my coworker is being a jerk because she’s pregnant, working near a throat-clearer, and more

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

1. Should my coworker be allowed to be a jerk to me because she’s pregnant?

My coworker Maria is pregnant and due any day. I have not been pregnant but between family and friends, I know the end stage is deeply uncomfortable and puts people in bad moods. Maria has been overtly nasty and snippy on emails, especially towards me. She works from home while I have to report to work (think equipment and samples). While I have evidence and logical reasoning (that my manager agrees with) to defend myself on the issue Maria is particularly upset about, I feel uncomfortable approaching her because of how hostile her emails have been.

I wanted to take the emails to our boss since we had a discussion about email tone a couple weeks ago and the boss said to take anything to her that was not friendly. But my line manager feels that since Maria is pregnant she gets a pass on not being “nice” and says I shouldn’t bring it to our boss. I feel like I am coming in every day and constantly being targeted by Maria. How much grace should pregnancy give you?

How hostile are these emails? If Maria were just showing some mild frustration on occasion, I’d agree with cutting her some slack. But if she’s being openly hostile or rude, that’s not okay, pregnant or not. There’s no physical condition that grants anyone free rein to be a jerk to coworkers on an ongoing basis. (For that matter, I’d also be wary of concluding that Maria’s behavior stems from her pregnancy. Most pregnant women aren’t jerks to their colleagues, and it’s possible there’s something completely different behind it.)

If your boss specifically told you to loop her in on stuff like this, you really need to loop her in on it. It’s reasonable to say to your line manager, “I agree with cutting people some slack when they’re having a rough time, but this is ongoing open hostility. I’d let it go if it were once or twice but it’s daily. Jane specifically asked to be looped in on this kind of thing and I don’t feel like I can ignore that instruction.”

Read an update to this letter.

2. I work across from a throat-clearer

I recently received my social work license and found a well-paid job in the field. I started yesterday at a large social services org, where I will be working as a psychotherapist. For the first time in my career, I have my very own office, in a cluster of four offices.

Across a small hallway is a colleague who clears her throat with a very distinctive mumble-grunt-gasp noise multiple times a minute, probably hundreds of times an hour. It is loud, intermittent, and extremely annoying. All I’ve done so far is onboarding, and even that is almost impossible to concentrate on. She doesn’t close her office door, though I keep mine shut (which I’m worried is going to make it hard for me to meet people in the agency, but it’s all I can do). The sound can be heard very clearly through the door, and it startles me every time (it sounds sort of like she’s choking?).

I feel terrible for being so annoyed. I suspect this is a symptom of some sort of physical health issue, or maybe a tic. Obviously I’d like to have good relationships with my new colleagues. But I am like 10 hours into working in the office across from her and I am losing my mind. I also want to try to have a relaxing environment for patients!

What do I do? Noise-canceling headphones don’t help because it’s intermittent. I’m planning to get a white noise machine. Is it okay to ask her to close her office door in the hope that helps? Is there a script to bring it up, even though I am brand new? Do I just grit my teeth and hope I can get used to it?

Oh no. I don’t love the idea of you keeping your door closed all the time in a brand new job; unless lots of people do that, you could come across as out of sync with the culture and/or stand-offish. (Although if you’re seeing patients most of the day, it could make it normal and a non-issue.) But it doesn’t sound like that strategy is working anyway since you’re still hearing enough of the noise to regularly get startled by it.

Asking your coworker to close her own door isn’t a great solution either, for the same reasons. But a white noise machine is — ideally one for both of you. You could say to her, “Would you be up for adding white noise machines to both our offices? I’ve found that even with my door closed, sound really travels in both directions and I worry patients won’t feel they have privacy if they can hear noise from other offices — but I thought white noise machines might easily solve it.”

Read an update to this letter

3. Coworker always signs cards another language for no reason

I have a coworker (American born, native English speaker) who studied Chinese in college, and took a couple trips to China during her college years … well over a decade ago, and before her tenure at our company. She brings it up every so often in the office, which is fine. No one in our office speaks Chinese or has a need to speak Chinese so it’s somewhat irrelevant but harmless.

This is where it gets weird. When there are birthday cards, condolence cards, or anything else being passed around to be signed for a coworker, she writes her note in Chinese. Again, it’s kind of harmless, except for the fact that no one knows what she’s writing. On one occasion, I’d had a miscarriage and received a card signed by everyone in the department. Her note, again, was in Chinese. Perhaps it was the emotions of the event I was dealing with, but I felt it was inappropriate and totally lacking in consideration to write a note in another language to someone who clearly won’t be able to read it.

Much time has since passed, but for the next situation in which a card is being passed around, how do I (or perhaps her manager, which is not me) say something to her about this? It smacks of her just trying to draw attention to herself instead of actually having any good will to the recipient of the card.

I was reading along thinking this wasn’t a big deal and you should leave it alone … until I got to the part about the sympathy card for your miscarriage. You’re right, that is really off and comes across as all about her at a time when it shouldn’t be.

That said, you aren’t the person who should address it. Her manager could have a quiet word with her about it, but if she’s not doing that for whatever reason, I’d put this in the category of quirks that you can be privately annoyed by but which don’t rise to the level of something you should address.

One important caveat: This assumes she’s writing full notes in Chinese. If she’s just signing her name in Chinese and there’s nothing to read beyond that, ignore everything above and just figure that for whatever reason it’s her signature.

4. How do I say no to work I physically can’t do?

I am newly cancer-free and have taken a full-time admin job at a big company. I am fully capable of everything that’s actually in the job description: a lot of emailing, using various computer programs, and some light filing. To be a team player, I sometimes push myself to carry paper documents about a quarter mile to make sure they reach their destination on my schedule, or to get a last-minute signature that can’t be digital. On days when I do that, I typically have to spend the whole evening resting and need to have a family member make dinner or to order in. This is okay with me — I am happy to be back at work contributing to a team.

A team member casually mentioned yesterday that our boss’s plan for Friday is for me to organize our storage room. The storage room is full of items I cannot just casually move around. There are old printers, full file boxes, boxes of copy paper, and more heavy things in there. Pre-cancer I would have happily organized it, and once I have had more time to recover from everything my body has been through, that may be the case again. But it’s absolutely not an option right now, and I am not at all willing to try.

I just started this job and have no social capital. It’s important to me to be seen as a team player who is happy to contribute. But this is not the work I signed up for, and I am not willing to overextend trying to do it. How can I shut this request down in the way that best demonstrates my willingness to help where I’m able, and with the sort of tasks I agreed to when I took the job?

Being a team player definitely doesn’t mean doing things beyond your physical capabilities or jeopardizing your health! And it’s not at all uncommon for people to have invisible conditions that prevent them from doing some types of activities; hell, just having a bad back could be reason enough to say no to this.

I’d say it this way: “Normally I’d be happy to, but I’m still recovering from a health issue and can’t do that kind of heavier physical activity right now. I’m hoping that won’t be the case long-term, but for now I can’t move heavy items around.” That should take care of it!

5. Turning down a job offer after I told them they were my first choice

I have two possible job offers coming my way. One company has taken forever to even set up an interview and the second company was pretty quick. As things were progressing at the second place, I lit a fire under the first company because, at the time, they were my first choice and I told them that. I explained I was expecting another offer and said, “FirstCompany is still my first choice, so I wanted to see if there was any way to expedite the process.” After that email, they immediately scheduled my final round of four interviews — but in those four interviews, I realized that while I thought this job would have better work-life balance, in reality it seems worse than the second company.

Is it normal for them to be upset if I choose the second company after telling the first place they are my first choice?

You didn’t tell them you’d definitely accept an offer if they made one; you just told them they were your first choice, which was true at the time. You’ve gotten new information since then; sometimes that happens — after all, interviews are as much for you to learn about the job as they are for them to learn about you. Sometimes you learn things that change your thinking (or simply get a more appealing offer from somewhere else).

If you do end up turning down their offer, I’d just include a note of appreciation to them for working with your timeline. For example, you could say, “After a lot of thought, I’ve made the decision to accept a different offer. But I really appreciate the time you spent talking with me, and that you were able to expedite your process when I shared my timeline constraints.”

{ 563 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon all day*

    For the notes in Chinese, I just find it so bizarre that apparently no one’s ever said anything to her or told her to cut it out. Like, if I had a coworker who did that numerous times, I would be like, “wtf, why are you writing messages that none of us can read?”

    1. Set in my ways*

      Has anyone ever asked this coworker, “By the way, can you please tell me the meaning of what you wrote on my card?”

      1. Tinkerbell*

        OP3, if you have the Google Translate app on your phone, you can take a picture of any writing in pretty much any language and get a translation on the fly. It won’t fix the problem, but it might help you be less annoyed if you can read what she’s saying :-)

        1. Amy*

          Heads up that this probably won’t work with handwritten Chinese characters. Google translate does OK with typed text, but really struggles with handwriting, especially on the ones with lots of strokes!

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            It’s definitely not 100% yet on stylized product labels either… my jasmine tea tried to translate to “comfort women”. (!noun not verb eep)
            That said, I must admit I’m guilty of something similar. I often can’t think of anything to say on a card when I am asked to sign ASAP, so I put the stereotypical greeting in alternate languages. The difference is I write it in BOTH languages. Graphically interesting, and still understandable
            OP might you suggest that to Jane?

