I’m my boss’s favorite, infertility at work, and more

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

1. I’m my boss’s favorite and it’s awkward

I have been at my job for two years and have a difficult, narcissist boss. However, he and I usually get along pretty well and he definitely realizes I am a valuable asset to our growing office. I was employee #3 and we have since hired five others. My coworkers are a talented bunch. However, my boss does not do a great job at spreading the compliments and appreciation around. I get a disproportionate amount of praise. I notice it and so does everyone else. It impacts morale and I know that it causes some resentment.

How do I best handle the situation? It is great to be liked, but not at the expense of my relationship with my coworkers. Do I say something directly to my boss? Do I acknowledge to the others my guilt and discomfort with being favored? I worry people may go elsewhere and not sure what I can do to remedy the situation.

Well, first, you’re not responsible for this situation or responsible if people leave — that’s on your boss.

But you can use your favored position to be an ally to others — praise their work in front of your boss, share things they’ve done that you’ve been impressed by, make it widely known what roles others played in the work you’re getting praised for, and suggest them for projects you know they’d like to work on. Basically, share the wealth to the extent that you can!

On top of that, make a point of being warm, helpful, and supportive to your coworkers. The more they see that you’re not just basking in your disproportionate share of your boss’s approval and leaving them to fend for themselves, the better your relationships with them will be. But ultimately, your boss — your difficult, narcissist boss — may drive people off, and that’s not on you to prevent.

2. Dealing with infertility in a baby-talk-heavy office

My husband and I are dealing with infertility. It is frustrating and sad, and also not something I have been vocal about at work.

Being a woman in my 30s on a team with other young women, however, the topic comes up a lot. Particularly with one coworker. I love my job and my team, but I’m not sure how to navigate this. The coworker in question is recently married and I don’t think it would be unfair to call her “baby crazy.” It comes up in almost every conversation. She is in a same-sex relationship, and so her plans for pregnancy have been impacted by Covid-19 because she and her wife will need to access fertility services.

My fertility journey has also been impacted, but while for her the topic is still exciting and something she looks forward to, for me it is heartbreaking and difficult. I don’t know when I will be able to access the next stage of my treatment and the waiting, and inevitable bombardment of pregnancy announcements and baby conversations from every corner, is just awful. I try to avoid the subject as best I can, but it feels rude to back out of these conversations and I don’t feel comfortable discussing my particular circumstances in detail.

Would it be rude to change the subject or leave more casual conversations (all happening virtually for now) when the topic comes up? Would it be better to just be honest about my situation? How do I navigate this incredibly emotional thing in a professional way?

If you’re comfortable being honest about it and you know that coworker to be a generally considerate person, that could be the easiest way to handle it. You could discreetly explain to her that it’s a painful topic for you and tell her you’re not asking her never to talk about it at work but that you wanted her to be aware of what’s going on with you and you hope she’ll understand if you excuse yourself from conversations where it comes up. Most people (not all, but most) will want to be sensitive to this once they know what’s happening, and kind people will appreciate knowing it’s a tender spot so they don’t inadvertently keep poking at it.

But you don’t have to share that if you don’t want to. It’s okay to just change the subject or leave conversations when the topic comes up (which might even be easier now that it’s all virtual). Use work as an excuse; it’s handy for that!

I’m sorry you’re going through this.

3. Interviewer conducted our interview in Cantonese without warning

This interview happened years ago when I was fresh out of high school. I applied for a job at a tutoring center and halfway through the interview, the interviewer pointed out that on my resume it stated that I was fluent in Cantonese. I said yes and she proceeded to conduct the rest of the interview in Cantonese. She would ask me where I went to Chinese school, if I could write out my Chinese name, etc.

The tutoring job didn’t state a second language requirement unless you were planning on tutoring students who were in a French immersion program. At the time I just went with the switch in language, but looking back it did seem very weird. Was she trying to make sure I wasn’t lying about being bilingual or was there a different reason for this?

Yep, she almost certainly was assessing whether you really were fluent. She might have been doing it because they had a separate need for someone who could tutor in Cantonese (it’s possible they had a second ad you didn’t see or a potential need coming up in the future). Or, who knows, she could have her own weird hang-up about people who claim fluency they don’t fully have (because that’s a thing) and was hoping to trip you up … or was just glad for the chance to talk in Cantonese.

In general, though, if your resume lists that you’re fully fluent in a language, you should be prepared for an interviewer to switch to that language. Some will!

4. Vacation requests before you’ve earned the time off

I am relatively new to the professional world. At my job we are not allowed to roll over vacation days to the next year. This is not rare where I live and I understand why this rule exists. I also understand vacation days are earned by working, which is explicitly stated in our vacation policy (i.e., if you get 12 days a year, then you have earned one day by February 1).

This all being said, does that mean one can never use a vacation day in January or take a few days off in a row in the few months in the beginning of the year? I am getting married next April and my plan was to take six or seven days off (of my 15 days). I would be peeved if I had to take some of these days off unpaid if I am going to be able to use them later in the year.

Also, what is the standard amount of time ahead I should give them about this vacation request? When I first booked the wedding 16 months before the date, it seemed like too much notice.

It varies by office, but often if your vacation time resets to zero at the start of the year and you want to take vacation in the first few months, you can borrow against what you expect to accrue later in the year. (If you leave the job before those days have been earned back, typically they’d be deducted from your final check, although not all states allow that.) And even if your company doesn’t normally allow you to borrow against future leave, you’re often able to get an exception made for big events like your wedding.

As for when to ask for it, I’d ask for it now. If they think it’s too early to deal with, they’ll tell you. With something like this, I’d want it on the books as early as you can get it, to minimize the chances of a conflict.

5. Can I reapply for a job I turned down two years ago?

About two years ago, I had gone through a relatively long interview process for a job that I truly felt qualified for, and that excited me. From the get go and throughout the months-long process, I had made it clear that the earliest I could start was September, and the company representatives had agreed. After finishing the process, I was contacted with a job offer in May but on the condition that I start ASAP. The longest they were able to wait was two weeks. After thinking it over, I turned down the job as I really couldn’t leave my commitments months early at the drop of a hat.

I ended up finding another job which I have been at for nearly two years, but it is not a permanent job, and the job I turned down a few years ago would really kickstart my career. Is it appropriate to contact this workplace about reapplying when a position opens up? If so, how could I do it tactfully? Or did I essentially turn down my only opportunity two years ago?

You can absolutely reapply! That’s especially true if your circumstances have changed and you no longer would need a start date several months off — but even if you’d still need that, you can reopen the conversation and explore whether it would be more feasible this time.

Turning down a job doesn’t mean you’re closing the door to any job with that company ever again. As long as you’re polite and professional when you turn the offer down, you can nearly always come back in the future.

So, apply through their normal process and then email the hiring manager from last time and let her know you remain very interested in working with them, always regretted that the timing didn’t work out last time, and are throwing your hat in the ring again in the hopes it might work out this time. Open your cover letter with something similar as well. Good luck!

{ 336 comments… read them below }

  1. Something Clever TBD*

    #2 – I don’t have a solution, other than to say I’ve been there. We went through a very tough time, including later term miscarriages. It was so gut wrenching to then see my friends get pregnant, and to have normal discussions. Then we actually had a successful pregnancy (at 40), then the other day a colleague of mine shared that she and her husband were struggling with this issue, and I realized that I send her baby pictures and mention babies essentially ALWAYs. Full circle.
    All I can offer is, I have come to leave that it is SO SO common to struggle with infertility. To suffer a miscarriage. Etc. It’s a club of which a sizable percentage of people are silently a member. So, just know you are not alone.

    1. Potatoes gonna potate*

      I was going to post but you nailed it. I just had my baby 2 weeks ago but it was after 3 losses and years of trying. I never want to forget lest I make anyone else feel the way I felt. I try to be aware of who I share with. I think Alisons advice is spot on – share if you’re comfortable.

      I’m sorry OP, it’s a club that no one wants to belong to.

    2. Big Al*

      SAME! When I was going through treatments/having miscarriages, I suddenly got switched to a new team of 8 people. Four of them were pregnant. Another had a pregnant wife. It was all I could do to hold it together every day. Ten years later, I have a 9 year old (adoption) but I STILL don’t do baby showers and I HATE the trend of gender reveal parties. Petty and dumb of me? Maybe, but it still bothers me to see something that was so painful for me be social media fodder for others.

      On the other hand, I have been able to be there for younger friends who are going through these things now. It brings up a lot for me, but I am glad to be a resource and support for someone else going through it too.

      Many hugs to you.

      1. LizardOfOdds*

        I’m with you on this. I understand why it’s such a big deal for people who are pregnant to celebrate, and I want to participate in that celebration because I’m happy for them. But it’s like there’s always a cloud hanging over me, and usually it’s not my doing. At baby showers, people who know about my infertility give me pitiful looks, or they pull me aside to ask how I feel about the coworker having a baby when I can’t. Thanks, Susan, but I didn’t need to be reminded of my infertility at someone else’s party.

        In general, I wish that people would trust others to make the right choice for themselves about whether they participate in a conversation, a celebration, etc., whether the cause is infertility or not. Some people don’t like kids and are not excited that a coworker is having a baby, and that is OK! Some people might be happy for the coworker having a baby but prefer to spend their time focused on work rather than babies. That is OK, too! There doesn’t need to be an expressed reason for someone to opt out of something, and we shouldn’t be required to disclose the details behind why we aren’t participating.

      2. bluephone*

        Hugs too. A loved one lost their child to stillbirth last year and it’s still hard for *me*, who wasn’t even pregnant, to see other people’s babies on social media, sit through a lot of baby shower talk, or even consume media with a heavy focus on babies, pregnancy, etc (I haven’t watched Call the Midwife in a year and that used to be my favorite show).
        Hugs, everyone <3

    3. justabot*

      Being around pregnancy or baby talk when you are dealing with infertility (or simply being involuntarily childless because one is single and hasn’t met the right partner) is really hard. It’s really hard at work when the work place is fraught with trigger conversations, yet you really don’t want to share your personal, private struggles with just anyone.

      Self-preservation and protecting your emotional health is important. You don’t need to engage in any conversation that’s upsetting. It would be “rude” to yell out “I DON’T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR PREGNANCY JOURNEY.” It’s not rude to distance yourself from the conversations, smile and step away, change the subject, or become very focused on “work” when need to not hear it. It sucks, but it is what it is.

      It’s hard for many people to understand if they have not been through it, but keep your boundaries and protect yourself as much as you can without apologies or guilt. You are going through something that is just not easy.

      1. Valancy Snaith*

        So, as someone who is actively childless after 5+ years of trying, multiple failed rounds of IVF, etc., this is the answer. Being open about infertility frequently leads to a lot of even-more-painful conversations: “any news yet?” “have you tried acupuncture?” “my friend’s mom’s hairdresser’s daughter was never supposed to be able to have kids and adopted one and got pregnant, bang, have you thought about adoption?” or the dreaded scenario where you walk into a room and everyone falls completely silent, looking at you, either because now it’s awkward for them to talk about their kids, or because they look at you as though you’re living through their nightmare.

        There’s nothing wrong with excusing yourself politely from a conversation that is painful, without having to explain anything about it. Many people who go through infertility and are lucky enough to have kids experience a kind of amnesia where they forget what the pain is like. If a conversation is trending in a painful direction, there is nothing wrong with slipping away quietly, excusing yourself with a phone call or meeting, or simply saying you’re swamped with work. I’ve worked in several places over the years and that has always been the best solution for me that led to the least amount of internal struggle and pain.

        1. Something Clever TBD*

          Good point about the constant not helpful advice/comments from people on this subject in particular.
          I will add – I think whether it makes it better or worse to talk about it depends both on your own personality and on the audience.
          I’m generally an extrovert, so in most things, talking makes it better. This is the one exception, really, bc it was too difficult. But I did confide in a work friend, who then confided in me that she had 16 unsuccessful IUIs. It was then that I started realizing this wasn’t a problem with me, but was really common. When I started talking about it more, I found more and more people who had the same struggles. I found people who had found happiness in other ways – adoption, fostering, pets, nieces/nephews – and that made me realize that this wasn’t the make/break point in my life that it felt like. Yes, it was still very difficult, but I started to realize that it really would, one way or another, be okay.

        2. Anon Anon*

          It’s such a difficult journey for many of the reasons you point out.

          In part, I think many of the painful suggestions occur, because there is so much secrecy about infertility. It’s a chicken and egg thing. If you open yourself up you often have to endure many unhelpful and down right painful conversations. If you remain closed then you have to endure conversations that might have avoided if you had shared.

          I went through almost a decade of infertility, and I ended up becoming a mom through adoption. Which has it’s own set of issues and stupid comments.

        3. justabot*

          All of this. Oh yes, you are right – being open about it often does lead right into someone asking things like, “Have you thought about adoption?” I think a lot of people are just well-meaning with comments or making small talk or just excited chatter about their own good news and have no absolutely no idea of the level of pain and grief they are triggering.

          One thing I have found is that if you find some good people outside of you work life who do get it, who do understand, who have empathy, and can give support, it makes it a *little* easier to be around other people who don’t get it, who you don’t feel like giving a window into your private struggles, especially at work. Excuse yourself from the small talk or chatter. Hopefully they just move on to people who show more interest in engaging about it. And you don’t need to look at scans or go to baby showers. Or these days – the dreaded zoom baby showers. ugh. It’s not personal, it’s just giving yourself the best self care you can while reconciling with something private and difficult. Not everyone is going to understand and that’s okay. Just remember that taking care of your emotional and mental health is not selfish or rude.

        4. Zanele Ngwenya*

          These perspectives are all very interesting to read, and I’m so sorry for OP’s struggle.
          I was pregnant in an office where one coworker was very open about painful fertility struggles, and I do think it helped de-stigmatize it and made us all extra sensitive not to revolve our work interactions around that topic (not that we would have done something crass like workplace baby showers or constant discussion, anyways). On the other hand, it made my personal life an absolute taboo for the YEARS I worked there, because I cared about my coworker’s feelings. I felt I could not openly say “Ugh, had my head in a trash can all morning” or “didn’t sleep more than an hour at a time this past week b/c baby, that’s why I look like death” when people would comment on my haggard face. I felt such a relief switching to a small office where everyone made it clear through water cooler discussion that I don’t need to censure that part of my being from the workplace. That being said, I think OP should gently try and bring it up next time this coworker talks about it in the way Allison suggests, just maybe in the sense of- maybe they could find someone else in the office to talk to about this painful topic? I know the other pregnant lady in that office and I really leaned on each other in private.

          1. justabot*

            That was really kind of you to be so considerate. As someone who is childless not by choice, I will say that I don’t expect any coworkers to censor a major part of their life or that I burst into tears at any mention of babies or children. If a coworker said, “I was up all night with the baby” I would have sympathy. It’s more when they say or imply that I can’t be equally tired for not sleeping for many other reasons. I don’t know how to explain it – there are some people who can just talk about kids and families and it might hit a nerve, but it really isn’t a big deal. And then others who are full on into mom and baby talk and just chatter on obliviously in a way that’s very painful if you aren’t in the same life place. Especially when a group of people chime in and you feel like an outsider. But I usually just kept it to myself because I wasn’t angry at them of course and didn’t want anyone to feel like they had to filter themselves around me, or take away from their joy or excitement. It did impact who I gravitated toward and who I put up more of a wall around.

    4. Gracey Loo*

      No solution here either, just that I’ve been where you are OP. We got married at 30 and tried for 6 years, a year of clomid, then 4 rounds of IUI, then 5 rounds of IVF before we were able to get pregnant. Telling people anything never helped me, it made it worse. They ended up either being too sympathetic and questioning which in some ways was worse than the conversation itself or they were mad I didn’t want to be in the discussion. What worked best was pretending like I wasn’t a baby or a kid person, and didn’t really want kids. I incorporated my dog in their baby talk, at the time my husband had gotten us a new dog after each miscarriage, and when they would do baby stuff I would bring out my dog pictures. Sadly yes I tortured my dogs and made them wear clothes and hats, and photographed them then tortured co-workers with baby talk with my photos.

    5. businessfish*

      just more support for you from someone who has been there. I chose to be very open about our struggles as a way to help destigmatize it, but it’s not for everyone and definitely a downer to bring up during baby talk.

      If you’re feeling petty (which you could keep to yourself, but sometimes it feels good to be petty…), remind yourself – no one knows how their fertility journey will go. A same sex couple of mine did TWELVE IUIs (I don’t think they had insurance that covered IVF) before finally doing IVF and ended up really struggling, even though they didn’t have a fertility “diagnosis.” So this woman probably has no idea what she’s in for.

      but mostly, I wish you luck avoiding the baby talk and that someday you’ll be the obnoxious one trying to check yourself to remember how hard it was.

      1. Something Clever TBD*

        “this woman probably has no idea what she’s in for”
        Totally. I was her! I just assumed that I would get pregnant the second I wanted, to the point I made a comment to a friend about which month I wanted to get pregnant in bc I wanted an April baby. My friend just laughed, like I said I planned to flap my wings and fly home for the holidays since that seemed easier than driving.
        On the times I thought about that moment over the next several years…

        1. 2 Cents*

          Honestly, sex ed spends so much time telling you how not to get pregnant that it’s no wonder so many of us grow up thinking that we can whenever we choose. I know I was the same way. I’m not usually dumb in other ways, but in this, I wasn’t the best. (Also, all my friends seemed to be getting pregnant near immediately, so I didn’t expect an issue with me, even though that’s not how it works lol.)

