older coworker makes divisive comments about age, language tensions, and more

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

1. My older coworker makes divisive comments about age

Your recent post about a coworker talking about being older got me thinking about an issue I have always had with my team. There tends to be a lot of talk about age from the older members of the team who make comments like “were you even born when…” or “have you ever even heard of …” to the younger team members. I am in my 30s so this is not typically directed at me.

Today, two of our team members, “Jane” in her mid 20s and “Rita” in her early 50s, presented at a conference. Jane mentioned that she preferred a higher tech product like many in her generation. After that, Rita referred to “Jane’s generation” at least 20 times. She almost said it with an eyeroll, and it felt icky. I thought it put Jane’s professionalism into question, not to mention detracted from the value of the products that they were discussing, since they are not only for young people. My boss was at this presentation. Rita often comments on age, and I don’t think she means to be demeaning or exclusive.

My boss is extremely inclusive and very open to feedback. Creating a strong team culture is important to him. I think he has a bit of a blind spot here because he also makes these age comments, and I think it could be genuinely helpful to him if someone helped him see that these types of comments are divisive. Should I talk to my boss about this (the general team culture issue, not the conference presentation specifically) or leave it alone? I am also wondering if I am too sensitive to this; when I was in my 20s, I advanced quickly and always worried that people would see my age and think I was less capable so this is a particular peeve of mine.

You’re not being too sensitive. If it were one stray comment here and there, it might be worth just letting it go, but 20 comments in a conference presentation, complete with what sounds like a sneering tone? It’s worth saying something to your boss, especially since he cares about culture and feedback. He might think the comments are being taken as affectionate or all in good fun, and it’ll be useful to explain that they’re not.

For what it’s worth, it does sounds like Jane might have kicked this off by making a comment linking higher tech with younger people in the first place. Of course, that doesn’t justify Rita coming back with 20+ comments about it, and for all I know, Jane’s comment could have been supported by real data; there are indeed some actual generational differences and we don’t need to pretend that there aren’t. But I’d have that in the back of your head in case it gets mentioned (and it could be worth a quiet word with Jane too if you think her initial comment was off-base).

2. Employees feel left out when their coworkers socialize in another language

I am the supervisor of a team made up mainly of people who speak English as a second language, with primary languages all over the map. We have been tasked to assist another team which consists entirely of bilingual Spanish-English speakers, including a bilingual supervisor. Everyone involved speaks English well enough to understand work instructions and interactions in English. The problem is that the Spanish-speaking workers (who constitute the majority) conduct their social interactions in Spanish, both on the production line and on breaks. This makes those who don’t understand Spanish feel left out and paranoid now that they are all working together.

Because the problem is with social chit chat and is not (yet) causing problems with the work product, I am at a loss for how to navigate it. I definitely understand how taxing it can be to interact in a secondary language and the desire to relax and speak in your primary tongue when possible. But I also understand the morale issue of basically having a clique that is excluding others, and how this could escalate into something that is affecting the work by creating issues with retention and engagement. Is this just a case of not all coworkers will be buddies at break time, or is this a management issue that needs to be addressed? And if it’s the latter, how do I do that in an equitable, culturally considerate way?

The law actually takes this out of your hands and answers it for you: Legally, you can only prohibit employees from speaking in another language if it’s justified by a business necessity, like when they’re waiting on English-speaking customers or doing group assignments where an English-only rule will promote efficiency, or to allow a manager who only speaks English to monitor the performance of employees whose job involves communicating with others. But you can’t prohibit employees from speaking another language in casual conversation with each other, even if it’s making coworkers around them uncomfortable.

It might be worth explaining that law to your employees, and suggesting that if people want to talk with their colleagues in English at break time, they should initiate conversations in English with them … but if the issue is that they feel awkward when their colleagues are socializing with other people in Spanish, that’s something the law protects … and you might also point out that said colleagues are doing that because it’s easier/more relaxing to speak in their native language when they can, not because they’re deliberately trying to exclude others.

3. My references were glowing but I didn’t get the job — what happened?

I just went through a lengthy interview process for a job I was very qualified for. They requested references, which I gave, thinking an offer was imminent. They called my references, who all gave glowing reviews. I didn’t get the job. I’m both shocked and baffled (as are my references). Is this common? Why would they take the time to contact my references if they weren’t going to make an offer? Is it appropriate to ask them what the issue was?

Having your references checked generally does signal that you’re a finalist at the end of the process — but not necessarily that you’re the only finalist. It’s true that a lot of employers only check references on the person who they’re hoping to offer the job to … but plenty of other employers check them on their top two or three candidates as a way to help inform their final decision. Those reference checks aren’t just a pass/fail thing, but an additional way to genuinely learn more about candidates. That doesn’t have to mean bad things; nuanced, positive assessments of two excellent candidates’ strengths can still point to one being better suited to a particular position than the other.

It’s also possible that you were their top finalist and they checked your references intending to make an offer but then something else changed (an internal candidate emerged at the last minute, or a really outstanding external one, or the role changed because something on the team changed, or so forth).

It’s also possible that your references weren’t as glowing as you’d hoped — but keep in mind that doesn’t have to mean that one was negative; it could mean that a glowing reference mentioned something offhandedly as not being your strongest point (thinking it would be minor) and that happened to be an area really important to the hiring manager.

Because of all this, I wouldn’t ask them “what the issue was” since that sounds like you’re assuming something went wrong. But you can definitely ask for feedback in general and how you could have been a stronger candidate for the role.

4. Turning down a relocation offer

Last week I accepted a formal offer. I’m still waiting on the background check to finish before resigning and giving notice to my current employer, but I’m expecting to start my new position in a few weeks. This company has several offices, so during the interview process, I asked about relocation options, remote work, and collaboration between offices. I’ve been living in my current city ever since college, but I don’t want to “settle down” here, so my partner and I have been discussing relocating together for a while. This company told me that they would want me to start in the city where I currently live but that I would have more opportunities to relocate after a couple years (once I’ve acclimated to the company). Fine with me!

However, shortly after I accepted the offer to join their local office, they asked if I’d be willing to relocate to a very different part of the country for a year-long project (with the option to stay there permanently if I wanted to). If I accept this placement, they will increase my starting salary and assist with relocation expenses. Since I mentioned potentially wanting to relocate during the interview process, I feel like they’re trying to do me a favor, and I’m genuinely flattered that they think I’m the right person for this project! Unfortunately, even though I do want to relocate eventually, I’d never want to live in the specific location where they want me to go. I’m pretty sure I’d be miserable there, and my partner wouldn’t be able to move there with me. Although since we aren’t married, employers would probably be less sympathetic to the typical excuse “it doesn’t work for my family.” I know I sound picky, but this company does have offices in other locations that would be ideal for me, and there are very few locations I feel this strongly against.

Is there any way to gracefully turn down this opportunity while leaving the door open for future relocation elsewhere? I’ve heard that turning down opportunities like this can reflect poorly on you. My original offer is still on the table, but I just don’t want to shoot myself in the foot by turning down what they consider an “amazing opportunity” for vague “personal reasons.”

You don’t sound picky in the least. It’s very, very normal to have some cities you’d be open to moving to and others you wouldn’t. Your new employer undoubtedly knows that and won’t be put off by you explaining the location doesn’t work for you. It should be fine to simply say, “I really appreciate you offering it to me. I don’t think City X is for me, although I’m open to other locations down the road. Could I stick with City Y for now?”

5. I quit my job but I keep getting paychecks

I sent a resignation email to my manager at my previous company, but I think he never actually let HR know.

My last work day was March 11, but they keep paying for pay periods that I haven’t worked and for time that I never entered on my time sheets. In fact, they keep sending me emails telling me to fill in my time sheets.

I emailed HR and let them know I was no longer with the company and even mailed my company-issued laptop back in. But they still keep direct depositing paychecks in my checking account.

What’s the downside — other than karmic — of letting them keep direct depositing into my checking account? FWIW, this is an enormous multinational corporation with 300,000+ employees.

You might be thinking that if they give it to you, it’s yours — but assuming they notice at some point (and they probably will), they can legally require you to pay that money back, so it’s definitely in your interest to get it fixed. It’s ridiculous that it’s on you to handle it, but if you don’t want to be hit with a large bill later, it sounds like you’ll have to.

This time, don’t email HR — call them and get a live person on the phone and explain what’s going on. (It sounds like in your email you might have just said you left the company; this time make sure to say the problem is that you’re receiving paychecks after leaving.) Assume you’ll likely have to pay back the overpayments that you’ve already received.

Caveat: I’m guessing you’ve checked this, but make sure the paychecks you’ve received so far aren’t actually ones you were supposed to receive! Some companies are on a cycle where you’re paid three or four weeks after the pay period ends, or where your vacation payout arrives separately. You’d probably know if this were the case, but it’s worth checking if not.

{ 612 comments… read them below }

  1. Serendipity*

    The same thing happened to my husband when he quit. His manager just didn’t do the paperwork. The companies sale was finalized the week after. His old coworkers shifted to payroll w new company but my husband was still being paid by old company for work he wasn’t doing at a plant that wasn’t theirs anymore. It was a mess. That company was also a large multinational. Document communication if at all possible after you find a contact. Any payments that you send be sure to send registered mail. The multinational lost our payment for a month and we were so glad that we’d sent a registered mail bank draft so we could prove it had arrived.

    1. TheRain'sSmallHands*

      Years ago I worked for a company where one of my peers quit and his manager forgot to (or more likely, did’t get around to) file the paperwork. After about six weeks, he filed the paperwork, but dated it all with the current date so he wouldn’t be in trouble. He left that company about three months later (he was a very drop the ball manager). Since the paperwork was all dated six weeks after he left, to the best of my knowledge, he kept six weeks of pay in a coverup. And not a surprise – a large billion dollar corporation where its easy for this sort of thing to get lost and its hard to make people care about $15,000.

      1. A Feast of Fools*

        LOL, this happened to me, too. My really-terrible-no-good manager didn’t document my resignation and I was still able to access the [global, Fortune 5] systems, from sensitive data to Slack channels, for three months afterward.

        I was also paid for those three months. The RTNG manager didn’t want to look like he’d messed up so he dated my exit paperwork for the 10th week after I left (mid-Month-Three)* and I ended up having to pay back that last two-week paycheck for the 2nd half of Month Three.

        Which was fine. Because I got to keep the other five paychecks.

        * (A two-week lag in filing exit paperwork could be excused / easily explained away but a 12-week lag would have gotten him disciplined by the VP).

    2. Ghostess*

      Yes, document everything. If payroll is withholding taxes, that will need to be unwound as well. If OP ends up returning the extra payments, the IRS/taxing authorities will likely have no knowledge of that arrangement and will count it as taxable income.

      1. Wonderer*

        Make sure you check the amount they say you are owing! They may claim you owe the total salary, but as Ghostess mentioned, the payroll/withholding taxes are the companies issue to sort out.

      2. Cj*

        If this happens towards the end of the year and isn’t corrected before W-2s are issued, you shouldn’t file your tax return until you receive a corrected W-2, even if that means filing an extension.

        This can cause a hardship for people that are expecting a large refund, but it can be a real mess to have to unwind it later if you don’t have an accurate W-2 when you file.

    3. Agatha Christie Fanatic*

      Don’t spend the money — leave it in your account until told otherwise! This happened to me. I called them when I got the second paycheck after I quit. As Alison suggested, I thought the first one might be vacation pay or something like that. It turned out that whoever was processing exiting employees that day, forgot to do one step, leaving us on the payroll. Funnily, the other employee who resigned the same day made the same assumptions and had called about half an hour before I did so they knew exactly what I was talking about. To fix the mistake, the company took the direct deposits back out of our accounts directly thus reducing our bank accounts. Luckily I had left the money in the account so it was there when they withdrew it. I’m not sure how that works legally but they did it.

      1. Hex Symbol*

        How it works legally is there’s a clause in the direct deposit paperwork you filled out that specifically authorizes the company to take back any funds that were paid in error. That’s why you should always leave an accidental deposit where it is, not try to pay it back or move it elsewhere unless told to do that (and if you were told, make sure it’s in writing).

  2. AnonyAnony*

    LW3: I know my old job used to check the references of the top 2 candidates, partially to help inform the decision, and also so that if the top candidate turns down the job or doesn’t work out, then they could go ahead and make an offer to #2 immediately without delay. This could potentially be another reason LW3 wasn’t offered the job.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      That’s the first thing that would occur to me – they do phone screens, then interviews of the best candidates, then check references for the top couple of candidates, both to rank them, and to be ready to offer to the second (or third) if their first offers are turned down. So I’d take checking references as meaning I was in the top three or so, but no more than that.

      1. Sloanicota*

        To be fair, I think it’s a kindness to check references only when you’re pretty sure you’d be happy to hire the person if references check out … in my last job search I felt terrible for my references – I kept being in the final few, and they must have been contacted five or six separate times, and one had been my supervisor quite a long time ago (as I had been at my current job many years). They were nice about it but there was definitely an undercurrent of surprise and maybe some grumbling. Nobody’s fault but I felt terrible and would certainly never use that poor person again.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          I feel like there’s something odd about your references being upset to get several phone calls. You were doing well! Not well enough, alas, but if anything, that should have them feeling for you, not leaving you feeling like you did something wrong by asking.

    2. Ope!*

      At my workplace we interview 3-4 candidates and check the references for all of them, then use that data to rank and offer.

      Additionally relevant for OP to know, I just sat on a committee where all of the candidates had GLOWING references. Like, some of the most complimentary references I’ve ever taken during my time on committees. The fact that we didn’t hire the 2-3 that didn’t get ranked first had nothing to do with their lack of skill or potential to succeed in the role. It was truly one of those cases that Alison has mentioned many times – any one of them would have made an excellent colleague and did everything right in the process. There was just, unfortunately, only one position to offer.

    3. Starbuck*

      Yes, same where I’m at. We pick our top 2-3 based on interviews but don’t truly settle on who’s our first pick for an offer until we’ve checked references – you never know what you might find out. And that way we have back ups ready, because we always assume our top pick will be someone else’s as well, and possibly have other options pending.

  3. jm*

    LW 2, i recommend addressing the “paranoia”, presumably some of the non-spanish speakers think the others are talking about them. that’s a really common complaint levied against non-english speakers and it’s often unfounded/based on xenophobia. but there is a chance the hispanic contingent are talking smack, and that’s something that could be discussed without trying to ban a certain language.

    1. Artemesia*

      There is nothing xenophobic about thinking people speaking around you in a foreign language are gossiping about you. Especially people in the workplace who know you. It happens a lot. I have personally been in many international settings, sharing a train cabin or having my hair cut or even just being in a shop where people assumed I didn’t understand their language and were making comments about me or about other non locals in the setting. Heck it happens a lot in families where the in-laws speak a different language than the bride or groom.

      Yes legally they can do this; yes, it is uncomfortable especially if one is in a small minority of workers who are not fluent in that language. The only defense alas is to learn the language or as Alison suggests to initiate English conversations and build positive relationships.

      1. Appalled and hurt*

        It is absolutely xenophobic to assume that people talking in their own native language are gossiping about you, and claiming otherwise is deeply ignorant, unreasonable and out of touch.

        Your comment reflects the typical xenophobic attitudes of far too many Americans. You have a lot of learning to do. The world has changed. This isn’t OK.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, I agree. Sure, gossip might happen, but it’s absolutely xenophobic to assume that it *will* happen, simply because people are talking in a language you don’t understand, or that they think you don’t understand. And the best way to avoid that is to out yourself by greeting them in their language, even if all you can say is hi.

          1. wittyrepartee*

            Also, it can and does happen in English too. Gossip is gossip, if you don’t understand what people are saying, just assume it’s not about you and move on. I say this as someone who knew I was being gossiped about in French one time, it was awkward, but I managed.

        2. Appalled too*

          I am glad you recgnize that “it is absolutely xenophobic to assume that people talking in their own native language are gossiping about you, and claiming otherwise is deeply ignorant, unreasonable and out of touch.”
          I am glad, as a minority language speaker, often interpellated in public by spanish-speaking people telling me that I am speaking my language for the sole reason of me not wanting them to understand what I am saying.

          So, sorry to tell you, it may be that many Americans have xenophobic attitudes, spanish-speaking people often have them too and never get called on them.

          1. Covered in Bees*

            Yeah, I’ve watched similar interactions in other countries. The assumption may be xenophobic but not specifically American.

            1. ostrich*

              As a POC and immigrant in Europe, I can confirm that xenophobia is not specific to the US. I encounter xenophobia/racism/otherism on a daily basis unfortunately.

          2. Lily*

            Seconded. I’ve had people talk smack about me in a language they assumed I didn’t understand, only to have them be shocked and embarrassed when I responded to them in that language (Spanish, German).
            I’ve had friends who experienced this with Irish and Mandarin speakers as well.

            1. Trillian*

              Happened to my mother, too, when she was travelling. She hadn’t used her other languages much since University. The gossips were shocked by how much she understood. My mother was equally shocked by her sudden return of fluency.

            2. JSPA*

              In my experience, the language aspect is often, if not always, largely a red herring. If you sit silent and don’t say anything, the conversation will happen.

              What follows are some pretty intense examples, so if you want to not see them, I’ll add some dots.

              I’ve heard men brag to each about predatory behavior. In english. In Asia, in Europe, riding on trains or on busses; places where they should not have been surprised to be understood, but where there was no obvious recourse to call them on it. I don’t look obviously American, but I certainly look like I could come from any of several countries where international travelers from those countries are likely to speak english.

              This was before smart phones (or before I had one, anyway) or I’d have recorded them (legality be damned) and turned it over to the relevant authorities. Wish I had better memory for faces, or that they’d named names and places.

              (Skirting the bounds of slander, and the limits of memory: if you send your 13 to 15 year old daughter to a sea-side Korean school in [Thailand or the Phillipines], it’s possible that one of the male english teachers is a (by now middle-aged) predatory perv, who had a thing for K-pop before it was big internationally, and used that to lure the girls in.)

              I’ve heard not-entirely-dissimilar conversations in French (in Japan and freaking Canada, where I certainly don’t look like someone who can’t possibly speak french).

              However, the larger than XXXL size wetsuit, icelandic guy bragging about his tiny filipina wife, and his two underage, even tinier filipina twin girlfriends? He said all that stuff in front of me! In English! Seeing me as an American, English-speaking female!

              My theory is that a fair percentage of truly horrible people get off on letting people know they are horrible, and that some of the remainder are oblivious to anything other than their immediate wants. (Or maybe none of those women even exist, and they are sad but harmless dudes who get off on talking about that stuff in public.)

              Whereas, conversely, most of the people talking in their language, even if they mention you, and even if they don’t keep it professional, are not aware that it’s not OK in a workplace, in any language. If the language plays any role, it’s one of verbal chatting patterns that are hard to break, or in terms of reducing the chances that they can read sites such as this one.

            3. Hannah*

              I mean yes, I’m sure it does happen. Just like sometimes the guy who robbed the liquor store is an African American male.

              The problem comes when you extrapolate from “it happens” to “because this person is in a similar category, it’s reasonable for me to expect them to do similar things”. A black man in a liquor store is probably not going to rob it and a person speaking a foreign language is probably not talking about you.

          3. JSPA*

            To be clear, the situation you describe, if it happens in the workplace, is equally not OK, under the law, and if a manager does it, it’s equally illegal.

            That said:

            It’s a near universal human tendency to wonder about conversations that you’re not in on. That’s why we have so many questions here about people inserting themselves into conversations that they’re not part of.

            It’s also a near-universal to feel talked about, and to sometimes expect that talk to be somehow negative. Another huge pile of letters here, about that.

            But there’s a functional difference between calling something done by a culturally-dominant population, who can (and have, within my lifetime) written laws trying to instill a single public language…and calling out a sh*tty habit in people who have zero power to enforce their preferences, or turn their fears into public policy.

            If people want to have conversations that end up excluding others, that’s not illegal, nor should it be. You can’t legislate collegiality, nor conviviality.

            1. Harvey 6 3.5*

              Personally, I usually think that I’m not that important to coworkers that they’d spend much time speaking about me. Maybe right after I really messed up or really did well, but otherwise, I’m just not that interesting.

              As an aside, there are entire youtube channels devoted to unlikely speakers of a language, like Xiamancy (or something like that) who speaks a variety of languages including Mandarin but looks like a standard white man.

        3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Appalled, while I agree with you that “It is absolutely xenophobic to assume that people talking in their own native language are gossiping about you”, I’m not sure that you read Artemesia correctly. Artemesia actually says that “I have personally been in many international settings, sharing a train cabin or having my hair cut or even just being in a shop where people assumed I didn’t understand their language and were making comments about me”. I read this as meaning that the people talking about Artemesia were assuming that they couldn’t understand what they were saying, but that Artemesia *actually could understand them*.

          1. RagingADHD*

            That’s how I read it, too- not assuming, but understanding when she was not expected to.

          2. JSPA*

            Artemesia is not wrong that it DOES happen. Artemesia is wrong to say that it’s therefore reasonable to assume, when you don’t understand, that it IS happening.

            I’m not disbelieving that Artemisia was talked about! Repeatedly!

            But one remembers the situations where that happens, disproportionately. (Or where someone is loudly shouting private client information in a language you share. I once said “goodbye” in the language in question, in my best accent, to a stockbroker who may have been insider trading, in that language, on the other side of the globe, just to watch him blanch.)

            You don’t remember, when people are talking in a language you happen to understand, about their mom’s bunion, the quality of the ham in the cafeteria, whether they should have packed the more waterproof Anorak, or that they love their mom, but wish she’d worry less.

            Now, Artemesia may be far more memorable than I am, and make a stronger impression, so her experience may vary. Speaking only from my own experience…as is true elsewhere in life, conversations that are actually both about you and problematic are, in an otherwise healthy workplace, generally a tiny percentage of the conversations that you could be anxious about, for no reason beyond the fact that you can’t understand them. And it’s healthy to proceed on that assumption.

        4. lilsheba*

          I agree. This is sounding a lot like people in a grocery store who tell a group of people speaking another language, amongst themselves, they need to speak english now cause they’re in america. This group of people should be able to speak in any language they choose in peace.

        5. zero affect*

          I never assume, but I know enough in Spanish and a few other languages to recognize when people are talking smack about me or someone present, which happens more often than you seem able to deal with.
          Stop erasing people’s lived experience. This isn’t OK

          1. Katara's side braids*

            They did not imply that it does not happen, nor did they “erase” the experiences of anyone who has discovered that others were, in fact, talking about them. Nor did they say it’s OK when it does happen. All they said is that it is xenophobic to automatically *assume* other people must be talking about you based only on the language they’re speaking in your presence.

            There’s a world of difference between “why would they be speaking that language if not to talk smack,” and “That conversation seems animated. I wonder what they’re talking about…it could be me, but it could also be any number of other far more interesting subjects.”

        6. JamminOnMyPlanner*

          Yeah I think it’s not only xenophobic, but also weirdly arrogant, to assume that people speaking in their native language must OF COURSE be talking about you! Like… not everything is about you!

          On the other hand, it does happen, and as an insecure person who hasn’t quite gotten over childhood bullying (which was done in English, right in front of my face, lol), the thought might cross my mind.

      2. A.N. O'Nyme*

        While that absolutely does happen (I’m always amused when English tourists do this – as if English isn’t a de facto lingua franca) usually the body language will make that very clear. Other languages do not exist solely to make fun of you, and frankly automatically assuming that “speaks another language” = “must be talking about me” is a very arrogant assumption to make. For all you know they’re reciting soup recipes.

        1. MistOrMister*

          If they are recitin soup recipes in a language not everyone can understand that makes it worse. I love soup! If people are sharing soup recipes, I insist on being included dang it! :)

      3. Medusa*

        Assuming people are talking about you just because they’re speaking they’re mother tongue is absolutely xenophobic.

        1. Myrin*

          Also self-important. Like, I don’t doubt the situations Artemesia describes actually happened (I’ve seen stuff like that myself) but generally, you (general you) aren’t the most interesting and important thing in people’s orbit so that they simply can’t help themselves talking about you.

          1. Classical Music Nerd*

            Beautifully said. Thank you Myrin and Medusa and A.N. O’Nyme and allathian and Appalled and hurt.

            SMH . . .

          2. Tabasco Fiasco*

            Right? We are the center of our universes. A blip on others.

            Anecdotally, my coworkers have had to give several, extremely sensitive presentations to folks who spoke English as a second (third, and fourth) language. In most cases, the first language spoken by members of these coalitions are not commonly known in this part of the country. However, in one scenario, a member of our org DID speak a group’s language, and eavesdropped after he heard them very animatedly chatting. Body language- to my coworkers anyways- implied irritated agitation. Turns out though, they were excited! They liked the presentation and wanted to move forward. So, I guess my point is, even when it’s about you, it’s okay. If they had hated the presentation, it would’ve been okay. They needed privacy and expedience, which necessitated their mother tongue, not ours.

          3. Eldritch Office Worker*

            +1. Also your personal insecurities aren’t more important than the rights of others.

          4. MsM*

            Yeah, I think that’s the bigger issue here. My anxiety/impostor syndrome is very good at convincing me any quiet conversation taking place around me is some kind of criticism people don’t want me to overhear. If I can’t demand those coworkers speak up to assuage my insecurities, I certainly can’t demand the ones for whom English isn’t a first language make it more difficult on themselves to communicate when it’s literally not about me.

            1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

              Nothing makes my heart rate go up faster than a group of women talking quietly followed by laughing. (women because my childhood bullies were women, not because women are necessarily more likely to bully).

          5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            I have run into this occasionally at work where monolingual folks complain about people speaking “their language”. When I ask why, they say it is because they are/might be talking about them. My counter, “That’s only fair, isn’t it? After all, we are talking about them in English/whatever language we are speaking.” Stops them cold, at least around me, 95% of the time

        2. Mockingjay*

          When we moved to Germany, I took many immersive classes to become fluent. Learning a new language is hard and exhausting. As motivated as I was to learn, there were days when I got out of class and thought: “I don’t ever want to hear or speak another word of German again.” I’d turn on the international CNN or British SkyNews channel just to hear English (the only channels available).

          I’m sure there are foreign speakers who are talking smack about coworkers. I’m equally sure there are those who just want to chat in a relaxed manner. I’m also sure there are plenty of English/native speakers who talk smack about their coworkers in the same language, as many letters herein attest.

          Assume the best intentions of your coworkers. Greet them in their language if you can and let them relax.

          1. Seriously?*

            Right? People where everyone speaks the same language talk about each other ALL THE TIME! Acting like this is something only people who speak other languages do is just silly.

          2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            When I was working in Bosnia and Georgia (the country, not the state), this is exactly how I felt on occasion. Sometimes I just wanted to be able to express myself fully using all my vocabulary rather than saying “not happy” because I didn’t remember the word for “sad”

            1. Alexander Graham Yell*

              Oh god, this is me right now – I’m in France and learning French and I cannot wait for it to be safe to go to expat happy hours to just be (as one person put it) linguistically off-duty for a bit. But right now every interaction has me forgetting a word or screwing up the gender and sometimes I just want to clarify with people that I am actually capable of complex conversation, just not in French yet.

          3. Jora Malli*

            I’m working on learning a second language now and it’s extremely mentally taxing. Even now that I’m improving with my language skills, I just need a first language break sometimes. But I’m good enough now to understand some of my coworkers who are native speakers of second language, and most of the time they’re talking about TV shows or complaining that their husbands don’t pick up their socks. There’s absolutely nothing scandalous going on there.

        3. TheRain'sSmallHands*

          It also assumes that you don’t understand enough of the language to catch on – which in the U.S. with Spanish isn’t a smart thing to assume because many many of us had four years of high school Spanish – and while we might not be comfortable speaking it, a lot of people with their high school Spanish (and maybe a required semester of college Spanish) can often understand enough to pick up when someone is talking trash about them. Especially once they start spending time around people speaking the language.

          I would suspect most U.S. Spanish speakers are well aware that enough of their English speaking coworkers speak and understand a little Spanish, and aren’t going to do their talking smack where they could be understood.

      4. eisa*

        I would amend that to “There is nothing xenophobic about thinking _it is quite possible_ people speaking around you in a foreign language are gossiping about you”. Some people might feel uncomfortable and excluded because of it, and I would argue these feelings have nothing to do with xenophobia.
        (There was a post, if it wasn’t here it was on The Workplace Stackexchange, where OP’s coworkers were talking smack about him and others in Urdu, not knowing he understood, and he was asking how to handle that.)

        Pretty sure everybody knows this type of anecdote, right, whether first-hand or third-hand ?
        The two stories I remember most were both when the speakers were commenting about the listener’s level of attractiveness.
        Story one happened to a female friend of mine who is of Bulgarian origin at university : out in the courtyard, two girls were commenting about how hot some nearby guy was, quite graphically. After a while of sitting there without turning a hair, the guy got up and said, in Bulgarian: Thanks for the nice compliments ! and left.
        While the girls were still getting over their mortification, my friend said to them also in Bulgarian : Be careful, you never know who will understand !

        The other story happened to my husband’s aunt long ago, she was married to a Hungarian and learned the language. On a train to Hungary, she shared the compartment with two Hungarian men, who (correctly) took her for a German native speaker and incorrectly assumed she would not understand Hungarian. So they talked about her quite a while, nice-looking lady, travelling alone, wonder where she’s going, etc.
        When it was her stop, before she left the compartment she told them in Hungarian their conversation had been quite interesting ;-)

        All that obviously has no impact on the letter-writers situation, which Alison has explained quite clearly from a legal standpoint; just wanted to push back on the statement that in order not to appear xenophobic, one should deny that these situation do in fact happen, i.e., that people do sometimes talk in (what they think is) a “secret language” because they have some reason for not wanting the listener(s) to understand.

        For the parents among us : “Pas devant les enfants” / “Petites oreilles”, anyone ?

        1. Lacey*

          Yeah, I think often people are concerned about it because we’ve done it ourselves or we’ve had someone do it to us or someone we know. I’ve experienced both.