          2. Presea*

            There’s a lot of contexts that it struggles with. I tried to use it on a video game I received that was entirely in Japanese with no English translation available, and while it worked well enough for me to understand what was going on, a lot of the translations were very obviously and horribly inaccurate, occasionally mentioning explicit sexuality in a game that certainly didn’t have anything sexual about it. I’d give this technology another couple years to mature before relying too heavily on it for anything non-trivial or niche… when the issue is that OP can’t understand their coworkers notes, the last thing they need is for a mistranslated to make it look like the coworker said something much more profane or insensitive than they actually said.

            1. That One Person*

              Might help to bring that to the coworker’s attention though that her messages may be “mistranslated” and accidentally cause issues. If someone’s having a sensitive time and a translation app gives them the wrong message then either that person isn’t going to want to confront someone or if they do it might not be pretty. I don’t think the coworker is doing it maliciously, but they probably haven’t thought about how they’re coming across or what kind of misunderstandings might crop up. Since English shares a common ancestor with a lot of European languages those tend to translate better/easier than Asiatic languages, which tend to have a lot of nuance and words for their own concepts that are hard to translate succinctly to English.

              1. TootsNYC*

                if I were Jane, I would expect my coworkers to assume that I’m not an awful person who would write someething shitty just because I could hide it behind Chinese characters.
                And if you suggested they might believe that, it means you think I’m that shitty of a person, and I’d be really offended.

                Or it would mean you know or think they’d assume I meant awful stuff, which is an indicator that they, or you, are that kind of shitty person.

                1. Another freelancer*

                  Agree. And if all other interactions with this coworker have been positive, why assume the worst of them just because they wrote in a different language? People usually don’t take signing a birthday card as an opportunity to write something negative about the recipient!

                2. RagingADHD*

                  Someone who cares what people think about them, and expects their coworkers to know what they’re really like on the inside, should have the common sense to express warm, friendly sentiments openly instead of deliberately obscuring them at every opportunity.

                  This person is demonstrating that they don’t care whether the recipient can understand the message. That shows, if not overt jerkishness, a certain level of callousness. Particularly with the sympathy card about a pregnancy loss.

                  I think assuming the coworker has some shitty tendencies is a fair assessment, after that incident. It certainly wasn’t a prize-winning example of empathy.

                3. Hannah Lee*

                  I wouldn’t necessarily jump to “jerk” based on LW’s description.

                  I’d lean more towards self-involved or precious, in the ballpark of people who turn i dots into hearts when writing. They are taking something simple, that’s not about them (ie signing a joint greeting card for a colleague) and making the way they sign it a ‘thing’. If that were their usual signature, or was tied to something that was who they are, how they present themselves in the workplace* it would make sense. But just an out of context switch to a different character set, which no one they work with understands, is … odd (whether it’s attention seeking, quirky, their way of indicating fondness, a hint that they have a secret identity? IHNI) The not providing a local language translation for what they wrote is the part that stands out to me …it’s likely leaving the recipient of the card scratching their head, which doesn’t seem like a typical desired impact of well-wishes.

                  *I used to work with someone who was very cheerful, smiley, and who often signed things with his initials and a smiley face or sometimes just a smiley face, always in blue ink. Because a huge part of his work persona was Super Smiley Guy, the smiley face signature worked for him. It doesn’t seem like something similar is going on with LW’s co-worker, aside from maybe internally in their own head.

                4. Emmy Noether*

                  In my opinion, purposely talking/writing at someone in a language one knows they do not understand, when one is perfectly capable of speaking a language they do understand, is, in itself, extremely rude. To me, it is as rude as purposely closing a door in someone’s face without reason. So it’s not a very far jump to think the content may also be rude.

                  Now, there is a difference between oblivious-rude and malicious-rude, and one should probably assume the former for colleagues. Still, if a translation app told me it was the latter… I may well believe it.

                5. That One Person*

                  And when a person’s being logical – like with a birthday card whose message comes out a bit weird – yeah you’d quirk an eyebrow and shrug, maybe get a laugh out of it.

                  I should’ve clarified that my point was more towards the more emotion-based cards for touchy subjects so that’s my fault. No, they don’t have to necessarily think Jane is “shitty” just cause translation apps might put it in that way due to nuances. Especially logically no one expects that unless Jane’s a great actor in not being an open jerk. All Jane is at this point is insensitive, which isn’t the biggest crime of the century either. They just can’t expect great responses all the time from this quirk, and largely so on cards meant for emotional times. Nobody wants to battle the forces of Google and translation apps when they’re grieving – why give them a chore in trying times? Jane could’ve used a great proverb and unfortunately it went completely unappreciated because she couldn’t take the time to write it out – and if it’s long…send it some other way like in a more personal card than the office card. The littlest things become grating when a person’s in an emotional state, and no its not a great reason to get mad at someone but it is a reason someone can get annoyed at another person whose choosing to ignore the bigger picture in favor of something they think is neat.

                6. Rolly*

                  “purposely talking/writing at someone in a language one knows they do not understand, when one is perfectly capable of speaking a language they do understand, is, in itself, extremely rude”


                  It also seems kinda racist to me too with a whiff of “oh the Orient, the exotic Orient changed me so deeply.”

                7. Who Plays Backgammon?*

                  Hear hear.

                  There are so many slams about Americans not learning other languages, and here’s someone finding opportunities to use bits of their second language. I would wonder if the coworkers would be so irked if it were, say, Spanish or Italian instead of Chinese.

                  Perhaps it was a misjudgment on a sympathy card but just that–a misjudgment, not a slam.

          3. yala*

            yeeeah, I just finished up working on some 1920-50’s books in Japanese, and the photo option on Google (and other free translation app) wasn’t particularly useful. I wound up having to repeatedly draw each kanji with the mouse (badly) until the computer finally guessed what I was doing, like the worst game of pictionary, or, when that failed, hunting down by radicals.

            But also, that really doesn’t feel like the point here. Coworker is being kinda insufferable, and tbh I think even doing just a signature on the miscarriage card is inappropriate.

        2. April*

          Google translate REALLY struggles with languages that different from English. When it comes to Korean and Chinese and Japanese (all very different languages; just ones I’ve put through google translate for various reasons) I can understand the result maaaaybe half the time.

            1. Cmdrshpard*

              While possible that seems like a stretch especially for something that could be relatively easily discovered. Using a translate feature or asking someone who reads/speaks Chinese.

              I think OPs read is the most likely they are self-absorbed/proud and want to show off they can speak/write in Chinese.

              1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

                Showing off sounds likely to me. She’s obviously very proud of the fact that she has studied Chinese and likes to show off that knowledge whenever she gets a chance to do so. That would be fine except for the notes in Chinese tjat no one else can read.

                Writing those notes and not providing a translation does not sit right with me, tbqh. It comes off kind of smug, like she’s playing a little game of “I know something you don’t know, ha ha!” That would leave a bad taste in my mouth, as the note in the sympathy card did in the LW’s.

                People REALLY need to start calling her on this, imo. Not in a nasty way, but just making a point of asking her, “Hey, what does this mean?” If enough people did that, I’ll bet it would stop being so much fun for her.

                1. Scout*

                  I don’t understand why no one has done this to begin with. It’s a natural enough question.

                  But I don’t really agree that it would stop the fun for her, because, until given reason to think otherwise, I’d regard this as a harmless affectation and assume that she would actually be delighted to say what it means.

          1. Hannah Lee*

            I often wonder about that when I see clothing or accessories etc in various languages. I wouldn’t ever buy it or wear it unless I knew what the writing meant. And even if the translation came out to seemingly innocent words, I’d still wonder if there were some not-generally-appropriate idiom I’m not aware off.

            Like, if that person knew what the writing on their shirt said, would they still wear it? Does it maybe spell out “the person who is wearing this is an idiot who didn’t bother to find out what this shirt says?”

            Then again, I stopped wearing a cap I have that says “Get Out!” next to a pine tree on it. It’s a play on “Get Outdoors” but I realized my face/hat was essentially saying “Get Out!” to every person I came across, which even if it’s just subconscious, wasn’t a message I wanted to send to people when I’m going through the world, trying to make friends. So maybe I’m just someone who overthinks words/messages on clothing LOL!.

        1. Lacey*

          Same. That’s probably being too paranoid though. I imagine it’s just something boring.

        2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Or, as one of the SIL’s exes tried to do when he wrote a card in Mandarin, trying to appear worldly and too cool for school. Double points if you find someone to translate it and it is gibberish (SIL’s card read like a word association test – pumpkin, ??? maybe ossuary, [Illegible], squish, fortune, etc.)

          1. quill*

            Reminds me of people getting “japanese” tattoos from people not literate in the language / because they just picked a shape and don’t understand that they just had someone write frying pan on their leg.

            1. Jessica Ganschen*

              I’ve seen one where a guy got a tattoo in Hebrew that he thought said “strength” but actually said “matzah”.

