any concern for the other peoples’ feelings in those conversations, or that the LW is coming from kindness. As an experiment I would try communicating as if I wanted a favor from the governor—a smile, a little small talk, etc. Lastly, you may have the male version of RBF, you could ask a friend to be candid.
      As an aside, I ordered my birth certificate from my southern state and a clerk called to make sure I had received it. We had a chat about all kinds of things, she wanted to make sure it wasn’t delaying my travel, etc.

  17. Karen (not OP 3)*

    I know people tend to think Karen is a white name. I’m black and my first name is Karen. In real life I have met three other women named Karen and all of them were either biracial or black. I wouldn’t assume OP 3 was white had she not mentioned it. While there are a lot of white women named Karen, there are many of us of other races also.

    1. Super Awk*

      Absolutely. And my comment above – or ones like it – are at risk of perpetuating that idea. I felt that in this instance perhaps OP3 could have elucidated her point/concern better but I also did not communicate my thoughts as well as I should have.

    2. Hangul*

      The ‘Karen’ meme is specifically directed at white women. It is the meme OP is referring to and how it might affect them. A black woman with the name Karen is unlikely to be confused with a white woman called Karen when someone commenting on a white woman.

      1. andy*

        The ‘Karen’ meme is specifically directed at any woman that said something assertive speaker does not like. The usage, in my experience, has zero to do with whether what woman said was right, wrong and very little with her race.

        I have seen Karen used against women who were 100% in the right and not white.

        1. Threeve*

          I live on Twitter, have never seen it used in any other way than to refer to an entitled white woman weaponizing her privilege. Maybe it’s being misused by individuals, but everyone knows what it’s meant to mean.

          I don’t love the use of a woman’s name to encapsulate that sort of behavior–there are plenty of lovely people named Karen–but I’m glad that the behavior is increasingly being called out. I haven’t seen a single “Karen” go viral who didn’t deserve it.

          1. Andy*

            That is more result of your twitter “tribe” then general rule. I have seen Karen used insultingly in non race related situations long before I hae seen it in race related scenario.

            The majority of Karen use is not viral just like any other word. That just means people around you don’t use that word at all. The situations you seen were viral because of racism involved, had it was not racist it would not be viral.

            Karen was used whenever woman demand something or is assertime. In school, in service, outside, inside. And just like any other insult, it is used
            to put someone down, except it is used exclusively against women.

    3. Lolo*

      I have a black colleague named Karen who’s finding it disturbing to hear her own name frequently used in the context of a particular kind of racist entitlement.

    4. Vina*

      I have known several black Karens. I even knew a black Cletus once. I don’t think you get whiter in American than Cletus.

      In the USA, a lot of BIPOC people have very white-coded names. Or just names people associate with whiteness.

      Heck, a lot of Asian immigrants give their kids the blandest, most generic white people names possible so they can assimilate. I have known a lot of Asian Alans, Brads, Bobs, Johns, Susans, Marys, etc.

      [Note: nothing wrong with a generic white name or any name in particular. Just that these names are very mainstream and easy to spell/pronounce/etc.]

      White people who assume a name is exclusively theirs aren’t paying attention.

      1. Vina*

        PS The black Cletus was named in honor of a white neighbor who saved his mother’s life when she was pregnant. Ran into the house and carried her out before it burned down. He also saved the family dog and the cat. So he sorta earned the honor.

        I think the kid eventually went by Leo or something shortened, but Cletus was legally his name.

      2. StudentA*

        Regarding your last sentence, I’m confused why you think it’s only white people who would make assumptions about such names. Some Black people tease other for having “white” names (Cletus example above.) I’m betting groups like Middle Easterners and South Asians experience this too. These assumptions are not guilty to whites only.

        1. Vina*

          Where did I say no one else did it? Hint: I didn’t.

          Saying “white people do X” does not in any way imply others can’t or don’t.

      1. blackcat*

        Yep. I’ve known 6 Karens well, and all of the younger ones (born in the 80s or 90s) are WOC.

    5. Gazebo Slayer*

      Yeah… ironically enough, the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, who just introduced a major anti-police brutality bill, is named Karen Bass.

    6. ThursdaysGeek*

      I’m a white Karen, but one of the things I’ve liked about the name is that it is also the name of a people group from Myanmar. Someone above referred to themselves as a Karen-American, but that can be a real thing, no matter their given name.

      Also, when I google images of my first and last name, I never find me (it’s really common), but our name is black as often as it is white.

  18. Another Karen*

    I haven’t had any issues professionally, but adults have made nasty cracks about my name being Karen when they disagree with my perspective on a neighborhood list-serve. Ironically, it has sometimes been about me calling out other people for racism or xenophobia. I uusally point out that making fun of someone’s name is very middle school.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      A close relative is named Karen and she is the classic Karen meme on steroids (she’s been that way since childhood long before the name became derogatory) One day she was giving her name to a clerk while making a petty complaint and the clerk said under her breath, “Of course it is.”

  19. Artemesia*

    My best friend, Karen, bemoans the current meme (she is a wonderful person who would never call the cops on a homeless or minority person) but I just pointed out that my father, brother and son -in-law all have a name that is common slang for ‘toilet’ and seem to have done okay despite this.

    I am a northerner (PNW) who did my career in a big southern city. Not only is communication tricky but the gender issues are more pronounced there IMHO. Softening undercuts authority for women in leadership roles; not softening makes you that ‘bitch’. It is a difficult needle to thread. I ended up having a boss who valued having someone who would be straight with him and so cultivated the ‘truth teller’ roll — it worked great with him as he relied on me to cut through the bs — but it did not work in other settings. It did prepare me to work in the Middle East where as a professional woman I really did have to be incredibly indirect to get what I wanted.

    1. Lancelottie*

      My name is common slang for self-pleasuring; up until my now-husband introduced me to his friends, some of them thought he’d been making a ribald joke. It’s irritating sometimes but people tend to get over their initial response pretty quickly.

      1. DyneinWalking*

        Oh, yes, as you get to know people, you tend to forget your initial associations with the name – they get overwritten by the actual person (which makes sense – associations are predominately learned, not hardwired. They form because your actual experience says that if you hear/see X, it most likely also involves Y. If the experience changes, the association changes, too) . My boyfriends name is very close to a celebrity’s name and initially, that’s all I could think about when I read/heard his name. These days I hardly ever notice anymore.

        If there is a problem with her name, it’s really just with the initial impression.

    2. Tera*

      If you’re talking about ‘John’ I’d argue that’s not quite the same. ‘Karen’ has an association today as a rude, unpleasant and racist *person*. It’s perfectly possible that someone will see a resume from Karen, and have that negative association unconsciously influence their opinion of her and decision on what to do. Seeing John isn’t going to make someone imagine a certain type of person, so it’s not going to have the same impact.

      1. Jennifer*

        Most people are smart enough to know that someone simply named Karen 30 or 40 years before this meme existed isn’t predisposed to being a racist. Sure it’s possible but not very probable.

        1. Tera*

          Well by that logic all forms of name-discrimination don’t happen, because the whole concept is kind of dumb.

          *Unconscious* bias isn’t about intelligence, though. Multiple studies have shown that people who don’t think they have biases do still have them. So it’s not about someone thinking ‘oh Karen, must be racist’, it’s about someone’s brain playing word association, hearing Karen and the thoughts and associations that come with the word aren’t good, and that influencing their opinion.

          1. Jennifer*

            I agree with Alison. Still highly doubt it would happen. It’s a meme. Name-discrimination is typically based on decades of systemic racism. Not a meme that’s been around a few years.

            1. Littorally*

              Yep.

              People on this forum are people who probably skew to doing a lot of socializing online — given, you know, that we’re all here. It means we skew toward higher meme familiarity as well. There’s really no comparison between a Johnny-come-lately of an internet meme, which by its nature is almost certainly going to be very brief, and the kind of generations-long saturation that comes with the negative associations with, say, black-coded names.