          But, on the other hand – it’s just as likely that your coworkers who speak the same first language as you are talking smack behind your back in a private slack or text group.

          If you annoy people they will talk about it one way or another.

          1. Emi*

            Yeah, I am sympathetic to this fear precisely because I’ve switched into a non-local language in order to talk smack more discreetly (I do know it’s not foolproof).

          2. JSPA*

            And if you don’t annoy them, there may still be moments when they talk about you. And some interactions at work are uncomfortable, without being inappropriate.

            “How can we explain this to JSPA, when they just don’t seem to get it” is a work appropriate conversation, even if it’s not a comfortable one for me to walk in on. So is, “do you notice JSPA fails to get references to TV and sportsball? Have you found any normal topic they enjoy?” People can discuss other people, describe other people, and seek guidance or feedback on other people, without it being an overreach. “Do you get bad vibes or racism from anyone here” –I’ll absolutely defend that one, too. “They look at us like we’re up to something, every time we speak [language]” is a pretty normal response to…that.

        2. Nanani*

          It’s xenophobic even if your feelings are rooted in a flower garden instead of a sewage plant.

          Your feelings aren’t what makes it xenophobic. Actions and their impact determine that. People pointing out that 2’s colleague is being xenophobic are correct and no amount of “what if” about what their feelings and intent might be changes it. It’s xenophobic!

        3. JSPA*

          Hungarian is wickedly difficult for just about anyone else. Props to her, and an excellent example of “you really never can be sure.” My parents each spoke their own (easier but even more niche) language or regional variant, and frequently turned up others of same, accidentally, by speaking unguardedly or by overhearing. To the point that we used to say, “it’s not so bad to start a friendship knowing what people say when they think you can’t understand them.”

      5. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

        Since this is in a work environment, another Spanish speaking manager occasionally walk past and listen in. If it is pointed at coworkers, that can be addressed without the language aspect.

      6. Humble Schoolmarm*

        I’m sure this has happened to you, but I don’t think it’s right to assume it’s common. I teach in another language and the teachers on my team frequently use that language to chit chat. Since the majority of us are actually first language English speakers, it’s practice using the language socially instead of formally for teaching. If one of our English speaking colleagues comes by, we always switch to English, not to hide any nefariousness, but because it feels rude not to. That being said, because of the demographics of our team, it’s easy to continue our socializing in English. We’d be much more likely to stick to (teaching language) if our team wasn’t fluent in English.

      7. SavedFromLorna*

        There is nothing xenophobic about thinking people speaking around you in a foreign language are gossiping about you.

        Oh, my god! yes there is?!??!

      8. BritChickaaa*

        What context were these comments made in? I speak a few different languages including Hebrew and Arabic (but am obviously English) and have lived in a whole bunch of countries, and have never overheard anyone talking about me. I don’t assume I’m interesting enough to generate comment.

        1. Barbara Eyiuche*

          Really? I have studied several languages, travel a lot, and have lived abroad. It is very common for people to talk about me in their own language assuming I don’t understand. On the other hand, I am tall and fat, so ‘stick out’ in many countries. The Taipei subway was usually good for a laugh. One day three old men were discussing my breasts. A few days later, two old women were talking about how I looked like a gorilla. Sometimes at work people would be discussing me, but that also happens in English when coworkers think I am far enough away to not overhear.

      9. Rolly*

        “There is nothing xenophobic about thinking people speaking around you in a foreign language are gossiping about you.”


      10. LilPinkSock*

        What?! Yes there is. I am so tired of non-Spanish-speaking colleagues assuming that I and every other Latino coworker are necessarily being shifty and gossiping. God forbid we ever have a friendly conversation in our first language…we’re probably just being those weird foreigners talking trash about everyone because they don’t understand, amirite.

      11. JSPA*

        That’s akin to saying it’s normal to listen at doors, because the people inside could be gossiping about you. Or that it’s normal to leave the lunchroom in tears, if you enter, and conversation pauses.

        Yes, some of the time, in any circumstance, humans will discuss other humans, and coworkers will discuss other coworkers. It can be judgemental; it can be unacceptable.

        But the problem isn’t the language spoken.

        But, “Jen looks tired today” in Spanish is no more likely, AND no more threatening, than in english. “I like that skirt, but not on them” or “I’d enjoy the view if they bent over” are equally problematic in any language.

        If there is problem gossip–it’s not like Spanish is obscure code. Surely they also have Spanish speakers in management, there? (And if not… why not, given a large Spanish workforce?)

        Managing inappropriate conversations in ANY language is the same process. Not, “don’t speak that language,” but, “comments about topic X are not appropriate for the workplace.”

        1. Beany*

          If the coworkers shut up or change the subject when Spanish-speaking management is in earshot, that’s not going to help.

          OTOH, this sounds a bit like a tree-falling-in-the-forest kind of situation. If people are gossiping about you, but you never know because you don’t understand the language, is there really an issue?

          1. JSPA*

            It can be (regardless of language).

            If a quarter of the company is in on the standing lie that “Lucille is a total floozy who got her job by sleeping with the boss, she can’t even turn on a computer,” then even if Lucile never knows why her promotion is stalled, the promotion is no less stalled.

            If it’s one-time thing like, who farted during the meeting, or who brought the truly inedible burnt-yet-undercooked casserole to the pot luck, then, probably better not to know.

            Point yet again is, if there’s a problem with a specific piece of gossip or pattern of gossip, then yes, there’s a problem–but the problem is the content and context and attitude and behavior, not which language was used.

      12. Little_Snakelet*

        “There is nothing xenophobic about thinking people speaking around you in a foreign language are gossiping about you. Especially people in the workplace who know you. It happens a lot. …

        The only defense alas is to learn the language …”

        Ew. How racist.

      13. quill*

        Paranoia is when you assume conversations surrounding you are always about you. Xenophobia is when you only assume conversations around you are about you if they’re in a language you understand.

      14. Unkempt Flatware*

        Agreeing with all here and I would suggest you try hard to hear everyone here. This stance is shockingly naive.

      15. wittyrepartee*

        I have literally had people gossip about me in a language I don’t understand. Also, it’s xenophobic to begrudge them speaking their native language just because they might be talking smack about you. They could gossip about you in English too.

      16. Strawberry*

        Reminder that people will gossip about you in English too. Even at work! Sometimes even within earshot! With remote work now there’s no shortage of gosship happening on the sidelines through text message/teams/zoom chat/whatever. I’ve caught people gossiping about me because they assumed I couldn’t hear them with my headphones on! It is an inevitability of living in a human society, and assuming that its more likely to happen just because someone is speaking a language you don’t understand is in fact, xenophobic.

    2. Well...*

      I always think it’s pretty obvious when someone is talking about you in another language, just like it’s obvious when someone is whispering about you. Body language plays a big role.

      The xenophobic part is assuming you have a right to know what people are saying all the time and overreacting when they use another language. I’ve never seen someone lose it over someone else whispering/snickering etc, probably because the power dynamics at play change. It’s rude to talk about people in front of them, but it doesn’t warrant throwing a fit.

    3. Hailrobonia*

      OTOH, I have been in situations where people in my company are gossiping in their native language (Chinese) not knowing that I speak Chinese and could understand them. I really appreciated hearing my supervisor and her colleagues speculating about my sex life.

      1. Myrin*

        I would assume, though, that the language issue only made it easier for these people to talk about your sex life – seeing how this was apparently a pertinent topic for them, they likely would’ve found a way to talk about it out of your earshot if the language angle hadn’t existed. UGH!

        (I actually think this illustrates the problem quite well – is the language thing just the most-easily-identifiable-and-least-abstract accessory to issues of exclusion and hostility within these groups or is everyone friendly, helpful, and welcoming and the support group simply can’t stomach not understanding every single word someone else speaks so the language use itself is seen as a problem?)

        1. Tabasco Fiasco*

          Right- language is a red herring in that situation. The issue is workplace appropriate topics, not that they’re being discussed in a different language than commonly spoken in the workplace.

          (Also workplace appropriate topics vary! Sex lives will be off the table at my work, but not at a sex therapist’s. However, it’s very common to hear “erect penis” and “anus”… because we work with photography by Robert Mapplethorpe.)

        2. Washi*

          Yeah I have been on both sides of this (including times where I was a speaker of another language, or understood the other language but couldn’t really speak it) and my experience has been that the amount of gossip is the same, it’s just a question of whether it happens within earshot of others. If there’s a lot of nasty gossip, I think that says more about the individuals and/or the company culture than about what language it’s happening in.

          1. JSPA*

            This. If you have inadequate hiring, HR and management to develop a mutually- respectful workplace, “only in English” wouldn’t fix the attitude problem, even if it were legal.

            I’ve worked in places where sex life conversation and gossip were quite common (in English). It wasn’t intended to be mean- spirited, but neither was it quite, “opt-in only.” (And frankly, the self-styled “motherly ladies” hoping to match-make were the pushiest and nosiest, and completely unaware that this, too, was sexual and invasive, even if it wasn’t cat-calling or side-boob peeking, or the other things they recognized and called out as harassment.)

            The way to deal with off kilter conversions in any language is to remind people,

            a) its not OK, here
            b) you don’t know who cares
            c) you don’t know who lip-reads
            d) you don’t know who can hear you
            e) you don’t know who speaks enough of your language to understand
            f) conversions on break are still workplace conversions

            1. owen*

              really you just need a) it’s not OK and f) conversations on break are still workplace conversations. b) to e) are things they should probably keep in mind in a winder sense, but the relevant parts are a) and f)

        3. BethDH*

          This is a really good way of framing it. The language use could be a means to exclusion but it is not exclusionary and proper thing to address is the exclusion not the language.
          I wonder whether OP might consider ways to develop better cross-team engagement instead of trying to police the other team’s internal cameraderie? This doesn’t have to be in the mandatory workplace fun way, was thinking more that trying a little harder to facilitate mixing the groups for smaller projects that have 3-4 people.

    4. Sarah*

      If I wanted to bond with Spanish speaking people, I’d also try to learn some Spanish :)

      1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        They’ve already had to learn English, seems a bit much to ask them to learn Spanish as well.

        1. JSPA*

          Certainly at least one or two people in management reasonably could and should learn a smattering, given how easy it is, if you speak English or any romance language.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            LOL @ the idea that “learning a smattering” is that easy.

            For instance, I took French and Latin in school, so I can read simple stuff like road signs in some other Romance languages (maybe not Romanian, though…seems pretty different). But developing a level of competency high enough to comprehend real-time conversations between fluent speakers is way beyond that.

            1. JSPA*

              20 hours with duolingo and a quick search of slang terms is not a huge reach, and it’s absolutely enough to say hi, ask how it’s going…and also recognize the top level problematic stuff (in the range of, “verb + culo/tetas” or anything “puta,” and to reply with, “clean language in the office, please.” (If that’s the general rule in all languages, in that office.)

              More complex stuff…If someone is commenting on a coworker for dressing in colors that are “fall” when they are a “spring,” or wearing vertical stripes because it makes their features look harder, or for being so dang upbeat all the time, or saying their perfume reminds you of cat pee…that level, you won’t catch. But it’s also much less of an issue, frankly.

            2. quill*

              Reading is way easier than speaking for me with spanish, a language I did a whole minor in, but the listening part fills in for me pretty quick with regular practice.

              Still: it’s never impolite to learn a little on your own, if only to greet people. And if knowing a little bit helps people be less xenophobic even if they never get past hello, goodbye, and where is the bathroom, I’d argue it’s worth it.

        2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

          Well, I had to learn Spanish first, and that didn’t prevent me learning English afterwards.

            1. Emmy Noether*

              Every language after the second becomes easier to learn than the last, at least if they are all within the same family. Harder to maintain multiple foreign languages long-term though.

      2. Judge Judy and Executioner*

        RIGHT? That’s exactly what I did. It’s benefited me in so many ways.

    5. Forrest*

      I don’t know if xenophobic is the right term for this when the first group are also non-native English speakers speaking in their second language? I think it’s the right term when you’re talking about monolingual English speakers who are suspicious of people they perceive as “foreign”, but these are people who are already navigating work in their second language and used to bi/multilingual environments. The power relationships are much more complicated here than I think “xenophobic” suggests.

      1. JSPA*

        The employer’s ethnicity (or often, WASPS) getting waived in as “acceptable” in this circumstance to whatever their ethnicity is, with suspicion of any other group of foreigners (as a group) remaining, can still be caused by fear or distrust of otherness.

        Compare: When there’s only one exchange student in town who is culturally different, they’re almost always treated as exotic and interesting. When the exact same ethnicity and culture make up 7% of the town’s residents, active xenophobia will be somewhat freely expressed. At 20%, there will be political slogans about sub-humanity, loyalty to foreign powers, great replacement. And people present at 1-3%, given the choice, are as likely to buy into the larger group’s xenophobic contingent, as to fight against it (unless it comes for and at them, first).

        (BTW, it’s not like people don’t know the stereotypes about their own groups. If someone thinks you’re likely presuming them lecherous based on a stereotype, they may say, along with a long, meaningful look and a nudge, to a pal, “I really appreciate how she reformats those spreadsheets for the difficult client.” (i.e. something that can only be taken as harassment if you’re looking for harassment, AND don’t speak the language.)

        1. Patty Mayonnaise*

          How do we know that Spanish isn’t the dominant language in the LW’s country though? The group that speaks a variety of other languages might actually be the out group here. In that case I wouldn’t personally call it xenophobic, but maybe it still is… either way I thought this was the point Forrest was trying to make.

      2. LTL*

        People who are not monolingual English speakers can also view others as foreign lol

        Xenophobia is prejudice against people who are different from you, anyone can be xenophobic

        1. Forrest*

          I’m not saying they can’t be xenophobic, but that usually implies a power relationship and a majority/ minoritised group. It’s not necessarily what’s happening here— it might be, but there’s nothing definite.

      3. Gothic Bee*

        Yeah, I kind of feel like the bigger issue might be that the others who (presumably) don’t have anyone to speak their native language are maybe annoyed or even jealous that the Spanish-speakers CAN speak their native language. Speaking a second language can be annoying or exhausting even if you speak it fluently. Don’t get me wrong, the xenophobic aspect to it is bad, but in this context the Spanish-speakers are the majority. I imagine the others might be frustrated they have to keep using their second language in order to communicate socially when the new team can speak their native language (and in a way that isolates them from everyone else).

    6. Butterfly Counter*

      I wonder if the paranoia is part and parcel of feeling ignorant when others around you know this whole big other thing (an entirely different language). A person already feels behind and not smart enough, so others must be thinking and speaking about that same thing to others right in front of them. Or so they think.

      I teach and, on days I’m not feeling entirely confident in something about myself, even just whispers or giggles by students in the room make me wonder if my zipper is down or if they think my outfit is terrible. Obviously, they are probably only whispering about me only 50% of the time (just kidding), it still feels like 100% of the time that I’m not feeling great that I must be the subject of their conversation.

    7. Nanani*


      2’s employees need to grow up and realize the world does not revolve around them. Other people aren’t talking about them or even thinking about them. Hassling your coworkers who happen to have a language in common becuase someone ~might~ say something you don’t like is immature and gross.

      The entire pub didn’t switch to Welsh when the English guy walked in, the Spanish-speaking team isn’t gossiping about Bob and Jane, and xenophobia is a bigger issue than your employees imagination.

    8. LTL*

      This! I don’t understand the fear from monolingual English speakers. When my sister and I were in elementary school, some kids told us that it was rude for us to speak in our native language with each other because “we don’t know if you’re talking about us.” It was such a strange complaint. I could talk behind your back in English when you’re not in earshot if I wanted to.

      I also remember in 1st or 2nd grade there were a few Chinese kids in class who would speak Chinese with each other and the teacher would always tell them off for not speaking in English.

      I dunno, complaints about people not speaking in a language you can understand just gets to me. It comes across as those “people from X place are being exclusionary by having their own group, it’s segregation” complaints. OP mentions that everyone on the team speaks English as a second language but that doesn’t mean racism can’t be at play. The comment about paranoia has me wary.

      1. Gracely*

        Yeah. I mean, I’m bilingual, have traveled/lived in a lot of places where I spoke the native language but still look very American–unless we’re having a conversation, most people assume I only speak English. Only once have I caught someone talking about me (and oh, it was glorious when I spoke up to let them know I understood exactly what they were saying). Just once.

        Most of the time, people around you are much more involved in themselves than they are you.

        1. Gracely*

          Well, and there was the one time a waiter at a hotel restaurant asked me where the hell I was from(in a nice way), because I spoke the native language to everyone working there, but English with my (non-bilingual) spouse, and again, I look super American. Not quite the same thing, but a lot of fun to be like “yep, I am very American but also very fluent in this other language, never judge a book by its cover!”

          1. quill*

            When I went to guatemala on a school trip in college, it was really amusing to see the difference between people selling us food when I went with the TA, who was from mexico, and spoke spanish with her, versus when I was in a group of lobsterishly sunburnt blonde midwesterners who did not speak spanish.

            Tourist pricing is very real. But it’s also the absolute limit of how much any random person on the street who thought we might not know spanish actually cared what we were doing.

        2. PSA*

          A few students in a class my sister taught were still lingering in the room when they started talking sh*t about her in Spanish. She replied in Spanish to let them know that she could understand every word so if they didn’t want her to know what they were saying, they should continue their conversation outside of the classroom.

      2. ferrina*

        Yeah, when you think about it, it’s pretty much saying “I reserve the right to police your conversation.” Um, no.

    9. Judge Judy and Executioner*

      This is a pet peeve of mine. Soy gringa and I have been working hard on learning Spanish to be a better partner with my work teammates from other countries. It’s greatly benefited me, and has enabled me to roll out programs in some DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) ways that would not have been possible had I not ensured I could at least speak in meetings in Spanish. I’ve improved over time, and can do more conversational now, but still work with a native speaker to ensure correct translations.

      If people are annoyed by individuals speaking another language, they should either learn the language or not worry about it.

    10. Taylor*

      I’ve been in a similar situation twice in my life, and both times I managed to have a bi-lingual co-worker who I befriended and they basically confirmed that the rest of the group got pretty intense with their gossip and bullying. It’s a pretty common experience to a point that I think it’s almost a universal part of human nature, but think about it, if you were able to talk freely about your co-workers without them understanding you, what would you say?

    11. Mitsuko*

      Much of my education was in international schools and institutions – all the way from middle school to PhD. I have lived on 3 continents in 5 countries. There is absolutely nowhere where it’s not considered rude to speak a foreign language in company of other people who do not understand, if there is a common language everyone speaks easily. It’s not a legal thing, but people who do that are considered impolite in every culture I’ve been in.
      Having said that, it’s one thing if you are, say, sitting at the same table together and speaking a language that excludes one person there, and sitting with your co-linguists at a completely separate table and chatting in a language nobody else understands, which I think it just fine.

      1. JSPA*

        1. “in company” (together as a bunch) and “in the same airspace” are separate concepts
        2. scientists who’ve been speaking english together all day (be that in the US, in France, in Poland, in Portugal, in the Netherlands, in Germany, in Brazil, in Argentina, in Japan, in China) often will lapse into their native tongue to discuss something non-science with co-speakers.

        Stepping aside for 15 minutes a couple of times a day–out of what’s often a 12 hour day, into a “same culture / same language / same institute / same small potential set of flights” group is completely OK.

        How’s the spouse, how are the kids…have you found a place where the food is cheaper / less bland / more bland…are we on the same flight, if so do you want to share a taxi when we get home…have you heard about the political or economic bombshell that’s happening back home…cricket / rugby / soccer scores…and above all, “have you found someone who understands and can fix the problem with our tickets and reimbursement? Totally normal to not want to navigate that in English, if your English is science and international colleagues english.

        It’s also more OK in proportion to how hard it would be to stay in English. The Dutch give each other more side-eye, because Dutch scientists speak english at a level that, uh, 80% to 120% as fluent as the average American. In contrast, if your language group and exposure are both distant from English, taking a break is totally, totally unremarkable.

    12. Nina*

      I live in an English-speaking country and used to work in a lab where 10% of my colleagues had Cantonese as their first language, 10% Hindi, 10% English, and 70% Punjabi, including the manager. The problem wasn’t that the Punjabi speakers spoke Punjabi at work. The problem was that they spoke Punjabi about work tasks, including to coordinate who was doing what, and the 30% of people who couldn’t understand them were left out of the loop and didn’t know what was going on.

      The paranoia kicked in when the Punjabi conversations happening were obviously about work (a lot of common technical terms were English loanwords) and I couldn’t tell whether it was something I needed to know in order to do my job effectively or not.

  4. Esmeralda*

    OP 3: some hiring managers will check the references for the top two or three so that if they don’t get their first choice, they’re ready to turn around and make an offer to the next candidate.

    1. allathian*

      Indeed. Or simply to differentiate between two great candidates. All other things being equal, most employers will hire the employee with “better” references.

  5. Yvette*

    You should still have some sort of access to your pay stubs, print the last few you know were from when you were still working as well as the ones you feel are in error (or save them to a hard drive). There may be notations indicating vacation pay etc.
    If you were overpaid, this can be a bigger mess than simply returning the money. The income was reported to the IRS and state government, Social Security was withheld. Hold on to the pay stubs and when you get your W-2 make sure has the correct amounts. And I just realized that I am assuming you are in the US. I guess things may be similar elsewhere.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      Out of curiosity, if you were in this situation (accidental over-payment with taxes, etc. withheld), and you wanted a professional to sort it out, would a tax accountant be sufficient, or would you need more than that?

      1. Weegie*

        I was overpaid once after leaving a job, and after I alerted HR about it, the payroll team sorted everything out. It took a bit of time, but all I had to do was transfer back the overpaid amount and they took care of everything else.

      2. Ontariariario*

        I’m not sure how things work in the US, but in Canada you just do your taxes in April with the correct pay stubs (T4). If the pay is incorrect then you can either wait until the correct forms are received if you don’t owe taxes on the correct amount, or file with what you have and then amend later. No need for a professional or specialist.

        For example, if you were paid twice your salary, so $100k instead of $50k, and therefore your employer sent $25k of that to CRA instead of $10k, and in Feb you got the correct T4 and paid back your company $50k then you would do your taxes and get back $15k, making things even.

        Ideally the company would have you pay back $35k initially, and then the $15k from your tax refund after it was returned to you by CRA.

      3. HB*

        A tax accountant wouldn’t be able to help you except to tell you exactly what you needs to be fixed. The company is the one filing the W2 and other Payroll forms and making deposits to the IRS and those forms have to be amended.

      4. Daisy-dog*

        Because it is still the same tax year, it isn’t that big of a mess yet. Some things have been reported as of the end of the quarter, but whoever manages payroll can still submit an amendment. A tax accountant wouldn’t be needed because it’s pretty straightforward – there’s no special calculations that need to be done. Even if it doesn’t get resolved until 2023 after W-2s are processed – the company would just need to amend it and issue a W-2C. Basically, there’s no way to fix it without the company doing something.

    2. MistOrMister*

      Not everyone has paystub access what with some of these new electronic systems. As far as I know, the site we use in my office will not let you in after you’ve left. I guess I could be wrong, but they cut all our stuff off right away after our last day, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they killed our access there since it’s on a site with a lot of Firm information. Which….as I think on it is kind of dumb. And they stopped mailing us paper stubs years ago.

        1. Observer*


          Any system that allows you to have online access allows you to download your information. If you want access after you leave, download it before you leave.

          1. OfOtherWorlds*

            That sounds like the sort of thing I wouldn’t think to do until it was too late, and I don’t think I’m alone here.

            1. Observer*

              That should be emailed. If the company won’t facilitate that, that IS a problem, agreed.

      1. alienor*

        I left a job last year, my last day was a Friday, and by Monday morning I no longer had access to any company systems including pay info. The only thing I could still view was my 401(k) because it was on a third-party site the company didn’t control.

        1. KRM*

          My last job did that to me and I couldn’t even access my W2! Had to email HR to get that restored (but still no access to old paystubs, which is super annoying. I understand going forward from date of leaving the company, but the old stuff is still my paperwork.). But OP you have the date of termination, and dates of $$ deposited, so I’d be on the phone with HR as soon as humanly possible trying to sort this out. Just make sure you know the total of what you think the overpayment is (in case some of it is vacation payout, etc) and agree with the HR how much they have to take back. But the money is likely not yours, and yes, you have to give it back! Imagine spending it and then in 5 years the company has an audit and finds out the overpayment and goes to take it back then? You don’t want that to happen.

          1. Observer*

            It’s your paperwork, but their system. And they NEED to keep it secure. Any company that allows people access to a system this sensitive after they have left is asking for trouble, to be honest. Unless you are being fired (in which case they have an obligation to get you your paperwork), you know when you are leaving. Download your paperwork before you go.

            1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

              This depends on when the paperwork is produced; if it isn’t produced until after after your departure (such as if there is a delay in payroll periods), the company is required to provide you a means to access a record of hours worked and paid (ie, pay stubs). They don’t have to provide that via the payroll system, of course, because that would be insecure (which is why many companies will opt to mail you your last check and pay stub).

              1. Observer*

                That’s the thing. Of course they have to give you those records. Either mail the paper or, and this would be my preference, if you have an email address send it that way.

            2. Hosta*

              You should download your data, but it simply isn’t true that it is trouble to let people access their paystubs after they leave.

              Proper security would be to have the pay system have its own permissions, and that should be the case at ANY company. I know several large tech companies that have world class security and they all allow access to w2s and paystubs after you leave. They do it different ways, some you continue to use your username and passwords others you setup authorization with a personal email before you leave. Neither is a security issue.

      2. Snow Globe*

        Usually you *can* access these systems after you’ve left, but it’s not always easy to figure out how. There may be a different web address for people who’ve left the company, and you’d need to set up an account with new user name/password. It’s easier to figure all that out before you leave (there may be information in your handbook), but after you’ve gone it can be challenging.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          There were a lot of things I didn’t love about the company I left in 2020, but I really appreciated that when I did leave they gave me this big packet that included information about COBRA and where to go to access things like paystub information and detailing where the HSA and 401k are located and everything like that. It was very convenient.

      3. Observer*

        but they cut all our stuff off right away after our last day, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they killed our access there since it’s on a site with a lot of Firm information

        That’s a fairly normal thing to do for well run firms, but the thing is that it assumes that payroll knows that you are gone. The payroll folks apparently don’t know that the OP is gone, though, which makes me think that IT doesn’t know either, so the OP’s access may still be live.

        as I think on it is kind of dumb

        Are you saying that it’s dumb to give all staff access to a server that has a lot of sensitive information on it? If so, I mostly agree with you. If you mean that it’s dumb to worry about that access once someone is gone, I would have to totally disagree with you.

      4. Jora Malli*

        The system where I work will still allow access until the January after you leave, because its where you have to go to download your W2. A lot of places allow that.

      5. Need More Sunshine*

        If HR hasn’t caught on that OP has left the company, they likely haven’t removed OP from the HRIS where the pay stubs are stored, so it’s worth a try.

      6. fhqwhgads*

        No idea what system that office was on, but my previous employers had different login portals for current employees vs past employees. Same site. Same credentials. But there were different buttons for logging in as “employee” vs “former employee”. May not apply, but worth looking into.

      1. Beth*

        Exactly. The money does not legally belong to the LW, and can neither be spent nor given away legally. The only safe approach is to assume that it will be clawed back sooner or later.

        1. Koalafied*

          Best case scenario you might earn 2 whole pennies in interest if you stick it in a savings account while waiting for them to reclaim it!

  6. Michelle*

    LW5, one time over 20 years ago, I had a paycheck deposited that I hadn’t earned after I left a job… and they ended up undepositing it without notice later, which caused my bank account to go into the red (that early in my career, my checking account very rarely had much wiggle room between red and black!) and it was a mess. They didn’t even pretend remorse or sympathy when I told them I’d’ve really appreciated knowing that that was going to happen. FYI!

    1. Artemesia*

      Lots of people don’t know that when businesses have deposit rights, they can also scoop it right back up. I have a colleague who was paid twice for something and sent the money back; unfortunately the check was cashed AND the amount was deducted from their account leaving their mortgage to bounce. It was a mess.

      1. Sleepy cat*

        This is one reason why you shouldn’t actively make a payment to return it – another is that this makes it look like you’ve received and spent the money which can have tax implications.

        I’m in the UK and my employer once accidentally paid my train season ticket loan twice. My bank advised me not to actively pay it back but to insist my employer recalled it because it would have caused tax issues for me.

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          Sorry to veer off topic, but what is a “train season ticket loan?” I thought that a “train season ticket” must be British English for what we’d call an “annual pass” (although I haven’t heard of rail systems here selling annual passes, only monthly passes), which some employers will pay part of the cost for. But the loan part has me flummoxed. How does that work?

          1. UKDancer*

            Basically the employer loans you the money to get a season ticket (what you call an annual pass) for your transport. This is useful because it’s a substantial amount (mine is about £2000) that you may not otherwise have. They then deduct the money each month from your salary on an interest free basis. In the UK you can either get a monthly pass or an annual one for most train companies. Annual is cheaper if you’re travelling every day and the season loan scheme is very useful if you want the annual pass.

            It’s a fairly useful perk especially in London when many people commute by train / tube / bus. My current company will also do the same for purchase of a bicycle but I’m not sure exactly how that works.

          2. Nancy in Scotland*

            A season ticket is indeed an annual pass. (You can also get monthly and weekly tickets.) They can be expensive up front, depending on how long your commute is, so it’s quite common for companies to lend staff the cost of the ticket, and then the loan is paid back in deductions from your salary over the course of the year.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      Not trying to bash you when you’re down but probably when you did the paperwork for direct deposit in the first place it did tell you that if this situation came up, that’s what would happen. So from their perspective they probably didn’t have remorse or sympathy since from their side, you’d been warned.