          1. ampersand*

            So much this. I was so baffled that I couldn’t get pregnant when I tried. Many of my friends got pregnant accidentally, while using birth control, and on the first try (you know, all the scenarios that you’re warned about). I’m still incredulous that people can get pregnant by having sex–what is that even?!

            I am very lucky to have a daughter now, conceived via IVF, and she won’t grow up under the misconception that being able to get, and stay, pregnant is a given. I wish I hadn’t. This is just one more way that sex ed needs an overhaul.

            And agreed, most people don’t know what they’re in for with fertility treatments. Even when it goes well, it’s rough.

        2. Turanga Leela*

          This was me too! And it sort of turned out to be true—I get pregnant very, very easily. I successfully timed my first pregnancy. Turns out, though, that I have a medical condition that causes premature births and second-trimester miscarriages. After that became apparent, I stopped trying to plan. I should add that I’m lucky: I have one premature-but-healthy kid, and my current pregnancy is (knock on wood, cross my fingers, spit three times) going well.

          As the Quakers say, I’ll hold the OP in the light. This is a hard journey for so many people, and as everyone has said, it tends to stay hidden.

        3. PenicilliumIHardlyKnowEm*

          Yup. Every woman in my family has gotten pregnant on accident (some while actively using birth control), so I’d considered myself lucky that I’d never had an unplanned pregnancy but would get knocked up in no time. Not even close. It was such a horrible time. Work was mostly ok because the only parent in my office also had teenage *grandchildren* and there was one person who was kinda obnoxious about how awful she thought kids were.It is one of the reasons I keep kid talk to a minimum in professional settings. That and the penalty women often pay professionally when people see them as parents more than seeing them as professionals.

        4. businessfish*

          oh the planning… so humbling. I had been teaching a class as an adjunct on top of my day job and decided not to teach one term because of course I’d be having a baby then… then the next 2 job changes I made were while I was actively cycling.

          at least the lessons that you can’t plan things help prepare you for parenthood…

        5. Potatoes gonna potate*

          haha. I told a coworker I was pregnant and he said I should have timed it so that I give birth in January and return to work right when tax season is over (we’re tax accountants). He was joking and I laughed and I get it, that would have been great timing but in my head I’m like….I WISH it was that simple!

          No doubt a lot of people can just plan their pregnancies and good for them, but that’s not the reality for many I suspect.

    6. SusanB*

      Same. I worked at an office with ALL young women my age and we were all fairly recently married and I had a heck of a time getting pregnant and then had a miscarriage. It was hell. I ended up seeing a therapist during this time and it was the best thing I did. Because not only did it seem like everyone was getting pregnant at work but in my regular life too. I was 32 and it seemed like every other woman I knew was pregnant and I was starting to get bitter and angry about it and think things like “She doesn’t even deserve a baby! They weren’t even trying!” and a friend who’d suffered miscarriages told me that she went to a therapist and it was a lifesaver so I did the same and thank God. It really helped. And after a while when I was in a situation where I couldn’t really escape the baby talk, I could better deal with it. Or at least I had a safe space to vent. So I highly recommend therapy in addition to AAM’s response.

      Because honestly, I know when I would tell people I was having problems, often the “helpful tips” would follow “Have you tried acupuncture? Fertility yoga? These werid herbs you buy at GNC?” so the therapist helped me not throttle people when those suggestions happened.

    7. HRemployee*

      I found being open with my manager and team helps while dealing with infertility. I am on a small team of all women though, so I think that makes a difference. My manager was always really supportive when I had to go to appointments. I am in HR and have to help employees add their babies to insurance as well as order baskets when they have their baby. That got to be too much and I spoke with my co-worker and passed all of those duties to her. If the OP has a supportive team, being open could help.

      1. Knitter*

        I agree telling a manger can be helpful.
        I told a former manager when I was going through treatment because my work coverage was complicated and fertility treatment involves a lot of last minute appointments at random times.
        She and her wife had to go through fertility treatment for their kids, so she was super supportive. She even said something to the effect of fertility treatment is hard but it must be harder for straight people because it means that the expected process isn’t working.
        She was terrible at giving me a reasonable workload and I got pregnant the month I left that job sooo….

        But I didn’t tell my coworkers. My boss was the only one with kids and the rest of my coworkers were single…so they wouldn’t have gotten it. But my work persona is to be a little reserved about personal life and stick to business. So if I was having a bad day, I could lean into that persona.

    8. Liza*

      #1 — With true narcissists there’s often one “golden child” and everyone else is a scapegoat. I’m not sure what to recommend beyond what Alison already said, but just know that it’s not your fault.

      1. DM*

        I am truly puzzled by the seeming need to walk on eggshells when it comes to infertility and the objective that it is somehow ok for this particular subset of people to be envious and even bitter of other peoples’ happiness.
        I have empathy for people dealing with infertility – but I also have this for people dealing with other obstacles, like grief, chronic illness and domestic violence.
        Should we also not be able to talk about our family members/friends in case a coworker has lost one of these, going for a run because a chronically ill coworker cannot do this or wonderful spouse and so on.
        I think a certain level of consideration is expected especially if it’s known – But the level some commenters mention is not feasible. I

        1. justabot*

          I think it’s just a case of know your audience and have some self-awareness. For example, you might tell someone paralyzed in a wheel chair you are going for a run, but you likely wouldn’t blather on in depth all about you training plans, speed work, races you are signed up for, complain about that foot injury that has you sidelined and how devastating it is that you can’t run for two weeks, that is, how AMAZING it feels when you cross the finish line, how it’s the BEST feeling other and nothing else could possibly compare, and when are they going to start running, and do they ever want to run??? And even better, engage in running talk every day with a group of other coworkers while the lone person in the wheelchair sits there with nothing to contribute to the conversation feeling marginalized and isolated from the happy group talk. I can’t speak for that person, but I think a daily dose of that would feel pretty sucky.

          I kind of think save that kind of chatter for your running friends who are interested, who can relate, who want to hear about it, and who aren’t shut out by the topic of conversation. That doesn’t mean you can’t answer what you did this weekend with, “I did a 10K race downtown” or have to censor your life and interests. It’s more just knowing your audience, if that makes sense.

      2. Quill*

        Be as prepared as you can for your boss’ focus to switch.

        At my worst job I could do nothing wrong for 6 months. the 19 after that were where I couldn’t do anything right.

  2. CastIrony*

    For a minute, I thought OP#2’s workplace actually talked in baby-talk.

    Still, I’m sorry, OP!

    1. Delta Delta*

      That was the first thing I thought, too. That would be an entirely different problem.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      It’s kind of weird but I’m assuming that the people in that workplace must all be fairly close in ages to all be having babies. Not a lot of age diversity!
      I am childless by choice. And while I’m genuinely happy to hear about people’s new babies or kid stories, it would drive me bonkers to hear a constant steam of it daily and nothing else.
      You have my sympathy op.

    3. MermaidLemonade*

      OP no. 2 here. Just want to say a huge thank-you to everyone who has shared their stories. I think the hardest part of this for me has been not really knowing anyone else who is going through it, and also many of my friends being pregnant and having babies. This has led me to pull back from some close friendships and I’m feeling very isolated, so it’s helpful to hear from others who have been where I am. Some of the time I honestly do feel like the only person in the world who this is happening to.

      I do have an excellent therapist and my husband and I have also been able to access dedicated therapy through the fertility clinic in our city. That is helping tremendously. And I have been open with my supervisor, who has been very understanding. We have a really good relationship and I’m comfortable talking to her in confidence about what’s going on with me; I’m a professional illustrator and my team works in international development, so this has also helped when I’m called on to illustrate topics relating to maternal health. It’s hard to predict what’s going to upset me and what isn’t, so knowing that I have a supportive manager has been huge.

      I think the hardest thing is the more casual conversations. Shoutout to the person who said ‘this woman may have no idea what she’s in for’ – I had that exact same thought during one of our conversations when she was talking about planning her pregnancy. Like, I really do hope it works out easily for her, but that hasn’t been my experience and it’s been extremely eye-opening in terms of just how unpredictable fertility can be. In my case I have a relatively good prognosis (PCOS), and at the moment it’s mostly just Covid slowing things down, but I have no way of predicting whether or when treatments will work, or when I’ll be able to access them. One of the cruellest things about going through this is the way it steals your joy – I don’t even indulge in private baby-related what-if scenarios anymore because it’s just too painful.

      I think I probably could say something to my coworker at some point if it really becomes totally relentless, but as many people pointed out I think what I’m avoiding is opening the floodgates on a more awkward conversation (the number of times I’ve been told about acupuncture, naturopaths etc… omg. And it isn’t even something I talk about often). Thank you so much to everyone who has commented for your stories and advice – they’ve made me feel less alone. <3

      1. Valancy Snaith*

        Don’t feel afraid to politely excuse yourself from conversation topics that are stressful for you. If the conversation flows around to pregnancy and babies and whatever else, it’s OK to either silently drift away, say “I’m sorry, I’m just swamped” and get back to your desk, manufacture a phone call appointment, whatever it is. It’s OK to keep it to yourself, and it’s OK to tell people about it if you wish.

        That’s what it comes down to. This is happening to YOU, not to anyone else, and it’s your job to protect your own feelings and emotions while this is all going on. Do not feel afraid to do that. Do not feel ashamed to safeguard your own spirits, because this entire process can be exhausting and difficult and none of us know what kind of ending it will have for any of us. Feel your feelings, it’s OK.

      2. Penny*

        I’m there with you in spirit and sending you all sorts of virtual hugs. My husband and I have been trying since our honeymoon and we’ve been married for 6.5 years now. Its hard to watch people be so overjoyed and just wishing that you could have that joy yourself. For some reason, people love to give advise about anything child/pregnancy related so you get unsolicited advise whether you are pregnant or not. The only piece of advise that someone gave me that has actually been helpful was that babies aren’t like pie, just because someone has some, doesn’t mean there are less for others. Its helped me attend multiple baby showers for people who had much easier journeys.

  3. AcademiaNut*

    OP #2 – it’s probably most effective to use different approaches in different situations. For one-on-one interactions, it’s most straightforward to tell the other person directly that this is an uncomfortable topic for you, and you’d like to avoid it. For group conversation, it’s really, really difficult for one person to get the rest of a group to abandon a topic of conversation that they all share, whether it’s something sensitive like this, or something more mundane like endless Game of Thrones or sports-ball talk. So in those cases, feel free to ignore the group chat, or drift out when the topic moves to babies and pregnancy.

  4. DoubleE*

    OP #4, a few months into my first professional job, I wanted to take a week off for a family reunion but I had only earned 4 days of vacation at that point. When my manager found out I was planning to leave the reunion early to be back at work, he told me to take a 5th vacation day and enjoy the time with my family. My employer gives managers a lot of leeway to be flexible with time off when it makes sense, hopefully yours does too. And at the end of the day, an extra vacation day here and there probably more than pays for itself in employee morale.

    1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

      A similar story of a good manager for me was when I was leaving a year long appointment. A month and a half out I was talking to my manager about my plans and he casually mentioned how sad it was that I was going to be so sick over the upcoming weeks. When I asked what he was talking about, he mentioned how my employer paid out your vacation time but didn’t pay out your sick time. So once again, he was so sad about my multiple upcoming illnesses.

      Sure enough, he was exactly right about those sudden, unexplained rapidly onset colds and upset stomachs. It was the oddest thing.

    2. JeanneM*

      I had one year where I didn’t keep track of my PTO very well and ran out of everything but sick time time in September. In October I was running in a marathon in another state, and really needed a day off for travel. My supervisor said something along the lines of, “Well it seems to me that if you’re running your first marathon you’ll need to see a doctor first.” So I took a sick day. She was normally pretty rigid about proper PTO usage but she understood how important the marathon was to me, so she made an exception. She was a great supervisor.

    3. A Simple Narwhal*

      At Oldjob, they also did a monthly accrual of vacation time. When I was hired, they wanted me to start in the middle of a pre-planned vacation. I told them about the vacation and asked to push the date out – they wanted me in sooner so I ended up working for two days and then taking a week long vacation. I assumed it was going to be unpaid but to my surprise they allowed me to borrow against my future accrual.

      When I ended up leaving that job I still owed a few days of vacation (years later, different vacation!) I hadn’t accrued yet and they took it out of my final paycheck.

      It’s pretty standard, and it would be really lousy to not let you ever take vacation in the beginning of the year just because they work off of an accrual system.

    4. Not a dr*

      In my first year at new job they let me take time without pay! Not feasible for everyone. :) But it worked for me. So that may still be an option if extra paid time off is not available.

  5. Gaia*

    OP 4, I’ve worked at companies that do both: some allowed us to borrow against unaccrued PTO and some that never allow any negative PTO. The latter, however, have always allowed us to rollover at least some PTO. I’m sure that isn’t true everywhere, but not allowing borrowed PTO and not allowing rollover means time off of any significant length wouldn’t be allowed in the first few months each year. That would really irk me.

    1. Lyonite*

      Plus, it wouldn’t be a great thing for the workplace, since it would mean everyone would be forced to take their vacations late in the year instead of spreading them out. If this is going to be the policy, then I think they’re going to have to have some ways to be flexible.

      1. #4 OP*

        Thanks for this comment, I neve considered the fact that no flexibility would lead to way more overlap of when people are taking their vacations.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        That’s what I was thinking, unless they happen to have seasonal business where for some reason everyone is busier in the first half of the year, it would definitely be in their best interest to let some employees take vacation time before it’s been fully accrued.

        Plus: I think, again aside from possible “busy season” issues, someone would have to be a real jerk to tell you you can’t have your wedding in April because you don’t accrue seven days of PTO until June or whatever.

        But definitely tell them ASAP! I agree that sometimes giving super advanced notice of vacation feels weird but for a wedding I think it’s not weird at all to tell your boss you guys have set a date and you just wanted to let her know and make sure she didn’t foresee any issues.

      3. Anonymous Hippo*

        My old job didn’t roll over, you just lost your vacation. February tended to be a dead month because of it (Mar-Feb fiscal year).

    2. Beth Jacobs*

      Yes! I understand that no company will stay in business by letting employees take off the whole of January paid and then quitting, but there has got to be a middle ground. There so many reasons to take time off at the beginning of the year: Chinese New Year, skiing, as well as the usual family circumstances than can happen anytime (births, illnesses and deaths).

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Where I work, you can totally take time off that you haven’t yet accrued. If you then leave, they simply deduct that from your severance pay or last pay cheque.

    3. Bagpuss*

      OP, I am not sure where you live – or how long you have been in the current job but it may be worth double-checking whether the rules are any different in your probationary period.

      Where I am, people are entitled to a certain amount of annual leave by law, and you can’t legally roll it over into the following year (presumably to protect employees from being forced to do so and effectively prevented from using it) except in very specific circumstances ( e.g. when on maternity or long term sick leave and therefore accruing leave you can’t take) .
      Although people accrue leave as they go along you can normally use it before it has been accrued, on the basis that if you were to leave part way through a year you would either be paid for any leave accrued but not taken (or required to use it during your notice period) or have your final pay adjusted to allow for any leave taken but not yet accrued.
      It is legal here to require someone to accrue the leave before taking it but only in the first year of employment – is it possible that your employer has a similar rule or that they apply the official rule more strictly to people at the start of their employment?

      I think most employers have a degree of discretion / flexibility and for a life event like a wedding may well be willing to be more flexible than in other circumstances, especially if you give plenty of notice.
      If you ask about it now,you could ask about whether they would ether allow you to carry forward part of this year’s allowance (assuming local law doesn’t prohibit this) or ‘borrow’ some of next year’s.

      1. Marie D*

        What country or US state do you live? Can’t imagine that type of law where I live – Midwest state in the USA.

        1. SarahKay*

          I can’t speak for Bagpuss, but what they described sounds very like the system for me in the UK.
          The other exception is that as our company gives us more than the legal minimum of 28 days (20 vacation plus 8 public holidays), we are legally allowed to carryover the days above that minimum. (That said, my company strongly discourages us from doing so, as they don’t want the financial liability in the next year.) Otherwise, the company – not the employee – is breaking the law if the employee doesn’t take the minimum vacation.

          1. Bagpuss*

            Yes, same here. We give 25 days plus bank holidays, so 33 in total. Our normal *policy*is that you can’t carry any over but we can be flexible with the non-statutory leave

          2. UKDancer*

            Yes my company is very similar. We receive more than the minimum and can carry over a certain number of days if we provide a reason for doing so. We are encouraged to take the leave within our leave years to avoid people carrying vast numbers of days over.

            I think this is common in a lot of UK companies.

        2. Bagpuss*

          England – OP said that the arrangement about not carrying over was common where she was so I wasn’t sure if she was in the US or not.

      2. #4 OP*

        I live in Canada and my probationary period was only the first 3 months, after which I could use vacation days (but I only get 10 days until I hit the year of my 2nd anniversary, then it goes up to 15

      3. PollyQ*

        These are all literally foreign concepts in the US. There’s no legal probationary period or mandated leave. Some states require companies to pay out accrued vacation when the employee leaves a job, but that’s pretty much it.