  20. M from NY*

    Op#5 If employee refuses to comply next time call him morning you’re preparing payroll that if you don’t receive by noon he won’t get paid. Then when he sends to you at 6pm you advise its too late.

    If he avg 35 hours a week process for 20.

    Thrn when he complains make it clear he’s lucky he got anything at all and do not process any difference owed until the next scheduled time for everyone else.

    You have to make it his problem. If your boss complains then remind him all the ways you’ve already requested cooperation. Do not offer to make a special run or cut a check.

    Your boss won’t care until it becomes his problem also and if it takes one payroll period of you being an unresponsive mountain so be it.

    1. F.M.*

      It’s entirely possible that this would be illegal in that jurisdiction. “Violate employee rights to make a point” isn’t a good approach to a paperwork problem.

      1. M from NY*

        Its not illegal because employee failed to turn in timesheet and should be getting nothing.

        [Theres a pop up that keeps blocking space while trying to answer].

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You are flat out wrong about the law here. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) makes it the employer’s responsibility to track hours and pay accurately.

          1. Upstateer*

            I wouldn’t do that. The last thing you want is NYDOL in your business. They will investigate everything not just this one person’s payroll

        2. Observer*

          It doesn’t matter. The law requires you to pay, regardless of whether the person does his paperwork or not. You can fire him afterwards, but you have to pay him.

      2. Coverage Associate*

        Isn’t the law that salary has to be paid in full and paid within a certain number of days of the work? If the employee usually works 40 hours a week and gets paid every 2 weeks, I think it’s legal to pay him for 65 hours when he hasn’t submitted his timesheet and then figure out if actually worked 80 or 72 or 90 hours in the next couple of days. The 65 hours’ pay will cover the first week+ of a work, and the make-up check won’t be late because it covers the most recent work.

        But maybe I misunderstood previous posts.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s legal to pay extra in advance. But the comment this is all in response to was suggesting paying him less than what he normally averages.

      3. Project Manager*

        So I work for the government, which I’ve noticed has conveniently excepted itself from many labor laws, but if I don’t fill out my timesheet, my supervisor will (theoretically…I have never not filled it out, but this is what multiple supervisors told me they’d do if I couldn’t get it done by a certain time) complete it for me, using annual leave to get me to 80 hours for the fortnight. Can private companies do that?

        1. Ego Chamber*

          Are you saying they’d use your vacation hours to make up the difference between what you filled out on your timesheet and the expected 80 hours for the pay period? Like if you left a day off, they’d use a vacay day to make up the difference?

          Since there are no laws in most states re: PTO (check your state laws though! this varies!) I think a private company could use vacay hours to pay out whatever hours were expected to be worked but that doesn’t seem like a good solution since they’d have to update the books eventually and it would only work as long as the employee had PTO banked.

          If they’re hourly instead of salary this gets more complicated since the amount of the checks are different and they’re updating hours and money instead of just adding/subtracting PTO to cover the hours paid.

    2. Vichyssuave*

      This advice is almost certainly illegal if OP lives anywhere in the US. And most certainly in NY.

    3. Narise*

      I wouldn’t become the difficult employee because this employee is being difficult and making your job difficult. It’s wrong that boss wrong deal with this but if he constantly has to referee an argument over processing time between the two of you, it may be you he chooses to deal with instead of the employee. Not right but it’s possible.

      It’s perfectly fine to be put out and laugh at a professional who can’t do a simple task like turn in their time. I think by the 3rd request of processing hours off cycle I would have moved from ‘this is not acceptable’ to ‘Poor dear what is confusing you about the calendar? to laughing at him saying Oh you again of course you didn’t submit your hours on time, nothing like creating more work for others. Send them over I’ll process tomorrow by end of day or I’ll add to next pay period.’

    4. Gila Monster*

      OP, please listen to Alison on this. What this commenter is suggesting violates the law. Not only that, but paying back wages (6 weeks at once) can generate late payment fines with the IRS. Payment of EFTPS taxes are due on certain schedules according to dates worked and paid, not just dates paid. Also, how are your quarterly reports working out if his unpaid weeks cross over a quarter end? This is an unmitigated mess.

      It’s clear from your post that you are running payroll without the basic understanding of payroll law to protect yourself and the company. I would suggest asking your company to send you to the 4-hour seminar that goes round every year. If the company runs afoul of state or federal agencies, are they going to blame you? This is not a good situation for anyone and I would urge you to arm yourself with knowledge. Payroll gaffs can be terribly hard on a company.

      If your boss won’t bring this employee in line, is there a grand-boss? This has serious implications and liability for the company.

      Best of luck.

  21. nnn*

    For #2, even if you can’t get someone to accurately describe the issue, maybe someone could point you to a peer or a public figure (or even a TV character) whose speaking style is more like what they have in mind? Sometimes asking yourself “How would [person] put it?” can be an effective way to adjust a speaking style.

  22. Cat Branchman*

    Ugh, I could never spend any significant time in the South. The communication is so weird (and I speak from experience with my Louisiana relatives) and obscure, like a code. I’d have a nervous breakdown wondering what people REALLY meant by such-and-such and were they being sincere when they said “Bless your heart” or was it a passive-aggressive insult.

    1. bunniferous*

      Southerner here. It really is a very indirect culture a lot of the time. I happen to be more straightforward in my personality now that I am older and it is rather aggravating to have to temper that but in order to be polite, temper it I must….

    2. londonedit*

      Sounds quite similar to a lot of British communication. The Very British Problems social media account/books deal with it a lot – the myriad different ways British people have of saying ‘no’ without actually coming out and saying ‘no’ (because that would be rude). So you have ‘Hmm, could do…’ or ‘Let’s see how we feel’ or ‘Might see you there later’, all of which mean the thing in question is 99% not likely to happen.

      My sister used to teach English as a second language, and one of the examples she used to teach her classes about British communication was to ask them to imagine they’re in a room with a group of people and an open window, and to give their responses to the question ‘Is anyone else a bit chilly?’ Most of the students would say ‘No’ or ‘Not really’, but a British person would know that the correct answer to the question is more likely to be ‘Not really, but do you want to close the window?’ Or even just saying ‘Oh, close the window if you like’.

      1. Tera*

        You could be on to something there. As a Brit my immediate thought about hearing ‘is anyone else a bit chilly?’ is that there’s a chilly person who wants to warm up, but is being polite (just asking ‘can we close the window?’ could put a too-warm friend in an awkward position) about asking.

        Maybe because I’m used to it I don’t think it’s indirect or obscure though.

        1. londonedit*

          Exactly – we’re used to it, we know the code. My sister’s students were regularly baffled by the idea that someone who was cold and wanted the window to be closed might not a) just close the window without saying anything or b) just say ‘I’m cold. I’m closing the window’.

          1. Amy Sly*

            I think the comment above noted it: it comes from an honor culture where insulting someone could prompt a duel. In a culture like that, it’s very important to not give offense and to phrase problems in such a way to allow them to save face, and the South in particular is not all that far descended from that dueling culture. A friend who’s a tenured professor in Kentucky, as part of his hiring process by the state, had to swear that he would never fight a duel nor stand as second in a duel.

            1. River Song*

              It’s very interesting, I watched one of those shows on the history channel that discussed different regional accents and where they came from, and it said that the southern accent was actually close to an English accent. I wonder if this way of speaking is also a carry over of that?

            2. Tera*

              It’s more because… being rude is bad? And being polite is nice. It’s not about honour at all. Duelling hasn’t been a thing for a really, really long time. And even when it was a thing it was only among the aristocracy, so it was hardly a country-wide norm. There was a cultural shift where duelling became really outdated and considered more mock-worthy than honourable (I remember reading a quote from some historical guy who was asked what he’d do if he was asked to duel, and he said he’d laugh) and that’s sort it prevailed ever since. Honour as a concept is kind of ridiculed here now – although I’m sure there are some places/subcultures here in England that might take that sort of thing more seriously.