  7. Adnan*

    #3 : This happened to an applicants I dealth with last year. I had shortlisted three top ones after interviews and skill testing. One of the candidates had a lot of experience and had 3-4 year stints with 3 companies. He had quit the last job 6 months before (reason given – to take care of sick family member) and said that the manager John will most likely give him a bad reference. I spoke to that manager and he gave an ok reference (not glowing and not negative either). I really liked the candidate so I asked to speak to the managers from the previous two jobs as he had told me those were his best references. Both those managers said the candidate had been managed out and would not rehire this person as he struggled with deadlines, would hoard work and not ask for help until the projects missed deadlines.

    The position I was hiring for is very deadline driven. It is 100% work from home and we expect staff to be able to manage their priorities. Based on the references from the last two managers I rejected the candidate and told him he was not the top candidate so we won’t be moving him forward.

    He called wanted to know what bad things his last manager John had said about him. He said he was sure the other two managers would have said great things about him. I refused to discuss this. The candidate then said that he was sure John had given him a bad reference because John was gay and did not like him. I ended the call immediately and blocked him.
    Since the candidate had done really well on the skill testing I was hoping to find another position in the organization that would not be deadline driven. But after the rant about John, I put him on the do not hire list.

    1. allathian*

      Ugh, a bad employee and homophobic to boot. I just hope that at some point in his job search someone will do him a favor and tell him that his first two references aren’t as favorable to him as he thinks…

    2. Observer*

      He called wanted to know what bad things his last manager John had said about him. He said he was sure the other two managers would have said great things about him. I refused to discuss this. The candidate then said that he was sure John had given him a bad reference because John was gay and did not like him.

      Good grief! What an idiot!

      You really dodged a bullet there!

  8. Not So First Time Poster*

    re: #2… wow…. im surprised in this day and age people get mad that other people speak a different language around them (referring to the employees in this case). I hope these people learn that not everything is for them. im glad this is protected by the law, that is news to me and a very welcome protection!

    1. Jo*

      I’m very supportive of people speaking their native language to each other because I understand how exhausting it is to operate in a second language 24/7. But I’ve also been in situations where I was the only person who didn’t know the language everyone else was communicating in. I found it deeply lonely, and felt some mix of uncomfortable and invisible. I don’t agree with anyone who thinks the Spanish speakers should be forced to speak only English, but I don’t think it’s at all surprising that the non-Spanish speakers are having negative feelings about it, even if those feelings shouldn’t drive any action here.

      1. Mid*

        It seems like an easy solution to this would be to actually converse with the Spanish speaking colleagues then. There is no indication that they’re excluding anyone, intentionally or not. Has anyone attempted to learn Spanish? Find out the other team’s likes and interests? Actually engage with the other team? Or is everyone just sulking because they assume everyone is gossiping about them without making any effort to actually get to know their coworkers?

        1. Amber*

          Attempted to learn Spanish like it’s that easy? I studied Spanish for 7 years and can have basic conversations with my Spanish speaking colleagues. But I do not have an aptitude for languages. If it was a language my coworkers are speaking that I have no background in? Do you have any IDEA how much time and effort it would take to learn enough to be able to communicate socially?

          1. WantonSeedStitch*

            On the plus side, though, the Spanish-speaking team is bilingual, according to the OP, so they do speak English as well. The other team could strike up conversations in English. It’s not going to STOP the Spanish-speaking team from using their native language amongst themselves, but if they’re able to form better relationships with that team, it might mean that they would feel less concerned about being the subject of gossip or being excluded.

            1. Amber*

              Sure not arguing that. I’m pushing back on the idea that someone should “just learn some Spanish.” Picking up a new language is easy for some and near impossible for others and I find this kind of attitude dismissive and ableist.

              1. Beany*

                ITA. I’m good at languages on paper, but I never got fluent or near-fluent in any conversationally (e.g. French, even after 8 years in school). It’s an aptitude, like anything else.

                (And this is ignoring the difference between language as it’s taught in schools, and the slangier version that’s spoken in the real world.)

              2. whingedrinking*

                Agreed. I am a second language teacher and I always do a slow boil any time I hear someone say, “This is [country], learn English!” when even people who spend years learning a new language, particularly as an adult, will still probably never speak it like a native. Doubly so when there’s actually nothing at all wrong with the speaker’s English, they just have a non-native accent (which even for people whose grammar and vocabulary are phenomenal, is almost impossible to completely get rid of).

            1. Amber*

              That certainly sounds very challenging, and if I was moving to a country that spoke a different language I would also struggle and learn it out of necessity.

            2. Observer*

              English is not that much harder than Spanish. But regardless, it’s kind of silly to talk about “just learning” any language, especially well enough to carry on actual conversations. Even for people who already know multiple languages.

              1. JSPA*


                Duolingo alone can get you to level 1 (cursory understanding) or 2 ( routine social demands and limited work requirements) for free. But in a workplace that has language training, there well may be more intensive options, as well. For Spanish, 24 weeks of intense training should get moderately language-comfortable people to 3 (proficient, though clearly non-native).

                Spanish has less variability in sounds, in conjugation, and a significantly smaller vocabulary than English (which often has duplicate loan words from germanic, romance and other sources). This can make english easier to speak (you can pick the cognate) but harder to understand (someone may pick the cognate in their language, which isn’t the one you know).


                1. Observer*

                  Just because Duolingo makes these claims, does not mean that this works for everyone. Also, level 2 is not actually enough to follow social conversations taking place between people speaking their primary language.

                  Expecting people with full time jobs to take 24 weeks of “intense training” is a LOT. Now, sometimes it’s worth it. But that is NOT the kind of commitment that can be lumped under “just do it” and it is not a reasonable response to the kind of situation under discussion.

                2. Tau*

                  +1 Observer.

                  Look, if you have – solely with a little Duolingo – managed to get to the point of understanding native speakers talking among themselves – I’m happy for you! I genuinely am! But this isn’t something you can generalize. I’ve, as mentioned elsewhere, sunk a lot of time, effort and money into Spanish. I’ve taken a sum total of around two months’ worth of full-time immersion courses in Spain (and doing my level best to speak only Spanish once I got to that level too) and have been taking private classes for about a year. I’ve been talking about things like current politics, the pandemic and my opinions on current restrictions, our electoral systems, and my criticism of Valentine’s Day as an institution with my teacher, spontaneously with only occasional pauses to look up a piece of missing vocabulary or play describe-the-word. And I could not follow a conversation between native speakers, in a casual setting, at full speed, using slang. Maybe this is on me for not practicing with more movies, but I really do have to cast doubt on this idea that comprehension in that sort of situation is easy to acquire with a bit of language knowledge.

                  Also, [citation needed] on the variability in conjugation bit. Unless you’re only counting the number of irregular verbs, potentially ignoring the Spanish ones that are “regular” irregular via stem vowel changes, and ignoring the fact that where English verbs generally have three forms you need to learn (present/simple past/past participle), Spanish has a full-fledged five/six (depending on dialect) person conjugation suite with two synthetic past tenses, one synthetic future, and a subjunctive mood. The leg up on vocabulary is real, ngl, but it’s worth noting that you’re still going to have to learn many, many words by rote especially among the commonly-used ones, and also that a significant chunk of the overlap is made up of relatively high-register English words (think “room” vs “habitación”), which ESL speakers like in OP1 may not know either.

                  It’s also worth noting that the FSI link specifies that they assume 24 weeks in one of the FSI’s intensive courses (so, full-time immersion language learning for over 6 months – have fun selling that to your boss) and that the FSI sets out to hire people who are gifted with languages and so this shouldn’t be generalized.

                  Learning a language is great, I 100% recommend it! But the amount of people downplaying what it involves and how much effort is necessary (and where “can understand what Spanish speakers are saying amongst themselves” falls on your likely roadmap) is weirding me out.

          2. JSPA*

            For people who are already bi or trilingual in the workplace, with one of those languages English, it’s a fair bet that they have pretty good language aptitude.

            I’ll post in various estimates of difficulty for English speakers to gain functional profficiency in various languages. (again, this is geared to hires who have an interest in international relations and some natural aptitude).

      2. A.N. O'Nyme*

        Yeah, the feeling left out is the real crux of the issue, but is language really to blame for that? Nothing prevents the supporting team from starting conversations in English, plus if you’re coming in to support an established team you’re likely to feel a bit left out even if everyone is monolingual in the same language simply because of how group dynamics work.

        I’m also surprised this is coming from other ESL speakers – unless there is a significant difference in workplace culture where one team always speaks English and the other doesn’t I’d expect them to know that speaking your native tongue is less tiring and usually doesn’t mean anything about how you feel regarding people who don’t speak the language.

        1. Myrin*

          Yeah, the group dynamics thing is what really stood out to me immediately – I was wondering if what’s going on might not be as simple as “two individually established teams now work together but socialisation stays more or less as before, with people talking primarily with their own team and not mingling with the newcomers” but since the language thing is a tangible issue, that’s what OP’s team gets hung up on.

          1. A.N. O'Nyme*

            Exactly. I’m not discounting the possibility that LW’s group may be on to something, but other than “they’re speaking a language we don’t understand” there’s nothing in the letter to indicate that. And if LW’s group is indeed right that the other group is talking smack about them…The language they do it in still isn’t the problem.

          2. Sylvan*

            Yeah, that was my read on it. There’s some other issue that’s harder to pin down and harder to solve than “we don’t like it when some people speak Spanish.”

        2. Dragon*

          How? How do you engage with a group of people speaking a language you don’t understand? Do you just walk up and start speaking at them? There is no way to join their conversation because, again, you have no idea what they’re talking about. Or do you corner one of them near the toilets? That is sure to go swimmingly.

      3. Tau*

        Yep. Different situation, but I’m in a an English-speaking workplace in Germany and have multiple times seen company policies etc reminding people that English is the working language and to please not exclude people by speaking German in mixed settings, which even as a native German speaker I found fair. Usually I’m 100% on board the “people get to talk in their native language!” train, but depending on team dynamics it can absolutely get exclusionary. I’ve performed a few mid-sentence language swaps before when I noticed a non-German-speaking colleague who might want to participate in the conversation come in. If people aren’t doing that, if they’re jumping straight back to their native language as soon as the meeting is over even if there are people who don’t speak it present who would otherwise participate in the conversation, I can understand why OP’s team is getting frustrated. Especially since it sounds like there’s a critical mass of Spanish speakers (this part being why it’s almost always German that gets the criticism over here – two Albanians speaking Albanian together does not exclusion make.)

      4. Wonder Bread*

        I appreciate your comment about the loneliness and discomfort/invisibility – I know the feeling you mean. But I think the average white American would do well to experience more of that discomfort, sit with it and realize it’s OK to not be comfortable all the time, and use it to develop empathy for people who have to feel it all the time. It’s so rare for a white American in the US to ever have that feeling of being the only person of their race or ethnicity in the room, and that discomfort is something non-white folks experience all the time. Next time this person hears their coworkers speaking in a language they can’t understand and feels discomfort, I wish they’d reflect on why that’s so rare that they automatically assume the worst and want to make it stop.

        1. ecnaseener*

          The people in this letter are not average white Americans. They’re all ESL speakers.

          1. Wonder Bread*

            Yeah, that’s what I get for commenting before coffee. Thank you for catching that. :)

        2. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

          I tend to agree with this. I’ve recently worked with a lot of Italians and it was rather instructive to be one of the only people in the lunch room who couldn’t follow the conversation. Of course if I wanted to jump in and start a conversation in English with someone it would have been no problem.

          1. Butterfly Counter*

            I’m an incredibly shy person. I have a difficult time starting a conversation from scratch with anyone, but especially those already engaged in conversation unless I feel like I have something of worth to add.

            That’s where I’m seeing the trouble. If two people are talking a language I don’t understand and they see me and rightfully (or not) assume that I don’t speak that language, I’m going to take the cue that they don’t want me in the conversation.

            A one-on-one situation would be different; I’d be more likely to start a conversation, but it seems like there are already team dynamics at play that a language barrier is going to exacerbate. There should not be a rule against speaking any language, but I don’t think a reminder by a supervisor that the newcomers who may want to be friendly during the off times might only share a language of English.

      5. Smithy*

        I don’t know if Jo is relating this to a work or social environment, but I used to work in that kind of environment (one of a very few native English speakers and the only person who wasn’t fluent in the other languages of the office).

        While the job was not as social as others have been, I think that provided someone knows that in advance and is given a little courtesy with their calendar (either in trying to spread meetings out across the week or bundle them on days based on their preference for interaction vs solo work), I didn’t find it much more or less lonely than other jobs with more independent structures.

        Working in that environment on a daily basis then made being in those situations socially a lot less difficult. I think at first it can be that a moment of feeling like you don’t know what to do with your hands, but as with anything the more you do it – the easier it gets.

      6. Nanani*

        Not to be rude but… so what?
        You were there to work, your colleagues aren’t always going to be your friends.

        What would you do if everyone was talking about a sport you found boring on every break? Because really, it’s on that level.

    2. L'étrangere*

      A law had to be passed because this was such a constant problem. Americans have internalized the model of parents speaking their own language when they don’t want the kids to understand something. Consequently they are paranoid about others speaking another language among themselves. But it is truly paranoid in the clinical sense, as in imagining slights when none are meant. Your co-workers are not your grandparents, and most adults are perfectly aware that there are many people who understand much of what they say even if they are not fluent in the other language, that the only way to have a private conversation is to have it in private. Besides really of all languages to be around Spanish is possibly the easiest, Roman alphabet, consistent pronunciation, common Latin roots, we’re not talking about Arabic or Japanese or anything truly complex. It’d only take a couple months of DuoLingo to be able to get the gist of most conversations, and you’d have the benefit of a practice pool on hand. So stop it! Willfull monolingualism is not a pretty look

        1. Emi*

          And given that they’re not, I think they likely have a better grasp of their own language-learning capabilities than a bunch of random internet commenters.

      1. TechWorker*

        People have very different abilities at learning languages (and those that already speak two+ may be way quicker) but I can promise you I would not be able to ‘get the gist of most conversations’ with a couple of months on Duolingo. I have 5 years school study, a short course at university and ~year of Duolingo (which was mostly revision as I did learn it all at one point), in a second language which is if anything even easier than Spanish in the way you describe.. and I absolutely cannot ‘get the gist of most conversations’ in social settings.

        1. amoeba*

          Ha, yeah, I found that amusing as well. A few months on duolingo and I’m probably able to ask for the way to the train station and order a coffee. No way I’m following an animated discussion in a social setting. Took me three months to just more or less understand Swiss German – as a German native speaker!

        2. Tau*

          A conversation between native speakers, no less! I’ve sunk a lot of effort into learning Spanish and am by now solidly intermediate level and capable of holding a conversation at reasonable speed about most subjects I’d like to, but the environment described would still be challenging for me.

        3. londonedit*

          Yeah, I got top marks in my French GCSE exams (24 years ago) and about six or seven years ago, when I was freelancing, I decided to spend my Friday afternoons taking a French class because I knew I’d lost so much of my ability with the language over the years. It was great and over two or three years of weekly term-time lessons I really did improve, to the point where when I went to France on holiday I did all the things like meeting our AirBnB hosts on check-in, asking about menu items in restaurants, generally getting us around while we were there in French, including in an area of the country where English wasn’t an automatic alternative. Would I be able to chat in French with actual French people at work? No way. That would be several levels above my reasonable but still basic French – I’m OK if it’s a subject I know my way around, and the language used is at my level, but general chit-chat about anything and everything would be beyond me.

        4. Irish Teacher*

          Yup, I’m Irish, We have to study Irish from the age of 4/5 to the time we leave school around the age of 18. Very few leave the education system fluent. I would say a significant minority leave school without being able to “get the gist of most conversations.” That is after studying the subject near daily for 13/14 years and the subject being given equal status with English and Maths and higher status than all other subjects. And yeah, that IS a bit of a national embarrassment, but I would think somebody would want a flair for languages to “get the gist of most conversations” in a language after just a few months on Duolingo.

        5. Just Another Cog in the Machine*

          I took 4 years of German in high school, and – even while I was still studying it – I was not great at understanding much of what was said in a conversation between native speakers. Between other Americans at about my level speaking it, yes, but not between Germans.

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        I agree that the assumption that the Spanish speakers are gossiping is pretty paranoid, but I have to say that picking up a new language as an adult isn’t as simple as “do Duolingo for a few months and it’ll be fine”. I’ve been studying French – evening classes, lots of study in my downtime – for years now and while I can read and write it quite well, following conversations between native speakers is still pretty tough. We don’t know how much time or resources the non-Spanish speakers have to dedicate to learning another new language, so I can see why they might not have done so.

        (Also, apologies if I’m off-base but going by your username, are you a Francophone? If so then I’m not surprised that you view Spanish as the easiest language to pick up! But the other coworkers are also ESL, not monolingual, and we don’t know what their first languages are, so it could be that Spanish isn’t as intuitive to them as it is to speakers of closely-related languages.)

        1. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          Exactly. And This is especially true for languages like Spanish where the accents, slang and pacing can vary significantly depending on where people are from.

          1. Koalafied*

            Exactly. Just one small example – it took me years of Spanish study before I figured out that this mysterious “pa” word everyone kept saying meant “para” – a Spanish colloquial equivalent of “gonna” or “dunno,” meaning you won’t find it in any dictionary because it’s just a non-standard pronunciation, not an actual word. It constantly led to me hearing things like “pa que” and my brain wondering if this was some form of a “paquer/paquir/paquar” verb that I was unfamiliar with.

            It wasn’t until I’d spent months consuming almost exclusively Spanish TV and music in my downtime to attempt to halfway immerse myself as best I could in the language, that I was able to piece it together from context.

      3. MistOrMister*

        I have to say, Duolingo is not for everyone. I think that website is a bunch of crap. I’ve tried it for a couple of languages, and it is horrible. I figured, why not try Mandarin? Well, what a mistake! At least with Spanish, I already had a base so I knew a lot of the vocab already. Mandarin started me out asking which of the 4 words present meant hi. And all I could think was, why are you asking me this as someone who knows nothing about this language??? I have found their program to be abysmal at actually teaching any language and I would be very surprised if people are actually gaining language proficiency with it.

        I have never heard of the term willful monolingualism before, so that is interesting. Not everyone can easily learn a new language. And I would say that most people are not going to be able to easily teach themselves a language even if they have access to books, internet classes, etc. Many are not going to have the time or resources to take a language course in person. There is nothing shameful about knowing only your main language. That being said, one way to get a feel for the sounds of Spanish in particular is to watch telenolvelas with the captions on and, ideally, with a natives speaker. My college roommate introduced me to them. At first she had to explain absolutely everything. After a while I was able to follow along even without her, although I am sure I was missing out on some nuanced things. Since the shows generally only lasted about 6 months or so, the storylines went so quickly that you were able to follow right along.

        1. Tau*

          I recently wanted to start learning Russian and thought I’d try Duolingo as a first step. Then I realised that attempting to learn a language with grammatical gender, a case system, verb conjugation, and a lot of phonetic distinctions no language I speak makes *from context* sounded like hell and I’d rather use a course that gave me the declension tables and a decent run-down of the phonetics involved.

          1. Daria Grace*

            Yup. Duolingo is okay for languages like Indonesian with phonetic spelling in the Latin alphabet and grammar that’s more straighforward than most European languages. But even having done two semesters of Chinese at university a decade ago, 5 minutes in the very first Chinese lesson was enough to make my head spin

        2. Colette*

          Duolingo is really good at reinforcing language, but I agree it’s difficult to learn a language using only Duolingo. I’ve been actively working on my French for years, and Duolingo is very useful for that, in conjunction with actual classes.

        3. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I have been told that Lingodeer is much better for Asian languages if that’s helpful at all!

        4. wittyrepartee*

          Mandarin is rough because it’s not written in the way it’s spoken. I say this as someone who has studied Mando for many years.

      4. Asenath*

        Not an American, but I would never have assumed that Americans had “internalized the model of parents speaking their own language when they don’t want the kids to understand something”! That’s something I associate with British novels of the mid twentieth century! Not everyone has the same aptitudes at language-learning, or the opportunities to practice. I would agree that for a native English-speaker having tried both, Spanish is probably a bit easier to learn than French, especially when it comes to spelling, but neither is really easy. I’m told that Dutch or possibly Friesan, are easier, but have never had the need or opportunity to try either.
        And not all monolingualism is “not pretty”, willful or not. It’s often a sensible result of an individual deciding that their time can better be spent on something they can more easily succeed at, or that would be more useful or of more interest than language study. Not all choices are “willful” in the negative sense of the word.

        1. UKDancer*

          Dutch is fairly easy to follow if you speak English and German. I never properly learnt it but I’ve enough of the others that I can mostly read and work out what is being said and having spent some time in Brussels listening to Flemish has helped. I can’t actually speak it very well and when I try I get usually mistaken for a German.

          I think it’s hard to say which languages are “easier” as it depends on when you learnt them and how. I grew up as a Brit with German godparents so I learnt German as a child without realising I was speaking it so it’s somewhat instinctive especially when I’m spending time there. I learnt French as a teenager and so found it a different challenge but not too difficult. For all that I find German instinctive, when I did a German literature class online during lockdown I discovered that I had no vocabulary for discussing my feelings about poetry and authorial intention because I’d never needed to know the words for it.

          In contrast I am currently trying to learn Polish as an adult and that’s a lot harder because the grammar is quite complex and I find it a lot harder. Some of that is I think having a lot of other things to do such as earning a living and day to day chores so perhaps I’m not practising as much as I was as a student.

          1. GythaOgden*

            I learnt Polish in Poland on a gap year. I got on well with the course (a full university year studying on a programme for people who wanted to go on to study at a Polish uni) during the first term reading and writing, but had to move out of the hall of residence in my second term to get away from the people who kept begging me to teach them English! I lived with a Belarusian girl who had a Ukrainian boyfriend and so picked up a lot of very colourful language. The Ukrainian guy explained the concept of Surzhyk, the Ukrainian/Russian mix that comes from the two nationalities sharing a country :/, which I found fascinating.

            This was all about 20 years ago and I hope both of them stayed in Poland.

            I’m currently studying Russian, and am thoroughly demoralised by current events. It hurts big time for most of my exposure to be from the BBC News ticker. I told my mum a while ago that the main Russian language videos that weren’t directly language lessons were mostly about politics, war or violence (there are some brilliant Russian Countryballs animators on YouTube) and the language lessons all start off with ‘Eto Vladimir Putin. On president Rossii’. Yuck :(.

            My Russian colleague gave me a box set of a Russian version of Doctor Zhivago, so I’ll have to watch that.

            I pick up languages really easily but I agree with most people in this thread — it can be very lonely when you are in a situation where you can’t communicate with anyone around you. The third day I was in Poland, off the tourist track so few people spoke English, I called my mum back in England from a payphone and cried from sheer homesickness. It got much better, but it is alienating and more credit should be given here to the OP and their colleagues who feel that way. It might help productivity to have a two-way interactive social process to resolve the situation. Just saying it’s xenophobic for the ESL team to feel left out isn’t actually helping resolve anything.

        2. Observer*

          Not an American, but I would never have assumed that Americans had “internalized the model of parents speaking their own language when they don’t want the kids to understand something”! That’s something I associate with British novels of the mid twentieth century!

          Yeah, that’s a pretty silly assumption. It’s totally NOT an *American* thing. It IS however, not uncommon in a lot of immigrant communities.

          1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            At that, I’d suspect that this really only holds up in circumstances where parents don’t expect their kids to learn to speak their native language fluently or where people move to places where there isn’t much a a diasporic community for their kids to be immersed in their native language. Or, frankly, from personal experience, where the parents are so marginalized from whatever society they settled in that they underestimate how similar their native dialect is from the local dialect.

      5. Daria Grace*

        I think Duolingo is great, but unless someone is incredibly gifted at language learning a couple of months isn’t going to cut it. I’m using it to relearn Indonesian which is likely an easier language for English speakers than Spanish (no grammatical gender or verb tenses, lots of loan words from english). Even having done quite a few years of Indonesian at school a couple of decades ago, after two months on Duolingo I would probably be only picking up fragments of complex native speaker conversations.

      6. Amber*

        It only takes a couple months on Dua Lingo? No. Learning a new language is very very challenging for some of us.

      7. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

        May I guess that you grew up in a place where you heard multiple languages at any given time from childhood on? And you’ve continued to the practice into adulthood? I ask because when there is only one language around you, there is a brain change around age 10. If you grow up hearing multiple languages and learning new ones, those brain pathways don’t lock down.

      8. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        No it would take much more than a couple of months of DuoLingo to pick up enough to get the gist of most conversations.
        (Former ESL teacher speaking)

      9. mlem*

        I have studied Latin, French, German, and Spanish — one to two years of classroom instruction in each — and I am unrefined crap at all of them. I could read and write the specific lessons fine at the time, but I couldn’t process spoken content unless it was delivered kindergarten-style (and I have since lost pretty much all of it). On top of that, social conversations sound nothing at all like classroom “conversations”. Thinking that everyone in the world can become effectively conversation-fluent with “a couple of months of DuoLingo” is not a pretty look.

        1. londonedit*

          I’ve got a nearly two-year streak on Duolingo in a slightly niche but still European language – it’s only a short course, so I’ve completed the whole thing and am just going back and strengthening the modules I’ve done (though they are adding new material periodically so the lessons do become slightly more challenging every now and then). I can recognise words and I could do things like ordering a coffee and putting together very basic sentences, but I couldn’t follow a full conversation to save my life. I can get the gist of some of the things my brother-in-law says to my three-year-old nephew, things like ‘where are your shoes’ or ‘do you want milk or juice’, but that’s very much my limit!

      10. Nancy*

        The team who is complaining to LW are not monolingual, as stated at the beginning of the letter.

        And a couple months of Duolingo is not going to help you have a meaningful conversation.

      11. Observer*

        and most adults are perfectly aware that there are many people who understand much of what they say even if they are not fluent in the other language, that the only way to have a private conversation is to have it in private.

        If by “most” you mean 51%, you are probably right. If by “most” you mean such a high percentage that you should never expect that to happen, you are definitely wrong. I and almost everyone I know have had multiple experiences of being the unwitting witness to a conversation that people thought were private because it was in Language X, which someone else actually understood. Now, in many of these situations the conversations were not about the people in the room much less denigrating them. But DEFINITELY stuff that they didn’t expect others to understand.

        It is very strange – you would think that adults SHOULD know better. But apparently they don’t. It’s especially bad in the US where people seem to have bought into the notion that Americans are all monolingual and that they can tell who is American and who isn’t. Since neither notion is true, it leads to some interesting situations.

        1. whingedrinking*

          Yup. I live in one of the most diverse cities in the world and routinely tell my students that using their native language is no guarantee of privacy – even if you think someone “doesn’t look like” they speak your language, don’t assume. (A friend of mine who is white once delivered a blistering lecture to a Korean cab driver who was trying to rip her off.) I still every so often have someone come to class a bit shame-faced and admit that I was right, and they got called out on public transit for making fun of someone’s hat or whatever.

    3. Asenath*

      It can be very isolating if many of the people around you speak in a language you do not understand, although you and they do have a language in common – and actively alienating if their body language implies they’re talking about you.

  9. Felis alwayshungryis*

    LW5: do not spend the money. If it is indeed an error, they will find out, and they will make you pay it back somewhere down the line. This happened to my mother: a place she worked for part-time made some kind of cock-up with her pay, resulting in her being overpaid and (I think) paid for a few months after she left. She didn’t notice because the money went into a savings account she didn’t regularly delve into, and she had a couple of other part-time jobs. They didn’t realise for a couple of years, but when they did, they demanded it – a sum well into four figures – be paid back within a couple of weeks. It was a hell of a scramble to sort through years of bank statements to verify. Luckily she had the money to pay it, but they were real dicks about it.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      This. My husband was accidentally overpaid by his employer for a period of time, and didn’t notice. When the error was found, he didn’t have to pay it back all at once, but it was taken out of future checks. Because by that time he wasn’t working full time anymore, it meant a few $0 checks until it was covered. Fortunately we were in a place where we could absorb that OK, but it was annoying as heck.

  10. learnedthehardway*

    #3 – this is the reason I won’t provide references unless an offer is in front of me, on paper. I think it is very rude of companies to do references for candidates before they have made some kind of commitment to hire. It’s a waste of references time, too.

    1. Turanga Leela*

      It’s your decision to make, of course, but this means that you’re categorically refusing to work for companies that talk to references as part of the hiring process, rather than as a formality at the end. It would be a waste to check references for every applicant, but lots of places talk to references for their top 2-3 candidates to get a sense of who will be the best fit.

    2. Rocket*

      This…makes no sense. You demand companies give you a conditional offer instead of completing their due diligence and only making you an offer once they’re sure they want to hire you?

      1. Rolly*

        It makes a ton of sense.

        My organization does references at the end and it is not a formality. We make an offer conditional on references, and it’s only a really bad reference that would cause us to rescind the offer. This almost never happens, but it is possible and we say so.

        I don’t see how the references should affect the terms of employment (pay, responsibilities, etc benefits). Rather, a bad reference can result in us pulling the offer.

        It’s not fair to ask for references when the applicant doesnt’ even know if they’d want the job (due to not knowing details of pay, benefits, etc).

        1. Colette*

          Would it be reasonable for the company to make offers to multiple people, check references, and then rescind the offer for all but the top candidate after talking with the references?

          I think you’re looking at references as a yes or no thing, but some places use them in a more nuanced way (i.e. not just “is this person a good employee”, but “what is this person great at, and where do they struggle in ways that would affect this position”).

          The same way it’s not fair (?) to ask for references when the applicant doesn’t even know if they want the job, it’s not fair to expect the organization to make a job offer when they don’t even know if they want to hire the candidate.

          1. Rolly*

            “Would it be reasonable for the company to make offers to multiple people, check references, and then rescind the offer for all but the top candidate after talking with the references?”


            “it’s not fair to expect the organization to make a job offer when they don’t even know if they want to hire the candidate.”
            We do know we want to hire the candidate. We know assuming what they told us is true and that our general impressions are correct. Both usually are.

            1. Colette*

              But many companies don’t know who they want to hire until after they check references. They know who is a viable candidate, but they haven’t necessarily made their final choice. Maybe that’s not how you do it, but your way is not universal.