    4. SweetestCin*

      I’ve found that employers who don’t permit rollover, don’t permit borrowing, and make you earn your time, are typically the same employers who screech that “we can’t have EVERYONE off the last two weeks of December!!!!”.

      Well, if its use it or lose it, and I have to earn it before I can use it, I’m pretty sure the entire office is going to be off the last X weeks (however many weeks each employee gets) of the year. That’s kind of how math works.

      Yes, I have left places over this.

      1. pbnj*

        This cracked me up, as it hits close to home. My employer just switched to a policy similar to OP’s, and yes, they are already saying they can’t have everyone off over Christmas holidays. And of course many departments don’t really need that level of staffing for the holidays. They’re justifying it as business might recover from covid, and they need all hands on deck. My workload isn’t impacted by how much business we’re doing. SIGH.

        1. SweetestCin*

          Granted, it was pre-Covid days, but also in an industry that short of emergency calls, there is no activity that requires office support for the field, save a few highly planned shutdown projects that are planned six months ahead, during the last two weeks of December. (30 years of data here…)

          We all kind of looked at the VP who was in from out of town and asked “um…why?”

          1. pbnj*

            Mine is similar. I imagine people will start moving on to new companies once things get more “normal” again. We’ve got some hard-headed managers who are eternally loyal to the company, so it’s hard to get through to them. I’ve got side-eye for them coming out with these restrictive policies during the middle of Covid when people are less likely to jump ship.

      2. Gaia*

        Oh, interesting! I’ve always found they do one or the other (or have just generally really crap leave policies or none at all). I would completely turn down a job over a policy like this, or leave if it was changed after I started.

        Some companies are just terrible. The reality is they don’t want you to use it at all and will find a million ways to make it more difficult.

    5. Richard Hershberger*

      Furthermore, if by “PTO” we mean an omnibus category of days off for any reason, no one having PTO in January is a sure way to have the flu run through the office.

    6. Quinalla*

      Places I’ve worked have always allowed to borrow from the same year’s future PTO, but all the places I’ve worked have also not allowed any rollover PTO (except when approved – typically only for weddings or rare, important events). I do think you should just ask now about it as most of the time even if it isn’t general policy, exceptions are generally allowed for that sort of thing.

    7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      This is what I came here to say. My employer’s policy is strictly “use it or lose it”, but all of our PTO for the year is available for us to use at the beginning of that year. If they made is wait until we’ve accrued, but then had all our leftover accrued PTO vanish at the end of a year, to me it’d look like they’re trying to trap us into not using up all of our PTO. (And if everyone’s PTO rolls over on the same day, then, to Gaia’s point, it’s effectively a companywide vacation freeze.) I don’t think people would be happy with that policy and I expect there’d be a good deal of employee turnover or people turning down job offers because of it.

    8. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah, while I’m sure there’s nothing stopping employers (at least in the US) from having illogical policies on this, everywhere I’ve worked where the vacation time actually accrued proportionally throughout the year, they did allow at least some to rollover. Places that had zero rollover gave everyone their yearly allotment available from the start of the year. It never occurred to me before that an employer would do both zero rollover and needing to wait for it to accrue throughout the year…unless they’re intentionally trying to prevent anyone taking more than a day or two at a time or they want everyone gone in December…. Seems a bad management decision to me.

    9. Colin*

      I would check with your manager, but I think you might be misinterpreting something in the policy. Typically the ‘work until you earn the days’ type of policy is more meant to be for people who are just starting at the company, like yourself, so that they can’t get hired, take PTO, and then quit. But if there is an ‘X days a year, no rollover’ policy, you probably get 12 on January 1st that you can use for the next 12 months. You just need to earn those original 12 days first, but once you’ve done that you should reliably have them at the beginning of every year.

      1. doreen*

        Yes, I’ve heard of companies where you earn one day per month, and they all get credited Jan 1 and expire Dec 31, so that if you get hired July 1 2020 you get six days credited Jan 1,2021 that must be used by Dec 31 2021. So you will have vacation available in January , but depending on when you start, you might go a full year without a vacation. ( I only know of one place that credited all your vacation on your start date). Places where you get credited as you earn the days allow at least some rollover- I’ve never heard of an employer requiring that you either take a day off in December or lose the day you earned in December.

  6. voyager1*

    AAM is right this is all on your boss for making this weird.

    Sometimes people just connect with someone. I have been a star employee under some bosses and not so stellar under others. My present manager only respects hard skills and her favorite employee is not a team player. That is fine when things run smoothly, but when she needs something from others most folks will not jump in to help. That causes her to get frustrated, but she doesn’t have the ability to recognize she is making her own problems by favoring that one employee.

    A manager needs to be able to manage a team but many folks in management really struggle with managing more then one person because it is easier to have that one go to person they trust.

    1. really*

      Sounds like more than one of you is not a team player and perhaps the reason why she favors one over others.

    2. Wired Wolf*

      My first two bosses were wonderful; both myself and one (first AM, then manager) boss were non-neurotypical–so he knew that if he started stressing out about corporate idiocy I’d be there to pick up his slack and communicate everything to the team. That and his ability to identify, respect and work with everyone’s strengths let him manage an entire team smoothly. Under him, I learned a hell of a lot; enough for him to give me a few more responsibilities.

      Responsibilities which have been taken away by the current manager who is as rigid as they come when it comes to tasks (two of the jobs I was doing well can suddenly be only done by Managers–one of those two jobs is not getting done at all). He can’t manage people but can’t admit he can’t.

  7. Barbara Eyiuche*

    #3 Probably she was checking whether you lied or exaggerated on your resume. I list the languages I know on my resume, and sometimes the interviewer will test me. Often the interviewer will also have the idea that you knowing another language might be useful, even if it was not listed in the job ad.

    1. Kiitemso*

      If it’s a tutoring job then it definitely makes sense to test that you can speak something as fluently as you claim.

      I once got tested in my speaking skills in a language I said I was decent in, but not fluent in. Turns out the job required some knowledge of that language in written form because we would process forms submitted by clients in a different country. I thought it was mildly unfair to test spoken skills in a language I would have to be reading – the test is basically for a different, much harder skillset. But perhaps they were really looking for people fluent in that language, no harm no foul, I didn’t get the job.

      1. CatMintCat*

        Testing my speaking skills in my second language for a job that requires literacy in that language would be a disaster. I speak it very well (not fluent) but read and write it at about the level of a 6 year old.

        1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          That’s why, ideally, you use terms like “spoken fluency” to make your limitations/abilities clear on your resume.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        This is why I don’t list my languages on my resume (though they are on my LinkedIn profile, come to think of it) and would avoid applying for jobs that required fluency in another language, even though I’ve previously worked as a translator so we can assume a reasonable aptitude.

      3. Koala dreams*

        Yes, speaking and reading are different skills so that test wouldn’t be useful. One could be fluent in speaking and illiterate, or the other way around. I wouldn’t say one is inherently more difficult than the other, just that it’s common to end up with different skills depending on your situation.

        1. Kiitemso*

          Just speaking from experience, I find it’s easier to passively know vocabulary (“I know it when I see it”) than use it spontaneously when producing the language (ie “I can use it and know what it means”). But yeah, for some people speaking may be easier because that’s how they learned the language, and didn’t focus on reading/writing.

          1. Koala dreams*

            It’s common to have bigger passive than active vocabulary, both when it comes to reading and listening. However, the written and spoken skills often are different. If you study a language academically, you probably focus on the written language. If you learn from family and friends you probably focus on the spoken language. The expectations of literacy is very new in many societies, and if you look back in history the majority of native speakers were illiterate. There is also the fact that when you produce sentences yourself, you also set the level. You can choose to use simple language. When reading or listening, you have to deal with unknown vocabulary.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Also those of us with hearing difficulties who definitely find reading easier than listening!

    2. LunaLena*

      “Often the interviewer will also have the idea that you knowing another language might be useful, even if it was not listed in the job ad.”

      This is what I was thinking. I once worked at a tutoring center for high school level math and English, so a second language wasn’t a requirement, nor was it listed in the ad. But it sure came in handy on the rare occasion that we had Korean students and I could talk to their parents in Korean.

    3. Tilly*

      +1 on that last part.

      There may be no existing client who requires a Cantonese-speaking tutor. But totally plausible that they thought it a valuable skill for the job regardless. Maybe even help them attract a future client/s.

      I worked reception for a maths tutoring business for a little while and they would actually put stuff life that in their advertising materials. Like ‘we have tutors proficient in Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, French, etc’. Even if there was only like one.

      We would sometimes have people call and say they saw that we have X language tutors, and then we would try and match them up with the relevant tutor if there was any availability.

      Can be a big draw for customers as many who seek tutoring have English as a second language. And especially Mandarin and Cantonese, considering by far the highest demand, at least where I worked, came from Chinese parents.

    4. Beth Jacobs*

      And if you’re listing fluency, you shouldn’t need any warning: that’s what fluency means. I would like advance warning of an interview in German, which I list as B1, but I have regularly been interviewed in English without prior notice since I list it as near-native.

    5. Jenny*

      I speak Spanish at an intermediate level (not fluent but I practice regularly and have taken classes specifically on using Spanish in my professional field) and I’ve had interviewers switch to Spanish in an interview for a few sentences to see how much I speak. I can imagine for someone who is fluent you might do it for longer.

    6. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      I take a little extra space to indicate how fluent I am in conversation vs reading/writing, and technical vs conversational. You can probably fit it all in on one line in your resume per language.

    7. Database Developer Dude*

      Still, it’s all about whether you’re expected as a part of the job to use foreign language skills. I’m a software and database engineer, working for an American company, in the United States. Unless it’s specifically in the job listing, it doesn’t matter what foreign languages I do or don’t speak, or do or don’t claim.

      I had an interview one time where the interviewer saw my Army service, asked me if I’d done any tours in Germany, and upon responding yes, he switched TO German, even though at the time it wasn’t on my resume that I’m fluent. I asked him, in German, why, and he said it was just a test. I asked him, in German, what it had to do with the job, and he didn’t have a good answer for me. I terminated that interview in a very unprofessional manner, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Make me deliberately uncomfortable, and I’m going to return the favor.

  8. Liz*

    #1, I dealt with being the “Golden Child” of my narcissistic boss too, and it genuinely sucked, I feel your pain. Like Alison advised, I talked up my coworkers a ton. My boss was a crazy person and kind of sucked at her job- we mostly just went with it, but for really important things, I generally was the only person that would meet her head on and call her on her bullshit. We had more than one heated argument (I always tried to stay calm, but she would get so aggressive, I’d end up getting defensive) but we were always “fine” by the next day (whereas I am 100% confident that she would have reprimanded, or fired in one person‘s case, any other employee who would stand up to her). Happily, she is now in my past.

    1. Quinalla*

      Yeah, had a previous boss who played favorites so much. There were two of us that were his favorites for a long time and the only two that could challenge him, then he took a serious liking to a new employee and she was by far his favorite. I could still challenge him, but he would get really angry/grumpy if me or anyone else interrupted their hours long conversations so we could get him to sign something that had to go out that day. Those conversation would be partially work related to be sure, but they also were a lot of personal stuff too. So obnoxious, but yeah, I don’t have to deal with him anymore.

    2. Luke*

      With narcissistic bosses, there’s only so much damage control one can do. One can try to build relationships with coworkers- but be advised the narcissistic boss can undo that goodwill with one syllable. At a previous role I had was the “chosen one” of a narcissistic boss, and I discovered said boss used me as a fulcrum to verbally abuse my coworkers. It happened in a “why can’t your work look like Luke’s/ Luke’s doing X -why aren’t you?” way. I was totally unaware of this until another team member pointed out the dynamic after I left. I can’t blame my former teammates for feeling some resentment when I’m being used as a tool for their detriment.

  9. TK*

    OP 1- Aside from your good work, are there any race/sex/gender factors that might be at play here?

    1. The favored one*

      Very good question, I don’t think that is a factor in this case, but definitely gets me thinking.

      1. Smithy*

        I worked in a place that heavily played favorites – and while the straightest line as to who was/wasn’t a favorite was in regards to people our CEO had worked with in previous jobs and hired personally. It was also a fact that all of those people we also all white. Claims of wage discrimination due to race did ultimately result in payments needing to be made.

        It may very well be that your boss has worked with you longest, and that’s where the favored status comes into play. However, a lot of times these type of “fit” or “we just connect” dynamics can ultimately lead to far more serious disparities.

    2. Mockingjay*

      Eh, sometimes it’s just working styles that mesh.

      I worked for one difficult boss similar to OP 1’s. It took me a few months to figure out how his mind worked. Once I did, I was able to communicate really well and I got a lot of plum assignments because he knew he could trust me to complete them the way he wanted. There was some grumbling about favoritism with my coworkers; I responded by explaining Boss’s preferred work style. I also did what Alison recommended and brought coworkers to his notice.

      He really didn’t play favorites; when the program was winding down I was promptly transferred to another project while he went on to something else.

  10. The Green Lawintern*

    Surprise language changes are THE WORST. I got blindsided by an interview in Japanese once, for a position that was advertised as working with Japanese nationals with language skills as a plus. Turns out they actually wanted someone who could do real-time translation on the factory floor. I was actually fairly decent at speaking Japanese at the time, but the surprise of the sudden shift in language + the VP being present (also was not warned about that) rattled me so badly I could barely even write the alphabet.

    1. MK*

      I don’t know, I get that candidates can get nervous and underperform in an interview, but I think if you say on your resume that you speak a language, you shouldn’t need warning to actually do so, and the same goes for anything that is list as a skill. The fact that they expected a higher fluency level that they advertised and that you mentioned in your resume is a different matter; it would have been fair to point out that your resume lists your language skill as B- and it sounds as if they want someone with A+ fluency.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        A related question because the CEFR scale is only familiar to me from this forum. Where can someone in the US, long out of school, find testing online to evaluate their skills? Online learning and on-the-job conversation with French-speaking co-workers doesn’t get to that level.

        1. Blaise*

          I’m a Spanish teacher- I’m not sure how available these tests are to just like regular people and not teachers purchasing them for students, but both the OPI and the STAMP test do this. The proficiency scale we use in the US is different though- Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, and Superior, and you can be low/mid/high for each of those (except Superior- that one is on its own), so for example someone who has never taken a class or spoken a word of a language would be Novice Low.

      2. Allonge*

        I agree with both your points – if someone does not speak a language well enough to say “actually, my Spanish/French/Pashtu is for basic conversations only”, it should not be on their resume. Being able to say Hi and Thank you is great, but not resume-worthy.

        And yes, simultaneous interpretation is a whole other level (plus, skillset).

        1. MK*

          Unfortunately, many people don’t understand your last point. When it somes to interpreting and translating fluency is just the first step.

        2. blackcat*

          I actually do list my “basic” language skills on my CV, but that’s entirely because my skills are good enough that if I have a non-native English speaker in my classroom, my skills in both French and Spanish are high enough that it helps me teach. I also read at a high level in both, so I can read papers in my field written in those languages.
          I have had the surprise language switch happen on me and I’m okay with it. It makes it clear to someone that I understand these languages and can communicate, but have absolute crap grammar in both. What was actually the worst was when someone switched between the two–I find that *really* hard on my brain to swap between Spanish and French quickly, much harder than switching between either of them and English quickly.

      3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        “if you say on your resume that you speak a language, you shouldn’t need warning to actually do so, and the same goes for anything that is list as a skill”


        1. Zanele Ngwenya*

          Agreed! I always caveat my language skills with how basic they are. If I get a surprise language switch while being interviewed, I will answer accurately at the level I have put on my resume. I have removed languages from my resume when I haven’t spoken them in years, since my fluency has decreased and would not be helpful in a working environment.
          From the interviewer side, I can’t tell you how many job applicants I’ve casually switched languages with after the formal part of the interview, only to find their level severely lower than what they put on the resume, as no one expects anyone interviewing them to speak anything other than Spanish in the USA. I view it more of a litmus test of the candidate’s integrity on their resume, since translation/cross cultural skills are a bonus more than a requirement in my field. Also, if you lived in a country 10+ years and never bothered to learn the language to at least intermediate proficiency, I judge your cross-cultural competence harshly.

      4. Helena1*

        Think it depends a bit on the person – performance anxiety/lack of time for preparation can have a huge impact.

        I remember being asked to give an impromptu presentation on my PhD topic on an entirely unrelated telephone call a few years later, and stumbling not because I don’t know anything about it, but because I was a bit taken aback and it took me time to gather my thoughts. I recovered after a minute or two, but if you were assessing language fluency you might think I wasn’t fluent.

        It always takes me time to get back into a German mindset when I go to a German-speaking country, and I am much more fluent (in terms of thinking in German, and answering spontaneously) after a bit of immersion. I also remember language classes, German and Spanish back to back, and finding it really hard not to answer in the wrong language because my brain hadn’t had a chance to adjust.

        I speak both pretty well (B2/C1 level, not fluency), but if I’m out of practice I may still not be able to answer for a minute or two if I’m put on the spot, because my brain needs time to catch up.

        1. Allonge*

          Look, every good interviewer understands that unexpected (or even to-be-expected) questions may result in a brain freeze due to the general situation. Unless you are interviewing for a multi-lingual spokerperson role, you get to have two minutes while you mentally switch. Also reasonable people who know about learning another language will expect that everyone improves after some immersion.