              1. fhqwhgads*

                Sure but part of the difficulty is “rude” is not universal. Sure every culture region has the concept of rudeness, but something that’s absolutely obviously rude where I grew up might be considered fine/normal where I live now and vice versa, and it becomes even more confusing if one place’s “it is actively impolite not to do X” is another’s “X is rude”. Even if everyone agrees “being rude is bad” if not everyone agrees on what is or isn’t rude there’s still a mess.

          2. Faith*

            Yeah, just walking over and closing the window or announcing you’re going to close it feels rude to me–what if it’s open because everyone else is warm? It seems very selfish/rude to just barge forward and do what makes me comfortable without checking to make sure it’s okay with whoever opened the window first.

      1. Katertot*

        Yep- “bless your heart” is meant condescendingly/as an insult in North Carolina. Haven’t ever heard it used sincerely. Took me a minute when I first moved to the south to realize that one.

        1. Disgruntled Pelican*

          As someone who grew up in NC, I must politely disagree. There may be a tinge of pity to it in some circumstances, but it absolutely can be used sincerely.

          1. tamarack and fireweed*

            The root of the insult is as a straight-faced sarcastic version of the sincere expression of empathy.

          2. Faith*

            Seconding this–it is definitely used sincerely, just with a tinge of pity in those instances. It only works as an insult *because* it can also be used sincerely. Kind of like “oh, you poor thing” or “you tried your best”.

            Unfortunately, a lot of people nowadays try to wield “bless their heart” without understanding that.

            *Grew up in Alabama/Georgia.

        2. Caitlin*

          In my Irish Catholic (Canadian) family, the equivalent to bless your heart is God love you.

      2. Doc in a Box*

        I am a lifelong Southerner (grew up in Virginia, now live in North Carolina) with a few short excursions to the Northeast for education/training. But I come from an immigrant Indian background, so I’ve always had one foot in the South and one foot out of it.

        I have heard “bless their heart” sincerely (e.g. Sweet Old Mrs Parker lives in a nursing home and can’t get out much, but she knitted all these little hats for orphan children, bless her heart) but never “bless your heart” except as an insult. It’s like getting an effort trophy, or an award that says “You tried hard!” It’s not even the passive-aggressive equivalent of F you — it has this extra bite of “you are too simple to be believed.”

        Even the somewhat-positive connotations of the Mrs Parker example are based on unexamined assumptions about gentility, agency, and charity, within the bounds of what is considered “acceptable” in (white upper class) Southern society. No one would say “Mrs Parker has started a group home housing foster children who are aging out of the child welfare system as an alternative to drug addiction and gang violence. Bless her heart.”

      3. River Song*

        It’s really not always though. Maybe in certain regional areas of the south, but for most places it could be a sincere statement of showing empathy.

        1. MM55*

          Nope, ‘bless your heart’ and ‘you’re so pretty’ are both insults in NC and VA and basically mean ‘you are an unintelligent, ignorant person’. When I moved to NC I used to hear ‘you’re not from around here, are you? It ended when I replied ‘no, and I thank God every day for that.’

          1. Littorally*

            Okay, and how does that contradict River Song’s point? In some parts of the South it’s an insult, in other areas of the country it is not necessarily.

          2. MCMonkeyBean*

            Well if your made your distaste for the area that well known, then that’s probably why you only ever heard those phrases as insults…

            1. Disgruntled Pelican*

              Seriously. And their assertion is flat-out wrong—part of what makes “bless her/his/their heart” so beautiful is the subtlety with which it is used. (Of course, the subtlety also what makes adjusting to southern culture challenging.)

            2. Faith*

              Yeah, I’m beginning to think there’s a reason you keep getting the “insult” version of it. And if you’re not “from around here” you might not exactly be the best judge or experiencer of all the ways/situations those phrases are used.

        2. Clisby*

          Yep. It can be an insult, or it can be showing empathy. Or appreciation.

          Kid: “Look, grandma, I drew you a picture!”
          Grandma: Well, bless your heart.

        3. The Rural Juror*

          I’m from the South and I hear it both ways pretty often – as an insult or as a display of genuine concern. It depends on the inflection of the speaker and the context. For example, if you hear someone is unwell you might say, “Oh, I hate to hear that, bless their heart. I hope they get better soon.” It’s not meant to an insult in that instance. If someone says it and they mean to be snarky, you can definitely tell the difference.

      4. sequined histories*

        It is NOT always an insult. It is meant to acknowledge that someone is struggling. For example, I was once hospitalized for several weeks and was struggling emotionally with that. My parents’ minister was talking to me on the phone and said, “Bless your heart.”

        It can be weaponized as an insult. It can be hard to tell where the line is between the acknowledgment of struggle and insulting someone in a slightly softened way: “He always had a rough time in school, bless his heart.” That could be an acknowledgement of a really difficult situation, or a nasty-nice way of calling someone stupid. It’s not always and inevitably the latter, though.

      5. Cat Branchman*

        It’s very confusing to me because I first heard it from one of my best friends, who was from the Midwest, and used it sincerely (Me: “Come over this Sunday, I’m making lasagna.” Him: “Bless your heart! I’ll be there!”). Then I found about about the Southern version, where it’s an insult, and thought, “Has my buddy been insulting me all these years?”

        1. Faith*

          It’s not always an insult in the South.

          This is one of the things that seriously drives me crazy. It is often used sincerely! People who don’t understand how to use it often think it’s just an insult, but it really isn’t. If you think it’s just an insult, odds are you’re not actually from the South, and you are missing out on a lot of how it’s used. Context is key!

        2. sequined histories*

          I would assume your friend was acknowledging how much effort you were going to. Unless your friend was generally a snide, nasty jerk, you should assume this comment was intended in a positive way.

          This idea that “bless your heart” is simply a coded insult in the South is a vast oversimplification. In point of fact, it doesn’t even work as a coded insult if it were never used with a positive connotation. Something that is always negative is just an out-an-out insult—no veiling or coding is possible.

  23. a timely commenter*

    LW 5: Is your employee my ex? During the time we were together, he lost THREE jobs because he refused to enter his timesheets in a timely manner. He worked in IT contracting and it was similar – if he didn’t submit a timesheet showing which client he worked with, they couldn’t bill the client and his company didn’t get paid. Somehow he saw this as “micromanaging.”

    But I was also micromanaging when I said he had to brush his teeth more than once a week, so who knows what’s up with people like that?

    1. Pennyworth*

      Might be Oppositional Defiant Disorder. I think my ex had it: couldn’t work for anyone else, wouldn’t take professional advice to help keep his business afloat, to the point of saying ‘I would rather lose everything than have anyone tell me what to do’. He lost everything.

  24. Tintin*

    For LW. All of the comments above on how to solve the issue. But I would also keep in mind, that it might just be because you are from somewhere else. However you speak, it will always be a bit “off”. The fact that the people commenting on you, can’t pinpoint the issue, is quite revealing. And if I understood correctly, you have been there for 15 years! Your speech is propably just fine! Maybe a bit different, but in a way, that people wouldn’t notice if you were originally from around. I get that you want to improve yourself, but when I moved to a different part of my country, at some point I just shrugged it off and kept talking the way I talk. We don’t all have to sound alike, as long as we are polite and respect one anohter.

      1. WellRed*

        Yeah, it’s been 15 years. At the same office. I’d say this is on them at this point.

  25. Allison K*

    LW #2 it might be worth looking at an exaggerated version of the problem – for example, Japanese culture is notorious for inching conversations toward group agreement without anyone firmly stating their own opinion. Once you’ve seen that as an extreme, it might be easier to then listen to conversations you aren’t in (but are happening near you, not deliberate eavesdropping) and see if you notice anything similar. Then start spotting the traits in conversations you are in. Sort of like as a birdwatcher, I could spot large, bright birds and get a sense of how they moved, and then was able to transfer that to smaller birds that are harder to see.

    1. Avasarala*

      Yes, consensus building! As a listener you have to do just as much heavy-lifting as the speaker to read the context and understand the message. Many low-context cultures like the US will complain “why can’t you just say what you mean” while high-context cultures will respond “if you would just listen you would understand”.