              1. Parakeet*

                There’s an amazing old one where some poor woman tried to get a tattoo in Hebrew saying that she loved her boyfriend, and used Babylon Translate software to try to find out what that was in Hebrew, and ended up with a tattoo down her back that said “Babylon is the world’s leading dictionary and translation software.”

            2. JustaTech*

              In high school I got this really cool shirt from Urban Outfitters that had a dragon on the front and on the back it said “Hong Kong”. The first day I wore it one of my friends came up and said “Oh cool, Hong Kong!” and I was like, “how do you know that, that’s on the back of the shirt?” and she explained that it was also written down the front of the shirt in the Chinese characters I had taken for part of the dragon design.

              And that was when I decided to never buy clothing where I didn’t know *exactly* what it said, because I knew it could have been something super offensive.

              1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

                I was wearing a a tee shirt I’d picked up at a 3-for-$10 sidewalk sale when I popped into the dry cleaners. The Korean proprietor told me I was wearing the flag of the Japanese navy. Gee, I thought it was just some design.

            3. yala*

              My favorite is still a Christian guy who got a tattoo of “strength” in Hebrew, but apparently it was “matzoh”

              literally tattooed cracker on himself…

        3. SpaceySteph*

          Maybe, but signing a card is not likely to be compulsory. If you don’t want to say something nice… don’t say anything at all. Unless OP knows this person to be mean, I doubt that’s what’s going on.

        4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          My partner used this technique, he wrote something in his native language when he was asked to contribute to a visitors’ book. We were staying with friends of friends, and it would have been churlish to refuse, yet we had not had a good time there, because the host was overbearing and a mansplainer and generally insufferable.

          For this colleague, I get the impression she just likes to show off that she can Chinese. I’d just ignore it totally, and laugh at the thought that it’s probably riddled with mistakes especially if she went to China a long time ago.

      2. a. non.*

        Methinks that is the point. “Oh, but of COURSE I’d love to explain/bore you with all my experiences BLAH BLAH BLAH”

        1. Kit*

          That was my take too – a play for attention , making it (as OP said) all about her rather than the recipient of the card.

          Deliberately writing in a language you know your coworkers don’t understand, on a card meant for them to read and express some sort of sentiment, is indicative of someone who doesn’t care to prioritize the recipient’s experience over her own desires, in the more charitable reading.

          If it was about personal notes for her own use, whatever; I took notes in class in German sometimes just to practice, I get that. But when it’s intended to be presented to someone else, and when there is no language barrier in play, it is polite to keep one’s message comprehensible. If OP has standing to suggest that Manager take this person aside and point out that this isn’t okay, I’d absolutely do it; the condolences card for a miscarriage is a great example to take to Manager, who can hopefully express to this coworker that she comes off as either tone-deaf or insulting when she does this, and neither is a good look.

        2. Rolly*


          “Ah China, did i ever mention that I lived in China? No? I did.

          It was such a life-changing experience. The exotic east. The history!

          The language!

          So beautiful. So expressive. Did you know I can write it? No? I can.”

    2. Heidi*

      I get the impression that LW3’s coworker thinks of the Chinese as “her thing,” like how some people sign their emails with “Stay Gold.” I imagine that she would LOVE to be asked about it, which is why it’s actually kind of funny to me that no one seems to have ever said anything about it to her.

      1. Matt*

        My impression is that there’s just someone very proud of their knowledge of a very difficult language and has to show it off on every occasion.
        A bit like Howard Wolowitz talking about his space mission all the time.

        1. Clorinda*

          Is it terrible of me that I really, really want OP’s office’s next hire to be a native speaker of whichever Chinese language it is, and for that person to try to engage the Chinese-signer in conversation only to find out she can only say three things, one of which is “my hovercraft is full of eels”?

              1. Petty Betty*

                The eels called that spot fair and square under the rules of “shotgun”. To deny them would dishonor the entire system.

              2. Hannah Lee*

                Or maybe the hovercraft is like the Tardis, and it’s bigger on the inside with plenty of space for all of us.

                1. quill*

                  Yes but if the hovercraft is *full* of eels I’d assume they were taking the majority of the space!

          1. Storm in a teacup*

            This reminds me of the woman who was annoyed at a colleague for speaking Dutch (they were Dutch) as she’d lied about speaking it and got outed.
            Maybe that was a Reddit AITA thread

            1. Lumos*

              This was definitely an AITA thread. I am an avid reader of that sub and I remember this one pretty clearly.

          2. yala*

            tbh, I wonder if her handwriting has deteriorated. I know mine would, after 12 years, where I was mostly writing for me, and no one else was going to actually read it. Would be funny if she’s had an error or three in it for years that no one caught

          3. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            I think it’s, well, not exactly terrible, but leaves me wondering why this hit such a nerve with people. Then again, I had multiple experiences with coworkers having extensive conversations in Spanish while looking over directly at me and laughing. Maybe it would have been different if they’d been speaking Chinese. Oh wait, in my previous job my Chinese boss and my CHinese coworker used to speak Chinese in the office.

        2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          My impression is that there’s just someone very proud of their knowledge of a very difficult language and has to show it off on every occasion.

          I think there could also be a grain of “use it lest you lose it” in this. I’m not saying it’s the right place or time, but languages aren’t like keys or passes where you can throw them in a drawer for a few years and pull them out intact.

          It could be less malicious flaunting and more a careless, less-than-ideal method of retention.

          1. Rosetta Stone*

            Agree that it’s definitely not the place or time.

            I mentioned in another message that I was a language translator in the military and I’ve been out for quite a number of years now. I don’t want to lose my language skills so I practice when I can—but a captive audience who doesn’t even understand what I’m saying or writing is not the time for that. I watch movies in my second language, participate in internet message boards with native speakers, and seek out portions of my community that have people who speak the language where I can make acquaintances I can spend time talking to in social settings such as at a bar.

            There are much more reasonable and productive ways for retention than writing a sentence on the card of a coworker. That person isn’t consenting to help me practice and it doesn’t even make sense to do so when they can’t even understand what I’m writing. It’s quite ridiculous really. It’s not like that’s the only opportunity that person gets to write something.

            1. DJ Abbott*

              If anyone is worried about retaining their language skills, Meetup has groups for that. They meet usually weekly to practice talking in the language. I went to the meetup Spanish club many years ago and it’s still going strong now.
              If OP’s colleague wants to practice her Chinese writing I’m sure there are groups for that too, online if not in person.

          2. LinuxSystemsGuy*

            I feel like there’s a non-zero chance that this person thinks they’re being sweet. “I’m using my special skill for you on your special day!” (If only my special skill was baking you’d probably enjoy this!). It seems especially weird an out of place on the sympathy card though.

            1. linger*

              I agree, and I’d go even further. Even on a sympathy card, most people keep to a very limited number of socially acceptable phrasings. So the simplest and kindest set of assumptions to make are:
              (i) Coworker would prefer to say something a little different, rather than an exact repetition of other messages; and (ii) the Chinese message chosen is (intended as) a close equivalent of the other messages, and so does not need to be translated; or, (iii) going further, it should not be translated except into the exact repetition being avoided, because the appropriate Chinese message for the occasion is one not easily given an exact translation. (This is often the case for phatic phrases: e.g. the Japanese greeting on initial introduction onegaishimasu most literally translates as “Be gentle with me”. There is no direct equivalent in English, but in a business context it should be translated as “I look forward to working with you”.)

          3. Dumpster Fire*

            Maybe so, but it’s not really practicing if you’re doing it with (or to) someone who can’t respond.

            1. RagingADHD*

              Right? How does it help you retain your skills if there’s zero chance of feedback? Your skills could be devolving and you’d never know because the recipient is just going to be equally confused whether you’re right or wrong.

              1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                Dunno… I’ve definitely caught my own errors when I say something and it doesn’t sound right or write something and it doesn’t look right.

                I didn’t say LW#3’s coworker was doing it well or in a good time and/or place; I just suggested there are motivations other than showing off or ill intentions that could be at play. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt because I’d rather live in a world where I’m surrounded by the clueless than the cruel.

                1. RagingADHD*

                  I don’t think the coworker was trying to be cruel. I think they are probably just thoughtless and a bit vain, common enough human frailties.

                  I do think that “keeping in practice” is reaching so far for some kind of justification that it portrays the coworker as ridiculous.

                  I also think it is less insulting to imply someone is vain than to imply they are stupid.

        3. lilsheba*

          Oh yes! Howard was annoying at how he mentioned being space every other sentence! Loved the show though. Off track I know.

          1. Empress Matilda*

            TBH if I had been to space I would definitely mention it every chance I could for the rest of my life as well! Sadly, my greatest achievements are not that cool…

            1. paxfelis*

              “Cool” seems to be context-specific a lot of the time. I’d like to hear about your achievements sometime, if that’s ok with you.

      2. High Score!*

        And many people find Chinese language to be cool. Some people wear t shirts with Chinese print (in China they wear t-shirts with English words). She probably thinks it’s a fun thing that she can share with you.

        1. La Triviata*

          I know some of the t-shirts and such were obviously done by people who had very little idea of what they mean to English speakers. And I suspect that some of the Chinese characters spell out things that you wouldn’t wear if you understood them.