          I don’t think anyone here recommends that interviewers randomly switch languages without rhyme or reason. I don’t get the sense that happened in OP’s case either, but of course I cannot know.

          But still: if you have foreign languages on your resume, I would suggest that in the interview prep you also take the time to practice at least your basic introduction in those. Because it’s not at all unreasonable for interviewers to try and find out if you actually speak them.

        2. UKDancer*

          Yes, I am very fluent in both French and German but I usually need a few minutes to prepare and get my mind into the correct language groove. If someone started speaking to me in German unexpectedly in the middle of an interview then I’d take a few minutes to work out what’s going on.

          On the other hand when I applied for a job in a French speaking country I was informed that my knowledge of French would be assessed as part of the process so I came ready to make a presentation and answer questions and had to a comprehension exercise.

          I think I’d say if you’re assessing something as part of the recruitment criteria / job requirements that’s one thing but I think it’s less ideal to change language unexpectedly mid interview without warning because it may not be what people expect, especially if it’s not something listed as a requirement on the job specification.

            1. Taniwha Girl*

              Especially if you apply for a job “working with Japanese nationals with language skills as a plus” and put Japanese language skills on your resume. I don’t understand why you’d be surprised that there would be a Japanese portion of that interview, or some kind of assessment.

              Certainly you could still be nervous, but I wouldn’t apply to a teapot pouring job and list teapot pouring experience on my resume and then be surprised if they ask me to pour tea in the interview.

        3. Kiki*

          Yeah, I’m someone who doesn’t do well with just about anything that’s a “surprise” or puts me on the spot. And there are totally some jobs that would disqualify me for, like doing immediately translations between two languages, as someone mentioned above. But I am fluent in a few different languages, it just takes my mind a beat to clarify “Oh, this sentence was in X, not gibberish Y.”

      5. B.*

        Eh I’m that position I’d like at least a sentence or the leeway to have an adjustment period. I’m not fluent, but my brain seizes up and doesn’t comprehend even stuff I’d otherwise understand when I was expecting English. I’m not sure it would be different if I were fluent, because it’s not really about whether I should understand it or having the time to study or anything, but “wait that want English what did you say again?” And then it was so basic that you’re embarrassed which shakes you up further.
        Maybe if you’re at the point and use it often enough that you engage in code switching regularly but I imagine there are enough otherwise fluent people who can’t. Even being able to translate real time isn’t quite the same, though maybe TGL want fluent enough for them, but it’s been said that you shouldn’t need warning elsewhere in this thread too where that wasnt a factor, and I generally agree if it’s warning as in knowing before the interview, but if it’s just “I’m going to speak in another language now” or understanding when your brain takes a minute to catch up That’s more understandable to me.

        1. TL -*

          If it makes you feel better, I had a friend who struggled with language transitions, including to his native language! If I was speaking in English and then randomly switched to Spanish (his native language), he would always get confused.

          One memorable time, he asked me what tamale meant because I used it when speaking English and his brain processed it as an English word he didn’t know rather than a Spanish one he did.

      6. Threeve*

        Many bilingual people are completely fluent, but have difficulty pivoting on a dime between two languages.

        I have a friend who transitions from English to Spanish and vice versa by sort of mentally blending the rules of the two for a while, and he switches for vocabulary faster than he does grammar. For a while, he might say “shelf for books” instead of “bookshelf” in English, but it doesn’t reflect his actual fluency.

        1. Lora*


          I speak pretty well in a couple of other languages – but cannot pivot on a dime to save my life. Heck, I don’t even do well in my FIRST language with unexpected surprise questions in any format, let alone job interviews! I have to study quite a bit to anticipate questions and come up with decent answers. You can stick me on a plane to countries where those languages are spoken and after hearing the flight attendant go through the safety announcement in one of the other languages I speak, it’s fine and I’m back on track. I’m really only bad at technical language, which is always quite different.

          For the first 15 -20 minutes or so of any change in a conversation though, you’re getting Franglais or Spanglish.

          1. pieska boryska*

            Being able to pivot on a dime is a very valuable skill and it’s totally legit to test for it. Maybe speaking Cantonese is only helpful on the job if you can jump right into it to explain something and immediately switch back to continue the lesson.

            1. Pommette!*

              It can certainly be a valuable skill, but it’s one that could be difficult to accurately assess in an the context of an interview.
              For me, at least, pivoting comes naturally in bi- and multi-lingual situations (including at work – it’s a requirement of my current job, and one of the things that I enjoy about it)… but put me somewhere where the expectation is for formal and English-only speech, and I will freeze when my interlocutor switches languages.
              I suspect that it’s a common-enough mental block, especially for English as an additional language speakers who live in English-dominant environments, and who have had to train ourselves not to code-switch at school and work.

        2. Pommette!*

          True! I’m bilingual, and can and regularly do pivot on a dime (or mix the languages up) when speaking with friends and family. I’ve worked in bilingual environments with no difficulty.
          In spite of this, I often get tripped up when someone switches languages in a situation where switching is not expected. It’s as if, by not listening for it, I’ve made myself unable to process the language. Add the stress and formality of an interview (where I’m desperately focused on making sure that I hear and respond to every part of what the interviewer has to say), and I would probably take even longer to make sense of what was happening.

          1. UKDancer*

            I think this is it definitely. If I’m going into a meeting in other languages I’m ready for it. Even if I’m going for an interview and I’ve been told that part of the interview will be in French that I can also handle. Someone unexpectedly in an interview starting to speak French at me will cause me to fall over myself as I try and work out what’s happening and remember what comes next. This is especially the case if it’s not one of the requirements for the job. I mean I usually put my languages on my CV but I’ve never had someone just decide to start speaking French or German at me.

            When I’ve gone for jobs with a language requirement assessed at interview there’s been some preparatory statement “I am going to ask you some questions in French” which allows me to think “OK this next bit is going to be French, engage French mode.” More usually there’s some form of written or comprehension test as part of the process.

      7. The Green Lawintern*

        To your last point – that’s exactly what I did. I put myself down as “Intermediate” skill on my resume, and I did manage to answer most of the questions I was asked during the interview in Japanese, but it was all done in very casual language that would not have flown in a more formal office environment. I ended up panicking internally (this was one of my first professional interviews ever) and by the end of it my hands were trembling…which also did not help with writing Japanese.

      8. Database Developer Dude*

        That’s IF language has anything to do with the job. I had an interview one time where my language skill wasn’t even listed, but my Army service was (Active 1989-2001), and the interviewer asked me if I did any time in Germany. When I responded in the affirmative, he switched into German, and I terminated the interview, telling him in grammatically perfect German what he could do with his attitude when he didn’t have a good answer for why he switched into German.

    2. GermanCoffeeGirl*

      I think it depends on the job you’re interviewing for. I used to conduct interviews for legal assistant/secretary positions in an international law firm in Germany – the main language used was German (although depending on the department it could have been a mainly English speaking position), but every EA/PA had to have a high proficiency in English, since all departments dealt with international clients and it was expected that you could cover for absences in other departments (like reception) – in English or German.

      We often had people list that they were fluent in English on their CVs, but it often turned out that they weren’t fluent or their level of English wasn’t up to our standard. So when I was going through their resume with them during the interview I’d switch from German to English, saying something along the lines of “I see here that you state that you’re fluent in English. Would you mind telling me about your last vacation/your favorite travel destination/the last book you read/favorite TV show?”. Since it was expected that all EAs should be able to switch from German to English instantly, this wasn’t that far of a stretch and it was important to me to see how fast they could adjust and what level of English they spoke (factoring in the weird interview situation and nervousness, of course!).

      But in general, I agree with the other commenters here – if you don’t feel secure with your skill, either don’t list it or note what your skill level is.

    3. Nanani*


      Simultaneous interpretation is a specialised skill, not something you can throw at even native-bilingual speakers at random.

    4. Koala dreams*

      How annoying! Interpretation and translation are quite different skills compared to just holding a conversation. I don’t like translation exercises much when studying a language, and a surprise test would go badly for me. I would be disappointed in your shoes.

      To be expected to hold a conversation or part of the interview in the other language would be quite normal, I think. Handwriting is less reasonable.

  11. Kevin Sours*

    As far as I’m concerned, if you list it on your resume it’s fair game to ask about.

    1. Batty Twerp*

      Depends which round of interviews it’s for. My CV lists SQL – ask me about it, sure, but it would be a bit much to expect me to build a dataset, queries and a report in a first interview.
      Now fair enough, languages are a but different, but there’s still a difference between “ask about” and “be detailed tested on” in an interview.

      1. Drag0nfly*

        Your point about SQL is fair enough, but language really isn’t the same thing. If you’re fluent in a language, you should be able to hold a conversation in it without warning. It’s not the same as “detailed test.”

        I’m with Kevin, I don’t see any reason to put “I speak Jive” on a resume unless you’re prepared to actually speak Jive in the moment. Was OP expecting the company to just take her word for it? Why would they? There’s no real reason for OP to be thrown off by her interviewer’s language switch.

        1. Hapax Legomenon*

          Maybe it just doesn’t happen that often, despite always being in OP’s resume. It does seem odd to switch without an explanation of why, but that could be another level of testing the language skills–can you maintain fluency even if you’re surprised or confused by something else? I wouldn’t enjoy such a surprise, but I could see the reasoning.

        2. MK*

          Sounds as if she was surprised because the job hadn’t anything to do with speaking a foreign language. And while it’s true that it’s not odd to ask about anything that is actually on the candidate’s resume, if it’s a thing that has nothing to do with the job, I would also be thrown about it, as in “Shouldn’t this person be interviewing me about the job I applied for instead of weirdly focusing on a basically irrelevant skill I have?”.

          1. Myrin*

            Yeah, as an interviewer, I would expect a candidate claiming fluency to be able to have a conversation with me in said language at the drop of a hat (which the OP was!), but I wouldn’t initiate such a conversation to begin with if there was no relevance to it.

            1. Allonge*

              If the interviewer speaks the language too, it’s an excellent and easy test of general truthfulness of the resume, even if not obviously super relevant to the job. Fluent, you say? It should not be a problem to switch then (as you say).

              Why put a basically irrelevant skill on the resume at all though? Especially together with a strong claim (fluency is difficult!), it’s bound to catch the attention of the interviewer.

              1. Junger*

                It wasn’t directly relevant, but it did show a broader language skillset. And it’s often uaeful for an organization to have people who can speak in various languages.

                But it wasn’t required for the job she applied for, so extensive testing like that seems a bit strange to me.

                1. doreen*

                  There are lots of job where additional languages are relevant but not required – there are lots of signs in my area listing various languages spoken. Everywhere from doctor’s offices to insurance agencies to hair salons to pharmacies. My husband is in outside sales- he speaks Cantonese fluently and gets by in Toisan and Mandarin and that means his company has locked up many of the non-English speaking Chinese customers in the area but his fluency wasn’t even known was he was hired so it certainly wasn’t a factor.

                2. Allonge*

                  I don’t know if I would consider this extensive testing – where you went to school, write your name are for me fairly basic questions you should know the answer to in any language you claim fluency in, with or without warning.

                  If the questions turned to something super technical, I think it would have been fair to say that OP works in English and does not have the vocabulary for that – but even this explanation should come easily in a fluent language.

              2. MK*

                It’s actually a lousy test of the truthfulness of the resume, because most people aren’t lying, they are just bad at determining their own fluency.

                “Basically irrelevant” was probably poor word choice on my part. Languages always belong in a resume, I think, because they might always be a useful “optional-extra” that might not be mentioned in a one-paragraph job ad. But it doesn’t make sense to focus the limited interview time on something that wasn’t important enough to make the job description.

                1. Allonge*

                  Fair – truthfulness may not have been the best word choice either. I was not thinking of using this as foolproof lie detection.

                  The whole resume is, in a way, self-assessment though, so I still think it’s not a bad idea to go for these kinds of tests. Don’t managers try to test as much as possible anyway in an interview?

                  And, ok, where I work now, we cannot easily go on these tangents as we have strict rules of asking the same questions to all candidates, so I could not do it.

                  But if a hiring manager can see an added value in the language skills of an applicant, why not go and ask two questions to make sure if this is actually a working level of knowledge? As I write above, to me this is not excessive testing, not a waste of time if there is a possibility for something really good. It’s what, ten minutes extra? Not a bad investment in something that could make a new hire extraordinary instead of well suited for a job.

                2. Annony*

                  Sometimes they don’t know they want something until they see it on a resume. The whole reason behind having these “optional extras” on your resume is to tip the scale in your favor. If they see something on your resume that is particularly appealing, I don’t see a problem with a skills test. If you don’t want to be tested on something, leave it off.

          2. Kevin Sours*

            It speaks to your candor. If the skill is so irrelevant that it’s not fair to poke at then don’t put it on your resume. While self assessment can vary, that can be addressed in the moment. “I’m sorry what I mean by fluent is x and I’m not prepared to do the interview in that language” is a response I’d take at face value if it wasn’t totally absurd (if you claim to be fluent you should at least be able to beg off holding the interview in that language).

            And yes, I’ve caught people out putting exaggerated qualifications on their resume that they clearly didn’t expect to be called out on because it wasn’t directly relevant to the job.

      2. Andy*

        I would expect you to be able to build all that on first interview, but allowed you to Google.

        If you can’t build queries and dataset, then you don’t know sql.

        1. Batty Twerp*

          Actually in a first interview though? I wouldn’t expect to be handed a laptop in the middle of an interview and told to write a query. But we don’t do phone interviews (yeah, how would you write SQL over the phone!) so I’m probably conflating what we would do for a first interview with what other people do in a phone/initial interview. I’d expect once the pool has been narrowed to be more tested.
          But really, all I was doing was pointing out that there is a difference between being asked about and being tested, and it was a sweeping statement that irked me first thing this morning (sorry Kevin).

          1. Kevin Sours*

            When I interview you, you are going to write code. Not for a phone screen. But that doesn’t always happen. So, yes, I’ve absolutely had people write SQL at the first interview. If you bill yourself as an expert in SQL you should be able to do it. I’m not expecting you to toss off a weeks worth to database analysis in 20 minutes or anything like that.

          2. Database Developer Dude*

            I’m a software and database engineer. I will walk into an interview expecting to be expected to write a SQL query, and disappointed if I’m not. I won’t expect to be drilled in any of the four foreign languages I speak….as a software and database engineer working for an American company in the United States, my foreign language skills have nothing to do with my job.

        2. CRM*

          I once had “SQL” listed as one of the skills on my resume. In a previous job I frequently had to adapt and run SQL queries, and I understood basic concepts such as the difference between an inner and outer join, so I figured that I had enough exposure. I never applied for jobs that specifically required any kind of SQL proficiency, so having SQL listed would only be a bonus (one that I hoped would make my resume stand out).

          Then I was asked to do a basic SQL assessment during a job interview. The job description didn’t mention SQL as requirement, but it was a skill they were screening for. I quickly realized that reading and editing code is much different than writing code from scratch. I was extremely embarrassed to discover that I couldn’t get the syntax correct for the few simple queries they requested, despite understanding what they were asking for. I never heard back from that employer and likely burned that bridge. I immediately removed SQL from my resume. From now on, the only skills listed are the ones that I can confidently vouch for.

    2. Forrest*

      “Fluency” is a fairly broad concept, though, and it’s not unusual for people to be fluent in a language in one context (say, at home or in social settings) but unable to work in it, especially if they’re in a field with specialised or technical vocabulary. I generally recommend that people specify whether they’d be comfortable working in that language, and I would only really expect people to be able to interview in it if they had been warned to expect it and it was a key part of the job requirements.

      (That said, it does sound like this interviewer kept the level of questioning in Cantonese at a fairly superficial level—whereas springing, “tell me about your achievements” in an unexpected language would be a great way to get a bad interview out of a well-prepared, well-qualified and fully bilingual candidate.)

      1. MK*

        Unfortunately, fluency is not very easy to self-determine. The EU has an official “grade” system about it, with short descriptions about how fluent you are based on several factors (like “Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.”) and it’s not a given that you can classify yourself accurately. How flexible must you be? When they say social, do they mean superficial greetings or an actual conversation? etc.

          1. UKDancer*

            Definitely. I use the EU grades for my language skills. It’s not a perfect system but it works to give an indication.

            If you want something more specific then you need to indicate you want a qualification.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yes. On a CV, I take “fluency” to mean the person can perform their job proficiently in that language. So a switchboard operator doesn’t need to be able to say much more than “Hold on please” and “Sorry she’s out of the office” and “Could you call back tomorrow please?” but an assistant would need a better grasp of the language.
        I used to teach English as a foreign language for various lines of business, and I could get switchboard operators up to speed in just 20 hours, they loved it!
        At the translation agency though, nobody would ever admit to fluency in any but their native tongue.

        1. Allonge*

          That’s interesting – I wonder if this is a cultural divide or something like it, but coming from Europe, if I see fluent, I definitely expect more than a few phrases that are needed for a specific job. So for your switchboard operator example, I would put it (and expect to see it) as language skills adequate for specific job, and not fluent. So it’s a bit less contextual than that, for me.