      This is a good jumping off point for OP to consider how their coworkers communicate.
      How do your colleagues reach a decision?
      How much is explicit and how much is implied?
      How important is status, and how is that communicated? Who shares what information?
      How much softening is there, how much small talk and relationship-affirming?

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      I moved to the South from the Midwest and I think this is excellent advice. What I did when I first moved here was listen carefully to the most gracious, Southern lady I knew- who fortunately I worked for. This woman had the ability to tell someone to go to hell and be so gracious they would thank her for the directions. She could say the word “gentleman” with a vocal intonation that let you know she did not mean gentleman. She was could truly write emails that were so polite that you couldn’t fault them one bit while also managing to get her point across completely. It was the most amazing lesson in how to be circumspect. So, my advice to OP2 would be to maybe find someone else and watch carefully how they interact and speak and see what you might learn. Funny enough, I no longer live in the South and I am regularly complimented for my diplomacy and tact when dealing with people. Skills I think I learned working for her.

    3. sequined histories*

      FWIW as a young girl growing up in the South, I read a book about Japanese culture and saw so many parallels—the whole honor culture thing, the perceived importance of how others perceive you, and most importantly the incredibly tight parameters in which women are expected to operate.

      1. Batgirl*

        The ‘perceived importance of how others perceive you’ – yes. British perspective here but what struck me throughout the letter was that the OP never mentioned once how people’s reactions seem in the moment. It’s a super-warm culture, so these people are going to be skilled at covering up awkwardness and chilly responses. You’ve got to look super carefully for real rapport and enjoyment of the way the discussion is going. I don’t think OP is taking the temperature at all?

  26. Maggie*

    Oh, LW2, at least you didn’t move to Oregon! The difference between the ‘midwest style’ and ‘PNW style’ nearly killed my career! Where my husband and I grew up in Little Italy/Cleveland, interrupting is a respectable form of efficiency. In the construction world my husband would hear an idea respond with, “That’s stupid,” and regularly get “Thanks” in reply. And this was not sarcasm–people were legitimately glad to be saved the wasted time on an idea that wouldn’t work! In passive aggressive Oregon, such a comment is a conversation kiss of death.

    Here’s what I’d recommend. Spend an entire day taking mental note of 1.) If you ever hear your southern coworkers interrupt each other (I bet you don’t.) 2.) How many literal seconds pass before a question is asked and the other answers (You can’t usually count this in whole seconds where I grew up) 3.) How many idioms and euphemisms you hear.

    I can’t be sure, but I’d bet people think you’re rude because you respond quickly and with explicit (meaning opposite of implicit, not profanity) speech. I’ve never mastered thinking up euphemisms, but people at my work think I’m listening “more” or “better” when I just wait longer to reply (I’m not, but whatever).

    1. BethDH*

      I’m seeing a lot of people on here describe a region’s conversational conventions (mostly Southern so far, here PNW) as “passive-aggressive” and I think that’s not true, and more importantly unhelpful. If it’s the standard way of communicating in that area, it is not passive aggressive because everyone else understands what they mean and they are not dissembling. There are many ways to be direct without someone saying something is “stupid.” And interrupting is only efficient if you think your contribution is more valuable than the other person’s (and I say that coming from a family where interruptions and talking over each other was the norm and I am not automatically offended by it).

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        At least in the male-dominated field where I work, if you politely wait for your turn to speak, it’ll never come. You will literally retire having never had a chance to open your mouth at any time in your career. I’ve been asking “can I say something real quick?” and then saying it (briefly and to the point), only using this method when there really is a need for it, and it seems to work.

      2. Maggie*

        “If it’s the standard way of communicating in that area, it is not passive aggressive because everyone else understands what they mean and they are not dissembling.”

        BethDH, I grew up in the Midwest, and I also lived in the South for 5 years. I totally agree with you on the southern version of this. ‘Bless her heart’ and ‘Can you handle that, hun?’ phrases are definitely coded enough that even a blockhead like me can pick up on them. But the PNW version is not so coded. It just feels like lying a lot of the time! A work example is, “Sure, we’ll look into that,” when the person has zero intention of ever doing that. I found it incredibly difficult to detect/understand.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Wow, and I thought Midwest was the hotbed of PA speak! (Also in Cleveland.) Took me years to figure out things like, when a coworker says “please help me understand why you want this done the X way”, they aren’t really asking for help with understanding, they are saying “you’re full of s##t and so is your idea and doing it the X way is never happening”. Or when someone says “I don’t really know what to say to this”, they know very well what they want to say to this, but none of what they want to say would be acceptable in polite company. I’ve been here 23 years, so I finally picked up the Midwest-speak. But now you’re telling me that this is blunt compared to the rest of the country (with the possible exception of the East Coast)? I don’t even know how to react to this, lol!

      people at my work think I’m listening “more” or “better” when I just wait longer to reply (I’m not, but whatever).

      This is awesome and you are now my hero.

      1. leapingLemur*

        When I say something like “please help me understand why you want this done the X way”, sometimes I’m asking for info, sometimes I’m trying to walk the person through it so they’ll realize there’s a problem. Although I’d rather say “I’m concerned that there may be Y problems with the X way” because that’s faster and more direct.

        In jobs I’ve had, you don’t just say “That’s stupid” because it isn’t acceptable behavior. You can point out problems, explain why it won’t work, etc. though.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I find it hilarious you know “that’s stupid” is acceptable and just “Midwestern”. All my midwestern friends, we’ve got a GIANT Midwestern transplant population in Oregon, never speak so rudely.

      “Nah, won’t work” or “bad idea, bro.” are easy plugs for using “that’s stupid.”

      We’re not passive aggressive, we’re mindful of how ugly and demeaning things can sound though. We are often politically correct as well.

      We curse like sailors and do some gnarly shit in construction but “stupid” is juvenile and unnecessary.

      1. Librarian1*

        Yeah, it’s not at all a generic Midwestern thing, but there might be some class differences around this within in the Midwest that I’m unaware of.
        Or maybe it’s just a Midwestern construction thing. Or maybe it’s just Cleveland!

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Nope, not Cleveland. Got to be Midwestern construction. Or maybe that one specific construction company!

    4. Goldenrod*

      “I’d bet people think you’re rude because you respond quickly and with explicit (meaning opposite of implicit, not profanity) speech”

      Maggie, I very much agree with this! I’ve been perceived as aggressive when I was just being explicit (to my mind). East coast to PNW can be a hard adjustment because you aren’t supposed to be as explicit here.

      1. Maggie*

        Goldenrod, thanks for your comment!! I’m generally afraid of authority and smooth things over, often to a cowardly extent. Or so I thought. Being perceived as aggressive just for being honest/direct out here really threw me for a loop!

    5. biobotb*

      Huh, I don’t think expecting people do disagree me without insulting me is passive aggressive.

      You remind me of a NY transplant to PNW that I know, who decided any time she does’t like the way PNWers responded to her, they are being passive aggressive. If they honk because she cut them off in traffic, she called them passive aggressive. If she is standing in the street and they stop her car to let her cross, they aree being passive aggressive (because she feels they should know that she doesn’t actually want to cross, despite being off the sidewalk and in the street). If she takes someone else’s reserved seat in a restaurant and the server doesn’t harangue her, they are passive aggressive.

      1. Maggie*

        Well, that sounds a personal problem and she sure sounds like an idiot. I guess you’re suggesting I sound like an idiot, too?

        I actually think your comment really helped me understand this piece of the PNW mindset better than I’ve been able to in years! Thank you!!

        You said: “I don’t think expecting people to disagree with me without insulting me…”

        In the Midwest, if my husband said “THAT’s stupid” (and he would never say this with a client or a superior, just with a peer while brainstorming how to complete a project), native Midwesterners would perceive that comment to be about the IDEA. The PERSON isn’t stupid, of course! There would be zero suggestion in the words “that’s stupid” that “YOU are stupid, too, for having that idea.”