        2. TheRain'sSmallHands*

          I agree in theory – checking references is not at all convenient for the person giving the reference and taking someone’s time because you MIGHT hire someone is selfish and rude – it isn’t like most of the references I use aren’t already working more the 40 hours and struggling with work/life balance. And in this era, I suspect there are going to be a lot more dead ends – I let any number I don’t know bounce to voice mail – assuming that if its important they will send a text. Which is really common with the “kids these days” (by which I mean people under 40).

          But in practice its like tipping. I don’t think people’s wages should be based off whether the tables they served believe in tipping, think they did a good job, thought the waitresses skirt should be shorter or didn’t like the way the fish was cooked – much less if the night was busy and their tables full and turned over regularly. But the reality is, that’s the system in the U.S. and I participate.

    3. Tyra*

      I mean, yeah, if you know your references will be weak this might be a strategy you need to employ. But OP is confident that their references are strong and in that case this would be terrible advice – good companies with effective hiring practices use references meaningfully and as such good employees with options want to work with them.

    4. AnonyAnony*

      Not sure how companies doing their due diligence is rude. Do you mean…you think rescinding an offer if references don’t check out is more polite?

      As someone who’s given references at least 50+ times (lost count a while ago), I’ve never viewed it as a waste of my time, whether the candidate gets a job offer or not.

    5. Kella*

      So… they can’t take into account what references tell them in the decision about whether or not to hire you? Why have references at all, then? How is it a waste of the references time to get information about whether or not this particular person would be the right hire? That’s literally what references are for.

    6. Asenath*

      I’ve always expected my potential employers to check out my references before they make me an offer. I don’t always know whether they do or not, but I expect them to think that the information they might get from my references is useful in informing their decision to make me an offer.

    7. Humble Schoolmarm*

      Interesting! Where I am, government hiring contacts the references of the top 3 (I think) candidates, so if your references are contacted it’s a good sign, but not a sure thing. I’ve heard of many other places and levels of government taking their cue from this approach. Your stance would cost you a lot of opportunities here. Context makes such a difference!

      1. Governmentally Anon*

        Also govt employee here – and yup, they check references for the top three because the hiring process is longer (though recently it’s dropped in length to about three and a half months, which is in the norm for the field we’re a part of), so they want to be able to move straight to the next candidate in line if the top choice is now unavailable. Not being willing to give your references until after you have an offer would get you bounced from the process at the agency, and possibly even added to a do not contact again list based on how the refusal is phrased.

      2. Tabasco Fiasco*

        “A good sign but not a sure thing” is, for US-based employers at least, the most accurate way to sum up reference stages. And when you’re trying to do your due diligence, it’s good to see if your impressions of the candidate line up with the candidates impressions of themselves AND a previous employer’s impressions. I know a few folks in my field who ACE interviews. Absolutely nail them. They are constantly finding jobs! Buuut then they don’t stay in them, because they are miserable people to work with. From my own perspective, I had two candidates who were neck-and-neck, with one edging out the other on sheer experience. Since I needed someone who could step in with little coaching, I was leaning towards him. However, when I got the references, the other candidate blew him out of the water. While he had good references, the less experienced candidate was praised in ways that made me realize that she was who I needed, even though she needed more onboarding. It was the tiebreaker for me.

        Question- for countries or culture where the offer is contingent on references, how do you handle it if:
        1.) it is a perfect tie between two or three talented candidates
        2.) The references turn out not to be as expected. Does the candidate know not to give in their resignation until the reference checks pan out?

        Would love to hear new perspectives on the issues that US-based companies use references to solve!

    8. Forrest*

      Responding jointly to all the comments above: I think this differs a lot by culture. I am always surprised by how much weight American employers put on references according to this blog, since where I live that’s not really considered best practice. Typically, the hiring decision is made on the information provided by the candidate, and checking references is about finding any red flags such as formally documented problems or dishonesty. It’s not by any means illegal to consider references or second-hand information, it’s just not considered as reliable as a formal interview which adequately probes and assesses the candidate’s experience, knowledge and skills.

      (the example Alison describes– deciding against a candidate based on an “offhanded comment” made by a referee!– is kind of heartstopping to me. From my point of view, if that’s an important skill for you but you didn’t uncover that weakness when interviewing the candidate, what!!)

      1. Antilles*

        Checking references gets you an outside perspective though. Not that the candidate is openly lying (though some do), but that they aren’t necessarily an objective source.
        Is it relevant to me that Bob was kind of abrasive when up against tight deadlines? Maybe, maybe not, depending on how regularly we get into tough spots…but Bob himself isn’t going to say that. In fact, there’s a good chance Bob himself doesn’t recognize that flaw and therefore *can’t* say that – either because he legitimately doesn’t see it as a negative (“I’m just keeping people on task”) or because he doesn’t even realize that he does so.

        1. Forrest*

          I’m not really interested in arguing about which is better or worse! Just that if you’re coming from a hiring culture where references aren’t used as part of the selection process, what learnedthehardway is saying is not as unreasonable as it appears to people in a culture where they are part of it.

          1. Julia*

            What about informally talking to your friends and colleagues in the industry about a candidate you want to hire – is that very uncommon in your culture? What if you’re hiring a nanny – is it weird to talk to the family who used to employ her before they moved out of your neighborhood? How far does this go? It seems odd to me that hiring wouldn’t involve some amount of asking around; just trying to wrap my head about it.

            1. Forrest*

              Informal conversation definitely happens in lots of sectors, but in an HR-led process (so all state and public employers, most large employers), you definitely couldn’t cite that as part of your decision-making at either short-listing or final decision-making stage.

              For informal and non-HR led processes– like hiring a nanny– then you can do what you want. I am definitely not in the hiring-a-nanny income bracket, but to be honest I would still be using references for major red flags and relying very heavily on my own judgment to decide if someone was suitable. I mean, the main things I’d be looking for are “someone I feel comfortable giving directions to, someone I feel comfortable having in my house, someone my kids feel comfortable with”. I think all of that stuff is so intensely personal that someone else’s “Phoebe is WONDERFUL!” wouldn’t help me with that as much as seeing and talking to Phoebe myself.

      2. Keller*

        Why would getting references ever be considered bad practice or unreliable? Information about the candidate this isn’t directly from the candidate is inherently more reliable than the information the candidate gives you about themselves.

        If you were hiring a contractor to build you a house, wouldn’t you want to hear from other people who had houses built by them? Or would you really just rely on the contractor telling you “I build good houses.”

        1. Forrest*

          Information about the candidate this isn’t directly from the candidate is inherently more reliable than the information the candidate gives you about themselves.

          This is the cultural difference that I’m referring to, because that absolutely isn’t self-evident to me! It introduces all sorts of opportunities for bias, misunderstanding, work cultural differences and more.

          I genuinely believe that asking a candidate, “Tell me how you deal with the pressure of the role” and then following up and probing their answer for more detail, specific examples and so on will tell me far more about what I need to know than asking their previous manager. I don’t know whether the previous manager’s definition of “under pressure” is the same as mine– I don’t know whether the previous manager is being fair to the employee– I don’t know how the previous manager handles pressure and whether they are triggering the particular behaviours that they describe and the employee is trying to get away from them– I don’t know what kind of grudges or biases or prejudices they’re bringing to their assessment of the employee– I don’t know whether they’re being honest with me.

          But like I said, it’s a cultural difference- I’m sure it works, it’s just not how we do things and therefore it sounds extremely uncomfortable.

          1. JustKnope*

            Can I ask where you’re located? I’m fascinated by the differences you’re describing! I have the total opposite thought process from what you describe in this comment :)

            1. Forrest*

              UK. I don’t work in HR, although I do work closely with multiple recruitment process and I temped quite a lot in HR when I was younger.

              (And londonedit is describing the same thing below.)

          2. Keller*

            You don’t understand how objectivity works? Really? I honestly find that hard to believe. No matter how many probing questions you ask a candidate about how they deal with pressure, they are never going to give you an answer that is 100% truthful and complete. The idea of references is that by talking to a few people (not just 1) who have worked with them under pressure, you get supplemental information that gets you closer to 100%. I would be uncomfortable working at any employer who didn’t do this type of due diligence.

            1. Forrest*

              I’m not expecting a candidate’s responses to be 100% truthful and accurate– I think the basic assumption here is that it’s much easier to adjust for a candidate’s biases (pick me!) than to guess what the biases of an employer might be.

              And obviously, an interview is never about “Are you good at dealing with pressure?” “Yes.” “Excellent!” It’s, “Tell me about a time you have dealt with a pressurised situation. How did you manage stress within your team?” “Well, in 2019, I organised the first national llama beauty pageant, which was a three day event with delegates from 32 counties, and just as everyone was due to arrive we found out that…” And then it’s the follow-up questions about what the candidate did to manage the situation that really tells you about how they manage that stress, and whether or not their idea of handling stress fits with your team culture and will exacerbate or alleviate the current stress-reactions of your existing team. I think it’s much harder to go into that level of detail in a second-hand account.

              And on the flipside, because we don’t have that culture of giving detailed references, I don’t think most managers would be very good at giving them accurately! Maybe they are more practised in your country. But if you asked me how one of my team members handled stress, I would find that incredibly difficult to answer! because it’s so bound up with the external pressures of the role and the style of management and the wider culture– the answer might be, “Currently, I have to spend a lot of time helping Llama 1 manage stress, but that’s because of some cultural and environmental issues we have here at the moment that we’re working on, and in a different environment they probably wouldn’t have them.”

              So between the danger of prejudiced responses, even when there are multiple sources of evidence — we all know about female and/or racially minoritised teachers getting worse evaluations than male and white ones — and managers being reluctant to be too critical of staff, there just doesn’t seem much to gain.

            2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

              The difference seems to be, do you think a candidate’s previous or current manager will be objective, or at least closer to that than the candidate themself?

              They may not have a reason for deliberately shading things–but a person doesn’t need a specific motivation to make biased decisions, or to describe Susan as “pushy” or “aggressive” and Steven as “strong” or “motivated” for the same behavior.

              I’m in the US and used to hiring managers checking references, unlike Forrest: but there’s a difference between “doesn’t understand objectivity” and “doesn’t think an ex-manager will be objective.”

          3. Observer*

            I genuinely believe that asking a candidate, “Tell me how you deal with the pressure of the role” and then following up and probing their answer for more detail, specific examples and so on will tell me far more about what I need to know than asking their previous manager.

            While there is always room for bias in references, if you really believe this, you are failing to take into account basic human nature. I don’t care how “probing” your questions and follow up’s are. People present themselves in ways that are not always consistent with the full reality for a number of reasons. Refusing to consider the possibility that a different perspective can actually bring something to the table is not useful.

            1. Forrest*

              I have several times described this as a cultural difference, and there’s another UK poster describing the same thing further down below. You’re free to disagree and think your system is better, of course, but this isn’t my personal “refusal to consider the possibility that a different perspective can bring something to the table”, it’s a cultural difference in what’s considered best practice! I work at an organisation which employs 4000 people and they’re definitely not going to let me change the recruitment process just because some people on the internet told me to. :)

              1. Lucy Goosey*

                I’m in the UK too, and I don’t think references are as foreign a concept as you are making it sound. I have been asked to be a reference for former employees a few times and I was able to answer the questions just fine. They are not as common here, but it’s also not unheard of. Personally, I think they can useful. It’s never a bad idea to get addition information about the person you’re considering hiring.

                1. Forrest*

                  I don’t think they’re foreign, but it’s unusual in large organisations for them to be part of the selection process as opposed to the hiring process. So I’ve always:

                  – interviewed
                  – had a verbal offer, which I’ve accepted
                  – given permission for the new employer to contact my current employer
                  – told my current employer that I have a new job, and to expect a reference request
                  – current employer & other references have completed references
                  – new employer deems references satisfactory
                  – new employer has made me a formal written offer and confirmed my start date

                  References aren’t taken up at the selection stage to aid decision-making, they’re taken up after a decision has been made. That’s the difference I’m talking about– using them in the decision-making process, vs. confirming that there are no major issues after a decision has been made. (Universities often use both systems– references are for decision-making for academic staff, but confirmatory for professional services staff, eg. http://www.bristol.ac.uk/hr/resourcing/practicalguidance/selection/references.html

                  Not everywhere in the UK works like this by any means, but it’s pretty common in most large and public sector employers.

                2. Lt*

                  So which is it, Forrest? Are references not done at all in the UK or are they done at a different stage of the process with a slightly different purpose? Because you just spent several comments explaining that no one does them, that no one even knows how to do them, and that you would be extremely uncomfortable participating in it. And now you’re backtracking on all of that.

                3. Forrest*

                  No, I’ve been quite consistent in describing them as not usually part of the decision-making / selection process, but very much part of the overall recruitment process:

                  “ I am always surprised by how much weight American employers put on references according to this blog, since where I live that’s not really considered best practice. Typically, the hiring decision is made on the information provided by the candidate, and checking references is about finding any red flags such as formally documented problems or dishonesty”

                  “ from a hiring culture where references aren’t used as part of the selection process”

                  Nowhere have I said they aren’t done at all!

              2. Observer*

                . You’re free to disagree and think your system is better, of course, but this isn’t my personal “refusal to consider the possibility that a different perspective can bring something to the table”, it’s a cultural difference in what’s considered best practice!

                You are factually incorrect. Sure, how hiring is actually done is a matter of culture and priorities. But anyone who thinks that you are going to get the same quality of information for even the best interview as from good reference checks is just not recognizing reality.

                I would also say that the reverse is true – you are going to get information in a good interview that you can’t get from reference checking. And failure to recognize that is also a failure to recognize human nature.

                Saying that something is a cultural difference can be true. But that doesn’t change the reality that sometimes cultural differences are a reflection of different priorities, and that sometimes they are even a matter of blind spots in a culture.

                I work at an organisation which employs 4000 people and they’re definitely not going to let me change the recruitment process just because some people on the internet told me to. :)

                ~~Shrug~~ Of course not. I don’t think anyone was implying that you should take on that battle. The question is not whether someone should try to change processes that are deeply embedded in the culture.

      3. Been There*

        Checking references is not even part of our work culture. I’ve never had to provide references, and don’t know anyone who has.

        1. Starbuck*

          That’s so wild to me. How would you weed out someone who was fired for incompetence but really good at lying about it?

          1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

            Here in Germany, you get a “Zeugnis” (same title as your report card in school, go figure) whenever you leave employment. You can also request an intermediate one, e.g. when getting a new manager. By law the employer must give you one that just states your employment dates and general job description; if you wish, you can demand a “qualified” one with details on your work quality and interactions. It is common practice to attach those to your application, together with credentials and licences where required.
            There are common phrases that practically encode grades while sounding positive to the uninitiated – it’s hard to be more damning than “frequently tried to meet our expectations” (i.e. lazy and incompetent) or “highly social” (i.e. frequently drunk).
            References are highly unusual except for very senior positions.
            A very different system than in the US but also tenures tend to be longer (5-8 jobs during a white-collar career seems average).

      4. allathian*

        Yes, I’m in Finland, and here employers are only allowed to use references that the candidate provided, by law. Usually references are checked for the top 2 or 3 candidates. Security checks are different, but then the employer only learns if the candidate passed or failed the test, nothing else. Employers are also not allowed to look at the candidate’s social media, unless the candidate provided the link.

        We have long probation periods, though, up to a year for executive positions, and 4 or 6 months is fairly typical for indefinite employment, and a maximum of half of the term for fixed-term employment. During probation, either party can terminate the employment contract with no notice.

    9. Esmeralda*

      Hardly. We’ve had searches where the search committee sent up a list of hire-able candidates with a list of plusses and concerns. Often with a note to follow up with references regarding this or that concern.

      Sometimes that reference check allayed the concerns. And sometimes it confirmed them. We have not made offers to some candidates due to careful reference checks. And it’s made a difference to who gets offered first.

      Not a waste of anyone’s time.

    10. anonymous73*

      That’s a pretty ridiculous hill to die on. A smart company isn’t going to make an offer before they check references.

    11. SheLooksFamiliar*

      ‘I think it is very rude of companies to do references for candidates before they have made some kind of commitment to hire.’ Checking references is usually part of deciding which candidate the company will hire, and then they’ll commit. It’s not rude, they’re simply collecting relevant intel and insight.

      ‘It’s a waste of references time, too.’ Unless you’re applying to scores of jobs and every single employer checks your references, it’s not a waste of time.

      1. londonedit*

        I think it’s a cultural difference – in my experience of my own industry in the UK, job offers are made subject to references, and it’s at that point that a candidate will accept the offer, hand in their notice at their current job, and give the go-ahead for the new employer to contact referees (most of the time people won’t even supply contact information for their referees until they have a job offer). The understanding is that if something bad was to turn up, the job offer would be rescinded, but in practice I’ve never heard of that actually happening – most of the time it’s less of an ‘is this person suitable for the role’ question and more of a confirmation of role/employment dates. The idea is that it’s up to the new company to decide whether the person is suitable for the role, and there’s usually a probation period of 1-3 months when you start a new job, where employment can be terminated on either side with only two weeks’ notice, so if it becomes immediately obvious that it isn’t going to work out, it’s easy for the company or the employee to end things. The idea that someone would contact my referees before even making me a job offer is as alien to me as the idea of not doing so is to other people commenting here.

        1. Observer*

          So what you are saying is that people are expected to hand in their resignation for an offer that could be rescinded. That may never have happened to you, but it DOES happen and it’s just a ridiculous risk to ask people to take.

    12. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      At my university job we are required to check references for anyone who we interview. Last time we hired we had roughly 10 applicants, interviewed 6 (the other 4 were not qualified or unable to be hired ). after interviews we told each applicant that we need to follow up with their references. within a few days of interviews we had talked with references and then we made a decision from there.

      So it may be your prerogative to not apply to those jobs, but there are many places where it is required (in my case by state law since we are a state university).

    13. Antilles*

      How does this work in practice? I’ve done a lot of interviewing in my life (as recently as last summer) and my experience has consistently been one of two things:
      1.) References are asked for as part of the initial application form, which nowadays is usually a computerized form that won’t let you just skip items. So when you run across this, how do you handle this? Do you just enter “Ask Me” as the person’s name and 000-000-0000 as the phone number?
      2.) References are asked for after the interview but before they decide to make you an offer. In this case, how do you tactfully tell them you want an offer first? How have people responded?

      I definitely understand where you’re coming from because I find it kind of a waste of everyone’s time (especially #1), but logistically, I really don’t see how this works – unless you’re in an industry or location where literally nobody cares about references.

    14. Julia*

      What is a “commitment to hire” if it’s still contingent on some outstanding piece of information and could be rescinded? That’s no kind of commitment at all.

      1. PostalMixup*

        When I got my offer at my current job, it was contingent on background check and drug screen. I assume this would be contingent on reference check, background check, and drug screen. Like, “you are our top choice, and barring anything wildly unacceptable, we will hire you.”

    15. Observer*

      this is the reason I won’t provide references unless an offer is in front of me, on paper. I think it is very rude of companies to do references for candidates before they have made some kind of commitment to hire. It’s a waste of references time, too

      Honestly? You’re doing reasonable employers a favor.

      What is a waste of time is only contacting references after you’ve made an offer. 9 times out of 10 that’s a sign of poor hiring or worse.

  11. Safetykats*

    OP2 – The level of entitlement of the non-Spanish speakers is sadly not astonishing. But really, if they want so badly to be included, they might try learning Spanish. If this is seen as some kind of a morale issue, then maybe the company would want to offer classes, or reimbursement for classes. After all, your Spanish-speaking colleagues have learned a second language – and there’s no reason that the English-only speaking personnel can’t do the same.

    (The US is one of only a few countries in the world where people assume they can get by without speaking any other language; and that everyone else should speak English in order to make things easy for them. I work with a significant number of foreign nationals, and none of them speak only one language – most of them speak three or more.)

    1. Sleepy cat*

      Your last paragraph really isn’t warranted given the letter opens with: “ I am the supervisor of a team made up mainly of people who speak English as a second language, with primary languages all over the map”

      So I think you’re misreading the issue.

      1. Julia*

        It is ironic how many people in this comments section who are complaining about xenophobia characterize it as a U.S. thing. Centering one’s own country in a conversation like this is also a form of insensitivity. (I am also guilty of it as another U.S. citizen – thank you for pointing it out.)

        1. londonedit*

          It’s amusing to me because one of the biggest cultural stereotypes about English/British people (I am one) is that we never bother to learn any other languages and just shout louder in English when we go on holiday.

        2. Tau*

          I had to go back and reread the OP to see if they said they were in the US, because so many people were making that assumption! My first thought reading it was tech in continental Europe somewhere, English-speaking with almost zero native speakers and where there are enough people from Spain and Latin America that you could coincidentally end up with a Spanish-language team. Potentially my own form of cultural myopism, but I’m entertaining the possibility that it’s elsewhere?

    2. AnonyAnony*

      I believe OP2 indicated that the team who felt paranoid are “made up mainly of people who speak English as a second language, with primary languages all over the map,” and are not English-only personnel.

      If that’s the case, I’m actually even more surprised that they didn’t show more understanding to their English-Spanish speaking colleagues. For me, English is not my primary language, and I work with many English as 2nd/3rd/4th language coworkers. I certainly understand their desire to socialize in their primary language, and nobody at work cares what language each other speaks when we’re on break. But apparently that’s not the case in OP2’s letter.

      1. münchner kindl*

        Because if English is the shared second language, but first languages are all over the map for the first group, people can only talk with each other in English.

        Whereas the spanish-first group can talk in spanish among themselves, excluding the others.

        And I don’t think it’s only paranoia to think people are gossiping in foreign language – because in too many work places, people do gossip, just behind people’s backs; and given the power imbalance, it’s natural to assume that foreign-language speakers in US will band together to help each other to push a bit back against the exclusion from english-only speakers they encounter so often.

        So partially it’s people assuming everybody acts like them – gossiping- and partly because people have listened to people dissing colleagues in a foreign language often enough that it’s not just racism to assume this.

    3. AcademiaNut*

      The LW’s employee could offer Spanish lessons on the clock!

      The problem with taking a second language class solely to talk with people on the job is that it takes a *lot* of time and work to get to the point where you can join in the conversation, and your coworkers are unlikely to be interested in playing language tutor while you get to that point. So your chances of acquiring conversational fluency in a language before you move to a new job are low, and there’s no guarantee that the next job won’t involve a bunch of Tagalog or Mandarin speakers instead, requiring you to start over.

      Also, as Sleepy cat says, these are all non native English speakers, so they’re *already* bilingual at least, and would be picking up a third (or fourth, or fifth) language.

      1. KateM*

        Well, seems that knowing language enough to understand whether they are talking about you or not would be enough in this case.

        1. RagingADHD*

          Not really. The main problem the LW pointed out was that the non-Spanish-speakers feel excluded from the clique. The extensive speculation about personal gossip is mostly a projection by the commenters.

          If it’s a problem of one whole team ignoring or excluding the other, a few words of broken Spanish aren’t going to magically make the Spanish team warm up and be inclusive.

          1. A.N. O'Nyme*

            Except LW mentions that the non-Spanish speakers feel “left out and paranoid”. Frankly I hope they’re being paranoid about being gossiped about, because the other explanations I can think of for that paranoia are in no way better.

      2. Tau*

        People are also assuming this is happening in an English-speaking country. I could easily imagine this happening in my company in Germany, where many employees are already taking German classes on the side and probably don’t have the energy to spare for language #4.

      3. Junior Assistant Peon*

        The only way you’re going to get to conversational fluency is through real-life practice. I once worked with a bunch of Mexican guys, and my high school Spanish was a good enough starting point for us to have conversations in their language.

    4. John Smith*

      It’s an issue for some in the UK, where they expect everyone to speak English, but themselves not to speak a second language, even when in a country where English is not the primary language. There’s an amusing tale of an English person on a bus who objected loudly to someone who is Moslem speaking in Arabic, insisting that because they’re in the UK, that person should speak English. An old lady turned to him and said “Actually, we’re in Wales, and she’s speaking Welsh”. I’d have loved to have been there to see that putdown!

        1. GythaOgden*

          Not just English speakers.

          I met a Polish couple on a student trip and went out to see them the following year — my first trip to Poland. The couple spoke English perfectly. Their relatives, not so much. The evening I arrived, we dropped in to see the guy’s aunts. I didn’t realise it at first — it was hot and I was tired and I just needed a drink, and I understood nothing of their conversation — but after we left, my friends were a bit embarrassed.

          The aunts had been speaking to me in Polish loudly and clearly … just like some English speakers do when they want to communicate but can’t speak another language. The guy had had to explain that I didn’t understand any Polish and so doing that was completely futile.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, me too! I find it mildly amusing that the person who objected was so deteminedly monolingual that he couldn’t even distinguish between Arabic and Welsh, and so xenophobic that he immediately assumed that a veiled woman (I assume, since he assumed she was Muslim) who spoke a language other than English would be speaking Arabic. I speak neither, but I’m pretty sure I could tell the difference between the two.

        1. MsSolo UK*

          I used to work at a museum, and you’d get pretty used to families speaking different languages to each other, then addressing you in English, and it was interesting to see if you could figure out what the language was while you were waiting. I had a family chattering to each other, then addressed me in English in a really familiar accent that my brain was point blank refusing place beyond ‘British Isles’, and I was stumped – was it Polish/Geordie? Was it Spanish/Scouse? It took me far too long to finally realise it was Welsh/Welsh!

        2. GythaOgden*

          One YouTube guess-the-language video out there strung news clips together from various countries/languages. There was one clip that people were insisting was Welsh in the comments. Unfortunately the contextual clues I was using where I didn’t just know the language outright were all wrong! There’s definitely Welsh language TV programming, but the clip was focusing on things that really were Eastern European/Former Soviet Union in nature and the studio did not look anything like it belonged to at least the main Welsh channel, S4C, in any of its incarnations over the 40-odd years it’s been active. You can’t remove a language from its context — there’s a distinct flavour of British TV that differs from, say, American or Eastern European, and the cultural clues were all wrong.

          (I messaged the channel owner to suggest that next time they make a video like that they made it harder by using clips that didn’t have printed text onscreen or mention the capital city somewhere in the dialogue. But I suppose I’m an outlier in that respect — when I first watched Game of Thrones my one big question was: are the Targaryens an Armenian family?)

          The language in question was probably something like Georgian, but because the video didn’t have a definitive list of answers, I still don’t know where it was from.

    5. Well...*

      I doubt taking Spanish classes in your spare time as an adult will get you to the level of being able to effectively socialize with native speakers on a reasonable time scale. I also work internationally, and I know people who are married into families of native speakers and make a sincere effort to learn. After years a common comment is, “I can speak it, but my conversations are boring.” If you have a ton of free time and money you can learn faster, but most people don’t have that.

      I’d argue the privileged position here is thinking languages are easy to pick up. Most people who know three learned more than one in childhood.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this is very true. Also, the more languages you learn as a child, the easier it is to learn yet more languages as an adult.

      2. Definitely Hiding*

        *I’d argue the privileged position here is thinking languages are easy to pick up.*

        Thank you for that. It is valuable to know additional languages, but I get really irked when someone suggests that the solution to a language barrier is for English speakers to learn other languages because English is so difficult to learn. Like Spanish, French, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, whatever, are easy and it’s only laziness and xenophobia that prevents one from learning them in a flash?

    6. Ni hao*

      Everyone should learn the most-spoken language in the world – Chinese, especially considering the number of Chinese babies being born in the US (then live in China but likely return to the US as have passport), plus rising immigration. It will overtake Spanish in a few decades, and then English. It would be foolish not to. I hear that Chinese-speaking nannies are all the rage in New York.

      1. allathian*

        Possibly, but in that case they need to start with the kids. My home languages growing up were Finnish and Swedish, and I’ve been fluent in English since I was 12, so I’m as nearly native as you can be without actually being a native speaker. I also speak French and Spanish. I used to be fluent to the point that I was able to go on student exchange to France and take all my courses in French, and I went as an intern to Spain and worked in customer service almost exclusively in Spanish. I’ve lost a lot of my fluency now, but I could still get by in both languages as a tourist. I also know some tourist German. But all the languages I know use the Roman alphabet, and I’ve never attempted to learn anything else. I’m also almost tone deaf, so I suspect that a tonal language would be beyond my capacity to learn.

        1. ceiswyn*

          Being tone deaf can’t be a barrier to learning tonal languages, surely, or there would be massive numbers of native Chinese people who can’t speak their own language?

          1. Rebecca*

            It might be a barrier to learning tonal languages in adult, as a second language, as opposed to as a primary language in infancy.

            1. allathian*

              Yes, there’s some evidence that perfect pitch is a lot more common in people who grow up speaking a tonal language, than in others.

          2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            I read that almost 100% of Chinese have perfect pitch, it must develop thanks to learning the language.

            1. Eyes Kiwami*

              A quick Google suggests that there is some evidence that tonal language speakers are more LIKELY to have perfect pitch, but certainly not “almost 100%”. There is very little in common across “almost 100% of Chinese speakers” besides that shared language, as it’s over a billion people!

        2. After 33 years ...*

          Apologies if I misunderstood, but I thought Swedish is a tonal language (at least in part). I was not successful at learning much during my post-doctoral time in Stockholm.

          1. allathian*

            Well, Swedish is a tonal language as much as English is, in the sense that a change in pitch indicates a question, for example. But not in the way that many Asian languages are, where you have to take the tone into account to distinguish what to someone who’s used to non-tonal languages would hear as homonyms.

            I speak “Finnish-Swedish”, or for Swedes, “Moomin Swedish”, which has less tonality. When I visit Sweden, it takes me a day or two to get used to the changes in pitch.

      2. A.N. O'Nyme*

        I’m assuming you mean Mandarin? Because “Chinese” is quite a broad umbrella otherwise.

        1. Rebecca*

          I thought this too! Until I moved to China. Where ‘Chinese’ means Mandarin unless otherwise specified, unless you are in Hong Kong, where it means Cantonese unless otherwise specified.