          1. Intent to Flounce*

            I’m sure I read a while ago about a tattoo of Chinese characters which was translated (some time later) as “your text goes here”.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              I’ve heard that the action film Lucy (2014) apparently failed to hire a translator, because the Chinese characters on the walls just translated to random food items.

              The TV series Homeland hired artists to add Arabic graffiti to one scene… and one of the artists wrote “Homeland is racist.”

              1. Clorinda*

                Comments like this are why I would appreciate a LIKE button. That is hilarious and amazing.

      3. Lacey*

        Oh definitely. If it were me I’d definitely be not asking out of spite for how much the coworker talks about it. But I’m more contrary than the ordinary person, so you’d think someone would have asked.

      4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        This is where my money is. And I totally get the impulse. When I had a little fluency in Bosniak and Georgian I used to whip it out at the most random occasions. Older will now admit younger me was attention seeking but younger me would have said, “If I don’t practice, I’ll forget!”

        (Narrator: She forgot anyway)

        1. PotsPansTeapots*

          Yep, when I worked in an office, I would periodically sign birthday cards in Russian. I’m sure some people thought it was annoying, but my reasoning was there’s only so many stock phrases for a birthday card that are appropriate for work. And I was always pretty chuffed if someone signed my card in another language, too.

          But I would never dream of doing that on a sympathy card.

          (Off-topic, totally want to hear more about how you learned Georgian.)

      5. Everything Bagel*

        Forcing someone who just had a miscarriage to seek you out to ask for an explanation of your condolences is thoughtless and just plain mean. This coworker sucks.

      1. This is Artemesia*

        and it is fine on a birthday card — but on a card for a loss, it is creepy and attention seeking and insensitive.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            That’s my take too, and if colleagues feel that way about it that’s probably why they haven’t asked what it means.

        1. Despachito*

          I’d rather think it is not worth the battle on a birthday card than that it is fine.

          These cards should concentrate attention on the receiver, not on the giver. If I give you such a card, I am doing it for you to feel good, not for myself to feel superior or satisfied.

          It would definitely be overkill to make a fuss about a birthday card, so I would say nothing, but I would consider it weird and attention-stealing. And I wholeheartedly agree with what you wrote about the loss card.

        2. Snoozing not schmoozing*

          It’s also cultural appropriation. It’s like she thinks taking a few courses and a few trips turned her Chinese.

          1. MK*

            Frankly, I wouldn’t think it appropriate for a Chinese person to do this*. Why would you convey good wishes or condolences or whatever in a language the recipient doesn’t understand? Even if it your own?

            *Except if that’s the only language you can write in and want to participate.

            1. We'reNotAllNamedMeiLin*

              Person of Chinese descent, with proficient speaking and limited writing skills here. For circulated cards around the office, I might include a “happy birthday” or “thank you” etc written in Chinese. IF the recipient is someone I know to also speak/read the language, or has expressed interest in learning. And we are likely already having conversations about needing to practice and joking about our terrible handwriting (soo…did you snag a rando third grader to sign this card for you or what?)

          2. Jessie J*

            It’s not cultural appropriation to use or learn any language ever. Learning languages is a form of communication not appropriation.
            I’m thinking the person enjoys showing their skill as one of the languages spoken in China is an amazing learn for anyone!
            It’s probably not worth complaining about to the manager/boss but I’m wondering if someone could ask her about it the next time. Maybe mention that no one can read what was written so please add an English translation.

            1. Yorick*

              In this case, I think it kinda is. She’s using another group’s language to show off to other (presumably) White people.

              If she were writing notes in Chinese on a card for a Chinese person, that would not be inappropriate. It would either be kind and inclusive or a way to practice. But that’s not what she’s doing.

              1. Despachito*

                I do not think whiteness (or otherwise) is important here.

                The important thing is that you are supposed to do a thing centered on the coworker, and you are shifting the center on yourself and make them look awkward. This is thoughtless and clueless.

                The entire difference for me lies in the fact whether you are writing Chinese because:

                – your coworker is Chinese
                – your coworker is learning Chinese

                and you are certain they will understand, in which case I’d consider it to be thoughtful and considerate (I mean on the birthday card, not the miscarriage card, where I do not see any room for this kind of fun). It would mean “I am interested in you enough to notice what you are interested in, and I am making an effort to make you know”. You are making it about them.

                On the other hand, if they have no interest in China and you have no reason to think they will understand you, you are making it all about you, which you shouldn’t.

          3. KelseyCorvo*

            Reminds me of a friend’s brother who spent two weeks in Spain in 1991 and still brings it up all the time in a way that would imply to anyone who didn’t know the duration that he was a full time resident for years. He can connect any topic to his “time in Spain”.

            1. BethDH*

              I think even short visits are often life changing for people disproportionate to the time they spend there (especially around that age).
              The coworker’s use of Chinese still seems really annoying and self-centering, but I suspect to her it also feels more personal and meaningful.

            2. High Score!*

              There are many many people who never get to leave their hometown. For most of the worlds residents, traveling is a luxury. That man’s time in Spain probably was meaningful to him and the trip special.

              1. Sassenach*

                Agree completely! I am guilty of doing the same in relation to a time in my life where I spent a few years living in another country. I try to be cognizant of it but it really changed the trajectory of my life and 25 years later, I still see the very positive impact it had as a young person that still persists today. Give people some grace.
                I think the notes in Chinese are fun and their “thing”. Doing it on a sympathy card was tone deaf but otherwise, what’s the issue? This is harmless.

                1. londonedit*

                  It also depends on location/culture – as a British person I can see why someone’s reaction would be ‘Yeah mate we’ve all been to Spain for two weeks’ because Spain is an absolute classic cheap package holiday destination, but people in other countries wouldn’t have that perspective.

                2. Irish Teacher*

                  Given that this is semi-relevant here, I just wanted to take the moment to say your username interests me.

                  And yeah, I’m with londonedit. My immedidate thought was “Spain? 30 years ago?” and then realised the guy is probably from somewhere much further from Spain and it’s more like somebody talking constantly about their time in the Bahamas or Australia than it is like an Irish or British person talking about having been to Spain once.

                3. The OG Sleepless*

                  On the other hand, I’m American and I hardly know anyone who has been to Spain. I would be quite interested to hear that someone had been there. If somebody was making a big deal about going to Florida, though…

                4. Hannah Lee*

                  As someone in the US, I can’t think about anyone in the US constantly referencing “their time in Spain” without thinking of Hilaria Baldwin … who happened to be born in Spain, while her parents were on vacation there, but was raised entirely in the US, but who for some reason decided to pretend she was from Spain (complete with faux accent and references to herself as a Spanish)

            3. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

              Ugh. Replace “Spain” with “Japan” or “the UK” “famous US travel destination” and you’ve got my ex-best friend. He only spent like three weeks in Japan visiting his girlfriend two decades ago, one week in the UK on a work trip a decade ago, and has taken normal vacations (like, a weekend, or maybe most of a week) to various tourist locations at home in the US. But he will tell anyone who will listen all about how he “lived” in Japan/the UK/Hollywood/NYC/Honolulu/Key West etc.

              “Interestingly,” he never talks about how he “lived” in Alabama or Georgia or Kansas or any other location that’s not seen as glamorous, even though he’s spent more time in many of those places than in the fancier ones he falsely claims to have lived in.

              It’s completely unsurprising that he also studied a second language and “slips” into it whenever he wants to show off how clever he thinks he is. (Also completely unsurprising that he’s a diagnosed narcissist.)

          4. Asenath*

            I don’t think using a language you have learned is cultural appropriation, even if (as in this case) you are writing messages in it when you know others won’t understand them. Even if she is, for some bizarre reason, signing things in Chinese in and English environment, using her second language isn’t cultural appropriation. It’s using a particular method of communication.

            1. Rosetta Stone*

              > It’s using a particular method of communication.

              How effective of a method of communication can it be if the recipient can’t understand it though? Communication is supposed to be an exchange of ideas; it defeats the purpose if you knowingly use a method that the recipient can’t understand. That, in my eyes, is where it changes from communication to cringe-y grandstanding “look at me!” behavior.

              1. Despachito*


                If I communicate with someone, it should be to exchange ideas, not to show off .

                To knowingly use a code the other person does not understand is making it all about me while making the other person feel awkward or stupid (what is awful per se, but even more so if the communication is intended to benefit the other person, such as the birthday card, and multiple times more so if it is the case of the miscarriage card).

            2. Haruka*

              Would it be cultural appropriation if it was, I don’t know, Cherokee? It’s kind of about context no? Still, Chinese is spoken by a billion people and I don’t think anybody Chinese would feel their culture is appropriated, I think most would be proud that others want to show off their language. And I agree with others saying maybe it’s genuinely meaningful to her (her trip to China maybe changed her life). The real problem is that, she hasn’t considered the context and impact on the recipient. Like the person doing martial arts stances in the warehouse – it’s going to be viewed as attention-seeking even if it’s not the intention. I think the Chinese name-signing would be totally fine in birthday cards (so long as it just says happy birthday and not something nasty obv) but for a condolence type card, no. It would be a kindness for OP to gently explain to her it didn’t land well, and why that is – but of course, OP is not obliged to be so generous.