        But (I’ve since learned) calling a spade a spade in Oregon is incredibly culturally rare. So, maybe if a native Oregonian were to say such a thing, there would be an extra layer of “YOU are stupid, too” implied and it would seem supremely aggressive and rude. But when I’m direct, I can assure you, there is no implication/intent of insulting the speaker at all. Because, at least where I grew up, and yes maybe it is a class thing, if someone really thinks someone is unbearable, they usually say so with language like, “McNeily, man he’s a real piece of s—.”

    6. JSPA*

      The midwest is a big place (and Louisiana is a law unto itself) so without trying to generalize too far…

      Law enforcement people in the Midwest can be pretty dang direct–not just “for midwesterners,” but for anyone. In a, “when I say jump, you say how high” sort of way. (Seen by and said as a member of the public, not as a peer.)

      I’m not saying that they’re any more or less controlling, or letter-of-the-law following, nor impolite.

      But there’s little or no lip service to the collaborative, “we appear to have a problem here. The problem, as I see it, is X. Do you understand what I’m saying, friend? Now, is there anything you’d like to say about this situation?” approach. It’s much more “define and control” from the start.

      Hard thing to pick up (especially if you want to avoid sounding like you’re proposing a bribe or some other non-standard resolution of the situation) but…you can at least incorporate more pauses and more “we” language.

  27. south --> north*

    #2: Three thoughts. Could this perhaps be a problem with small talk? I’ve noticed from moving from north to south (granted, all on the east coast) that people in the north don’t necessarily chat people up before moving onto business, while it’s a must in the south. It could also be facial expressions. People in the south will definitely try to keep at some form of a smile while speaking. The last thought is maybe you are lecturing and don’t realize it…15 years seems like a long time to not have adapted to the culture.

    1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

      Ditto. I was coming here to say basically the same thing. Grew up in Louisiana, moved to California (where small talk was not done except for the closest of co-workers) and then moved to Alabama.

      Also, in California, speed and efficiency were important. It was a “get to the point” conversation. In the south it is, “Say hello first, ask how are you doing, then state what you need/want/ask.”

      1. BethDH*

        At least in the parts of the south I spent time in, it didn’t have to take as long as “small talk” implies — it’s exactly what you mentioned — hello, how are you, request. It’s also things like saying hello in passing, or at least nodding and smiling. Also more request-style phrasing than declarative statements.

      2. Littorally*

        I’ve seen some great commentary before that the amount of small talk you engage in has a lot less to do with large regional variations as it does with urban/suburban/rural variations. As things get more crowded, courtesy moves from small talk to efficiency as there are more people around and the expectation to finish your business and be on your way is higher.

        If there are a line of people behind you at the store, spending ten minutes talking with the cashier about the weather is the height of rudeness. If you’re the first person they’ve seen for an hour, then lingering to chat is sociable.

        1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

          Excellent points. However, even if there are 10 people behind in you in line, I would still say, “Hello/ Good Morning / How are you doing/ etc.”

  28. RedCat*

    #5 have you considered that it might be outlook itswlf that’s the problem? Since I became a trainer in my company I git aware how little support and training colleagues get when it comes to software everyone assumes anyone would know about. But in reality that’s not always the case. Maybe he’s very limited when it comes to the use of outlook or as I’ve seen too, it’s not properly configurated.
    That could be the reason why he doesn’t use it until the very last moment and then sacrifices a whole day to put in all of his schedule. Maybe you should ask him again with that in mind and if he really can’t work it out with outlook, some people and outlook are just not made for each other, find another way to communicate his timesheets.

      1. nonegiven*

        I quit using Google Calendar because I couldn’t get it to do anything or stop doing anything, if I accidentally managed to add something to it.

  29. MK*

    About #1, I wonder where AAM bases the assertion that vapping on video call looks unprofessional because of (illogical) work conventions. No offense, but it seems to me it has more to do with personal distate, especially when you compare vapping with swilling alchohol from a bottle, doing your makeup or not wearing a shirt, while stating it’s not the same thing as drinking coffee. And even more especially since smoking used to be a pretty normal thing to do in the workplace, just like (and often at the same time) as drinking coffee, unlike all the other activities which were always inappropriate during a meeting. And that smoking was banned, as far as I am aware, not because it grew to be considered unprofessional, but to protect public health, which is not a consideration on video call.

    1. TechWorker*

      Even if it were based on ‘personal distaste’, does that matter if that personal distaste is shared by lots of people? Anti-smoking campaigns may have been around public health but they also succeeded in making smoking less socially acceptable than say, drinking alcohol.

      What’s professional you might judge illogical but that doesn’t change it! Aside from anything else it could be pretty distracting to watch someone vape during a meeting in the same way you wouldn’t usually expect someone on a video call to be eating a full meal.

      1. TechWorker*

        Alcohol is probably a bad example, it’s obviously rightly unprofessional to drink *at* work. But there are groups where for possibly illogical reasons, it’s pretty common to drink but near unheard of to smoke. (To be honest this describes my current office, 60 people none of whom I have ever seen with a cigarette on a break and a majority drink alcohol, along with most of those I went to school and university with.)

      2. MK*

        Lots of perfectly acceptable-in-meetings things might be distracting on video call; raising a coffee cup to your mouth every few minutes is not really less distracting than doing the same with a vape. Anyone asking about distracting coffee drinking (assuming the person wasn’t making loud noises or something) would most probably be advised not to try to police their employees’ minor habits.

        I understand perfectly well that what is considered professional or not is not always logical. But professionalism should not be judged on the manager’s personal distate. If the distate is shared by lots of people, maybe, but frankly I am not convinced it’s the case with vapping. At the very least, the OP should examine why, at a time where we have to see our coworkers sporting the “I haven’t had a haircut in months” look and causal clothing, occasionally see their kids on the background of video calls, she feels she has to make professionalism an issue when it comes to vapping.

        1. Colette*

          Has the closure of daycares and hair salons made you start vaping?

          Ideally, people’s hair would be cut to their preferred style, and children would not be present on work calls, but due to the pandemic, people can’t get haircuts or send their kids to daycare.

          I would find it extremely odd if someone was vaping on a call – especially since “turn off your camera” is an option.

    2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      “About #1, I wonder where AAM bases the assertion that vapping on video call looks unprofessional because of (illogical) work conventions.”

      We don’t smoke at work in most places and vaping is regarded as a substitute for smoking.

      It’s pretty obvious.

      People can smoke in their own homes but smoking on a video call would look unprofessional. It would. What is “unprofessional” is based in part of general perceptions, not just actual harm to others.

      1. EPLawyer*

        This.

        If you wouldn’t vape at an in person meeting in the office, you don’t vape on a video call meeting. If you wouldn’t appear shirtless in the office, you don’t appear shirtless on work videos. If you would drink coffee in the office in a meeting, then you can do it on the video conference.

        WFH means more relaxed, not norms go right out the window. A shirt must be worn, not necessarily a dress shirt and tie. The only exception to this is some sort of hair covering to hide the lockdown hair. Because everyone noticing how bad your hair has gotten with no way to get a haircut is distracting. But even on that one — know your office.

    3. Val Z*

      The perception of smoking has changed dramatically in the last few decades. It’s gone from something as socially acceptable as drinking coffee to something that people are scolded for doing when other people are around. A lot of the anti-smoking campaigns of the 90s/00s aimed to make smoking a shameful behavior. I think that’s where the distaste comes from; it’s become an activity that most people agree should be done privately. So I can see how it comes off as unprofessional to see a coworker doing it during a meeting. Most people who have never smoked don’t make a distinction between smoking and vaping, so it doesn’t really matter that it’s a vape pen rather than a cigarette.

    4. WS*

      That’s why smoking in the workplace was banned, but that’s been the case for long enough that now it’s no longer a professional norm (and vaping never was).

    5. Batgirl*

      It’s probably because most of us don’t want to inspire distaste in those who control our careers. I think it depends whether you come here for real career guidance or whether you’re here to rules lawyer anything that isnt accompanied with full justifications.
      I remember a fellow temp getting the sack for vaping in a room on her break, out of sight; it was a dumb reason to fire her, but it was also a silly and naive thing to lose your job over. She would have appreciated a more timely heads up that its considered a no no.