          I lived in Hainan for my first stint and I took private Chinese lessons, every week for the first six weeks. 40 bucks a lesson. I’d go straight from my lesson to the market, and nobody understood me. I am abysmal at learning languages but even I should have taken less than six weeks to learn how to ask for the local mangoes.

          Then I found out that the people in Hainan so not speak Mandarin, they speak Hainanese. My teacher said, ‘You said you wanted to learn Chinese!’

          1. A.N. O'Nyme*

            I was more reacting to the nanny thing, really – imagine a nanny from Hong Kong being hired “so the kids can learn Chinese”, then grow up only to find their skill is only useful in certain parts of China.

            As for your specific case, I am kind of surprised no one in the market understood you, as I thought Mandarin was mandatory in Chinese schools so I’d expect at least a passing knowledge (even if it is a Hainanese/Mandarin Pidgin).

            1. Rebecca*

              It is, Mandarin is the lingua franca and the language of education.

              Hainan is a small island that the rest of Mainland China has recently discovered as a place for development and tourism. A lot of the older Hainanese never went to school. They are an ethnic minority – not Han – and are being largely pushed out by the development.

              1. A.N. O'Nyme*

                Ah, I see.

                Out of sheer curiosity, did you ever succeed in making yourself understood at the market?

                1. Rebecca*

                  Eventually, for the basic stuff. But not through language lessons! My school hired Hainanese women to be classroom assistants (all of the Chinese teachers were imported from the mainland and spoke Mandarin) and a few of them took me to the market and taught me, and also how to be ruthless when haggling, and which vegetables to cook that I didn’t recognize. They were lovely.

              2. Rolly*

                You’re mixing some stuff up Rebecca. Hainanese generally refers to the Chinese language spoken in Hainan (and Chinese people of Hainan). Those people are not ethnic minorities anymore than Sichuan Chinese or Cantonese people are. In speech, that form of Chinese language is almost unintelligible with Mandarin. But it is Chinese, just not Mandarin.

                Or they way you’ve used it it seems you are referring to the Li people (黎族 – also called Hlai people), who are an actual ethnic minority. Perhaps this is what you mean when you say Hainanese ethnic minority. This is one of the 50+ ethnic minorities in China. Not “Chinese” as in Han people. And their language is not Chinese.

          2. WantonSeedStitch*

            I used to have a Mandarin-speaking Chinese landlord, whose English was better than my (nonexistent) Mandarin, but not great. When I needed to negotiate adding a clause to our lease, I asked if he could bring someone to help translate, to make it easier for us to be sure we would understand each other. He ended up bringing a friend who actually spoke Cantonese, but they could understand each other a lot better than he and I could. In any case, he approved the addition of the clause, so I was happy.

      3. A.N. O'Nyme*

        Also, if this was purely a numbers game…English shouldn’t be a global language in the first place – Spanish has more native speakers in total. English does, however, have multiple centers, and is the official language in at least one country on every continent. Mandarin on the other hand is mostly limited to Asia, if not China itself – not to mention to my knowledge the Chinese government highly encourages learning English beyond a rudimentary level.

        Is it possible Mandarin will replace English as the de facto global language? Sure. Language evolution is funky and wildly unpredictable – I’m willing to bet few people foresaw Latin or French would get replaced by English as international language until it happened. But there appear to be other factors at play than just sheer numbers.

    7. Caroline Bowman*

      I don’t think it’s entitled to feel left out if all bar a couple of people are conversing in a language that’s not the lingua franca during all break periods at work.

      I’d feel left out and I speak as a person who comes from a place where there are many, many completely official languages other than English, and several more that are widely used. Obviously legally it’s clear. It’s not a suggestion that anyone try and force anyone else to not speak with their friends in their own home language, but it’s okay to try and mediate a little bit, for the sake of work force smooth-running, to try and retain all good staff so that everyone feels comfortable. One could, say, suggest Spanish classes for the non-speakers or encourage interaction generally, between all of the team members.

      I think lecturing and admonishing people that they are ”being ridiculous” or ”entitled” because they feel left out at a work place for an issue like this is wrong. The US is a melting pot for sure, and that’s part of what makes it culturally-rich, but the lingua franca is English and it’s quite okay to expect that this will be the language spoken in the work place. It would be weird, would it not, to commence work somewhere and then find that during all break times, 85% of your colleagues only chatted in, say, Russian. You’d feel left out, or I would. I’d feel a tiny bit paranoid over time too. Anyone would. Does this make me an entitled racist?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I’d feel left out- but not initially. This would happen over a longer period of time.

        I do think that it’s likely that some folks are just plain racist. But I also think that everyone has needs to feel included, feel part of the group and that is reality.

        In this instance here, because they are socializing in their own language and it does not interfere with work I think the boss has to let it go. All the boss can really do is insist that they WORK in an inclusive manner.

        I am wondering how long the group has been together. I wonder if time will tend to lessen some of this. Perhaps the group will just find ways to start including each other more as they grow to like each other and actually want to interact more.

      2. doreen*

        There’s nothing really that the OP can do , and people speaking in a language that someone doesn’t understand aren’t usually talking about that person – but it’s not always “entitled” for someone to feel left out. There’s a difference between two people having a conversation that you can’t join because it’s not in the language common to everyone and all ten of the other people in the breakroom with you having a conversation that you can’t join.

  12. Viette*

    LW#5 — I feel like the “FWIW, this is an enormous multinational corporation with 300,000+ employees” is put in there to establish that the company is not getting harmed in any way by the LW continuing to pull paychecks after they quit.

    The only thing it being an enormous multinational corporation means is that they will have the processes and resources in place to eventually catch and correct this error! They didn’t get to be that big of a company by paying people who don’t work there and just letting it go when they find out. They will be coming for that money and you need to be ready to pay it — and stopping it happening ASAP is the best way out of this.

    1. anonymous73*

      Yeah, OP needs to stop justifying the extra paychecks with the fact that it probably won’t affect the company’s bottom line. They didn’t earnt those paychecks and the company WILL find the error eventually. And if OP spends the money, they’re going to be sorry they did in the future. If a company can deposit money into your account, they can also take it back out.

    2. Just another queer reader*

      I read it as “it’s not like there’s not a payroll department.”

    3. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes, the fact that it’s a big company means:
      – They will catch the error. The fact that it’s a large company is likely why it’s taking so long.
      – They will claw the money back immediately with no notice.

      The LW should keep track of the amounts and talk to a human in payroll/HR confirming everything. The sooner the issue is resolved the less likely it is that something even screwier will happen. Until the issue has been resolved, pretend the money isn’t even there…and check your W2 closely next year.

    4. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

      I actually read this more as “it’s such a huge company with so many employees, so it’s perhaps not surprising that this fell through the cracks”. A lot of the time smaller companies do tend to keep a closer eye on their cash flow, both because there’s generally less of it and fewer moving parts to keep track of.
      Regardless, OP definitely needs to call and get this sorted, and ideally follow up with an email outlining payment dates and amounts so they have a timestamped record in writing.

    5. Delta Delta*

      I read that more to say that it’s an enormous corporation and as a result OP was having a hard time connecting with someone there to fix the problem.

    6. AnonyAnony*

      There are actually a few things in #5 that I’m not sure how to read:

      – “I sent a resignation email to my manager” – does this mean LW5 doesn’t actually have confirmation that their boss received the message? Did LW5 indicate what date would be their last day in the email?
      -“I think he never let HR know” – why does LW think that? instead of thinking boss followed the steps but there’s a glitch in the process? And if so, is it because Boss didn’t see the resignation email?
      -“I emailed HR and let them know I was no longer with the company” – don’t know if I should read this as LW told HR they quit and also told them about the extra paychecks, or just plain told HR they quit.
      Kind of wish Alison had reached back out to the LW to clarify these points.

  13. Observer*

    #1 – Definitely mention to Jane that it’s best not to link stuff to generations unless it adds to the conversation and is linked to experience. It’s a good idea on its own. But also when you are already dealing with a situation where there seem to be too many age focused comments, it’s best not to feed that kind of thing.

    If Rita or you boss bring it up when you talk to them about it, you can say that you’ve mentioned it to Jane, but that doesn’t really affect the core issue which is that there are just too many comments about age, and that whatever the boss may think, a lot of them are coming off as denigrating and sometimes even as questioning the professionalism of the “target”. Of course you realize they don’t MEAN it that way, but that’s how it lands and it’s really not a good thing. Especially in a public setting where you want to present a cohesive voice and boost your team and your product.

    It doesn’t matter whether anyone really means it to be denigrating or not. Acknowledging that they don’t mean it that way lowers resistance and avoids wasting time on who REALLY means what. You want to focus on getting it stopped, regardless.

    1. OWWYC (older worker with young colleagues)*

      Absolutely. But, as someone in my 50s who works in a company where the average age is early 30s (I am one of the 3 oldest people in the company), can I just add one thing?
      It might be worth tuning the “age-related comments” radar to also scan for the very subtle “ok boomer” type comments and above all silent reactions that can put people on the defensive (about their age or experience or skills). They are pervasive, subtle and constant where I work, even when specific skills or generational divides are not relevant.
      For example, my computer issue troubleshooting skills are higher than some of my younger colleagues and I always reboot my computer before contacting IT. And yet, every single time, I’m told to reboot my computer and let them know if that fixes it (whatever it is) before they will even take a look, while my younger colleagues are not told to do that that (even though they don’t typically reboot first). Also, the number of times I’ve escalated an issue saying “so-and-so has a XYZ issue”, I’m told it’s not XYZ, then several exchanges later, the issue is resolved with an “XYZ issue corrected” comment is massive. When my younger colleagues escalate an issue citing a specific “XYZ”, the response is not immediately dismissive of their analysis of the issue.
      There are no overt age-related comments in any of those exchanges, but age-related assumptions are definitely in play.
      Only LW#1 can say for sure, but Jane’s comment might be the tip of a hidden iceberg and Rita’s comments may be a visible reaction to a more subtle pattern that cuts both ways.
      Not saying either is acceptable, and it needs to be addressed, of course. But if the root cause is a broader pattern of subtly dismissing older workers’ skills or experiences by younger staff, addressing only the “don’t disparage younger workers’ professionalism” probably won’t go very far to solving the issue.

      1. Lady_Lessa*


        This dates me and my co-workers. One of them was drumming on a can, and I mentioned the song”If I had a hammer” He had never heard of the song and I was just thing that it was interest related. (Movie themes, not matter the era would baffle me). I asked another one and she hadn’t heard of the song either.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I’d hammer in the morning….

          I am chuckling. I work with a person who is probably at most 5 years younger than me. He is amazed at the songs I know. I almost think he attributes it to age. No. I just like music. If he pushes that point, and I doubt he will, I will have to tell him we are closer in age than he thinks.

          I do know that people my own age do not know some of these songs. So there’s that.

          1. WantonSeedStitch*

            Hell, I’m an Xennial, and I listen to a lot of music from the 30s and 40s that predates my parents.

      2. Another older worker*

        This, exactly — in the example given, if Jane actually said she preferred a particular product “like many in my generation”, then she a) introduced generational differences into the conversation, b) implied the product wasn’t for people in Rita’s generation, and c) since the product was “higher tech”, reinforced the stereotype that older people, especially older women, don’t understand technology.

        Rita’s response was passive-aggressive and unprofessional, but I agree that LW1 should take a step back and look at the whole team’s culture and not just Rita’s behavior.

        1. I am OP#1*

          This is such a helpful perspective. I mentioned Jane’s comment because I wondered if that would change Alison’s and the readers’ perspectives on the exchange and it definitely did!

          To give you a sense of what Jane and Taylor were talking about, let’s say our company helps with strategies for businesses to communicate with their customer base. The industry is pretty traditional and tends to rely on mailing campaigns. Jane and Rita talked about different communication channels including mailing campaigns, email, text, social media etc. and encouraged the attendees to adopt digital communication methods to reach customers via text and different social media channels. So it is completely accurate to observe that younger generations statistically are more likely to use and prefer these channels, but they are used broadly across all generations and also are not exceptionally high tech. Our typical sales pitch often mentions these channels as a baseline requirement to connect with younger generations so Jane’s singular comment didn’t jump out at me, but I think this is actually the bigger problem. People of all ages use these channels and it may actually come across as odd to bring age into this discussion.

          1. Katara's side braids*

            I obviously can only go by what you’ve written, OP1, but as I wrote in my comment below, it makes complete sense to me that Jane would bring up relevant information from her and her peers’ experience. I think it’s absolutely justifiable to say “mailing campaigns are great, but you’ll be missing a huge segment of x group, who prefers digital campaigns.” That’s not to say x group has a monopoly on digital outreach. I don’t think there need to be special considerations when “x group” happens to map onto age.

        2. Katara's side braids*

          I don’t get the leap from “many in my generation prefer x” to “x is ONLY for my generation and not yours”, as your point “b” seems to imply. My coworkers and I talk all the time about our respective approaches to certain tasks, and it’s not at all uncommon for generational differences to be brought up as a factor. That doesn’t mean any of us believes our own approach to be exclusive to our own generation, and it’s certainly never a value statement about either generation being either “inexperienced and entitled” or “rusty and out of touch,” or whatever other stereotypes have been invoked regarding LW1.

        3. Cj*

          I wanted to jump directly to the comment section before even reading Alison’s response because that jumped out at me, and felt it needed to be called out. I’m really glad Alison mentioned this in her response.

      3. Elizabeth Bennett*

        When I was in my 30’s, I worked for a small family business of seven people, and the next youngest employee was 52. From there, the ages were in their 60’s & 70’s.

        First off, I learned a lot about more experienced people and my presumptions about them because of their age. No, they weren’t the most trusting or reliant on technology, but when they saw something practical and useful, they utilized it.

        But there were some adjustments in working with them, in the differences of generations. I was the recipient of generational comments, asking me, “Did you even learn accounting on paper or did they just teach you how to use the computer?” There was a presumption of my ignorance of “how things were done before computers” because… of my age? (Spoiler alert: my father has a family business that he runs mostly without computers.) I didn’t appreciate these comments, but I let them slide and just showed them that I can do my job without a computer. But yeah, the comments were off-putting and didn’t really make for easier working relationships. Instead of curiosity about how the other party did it, there was judgment.

        Ultimately, my computer skills were rusting and I left after five years. I don’t have any hard feelings toward the company; I just wasn’t a fit for their culture.

        1. Prospect Gone Bad*

          The huge difference is that someone who is 52 now (born 1970, not in ancient times!) is far too young to remember the “before times” when this stuff was done on paper. My parents in their 70s? Sure we have had conversations about this and I’ve had a discussion with my mom’s friend at a party about how she did her work at the IRS pre-computers. But that was a 52 year old in the 90s or 2000, not 2022. Big difference.

          When someone had made comments about “kids these days” in 2000 when they actually saw huge changes in the way work is done, I sort of grinned and listened to it, and some of it was even interesting. There were some automatic processes in my job then that had taken a week in 1978 because they snail mailed papers back and forth. But the same dynamic today? It would be older people talking about different computer programs or earlier versions of MS, which is nowhere near as big a difference to act like a new generation can’t understand it!

          1. Elizabeth Bennett*

            I laugh whenever I hear people complaining about “kids these days.” My father told me about a letter his father read to him from the 1860’s, in which a correspondent complained to their ancestor about “kids these days.” The same complaints as today – the noise they call music, lazy bums with no work ethic, no respect for their elders… There was even a mention that “things move so fast these days. You can send a telegraph instantly from village to village!” The end judgment in the writer’s opinion was that the very fabric of society is unraveling, and we are doomed.

            I hear the same thing now, in different words. “Nobody cares about manners anymore. Kids don’t want to work; they just expect a handout. I never [insert normal behavior here] when I was a kid. I was raised to [insert old fashioned behavior].” I think complaining about the youth is just a part of the cycle of life.

            I know I will be Officially Old when I have complaints about the youth.

            1. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

              In my Master’s program in Slavics, we read a text in Old Church Slavonic from I think the year 988 with…all the same complaints about ‘kids these days.’ And I am told there’s a bunch of this in ancient Greek writings too – seems like it just never gets old (har har).

          2. Observer*

            The huge difference is that someone who is 52 now (born 1970, not in ancient times!) is far too young to remember the “before times” when this stuff was done on paper.

            That’s not entirely true. People entering the workforce in the late 80’s – late 90’s could easily have “imprinted” on paper based processes and procedures.

            There were some automatic processes in my job then that had taken a week in 1978 because they snail mailed papers back and forth. But the same dynamic today? It would be older people talking about different computer programs or earlier versions of MS, which is nowhere near as big a difference to act like a new generation can’t understand it!

            Not necessarily. Plenty of people in their early 50’s actually used typewriters, ledgers and “one write” checkbook systems, etc.

          3. NotBeforeMyTime*

            No, they aren’t too young. Paper was still used regularly up through the 1990s, even with computer beginning to dominate the accounting space, as were electric typewriters.

      4. WantonSeedStitch*

        I feel like regardless of the age of the user, a lot of help desk techs will start with an assumption that the user doesn’t know much, and will ask them to go through the basics. I’ve gotten into the habit of going through all the basics like restarting, asking if other people are experiencing the same issue, clearing my cache, etc. before getting in touch with the help desk, and I run through everything I’ve already tried when I talk to them. I’ve done this since I was in my 20s!

        1. kittybutton*

          That is true, but OWWYC is observing that they are asked to do these basic steps much more frequently than younger coworkers. That definitely seems to be driven by age.

          It is along the same lines of saying “well lots of people of all ages are pulled over by the police” but statistics show that black people are pulled over at higher frequencies. You cannot ignore that pattern.

      5. Observer*

        It might be worth tuning the “age-related comments” radar to also scan for the very subtle “ok boomer” type comments and above all silent reactions that can put people on the defensive (about their age or experience or skills). They are pervasive, subtle and constant where I work, even when specific skills or generational divides are not relevant.

        I do think that this is a very valid point. I wouldn’t necessarily start with this, but given Jane’s comment, it’s something I would be looking out for.

      6. I am OP#1*

        This is so helpful and I really appreciate your sharing. I need to do a better job myself of noticing and putting a stop to this kind of subtle ageism. Jane’s comment probably felt just as awkward to older coworkers as the “have you even heard of X” comments do to younger coworkers.

      7. Florp*

        Yes! I can do pretty much any job in my industry. I’m truly an expert, and I got that way by spending the past three decades assuming that everyone I meet has something to teach me. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had a recent grad (incorrectly) explain some basic bit of information to me in a patronizing “you’re probably too old to understand this” way. Inexperienced people don’t usually know how inexperienced they are, and they don’t know how thoroughly experienced I am. Well, hello there Dunning-Kruger effect!

        Most of the time, I can handle it privately and professionally simply by teaching them the correct process, and I genuinely enjoy sharing my knowledge. If someone does something well, it’s less work for me! Any reasonable person who recognizes that I know what I’m talking about will stop being condescending pretty quickly.

        Last fall we had a situation where two inexperienced people given a specific and well defined task repeatedly took it upon themselves to widen the scope of their project without permission or regard to how it affected anyone else’s work. I don’t think they were malicious, and I kind of wonder if spending their senior year of college in lock down stripped them of opportunities to learn normal working behavior. These were brand new employees who didn’t know any better and seemed to assume we were just sitting here waiting for them to dazzle us with their unexpected brilliance. So we got into a pattern of:

        1. I’d notice they’d broken stuff (or worse, the owner would find it first) and ask what’s up.
        2. They would defend their work with something like this: “The machine is intended to attach Widget A to Widget B and it’s too complicated to explain to you because the machine uses a computer but we eliminated a step to make it faster.”
        3. I’d explain that I designed Widget A, I designed Widget B, and I programmed the machine to attach them to each other. Hell, I can crack the machine open and solder in a new motherboard if need be. The step they eliminated caused a QC failure on the customer’s end, and any changes to the process need testing before approval, because lawsuits. If you think you have a good idea, bring it to the team and we’ll evaluate it. We love a good idea!
        4. T1 and T2 would mutter darkly under their breath that I was interfering, while everyone else ran around fixing their crap, because of course being inexperienced meant they didn’t know how to fix the things they broke. I once worked an 11 hour Saturday because these two somehow created a glitch in basic email marketing software that was adding each customer’s email address to our list dozens of times causing lots of spam.
        5. Go back to step 1.

        It got to the point where we were giving them ridiculously specific instructions for every project and locking down access to equipment and passwords because we were trying to anticipate what they would mess around with ahead of time. Operators on the factory floor complained that they were rude. We gave them a mentor who tried to suggest a different attitude, but by this point they had formed their own us-against-them feedback loop where the man was keeping them down because we were so behind the times. We put them on separate projects, but they looped each other into each other’s work and that actually created double the number of harebrained schemes. My productivity was shot from putting out fires. Multiple warnings were issued, and they were on the verge of being fired.

        It all came to a head when, in a meeting with all the managers, they mansplained* (incorrectly) a concept using examples from a company manual that I wrote. I mean, my name is on the cover of the manual they were physically holding up. When the owner of the company pointed it out, they had the audacity to say they had ideas for improving the manual. I lost my shit. I gave them the I’ve done every job in our industry before you puppies were born, you don’t know a single person who knows more than I do speech. The everyone here has more experience than you and we’re tired of cleaning up after you speech. I’ve NEVER EVER EVER spoken to anyone like that before, but two years of converting a factory to making medical supplies (and then back) during a pandemic has left me with some raw nerves. This was the full on “do you know who I am” treatment. One of them (probably correctly) called me a karen out loud, and I and everyone else at the table cracked up. I’ve never seen my boss laugh so hard. The poor kids did not know what to do. The whole meeting stopped dead because it was all so absurd. People were still laughing about it hours later.

        The funny thing is, it sort of worked. Faced with an entire company ROFL, and a polite, private suggestion from the owner that they just keep their heads down and do only the job we ask them to, they actually did simmer down and are showing signs of being genuinely good at their jobs. I have been as warm and inclusive as I possibly can, because it’s all water under the bridge.

        So, yeah, the ageism thing can go both ways, and I tend to think more experienced employees will put up with some level of immature behavior from younger people, because they are by definition immature! But the OK Boomer stuff is super irritating, especially when the person saying it doesn’t know what the hell they are talking about. At some point the elder statesmen are gonna snap, and #1 may have been evidence of that!

        *One is a woman and one is a man, but I can’t think of a non-gendered version of mansplaining.

      8. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Well, I am younger, and IT always does this stuff to me (reboot first, never mind that you already did it; it can’t possibly be that reason, try another reboot)! I don’t doubt that in your office you are being singled out for age. I just want you to know that there are equal opportunity condescending IT people out there as well! LOL

        At this point, I just tell them my computer is haunted and needs an exorcism. If they aren’t going to take me seriously, I will play!

    2. Smithy*

      Overall, largely agree – but when it comes to age/generation generalizations I actually think that instead of linking it to experience while at work I think we’re often better served linking it to data/research.

      Saying “all of my peers own a smart phone, smart tv, in addition to other smart devices” risks the “well actually” tangents. But having a market research survey/study or two that show smart product saturations across age groups can soften more personal anecdotes of the presenter. So had Jane’s comments about preferring high tech presentations come after a note about studies showing how her age group happens to own and live with the highest saturation of smart devices or spends the greatest number of hours on their phone or whatever, it can read differently. And also opens the floor co-presenters to give anecdotes about how they’re different because maybe they’re the parents of teenagers or in that age group and totally anti-tech. Either way.

      1. Observer*

        but when it comes to age/generation generalizations I actually think that instead of linking it to experience while at work I think we’re often better served linking it to data/research.

        I do think that data is better than personal experience. But sometimes there is not really good data to use. In that case, it can be useful to look at personal experience, as long as you factor in all of the relevant caveats of that kind of thing.

    3. TrixM*

      I said this in the other post, but as someone who is also in my early 50s, I get incredibly embarrassed when someone pulls this routine.
      Sure, it’s fine to remark on stuff that’s different between generations if it happens to come up, in a light “huh, look at how things” have changed kind of way.
      But going on and on about that kind of thing is boring, and basically saying “IN MY DAY things were so much better!” is both inaccurate and insulting.
      Things are better in a lot of ways now, especially tech and social mores (esp for queer people, like me). Some things are definitely worse, like too much plastic being used frivolously. Alas for the days when supermarket bread came in waxed paper!
      I think the main reason for those kinds of outbursts is that it is a real trip to realise you’re actually in your fifties. For me, there was also the sudden emergence of some niggly health issues after previous excellent health, some of which ended up being associated with menopause (a big trip all on its own).
      Not a excuse for being boring/unpleasant, by the way, but some of us deal with these “holy shit, I really AM middle-aged” moments and the associated adjustments (mentally, physically) less gracefully than others. Being resistant to all kinds of charge is a not-great sign, though. We need to keep learning for all of our lives.

      1. Elizabeth Bennett*

        My 91 yo grandmother-in-law is an excellent example of growing old without growing stuck in her ways. She learned to use a computer for email in her late 70’s, she prints out pictures that we email her, and she will read text messages on her smart phone, although does not regularly text back. She will save pictures messaged to her phone. Her TV/stereo set up is so complex, I cannot figure it out and have to rely on her to turn it on and off for her great-granddaughter to watch cartoons.

  14. Turanga Leela*

    LW3: I was recently part of a hiring process where we interviewed a few top candidates. We loved them all—they were all smart, enthusiastic, fun to talk to, and more than capable of doing the work. We talked to references for all of them, hoping one candidate would rise above the rest… and the references were all glowing.

    We picked a candidate but had to reject the others. I imagine our rejected candidates and their references are shocked—we wish we could have hired them too! It was just an unusually great applicant pool.

    1. mreasy*

      I both hire and am often a reference, and I don’t assume that when I’m contacted it means the person will be hired. I assume it means they’re down to their top candidates and are checking references for them – which is how I’ve always done it (and seen it done) when hiring.

    2. Ope!*

      I posted exactly the same thing up higher! Being at the point in my career where I help hire on average a few positions a year has absolutely changed the way I view the process as an applicant – I get less down on myself when I’m not picked. I wish everyone had a chance to see it from this side.

  15. Wendy*

    LW1, it might be worth noting when you do have this conversation that comments about such-and-such generation often tend to substitute in for things you really don’t want to be dealing with in a company – age discrimination, primarily, but also some other stereotypes about “young people are all X” or “older people all do Y” that become a lot more problematic when they’re entrenched in your corporate culture. It also makes it harder for employees to maintain cross-generational work relationships. I spent most of the first decade of my work life in offices where I was 20-30 years younger than the other office staff, and the places where age was often mentioned tended to be the worse places to work :-\ Even when the comments were positive (“You’re young, come explain this technology to me!”), I had problems getting my coworkers to take me seriously.

    1. Grew up Billingual*

      LW2, I am a bit suprised people speak spanish in front of people who don’t understand. I am bilingual and grew up somewhere where most people speak English as a second language. I was always taught to switch to English at work when there is someone nearby who does not speak my language as a courtesy.

      On the otherhand, the power dynamics are exactly the opposite to am English speaking country and we mostly switch to show courtesy to the foreigners in the office…

    2. Smithy*

      I agree with this.

      The one place I worked that had the greatest amount of “you’re so young/I’m so old” talk also had the greatest amount of weaponized incompetence when it came to tech tasks senior staff didn’t want to do/learn to do. This was most amusing when my boss who was a whole three months older than me would bemoan his great seniority and how he needed someone younger to help him out…..

      It was a work place that really struggled to identify metrics for success and what differentiated pay grades and titles within the organization. Therefore instead of actually figuring out what excellent vs good vs average work looked like and how to move across those levels – they’d revert to saying how young people were and that they just needed a few more years. Ultimately that may be true, but when that’s not accompanied by articulating what anyone is doing well, where they need to improve, and what they need to demonstrate before moving up…..it feels wildly patronizing and dismissive.

      This isn’t to say that the young/old talk always matches with those types of issues but that it’s worth questioning whether it’s a symptom of other issues.

  16. Frally*

    I’m curious as to why you can’t keep money mistakenly paid to you. Not that I would, but if someone gives u money, why can’t u keep it?

    1. Sleepy cat*

      Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer!

      Basically there’s a difference between:

      – receiving money
      – being entitled to keep that money

      Think of it this way. Imagine we live next door to each other, and I accidentally park my car on your driveway instead of mine. You know it’s my car. But you say: “Sorry, you parked on my driveway, this car is mine now and I’m not giving it back.” Even though you know it’s my car, and you have no right to keep it. It doesn’t magically become yours just because I accidentally parked it on the wrong driveway.

      This is like that, except it’s money in a bank account.

      You might say: hang on, that makes no sense, if you made a mistake then, well, it sucks to be you and you should’ve checked. But that’s not the rule we’ve agreed on as a society. If you knowingly keep something that isn’t yours, and you do not honestly believe you are entitled to it (because you know it’s a duplicate payment or whatever) then that is theft, at least where I live.

      We think of theft as something active – surely I’m only stealing if I take something? But you can also steal by keeping something that isn’t yours / not giving it back.

      1. Antilles*

        That’s pretty much dead-on from a legal perspective. The only addendum worth adding on is that there is a procedure by which you can legally claim the money. If you try to contact them repeatedly in a documented fashion (in writing! verifiable ways!), they repeatedly don’t respond, and enough time passes, they eventually do lose the right to recover the money and it becomes legally yours…but if you’re going that route, you need to have everything clearly documented, should get a lawyer involved, and don’t plan on touching that money for months because that’s the kind of timeframe we’re talking about.

    2. BubbleTea*

      Because it isn’t yours, you know it isn’t yours, and the law allows the company to take it back.

    3. Anima*

      Because they pay you for a service not rendered, the service being your work.
      Also, the taxing is an absolute mess if you get overpaid (even here in Europe, ask me how I know), you absolutely don’t want to keep money you do not really have a right to. Your employer might say “keep it”, but your taxes may say otherwise.