          1. Tau*

            And this may be more contentious, but I think you can be fluent in a language without necessarily being able to do your job in it. I work in English to the point where I had to switch away from my native German in an interview because I didn’t know any of the technical vocabulary I needed, but claiming I wasn’t fluent in my own native language would be bizarre.

            1. Metadata minion*

              Yeah, I’m in one of the rare fields where knowing random bits of a language is actually useful (library cataloging), and I’m fluent-but-rusty in German. But we had a book of German sheet music to catalog and I realized that while I’m pretty confident in regular day-to-day German, I don’t know *music* German and that’s not necessarily something where I can trust Google Translate to jog my memory.

            2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              I think that by “fluent” you mean “able to converse easily”. Doing a job very often requires knowing jargon too.

            3. Forrest*

              My partner teaches languages at university and they don’t use “fluency” or “native speaker” for exactly this reason. Plenty of people can’t operate in a professional setting in the language they learned from their parents: some of those people can operate very comfortably in a professional setting in their second or an additional language.

              I find it fascinating that people will recognise that professional communication in their first language is a learned skill, and that not everyone who speaks English can sell something, or write a contract , or produce copy suitable for publication, or pitch a business idea, or all of the other thousand things that we recognise as specific skills, but there’s an assumption that if you can he do that in your L1 you must be able to do it all in your L2. The more specialised your job is and the more important communication is, the less likely it is that you can just pick up and do it in another language!

          2. Helena1*

            I think it may be cultural – I use another US forum and have seen people there claim to be “fluent” in 10+ languages, and say that most people should be able to gain fluency in just a week or two of study. Whereas I have studied European languages for years, and lived overseas, and wouldn’t say I was “truly” fluent in anything other than English – I can read a newspaper, watch a film, and when I am in practice (which I am not right now), I can talk about the technical aspects of my job. But I am definitely not fluent as in “indistinguishable from a native speaker”.

            My son has been in an immersion kindergarten for two years, and he isn’t fluent either! Definitely happier speaking his first language, though his receptive fluency is great.

            1. Allonge*

              I think “indistinguishable from a native speaker” is a standard too far in the other direction though – for me, the C1 level in the EU system is “you are not a native speaker but it does not matter for the overwhelming majority of things” = very fluent indeed.

              But yes, using a language app for a month is not fluent either! I can see though that this is easier to determine if you live in a place where travelling for, like, 3 hours in any direction takes you to a country with a different language.

              1. blackcat*

                Yep. I have lots of colleagues who I’d describe as fully fluent in English, but still struggle with some idioms. But their struggles are often on par with those who know a different dialect of English, so it would be unfair to not describe them as fluent.

                1. I can only speak Japanese*

                  Even in my native language, I have no idea what “kids these days” mean when they talk. My grandma knows even less, but she is still a native speaker. In my second or third language, I sometimes ask native speakers about slang I hear and they just give me blank faces. Languages is hard, man.

                2. UKDancer*

                  Idioms are, I think, the hardest things to learn and come last. My German is good but I don’t know all of the modern idioms because they’re not something you usually study, there something you pick up over time and by exposure. My French is slightly more idiomatic because I tend to ready French magazines more than I do German ones and I lived in a French speaking country quite recently.

              2. I can only speak Japanese*

                This is why I like the term “professional fluency”. To me it means “I can do my job in this language”, it doesn’t mean “I sound like a native speaker or make zero mistakes” and heck, native speakers make tons of mistakes!

                1. Helena1*

                  Depends a bit your job – I can and have done bar work and basic office work in German, but no way would I try to tell somebody they have cancer (I’m a physician) – I just don’t have the grasp of subtext and nuance, or ability to pick up on unspoken cues to do it sensitively.

                  One of my (lovely, empathic) French-speaking colleagues recently put in writing that a patient was “travelling overseas with her husband’s corpse” – direct translation, sounded hideously crass and no native speaker would ever have phrased it like that.

                  It’s that kind of difference I am talking about. I wouldn’t say I was truly fluent until I was confident I wasn’t making errors like that.

                2. I can only speak Japanese*

                  Helena1, I would assume professional fluency for an office job to be different from professsional fluency for a doctor anyway.

              3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                I agree – “fluent” is distinct from “native” even though you might not be able to tell the difference when speaking to them.

            2. Reba*

              Wow, those people who are “fluent” in every language supported by DuoLingo are not representative of a wider US concept of what fluency is.

              But yeah, lots of people overestimate their abilities or are arrogant in general :)

            3. Annony*

              I don’t think it is US culture so much as the Dunning-Kruger effect and an online platform to spread their own ignorance. If they haven’t actually had to use the language in an immersive context, they probably don’t realize how much they do not know about the language and their ability to converse in it. Instead they are doing things like watching movies in other languages and thinking that is the same as fluency. This is reinforced by the echo chamber that is the Internet forum you saw. It is easy to consider yourself an expert if you never have to do something challenging with the skill. It would be like me saying that I can cook well. I can at home, but put me in a restaurant kitchen and things will not go well. I’m not lying about my skill level but context is important.

            4. Koala dreams*

              Fluent is such a wide term. When I went to school, fluency was part of your grade, but it wasn’t about skill level (beginner, intermediate, advanced), it was about how well you could use the skills you had. Would you put on a brave face and keep going or shut down when encountering unknown things? Outside of school, mostly it seems to refer to the skill level expected of an educated native speaker. I wouldn’t care about the indistinguishable part, one can have great skills yet have an accent for example. Most people aren’t that good at judging language skills, especially if they don’t know other languages themselves, so they get stuck on small details that don’t represent the total skill level.

              1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

                At a certain point when learning Mandarin (I’m a native English speaker) I felt I was fluent like a small child – the language flowed, I was not translating in my head but processing in Chinese, and I was sometimes dreaming in the language. It was fluent in that sense of flow. No hesitation in my mind (for simple things).

                But not meaningfully fluent for work or adult life.

                1. Koala dreams*

                  That’s so true. The language expected of children and adults is different, even before you come to the professional vocabulary. People often say children learn faster than adults, but children don’t need to know adult language.

          3. UKDancer*

            Yes. I take fluent to mean able to hold a conversation with a level of depth and complexity.

            So for example I had a fairly detailed conversation with a German friend last week about the evolution of feminism in Germany and England and the impact on the status of women. This was fairly unstructured and mainly in German. My German is fluent so I understood about 98% of what she was saying.

            The switchboard example I would consider “functional” rather than fluent in that you can say certain phrases in another language.

    3. Mike S*

      Absolutely. Anything on your resume’s fair game. I’ve seen a lot of resumes where people write about interesting projects that they worked on, and when I ask what they did, the answer was that they wrote reports. Even worse are the ones who have no idea what the project involves.
      If it’s on your resume, then you’re listing it as a reason that you should be hired. So, I get to question you about it.

  12. Brian*

    The interviewer might of seen the opportunity to add someone with a second language proficiency to the team although they did not post it in the job description. I have worked with many a person claimed to be fluent in Spanish and can barely say hi bye. Its frustrating because i get stuck doing their work if I’m out in the field with them as consumers would be impacted. At a previous job i did refuse to serve as translator for the person they hired to lied about their Spanish Proficiency as it was unfair I have a working knowledge of french but opt to not put it on my resume because I don’t want misrepresent my abilities.

    1. Tau*

      Wow! Is it not typical in the US to put the level of language skill (CEFR scale or whatever) on your resume? Or were these people ignorant enough they thought knowing “buenos dias” was fluency? I can manage in Spanish fairly well as long as the people I’m speaking to are willing to be patient with me, but I’d be cautious about claiming even intermediate level on my CV – fluency is still light years away.

      And I do think that if you claim actual fluency you should be prepared for the interview to happen in either language, excepting things like technical vocabulary you only know in one of them and the like.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        I think it’s pretty common for someone who only speaks one language fluently to genuinely not realize the difference between knowing enough Spanish to order in a restaurant and ask directions, and being genuinely fluent.

        1. Nanani*

          Also true on the hiring side. Someone who has never been fluent in a second language legit doesn’t know the difference. They can’t tell if the liar would be completely incomprehensible to a monolingual speaker of the other language.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        US native here. I knew my language skill when i went to college. But unless we majored in a language, evaluation was limited to our course grades.
        As an adult I have begun to study on my own because a small part of my job involves working with translators. I know I have rebuilt much of what I lost to time, and I’ve learned industry-specific vocabulary, but I have been stumped how to identify my level of skill. (Which is why I asked above about CEFR testing, when Beth Jacobs mentioned her level. It would make a good Friday open forum discussion.)

        1. anonymous 5*

          I think you mentioned French upthread, so I’m not sure what the equivalent is, but for German you could do a Goethe-Zertifikat exam, TestDAF or (crap, now I’m blanking on the third…). At the moment, I think Goethe is even letting people take their online placement exam for free, for anyone curious! I assume there’s an equivalent for French. You’d have to find a testing site; and the exams aren’t free. BUT if I were putting a resume together at the moment, I could just list my language level according to the highest level of exam I’ve passed.

        2. Allonge*

          If you search for “Alliance Francaise test de placement”, there are some fairly extensive tests online (they measure stuff except for speaking skills).

      3. Blaise*

        People who majored or minored in a language in college should have a scale to put on their resume (it’s the ACTFL scale for us though). I don’t think anyone else would ever really take those tests though, so they wouldn’t have an official level to list, just their own self-assessment.

        1. Tau*

          Interesting – the CEFR is everywhere in Europe, enough that I had to replace “I speak Spanish at around B1 level” by a descriptor. I’m considering taking the B2 exam once I get that far just for my own benefit and to have the certificate, and I know there are others who take them outside the academic context.

          I note that I’m not sure claiming a language will be taken seriously in Europe unless you have either a certificate or clear evidence of proficiency in your CV (if you went to university in England, probably no one’s going to ask you for your TOEFL). That may be a difference.

          1. Blaise*

            Whoops, my comment didn’t post as a reply to you for some reason… here it is again lol:

            I should note that the TOEFL is huge here- non-native English speakers would have test results. It’s other languages that aren’t ever tested outside of school.

            It’s also interesting the way your tests seem to be- you have to take a separate test for each level? So like, “I passed the B2 exam” rather than “I got a score of B2 on the X Exam”? We don’t have anything like that here- everyone takes the same test and their score is their proficiency level.

    2. Drag0nfly*

      Were any of your coworkers named Peggy Hill? Hank Hill’s wife on “King of the Hill” claimed to speak Spanish well enough to be a substitute teacher, but several hilarious episodes made it clear that her proficiency was just barely at the level of “See Spot. See Spot run.”

      I “learned” Spanish and French in school, but it would never cross my mind to put those on a resume. I just barely managed the first few pages of Harry Potter in Spanish, and I can’t watch a telenovela without subtitles. If someone claimed fluency on a resume, I would make a point of having them prove it in the interview. It’s a quick and easy way to weed out frauds, idiots, and Peggy Hills.

      1. Hapax Legomenon*

        Remember the episode where she accidentally kidnapped a child from Mexico after they went on a field trip? That one cracks me up every time, and perfectly shows off her “fluency.”

        I have picked up some German and would never call myself fluent, but I do put “rudimentary German” on my resume when it would be handy, and I’m up-front about my level of understanding. You can’t call on me to translate a contract, but I can convey basic information if there’s no one who actually speaks German and English. (Most places I’d leave it off completely, but even the little bit I know is handy in my community–I am just slightly more convenient than Google Translate.)

        1. Drag0nfly*

          I was especially thinking of the kidnapping episode! That was hilarious!

          I’m the same as you, in that if I ever had a reason to list languages on a resume, I wouldn’t class myself above “rudimentary” either. At this point I’m rusty enough that I don’t think I could do more than give traffic directions to lost tourists. And I rarely encounter even those since I left city life behind ages ago.

      2. PhyllisB*

        Dragonfly, seeing your comment about subtitles reminded me of something. My Sunday School teacher is German. She and her husband were watching an old movie on TV that was made in German, but had English subtitles. She said she had to get up and leave the room because what they were saying and what the subtitles were saying was so different.

      3. TexasTeacher*

        Our household’s most often used quote from that she: “The Spanish they speak is different, Peggy. It’s…. fluent.”

    3. Jenny*

      My job has no foreign language requirements and we actually have a translation office but they are backed up. Someone who can speak Mandarin, for instance, is a HUGE plus. I speak Spanish at an intermediate level but have had conversations with a fluent coworker on connotations and idioms. Stuff that as a non fluent speaker I am very deficient on.

  13. Happy Little Cucumber*

    I once had an interview in three languages. I was being interviewed by three people and each of them kept switching between two of the three languages. It was hard. But made sense for the company and I do speak all three languages.

    And I would do the same – there are too many people just walking around claiming a proficiency that they don’t have. During one of my internships I actually had to interpret for another intern because his English was so terrible. He didn’t even understand, when people asked how old he was (we had the same native language and nationality). When I asked him about it he just said that of course he’s fluent in English! He’s doing an internship abroad! (Our internships only overlapped for 2 weeks. No idea, how he managed afterwards.)

    I’ve also been reading that there’s an issue with white people claiming to speak languages like Arabic and getting jobs that way (for jobs where the language is stated to be a necessary requirement). Just recently there were a couple of articles in a major German paper about how white Germans claim language knowledge that they don’t have and then they get jobs (e.g. in non-profits) – instead of the more qualified candidates, who not only have the right educational and professional background, but also speak Arabic and German as native languages.

    So yeah, if at all possible I will always check language proficiency.

    1. WS*

      Yeah, there’s definitely a divide in perception of white people who speak a non-local language compared to immigrants (no matter how many generations back) who do. My brother and I are white and we each speak English and two other languages (one fluently and one competently but not fluently). My sister-in-law is Chinese and speaks four dialects of Chinese, plus is fluent in English and Japanese, and is competent in French. But guess who gets tested on her language knowledge while the white people are assumed to know what they’re talking about? Then there’s my cousin-in-law who is African and a native English speaker but praised for her “good English” by complete strangers…

      1. Drag0nfly*

        I will never forget the dumb CNN reporter who was mystified by the Nigerian terrorist, commonly known as “The Underwear Bomber.” She couldn’t understand why he could speak English so fluently, and kept wondering about it on the air when the story first broke. I don’t know if CNN reporters don’t have Google on their computers, but how hard is it to figure out that if Nigeria was a British colony, and the bomber went to university in England, then he *must* know English? She even *reported* that he went to school in England. And *still* she wondered how he knew English. She wasted a huge amount of time on this stupid question.

        But as far as I’m concerned, these “I speak Jive” scams shouldn’t be possible. If a company has a language requirement, how do they not have staff who meet it and can check for fluency? No one asks for exam scores or transcripts? If those places are serving community members who speak that language, aren’t they hiring people *from* that community as well? Not one hiring manager or HR person can check for fluency? I don’t get how a job that requires language proficiency would fail to check for it.

        1. Delta Delta*

          I once asked someone “do you get Google at your house?” in response to something like that. I might have dropped dead from the dirty look I got, but, tbh, it was worth it.

      2. London Lass*

        I’m white and was once complimented on my command of the English language while visiting the US. I’d told the lady I was from Scotland. She meant well, so I felt rather bad telling her that it is my first language!

        I can well imagine that anyone who doesn’t look white will get that all.the.time.

        1. Claire (Scotland)*

          I had that in the US too! Told the questioner I was from Scotland, got a surprised look and “wow, your English is so good!” in return. With a big smile. *facepalm*

          I did NOT know what to say to that!

          1. Perbie*

            Gotta say, when i watch movies with a heavy scottish accent i often need to turn the subtitles on to understand…

              1. Amy Sly*

                Some people really have trouble with dialects. My (American) dad loved visiting Scotland, but he had a terrible time trying to understand folks. He wasn’t trying to be difficult; he just struggled to parse the dialect. He has the same problem with any accent too far off American Southern or Midwestern.

                Hard as it might be to believe, some people can’t figure out what Officer Crabtree of “Allo, Allo” is saying, and that’s what all accents sound like to them.

              2. Jennifer Thneed*

                Enh. I’m very fond of a couple of comedians from the northern parts of England but I had to get used to hearing their accents (I grew up in California). Ross Noble is one.

          2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            I did NOT know what to say to that!

            I would have responded with polite laughter, because I don’t know how that could be anything but a joke…

          1. Helena1*

            Ha, I’ve been told to “speak English” by Americans, on more than one occasion. I’m English, and speak with a Radio 4 accent.

            (I’m white, so not down to racism in this instance. The people in question just couldn’t understand a non-US accent).

        2. Midwestern Weegie*

          I’m Scottish and have lived in the Midwest for almost a decade.

          When I’d get complimented on how well I spoke English, I’d brightly and cheerfully respond with “Thank you! My people invented it”.

          I will say that I had to deliberately tone my accent down to be understood, to the point that my family now tease me for sounding American. I now sound vaguely “not from here” vs “unintelligibly Glaswegian”.

      3. Finland*

        I am a native English speaker and people are constantly “correcting” my pronunciation. It’s maddening! I write and speak for a living and, as general practice, I consult dictionaries and pronunciation guides so as to remain dynamic. Many who offer correction have not made the same effort with their word choices, and do not graciously accept correction themselves.