      1. No Tribble At All*

        “No smoking indoors” includes “no vaping indoors”. Sorry to your fellow temp, but in terms of regulations, vaping counts as smoking.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Last time I was at the hospital there was a patient removed from the building and her appointment cancelled because she was found vaping in the toilet. Big signs everywhere in NHS buildings telling you not to smoke or vape on the premises!

        Actually, that’s not a bad rule come to think of it: if you wouldn’t do it in a medical waiting room don’t do it on a video call.

    6. Jaybeetee*

      And I mean, there’s my own background, where vaping is more commonly associated with marijuana than anything else. When this comes up in a workplace context, I have to remind myself the people are probably vaping nicotine/other, not… weed. It would certainly catch my attention on a work call.

    7. Teapot Translator*

      We had a colleague actually smoking (lit cigarette and smoke) on a video call (can’t remember if the boss was on that call or not). We laughed amd teased her about it. The smoking made me instinctly uncomfortable, but I figured she’s home, she can do what she wants.

    8. Annony*

      I’d probably put it on par with eating while on a video call. It is distracting and can look unprofessional. Assuming you aren’t in back to back meetings, it is better to do it on a break. If you are in back to back meetings, it is probably better to turn off the video while eating or vaping.

      1. HR Exec Popping In*

        This was my thought as well. While someone doing it on a video call isn’t ideal, I don’t see it as egregious as others seem to.

    9. MM55*

      And I wonder if AAM’s biases are in play here. If this was 1965, would AAM say a woman wearing pants at work is unprofessional? Times change, and it might take decades to have the biases go away.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        Alison: Vaping at work is considered unprofessional and you probably shouldn’t.

        MM55: Did you know that 55 years ago the things that were considered unprofessional at work are different than they are today? And things that are unprofessional now might be not be considered unprofessional in the future? In conclusion, let’s all do a line of blow off our kitchen tables at the next Zoom meeting.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          And pick our noses.

          I think the difference is that eating and drinking is a bodily need required for life to be sustained. Inhaling stuff other than air isn’t.

          I’ll also say slurping fluids/eating with mouth open/spilling your food into your cleavage in vast quantities (I’m a messy eater) is also not required for life sustainment so keep that off conference calls too!

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              I worked with someone who would absentmindedly pick her nose and consume it right in the office. Nobody knew where to look when she did it in meetings!

              Was still better than the guy who’d scratch his..’personal areas’ for minutes on end, also in meetings!

              Okay, we were employed by a sewage treatment firm but still….

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Times did change, but they changed away from nicotine consumption at work.

        I dated a vape store owner for two years, whose biggest selling point as a person selling vapes was that, with vaping, there’s no second-hand smoke to speak of, no smell to speak of, so it’s okay to do indoors. That line went over well six years ago when vaping was new, but over time, none of those statements proved to be correct.

        1. CircleBack*

          I cringed at “no smell to speak of” – only cigarette smokers would think their strawberry flavored vape had no smell lol.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Former manager of mine would vape in meetings (we’re talking about 6 years ago) and claimed it was fine because ‘it’s just water’ and ‘it doesn’t smell’. Whatever she vaped though smelt like a cross between peppermint creams and bog cleaner and gave my coworker migraines from the smell!

    10. Meh*

      I’m with you. I think it depends on the vape too. A discreet juul? Sure. A cloud machine inch thick pipe that? Not ok.

      Caveat that it also depends on the nature of the call. Client or presentation? Not ok. A generic, day-to-day catch-up or something that only requires listening? Who cares?

      1. boo bot*

        I agree. The main thing that would seem unprofessional to me would be if you’re blowing the vapor in a way that obscures the camera; otherwise, I guess I see it more like drinking coffee than going shirtless.

        Regarding the comments about it demonstrating an addiction – I mean, it does, assuming they’re vaping nicotine, but so do nicotine patches or gum; caffeine is also addictive. I don’t really see that aspect as any of my business.

    11. Jaybeetee*

      Now in the circles I travel in, calling is far more commonly associated with weed (legal here) than anything nicotine-based (I just realized I legit don’t know if tobacco is still involved of it’s vaping. That’s how little I know about vaping things that aren’t marijuana). With that in mind, I’d probably do a double-take on a work call if I saw someone vaping, before reminding myself that other people do it to replace cigarettes. So there’s that element too. I suppose it’s no different from not knowing what’s really inside someone’s travel mug, but there is an optics element to it.

    12. BethDH*

      I’m thinking part of the thing that makes smoking or vaping seem different is that it’s perceived as a relaxing thing. I would feel differently about seeing vaping on a social call with work people (like our happy hour calls) vs a video meeting on a business topic. I was thinking about why and it feels less like it’s about health/distaste and more that I think of smoking as something people do to relax/de-stress and forget about work. So it seems like a sign that the person is checked out and on break. Probably not true but I suspect I’m not the only one who can’t help but think “smoke BREAK” in a way that doesn’t apply to coffee (which is associated with alertness and focus).

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yep, and I’ll also think “wow, this person is so addicted, they can’t wait till their next break/till the end of the meeting!” Not a good look.

      2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        Good points from you and meh.

        “wow, this person is so addicted, they can’t wait till their next break/till the end of the meeting!” I can’t help but think this a bit.

        1. Meh*

          I guess mentality will shift, you wouldn’t think of someone drinking coffee in the same way. Its such a non issue in my office that im honestly surprised at the response here.

    13. anon today*

      My first instinct with a vape would be that you were smoking pot. I don’t know the answer.

    14. introverted af*

      I have yet to meet a person with a silent vape that isn’t a noise distraction on common video call or voice chat software. Also, the visuals of a cloud or stream of smoke appearing and dissipating repeatedly could definitely be distracting. That being said, I disagree with Alison that it truly is unprofessional in our current times of so much WFH and disrupted activity. You’re at home, and it’s not that different from being in more casual clothes because you’re not in the office. However, that’s still something that’s dependent on your workplaces’ norms and culture, so it’s not like you get to just wave this away.

      Regardless of the former optics of smoking in the workplace, it doesn’t happen anymore, and people don’t expect to see it regularly. Social norms change and they’re not always based on what is logical.

    15. generic_username*

      “And that smoking was banned, as far as I am aware, not because it grew to be considered unprofessional, but to protect public health, which is not a consideration on video call.”

      This is an interesting take. Can you think of a single thing that was banned from the workplace because people suddenly found it to be unprofessional? I feel like it goes the other way and things become unprofessional as they fall out of the norm in professional settings. Smoking became unprofessional because it is unprofessional to break the law/rules of your building/organization, and now it just isn’t the norm to smoke during meetings so doing so during a video-conference is outside of the norm, thus could be viewed as unprofessional.

      I think Allison’s advice to approach the employee with the fact that it’s distracting is good because it removes the entire need for this conversation of whether it’s unprofessional. Plus, people generally take umbrage to hearing that their actions are unprofessional and will get defensive; they are generally much more willing to modify their behavior when they think they’re doing someone a favor (by not distracting them, for example). There are plenty of things someone could do during a video conference that could be distracting while not necessarily being unprofessional in the setting of a home office. One example I can think of from my work: I had a coworker who complained that she didn’t want to sit during meetings since she had to sit in front of her computer all day, so she walked around, stretching and doing lunges. Was it unprofessional to walk around? Maybe…. Was it distracting? YES! So I messaged her and asked if she could stop moving around quite so much or turn off her video since it was catching my eye and drawing my attention from the conversation.

    16. Librarian1*

      swilling alcohol, putting on makeup, and not wearing a shirt are all things that are considered unprofessional, though. You’d never do any of them in the office (not in public anyway, you might slip into the bathroom to touch up your makeup or whatever) and that’s why they seem unprofessional on video calls.