          5. Marny*

            We don’t know that she isn’t Chinese. The OP says she’s American-born, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t Chinese-American. Don’t mean to derail but we don’t know enough to assume appropriation. But, it’s still strange she’s writing in Chinese to people she knows don’t speak Chinese.

            1. ThatGirl*

              Yes, the issue is that the people she’s writing in Chinese to can’t read it.

              I did wonder if she might be Chinese-American. My cousins are half-Chinese Malaysian; they’re American but their mom was from Malaysia and they’ve both traveled there. One spent a year in Taiwan. He doesn’t speak any dialects particularly well, but I could see him trying to connect with his heritage that way. (Though it would still be a little weird if he wrote notes on sympathy cards in Chinese if nobody could read it.)

            2. Anono for this*

              We need confirmation that the person in question is white before we can say they’re culturally appropriating.

          6. Nancy*

            It is not cultural appropriation to use a language you have studied.

            Just ask her what it says and request an English translation next time.

            1. Kotow*

              Agreed. I’m really not understanding where the appropriation is coming from. For a major world language, it’s not appropriative to learn the language and to use it. Writing in full Chinese sentences to someone who you know doesn’t speak Chinese is weird without even talking about appropriation. Honestly though I’ve known plenty of people who have done this with various languages, and I know I’ve done this with Polish once I started to know what I was doing (usually it would be in a Christmas card and a standard greeting, or something to that effect). The next time this happens, why doesn’t someone just ask why she’s writing in Chinese when she knows nobody speaks it?

          7. Storm in a teacup*

            It really is not. As an Asian person if someone decides to wear bindis to a festival or similar I find it appropriation in some contexts. Basically – do you recognise the origin of what you’re wearing? An English friend wearing Indian accessories to an Indian friend’s wedding? That’s fine. However wearing them to Coachella where the shop markets it as ‘colourful face stickers’? That’s appropriation. Non-Hindu yoga teachers not recognising the origin and roots and basis of yoga? Appropriation.
            Learning to speak my language? No!
            Are kids learning a language in school culturally appropriating? Good grief!

          8. Nameless in Customer Service*

            I think thee is an element of cultural appropriation in what this person is doing, but we should be careful to pin it down narrowly and not seem to condemn learning another language or about other cultures as appropriative.

            1. ForeignLawyer*

              I wouldn’t strictly call it cultural appropriation, but to me the inappropriate/privileged element is that the Chinese-writer seems to think that knowing Chinese makes them “special” or “smart” in some way. At least in my experience, if the situation were reversed — a Chinese colleague had learnt English — this positive assessment wouldn’t be shared, and instead their having learnt English would be considered “normal” or “the least they could do” or dismissed as “well everyone learns English”.

        3. Luna*

          I think it’d be okay on a card for, say, a company-wide celebration like a party, and everyone that can speak or write a different language can write something like ‘Congratulations’ on a banner. Then you have the ‘base’ English term, and see the same term (or similar expressions) in other languages.

          For more personal stuff, especially towards someone you know doesn’t speak the language, it’s a bit odd.

          1. Jessica Ganschen*

            Yep! I’m in a group chat where a lot of people speak or are learning multiple languages, and people almost always send birthday messages in another language they know. I think the key is that it’s literally just the translation of “happy birthday” and they generally include the transliteration if it’s a language that uses another script.

        4. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          Yep, I was at harmless quirk/Chinese characters look pretty until we got to the condolence card ::record scratch:: That is next-level obtuse.

        5. A.N O'Nyme*

          Honestly even on a birthday card I would only do it if the recipient happens to be interested in China, not just all around.

      2. JM60*

        It could be that. It could also be that she rarely gets to express her love of the Chinese language at work, and it’s an (inappropriate IMO) chance for her to do so. If I were on the receiving end of one of her notes, my mildly paranoid mind would wonder if she’s write some insult to me, thinking I’ll never find out because it’s in Chinese. I think that the latter of those three options is less likely than the other two, but writing a message that’s supposedly to me in a language that I don’t know does make my mind fill in the blanks.

      3. Rosetta Stone*


        I spent my time in the military as a language translator (CTI for anyone here who speaks Navy-ese) and I’m fluent in a challenging language for native English speakers. It doesn’t come up at work now because it doesn’t have anything to do with my job and I don’t use it to try to turn attention to myself about it.

        It can be fun in a “gee whiz” way if my crew is out at Happy Hour or something and we’re having casual conversations, but that’s about the extent of it because my job now has nothing to do with translation.

        I see the behavior in the letter writer’s situation as someone trying to turn the attention to themselves in an eye-rolling way, like someone who studies abroad in England or Ireland for one semester and still has “an accent” five years after they return.

        In most cases I would view the card-signing thing as cringe-y “look at me!” behavior, but such behavior on a sympathy card is really inappropriate. That’s not a time to try to turn the attention onto yourself to show how special you are.

        1. londonedit*

          It reminds me a bit of those people on cookery programmes (particularly American ones, I find, though British people do it sometimes too) who go along speaking perfectly normally until they get to an Italian ingredient and then all of a sudden it’s ‘parrrrrr-me-JAAAAAAAN’ or ‘mooooaaaatza-RAAAAYYYYA’ or whatever. It just sounds like they’re showing off – fine, make an effort to pronounce the word correctly, but the OTT ‘look at me with my Italian accent, I’m so cultured’ thing sounds ridiculous. You wouldn’t go around saying ‘When I was in PA-REEEEEE’, you’d say ‘When I was in Paris’. French people say ‘Londres’ for London, they don’t think it’s somehow sophisticated to say it with the English pronunciation.

          1. Golden*

            My old boss (also American) was so bad about this! The way he said ‘hummus’ made my skin crawl, it sounded like he was throwing up.

            All cities from foreign countries were said in his idea of the local pronunciation (like “Melvin” vs “Melbourne”), to the point where I almost never knew what he was talking about when he’d discuss his frequent travels.

            1. AsPerElaine*

              I do think Melbourne is a different case; the name of the city is pronounced “Melbun,” more-or-less. To me that’s more like the Massachusetts city that’s spelled Worcester and said “Wooster” — the name of the city is “Wooster” and while people would figure out what you meant if you said “wor-chest-ter” that’s not what the city is called.

              I have family in Melbourne and they’ve told me how to pronounce the name correctly, and if I continued to say it the way it’s spelled, they’d laugh at me and think I was being deliberately obtuse. It’s not worth the effort for me to code-switch to the wrong pronunciation if I’m talking to someone who might not be familiar with that particular linguistic quirk.

              Mind you, I’m also not bothered by people who’ve gone to Brazil or studied Portuguese who call it “Bra-SIL,” so perhaps we’ll have to agree to differ here.

                1. MsSolo UK*

                  My tip for Americans when it comes to UK places names is to imagine it without any vowels in (and sometimes no internal Rs, but the brough/borough/burgh cities mess with that), and pronounce that.
                  Worcester -> Wcstr
                  Loughborough ->Lghbrgh
                  Helps account for a couple of millennia of mumbling!

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  I’m trying to learn how to pronounce towns in Massachusetts (just in case) and some of them vary wildly. I can’t physically say Wal-tham; it comes out as Wal-thum.

                  But we have this same issue in Missouri (Mi-zou-ree, not Mi-zou-ruh). We have a Versailles (Ver-sails), a Nevada (Ne-vay-duh), Bois d’Arc (Bo-dark), and Nixa, which sounds like it’s spelled but locals call it “Nixie.” In OldCity, I lived near Kearney Street (Carny). That one tripped people up all the time.

                  Also, if you say “Melbun,” it automatically sounds like an Australian accent. (I may or may not have said that out loud just now, lol.)

                3. Elizabeth West*

                  “Woostah” is how they said it in my interview yesterday, forgot to add to my comment.

              1. Storm in a teacup*

                Hmmm this makes me wonder – when in the States I always put on an American accent to order water (war-er) as if I ask for water in English no one ever understands me. Omg I’m like the mozzarella guys

                1. Foila*

                  “wat-er” or “war-er”? I knew some British accents could turn it into “wa’ah” but if you’re adding an R in the middle (“worter”) then it’s pretty Midwestern.

              2. Nightengale*

                Worcester Pennsylvania is pronounced War- cest – ter.

                That made it interested when I was at a summer camp counselor job in Worcester PA and was talking to people in MA about a full-time job. . .

            2. Koalafied*

              SNL had a great sketch a few years ago with an obnoxious couple who’d recently visited “Coo-ba” on vacation that was a perfect send-up of this phenomenon.

              To extend some grace to travelers, at least, it makes some sense that you might use local pronunciations while you’re there, especially if interacting frequently with locals who use it. But you definitely sound ridiculous if you keep saying it that way once you’re back among people who speak your own language.

            3. HebrewSpeaker*

              Saying “hummus” in a way that makes you think he’s throwing up – if he’s a native Hebrew speaker – is correct. The first letter of the actual word is a deeply guttural sound.

          2. Formalism*

            I have been told that I show off when I say certain words of spanish origin. It is a form of microagression, makes someone hyper aware of their otherness and second guess their own manner of speech. I grew up in a bilingual household, but in most cases I speak with a typical american accent.

            Quick being annoyed.