    4. Viette*

      It’s not a gift, it’s a mistake. Like if you accidentally paid a bill twice, you wouldn’t be like, “oh that’s the phone company’s money now, they can keep it.”

      Or more to the situation: it’s like if you canceled your account with the phone company but your bank kept auto-paying them for services you weren’t getting. Nobody would say, okay I paid it to them so it’s their money now, even though I’m not getting the service anymore.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

        Another example might be a first time homeowner who doesn’t understand that their mortgage payment includes town taxes and goes to the town website to find out how much they owe and sends a check directly…They get their check back right?

    5. Asenath*

      Because you were given the money as a mistake, not a gift, which means you are not entitled to the money. That’s the moral, not legal, point of view. I’m not a lawyer, but I doubt that the law in most countries allows you to profit from a mistake. You may be able to keep money you found (although I knew someone who wouldn’t even keep money a vending machine discharged in error) as long as you make a good faith attempt to find the real owner, but that would not apply to money you found in your bank account from a known person or business, and which you know they did not intend to give you.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      In a lot of companies if you keep money that is not yours they might attempt to press criminal charges.

      Before direct deposit, if I got a check that had the wrong amount on it I would just hand it back to the boss so they could be a neutral party who held the check while the matter was resolved. This did not happen that much, maybe twice? But I wanted to be above reproach, which meant give the check back to the boss until the question has been answered. NOT worth all. the. problems. that would happen if I kept the check.

    7. L.H. Puttgrass*

      If you accidentally overpay your rent, should your landlord get to keep the extra money? After all, you gave them the money, so why shouldn’t they be able to keep it?

      Think of salary as payment of a debt: as an employee, you’ve agreed to perform work in exchange for a certain amount of money. Paychecks are how you get that money. If your employer accidentally gives you more, that doesn’t make the money yours any more than accidentally paying too much on your rent makes the extra money your landlord’s.

      1. Nanani*

        IDK, I have accidentally overpaid bills before – swapped the amounts on two bills; the one that accidentally got reduced contacted me so I could fix but the accidentally overpaid one did not.
        They didn’t repay the extra, and they were a big corporation.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          That doesn’t mean that was right or even allowed. Personally, the times I have had that kind of issue they did either send me a refund or apply the overpayment to my next bill.

        2. L.H. Puttgrass*

          If the one you overpaid didn’t apply the overpayment to your next bill, they should have. Maybe they wouldn’t go out of their way to contact you, especially if they thought you’d have another bill against which they could apply the credit, but if you contacted them they should refund the excess payment.

          “Oops, you overpaid, we get to keep the extra” really isn’t a thing, at least in the U.S.

        3. Rocket*

          This experience changes nothing about legalities, all it does is tell you the company that didn’t refund you is shady.

          1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            For a reoccurring bill, like a utility bill, it seems pretty normal for the company to hang on to an over-payment and apply it to the next bill unless asked to do something different. Back in the days before online billing was common, I was heading out of town for winter break to visit my family, and I deliberately paid about two and a half times what was due on all of my November bills so that my December bills would be zero-balance since I wouldn’t be home to receive and pay them on time. None of the companies tried to send a check back and all of them applied the extra money to my next bill or two as planned.

            I also used to do this with student loan payments – I paid an “extra” month so I’d always have zero due in case a check got lost, and then sent in a payment for the next month a month ahead. I think with those I had to indicate future payment versus principal payment since you could also send in extra money to reduce the principal balance, but it was a checkbox on the payment stub.

    8. Shiba Dad*

      There have been situations where banks have mistakenly deposited relatively large sums of money into the wrong account. If those folks used that money they faced legal consequences.

    9. anonymous73*

      You’re joking right? Simple answer: because it’s not your money. “Someone” didn’t give you money, your former company – THAT YOU NO LONGER WORK FOR – is paying you for services you are no longer providing. Go ahead and spend that money and see how many checks you bounce when they take it back.

    10. MCMonkeyBean*

      “Finder’s keepers” is not generally a real justification for keeping something that you know doesn’t belong to you.

      1. Rebecca*

        “Native” is way too focused on where you come from and your passport status, instead of language skills. When you start talking about ‘native language’ and ‘nativity’ you can open up all sorts of ways to discriminate. I teach English language arts, largely to second language learners, and accent and passport discrimination is RIFE.

        I can mostly speak to the issues around English nativity, because that’s my background, but I am sure you can find the same issues in almost any historically colonial language (I know for sure French has the same issues, I’m working in the education system in France). Even determining who is a native speaker is full of classism, racism, and colonialism. For example, a lot of Indian people have English as their mother tongue, but they never count when a job advert asks for native English speakers. Then you get people who live in countries where English isn’t a common first language, but speak it fluently from childhood. My son, for example, is French and growing up in France, but will have native-level English because of me.

        Then you add in accent discrimination – that is adjacent to the problem, but very much linked in with it – when someone posts a job asking for an English accent, they never mean Jamaican or Cockney. Most job adverts where I am specify British or American accent, which leaves me out, but then employers will hurry to say that Canadian counts as American, they just don’t want the complicated accents – but Glaswegian is a UK accent and they don’t want those, either. A lot of people use nativity and ‘culture’ to get around accent discrimination.

        In the EU, it is actually illegal to hire on the basis of nativity and ‘native language speakers’ is banned on job advertisements, as it’s discrimination on the basis of country of origin. It’s discriminatory on two counts – 1, because there are plenty of primary English speakers from non-native backgrounds, and 2, because it’s entirely possible to speak the language as a second language and have all the necessary skills, which is what hiring should be based on. The law is relatively new, but has been tested in court.

        I spoke with a woman a little while ago who I hadn’t even noticed was a second language speaker who told me she was teaching English successfully to children, but told me she was accepting a disgustingly low rate of pay because she ‘didn’t have the right to teach English because she wasn’t a native speaker.’ She was a primary English speaker with fluent level English, but had grown up in Russia and was entirely bilingual.

        ‘Primary language’ doesn’t take away all the problems, but it a much better way of framing the skills necessary to work in a language.

        1. ATX*

          Very interesting! I honestly never thought about it, but you are right, I know a ton of European people who speak English 100% yet it’s not their native language.

        2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

          People used to praise my RP-ish accent, but it is a curse more than a blessing, because it means I had limited exposure to anything beyond class materials in a pre-Youtube era.

        3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Re the EU… I’m sorry but a lot of stuff published by the EU in English is in bad English. As in, I can translate it back into the language it was originally written in (provided that language is French ha ha) all too easily, because it reads as if it were French.
          They even published a document to explain the English used in their documentation, to help the Brits understand.
          I’m sorry, if you need to explain an English document at length to Brits, the document is not well-written (assuming the necessary technical knowledge of course).

          1. Helvetica*

            As someone who works heavily with the EU, I’d argue it’s not “bad English” but rather English specific to an organisational culture, which has emerged over decades through several countries working together where most members are ESL. This sort of culture-specific language can develop in many domains and does not reflect the badness of it.
            I don’t know what you mean about a document to explain English but your statement seems very sweeping and not entirely accurate. Legal acts are worked on by native speaker lawyer-linguists who work very hard to make it work in their own language.

          2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

            Often I can hazard a guess where the author of a document learned their English and have a better than random chance of success; I’m sure many people exposed to multiple languages can.

          3. Emmy Noether*

            I know what you mean, but your post sounds arrogant and misses the point of those texts. They’re not meant to be british english (especially now, hah) or high literature, they’re meant to be lowest-common-denominator english. There’s almost thr beginnings of a sort of pidgin that has developed with it’s own usage and expressions. Everyone has to make a little effort to understand, even the Brits (though less than the others), which seems fair to me.

        4. Trillian*

          Interesting, and very appropriate for work, where competence should be the question and not origin, citizenship, or class.

          As a total aside: For all its toxicity, “native” still captures something about someone’s acquisition and use of language that “primary language” does not. As an example, I remember a lecturer at university explaining to a US visitor that Scots of his generation were bilingual. They knew the Scots dialect learned at home, and they knew the formal English acquired through education, (frequently with threat of punishment for use of the dialect–‘talking corse’ to quote the writer Janice Galloway). That was my parents, too. “Mother tongue” has gone well out of fashion as a term, but it carries the recognition that, if someone has grown up using a language, they have this underlying layer specific to family and region.

        5. londonedit*

          There’s also been a move away from talking about people having ‘English as a second language’ and towards ‘English as an additional language’, which recognises the fact that people learning English might already speak two or three other languages (more than one of which might be an official language in their home country) and English isn’t automatically the only other language someone might speak/want to learn.

  17. Sue Wilson*

    #2 I’m a little bit more sympathetic to the “tower of babel/lingua franca” issue than I think others will be, although I too think “they’re talking about me” isn’t worth worrying about, so I’ll ask a couple questions:

    A) you said it was basically a “clique” and either that’s overblown or more than the communal language is making you think cohesive group. If it is overblown, I think you have some personal issues with this group too you might want to examine. If you notice other grouplike behavior, are they cliquish in that they are treating non-Spanish speakers actually differently (or vice versa), or is it just that they mostly speak to the other Spanish speakers, which isn’t really cliquish?

    B) why aren’t your employees who don’t speak Spanish talking amongst themselves? Did your employees have a lot of chitchat before they joined this other group? What has changed in your group before and after?

    C) what type is the assistance your group is providing? Are they in a support role or are they actually doing the same role as the other group for overflow? Is your team permanently in a group with this other team now? Is there a stopping point to your assistance?

    These questions are to determine if this is actually a morale issue (and I mean this sincerely, really really think about if it is) and if so, get you thinking about your team and what you can for morale that doesn’t involve commenting on language use.

    1. Caroline Bowman*


      The fact is, people are and should rightly be allowed to chat in their own language on their own time, always. That’s a default. No question. Equally, feeling excluded and possibly even gossiped-about is a totally natural thing in a scenario like this. I defy anyone not to feel this way if they are literally excluded from all but work conversation by the majority of their colleagues. I know I would.

      The OP wants to keep relationships smooth-running and collegial. That’s… normal, yes? Not racist or entitled? Announcing that the English speakers in an English-speaking country need to STFU and stop being entitled is not helpful. By simply trotting out the law, Alison wasn’t helpful. As someone who has seen this play out in my own home country (unrelated to English btw), the end result is that you get a work force who is very generic, in this case, they’d all be Spanish, all of them. No exceptions. It just wouldn’t be worth hiring anyone who wasn’t because they’d be miserable and leave. What does this say for inclusivity? Not much. Trying to foster good relationships that go beyond strictly business is a reasonable thing to do.

      1. Rolly*

        ” No question. ”

        No, in the US at least there is a massive history of jingoistic racism and plenty of people who do not think it is appropriate for non-English at work. It comes up all the time. What you say would be reasonable outside that context, but that content is a real thing and that should not be ignored. I know that you are not questioning it, but it is questioned all the time and it’s entirely appropriate to call out the racism behind that. Which frankly permeates even what seem to be “reasonable” requests to not feel left out.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah. This kind of thinking led to a previous workplace having an entire tech department staffed with people of a certain nationality. When an Englishwoman in my department fell out with the most senior of the techies, I found myself as a fellow Englishwoman being shunned, because I would obviously be taking her side. In actual fact, I had fallen out with that Englishwoman quite a long time before that incident. Maybe the techies didn’t notice because I still behaved professionally, and interacted with her as necessary even though I hated her guts for sabotaging a project I was leading.

      3. Nanani*

        No, the anglophone’s paranoia about maybe possibly being talked about sometimes is not equal to the real, documented prejudice and xenophobia linguistic minorities experience.

      4. Observer*

        y simply trotting out the law, Alison wasn’t helpful.

        Except that this is not what Alison did. She pointed out the law, because that DOES, absolutely, affect what the OP can and should do in this situation. Then Alison provided some suggestions as to how to handle it.

        I do think that the point that many people have made about looking at the larger context of how the teams interact internally, with each other, and with other teams is valid. But Alison didn’t “simply trot out the law.”

      5. Smithy*

        I think this point about worrying about gossip is wild because…..I’ve certainly never had a problem gossiping in English about my English speaking coworkers behind their backs. This notion and suspicion that somehow it’s being done in another language just when they’re in the room and only based on a lack of comprehension is really worth unpacking. The fact that it may be common does not mean that it deserves that much empathy.

        It is also not uncommon for there to be social divides in workplaces during lunch/free time when you have divides regarding age, parental status, gender etc. This is often why more mandatory or formal team building or bonding activities are introduced. Trying to generate more team camaraderie is also often complained about because there often aren’t efforts to identify greater underlying work issues as well.

        This is where Sue’s questions become really important. If this is a permanent assignment for this new group and they’re unhappy or less happy – take the time to really figure out why.

    2. A.N. O'Nyme*

      I would also add asking your group exactly what is making them paranoid, as well as trying to see if there is anything in the body language of the Spanish speakers that may suggest they are gossiping about your group? So far most people (including me) have been working under the assumption that there isn’t anything to indicate that, but it’s worth checking.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah. I have twice been in a situation where people have been looking at me and laughing and speaking in a language I don’t understand very well. What’s sweet is that in one situation it turned out that they were laughing at their own inability to put together a question in English to be able to *include* me, and in the other, a young girl had been accusing her father of using “my” shower at the swimming pool, when in fact I’d moved away because I had finished. The father was simply pointing to say “no look she’s getting her towel”. I looked askance at him because I didn’t understand exactly but could see they were talking about me, but he explained and we had a good laugh *together* and reassured the daughter that I had indeed finished showering.

  18. amoeba*

    #2 I have a slightly different view, which is probably because of different dynamics in my personal experience. I’ve worked a lot in very international environments and generally, the rule was always ” as soon as there’s one person present who does not speak your language, you switch to English”. Now, I see how that’s different as generally English was hardly anybody’s first language in those groups, so it was more the other way round – lazy and inconsiderate to be happily chatting away in German or French whilst the poor exchange student was sitting next to you, not understanding a word you were saying. (Much less international environment now, but I’m still sometimes fighting people’s tendencies to switch to German because it’s easier for them and exclude the non-German-speaking coworker sitting next to them at the table…)
    As for “Just initiate conversations” – yeah, sometimes that works. Also, sometimes people reply with a sentence or two and then directly turn around and keep chatting happily in Swedish or French to the rest of the group. Or you just don’t understand a word of the conversation already ongoing around you so there’s just no opening for you to initiate anything. (I’ve been on both sides of this).
    Learning the language – well, I’ve been learning French for years, lived in a French-speaking country for three, would consider myself quite OK at it, and still have a lot of trouble following an animated lunchtime discussion with people talking all at once. So sadly don’t think that would help that much, unless you’re either a genius or willing to invest several years of intense studying.

    All in all: I agree that it’s probably not appropriate to say anything, and I see that the cultural situation here is different, but I also absolutely see why people are upset by this. ( I’m talking about situations here where everybody’s having a break together and people would actually like to be part of the conversation. Couldn’t care less if a group of people are sitting in the corner by themselves in the corner chatting in whatever language I don’t speak. But when people are trying to join the conversation/sit with them and are just ignored – which I’ve unfortunately seen a lot – I really do think it’s not great.)

    1. Caroline Bowman*

      Agree with you completely. It’s worth it for the OP to observe what is actually happening over a period of time, to really see where the issue is, without judgement or bias, before any sort of intervention.

      It might well simply be an occasional ”dang, I don’t know what anyone is saying, I want in!” thing, in which case, them’s the breaks. It might be complete exclusion at all break times, from what is a lively, friendly group, which feels unkind, if only inadvertently. It could even be a few people being thoroughly nasty and gossipy about the non-Spanish speakers, or it could be the English speakers being xenophobic and sour and needing to wind their necks back in.

      Worth digging into, to see what is actually happening, over time.

    2. ecnaseener*

      I don’t think the cultural situation is as different as you’re suggesting. “English was hardly anybody’s first language in those groups” is true for the people in this letter too.

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Thank you!
      Initiating a convo… works when you’re great at conversation. I’m an introvert and my stomach gets in knots at the idea of striking up a conversation with someone I don’t know. Also I was taught never to interrupt and that is something I have great difficulty with.

      I have worked a lot in international atmospheres and the “speak English unless everyone present understands your language” prevailed everywhere. Although at one point when we had a very garrulous native-English intern whose French was abysmal to the point that it was hampering her ability to work, we decided to have “French only” lunches for her to be able to learn French with us. (this was in France)

    4. Helvetica*

      Fully agree as someone who also works in an international environment. I am not in the US so maybe that is why, as my cultural context is different but I find many of the comments and statements wild; I’d much rather agree with you.

    5. AGC*

      Yes this, absolutely. And before commenters start railing about being English-centric and monolingual Americans: I’m a native-English speaking American but spent time living in France and would never speak English with my American friends as soon as there was one non-English speaker present. It doesn’t *matter* if you’re talking about the weather; it’s still inherently exclusionary.

      I agree that the OP can’t demand that workers speak English, but if they have the opportunity to be that person initiating English conversation amidst the Spanish, Spanish-speaking group may start being more aware that they’re excluding coworkers.

  19. Definitely Hiding*

    LW2: When I joined my team several years ago, I had a coworker who didn’t exactly welcome me. She and I shared an office and one of her friends (in a different kind of job) would come in and they’d talk extensively in Spanish, often turn to give me pointed looks and laugh, then turn away again and resume talking in Spanish. Not a nice experience.

    1. BubbleTea*

      Would it have been better if they’d been whispering in English, so you still couldn’t hear what was being said but in a language you understood? The problem is the meanness, not the language.

    2. anonymous73*

      People gossip about others at work all the time. Treating people disrespectfully is the issue, not speaking in a different language.

    3. Rolly*

      “often turn to give me pointed looks and laugh, then turn away again and resume talking in Spanish”

      If they did this in English, whispered, would you have felt OK?

      I don’t see how this story is relevant.

    4. Mental Lentil*

      And yet here you are now, gossiping about her in English.

      Are you suggesting that we make rules for the entire world based on your one experience?

    5. Definitely Hiding*

      I’m not gossiping, I’m describing an experience relevant to the topic. And my coworkers were clearly using Spanish to shut me out.

    6. Definitely Hiding*

      My office mate’s buddy left the firm and someone new came on board who didn’t speak Spanish apparently, so when SHE would come into our office to hang out, she’d pull a chair up close to office mate and they’d whisper in English for chunks of time. So I’ve had it from both sides. The English doesn’t excuse the Spanish, or vice versa.

      1. Katara's side braids*

        I think what other commenters are trying to say is that it’s not a language issue, it’s a workplace culture issue (based on the fact that your coworkers thought that gossiping/snide looks were okay). Which you seem to agree with, based on your last comment. But as bad as that experience was, and as wrong as those coworkers were, it doesn’t necessarily seem relevant to LW2 – there was no mention of pointed looks or laughter, or anything else to indicate that the Spanish speakers were gossiping. And even if they were, the problem would be the gossip, not the language it was done in.

        1. Definitely Hiding*

          But my experience is an illustration of how different languages can be used to shut someone out. That is my point. It’s not the only way, but it is definitely a way.

          1. Katara's side braids*

            Just so I’m understanding properly: is your main issue that the content of their discussions was mean, or that they were communicating in ways (whether whispering or speaking Spanish) that were not intelligible to you?

            Every place I’ve worked, there have been moments where some subset of coworkers would whisper and/or speak another language – usually for brief discussion of a personal issue, or if they were discussing a work situation relating to a specific client/patient/patron, or just because they didn’t want to disturb people in other cubicles. I never considered it toxic or rude unless it involved giggling/staring directed at a specific person as you described, which is why I had been assuming that the crux of the issue was the meanness. But since you refer to shutting someone out, I’m wondering if the main issue for you is that not everyone was privy to the discussions, regardless of whether or not they were mean or catty. I would disagree with you there.

            1. Definitely Hiding*

              These weren’t “moments.” These were extensive conversations, during worktime, in my shared office. It wasn’t brief office social interaction. If it was confidential work matters (and there was no reason for anything they worked on to be confidential from me; in fact, sometimes my office mate and her buddies deliberately kept workplace matters from me, such as procedure changes) we had conference room and spare office space for those discussions.

              1. Katara's side braids*

                I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear – I 100% agree that what you experienced is not similar to the examples I listed. You made it very clear that your coworkers were acting maliciously, for extensive periods of time.

                I listed those examples to show what *I* have considered reasonable in my experience, and see if they would seem reasonable to you, too, *if the interactions adhered to those criteria* (brief, confidential, and/or personal). I don’t particularly care what language people speak in my presence as long as I don’t have reason to think they’re being mean, and as long as they make sure I’m kept abreast of any essential work information. I just wanted to see if we disagreed there.

  20. Don't be long-suffering*

    Not to put too fine a point on it, Allison, but it wasn’t necessary to put the word Older in the headline. The age of the person making such comments is irrelevant. We all need to stop.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      I wondered about this, too. If you take out that word, you end up with this for a title:

      “Coworker Makes Divisive Comments About Age”

      That’s the real issue. I don’t know that there is a power dynamic here, because the letter doesn’t mention that Rita is in a senior position to Jane, or higher up in the company. That would make a difference.

      This title make have come from LW’s email subject line, though.

      1. I am OP#1*

        This is a great point. I didn’t write the subject line, but I do see Rita’s age as being relevant in this specific example. She repeatedly referred to “Jane’s generation”, which would just make no sense if they were members of the same generation.

        Rita is significantly senior to Jane so power dynamics are definitely in play here.

  21. pcake*

    I’m in my 60s, and I prefer working with higher tech solutions.

    I’ve also been on both ends of the age comments – when I was in my mid-20s, I was a manager who never heard the end of supposedly good natured comments about my age from other managers, vendors and co-workers. “You’re just a baby”, “When you get to be my age” and so on. It was annoying and condescending. Years later, when I hit 40, I started hearing comments about age, and since I hit 60ish, I notice that many people – receptionists, cashiers, utter strangers – feel that age references are fine to make to me. Some people coo at me like I was a toddler, which they did when my mother hit this age. Many talk to me like I am incapable of understanding tech despite what I do both for a living and in my recreation.

    If I were still managing a team, I’d make it a firm rule that no one could make comments about another person’s age at all. I often people refer to millenials dismissively, but it seems like there are people in every age group willing to dismiss others due to age. I’d love to see that stop.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Amen. I’d like to see age related comments go the way of body comments. I had an older person tell me that at age 58 I was just a baby. Thank you. Thanks for minimizing me. I will be sure to come back for more. (NOT)

      1. ecnaseener*

        If the letters on this site are any indication, body comments haven’t gone anywhere either…

    2. I just work here*

      ditto this–been on both sides of 40, and heard both types of comments, sprinkled in of course with all the typical “woman” comments—telling me I looked tired or sick if I wasn’t in full make up, asking me if something was wrong when I wasn’t smiling and perky, blah blah blah.

    3. Trillian*

      Me too. My mindset is “all adults here”, although I still have the odd jolting moment when a conversation stumbles over an historical event that I remember clearly as an adult (e.g., Chernobyl, the Challenger disaster, the Berlin wall), and I realize the other person/people don’t only not remember it, they weren’t even born for it. Time? How does that happen?

      The infantilization is irritating, but fortunately for the world around me, age does mellow one (or some of us, anyway). If nothing else, it’s satisfying to stand there thinking, “This is coming for you too, *dear*, though you don’t think it.”

      1. A Feast of Fools*

        That’s me, Trillian, being jolted by coworkers who talk about, say, watching Obama’s inauguration on a TV in their elementary school classroom. I was 39 and had booked a conference room at the Global Software company I was working at at the time so my team and I could watch it during business hours.

      2. NotBeforeMyTime*

        I attended college as an older student and one school year we had banners around the campus saying, “Imagine a world without AIDS” and it struck me that none of the “standard” students had known a time when AIDS was not prevalent. Bit of a shock.

    4. Sparkles McFadden*

      Ha, yes. I spent a lot of time wondering if there was a “sweet spot age” where such comments would stop. Like maybe when I turned 44 1/2 or some other arbitrary age I wouldn’t get annoying age-related comments flung at me. Then, of course, I realized jerks are just jerks at any age and that they serve as great examples of what not to do.

    5. Sara without an H*

      Yes, yes, yes! If I suddenly became ruler of the world, my first act would be to decree ferocious punishment for personal comments of any kind, whether they referred to age, weight, or facial expression.

      Don’t mind me — I was recently addressed as “young lady” by a retail salesperson, and I’m still snarly about it.

  22. John*

    References can’t simply be divided into those that are glowing and those that are not.

    If the hiring manager is smart, they will ask each reference questions about the candidate that are specific to the roles and responsibilities. And just because that candidate was stellar in a prior role doesn’t mean their strengths are aligned with the new role.

  23. NewYork*

    I think speaking in front of others in a language is the same as whispering. Totally legal, but rude. I think the people who do this will find they get less cooperation from others. I think almost everyone needs cooperation at some point. Someone might want to give them a heads up.

    1. Katie*

      So I think it really depends. If it’s the language they feel most comfortable speaking and it’s with people who can mostly that language, I really don’t think that’s rude at all.
      However, I used to have a friend and girlfriend who both spoke Spanish. When they wanted to talk secretly, they would just speak in Spanish. It was obnoxious.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      This isn’t a case of people speaking another language to hide what they’re saying. They’re just continuing to use the language that they were using before this additional team began assisting them., so I wouldn’t characterize it as rude.
      The letter doesn’t address how they respond if they’re addressed in English.

    3. anonymous73*

      Whispering is not rude. If I want to speak to a colleague about something private, I will whisper because it’s nobody else’s business. If you want to assume it’s because I’m talking about you, that’s not my issue to solve.

      1. NewYork*

        If you need to discuss something in private, you should find a conference room, or whatever.

        1. anonymous73*

          Unless it’s a long private conversation, I shouldn’t have to find a conference room to talk to someone. And finding one isn’t always an option.

    4. Rolly*

      “I think speaking in front of others in a language is the same as whispering.”

      That’s nonsense if the language is one’s native language and the language the third party understand is not. It can be tiring to speak a second language all the time and it is totally normal to want to speak a native language when possible – particularly when socializing.

    5. Eyes Kiwami*

      This is nonsense and wholly off-base with how things are in the world. There is nothing wrong with speaking a language you share with someone. It’s like talking about a mutual friend that the third person doesn’t know–sure you don’t want to go off about them for hours and exclude them, but there’s nothing inherently rude about doing it!

  24. Saraquill*

    LW2, I shared an open office space with a manager prone to taking stress out on others, and two Korean speakers. The two Korean speakers collaborated a lot, and often did it in the language they were most comfortable in. They also weren’t the only people in the office to communicate in languages other than English. However, since their desks were closer to Manager’s than the Mandarin, Spanish or Russian speakers, they got Manager’s wrath on a regular basis. It was never directly about Korean, but Manager made it clear she didn’t like it. When the office reopened after COVID lockdown, the Korean speakers didn’t return.

  25. CountryLass*

    My husband was let go nearly 6 years ago, he was placed on suspension during the time when the bonuses for the previous year were reviewed and paid (he had hit his targets and was in line to receive his bonus) however they did not pay it to him because he was on suspension. They were going through and finding reasons to get rid of the long term senior staff who were preventing them from making changes they wanted to, and the next one on their list was the accountant/payroll chap. The month after my husband received his final wage, another one popped in. Which was roughly equivalent to what his annual bonus should have been. We think that the payroll chap knew he was about to go, and waited to update husband’s leaving date to get him some of the money he was owed, then left a few days later. We kept it to one side for a couple of years, but the company has changed hands since then and no-one got in touch regarding it so we have spent it on home improvements.

  26. YetAnotherAnalyst*

    #2 – Leaving language barriers aside here, you’ve got Team A that (recently?) was assigned to support Team B. They’re still separate teams with separate supervisor and separate focuses, right? And presumably at some future date when the current task is done Team A will be reassigned to support Team C or D?
    This may just be my introvert tendencies here, but why do you expect the teams to mix socially? When I’ve been in similar situations and all parties involved primarily spoke the same language, building much social rapport with the other team pretty much requires positive 1:1 interaction almost daily for nearly a year. I’ve got teams I’ve supported on a less frequent basis for three or four years now, that we’ve never had a casual social conversation.

    1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

      Thinking it through a little more along those lines – is Team A, collectively, supporting Team B collectively? I’ve always found it particularly hard to make social connections when things are structured that way. It tends to create more of an us vs. them relationship, because good interactions end up attributed to an individual, but negative ones are blamed on the entire team. If you do want to integrate the two teams more, maybe try assigning specific individuals to support specific folks on the other team, if that makes sense for the work you’re doing.

    2. Forrest*

      They mentioned a production line. So say Team B is working on Production Line B. Team A is assigned to support any production line which needs to speed up, whether that’s because of increased demand, staff absences, changes in procedure or whatever. Team A are broken up all over Production Line B because there are various different areas of need, spending eight hours a day surrounded by people having social chitchat with each other in a language they don’t speak. And it’s the kind of production line where having that kind of friendly chitchat with each other is normal and expected and does help the hours tick by.

      There are lots of jobs where the work itself isn’t particularly engaging, and it really is those team relationships and conversations which makes the day bearable. So that line between “this isn’t affecting the work product but wow it sure it affecting morale” is a really tricky one, and it’s not clear whether the deployment to support Team B is a long or short-term one.

      1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        Oh yeah, it being a production line definitely puts my ears into my shoulders a bit more. The production lines I worked were in fact lines-there was a person to the left and one to the right who were easy to talk to, and people on their outsides who were also easy to talk to, but most of the people were too far away. And you couldn’t move around, because your task was tied to your place in line. Plus everybody chatted all day because the work itself was boring and repetitive.

        So having people talking in a language I couldn’t understand would mean eight hours a day being surrounded by other people having a nice chat while I was left out. Not fun.

      2. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        That’s helpful context, and a different understanding of “support” than I’m used to. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a situation where folks with different supervisors were doing the same tasks and interspersed like that before – I can see how that would be frustrating for Team A. Would that fall under the “group project” part of the law, where there’s a legitimate need for the production line to speak English to coordinate, regardless of which team you’re on? Breaks are breaks and Team B will speak Spanish.