      1. HR Exec Popping In*

        But these aren’t normal times. Wearing yoga pants and a tshirt everyday isn’t normally professional, but I’ve been doing that while working from home. Does that make me “not professional” on a video call? I don’t think so. My cat also walks by the monitor on almost every call. Also not normally professional, but it isn’t a problem now. I think we have to understand that these are not normal times. This employee is working while at home, on their property and not bothering anyone by vaping. I just don’t see the problem. I would find it odd, but I also find it odd when my employee’s kids are running around behind them and I don’t think less of them because of it.

  30. Old and Don't Care*

    I remember this topic coming up here before (I think on an open thread), and someone saying that before she had a discussion with her kid’s teacher about said kid’s schoolwork, she learned she had to discuss how humid it was, and whether tomorrow would be more or less humid than today, etc., etc. No skipping of the prelude.

  31. Myrin*

    #2, I apologise if this is (ironically) too blunt or comes across as pessimistic, but if you’re still being perceived this way after 15 years, I doubt it will ever change unless you suddenly start earnestly analysing all of your interactions and radically and consciously changing how you speak.
    (Which makes me wonder why you’re asking that question now – did something happen recently which suddenly made this a much more pressing issue? Or have you just been musing about the theories surrounding speech and mannerisms like that and you’ve just been wondering out loud more than anything? You don’t have to answer these questions, but I’m posing them in case they might be helpful for your peace of mind.)

    1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      Good points

      If it was me, and I’d lasted that long down South, I doubt I’d change.

    2. MK*

      There might also be an issue of the OP having been cemented in everyone’s memory as the “Midwesterner”. Decades ago a foreigner moved to my father’s home town (remote argicultural area); this was a time (pre-EU) when very few foreigners moved permanently to my country, and in that area it was unheard-of. This person is still refered to as “the Frenchman” by people, even those who were born after he moved and even though there are more foreign people there now.

      As for why now, maybe the OP recently returned to the workforce? Or changed jobs and interacts with people much more?

      1. WellRed*

        The letter states they’ve worked for the past 15 years at the sheriffs office. I think his coworkers need to get over it already.

        1. Mimosa Jones*

          Yes, but working in the Sheriffs office it could be that the job involves lots of contact with the public and probably in times of stress. It might not be the coworkers who have the problem, especially since they say they’ve adjusted to the OP’s way of speaking.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Oh heck, yes. I’ve been in the US 23 years, I’m still the foreigner, will probably die of old age in 30-40 years still known as the foreigner. If I’d come to a place like NYC, that wouldn’t be happening, but I’m in an area where most people still live in the same township where they went to high school.

    3. Thankful for AAM*

      I dont know why #2 is mentioning it now, but my friend did not say anything to me about her perception that I was full of myself bc I answered questions someone asked me until about 8 years after the events happened. I have a vague sense of not fitting in sometimes but nothing big until she mentioned it. So maybe someone just mentioned to OP #2 bc now they have adjusted to his style and finally felt comfortable mentioning it?

  32. Ruth (UK)*

    1. I don’t smoke or vape myself but two of my colleagues are smoking on video calls. I am administrative in a university and one other administrative colleague and one academic colleague are smoking on calls.

    I think it’s not very professional (though I’m not really bothered) but at least in my department it’s clearly been accepted as OK. My university in general and my department in particular as adopted quite a casual approach I think in terms of these types of expectations. I assume it wouldn’t be OK when teaching, or presenting to students or ‘visitors’ etc but for meetings within the department it appears to be acceptable. The school manager has even teased the admin colleague about her having to adjust when we go back (from the tone and the fact they get on well etc, I do not believe this was an attempt to say it wasn’t OK).

    1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

      Yeah, I think this is definitely a know-your-workplace/industry one. I’m sure there’s places where it’d be totally fine, but a government department? Definitely Not Fine. At least not in my country.

      I was reading this letter picturing Elon Musk’s face that time he pointedly smoked a joint on a live interview, like a bratty teenager rebelling against his folks. I wonder if Sir Vapesalot is giving OP a similar vibe? “Look what I can do without all your stupid office rules!”

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        This is, in a nutshell, why I couldn’t deal with the vaper in my former office. He gave off an overall vibe of “the rules do not apply to me because I was brought in by new VP”. Even after being told “No Smoking and No Vaping. Its Company policy AND building policy, they CAN terminate our lease over this” he simply didn’t listen. Granted, he didn’t listen to much until told to “take your oral fixation and get out of my cubicle”. The he was offended and went to HR.

    2. UKDancer*

      Definitely not fine to smoke or vape on video calls in my company although I don’t know it’s ever been said that it’s not fine. It’s just a cultural thing and it would bother me to see someone doing it but I couldn’t really tell you why it would bother me.

      Trying to unpick this, I think Ruth is correct that it would come across as unprofessional in a way that having a cup of tea with you wouldn’t. I think it is to do with the fact that grabbing a brew is very common in British offices but smoking and vaping is something one does outside by the back car park and is something the company encourages and supports people in stopping.

      I think it’s also fairly sector specific. I work in a white collar office which has certain cultural norms. If you work in a different sector then the cultural norms may be very different. I know when I worked in retail as a student, there was no stigma attached to going out the back of the shop for a cigarette if you wanted whereas in my current company there probably would be.

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        I think it would bother me bc it would suggest the person vaping is not really paying attention to the meeting.

        I know people have asked in AAM if they can knit or do other things that help them concentrate during in-person meetings and the answer is no bc, correctly or not, it is perceived as you focusing on something else instead of the meeting.

        For me vaping falls into that category. And also, it is like saying, I’m so addicted to this that I have to take my smoke break during this meeting when actually, there might be so many back to back zoom meetings there was no time for a smoke break out back.

        1. Meh*

          Would you think someone taking a sip of water or from a mug is not paying attention to a meeting too?

          1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

            Drinking every minute or so, with the cup rarely leaving their hand – yes, or that something weird was happening. I’d try to ignore it.

            Drinking every 10 or so minutes – no. I wouldn’t notice.

            There’s some gray area based on climate, time of meeting, etc.

            1. Meh*

              I guess it’s a difference in behaviour then, nobody I’ve ever seen vape in meeting is taking intense hits every couple of minutes, sometimes you can’t even see the vapour and the vape is tiny enough to be hidden in the person’s hand…

          2. BethDH*

            A person who is smoking is usually holding it continuously, right? If someone were constantly holding their mug near their face and taking frequent sips, I would find it distracting. I hope in either case I would look for other signs of focus and engagement, but the frequency of use does matter.

            1. Meh*

              Not really, you take a hit and put it down. I agree if someone is taking crazy hits every couple of minutes then yeah but that’s not inherent to vaping – is someone who’s physically fidgety and distracting.

          3. JustaTech*

            No, because many people need to drink water (or coffee or tea) to wet their throat while talking.

        2. tamarack and fireweed*

          “I know people have asked in AAM if they can knit or do other things that help them concentrate during in-person meetings and the answer is no bc, correctly or not, it is perceived as you focusing on something else instead of the meeting.”

          Sometimes the answer is no. Sometimes the answer is yes. I prefer working in a place where the answer would be yes and attention in meetings is measured by other means than policing what small unintrusive things people do with their hand or where their eyes are fixated.

          I think the “distracting” reason is nearly entirely a polite fiction to cover the underlying real reasons for why one thing is allowed and another is a taboo – a fiction that is used because directly addressing these might prove pretty inflammatory and runs the risk of descending into a whirl of yabbuts and bruised feelings. To illustrage why: I still would object to vaping. Or smoking. Or, for that matter, drinking wine during business meetings. It would be unreasonable to claim that taking an occasional sip from a wine glass is any more distracting than taking a sip from a glass of juice or a cup of coffee. Yet one is ok and the other isn’t. I agree with this because alcohol is a psychoactive stimulant that is linked to impairment in cognitive function and judgement; nicotine is a psychoactive stimulant that, in its usual packagings, is linked to lung damage and heightened risk of cancer.

          The threshold for psychoactive stimulants in the workplace is not zero, but is very low. I think it is not zero because the cultural function of such products is, recognized as long as it doesn’t counter the work function. Tea, coffee, mate, caffeinated fizzy drinks are usually allowed, as are caffeine and nicotine in OTC or prescription medications, or medically motivated consumption in the context of cessation (nicotine patches and gums). This isn’t negated when we interact through video conferencing.