          3. Emmy Noether*

            Oh, there absolutely are French people who would say “London” and think they’re so cool. That type of person seems to exist everywhere.

        2. Kotow*

          When I’ve admittedly done this with Polish, it was indeed for “look what I can do” purposes! In fairness, I did that after finally getting a handle on the language and was proud of myself so wanted to show off; this was also before discovering plenty of other opportunities to use the language. I wouldn’t do that now unless it’s with someone who would know the language or appreciate it. I love learning languages and seeing them written, so being on the receiving end of this would be awesome for me, though at work with people who don’t have the same interests, it reads as being strange. Also just as an aside, I have so much respect for anyone who completes the military language courses; the amount of work put into them is so intense but they really do produce amazing results!

      4. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

        I’m gonna go with: attention. That’s why.

        You’ve got it in one. It’s attention-seeking, and rudely and insensitively failing to read the room in the case of the sympathy card. It’s not worth burning bridges over, but it tells the LW something valuable to know about their co-worker (if she’s irritatingly attention-seeking in one respect, it probably manifests in other parts of her personality as well, and ones that might be less harmless).

        I’m English as a first language, and I’ve had to study multiple languages for my work. Outside of work-related stuff, I don’t talk about it. And most people have no idea I’d know anything other than English, because I’m not seeking attention for it. Y’all know how many times I’ve “slipped” into German while writing emails, or “unthinkingly” signed my name in Japanese katakana on a card? Exactly zero. (And if I did, even if I thought the other person wouldn’t mind, I’d apologize for my mental slip-up if I caught it too late to correct! Also: please note how I deliberately provided the clarification “Japanese” to “katakana” so people would have context I’m talking about Japanese writing. Just saying “katakana” without any further elaboration would risk coming off like someone signing a card in Chinese–“Look at me! Ask me what I mean! I’m very clever! LOOK AT ME!!”)

        Additionally, in my office of 400+ people, more than half don’t speak English as a first language. Want to know how many times someone has “accidentally” slipped into their native language in communications with me? Exactly zero. When they use their first language, it’s for a relevant reason and they explain themselves (like “I don’t know a good phrase for this situation in English, but in my country, we say ‘XXXXXXXXX,’ which means…”)

      5. Petty Betty*

        Very much so.
        When I was in middle school, a girl went “away” for the summer and came back with a faux British accent. She was very keen to tell everyone she spent her “summer holiday in England” with her grandparents… until her parents came to the back-to-school open house with her siblings. One very annoyed older sibling side-eyed her and yelled “it was NEW England, Sarah! We were with Grammie and Pop-Pop on the farm! You sat in cow crap and ate grilled cheese, not drink tea with the queen! Knock it off!”
        After that – no more accent.

    3. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      I used to do the same thing (also worked and studied in China 10+ years ago), and would sign birthday cards in various languages, and cringe to think about it now! But a sympathy card? Please someone let this gal know what’s up!

      1. High Score!*

        Nah, let her have her fun and funny be embarrassed. Many people like the Chinese language. Some people wear t-shirts with Chinese print (in China they wear t-shirts with English words). She probably thinks it’s a fun thing that she can share with you. Just as you thought it was a fun thing to share. It’s harmless. Maybe occasionally eye-rolly, but humans enjoy sharing fun things.

        1. Green tea*

          Did you miss the part where she did it on a sympathy card for a miscarriage? What she is doing is obnoxious af.

        2. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

          Thank you- honestly, this just sounds like someone who has found a way to distinguish herself from every other Jane and Betty in the office, uses it to practice a skill she might otherwise not to get to flex (who’s actually writing in cards except at the office?), and has no other thought beyond that. I doubt she’s doing it to be witty or superior. I used to wear headbands for my own amusement during Spooky Season and stopped when one coworker made fun of me for it on Facebook. I literally had no intention other than my own pleasure for wearing them, but after her comments, I decided that it wasn’t worth it. This person is just expressing herself differently.

          And the people assuming the worst (that she’s making fun of them or writing inappropriate words) are probably overthinking it- having signed a great many Happy Birthday! and sympathy cards over the years, it’s actually kind of a nice way to not have to duplicate what others said and/or think of a new and different way of saying, “Have a great day!” or “Sorry for your loss!”

          1. Irish Teacher*

            I really, really doubt she’s making fun of them or writing inappropriate words, but what did occur to me even before I saw people saying that would occur to them even under normal circumstances is that when people are grieving or otherwise hurting, they can be a little more vulnerable than usual (and may have been dealing with people saying grossly insensitive things, especially after a miscarriage which is a loss some people fail to really fully recognise) and therefore I’d take extra-care to avoid anything that might make the recipient feel paranoid or dismissed.

            1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

              I guess I’m struggling with why everyone is assuming the worst here. The only info we know is that one coworker is irritated by one card signed in a different language, specifically because this person received the card at a time when they were feeling vulnerable. Presumably, this happens for every card this coworker signs and they’re not singling anyone out. Yes, the LW has a right to be offended if they want by what they see as an odd way of handling office norms, but since it’s the same thing that happens every time a card is passed around, why is this any different or a particular slight? And why does this have to be A Thing (TM)?

              Just like my coworker didn’t HAVE to take my picture on the sly and post it for people to make fun of, this LW could have moved on from this and instead chose to stew about it and write in to an advice column about it. I don’t think this is a right or wrong issue here- the LW can think it’s weird and be offended if they want, but at the end of the day, this isn’t an issue that should be brought up to the coworker and they should just let the coworker be.

              1. Green tea*

                I don’t understand the connection you see between your coworker mocking your appearance on social media (which is awful, and I am sorry) and OP being frustrated by her coworker doing an annoying thing on cards meant to bring joy or comfort to the recipient.

                It sounds like you went through an upsetting experience and are bringing those feelings to this situation even though it is very different, and pretty unfair to the OP in my opinion.

                1. ferrina*

                  Agreeing with Green tea. I’m sorry you went through that horrible experience, but you’re comparing apples and onions.

                  Assuming the best of this person, they are so oblivious to the suffering of others that rather than do something kind and sympathetic, they defaulted to something that required the person that was suffering to focus on Card Writer. In the best light, they are inappropriate and wildly oblivious to empathy, not to mention social norms.

              2. MincePies*

                > but since it’s the same thing that happens every time a card is passed around, why is this any different or a particular slight?

                I might be confused at what you’re asking here — are you really asking why it’s different to sign a sympathy card this way from a birthday card? Because social expectations for sympathy cards are different from expectations for birthday cards, the same way that social expectations for funerals are different from expectations for funerals.

                As someone who wouldn’t confront coworker about this, I can still easily see why people think the sympathy card is a social misstep that it would be a service to explain to the colleague.

                1. MincePies*

                  > the same way that social expectations for funerals are different from expectations for funerals.

                  I meant to say “the same way that social expectations for funerals are different from expectations for birthday parties.”

                2. Esmae*

                  To bring it back to the headbands analogy, it’s fine if quirky Halloween headbands are your thing in the office, but it would be inappropriate to wear one to a funeral for a coworker’s loved one and that coworker would have a right to be upset if you did. There are times when your personal fun quirk needs to be set aside in the name of sensitivity. Signing a sympathy card is one of them.

          2. Humble Schoolmarm*

            I don’t know, I think there’s a difference here. Clothing choices should be about giving yourself happiness within the bounds of what your environment deems appropriate (and if your environment doesn’t deem it appropriate, the answer is a discreet word, not Facebook mocking! I’m sorry that happened to you). A card is in the gift family, and the goal of a gift should be to make the recipient happy. If you can do that and make yourself happy (There’s a reason all of my co-workers get hand-knitted booties at their showers.) that’s great, but if all the co-worker is doing is showing off a skill for their own pleasure, that’s kind of missing the point. This goes triply for a sympathy card, as I can sort of squint and see that getting a happy birthday in Cantonese would be an interesting break in a sea of “Hope it’s great!”s.

        3. TootsNYC*

          I’m with you.

          The condolence card was eye-rolly, definitely, but people can screw up. It’s not malicious; the self-centeredness is not particularly harmful here.
          Roll your eyes at her need for validation and attention, be bemused as how much she enjoys this, recognize that she signed the card and surely wrote something pleasant, and MOVE ON.

        4. Critical Rolls*

          It’s an incredibly tone-deaf thing to do on a condolence card. It says, “I’m making this about my fun quirk!” instead of “I am acknowledging a difficult thing you are going through.” Which is just awfyl.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Same! I was annoying that way but knew that for a get well soon/sympathy card not to do anything quirky or fun. That is not the time for fun

      3. FalsePositive*

        If it makes you feel better, I think on birthday card, it would/could be fun. Like a welcome sign in many languages.

        But on a sympathy card, some context would be nice so it’s not a mystery. Like, “This is a traditional phrase to express close family loss in Language, I wish we had something similar in English: “

    4. Daily reader, rare commenter*

      Has anyone actually asked her what the Chinese characters mean? It may well be just a translation of her name, a way to stand out in a sea of signatures. People often times just sign these cards without an added message, and it’s hard sometimes to match a signature to the person.