        1. Forrest*

          I mean, I don’t know the actual context– I’m just going on LW’s “the Spanish-speaking workers… conduct their social interactions in Spanish, both on the production line and on breaks”. It could be that Team A are the techs who fix the production line, or are supplying materials to Team B, or something else. But I think the “production line” bit is potentially pretty important– it isn’t just in their breaks, and it’s not a question of forcing people to socialise, it is quite central to team dynamics and morale.

          1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

            Gotcha. I read that more as “they speak Spanish amongst themselves on the production line, so naturally continue to speak Spanish during their breaks (where my team wants to socialize with them)” –
            which could be a morale issue and I suppose might eventually impact production if Team A feels really salty about it… but also seems pretty normal.

        2. OP #2*

          The above thread EXACTLY describes what is going on. So in addition to (or perhaps aside from) the language issue, Team A is spread out all over Team B’s “turf,” and management assigned us there without any input from Team B. I can easily imagine how we could have the same social situation without a language barrier, where Team B was whispering or referencing in-jokes or otherwise excluding the new additions. So yes, it is primarily an issue of team integration with an added linguistic layer.

          FWIW, the non-Spanish languages are primarily East Asian, almost everyone was born in a country other than the U.S., and every single person (including me) in this situation is non-white. I appreciate all of the perspectives from the commenters, as a xenophobic or language-shaming response was never an option.

          I have a good working relationship with Team B’s manager, so we are going to work on some regular rewards for the whole group now that the line is meeting its goals (with assistance from Team A, which was the whole point of us being here.) Hopefully this will be the start of establishing a culture of mutual support and shared successes.

    3. anonymous73*

      People on the SAME team may not mix socially and I will never understand management who expects them to do so. If people get along and work well together, that doesn’t automatically mean they’re going to socialize on a personal level.

  27. Edward Williams*

    #2: Tell the coworkers who “feel excluded” to do what I did: Sit in on a Spanish class and learn a bit of the language. “Noch eine Sprache zu lernen ist noch eine Seele zu bekommen.” “Aprender otra lengua es ganar otra alma.” I started talking to Spanish-speaking coworkers five words at a time, with a blood-curdling Midwestern twang, and what I did (and still do) to Spanish grammar is akin to what a hungry lion does to an unwary eland. The coworkers were delighted and help me along, not least by courteously speaking…..to……me……like……this.

    1. münchner kindl*

      Your coworkers aren’t paid to give you language lessons during their breaks.

      If you had to talk your first language … like … this … whenever you wanted to chat with a colleague about the latest TV show/ sports/ weekend, how soon would you get tired of this?

      1. Sylvan*

        Did you see where the person you’re replying to asked their coworkers to do that? I don’t. I do see them trying to learn a language and their coworkers being patient about it.

        1. Nanani*

          Doesn’t change the fact that the coworkers are not there to be your private tutor.

          Learnign the language is a good idea but do it on your own time, don’t use your colleagues as unwilling practice targets.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            As a former burntout ESL teacher, I certainly don’t want to do that. But those whose language is less common, will often be delighted that someone is making the effort to speak their language.
            Mind you, since they’re not used to hearing foreigners speak (massacre) their language, they might react with peals of laughter to the point that you want to curl up and die and never ever try to speak it again (speaking from bitter experience here)

            1. Internist*

              Lots of people are genuinely happy to hear someone attempting their native language. Sure, some are not, but that just means that like with all social interactions, you have to read the room and not pursue an unwelcome topic (duh). I did not see anyone suggest demanding language lessons.

            2. Elsa*

              Oh, man, yes. I once learned a language that has only a few thousand speakers, many of whom were my coworkers. And yes, they’d never heard anyone butcher their language before and yes, they laughed at me, and often delightedly told me what I’d just said (“No, you can’t have my breasts!”). It took me two years to even get the phonemes right. But they were delighted I was making the effort. Total strangers would come and address me in the language because they’d heard I was learning it.

              (Also former ESL teacher.)

          2. Sylvan*

            I’m not the commenter Edward Williams. But thanks for the advice if I should ever get good enough at a language to try it outside of the classroom!

      2. Elsa*

        They’re probably delighted that s/he’s trying to learn and happy to be encouraging. Not everyone is cranky.

        1. Katara's side braids*

          Many would be, but it certainly isn’t “cranky” to find it exhausting to be volunteered as an unpaid language tutor based solely on the fact that you happen to speak the language. Especially if you’re already working in your second language the majority of the day. It can actually be more cognitively draining to have to do that, AND decipher whatever your self-appointed student is trying to say in your own language, AND correct them by walking through each syllable. Not to mention that there may not be a good time for such tutoring sessions – during work hours, it may compromise efficiency, but during break time, you may just want to relax into a delicious half hour of actually speaking as quickly as you think. That’s completely upended if your break times become tutoring sessions, however light and humorous they may be.

          Again, I’m not saying that *everyone* would feel this way, but people are perfectly justified in not wanting to be forced into certain roles based on characteristics beyond their control. It’s not “cranky.”

    2. Annika Hansen*

      My attempts to speak Spanish usually leads the Spanish speaker to switch to English :). However, I think the trying helps show you are interested.

    3. Spencer Hastings*

      That’s an extremely condescending thing to say in this context, given that (as the letter stated) the non-Spanish-speaking coworkers aren’t native English speakers either. They don’t need to have the importance of language learning impressed upon them, because they’re already working in their second language (or even third+, we don’t know!).

    4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      “Aprender otra lengua es ganar otra alma.”

      Música a mis orejas.

      Y sí, más lentamente… muy más lentamente… y lo apredería.

    5. Observer*

      Tell the coworkers who “feel excluded” to do what I did: Sit in on a Spanish class and learn a bit of the language.

      Maybe you are the unicorn that can learn a language well enough to follow spoken social conversations of people who are speaking their primary language by “sitting in” on a class. But that’s a truly ridiculous expectation for most people. And that’s aside from the assumption that all of these folks have the time and resources to take a class.

      1. Elsa*

        Spanish is quite easy to learn for native English speakers when taught using the communicative method. It’s especially easy for Americans, who have in most cases been exposed to the language already. I recommend the Annenberg Foundations “Destinos” videos, available for free online. A minimal time commitment –and a relaxed attitude– will have you understanding Spanish in a matter of weeks.

        1. Well...*

          Something I think is really funny about this thread is the disconnect between how much MORE work it is to be able to actually socialize in a language, vs how much work it is to convince yourself you “speak” it.

          I’ve lived abroad for years, and the majority of my coworkers lived in other countries where English isn’t the native language. All of us work full time jobs and speak English primarily at work, and the vast majority of us have tried to take classes and learn on the side. I know only very few people who can effectively socialize with native speakers just from taking classes after work.

          1. UKDancer*

            Definitely. I mean most language classes I’ve attended teach you the functional stuff first, how to introduce yourself, ask for directions, buy things in shops. There’s often a call and response pattern to it of questions asked and answered to achieve a desired result.

            Being able to participate in proper conversations about abstract and unplanned topics tends to be the last thing one picks up. Keeping up with conversations which are by their nature spontaneous and move between subjects is quite hard in a foreign language.

          2. Eyes Kiwami*

            Yes, I am fully fluent in another language and working in that country and I still like to relax with media in my primary language! It is exhausting!

            It’s wild to see the “just learn Spanish” comments–have any of these people actually tried keeping up with a native Spanish casual conversation? It’s not Duolingo level!!!! And the other team is not monolingual or native English speakers either, so that’s even harder for them!

        2. Gothic Bee*

          I mean, just to be clear here, it seems like most of the workers referred to in the letter do not speak English as a first language, so this info doesn’t really apply to the letter.

  28. Robert in SF*

    Whenever I read stories of employees getting paid for no work (a la LW 5), I think of this story from the annals of internet history…a classic one. One of my favs!

    There are a couple of adult references therein, be advised for those who may prefer to not be read such mentions.

  29. Katie*

    As someone who works for a large corporation who has to do the accounting for employees who get overpaid, yes they can ask for the money back. (and probably will ask). They may even send strongly worded, lawyer scripted threats. If you don’t pay it back (when they discover it and they will) at the very least you won’t be able to go back to that company.

  30. L-squared*

    #2 is interesting. While I understand the law so there isn’t anything management can do, I also sympathize with the non spanish speaking people. There are so many things that people bring up in the workplace that people say can make other people feel left out. And many times I’m just like “You don’t have to be friends with everyone” and kind of think they are making bigger deals than necessary. But this is a situation where literally a majority of people is speaking in a language that other people don’t understand. That is pretty high up there in terms of excluding others. It would be like one group constantly just whispering to each other to keep others from hearing their conversation. I also feel like most things its on the “majority” group to try to include the others, but this seems like the onus of being included is being put on the group that is in the minority. While I get management can’t do anything, I also wouldn’t be surprised if this caused more issues down the line.

  31. Blarg*

    #5 —

    I echo what Alison said about delayed payroll (if your last day was March 11, that’s only 3 weeks ago and I assume Alison didn’t publish your letter the day she got it).

    That being said, if you are truly get pay you didn’t earn, talk to your bank about ending the ACH authorization for them to direct deposit. This is crucial to both prevent more deposits but also to ensure they don’t try to claw back the payments all at once and potentially muck up your account. (Technically they probably shouldn’t be able to do this but it depends on what the form you signed says and if the bank is paying attention).

    1. Generic Name*

      Seconding. Most of my jobs had a 2-week delay on payroll, which hurts at the very beginning when you’re working, but the pay lags, but then you get a paycheck 2 weeks after the last payroll you work. Make sure it’s not that. My current company is the only company I’ve ever worked for where there’s almost no lag in when the payroll period ends and when you get your check. It’s at most 5 days if there’s a weekend and holiday combo.

  32. Maybe not*

    Does anyone else feel like (almost) nobody read letter 2 very well? Most commenters seem to completely misunderstand the situation.

    1. Forrest*

      between the people who think the LW’s team are monolingual and the ones who think this is only happening during breaks? yes!

      1. Emi*

        Maybe not, but the irony of all these people lecturing the coworkers for being so self-centered and unimaginative that they can’t wrap their heads around multilingualism or don’t understand that speaking a second language is tiring makes this case extra funny.

        1. Nanani*

          It’s LW2 who is self centered, not the coworkers.
          Multilingual people know what’s up.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            OP2 is speaking up for the multilingual, non-native English speakers who don’t speak Spanish, I fail to see how she’s being self-centred.

          2. Observer*

            Seriously? I don’t know if the OP is being self centered or not. But YOU are for sure misreading the letter, since the OP says that everyone in the place is multi-lingual.

            1. GythaOgden*

              I think people want all situations to fit nicely into pigeonholes where it’s OK to get on a soapbox and tell real people with real issues that they’re xenophobic rather than actually find a practical solution. There was a lot of the high-handed, American-centric assumptions coming from the comments without a real attempt to actually help OP navigate a situation that is affecting real people. Even if that advice includes a bit of ‘this is inevitable, you may have to suck it up and manage as best you can to integrate your teams together’, this isn’t twitter and the vitriol is unwarranted.

              There’s a place to get angry about injustice, but I come here for practical advice as I try to make a move out of my current place. I have submitted a letter (more about resources for disabled/neurodivergent jobseekers) but I have to say it gets very intimidating quite a lot of the time. Plus there are assumptions about my field, facilities, where we’re stereotyped as poor minority workers ourselves; my company is a dedicated public sector facilities provider and I feel more mobile and more respected within their framework than as an afterthought tacked on to another organisation.

              So the classism that some people face is more subtle: if you’re not middle class white American and have concerns orthogonal to the commenters’ assumptions but still want Alison’s advice about negotiating a tricky situation, it’s a real struggle.

              I’m in the UK with an American friend who was horrified at some of the norms over here and on at least two occasions effectively ordered me to challenge those norms because they didn’t conform to her American experience of the workplace but were perfectly reasonable for a British office. This is not to say that Americans are bad or wrong to challenge stuff like this, but they need to remember perhaps that this is an advice blog and people come here for help working through real dynamics rather than ‘spherical cow’ social justice issues.

              From the comfort of my bed while I’m writing this before getting up, it’s really easy to lay into OP2 for being racist etc when our assumptions were in fact wrong (from the start given the op’s nationality and situation is spelled out in the letter). Then when people described their own imperfect interactions, those get downplayed for the sake of someone trying to prove their spherical cow assumptions that only Americans ever behave in such a manner or make those assumptions.

              Being in an environment where you struggle to make yourself understood and feeling isolated and vulnerable happens. I went out to Poland on a gap year to study the language, and once I’d left the safety of Warsaw where more people spoke English, it was days before I stopped crying. I’m hugely privileged to live in my own country and be an English native speaker (I’m not keen on the term but it is accepted within the language teaching community). But that doesn’t mean I haven’t ever felt frustrated and marginalised.

              I picked up the language very quickly, but I actually had a crisis of confidence a few months later after going home for Christmas that almost led to me abandoning the course altogether. However, when I did go back a few weeks late, I took the opportunity to move out of the dorms, somewhere where my English-speaking status was taken for granted and I was being sought out by other students for conversation in the language everyone wanted to learn. I lodged with a Polish family who spoke English only at a completely superficial level (like my French language ability, at the level of school classes and not an immersive experience) and finally got to grips with the spoken, colloquial language. I still have my Polish skills and wish I was mobile enough to go out to eastern Poland and lend a hand to the refugee crisis.

              Sometimes we need to step back from our spherical cow hobby horses (mixing my metaphors there!) and recognise that the world does not yet conform to the sort of place where we can make others feel small for even asking about a problem. I totally get the need for social justice and most of the time it’s appropriate to call out other people, but in this case it seems to have been a pile-on about how dreadful the OP is for even raising the issue with someone whose job it is to counsel them on practicalities, and make assumptions that stem from nor reading the letter through in the first place.

          3. Eyes Kiwami*

            It is so weird that you are all over the comments when it is really obvious you have not carefully read the letter! Everyone is multilingual!!

      2. Patty Mayonnaise*

        Hmm I disagree, I think with many letters there is a gray area where readers can genuinely have different readings of the situation. With this letter, people seemingly skipped over facts that are stated in the letter!

        1. Myrin*

          people seemingly skipped over facts that are stated in the letter

          That’s exactly what I meant – it happens all the time and often with very basic things like who said what or who is involved in a situation.

          1. Patty Mayonnaise*

            Yeah, but I don’t think people miss the basic facts of the letter with “almost every other letter,” so I guess we just disagree on the frequency of this happening.

            1. GythaOgden*

              From what I can see, we read our own interpretations into the letter. Some people here feel affronted when people raise issues of language and ethnicity/nationality because those interactions are outside the racial dynamics of the US or they assume they’re being performed within those dynamics and not in, say, a different country with different dynamics.

              Having been an outsider in a foreign country, I feel kind of the opposite – it shouldn’t be on the others to make me welcome by speaking my language while I’m with them. But it DOES feel emotionally alienating and isolating to be in that situation, and no amount of reassuring myself that the most widely-spoken language on the planet is my mother tongue will help that feeling in the moments that it arises.

    2. Helvetica*

      I am especially surprised by those who seem to argue that even if the co-workers are talking about other people in front of them in a different language, they should be allowed to do so because…people do this anyways? I really struggle with understanding the logic of this approach.

      1. Katara's side braids*

        I haven’t seen anyone say it’s okay to gossip about people at work. I have seen people say that the language the gossip is conducted in is the least important factor to address – the problem is the work culture that gave rise to the gossip in the first place.

        But again, the *assumption* that people speaking in another language must be gossiping is a problem in itself.

    3. Software Dev (she/her)*

      Yeah, I think its actually a great demonstration of how easily we shove our own prejudices/experiences onto situations. And I’m including myself in that—I initially assumed this was a bunch of native English speakers pushing back against a group of Spanish speakers speaking their own language because that’s a situation I’m more familiar with and failed to actually read the letter.

      I think a lot of us do this on the internet, jump to conclusions based on our own biases and assumptions. I’ve been spending too much time on Twitter lately and I see this there as well. People don’t actually read, they scan and apply patterns based on familiar words and phrases (and here again I am people). Just something for all of us to consider.

  33. Elsa*

    #1– Yah, Jane started it. She could just as easily have mentioned perceived generational differences in market appeal without personally associating herself with the generation of the hip, fast-moving and aware.

    I get pretty annoyed with 20-somethings’ apparent assumption that at home, we older folks eschew technology and instead curl up with the ancient papyrus scrolls we enjoyed as children. Who do they think invented this technology?

    And if Rita’s annoyance led her to repeat the phrase 20 times, well, you have to understand we Gen-X women have learned to assume no one heard us the first 19 times.

    1. Forrest*

      I would not at all see “I prefer a higher-tech product” as personally associating yourself with the hip, fast-moving and aware! There are just as many pejorative associations with prefering a high-tech solution– lazy, rude, glued to their phones, etc — that I would take it as a perfectly neutral comment.

      (I’m 43, for the record, so closer to Rita’s age than Jane’s!)

      1. Emi*

        I think it’s also hard to tell whether Jane used the phrase “higher-tech product” or if she named a specific product that the LW is just describing for anonymity.

        1. Koalafied*

          Yeah, there’s really not enough information to tell what Jane was saying. There’s s world of difference between, “Sorry, I’m having trouble getting used to Antiquated Software because my generation prefers higher tech products,” and “I really think our company needs to get a brand TikTok account, because that’s the platform my generation is using nowadays – if we’re trying to reach them on Facebook we’re not going to find them.”

          1. I am OP#1*

            She mentioned her age in passing when discussing trends. Her comment was along the lines of:

            “Younger generations are demanding that brands communicate with them digitally. As a younger member of our team, I am regularly on social media and prefer that channel over physical mail or even email”

            1. Katara's side braids*

              I don’t see anything wrong with this phrasing! I think it’s important to bring up that they may be missing a concentrated chunk of a specific generation with their current communication style. I don’t interpret this as a suggestion that members of other generations can’t or don’t also prefer digital communication. She’s speaking to her own experience, from her own observations.

              “X group almost exclusively prefers digital communication” =/= “digital communication is exclusive to X group.”

            2. Sunny*

              This doesn’t sound that bad or like it is ageist? It is a remark that as a member of a younger generation, she finds it more common that people of her age prefer brand communication over social media than other mediums.

              It isn’t a remark towards other generations as far as I can tell. She isn’t saying “Gen Z loves social media but we know Millennials and Gen X are super out of date with that stuff and don’t understand”. She is just making a comment on her own experiences.

              I would definitely be annoyed if I made a comment like that in a meeting to help bring perspective to a situation and was met with hostility from a coworker because they felt talking about myself meant I slighted them.

              1. I am OP#1*

                I completely shared your and Katara’s perspective when I heard Jane’s comments at the presentation. But what has been so interesting to me is that almost everyone commenting is focusing on whether Jane was out of line (and some people say yes, some say no) and not Rita’s comments. It’s giving me a lot of food for thought about whether it is really appropriate to bring up younger generations’ preferences at all when discussing this topic.

                1. Katara's side braids*

                  Based on your reply to RagingADHD below, I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be appropriate. Even if it isn’t among your top considerations, you acknowledge that it has been *a* consideration up to this point. *Not* talking about these things feels like a good way to hamstring any efforts toward creating and maintaining a diverse user base.

                  But I admit that I’m quite puzzled as to the number of comments focusing on Jane’s behavior. Even in your original letter, nothing stuck out to me as inappropriate or exclusionary. I thought I’d been missing something, but most of the comments seem to be inferring words/phrasing very different from what you wrote in this subthread, so I really don’t know.

                2. Lyra Silvertongue*

                  Honestly I think it’s people responding to the “higher tech product” phrasing because the comment that you said Jane actually made up above gives a slightly different picture. People here are assuming that Jane was deliberately implying that Rita would not be up to date with a high tech product, but it’s very clear to me (and fwiw, was clear in the original reading) that Jane is making a comment about preferences that young people have in relation to your product, which is genuinely useful feedback. Personally what I think is important (but many here seem to disagree) is that Jane brought up her own age, but Rita brought up Jane’s age repeatedly. It should be okay to draw on your own experience to give a relevant perspective on a product, it shouldn’t be okay to repeatedly other your coworker by reminding them that they’re younger (and for all the talk of ageism directed at Rita, I’m seeing next to no acknowledgement among commenters that it’s not okay to belittle a younger, less senior coworker like that).

                3. Kit*

                  I noticed that, too – Jane’s comments were about reaching a specific part of the market, and using herself as an example of why certain channels are more effective than others. Rita’s were, as Lyra noted, belittling and an abuse of the power dynamic in question, given her seniority.

                  Using your own life as an example of a demographic point is entirely within the scope of a presentation; using a coworker’s age and status to cut them down is unprofessional and obnoxious. Rita’s out of line here, and needs to be reined in.

    2. Lyra Silvertongue*

      Okay cool, so your generational rudeness is very understandable and forgivable and just a product of your upbringing, but someone else’s generational rudeness is deliberate, targeted at you, and unforgivable. Great way to extend solidarity across women of different generations in the workplace.

      1. STG*

        Wow…that’s a pretty unkind interpretation.

        Pointing out that Jane contributed to this isn’t saying it’s deliberate, targeted or unforgivable. It’s assessing the entirety of the situation. Both Rita and Jane possibly have an issue here. You aren’t doing Jane any favors by treating her like a victim where it’s not warranted.

        1. Lyra Silvertongue*

          I do apologize for being snarky about it. But what I’m trying to say is that there is a significant bias in assuming the absolute worst of the 20-something and assuming the absolute best of the 50-something (“Jane started it”) when it says in the letter itself that Rita is the one making frequent comments about age. I don’t think it’s necessary to make out that the Gen X woman is being treated poorly in the workplace in a way that also implies that the Gen Z/Millenial woman is not, when the actual text of the letter suggests that the younger woman is the one having her perspective, experience, and professionalism thrown into question for no real reason. I agree absolutely that ageism and misogyny mingle together much of the time, but does that make it fair to inherently make out that the younger woman is the problem?

    3. I am OP#1*

      I am so interested in this perspective. Could you help me understand why self-identifying your own generation and connecting your habits/preferences to generational differences is problematic while talking about different preferences of generations would sit just fine with you? I can see the latter as also being frustrating and patronizing so I’m curious what the distinction is for you.

      Based on comments, I am beginning to come to the conclusion that my company should leave age out of the discussion completely when talking about our solutions since they are widely used by all generations.

    4. eastcoastkate*

      Your first sentence stuck out to me- I think there’s a difference between talking about truly like where your market share lies for a product, or where your audience’s ages lie (based on data and metrics) and using stereotypes about generations to make a point. If you are truly referencing that the bulk of your customers/clients etc. ARE in a certain age bracket (Jane’s) I feel like that’s completely different than an assumption based on generational stereotypes about tech.

  34. anonymous73*

    #2 not everyone has to be friends at work. I suspect those who don’t speak Spanish are feeling less “left out” and more paranoid that their co-workers are talking about them without them knowing. Just because you throw a group of people into the same environment to do a job doesn’t mean they’re all going to get along and bond instantly. If they can communicate with each other well when needed for work, and treat each other with respect, smaller groups of them will connect based on common interests. This isn’t a language problem, and quite honestly I don’t really see a problem here at all.

  35. Irish Teacher*

    I had a situation once when an interviewer told me he was having a hard job deciding between me and one other candidate – he rang me to explain that there might be a delay before I heard because he wanted to call both our references before he made his decision. Could possibly be something like this with LW 3 and maybe the other person had even more glowing references or one of their references mentioned they were particularly talented/had a lot of experience in an area the company was especially concerned about?

    I don’t think not getting a job is necessarily a rejection of the candidate, in the sense of it meaning they specifically DON’T want the candidate; it can just mean there is one other candidate they want more.

  36. I just work here*

    Getting paid for work not done is potentially a big problem for you. Not only will you have to pay it back once they figure this out, it can also affect the taxes you owe if your income isn’t correctly reported on your W-2.

    This is worth spending some time to fix. Does this company handle its payroll internally or contract it out? That’s a possible additional layer of communication that isn’t happening. At any rate, it’s time to insist that you speak to a live person, or two, or three, to get this straightened out. I would also (not in place of live conversation, but in addition to)
    put everything in writing, keep a copy, and send the information to the company certified mail, return receipt requested. This will help you if your earnings get reported incorrectly to the IRS and Social Security Administration. You will have proof that you’ve been communicating with the company to get this straightened out.

  37. Elsa*

    #2– When I was a teacher educator, I had an activity I used to do with my students, some of whom were current teachers and some college students.

    I’d divide them into groups, making sure that each group contained one person whose Spanish was pretty good. Usually about half of the students would know at least a few words of Spanish.

    Then I’d give them a small project to complete that included reading parts of the local Spanish language newspaper. It would take them about half an hour to complete, during which they’d ask a lot of question of their group’s best Spanish speaker, puzzle a lot of things out by talking to each other, and ask me questions as I circulated around the classroom.

    When they’d all completed the project, I’d ask the class: “Now, can you imagine if I’d asked you to do that _without speaking any English_?”

    Sometimes we need our first language to process what we’re trying to accomplish in a second language.

    I’m really glad to hear that there’s an employment law to protect the right to do so.

    1. Maybe not*

      So you want all of the ESL employees to try to communicate in a third language they are now asked to learn in order to talk to their Spanish-speaking colleagues who decline to speak in the only language everyone has in common?

      1. Maybe not*

        My comment was meant to go under a different comment. Apologies. But I don’t think the ESL speakers here need this lesson. They live it everyday.

      2. Nanani*

        What? I read Elsa’s comment as an exercise in empathy that the ENGLISH speakers would need (assuming it is an English-majority area where the anglophones are monoligual and have never actually needed another language)

        The Spanish-speakers have that lesson every day of their lives.

        1. Katara's side braids*

          LW2 states that all of the workers in question, including the non-Spanish speakers, speak English as a second language. It’s just that some of them speak various non-Spanish languages as a first language, hence the feeling of exclusion. There are no monolingual English speakers in this situation, so it would be reasonable to say that all of them have learned Elsa’s lesson at some point or another.

          1. Nanani*

            It says *mainly* actually, not all, and this sort of “I don’t understand you so you must be saying bad things about me” attitude is very very very common in monolinguals. Especially anglophone ones.
            Applying occam’s razor to the situation is not unwarranted.

            1. Katara's side braids*

              I’ll concede the “mainly” point, but the fact that LW included that information at all means it is relevant to the situation. They didn’t say “the few monolingual English speakers on the team are acting paranoid.” They said “those who don’t understand Spanish feel left out and paranoid.” That phrasing comes across as a very intentional way of describing “all-non-Spanish-L1-speakers.” Occam’s razor is clearly working differently for each of us here.

              Incidentally, I agree with pretty much all of your comments about the ridiculousness and self-centeredness of assuming others are gossiping. I myself do the majority of my work in my second language, and 100% understand the relief of finally being able to chat with someone in English. I even agree that there is likely some degree of xenophobia involved. But it’s an extra challenge to address someone’s xenophobia when they are also part of a minoritized group, as people often use that as a shield. LW2’s situation will probably require more of an appeal to empathy (“imagine if someone else here spoke your language – would you really pass up the opportunity to chat with them during a long workday speaking English? Would it be fair for others to assume you were gossiping about them?”)

            2. Katara's side braids*

              Also: I’m South Asian American – many of my relatives are far more comfortable speaking their respective non-English languages than English, and will do so in mixed company given the opportunity. That hasn’t stopped some of them from making hypocritical, paranoid remarks when in the presence of people speaking a language they don’t understand. I’ve learned that people are capable of extremely advanced mental gymnastics to justify their xenophobia, even when they experience it themselves.

        2. Nina*

          But that’s not the situation.
          You have a team of people whose primary language is Spanish, and secondary language is English.
          You have a team of people who do not all have the same primary language and whose secondary language is English.
          Team A could be ten Spanish speakers. Team B could be a Korean speaker, a Dutch speaker, a German speaker, a Russian speaker, a Cantonese speaker, a French speaker, an Igbo speaker, and a Portuguese speaker. Their only way to communicate is in their shared secondary language.

          If you want the two teams to be able to communicate effectively and fairly, you have to ask everyone to speak their secondary language (English, which they all have as a secondary language) at work. Nobody gets to speak their primary language during work time. Everybody understands each other.

    2. Elsa*

      I see my earlier comment has caused some confusion. It is indeed common for monolingual people to assume bad things are being said about them in the L2. With the teachers and future teachers, I was trying to get them to see that the L1 is a useful and necessary tool for people who speak it to work together, and thus shouldn’t be banned or seen as a threat.

      (As often happens in classrooms. “We speak English in here!”)

      And to their credit, all of them grasped this. :-)

      As I said, there were usually a handful of teachers and future teachers in the class who spoke Spanish very well; however in all but one case English was their first language. I’m the same way myself.

      1. Maybe not*

        I don’t think it was misunderstood. I think the issue is that the folks feeling left out are also mainly ESL folks who simply don’t speak Spanish.

  38. anonymous73*

    #1 I think you need to have conversations with everyone, not just your boss, especially since you mention that it’s always been an issue. Jane was wrong to mention her generation at the presentation, but Rita shouldn’t have continued with the comments. Everyone needs to stop assuming they know things based on someone else’s age.

  39. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    LW1: The conference presentation might be a great opening to talk about the larger issue. Making snarky comments about age is a great way to turn potential clients/customers off. And that’s not great. It’s an easier in for starting of the conversation(s) you want to have about it, starting with setting the business up for success. But you can parlay it – possibly over time – into the conversation about office culture. Because if it’s off-putting for clients/customers, it’s probably off-putting for younger staff, too.

    1. matcha123*

      Chiming in as an elder millennial myself. I have never been a fan of the “my generation does xyz” people, but if it’s not something egregious, I’ll ignore it.

      I think the age-related talk needs to stop.
      I spent the past five years on the receiving end of comments about my assumed age and how I knew “nothing,” I was “disrespectful,” and more. It is tiring and unproductive. If younger staff members are making snide comments about older staff members, that needs to stop, too.