  33. Seeking Second Childhood*

    I remember reading a question like OP1 except it was cigarettes on Zoom calls. I can’t find it now, so apparently it wasn’t Alison. That columnist seemed to think it was fine because no one would be breathing the smoke… I didn’t, partly on Alison’s line of reasoning here.
    Anyone else remember seeing that? My google-future fails me.

    1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      It looks unprofessional. I’d try to keep an open mind and be tolerant (“I guess they’re addicted or under a lot of stress and so this is important to them”). If it was someone I know was able to not smoke no problem in the office, I’d roll with it. If it was a new contact, I’d could not help but wonder about it.

    2. MK*

      I confess I see vapping as more professional than smoking cigarettes, possibly because it comes across to me as more discreet visually.

      1. WellRed*

        Really? I see the big cloud of vape swirling around. How is that discreet? fWIW I also dislike gum chewing when I’m trying to have a meeting.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          The vape cloud varies depending on which pen/cartridges you use, some have a fairly subtle cloud (Juuls are v popular with middle schoolers go figure). Cigarettes you have to light and tap the ash off periodically, vape pen you just press a button.

          Most of my experience with vapes is weed though (cartridges, dabs) and I never don’t wonder if about it if I see someone else vaping anywhere, so I wouldn’t vape on video and risk putting that in anyone’s head.

    3. Kelly L.*

      There was one where someone was vaping in class. I think it *was* on here. The advice wasn’t that it was fine, but to stay out of it, because the LW was a classmate rather than the professor. The professor had the authority to ask the vaper to stop for disrespect reasons, but (here’s where the breathing the smoke thing came in) it wasn’t really affecting *the LW* other than annoying them.

      1. leapingLemur*

        Is the person vaping in an on-line class? If not, then anyone breathing nearby has status to say something.

    4. JustaTech*

      I think it also depends on what industry you work in. This has come up with regards to other smoking-related questions in the past.

      If you work for Juul then it’s probably going to be a lot more acceptable to vape during a meeting (or in general). I work for a company that makes a cancer treatment. It is *much* less socially/professionally acceptable to smoke in my industry because, yo, cancer. Not that this stops everyone, not that anyone has ever been fired over it, but people are a lot less reticent to give a smoker/vaper the stink-eye.

      Personally my approach to virtual meetings is that I apply the same standards of behavior that I would to an in-person meeting. So no knitting, no wandering around, no playing with my phone.

  34. I heart Paul Buchman*

    #2 I mean this kindly, changing cultures can be so very difficult. Reading your letter I can feel like you might be a very blunt person so I’m going to go out on a limb and spell things out in a way I wouldn’t usually. I’m very indirect myself (to a fault) and I felt a little uncomfortable even reading parts of your letter:

    “When I have asked what that means, people have trouble putting it into words.”
    “if in fact there is something to correct”
    ” Not having anyone to accurately describe the issue is problematic”
    “This sounds more like a cultural difference, rather than a correctable flaw.”

    The way this comes across to me is this: ‘A range of people have explained that they find my communication lecturing or arrogant, I asked them to explain this in a way that is acceptable to me but they didn’t. Their complaints aren’t clear or accurate enough for me to identify the issue to my own satisfaction so I consider it possible that there isn’t really a problem’.

    My thought is that a person who dismisses their colleagues’ feedback as inaccurately described or somehow insufficient is perhaps also a person who might be inclined to lecture those same colleagues? My thought is that the problem might be in the listening not the speaking.

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      I’ll push back. Those are good things for the OP to consider but I have been told, at my current work place, that I need to change but they could not give me a specific example of what to change. I asked them to alert me in the moment but they never did. When I followed up, they said I had not repeated the issue but of course, I had not changed anything!

      At my last workplace, teaching at a small private school, they wanted my teaching style in one class to change. I said sure, lets talk about what that would look like. I made the changes they asked for and pushed back where I felt the changes would conflict with the national standardized test the students would have to take but even there, we could find ways to do what i needed to do differently. In the end, I was a stronger teacher for it. And they were impressed with my willingness to change and how I handled things.

      I brought that same attitude to my current workplace but they cannot communicate what they mean. And they tend toward avoiding conflict. Not a good mix.

      So it is possible that OP#2 is ignoring the signs, but it is also possible that he is not getting any.

      1. Batgirl*

        You don’t ‘communicate’ some things in the way you describe though. While direct and clear communication is incredibly valuable it doesn’t cover everything. There are situations where inference skills are needed because most communication is non verbal. The approach you’re talking about makes for a great teacher! Explain, explain, explain. Clearly and verbally.
        However not everyone is willing to teach us over and over. Nor should they.
        If you say you don’t understand a vague complaint, they may not follow it up again because they don’t want to get into it further than that one time. Sometimes the correction isn’t worth the effort. If you didn’t change anything, they didn’t suddenly decide ‘oh I was making it up’ they’ve decided it’s too hard a suggestion to go over for what it’s worth.

      2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        “When I followed up, they said I had not repeated the issue but of course, I had not changed anything!”

        Well bless their hearts.

    2. Batgirl*

      You’ve pulled out some really good quotations which highlight that the OP is talking about a science, while his colleagues are talking about an art.
      The OP wants the rules, scripts and specific examples of ‘don’t do that’. He wants a formula.
      That approach won’t work because every person and situation is different. Rapport will only be created if the approach is adapted to each one.
      I’d say that reading the room is priority number one.

    3. WellRed*

      But we’ve had lots of letters where people are criticized for some behavior, real or perceived, but then the issue can’t be articulated. How frustrating and unfair to hold someone to a standard they don’t know about. Criticism should be constructive.

    4. Kate 2*

      I will also push back. I got told at a male dominated workplace that I didn’t speak the right way. I asked and asked my male bosses to explain. They said they couldn’t tell me what it was that I was doing they just knew it was wrong and they wanted me to fix it. And believe me these weren’t polite guys who were just afraid to tell me. I think when people can’t tell you what you are doing wrong it is almost always just them picking at you, torturing you almost. I nearly got fired because of this. They NEVER were able to tell me what on earth I was doing wrong. I didn’t swear, yell, use slang, etc. Never in any job before or after have I been told I speak “wrong”. And none of my successful coworkers understood what on earth my bosses were talking about. Of course that workplace turned out to be dysfunctional in other ways too.

      1. Manchmal*

        Sounds like your problem was “speaking while female”…

        My husband and I had to go to a funeral pretty early on in our relationship, and the service was led by a female pastor (can’t remember the denomination). At the end, he complained that he didn’t like the service, that the pastor wasn’t spiritual enough, she seemed fake, etc. So I asked questions and tried to figure out what he meant. It turns out to be the same issue – she was guilty of “preaching while female” and to a man who’d never seen a woman up on the altar, wearing the robes, etc, she looked/sounded like an imposter. Now my husband isn’t a particularly sexist guy, he works in engineering and has been vocally supportive of women (and minorities) in his field. But a lifetime of only ever seeing men in a religious context had caused him to associate spirituality with presenting male, and hence a negative reaction the first time he’d seen something other than that. Exposure really does normalize things, and he wouldn’t have the same reaction today.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        “I can’t tell you what you’re doing wrong, but you’re doing something wrong! FIX IT!”

        Ugh. Bosses who expect you to mind-read are the WORST.

    5. Roscoe*

      Yeah, I didn’t get that tone at all. Its like if you wore something to the office that people deemed inappropriate, and you asked what isn’t appropriate, and they didn’t really give you an answer except “It just doesn’t seem right”. Well, in that case its really hard to improve the situation if no one gives you anything actionable. Its why people need to be able to use words and examples and not just feelings. He isn’t dismissing their feedback, they aren’t giving actionable feedback. If he says something like “Please give me an example of how I came off lecturing and arrogant” and they can’t give one, well he isn’t the one at fault then.