      4. Taniwha Girl*

        This is hilarious to me because I believe I also struggle with bias on this topic, but my bias is that non-white people probably speak the language(s) better than white people…

        I have met too many people of color casually/low-key fluent in, like, 3+ languages, and met too many white people who claimed fluency but were intermediate at best in their second language, and knew basic greetings in one or two other languages.

    2. Asenath*

      I, as a native English speaker, have had people ask me, puzzled, where I came from. That, in turn, puzzled me because I (to my ear, at least) speak a fairly standard North American version of English, although someone who knows my area well can often pinpoint exactly what part of North America, even when I’m speaking formally. Others, though…sometimes get it wrong, usually guessing the opposite area – that is, some North Americans think I’m British, some Brits think I’m maybe American, maybe Canadian, which is actually close, since I’m Canadian without much of a regional accent. It is difficult to judge your own language skills, and I’d expect an interviewer to check mine out if they were at all relevant. I learned as an undergraduate student to be modest about my language skills. I put what I’d studied down on an application form for a student exchange job program – French, fair enough, I was far from fluent but I’d studied it for some time. And German, which I’d taken for two semesters. Of course, I was addressed in German at the job, which I couldn’t speak at all, other than basic greetings. I realized immediately that if I wasn’t fluent, I shouldn’t put down that I knew a language! Later applications were more specific – not standard levels as is apparently the case in Europe, but at least you could tick off which of several categories your language skills fit.

  14. Tau*

    OP 2 –

    For what it’s worth, you should not have to go into detail at all in order to get people to understand this topic is a no-go for you. If your coworker is at all reasonable, a simple “this is a sensitive topic for me” should be enough – and if they’re not, I doubt giving details would help anyway.

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with this and hope the office talk situation gets better for you.

  15. Roeslein*

    In my (European) country, switching languages at least two or three times during an interview for a professional job is completely normal. It’s expected that you will need to deal with clients or non-professional staff who speak those languages and you need to be able to accommodate them. (It is considered polite in business conversation to always adapt to the native language of the more junior person, so as to avoid increasing the already existing power differential. Among equals / in larger meetings, each person can speak their own language and is expected to understand the others.) If a language is on your CV and you claim to be fluent in it, you should be prepared to answer questions in that language – maybe not technical questions, as you may only know technical terms in one language, but definitely general and behavioral questions.

    1. cncx*

      exactly. If someone puts fluent on their cv then they need to expect to hold a basic conversation. no one is going to ask me about quantum physics in french but i need to know how to talk in a reasonably smooth way.

    2. Helena1*

      I think if that is a standard thing in your sector, that’s fair enough. Equally if it’s a translation/language tutoring role, it’s predictable your language skills might be assessed.

      If it’s an accountancy position in a monolingual office, and this is just a throwaway “Other interests” skill off your cv rather than anything in the job description, candidates may be disconcerted and have problems code switching even if they have native fluency.

  16. Finland*

    Is it appropriate to contact this workplace about reapplying when a position opens up? If so, how could I do it tactfully? Or did I essentially turn down my only opportunity two years ago?

    Alison, I think this letter writer is asking if it’s OK to re-establish contact with this company even though there is no open position yet. I think she wants to establish herself as being interested in an open position, should it materialize, since she’d already come so far in her first attempt at employment with the company. Your advice appears to only address applying for an open position.

    1. Sara(h)*

      It actually could be read either way. There’s some abiguity there as to whether she wants to contact them when a position comes up, or contact them now about reapplying when a future position opens up. I think Alison’s read is the more logical one.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, at first I took it that they meant establishing contact now but then going back I thought they meant waiting. It’s grammatically ambiguous as to whether they are saying:

        A) Can I contact them now and say I would be interested in applying when a position opens up, or
        B) When a position opens up, can I reach out to contact them about applying

        I am now leaning toward B. If they mean A, I do think they should wait until they actually see something listed.

      2. BRR*

        I agree it can be read either way but I read it as the LW wasn’t to reach out now. Luckily it’s easy enough to answer either way.

        If the question is about reaching out at the new time of a job posting. Definitely apply! Turning down a job offer doesn’t burn a bridge. You were upfront and they changed their minds (honestly this might make me examine them a little harder depending on how they handled it). You can mention in your cover letter that you were previously offered a role, and while you weren’t able to find a start date that worked you liked X and Y about the company.

        If it’s about reaching out now for any future opportunities, I would wait until something opens up. I don’t think it helps you to reach out when there’s nothing specific and it happened so long ago.

  17. cncx*

    RE OP3 switching languages mid-interview is pretty common in Europe; also because Americans tend to say they’re “fluent” when they only took Spanish 201 so in my experience people come down harder on Americans.

    This is the main reason i go as far as to understate my German skills on my resume- i won’t sound as fluid in German if I’m surprised with a quick language switch-not because of my base skills but because i’m startled.

    Tangentially, it’s also a good reason to get language certificates. I had a lot of people try to say my French skills were the reason i didn’t get a job but when i got the full DALF and added the cert to my interview materials, people strangely stopped saying that as a rejection reason.

    1. Creamsiclecati*

      I was coming here to say the same thing: I have a good working knowledge of Spanish and I can hold a conversation beyond just the basics, but I dont consider myself fluent. I often initially downplay my Spanish speaking ability so people don’t expect fluency, then when a situation arises occasionally where I have to speak to a native Spanish speaker at work, it is a pleasant surprise. Although I don’t consider myself proficient enough to be the official bilingual resource at work, I’ve been in situations where they needed some quick Spanish help with a client and I could mostly handle it. I would probably have trouble being interviewed in Spanish, but I can handle less formal conversations. I think it’s definitely important to be honest about your language skills.

  18. Potatoes gonna potate*

    RE languages – I wonder if fluency depends on line of work and the language itself.

    In my case, I speak Urdu/Hindi/Punjabi at home. Technically it was my first language but while I can’t read or write it I can communicate with friends and family. But for work? I don’t think I ever could — for me the business/professional language would escape me. I’ve never listened to a tax accountant speaking Urdu but I’ve listened to interpreters for my moms medical appts and their way of speaking was very different than what I speak – very professional.

    1. MK*

      I think that depends on your field. I think I am fairly fluent in general English and also competent in legal UK English, because I have taken two courses on it. If I hadn’t, I doubt I could communicate professionally with any degree of ease, but then again the law is full of very specific terminology. Alternatively, my uncle who is an engineer has a pretty comprehensive grasp of his field’s English vocabulary, though he is not fluent at all in the language generally.

    2. Kiitemso*

      I speak my native language and English fluently, I count myself fluent in English because numerous native speakers of English have told me I am fluent, I can talk about pretty much any subject in English and don’t find it particularly taxing to switch to English on the fly.

      With that said, there will be things in my native language I will find difficult to find translations for very specific job-related things on the fly, or vice versa. There is some vocabulary I had to pick up in English at my new job that I didn’t use at my old job. I think professional fluency takes some getting used to and picking up the necessary vocab etc. I don’t think not using a language in professional capacity means you’re not fluent, but it is a switch you have to adjust to and learn the necessary expressions. Even now, because I don’t use English every day at my job, I feel like I sound less capable in English than I do in my native language, which I use every single day all day long.

      1. MCL*

        Absolutely. And technical/specialized language seems to me to be a particular subset of fluency. For example, I am a native English speaker but am not able to hold a competent conversation about, say, biomedical engineering because I don’t have the vocabulary for it. I might pick up the gist of the conversation but I wouldn’t likely have a great grasp of it.

  19. Lena Clare*

    Being on a narcissist’s radar as their favourite is a curse. I don’t envy you.

    1. Generic Name*

      I admit I had similar thoughts. Being on the pedestal feels great while it lasts, but sooner or later your gleam tarnishes or dims and they discard you without a second thought.

      Be warm and friendly with your coworkers, but don’t get too comfortable and keep your resume up to date.

    2. Geez Louise*

      Seconding the caution of being a favourite to a narcissist: your golden status within the workplace is merely a useful tool to further the boss’ aims, not their concern to build your career.
      While still in the honeymoon phase, maybe now’s a good time to get, in writing, a positive reference letter or other job boon that your boss can’t take away later.
      It will suck if they ever Jekyll-and-Hyde you during your employ, as the switch will be sudden and monstrous, leaving you with no time to prepare.
      Or, maybe you’re getting all the praise now to be on the hook for a huge “you owe me, big time” later.
      Protect the earned laurels of your actual work so that your accomplishments aren’t subject to the whims of a Grand Manipulator.

  20. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP4 If you still have some leave this year, you can ask now about keeping a few days from this year for your wedding next year. It’s not allowed in principle, but if you ask and mention that it’s for a very special occasion, they might be open to it.
    I personally would prefer to save my leave for later than use up leave I haven’t yet accrued, basically because that’s my attitude to life. I also prefer to save up money to pay for something special rather than take a loan and pay it back.

    1. #4 OP*

      Good point, this is a pretty special event and I’m sure they will empathize with that. Not sure if COVID will make it more or less likely that they will approve that (they “temporarily” laid off everyone else in my department with my job title and so now I cant really take more than 1 day off in a row without it negatively impacting our very time sensitive, last minute, urgent work).

    2. CM*

      I’ve seen workplaces make exceptions for weddings and international adoptions. Those are both very significant life events that can’t be rescheduled and will probably take at least a few days. I would definitely approach the boss now and say, “I’m getting married next April. I understand the policy is that we can’t roll over vacation, but I was wondering if you’d be willing to make an exception for my wedding.” You can mention if you have out-of-town relatives coming, are going on a honeymoon, etc. if you need to explain why you need more time, but reasonable employers will understand that this is a big deal and they should try to accommodate you. (And hopefully your boss isn’t like that letter last year from the boss who was mad that their star employee wanted time off to attend her own graduation!)

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      There’s no harm in asking, but I think they would be more likely to accommodate borrowing from the future than rolling over from the past. If the system isn’t set up for a rollover there’s likely nothing they can do about that, but it’s easy enough to informally approve future PTO and just not put it in the system until it’s available.

  21. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP1 I have been the golden girl, and I have been the BEC, and swerved from one to the other in a matter of minutes. Both roles are horrible. I don’t take any notice and just get on with my job. I mean, at one point my colleague was the golden girl because she was always prepared to stay late to get a job done. When the boss got round to looking at the stats, he saw that in fact I completed more work in less time (with no difference in quality). For some reason, she was still the golden girl. I realised that the favouritism had more to do with attitude (she was totally servile, I stood up for my rights) so I just got on with my work. I did rather resent my colleague for her doormat attitude, because it meant the boss felt free to abuse us. But I maintained a professional attitude and worked with her without making any fuss.

    1. Observer*

      This is a good example of how unfair people can be. Your former boss didn’t abuse you because of her. He would have abused you regardless.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        huh? are you saying I’m being unfair to my former colleague? Sure my boss would have abused me even if she weren’t there. But he went that much further in the abuse because she let him trample all over her, it was that much harder for me to stop him trampling over me.

        She’s being bullied rotten now that I’ve left of course.

        1. That'll happen*

          Yes, you are blaming the victim. You clearly still harbor resentment toward this person. People react to abuse differently, and placating the abuser is common. Your coworker was trying to keep her job. How do you know that her fighting back would have changed his behavior? It could have enraged him even more, but you’ll never know that and frankly it’s irrelevant. Your former boss chose to abuse his reports and the fault for that lies with him alone.

        2. Observer*

          You have no idea that it would have been less if she had not accepted his abuse.

          If she had pushed back and that made him angrier, you would have blamed her for that, too.

          You are blaming the victim, and the fact that you were a victim too does not make it ok.

    1. #4 OP*

      I gave that as an example to make it simple to match months in a year. Until the year of my second anniversary I get 10 days (legal minimim) then I get 15. At 5 years I get 20 and at 20 years I get 25.

  22. Helvetica*

    LW#3 – I think while the interviewer has the right to test your language abilities, I do think it is odd if the job you’re applying for doesn’t require those abilities. Whether or not you will be hired should not be based on a test which wasn’t included in the criteria for the job itself.
    This might be a difference in resume norms but in Europe/my country, it is very common to show under each language the level of proficiency in reading/writing/speaking/listening, because people’s abilities between these might vary. Fx, I have intermediate reading and speaking proficiency in Russian but writing is more difficult, esp note-taking. This also helps to realize whether the language skill at that level is enough for a specific job. It’s surprising if US norms don’t allow for such differentiation.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      My friend also tells me this about Europe, where it is much more common to be multi-lingual, but have varying degrees and abilities within languages. I find her ability (read/write fluent Italian, English, French, Spanish, plus basic understanding of German) to be amazing, but she just shrugs it off as fairly normal. In America she would be a Rock Star and probably highly desired as an employee.

      “It’s surprising if US norms don’t allow for such differentiation.” Not really! Americans are impressed at any other language proficiency. Education here focuses only on English as the “required” language, though of course people can and do speak many other languages as with any diverse population. It’s sad and says something not great about our educational system and insular attitude.

      1. Amy Sly*

        If Europeans could travel from London to Baghdad or Lisbon to Moscow with one language being spoken by almost everyone everywhere they went, how many languages would they bother learning?

        London to Baghdad, 3,245.5 mi; Seattle to Miami, 3,298.1 mi.
        Lisbon to Moscow, 2,838.1 mi; Los Angeles to Boston, 2,983.1 mi.

        The US. It’s huge.

  23. Vistaloopy*

    OP #2, been there! I’m sorry you’re going through this. When my husband and I were going through infertility, we both chose to be open about it in our respective workplaces. It honestly made it so much easier not to have to hide our feelings, and people were so supportive. Plus it stopped the painful comments/questions like “when are you going to have a baby?”. When we finally did get pregnant and have a baby (through IVF), people were so excited for us. Once we shared what we were going through, a lot of other folks shared their infertility struggles as well.

    1. CostAlltheThings*

      We were really open too and at the time I worked at a steel mill. There is nothing in the world that will make me cry harder when already crying (for no reason, love fertility meds) then those rough and rowdy guys getting tenderhearted and worrying about me.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yes indeed. My colleague said nothing except in private to me. One day two others were discussing a mutual friend of theirs who couldn’t get pregnant, making insensitive jokes along the lines of “I reckon she needs me to show her how it’s done”. They were both jerks, but I hope they would have refrained from making those jokes had they known what my colleague was going through.
      My colleague ended up having twins by the way.

  24. A Pinch of Salt*

    #3: I am 100% the person that Allison mentions (that makes language fluency a thing). From what I’ve seen. Misrepresentation of language skills is a widespread issue. I can’t tell you how many jobs I’ve had with people who “speak Spanish” and then admit later they took a couple classes in high school 20 years ago and never used it in the real world. Unethical on a basic level, but annoying on a personal level because I have had to jump through so many hoops because I speak Spanish, but don’t “look” like I should (also ridiculous, but a different issue in the world) and so many before me have misrepresented their skills. Other than industry specific language or company buzzwords, switching without warning shouldn’t be an issue.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      or was just glad for the chance to talk in Cantonese.

      Don’t dismiss this out of hand. When I’ve had native hispanophone coworkers in the past, I’ve enjoyed the occasional conversation in their language.* I’ve found it helps them relax and act more at ease with me, and I find the language beautiful. Especially if your interviewer was a native Cantonese speaker, it may well have been comfortable, a rare treat, or even something that she’ll end up considering a bond with you and an informal (or even formal, as Alison noted) chip in your favor.

      I work with a lot of New York expatriots. I’ve heard them do the same thing with accents when they realize they’re talking to another native New York or New Englander.

      *I’m frank and up front; I have a decent grasp of Spanish and Latin grammar, disappointing vocabulary these, and do not present myself as bilingual or multilingual.

  25. Judy*

    #5. A few years ago I interviewed for a position with Company #1 in August. The company dragged their heels and would call every few weeks to ask whether I was still interested and available. At the time I didn’t have a job, and I remember thinking if I’d had one I would have taken myself out of consideration based on how they were handling this hiring process – but beggars can’t be choosers. Anyway, I then had a great interview with Company #2 in October that I felt much more positive about. A week later I got offers from both companies within an hour of each other. I ended up taking the position with Company #2. Company #1 wasn’t happy but hey – did they really expect me to wait forever? Unfortunately job #2 didn’t work out. I then saw job #1 reposted, reached out to the HR rep I’d dealt with the year before and ended up getting the job (within weeks this time). Not sure I’d have reached out to Company #1 if I hadn’t seen the job posted but you definitely can go back. It made me glad I hadn’t made any parting shots about their protracted hiring practices the year before, which I had been very tempted to do!! Never burn the bridge!!

  26. Bonita*

    Languages: this is hypothetical as I’m minimally conversant, not fluent, and it doesn’t go on my resume. I’m ummm “warmer” in Portuguese whereas I’m definitely much more reserved in my native English. Part of it is just the nature of Portuguese but I’ve heard others having a slightly different persona in their different languages. Perhaps this could be an advantage/disadvantage with language switching interviewers or even when using more than one language in professional contexts?

    1. Helvetica*

      I fully subscribe to this idea! I am definitely more open and talkative in English and French than in my mother tongue because the social norms while speaking those languages are so different and my (obscure) mother tongue is quite reserved. My everyday working language is English and funny enough, I have a colleague who can speak my mother tongue and I feel awkward talking about work with him because I can’t be the person I am when speaking English! It is funny how language changes your personality like that.