      1. JM60*

        I think that’s a point worth keeping in mind. However, from the very little I know about Chinese, the average name is usually only 2 or 3 characters long.

        1. Retiring academic*

          That’s true of actual Chinese names, but a transliteration into Chinese characters of a non-Chinese name could be much longer. Valentina Warbleworth, for example, would have at least 8 Chinese characters. Phonetically, it would sound something like Wa lan ting na wo bu wo si. And it could take months for a new recruit to realise that Wa lan ting na and Valentina were the same person!

          1. philmar*

            She probably picked a Chinese name that she liked or had a marginal similarity to her real name. The majority of the students from China at my (US) university picked an English name to go by that frequently had no relation to their actual name.

        2. sb51*

          Although I don’t know how long a non-Chinese name transliterated into Chinese would end up being if it’s on the longer side.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      Quirkiness can be its own relentless master.

      That said, I shared Alison’s “You should just ignore this–oh dear, she put it on a sympathy card?” There’s a really sharp distinction between “My birthday message to you is a quirky encrypted one you can’t understand!” (kthnx next) and “My sympathy message to you in your time of great loss is a quirky encrypted one you can’t understand!” (read. the. room.)

      But in some cases, being very dedicated to your quirky thing, even in contexts where it really doesn’t make sense, would go hand in hand with an inability to pick up on social cues.

      1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        “ Quirkiness can be its own relentless master.”

        Love this sentence, and yes. Terribly do sometimes.

    6. to varying degrees*

      I had a coworker who would do something similar-ish. He was from Puerto Rico so he would always write Happy Birthday in Spanish. Of course that was all he would write (no full on notes or anything and certainly not a condolence card) and if he wasn’t sure if you knew what it said he always would check. So there’s a way to do this without being obnoxious, your coworker just hasn’t figured it out yet.

      1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        Not Hispanic but lived in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood for a good 20 years. I’m not fluent but phrases tend to creep into every day usage. So its not unusual for me to with “De nada” or “No problema” in an email.

      2. Cora*

        This was my first reaction – my coworkers and I regularly say at least “gracias”, “de nada”, “adios”, “danke schon”, and “merci”. Just for like . . entertainment and because those are common phrases that people generally know even if they don’t know the language.

    7. TootsNYC*

      If what she’s writing is essentially “happy birthday” or “good luck” in Chinese, that doesn’t bother me so terribly much. I think it’s kind of fun. I’d be asking her what it said, and trying to recognize it later. It’s not any different from someone writing, “Alles gute zum Geburtstag” or “feliz cumpleaños” or “viel Glück” or “buena suerte.” It’s just that we can sort of figure those words out.

      The seriousness of a miscarriage makes that lighthearted approach not appropriate. But I’m not sure it’s really worth addressing. It’s proof that she’s more self-focused than most people.

    8. Jane*

      If it’s a whole big note that’s one thing, and the sympathy card is a bit weird. But with birthday cards I find it hard to come up with something to write. A coworker is Danish and always writes happy birthday in Danish in cards and I have often wished I had some little shtick like that to fall back on. Again the sympathy card is weird but it doesn’t strike me as weird or stuck up or whatever to think “let me jazz up this tenth ‘have a great day’ by throwing in a little language diversity”.

    9. Momma Bear*

      That’s an annoying flex if the recipient can’t read Chinese. I’d be direct for the next card, “Please write in English for Bob. He doesn’t read Chinese.” If she keeps doing it, I’d ask her why. As others have pointed out, even a translation program is not 100% accurate.

    10. Slipping the Leash*

      If they didn’t, how would everyone be able to be impressed that they’d been to China? I went to Eqypt in 2003 with a friend and we agreed that upon our return we would take every ludicrous opportunity to toss “When I was on the Nile…” into totally unrelated conversations with our friend group… which was awesome. (Especially effective when everyone was a little tipsy.)

    11. starfox*

      It reminds me of those kids in college who would come back from studying abroad for the summer with an English accent. It’s cringeworthy, but not egregious… until I got to the part about the miscarriage.

  2. nnn*

    Reading #2, I’m wondering if one of those hepafilter air purifier machines would work as a white noise machine? This might be an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone and make your office healthier and safer, especially if you’ll be seeing patients in-person in an enclosed space

    1. E*

      Was coming here to say exactly the same thing. They’re not super loud but they give a decent amount of white noise if you run them on high, which is a great idea if you’re seeing patients or clients in the office anyway.

    2. PollyQ*

      You’d want to test it out first, since they’re designed to be as quiet as possible. I have a small tabletop one, and it doesn’t produce anywhere near enough volume to work as a white noise machine, even on its highest setting.

      1. InsidEdition*

        InstaPot (yes that one) made air purifiers. They didn’t sell very well, so they’re getting cheaper. They are also quite loud ;)

      2. Clisby*

        Yes, it probably depends on the size. Maybe a year ago my husband was having real problems with allergies, and we bought an air purifier for our bedroom. Besides seemingly taking care of the allergy problem, the white noise effect is great. We both sleep better.

    3. Madame Arcati*

      I studied three foreign languages at university, one in a non-Latin script; I also visited those countries. I have no ancestral/blood/residential links to any of them. Nobody has ever suggested it’s cultural appropriation; that’s ludicrous. You might as well say an English person can never go on holiday to france or cook Italian food. I might say, “Bonjour, ça va?!” to a colleague because everyone in the U.K. gets that far with French, but I wouldn’t sign card of any sort with a message in Arabic.

      However, LW’s colleague is being a show-off. She prioritising “look at me, I speak a difficult foreign language” over the content of the message. She’s saying, this isn’t about your birthday (or worse, your tragic loss) but about showing people how clever she is.

      Over here this sort of thing would be dealt with by most of her colleagues stoutly and merrily taking the p!ss out of her until she stopped doing it, but I understand LW’s culture might not permit that.

    4. P*

      As someone with sensory sensitivity to sound, this really needs to be an office move. White noise isn’t going to solve the problem when it’s a loud and sporadic noise. But it’s tricky because it’s so difficult to get people to take it seriously.

  3. AceyAceyAcey*

    Unless LW#3 is of Chinese heritage that she’s reclaiming, this whole thing smacks of appropriation too.
    And to the LW, note that “Chinese” actually refers to many languages (or dialects). Spoken Chinese is likely actually Mandarin, but could be Cantonese or many other dialects/languages. Written Chinese has two main systems, Traditional (used in Taiwan) and Simplified (used in the mainland), which are mostly mutually comprehensible, but there are also rarer written systems like written Cantonese. And then there’s other dialects that are the targets of the political effort by Beijing to control everyone, such as Uighur (also spelled Uyghur, a spoken and written language that looks/sounds like Arabic to most Westerners).

    1. Chi Sin*

      “…this whole thing smacks of appropriation too.”

      No it doesn’t. It really doesn’t.

      1. Rocky*

        Oh I’m curious, why does it not seem like appropriation to you? Do you mean because she’s probably fluent enough that she knows the distinction between the different Chinese languages?

        1. Loulou*

          Huh? She knows whatever language she knows. I’m not sure how knowing or not knowing specific dialects correlates to being appropriative or not. Either way, this person is using their language skills in a way that OP rightfully finds off-putting and strange.

        2. Julia*

          Writing messages in a language that isn’t English just isn’t the same thing as stealing and repurposing aspects of someone’s culture in a one-dimensional and insensitive way. We can’t let “cultural appropriation” turn into a shorthand for “saying or doing anything that is borrowed from another culture”, because that would make all of our lives much less rich and varied.

          1. Willow*

            I mean, language is part of culture and the coworker is using it in a one-dimensional and insensitive way. The fact that no one understands the notes is the clincher because that defeats the entire purpose of language. It’s not on the same level as wearing sacred garments as a Halloween costume but it’s exoticizing at the very least.

    2. turquoisecow*

      Nah, people can learn languages that aren’t their native languages and it’s fine, as well as learn to write them and communicate in them. I’ve personally studied three languages other than my native English and I don’t think I’m appropriating anyone’s culture.

      It’s just kind of ridiculous to write in another language that people don’t read. If OP had expressed an interest in Chinese characters after their coworker had told them they were studying it, then it would be fine to include them in a birthday card or something. But OP hasn’t, and it was a sympathy card, so it’s just really awkward to send a message that OP won’t understand, even if the sentiment was appropriate.

      1. Willow*

        Context is key. If a white American person is using Chinese just to get attention from her colleagues who don’t even understand the language, that is treating another culture as a prop in your own life, which is appropriation. Using a language to communicate is not appropriation.

        1. Julia*

          When people use French loan words like abbatoir or magnifique or say “mi casa es su casa,” I don’t think that is cultural appropriation. Is the line whether they’re doing it for “attention,” and if so how do we even define that? I do not think this is a valid critique. There are other valid critiques.

          1. Willow*

            They are using the words to communicate in that case. Not as a prop stripped of all meaning.

            1. Loulou*

              Right, if you use a loanword like abattoir, the intention. Is still to communicate a meaning that other speakers of your language will still understand. This is more like if I just decided to use random French words not widely understood by English speakers, which I think most people would find confusing and strange.

            2. Allonge*

              If coworker is doing this for attention, they are hoping to be asked what it means. It’s not stripped of its meaning, meaning is accessible at the very least and (hopefully) appropriate to the cause, so guessable.