      I stopped mentioning my age soon after I started my first job after graduating college. Working with someone my age, working with someone my mom’s age, I don’t care. As long as they are polite, professional, and get their work done, it’s all cool.

      If I were listening to someone making comments like, “Rita’s generation,” I’d be very turned off. It would make me think that the person presenting didn’t want someone younger to use their products and they didn’t want to work on projects that may target younger users.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I feel you! As Alison said in her response, it can make sense to talk about generational differences if there is actual data to back it up and if it’s relevant to the topic at hand. Like here are the features we’ve built into the product to make it appealing to X group of people, based on our market research. But otherwise, just leave it alone. There is no real benefit and it ticks people off.

  40. Anonymousse*

    I can assure most readers that you and your life are usually not very interesting to others. Everyone is so self focused and occupied with their own life, stress, grief etc especially right now (still during a pandemic!) that I can almost guarantee people are not talking about you unless you are being rude or divisive.

  41. RagingADHD*

    LW1, if both presentations were about marketing your product to different demographics, and Jane presented herself as a customer avatar for a major segment of your market, I’m not sure why you think it’s inappropriate for Rita to piggyback on that.

    It’s really common for speakers from the same company to reference each others’ presentations, especially if they immediately follow each other.

    If the market differences aren’t relevant to the presentations, why did Jane mention it at all? And if they are relevant, what term do you think Rita should have used instead?

    1. eastcoastkate*

      Yeah I think what exactly this presentation was about makes a world of difference- I’m not in marketing but isn’t it common to reference a target audience or your customer base divided up by age segments? If they are relevant, I think it would be a legitimate thing for Jane to mention that she is in the same age group as the majority of consumers/target audience. BUT how it’s phrased and how that’s used in reference to other generations is a different conversation- especially if it’s outside of presentations and in a way that is insulting.

    2. I am OP#1*

      The presentations were not about marketing products to different generations, just about marketing the products in general. It would make a lot more sense if the presentation topic was related to generations. In our case, “younger consumers prefer X” is one reason to do X (and one that we often mention) but one of many and not even close to the top reason.

      I agree with referring back to your other presenters, but mentioning age 20 times was way overkill in my opinion, and the tone and the phrase “The Jane Generation” just came across as very belittling to me. After I wrote to Alison, I actually gave the same presentation with Rita a few days later. It was to a completely different group who does not know Jane, and Jane was not there. Rita brought up Jane and mentioned the Jane generation twice.

    3. I am OP#1*

      I wanted to add to answer your question about what term Rita should have used: “younger generation” or “millennial generation” or “Gen Z”. Even that would have rubbed me the wrong way because it wasn’t really relevant to bring up generations 20 times, and she said it with a bit of a condescending tone. But it was very uncomfortable to hear her call it “the Jane Generation”.

  42. Salad Daisy*

    #2 I had a manager for whom English was not their first language. Our team consisted of another person who was from the manager’s country plus three of us who did not speak that language at all. At a meeting with the five of us, manager would turn to their countryman and start speaking in their shared language. Were they talking about business? or were they saying “Doesn’t Daisy look ugly today?” I found this very offensive.

    1. Nanani*

      Daisy, grow up.
      With all respect, this is the kind of immature paranoia that a lot of people are subjected to. It’s not justified, it’s not real, you don’t get to accuse people of talking shit about you just because you don’t understand them.

      This is actually xenophobic and you need to examine yourself, not accuse your colleagues.

      Or you know, you could try to learn a bit of their language if the curiosity is THAT important.

      1. Trillian*

        The power relationship of manager to team members changes that dynamic. If it’s anything other than the manager asking for a quick prompt of a word or phrase, or translating/summarizing for a team member who is not as fluent, then yes, it’s suspect. It’s the manager showing favouritism.

        1. Mental Lentil*

          No. We don’t know what they were discussing, so it’s ridiculous to assume that it’s favoritism.

          If you were in a country where nobody spoke English, and there was only one restaurant with a sign that said they spoke English, is it favoritism because you choose to eat at that restaurant?

          1. Observer*

            It’s ridiculous to assume that it’s NOT favoritism in a case like this. Because no matter what, it’s the manager favoring a single employee in a setting where all of the employees are *supposed to be* involved.

            So whether they are talking about Daisy (unlikely, imo), talking about the weather (less unlikely) or talking about business (the most likely) it’s a problem. And #1 and #3 are the most problematic. #1 should be obvious. But #3 is also extremely problematic because it’s the boss giving one employee information that is either intended for everyone or that no one is supposed to have. How is that NOT favoritism?

          2. Rocket*

            This comparison makes no sense. There’s no power dynamic that needs to be taken into account when I decide what restaurant I want to eat at.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yes, while jumping to “they must be talking about me” is not really reasonable I do think there is something quite a bit different about a manager speaking in a meeting in a way that they know only one of the direct reports will understand. That seems like a different situation than the one in the letter of people chatting socially on their downtime.

          1. Koalafied*

            Agreed. I’m in a single language office and I would find it very disconcerting if the boss was having whispered sidebars with one person in the middle of a group conversation. (I say group conversation because if it was more like a staff town hall where 1 person is presenting and 30 people are listening, a whispered sidebar comes across more like “these two people needed to communicate and were trying to minimize the extent to which they were distracting others from the speaker,” than if it’s 8 people engaging equally in a conversation and 2 people keep having private sidebars while the other 6 people are left to just stare and wait for them to turn their attention back to the group.)

      2. Helvetica*

        In the situation described by Daisy, I would struggle to justify a manager (!) having conservations in front of their team in a different language with one team member. To say that being upset that you don’t understand what your manager is telling your coworker in a work meeting is xenophobic is well, extremely shortsighted.

      3. amoeba*

        Yeah, no. Especially as a manager, that’s just really weird for the other employees. And I’m talking from the perspective of the employee who was spoken to in their (shared) native language – I know how my colleagues were affected by that and tried to avoid it whenever possible (boss tended not to give a shit….)

        In other groups in our department, the rule was even “only English is spoken”, even in one on one conversations to avoid any problems of that kind. Honestly, that was a much better system because favouritism definitely did come into play otherwise. (This was not an English-speaking country nor was it anybody’s native language. Just a bunch of people from all over the place with the bosses sharing the same first language with a small subset of the group.)

  43. Agnessa*

    #3 Once I found a file that described what my reference had said after I was hired. Generally, it was great but when asked to give an example of how I solved a problem, he basically described how I was mean to the building manager who wasn’t fixing an issue for our office. He exaggerated the issue and made me sound really pushy, while in fact, I was very polite in that situation. I know he was sure it was a brilliant example of problem-solving, but that could’ve easily changed the employer’s decision to hire me. 

  44. kristinyc*

    Re #1 – I’ve experienced that a little bit too. I was in my early 30s and in a meeting with my boss and another colleague (who were both in their 50s). We were talking about technical needs for a project, and I really knew what I was talking about. The other person (not my awesome boss) kept interrupting me to say she didn’t understand, but I was really patient and did my best to help her. Toward the end of the meeting, she made a reference to some 70s tv show (but like, Brady bunch or something I was still familiar with through reruns), and then looked at me and was like “Well YOU wouldn’t know what that is!” It was really weird.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      Perhaps she thought you were too young to pick up on her bad attempt at a flex.

      It is weird, and unprofessional. I don’t have a ton of professional respect for people who can’t figure out how to work through feeling out of their depth without framing it as someone else’s problem. It’s entitled.

  45. Lora*

    OP4: You’re not being picky, companies often ignore any kind of PESTEL analysis when they’re doing site selection and then run into this exact issue of “(location) where real estate is cheap and there’s a local community college available to train the operations staff, is also a location nobody with qualifications for a more senior role / with other career options wants to live”. It’s pretty common that they see the “but CHEAP REAL ESTATE” and move forward anyway, then find they have high turnover and can’t hire for key positions, then they try to cajole/coerce folks at other sites to transfer. They should know that it’s a longshot request by now – it’s likely that several others have also turned them down for that site.

    Dear senior managers who do this: Your facility isn’t going to function without people. All kinds of people, even if it is highly automated. You can put automation anywhere in the world, but if you can’t find people to work in a location, it’s not going to be a functional, profitable site. Start with “where are we hiring for these positions from? where is our talent pool?” and “where are our infrastructure needs met?” comes second. You can build infrastructure a LOT easier than you can get a talent pool. Talent pools take decades of development, infrastructure can go up in 5 years.

  46. Lyra Silvertongue*

    Having a quiet word with Jane seems unfair when her comment seems like it was relevant to the discussion and just bringing her perspective to the table and then got attacked for it. Especially when it sounds like a pattern that she’s being demeaned for her age. Generational differences are usually very relevant when it comes to talking about technology.

  47. Delta Delta*

    #2 – I had a friend in college who spoke 3 languages. There were times when he’d be talking about something in English and the only word he knew for the situation was in one of his other languages, so he’d just… use it. And if he was tired, sometimes he’d talk in all three languages, sometimes in the same sentence. And sometimes if there was someone in the conversation who spoke one of his non-english languages, he’d just talk to that person in that language because it was how he could say what he wanted to say. Sometimes you just need to use your first language. It doesn’t automatically mean it’s gossip.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Alas, white people are so accustomed to having their experience front and center all day, every day, that when it isn’t, they have to find a way to push it front and center. Hence the reason people who are speaking in a language that they don’t understand simply must be talking about them. This is the same attitude behind a lot of white supremacist thinking: if they are showing people of color on television or in magazine or in movies, they are trying to “erase” white people, because it is simply not possible in their minds to imagine a world in which they are not the constant center of attention.

      I’m a more than a little disappointed that the inherent racism in this comment about being the subject of gossip wasn’t called out.

        1. Mental Lentil*

          My comment is more in response to the many commenters who are saying, “yes, they shouldn’t be gossiping about other people in Spanish.”

          The vast majority of this blog’s readers are white and middle class.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        A lot of reactions to speaking a non-English language in the presence of English speaker aren’t purely or primarily about centering whiteness, and your comment suggests to me that you’ve probably not been around too many monolingual POCs.

      2. Nina*

        Not all white people have English as a first language and not all people who have English as a first language are white.
        Get your American imperialistic head out of your backside.

    2. Trillian*

      I know a number of bilingual writers who work in both languages. When they talk shop, the conversation flows back and forth between the two languages, with code-switching mid sentence. Sometimes I just have to hang on and hope the next code switch comes before my translation buffer overruns.

  48. Mental Lentil*

    #2: Wow, this is a prime example of the racism that is often levied at Spanish-speakers. LW has bigger problems than this.

    1. eisa*

      So to be clear, whom are you excusing of racism, precisely ?

      The production line workers who “mostly speak English as a second language, with primary languages all over the map” ?

      The LW who asks advice whether the issue is appropriate to address at all and if so, how to do it in an equitable, culturally considerate way ?

      I mean. C’mon.

      1. Mental Lentil*


        This is not affecting production. Why is this even an issue?

        Would LW or anyone else here be offended if this were French? German? Italian? No. Such racism is distinctly aimed at people who speak Spanish, as well as east Asian languages.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          You do recognize that the production line workers may very well speak East Asian languages, right?You’re making a lot of assumptions about the dynamics of xenophobia and linguistic discrimination and inclusion that:
          (a) center a very specific subset of whiteness
          (b) imply that European immigrants aren’t targets of xenophobia to degrees that vary based on their country of origin/native language
          (c) seemingly ignore the existence of POC who speak a non-English language that you seem to think isn’t a target of racism
          (d) also ignore the existence of POC who are unilingual English speakers and inherently have a different relationship to the intersection of racism and linguistic discrimination
          (e) ignore that multilingual POC often speak one of the languages you seem to not think is a target of discrimination (for example, la Francophonie isn’t just White people)…

          I could go on, but I won’t. No one’s suggesting that anti-Hispanic discrimination isn’t a real thing, but coming at this with a bunch of dangerous conflations between language and race doesn’t allow for a nuanced discussion of equity.

  49. Fernie*

    Regarding LW1, I wonder if people think making divisive comments about people’s youth is viewed similarly to comments about people being thin, or about people being tall, in that it’s assumed youth, like thinness or height, is universally valued, so calling it out could never be an insult? I know I had to learn some of these things from experience, hearing from young, thin or tall people how hurtful it was to them when people made comments.

    1. dawbs*

      yeah–I look younger than I am; always have. This is NBD, especially now that I”m middle aged. But I dealt with a lot of people who would comment on my youth when I was 23 and just getting started…And it was a Problem. They refused to grasp that youth was treated as inexperience and was used, consciously and subconsciously, to undermine my authority and competence.
      They refused to grasp that being early 20’s and being the ‘authority’ in a room with high schoolers, emphasizing how close in age I was to the kids I was in charge of was problematic (no, I did not appreciate implying we were in the same dating pool…)
      These people were not ill intentioned! Many of them were paying ‘compliments’ to me. But in the workplace, those compliments can be challenging.

  50. She of Many Hats*

    Regarding LW 2, the one scenario when not on the line where I might intervene is if the non-Spanish speakers did attempt to interact at a common level socially but were deliberately snubbed and excluded by the (larger group of?) Spanish speakers which could lead to issues on the line with trust and willingness to assist when needed. Then I might speak to everyone about inclusivity and morale and how language plays into it.

  51. rest of the world*

    The answer to LW2 relies heavily on US law. What if they are somewhere else?
    [My workplaces uses a few languages, but it is considered rude to use language to limit the conversation. Any group setting runs in English even though we can use other languages for private settings or the work.]

    1. fhqwhgads*

      If they’re somewhere else they should’ve said so in the letter, as this is a US-based website from a US-based writer who has stated many times that she is only an expert in US employment and while her advice may be applicable elsewhere, she cannot speak to if or where else it does or does not apply.

    2. Eyes Kiwami*

      I don’t see why things necessarily would be different–use the common language for all work matters, and while everyone should try to use the common language for chit chat to include everyone, it’s not a problem if people use the languages they’re most comfortable in, especially in small groups of just those speakers.

      I’ve worked in multilingual settings for years outside the US and the issue here is not “what languages should people use for social settings” but “how can we create a collaborative culture where everyone feels welcome and included”.

  52. Petty Betty*

    LW 5: please contact a person in HR over the phone to verify. With my last contract (union), the project manager thought he could squeeze out a little extra cash savings and let go a bunch of us early (5 days before the contract ended). He was not actually authorized to do that.
    So, here all of us are, we got our final weekly check, then we got paid out our sick leave/vacation pay the next week. Then, about 5-6 weeks later, the grievance went through for that missing day and a half of the one week (since we’d been sent home mid-day on a Thursday) plus interest and then the next week the grievance for the rest of the missing time (4 days) plus interest. None of us had expected the money, but we were grateful (especially since some of us never did get hired back on with the new contractor who took over the site).

    It could be a vacation payout. It could be some miscalculation repayment. It may just be an error on their part and they are going to expect you to pay it back (if so, I’m sorry). No matter what, it’s best to find out ASAP and if it’s not in your favor, to have it stopped as soon as possible.

  53. Empress Matilda*

    I’m not satisfied with the answer to #2 – I think it’s more important to address the feelings of being excluded, rather than the paranoia. Certainly it’s possible that the Spanish speakers are making fun of the English speakers, but it’s more likely that they’re talking about their kids, their plans for the weekend, football, or any of the other ordinary things that people socialize about at work. And if you have group of 6 Spanish speakers chattering away, the one English speaker is absolutely going to feel excluded.

    Alison’s answer – explain the law to the (English speaking?) employees, suggest that they initiate conversations themselves, point out that the Spanish speakers are not deliberately trying to exclude them – misses the point. The point is that the English speakers are feeling excluded, regardless of the intentions of the Spanish speakers. And the solution puts all the responsibility on the English speakers to either interrupt other people’s conversations, or…just put up with it? We always talk about impact vs intent, and this is a pretty clear example of why it’s important.

    I don’t actually know what the answer is here. The law is kind of irrelevant – obviously you don’t want to ask the Spanish speakers to stop speaking their first language, for all the reasons OP suggests. But at the same time, if they’re creating an environment where people are being left out – intentionally or otherwise – there needs to be some way of addressing that. At the very least, the Spanish speakers should be made aware of the impact of their behaviour – it’s possible that just pointing it out will be enough to initiate change.

    Regardless, OP should be looking at this situation through an equity lens – the question should be “how can I make sure everyone is included?” rather than “how can I get these people to stop speaking Spanish?” And OP, it does sound to me like that’s what you were asking! But I think Alison’s answer missed the mark, by focusing more on the legal aspects of getting them to stop. I would try looking for resources that are specifically focused on DIBE (Diversity, Inclusion, Belonging, and Equity; sometimes just DBE or other variations). Good luck!

    1. Empress Matilda*

      Apparently I forgot to close a tag – sorry about that! In the second paragraph, it should be “…English speakers are feeling excluded…”

  54. Goldenrod*

    OP #3 – Just want to share my sympathy and add that this happened to me too! It was super disappointing and shocking to me (I know with 100% certainty that my references were stellar).

    It was a good learning experience for me in truly understanding that you NEVER have the job until you get the actual, formal offer. There is just too much happening behind the scenes that we can’t ever know.

    Good luck with your job search!! :)

  55. Sunny*

    Years ago when I left a job, they continued to pay my provincial health bill (it was something small, like $60 a month) even though I was no longer on their health care plan. I think this was due to the fact that the entire HR team had quit the summer I did so it got lost in the shuffle.

    They paid it for the remainder of the year until the cycle reset. It was very odd and I never heard back why that happened or was asked to repay it.

    However… a paycheque is quite a bit more than $60 a month. I would assume they will notice at some point and will ask for it back. If calling HR doesn’t work, is your bank able to put a stop order on the deposits or something like that? That way you’re sending them a huge red flag of “THIS DOESN’T WORK”

  56. Sunny*

    For the language LW, I used to work in a workplace like this. A large portion of people did speak English as a first language, but we also had about 20 people whose first language was French, probably another 30 or so whose first was Spanish, etc (those were definitely the biggest two). For what I would guess was about half of the employees, English was a second language.

    As someone who barely speaks French and doesn’t speak Spanish (or anything else) at all, I would just… start talking to people in English and they would talk to me. It was very straightforward and easy! When people are all speaking in another language at work, it is unlikely they are doing it to exclude others. It is for ease of communication. If they know someone else wants to join the conversation, they are very likely to include that person if they start trying to engage. I found it to be very similar to trying to join in on a conversation in English where people are talking and I have zero interest in the topic. You just introduce a new topic and people switch to it.

    As for how to solve this, other than coaching those who are feeling left out on how to interject themselves…. I’m not sure if you can do much! If possible you could offer workplace Spanish conversation classes but as many others have pointed out, you’re not likely to get anyone to a fluency level with this (and similar suggestions for them to “just go learn Spanish” are equally unrealistic). Maybe if there were ways to improve general team building across everyone, you might be able to get everyone more comfortable with each other + with those who don’t share a first language. Then people may be less intimidated to interrupt or attempt to join a conversation as they would feel more comfortable with their coworkers.

  57. Sarah M*

    Re: 1) As a fiftysomething (yikes!!), can I please say this kind of talk directed at younger co-workers is obnoxious and wrong on so many levels? I can’t be the only GenXer who remembers what it was like when older people (ie, Baby Boomers) did this to *us*. It was galling to be laughed at and labeled “slackers” and “whiners” by The People In Charge when so many of us, including me, were struggling to make rent and working multiple jobs. If anything, the situation is even worse for twentysomethings today. Let’s let this ugly practice die, shall we?
    OP: I sincerely hope you and your boss are able to shut this down. Rita is way, way out of line.

  58. Wendy*

    I am wondering what people, who call out racism or any other social issue, hope to accomplish by doing that

    1. Empress Matilda*

      Justice – to clearly point out that this is not okay
      Awareness – so people can see what it looks like
      Empathy – with those who are affected
      Optimism – small individual changes can lead to large societal shifts

      1. Wendy*

        This is a heart issue that man cannot solve

        There is only on being who can solve this, but it is not man

        1. Kit*

          On the contrary – the nature of free will is that humans have been given the ability to make choices for themselves. Choosing to be good, to do good, and to model good, is at least in theory at the root of most religions (although their definitions of good and their performance of it have both varied widely, even within the same faith).

          Then again, I’m reminded of the old joke about the man who prays repeatedly to win the lottery, as more and more financial difficulties befall him… only to be met with the voice of the divine, echoing down from heaven: “Meet me halfway. Buy a ticket!” Calling out racism may not always produce perfect results, but it stands a chance, unlike sitting back and washing one’s hands of the problem.

        2. Observer*

          So what you are actually saying is why does anyone act in ways that to not conform to your religious beliefs. The answer to that is that not everyone shares those beliefs.

        3. Forrest*

          Oh, what’s in someone’s heart is way above my paygrade. I am not trying to save a soul: I’m trying to contribute to a culture where open expressions of racism are more trouble than they’re worth and where people of colour don’t have to endure daily or hourly acts of aggression. People can have whatever in their heart as long as they are too embarrassed to express it in public.

          1. Observer*

            Yeah, I’m pragmatic. I’m not going to worry about what people think as long as they don’t express it by mistreating others.

            I believe that Queen Elizabeth I said that she was not going to examine the content of men’s souls. That was a political decision…

    2. UKDancer*

      Personally I hope to make things better in society. All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. I think if you believe in a better, more just world you have to make that world happen. So I challenge things that seem to me racist, sexist or otherwise offensive because to me it’s the right thing to do.

  59. Free Meerkats*

    #2 reminded me of a couple of sailors I knew who got 86ed from a bar in Olongapo City for speaking German to each other. It was very common for the bar girls to chat in Tagalog, including (according to the sailors I knew who understood it), talking about the sailors in there and how much they could get out of them. But as soon as they sailors started chatting in German, they got up in a huff and the bar momma threw them out and told them to never come back. And said because they were talking another language no one there understood, so how could anyone know what they were talking about?

  60. nnn*

    A bit of a psychology trick for anyone who is worried that people speaking another language might be talking about them:

    When they smile or laugh, you smile or laugh as well, but in a bit more of a subdued way, like you would if you overheard someone make a good joke in a conversation you’re not a part of.

    In the unlikely event that they are in fact talking about you behind your back, they’ll think you understand more than you’re letting on. And if they’re not even thinking about you, they won’t notice your reaction.

  61. Just Me*

    OP 2 – I used to work for an ESL school in a non-teaching department where many of the employees were former students of the school. I was the only person whose first language was English, and it was pretty common that staff members would want to have conversations in their native language. That’s human nature, after all. At the same time, of course, you’re right that others feel left out if they don’t speak that language and can feel uncomfortable if they don’t know if they’re being talked about. (In our case, it was also a matter of optics–could we really be seen as a legitimate English school if staff members weren’t regularly speaking English?)

    Ideally, a manager or higher-up who also speaks that language or shares their background would be able to step in and say, “Hey everyone, we know everyone speaks different languages and that’s okay, but when we’re in this workspace we should speak the same language so that we can jump in and help each other if necessary.” I had a manger who did some variation of this, explaining that we all needed to be able to communicate to each other, because one person might say in passing, for example “Oh no, where’s the clipboard?” and another person can jump in and say, “Oh, I gave it to Fergus–let me go get it!” Framing it as a matter of everyone being able to understand each other, even if they don’t think an interaction is strictly work-related, can make the conversation easier.

    If it helps–people often assume that if they overhear two people speaking another language and excluding them that the conversation is inherently negative, but it usually isn’t–it’s just two people subconsciously saying, We have similar backgrounds and can easily communicate a certain way because that’s part of our rapport.

    Also–you and your non-Spanish speaking coworkers are going to learn Spanish. After three years in the job I mentioned above I learned Portuguese just by listening to my coworkers and language basically became a non-issue (at least for me).

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I like this comment. I would love to have the immersion you had at your work. It’s difficult to learn a new language through an app; you have to talk to people. Especially English. It’s tough even for native speakers.

      I think the paranoid workers might have less to be paranoid about if they’re actually making an effort to get to know the other team. Could they be talking about you? Sure, maybe. But most people tend to assume everything is about them when in fact, it is not. Coworkers eating lunch together often have other things to talk about.

  62. LPUK*

    I remember when I was a grad looking for my first role, I became extremely wary of answering ‘yes’ to the question ‘are you willing to relocate for a role?’ Because it always seemed to be followed up by the name of a town/ city where I definitely wouldn’t move to. I’m from the north of England, so think of a city in Kent, on the wrong side of London, 2 hours to get round the M25 before even starting my northward journey, if I wanted to visit family or friends. Or a small coastal town at least an hour from the nearest motorway access point. So in the end, I would say ‘ I’m flexible about where I live, but there are some clear requirements I would have to have met with regard to size and access’. That with doing some basic research on where company sites were located seemed to work out.

  63. OddWomanOut*

    OP 2, I understand how the non-Spanish speaking workers feel but I wouldn’t have said anything. I used to work in an office with Chinese-speaking employees where English was the second language. At staff meetings, everything was in English but all side conversations were in Chinese. Did I feel left out? Sometimes, but I also knew that they didn’t get together too often and they were excited to see each other and be able to relax and interact in their native language. And they were always friendly to me and talked to me (in English). It just spurred me to learn Chinese faster. Being so immersed in the language, it was the best teacher I could get.

  64. Despachito*

    I think that the age comments related to specific people should be ideally stopped altogether. (I do not mind if the comment is like “teenagers’ preferred platform these days is X, and as teenagers are the main target group for our product we should take this into account”, but I’d find a comment meaning basically “Despachito is too old/young to understand this” very insulting. It is stupid generalizing, be it about age/gender/complexion and it irritates me even if I am assumed to be in the “correct” group. I assume I am “middle-aged”, but if someone makes derogatory comments on the younger generation I hate this although I am no more member of it. Do unto others… you know.

  65. Ridiculous*

    Someone I know continued to be paid by direct deposit for several months after resigning. When this disorganized (that’s one of the reasons this person left) small company finally woke up, they tried to do an electronic reversal, but that was a no-go with this person’s bank. Far as I know they kept the overpayments and there were no repercussions from doing so, years later even.

    I don’t know why there is so much fear being expressed over not going out of your way to return money that sloppy companies pay in error. If you committed no affirmative act to dishonestly continue getting paid, this isn’t much different than keeping found money.

    1. MicroManagered*

      Yeah this is terrible advice. Depending on the amount they can take legal action to get the money back.

    2. Observer*

      I’m not going to get into the morality of your comment, since that’s apparently not something you think is important.

      But what you are saying is completely incorrect legally. If you get over-paid and do nothing to rectify the situation, the person who overpaid ou can ABSOLUTELY go after you for the money. And in many cases, they can demand the money be paid back in a very short amount of time. Trying to claim that it’s their fault is NOT going to fly in any court.

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      speaking as someone who regularly gets the n-word thrown at him……..cry me a river, Boomer.

  66. brightbetween*

    RE #5 — I’m so disappointed in this commentariat, am I really the only one who immediately thought of Milton from Office Space when reading this letter?! /s

    I’m just going to burn down the building and abscond with my Swingline stapler

  67. Mental Lentil*

    Two things I’ve learned from this commentary:

    1) You can tell which commentors only speak one language.

    2) Worrying that people are gossiping about you says more about you than it says about them.

    1. Eyes Kiwami*

      Actually I think it’s hard to learn much from the commentary on #2 except that most people didn’t carefully read the letter and mostly wanted to soapbox on their preferred topics.

    2. Database Developer Dude*

      I guess I can feel better then, because when I’m at work, I just do. not. care. Speak whatever in front of me.

      Plus, I speak Spanish, German, French, and Czech, and a smattering of Korean. (that last shouldn’t be impressive…I’m a taekwondo student, it kind of goes with the territory).

  68. Database Developer Dude*

    Regarding languages… When I was active duty in the Army, I did two tours in Germany. I speak German fluently, but as a black man, and really as an American in general, it’s not expected of me.

    So one day, as a young specialist, my platoon sergeant had gotten on me, because even though my haircut was well within regulations, it wasn’t short enough for him. I got tired of his constant haranguing, and one Saturday I decided to go bald. I went to the on-post barbershop…and when we have bases in other countries, the concessions are normally run by host country nationals. That means the barbers were German…

    So I get in the chair, and tell the gal driving the chair “Take it all. Make me bald”. She proceeds to do so, and while she’s doing that, she’s talking to her buddy driving the next chair, in German, about how funny looking my head is.

    I just sit there thinking “ok, I got this”…

    She’s done, we get up and go to the register, and I pay exactly as much as I’m supposed to. This heifer had the audacity to look at me and say “what, no tip?” Now the word for tip in German has two different meaning, depending on how you’re using it. One is the extra you pay on top of your bill for something, and the other is a hint or a piece of advice….. she meant the first, but in what follows, I’ll mean the second…

    I looked at her, and in perfect German, I said “Here’s a tip, the next time you want to talk junk about someone, make sure they don’t speak your language!”.

    The look on her face……..PRICELESS!!!!! For everything else, there’s Mastercard!

  69. Anonymous Bosch*

    I’m not sure that Alison really addressed the issue raised by OP #2. They said that, “The problem is that the Spanish-speaking workers (who constitute the majority) conduct their social interactions in Spanish, both on the production line and on breaks.”

    How would anyone who doesn’t speak Spanish know if these workers are engaging in casual conversation or talking about work while they are on the production line? What if they are discussing an issue with the line itself that could be problematic in terms of production or even potentially dangerous?

    When I worked for a large, global corporation, there were two groups of people who spoke their native languages at work. Most of them did assistant type work for people who were at a higher technical level. I was part of the latter group. It always bothered me that new people who were native speakers of one of those languages would be getting trained in their native language by a current employee. Since we all sat near one another if we were in the same department, that meant that even though I could hear them, I couldn’t tell if someone was giving incorrect information to a trainee.

    This was in the US and everyone had to speak English or they wouldn’t have been hired.

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