      1. Tau*

        This is less extreme, but I know of multiple instances of Germans running into formality issues due to the multilingual environment. German has a formal/informal second person distinction and tends to formal in most professional environments, but it’s very weird to use formal second person combined with first names. This leads to awkwardness when two Germans interact in an English-language environment, use first names with each other as is standard for many English professional environments these days, and suddenly find themselves on an informal footing in German as a result when by German standards they really shouldn’t be. Or they make things awkward for everyone by being the single person using titles in English (for only one other person!) in order to preserve the formality in German.

        Or do it like the guy my mother works with who calls her “Firstname” if they’re speaking English and “Frau Dr. Surname” if they’re speaking German, but that’s even weirder.

        1. Helvetica*

          Indeed, there have been instances where me and my colleagues of the same nationality carry on speaking English although no one in the conversation needs it anymore.

        2. UKDancer*

          For me the main difficulty is remembering which German counterparts I’m on formal terms and which i’m on informal ones.

          So I deal with Herr Weiss (surname and formal second person) Judith and Dieter (first name and formal second person) and Ingrid (first and and informal second person). It’s a right pain remembering who has offered me the informal second person.

          When I stay at my favourite family run hotel in the Tyrol I deal with Herr Klein and Frau Klein (the older generation 60s) and their son Rudi and his wife Karin (younger generation in their 30s) and use the formal second person with all of them but first names with the younger ones. I probably could use the informal second person with the younger generation but it would feel slightly presumptuous to do so. At no point would I use first names with Herr and Frau Klein unless explicitly invited to do so as that would feel very discourteous. They all use my first name but the formal second person and I’m good with that.

          German feels a more formal language than English and it’s not my mother tongue so I would err on the side of caution in my use of title and formality.

  27. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

    OP#4 – I would just ask the general question to your HR/Benefits person. It’s not a weird question to ask “Hey, with our PTO policy, how do I take time off early in the year?” I’d do it via email so you have a written response.

  28. Saberise*

    OP 1 tread carefully with trying to counteract it with your own praising. I would personally hate if the boss was all praise to my co-worker and the co-worker did that. To me it would feel like being friends with the pretty girl that everyone compliments and her saying “Saberise is pretty too”. A co-worker praising you doesn’t remotely equate to the boss praising you and to me it would just emphasize it even more. I would feel like she was throwing me a bone. I guess I am saying don’t praise just to praise. It needs to be real or it’s very awkward.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I agree. If boss is praising you on a project and Jane helped out, I think it’s okay to mention that. But praising others just to take the focus off of you is just as bad (maybe worse) that being teacher’s pet. You can’t control how others behave, you can only control your own actions/reactions. As long as you’re not sopping up the praise and kissing your boss’s booty, any reasonable co-worker will not hold that against you. And for anyone who is unreasonable, there’s often little you can do to change their attitude, so as long as they’re not treating you poorly, you just need to accept that they may resent you for something outside of your control.

      1. Anon Anon*

        I think it’s important to acknowledge others contributions to a project, especially if you are getting more recognition with your boss. So that there is no perception that you are taking all of the credit.

        But, I also find that those boss’s who have favored reports, tend to have favored reports fall in and out of favor. Sometimes being the favored one can last for a few years, until a newer shiner report comes along.

    2. lazy intellectual*

      Well I think it’s important to point out someone’s actual contributions to a project. My last job had major favoritism. One of the impacts of this is the favorites got credit for other people’s work and accomplishments. The boss’s brain was so short-circuited that she didn’t even consider to think that someone besides her 2 peeps could have talent. Sadly, we lost a lot of valuable people on the team because of her.

    3. Yorick*

      It would be awkward if you changed the subject while the boss was praising you and started praising Jane instead (unless it’s to give her credit for the thing he’s talking about). But it wouldn’t be awkward to generally let the boss know that you’re impressed with Jane’s work or whatever.

    4. sarah*

      I think it really depends on how you do it. But I have been in this situation and I know that my coworkers appreciated and trusted me because I made it a point to use my powers for good– ie credit them for the work they did and bring group concerns to my boss because I was the only one in a position to push him. Eventually I abruptly fell out of favor, as is likely to happen to LW, and it meant a lot that my coworkers had my back then instead of saying “serves her right.”

  29. high school teacher*

    OP2 – I am sorry. I have several friends and family members who have struggled with infertility s0 I actually just try to avoid discussing pregnancy and raising children altogether, in pretty much every arena of my life. If a coworker is pregnant I wait until I hear from her directly and say “congratulations!” and then I don’t talk about it. I’m in my late 20s and engaged and plan to start trying in a couple years but I really just don’t discuss it because I’ve seen how painful it can be for people I know. So that’s my personal guideline. I just don’t discuss pregnancy and children, especially at work. I’m not saying everyone should follow this but it works for me.

    1. 789a*

      You’re not going to discuss pregnancy and children outside the home, even when you have kids? How will that work? People with infertility struggles often go on to have children in the future, and it will obviously be okay for them to discuss their pregnancies and children. People who are discussing their pregnancies and children may have also suffered infertility themselves. And pregnancy and children are going to be, and SHOULD be, kind of like a main topic for many people for large portions of their lives. Do you also avoid other sensitive topics, like mental illness and suicide attempts, with as much diligence? Is it okay for someone to announce their engagement at work if someone else is getting divorced? I don’t mean to be rude. I’m just very confused and hoped you could clarify since I can see that this is a hard topic for many and many have erred on the side of not discussing as a solution. Aren’t all pregnancies and all children joyful topics, despite that there is a horribly painful side to these aspects of life for many of us? Is there no way to handle these topics sensitively, other than avoiding discussing them?

  30. radiant peach*

    Regarding #3: people are generally very bad at self-assessing their language skills and its embarrassing for everyone when they get caught in a lie or over-exaggeration. I’d only include language skills on a resume if its required or strongly preferred for the job. A friend of mine applied for a financial analyst position around when we graduated from college and because her family is Tamil, she wrote that she was a native speaker of Tamil (though she was born in the Midwestern US and stopped hearing Tamil at home when she was 8 and her parents divorced). Turns out someone on the team she was interviewing for was from Chennai. She did not get the job, despite being highly qualified in every way that was required.

  31. HailRobonia*

    If I were talking about ANY subject that was a sore spot for my colleagues I would hope they would be able to tell me it’s a sensitive issue and I would try to take that into account.

    A decade or so ago I went through a “cranky atheist” phase for a year or so and would make dismissive comments about religion… not directed at anyone in particular. Nobody said anything, so I took that as a sign of agreement with my sentiments. Fortunately I realized at some point I was being a Terrible Human Being and knocked it off. Even though nobody said anything, in hindsight it is certain I offended people and now I cringe looking back at my past behavior.

    Obviously I am not equating talking about pregnancy and bad-mouthing religion like I was, but if your coworker has even a shred of empathy she will be understanding if you share your situation and feelings with her. I would like to think that a same-sex couple wanting a baby would be extra-empathetic with others’ difficulties in this area.

  32. Bree*

    #2 – Same-sex couples often have to navigate some of the same systems and overcome the same challenges as straight couples dealing with infertility, so in an ideal world not only would she be considerate if you told her, she might understand a bit about what you’re going through. Of course, only you know your relationship with your colleague, but just another point in favour of mentioning it to her privately if you’re comfortable doing so.

    1. Observer*

      Not necessarily – the issues are different. Obviously some things are the same, but the level of uncertainty is just not comparable.

      At this point it sounds like CW is pretty confident in her / her partner’s fertility, and so is confident that when they can get moving again all will go according to plan. So this is just an annoying delay in a process that will all end well. And, yes the process is far from pleasant, but the mechanics of IUI and IVF are not generally the most difficult part of infertility.

      This is not about the “suffering Olympics”, but understanding that the issues facing the two couples really are rather different and therefore it’s highly likely that CW will have no more insight than anyone else.

      1. Anon Anon*

        I think for many same sex couples and single women, I think that they go into the process believing that it will work quickly. And it’s easy to believe that when you go online and there are people talking about how they got pregnant with their first IUI, and they didn’t need drugs. Versus I feel like by the time most opposite sex couples start seeing a fertility specialist they’ve been trying for six months to a year already, and they’ve often already tried drugs like clomid with no success. So while they might be hopeful, they’ve already been at the process much longer.

      2. Bree*

        FYI I’m queer and have taken courses on how to navigate the fertility process as I considered my own path. Same-sex couples – even those without fertility challenges – have to use systems designed primarily for straight couples struggling with fertility, so the process can be quite similar in terms of logistics, costs, fertility-boosting drugs, blood tests, etc.

        In terms of the emotional impact, of course that will be unique to each person. However, in both cases one has to deal with the fact that pregnancy is often expected to be something “natural” or easy, and is instead something that can be difficult, invasive, expensive and take a long time. Same-sex couples often discover their own fertility challenges during the process, and because they are tracking things so closely, are often painfully aware of common, early-stage miscarriages that go completely unnoticed by straight couples doing things the “natural” way. Even for same-sex couples with no fertility challenges, it is more complicated, stressful, and costly than for straight couples without fertility challenges.

        These are the many ways the OP’s co-worker might be able to empathize – especially once she is a little farther into her journey, since it sounds like she may not have begun yet and is still in the early excitement phase. Of course, only the OP knows her co-worker, but I don’t see the point in negating my suggestion that they *might* find *some* commonalities or support here.

        1. Observer*

          That’s why I added my addendum.

          Of course, if CW winds up running into trouble with the process and discovers that they have some fertility issues on top of the expected stuff, that’s a whole different issue. Hopefully that won’t happen, but if if does, they will be dealing with pretty much the same emotional issues in terms of the uncertainty, dreams that may not come true etc.

  33. Amethystmoon*

    #4 it’s fairly common where I work for employees to ask for vacation before they’ve earned it, but they usually give a probation period of several months to new people and sometimes people who have switched teams. Like anything that needs your boss’s approval though, it will depend on your boss. Sometimes they won’t approve requests months in advance, but you never know, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

  34. What the What*

    I took 12 years of French up in Canada, and spent some time in a French-speaking country. For a minute there, I was fluent. I think I took it off my resume after 5 years, and that was probably 4 years too late, if someone had tried to put me to the test.

    Fluency takes practice, but a lot of people who were fluent once upon a time will put that language on their resume. It’s fair game to test it.

    1. MCL*

      Same. I was close to fluency in German once upon a time. But not so much any more. I can still speak and read it but it takes a couple days of immersion to truly switch gears, and even then complex conversations are taxing. I have it listed as a skill but downgraded my competency level.

  35. TexasTeacher*

    On the language test: I do not speak a second language, but I would be thrown off if I were put to the test unexpectedly with something on my resume that wasn’t at all Needed for the job I was interviewing for. For instance, say I was applying for a teaching position to teach middle school social studies and my resume states that I play the piano. They think, ooh, maybe she can accompany the after school choir, so they wheel in a piano and ask me to play something. Meanwhile, I haven’t played the piano in a year and have nothing in my working memory to play, except scales. If I haven’t played a piece in a few months, many times I can’t even remember how it starts without the music in front of me.
    Also, I wonder if the OP hadn’t been a young person at the time, if the interviewer would have done that. Sometimes people think they are entitled to treat student age people as their students, and not professionals. I don’t know.

    1. I can only speak Japanese*

      I list singing as a hobby (it’s physical, it requires some focus, and it’s more “interesting” than reading and video games), and sometimes interviewers will be like, “haha, you can sing for us.” It’s a hobby, dude – professional singers get paid a lot of money to perform. Or at least more than the bourly wage of any job I have had so far.
      I usually say, “oh, it’s a hobby, and my teacher says I must not perform yet, haha! But I love learning new things, it keeps me on my toes!”

    2. Gracey Loo*

      Why would you have something on your resume you don’t/can’t do anymore. They may not be looking for that specific skill, but could have brought you in because of it would bring something extra to the role. Our company does a lot of charity work, and if we see someone with charity work or a athletic skill we can use for this it makes them more appealing for the job.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Why would you have something on your resume you don’t/can’t do anymore.

        There’s a technology I hate, and I haven’t touched it in a decade, but to drop it off my résumé would gut a job that stays to prevent a gap that would be hard to explain–especially since I do still use some skills that I gained from that job that would be otherwise similarly difficult to explain.

        1. Gracey Loo*

          So it would be less difficult when you are fired for not knowing how to use the technology or look terrible in an interview because you essentially lied on your resume. Your resume is the everything they know about you when they meet you, and your meeting them to pay for your lifestyle hopefully more than your last job. Why would you start out disadvantaging yourself.

        2. Tau*

          I’m not sure if this is common, but the way I handle this is that I have my list of past jobs including accomplishments and technologies used, and then at the bottom of my CV I have a skills matrix. That contains only the technologies I’m reasonably current in and am OK to use, with the ones I haven’t touched in ages or would rather set myself on fire than work with again left off.

          1. Tau*

            Listing a language, in this analogy, would be like listing a technology in the skills section – it means “This reflects my current proficiency and I would be willing to use it on the job”. I wouldn’t list a past C1 (=advanced) certificate if I haven’t used the language in years and it’s atrophied to the point where I can barely order a coffee. However, if all that’s on the resume is that ten years ago I worked in Spain for two years or something like that, any assumptions my interviewers make about my current level of Spanish is on them.

        3. Kevin Sours*

          Some of this is quite dependent on *how* you have something listed. If it’s under work history for a job a decade ago then “sorry I haven’t used that in a while and would have to get up to speed again” is a perfectly respectable response. If you list it under your skills summary as “expert” then not so much.

      2. TexasTeacher*

        Well, I might be interested in accompanying the choir, and if notified before the interview, would spend a few minutes working up a piece and/or bringing in sheet music to demonstrate. Teachers are asked to sponsor all sorts of extra curricular things, and sometimes they are not brought up as a possibility before an interview.

      3. Colette*

        There’s a difference between discussing something during an interview and being expected to demo it at the interview. I used to write C# code and can discuss it in an interview situation – but if you asked me to write some code on the whiteboard, I wouldn’t do well since it has been a decade since I used it every day.

    3. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Just because you can play piano doesn’t mean you have anything memorized. In your example, smile and say absolutely, but I don’t have anything memorized, you have some sheet music?

      1. TexasTeacher*

        You’d be surprised what people who don’t play an instrument think that one can do. :)

      2. KK*

        I used to play piano and the general rule at the music school was that anybody who called themselves a musician should be able to perform five pieces from memory. This actually isn’t difficult for anybody who is practising regularly, even kids. This is the reason why I say I used to play piano and not that I still play piano. This is a bit off topic from the original question, but I think that if being able to play piano was important for the job (as opposed to “it would be nice/helpful if they could”), I don’t think this would be an assessment method that was out of line.

    4. Kevin Sours*

      The thing is playing scales or making a credible hash of site reading a simple piece they provide would be fine. I wouldn’t expect a concert level performance on the spot. But if claim to be an expert level piano player but can neither play anything on the spot or do more than stare blankly at sheet music then, well, that’s useful information to an interviewer.

  36. blink14*

    OP #4 – I agree with Alison’s advice, and I think some of this depends on exactly how the vacation time policy is worded at your company.

    At my old job, our vacation time technically started on January 1 every year, and you’d have that chunk of time to borrow against. When I first started it was 10 days, though my first year I started later in the year, so my time was prorated using the number of months left in the year (I think I ended up with like 4.25 days for the remainder of the calendar year). However, when you left, you’d either be paid out the time you earned for that calendar year at the prorated amount (in my case, 3 days) OR if you took off more than that prorated amount, you would “owe” the time out of your final paycheck. For instance if your vacation time reset Jan. 1 and you had 15 days, and took 10 of them in February, and left the job in April, you would “owe” 5 of those days, since you’d only earned 5 at that point.

    In my current job, we continually earn time – so each month worked earns X of amount of days. It is not encouraged to go negative, but it can be arranged in specific circumstances, and we can carry over days between fiscal years (so about a year of carry over).

    This is something you would need to investigate at your specific company – maybe by asking coworkers or your manager.

  37. blackcat*

    Related question on languages:

    On my (academic) CV, I list both French and Spanish as “Speaking: Basic; Reading: Proficient” Basically, I can hold a personal conversation in either, but I can read technical documents in my field without much difficulty. And I can (and do) read novels in both more slowly than in English, but again without much difficulty.

    Is it a weird thing to separate out the two skills of speaking and reading? For me, they are quite separate and have separate uses in the workplace. For example, I’ve told Spanish and French speaking students that I’ll work with them in office hours in either language. This is generally helpful, and I do well with “Spanglish” and “Franglais” conversations with students. I understand more of what they say to me by switching back and forth, and I can help them more than if we just used English. The reading aspect is useful in research (sometimes, though most things are in English). I don’t speak either well enough to, say, go to a conference and present in the language. When I was a high school teacher, the Spanish was helpful for communicating with Spanish-speaking parents of my students.

    1. Allonge*

      Not even a bit weird, from an European perspective. I saw a lot of form applications that separated into three or four skills – reading, writing, speaking, listening.

      1. Tau*

        I was specifically instructed to list my English fluency as “spoken and written” when applying for jobs in Germany, so I assume it’d come off a bit weird *not* to separate them.

    2. hbc*

      I think it’s great. Frankly, any indication that you have self-awareness around your language level is a plus. In fact, if I had to put money down, I would bet that your “basic/proficient” skills are better than the average “fluent” that US native-English speakers list for their second languages.

      1. blackcat*

        I am a US native English speaker! But when I travel in Europe, everyone assumes I’m Canadian based on the North American accent and the French speaking. In South America, I get correctly pegged as American/Californian (apparently the “Californian” Spanish/Spanglish accent is discernible from other North American accents to some folks).

    3. Slinky*

      Nope, this is very common and useful. I hire in a US academic context and see this all the time.

    4. Carbondale*

      Not sure where you are, but in the US it is standard to separate speaking and reading so what you’re doing is fine.

  38. LQ*

    #1. I feel you on this. There is a rotation of favorites and I think of that person as the umbrella. For that week you try to hold your arms out and protect people from the shit storm. Some are better than others, I’m not very good at it, one coworker, the hero we don’t deserve, has been like 3 weeks straight of managing him. Which is incredibly impressive. I say this in large part to say that I would never ever think less of my coworkers who happen to be in that hot seat. They are doing a really hard job, handling a narcissist is rough.

    You are absolutely not responsible for your boss’s bs behavior. Most people will understand. Some won’t. But it is not your fault that your boss is like this.

    In addition to bringing up positive things your coworkers do (if that works for you) I’d recommend bringing up problems that need your boss to solve them, approvals and the like, if your coworkers hare having trouble making headway. “I looked at Sally’s report and she did a really thoughtful job and covered your pet topics, I think she’s ready to move forward and I’d really recommend approving it.”

    All that said. Don’t throw yourself on the spear. You don’t have to, and it won’t help anyone. Good luck.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      “I looked at Sally’s report and she did a really thoughtful job and covered your pet topics, I think she’s ready to move forward and I’d really recommend approving it.”
      If I were Sally I’d find that interfering and presumptuous.

      1. LQ*

        I’ve been Sally in this a lot and I am incredibly grateful to my coworkers who do this. I think part of this is if you are in it for a long term with a narcissistic boss you want all the help you can get to share the burden. You can say everyone should just leave those workplaces but not everyone has that choice. My coworkers and I will occasionally get together on the side to talk about who is currently the golden child and what they can reasonably raise or get completed for the whole group.

      2. I'm A Little Teapot*

        Have you worked directly with someone with strong narcissistic traits? Because if not, then you should realize that the “normal” rules do not apply. So what normally might be considered interfering might in that circumstance be very welcome.

  39. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #4 – as Alison said, every place has a different policy. If it’s not explicitly written in an employee handbook, have a conversation with your manager and find out how they handle it. And I would recommend this for any new job, because vacation policies differ from company to company – there isn’t a one size fits all.

    1. Ali G*

      Yes OP needs to talk to their manager. I am sure they are not the first person at the company to get married, have/adopt a baby, or just want to take a vacation longer than 2 days in the first half of the year.
      A simple conversation where they ask their manager: “Since I normally wouldn’t have earned enough time to take 7 work days off by my wedding, how can I get approval for the time off?”
      And like Alison says – do it now!

  40. Hiring Mgr*

    #2, this may not be a direct answer, but my wife is a therapist who runs infertility support groups – she says this type of question comes up often in her groups – it may be worth looking for such a group online or in your area..

    1. Anonforthis*

      OP #2 – I echo this. I have two kids via IVF, the first one was four years in the making. The best remedy I have found to dealing with this type of energy at work is finding a group of women facing infertility in my personal life who offer empathy for these types of challenging interactions. But absolutely – do not hesitate to excuse yourself when this start of talk starts.

  41. WantonSeedStitch*

    OP#2: as someone who spent years wishing she could start trying to conceive and worrying about how old she was getting, and then spent almost a year actually trying, I feel for you. It was painful hearing about other people’s kids and pregnancies and stuff when I really wanted to be in that position myself. Being pregnant now, I’m trying not to talk exclusively about that ANYWHERE (partly because I know how damn BORING that is), and am being particularly careful not to bring it up at work except in situations where I know the people I’m talking to are OK with it (usually people who I know have all the kids they want, whether that’s two or none).

    OP #4: In my office, at any point in the year, we can borrow against vacation we have not yet accrued up to five days. It really does vary from place to place. We can also roll over vacation at the end of the year, though, so it’s not as much of a thing exclusively at the beginning of the year.

  42. mgguy*

    Re: #4

    My situation is a bit different since we’re allow to accrue up to 3x the amount we earn in a year and roll over 2 years at the end of the year.

    Our employee handbook specifically says that managers aren’t supposed to approve time off before it’s accrued. With that said, the policy isn’t strictly enforced and I’ve never actually encountered anyone who was concerned about it when requesting far in advance with an employee who regularly ran down their time to zero.

    Our leave is generous enough(especially after even just a few years of service) that all of that is rarely a problem. In fact, I have requested 2 1/2 weeks nearly a year in advance knowing that I had a week and a half off already requested in the interim(we get start at 15 days, and add one a year up to 22).

  43. RussianInTexas*

    #3, fluent in language. My SIL is a flight attendant and asked her brother to help with a resume couple time. She always tried to include “fluent in Spanish and Japanese” when in reality she only knows as much as she picked up flying around: hello/goodbye, how to order food and beer, and ask for directions. I saw her trying to order food in Spanish, and the waitstaff did not understand her.
    I am afraid she’ll crash and burn one day.

  44. Alex*

    OP #1 Hopefully your coworkers would direct their frustration at your boss for showing favoritism, rather than at you for being favored. I was/am in this situation as the non-favored (it used to be worse than it is now), but the favored one is one of my closest friends! I definitely hold it against the boss. However, it will definitely help if you talk up your coworkers to people outside your department, not to gain their favor, but to help them overcome the damage to their reputations that your boss might be doing (assuming, of course, that they deserve good reputations). That is the fair and ethical thing to do.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      Yeah – in my last job, the boss played favorites (I was in the non-favored camp), but no one held it against the favored coworkers. We all got along and basically helped each other survive until we all got our next jobs.

      OP – in addition to other people’s suggestions, maybe serving as a reference for people who are job hunting would be nice? Of course, they would have to be willing to trust you with the info they are job hunting, but most people in this situation would probably rather leave than stay and hope the situation improves.

  45. hbc*

    OP3: If you put it on your resume, it’s there for a purpose, no? Especially if you’re crafting your resume to the job, you’re either putting it on there because it’s directly relevant, or you’re trying to impress them with your well-roundedness or implied skills. So either way, be prepared for it to be assessed, no matter how irrelevant it seems.

    I can’t say that I would make a point to test on any- and everything on a resume, but if you put that you’ve been a high-level soccer referee for 10 years, I’m going to ask you what you think about the change to the kick-off rule in 2017. Because this is a subject on which I have knowledge and interest, so either I’ll get a sense of how you talk on a more relaxed subject or I’ll get a warning flag about exaggerated credentials.

  46. HailRobonia*

    I used to be fluent in Mandarin – I have a BA in Chinese Language & Literature and lived in Taiwan for several years where I also picked up Taiwanese/Hokkien. But over the years I have gotten really rusty… every time I’ve redone my resume I’ve updated it: Fluent -> Proficient, etc.

    Would listing it as “previously fluent” be ok? People can see my degree dates and the dates I worked in Taiwan for context.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      IMHO, it’s better to give a fair assessment of what your current status is, since what you USED to be able to do doesn’t matter much if you can’t do it now. If I saw “previously fluent” on a resumé, I’d be likely to ask how you’d rate your current abilities anyway. I just found this Wikipedia article that gives different proficiency levels with descriptions. Maybe something like “limited working proficiency” would be accurate for you these days?


    2. Slinky*

      Maybe, but I think “Proficient” is better. It’s more descriptive and is a more common resume convention. Having hired multiple positions and reviewing dozens of resumes, I have yet to see anyone use “previously fluent.”

  47. Observer*

    #1 – I want to highlight this “Well, first, you’re not responsible for this situation or responsible if people leave — that’s on your boss.

    . . .

    But ultimately, your boss — your difficult, narcissist boss — may drive people off, and that’s not on you to prevent.

    I’d go further – make it easier for people to leave. Not in a negative way that feels like getting rid of them, but in a way that recognizes that working for this person is unduly difficult because of HIS behavior, and that you will be helpful in the sense of giving good references to people.

    And maybe start thinking about your own exit plan. You really don’t want to get so used to this dysfunction that you normalize it.

    1. sarah*

      Definitely think about your exit plan. This kind of dynamic can change in a second. I have been the golden child, held up as the example to all my colleagues, given a raise, promised a promotion, and then two years in I came back from vacation and it was like a switch had flipped and I was the one blamed for everything. Don’t assume that you will be favored forever. A toxic environment is a toxic environment, start thinking about how you can get out.

  48. Safely Retired*

    #1 Answer each compliment to you with one for an ignored coworker.
    Boss: “You did a good job on this, Favorite!”
    You: “Thanks. Did you see how Mary handled X? Her fix saved two hours, I was really impressed.”

  49. Roeslein*

    OP#3: I should add that I am fluent in 5 European languages and I am shameless about “testing” job applicants on the languages they have on their CV. I am in market research / consulting, and while additional languages may not be explicitly mentioned in the job ad, they are absolutely relevant to the job as we have clients / projects everywhere. If you claim a B2 level in Italian, you should be able to have a basic conversation about a general topic. With a C1 level, I expect you to be able to deal with Italian clients in their own language. I wouldn’t ask technical questions though – couldn’t answer those in my native language either! When I worked in the UK I was always surprised by the way interviewers took my language skills at face value and never tested me on them (presumably because they only spoke English themselves.) I have lived / studied / worked in all of those countries though so I guess my claims are credible.

  50. Anonymeece*

    I (used to) know Latin, but haven’t had an interviewer switch to it yet, though that would be a fun conversation.

    1. HailRobonia*

      for a lark I used Google Translate to see what “Ask a Manager” is in Latin and the result was “quaerere amet” which seems to be “search for carrots” ?!?!?!?

      1. Anonymeece*

        Google Translate is *terrible* with Latin. I think because it’s so so so dependent on context and grammatical structure, maybe?

        I’m imagining doing a job interview with the vocabulary I learned, which was mostly from Classical sources and it’s making me giggle so hard. “My strengths are in slaying mighty writings and meeting the lines of the dead.”

    2. Nanani*

      True story – I once received a FAX in Latin.
      This was in my first ever non-student job.
      I was tasked with sending invitations to all consulates for an event being put on by the international relations department in a FAX-heavy country. There was a list of FAX numbers for every country so I basically just did the equivalent of “sent to the whole list”.
      The Vatican RSVPed “no” via FAX. Their cover page was beautiful and of course, all in Latin.

      1. Anonymeece*

        That is beautiful and I love it. Whenever people would inevitably ask me, “Latin? What are you going to do with Latin?”, I would respond, “Give tours in the Vatican.”

  51. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #3 – yeah in this corner of the U.S., Spanish and French are two common second languages. You don’t indicate fluency in them if you’re not fluent. Your interviewer may be fluent and you will be tested.

    #4 – if entering a job – you can ask. But your request has to be reasonable. If you demand Christmas week off and prime summer weeks, they’re likely to turn you down, especially if others – veteran workers – have priority. For example, I accepted a job in 1996 but already had tickets to the Atlanta Olympics so they approved that week and a half off.

    #5 – if the refusal was professional and you both left it at that, there’s no reason you can’t get back with them.
    You already may have an advantage – they tried to hire you once.

  52. MCL*

    Same. I was close to fluency in German once upon a time. But not so much any more. I can still speak and read it but it takes a couple days of immersion to truly switch gears, and even then complex conversations are taxing. I have it listed as a skill but downgraded my competency level.

  53. Jean Jeanie*

    #2 I just wanted to say I understand how very hard it is. I started a new job in January and have had to work with an obnoxious coworker who did her best to make me feel bad for not having a child. She’s pregnant and spent weeks prying into my personal life, or asking if I had questions about what it was like to be pregnant, before saying, “if you want a child you’d better hurry up – you’re practically middle aged.” I’m in my mid thirties, as is she. I burst into tears in front of her, which was humiliating. It didn’t slow down the baby talk or asking me if I wanted to know what it was like to be pregnant. I actually considered quitting my job only six weeks in so that I didn’t have to deal with this person, that’s how bad I felt – working from home was my saving grace. I’ve just started backing out of virtual conversations completely by not responding. I have no desire to share my personal struggles with coworkers.

    Anyway, all this is to say I wish you the very best. If, and I hope when, you have a child of your own, you will most likely be a kind and compassionate friend to women who are going through the same thing.

  54. Nanani*

    #3 This has also happened to me, even for jobs where no requirement for the other language had been mentioned.
    Some people think bilinguals automatically get paid more (I wish!) and/or have an inaccurate idea of what fluency is (finishing a duolingo class is not it), so it makes perfect sense for interviewers to test for it.

    And sometimes, it’s not so much a surprise test as “Yay I get to use my native/preferred language today” on their part!

    Going with their change in language is absolutely the polite thing to do, in any case.

  55. Blaise*

    I should note that the TOEFL is huge here- non-native English speakers would have test results. It’s other languages that aren’t ever tested outside of school.

    It’s also interesting the way your tests seem to be- you have to take a separate test for each level? So like, “I passed the B2 exam” rather than “I got a score of B2 on the X Exam”? We don’t have anything like that here- everyone takes the same test and their score is their proficiency level.

  56. Mephyle*

    The discussions on fluency in a non-native language reminded me immediately of the candidate who claimed fluency on their resume but was discombobulated in an interview when the interviewer tried to conduct part of the interview in that language. (Letter #2 here.)

  57. Anon Here Again*

    In a situation like #1, What do you do if it’s the slacker/coworker who does the bare minimum and slacks off the rest of the time, who gets promoted because the boss likes him? Others have noticed this behavior, yet nothing is done because he is best friends with the boss. Do you grin and bare it? It’s so frustrating because I produce more work in less time, yet it is overlooked.

  58. HR Llama*

    Sorry if this addressed earlier – TLDR. For the vacation policy, at my office you have to earn it each month before you can use it the next month. So if you overuse for the month you will receive unpaid time and have your pay docked and if the adjustment isn’t made on that months check you will owe money for the over payment. Your year end balance does rollover though. All this to say please check with your manager/HR/payroll person the best process for taking a vacation that may go over your allotted time available. You will be happier, they will be happier, which will all be good.

  59. 30 Years in the Biz*

    To OP#1: Educate yourself about narcissism and the common traits ASAP. As both Geez Louise and Lena Clare mentioned, the boss is giving you this status to use you as a tool for their own gain- and this becomes a curse. Not only for your relationships with colleagues, but because it’s very likely he’ll eventually turn on you and cut you down. He might even try to get rid of you, even if it’s not in his own or the company’s best interest. I saw it happen 3 times at my last company. That’s the way it seems to work with narcissist bosses unless you morph into the highest level of Golden Child, the Flying Monkey (look it up, I just learned about this term). Document everything including taking notes when in/after meeting with the boss. Watch your back. Be an ally to others as Alison recommends. If you start to get a bad feeling – an increase in criticism or you hear he’s spreading rumors about you, especially to HR, start looking for a new job. I don’t want to scare you, but you should be prepared with a plan – for ease of mind-just in case.
    I wound up in the department of a narcissist (didn’t know what this person was at the time – just thought they liked to get their own way and didn’t like to listen to others) after 9 years with a company. Before the transfer to their department I had top level performance reviews, bonuses, received a big promotion to a high- level management position, got stock, and had wonderful relationships with colleagues. Soon after transferring to the department, because in a past role in my original department I had reported a violation of federal law (pregnant women and babies could have been negatively affected) while performing an internal audit, they went after me because now they were my manager. His flying monkey wrote up two complaints which weren’t true that went directly into my personnel file without my knowledge. They had HR fly down from a corporate office to join them in meetings with me twice, where they insinuated I wasn’t performing my job. My position was eliminated 9 months later after I finished up a big project for them. Luckily, I retained all my friends at work, Unluckily, I had very bad anxiety and depression and it took me over a year to find an equivalent position. The manager retired early after I sued the company for retaliating over my whistle blowing. The case is ongoing.

    1. Favored One*

      Wow, thanks for the advice. This situation sounds incredibly hard. Sorry you had to go through that.

      1. 30 Years in the Biz*

        You’re so welcome. And thank you for the sympathy! I came out stronger in many ways. I never thought anything like this would happen to me. I always told myself if I was doing a good job and getting great reviews nothing could happen to me. I was naive. My documentation (wish I had done more) is what is ultimately helping out with this whole bad situation and showing I was wronged.

  60. Alisha*

    #5: I turned down a job out of school for a different offer, then found myself truly miserable at the job I chose. Two years later I emailed the first company, they were hiring at the time and happy to hear from me, and I ended up working there for 13 years. Sometimes you do get a re-do and it doesn’t hurt to ask.

  61. DS*

    #1: Your peer is the boss, not the other employees. Stop thinking about how these other employees react, your relationship is with your boss. Get your head straight on this issue, and there is absolutely NO PROBLEM here.

  62. mourning mammoths*

    #5 It strikes me as pretty contradictory that they would take months to interview you and then the longest they could wait for you to start is two weeks.

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