              It’s a jerk-adjacent move for sure. It does not have to be worse for it to be challenged.

    3. Amy*

      I don’t know that appropriation is the right word here. Languages are generally open for learning; most cultures don’t restrict them to members of that culture. In particular, I’ve never heard of any dialect of Chinese being claimed by and restricted to members of a specific cultural or ethnic group.

      There is maybe a little bit of exotification going on–OP’s coworker is treating her language skill as, I don’t know, a nifty little party trick that makes her a quirky and exciting person. In my experience, a lot of Americans (especially white Americans tbh) seem to view east Asian languages through a little bit of an orientalist lens–framing them as more exotic, more foreign, more interesting, weirder, in a way that doesn’t happen so much with languages like Spanish or Russian or Latin. It does feel like OP’s coworker might be playing into that a bit. But that’s a different thing than appropriation.

      1. Willow*

        I think that is what appropriation is though. Treating another culture as a way to make yourself look cool. I don’t think that using a language for its intended purpose (communication) is appropriation, but that’s not what the coworker is doing.

        1. Amy*

          I see what you’re saying! My understanding of appropriation is a little narrower–more along the lines of stealing and profiting off of another culture’s products (like brands who copy a tribe or culture’s art and then mass print it on their products and sell it for cheap, which makes it really hard for the original artisans to get a fair price on their work), or claiming cultural traditions and activities that a group has indicated aren’t open to outsiders (e.g. getting Maori tattoos). I think what’s going on here is more along the lines of orientalism–drawing on ‘the far east’ in an exotified, foreignized, aesthetic way to look cool to people who aren’t familiar with it. It’s a racist/super colonially inspired attitude, but in a different way than appropriation.

          But to some extent, it doesn’t really matter what we call it. It’s not OP’s problem to solve.

    4. Loulou*

      It seems like the key point is that OP’s coworker is using a language that the recipients of her cards can’t understand — does it really make a difference which language it is? (And I don’t want to derail on this, but Uyghur is not a Chinese dialect and the OP is obviously not referring to Uyghur here.)

    5. MK*

      I am baffled about why you think the OP needed to know this information about Chinese languages. What does it matter here?

  4. ElleKat*

    #2, I used to commute with someone who did this throat clearing, and just that 20 minute spot could ruin my morning. More recently I spent a work conference with an assigned seat behind a woman who had to stroke and smooth her mid-back-length hair. Constantly. From root to tip, rapidly, over and over. Her hands never stopped moving through her hair, unless she took a few seconds to type on her laptop, then she would continue. For hours. I marveled that her hair wasn’t a huge grease trap, or gone completely, as mine would be if I literally never stopped touching it. It’s another situation where it’s completely maddening, and yet there’s no harm done or entry point to convey “OMG WILL YOU GIVE IT A REST.” I wonder which my behaviors make my colleagues nuts.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      You may have had an introduction to the fidgety world of ADHD. There’s other reasons to do things like that, of course, so this is just my experience.
      I’m one of the women diagnosed late because the hyperactive motion portion was socially unacceptable and trained out of me.
      Playing with my hair was a fidget that my mother didn’t stridently object to. Ironically some of the fidgets she criticized would be less problematic in the professional world than this one she allowed.
      (I broke the habit myself after hearing people complain about others doing the same, went back to quietly patting my fingers against the table. Unfortunately I didn’t have the same luck with biting my fingernails until we all started wearing masks…)

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I am also a “fidget,” very much doubt I have ADHD, but sensory processing disorder or ASD are possible, I think. Just to add that yeah, there are many reasons people do things like that.

      2. BethDH*

        Oh wow I never connected my shift to finger tapping as happening when I was trained not to twirl my hair, but you’re absolutely right. I still wear my hair pulled back in professional environments because of that urge.

        1. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

          I love fidget rings for this; they don’t generally draw any attention, and I can spin away when I need to without people really honing in in it. It just looks like I’m easing a cramp in my hand at most.

      3. Eater of Hotdish (fka jitm)*

        I have a brand-new adult ADHD diagnosis, but looking back, the signs were there. I have always doodled, fidgeted, and fiddled with my hair. For most of my life I kept it short, so there really wasn’t much I could do with it, but I’m growing it out now that I’ve moved to a cold climate, and I find myself messing with it ALL THE TIME. :/

      4. federallenial*

        I learned recently that misophonia and misokinesia (hatred of a certain movement… hair twirling makes me so mad!!) are considered part of the big beautiful spectrum of Autism-ADHD as well. It’s tough when your sensory difficulties butt heads.

        Additionally, I work with a throat clearer right now and he always seems to forget to mute his mic when we’re on calls so I just do it pre-emptively so it doesn’t have the chance to make me crazy.

      5. ferrina*

        Hehe, this is so true! I self-diagnosed as an adult and I am a text-book case. I never stop moving. I was recently at the doctor’s office for something unrelated that required a new prescription, and I mentioned to the doctor that I was ADHD. She wryly said “I know. You haven’t stopped moving your legs for the past 10 minutes.”
        I know I must be super annoying to work next to in an office environment (I’m really useful in food service, because I was made to juggle multiple things at once). I try to keep my twitching to a minimum and find really quiet ways to do it. I love hybrid work because I can be as twitchy as I want and not bother everyone, and my coworkers get the benefits of my ADHD without the annoying bits.

    2. A Yellow Plastic Duck*

      It took 5 seconds go googling to find out there are multiple medical reasons for chronic throat clearing:

      • Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR)
      • Postnasal drainage
      • Zenker’s diverticulum
      • Chronic motor tic disorder (throat spasms)
      • Tourette syndrome
      • Pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder with streptococcus (PANDAS)
      • Allergies

      Maybe the person in this letter should see a doctor. Maybe they have. Who knows? But the odds are they are just as conscious of it as everyone else is. Only they are embarrassed and frustrated over it as well.

      I wouldn’t assume the throat clearing was merely a bad habit.

    3. AGD*

      I have a colleague across the hall who whoop-coughs loudly every 90-120 seconds. I wondered about it for a while, but then decided it was very likely that he has a tic disorder, so I just bought some high end Bose noise canceling headphones and said nothing.

    4. lilsheba*

      as someone who needs to clear their throat a lot, it’s not fun for me either. I have had people ask if I was ok which drove me NUTS. DO NOT ask me that. I’m not dying. Now I work from home so no one else hears it. But yeah I would for it to stop myself.

      1. ferrina*

        My MIL is a throat-clearer, and she is in denial about it. That makes it so much worse, because she doesn’t do anything to accommodate it. She would hang out in the same room as the baby, clearing her throat every 5 minutes, startling the baby. When I asked her to leave, she got offended and denied she was doing it.
        For those of us that have our traits (I’m constantly moving), it’s on us to try to balance the impact on others (while they give us patience). If I go to a quiet group event, I sit in the back for minimal impact. I spend smaller amounts of time in quiet spaces or sometimes withdraw, if it’s something where I know I could ruin the experience for others (I never go to poetry readings, for example).

      2. Filosofickle*

        My sibling is the same. There is nothing they can do — they’ve been doctors and do everything they can to alleviate allergy/reflux stuff, and a solution has never been found. It can be incredibly annoying (for everyone) but it’s medical. It’s their body.

    5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Oh crap. I think you have sat behind me in a conference. My hair is my fidget toy. Luckily it tends to dry so my stroking doesn’t make it greasy

    6. OP #2*

      I am a leg-shaker which I know a lot of people find incredibly annoying! I think some of what’s been stressful about this is just adjusting to being back in an office every day, with other people and their annoying habits, and trying to keep my own annoying habits under control, after years of working at least partially from home.

      Thank you, everybody, for your responses!

      1. Tigerflower, King of the Grass*

        Something also to consider: certain medications (particularly for heart, but probably others as well) can cause reflexive coughing that can be frequent, loud, and jarring. It can take months after the medications are stopped for the coughing to taper off. Of course, some medications are so necessary that this coughing is ongoing. It’s often exhausting for the person with the cough, too, besides being difficult to be around for everyone else.

  5. Passionfruit Tea*

    What’s Maria like when she’s not pregnant? My best friend’s pregnancy nearly destroyed our friendship with how tetchy and unreasonable she became during that time. If Maria’s usually a lovely person I’d grind my teeth and wait it out, as you said it’s only a couple more days.

    1. turquoisecow*

      Yeah if she’s just irritable because she’s pregnant than the problem will solve itself when she has the baby. If she keeps being a jerk after that, it’s a bigger issue.

      1. Passionfruit Tea*

        Exactly. Don’t get her into trouble a couple of days before she’s to give birth. That’s just unnecessary. If she doesn’t revert back to her presumably normal polite self once she’s back from maternity leave, that’s when LW should raise this with their manager.

        1. Tinkerbell*

          This. The problem will (temporarily) resolve itself soon, so it makes sense to just grin and bear it until then… but if she comes back to the office after the baby is born and tries to keep using the “I’m a parent excuse” (I’m sleep-deprived, my priorities are better than yours, etc.) you are absolutely justified in going over your line manager’s head!

        2. Ayla*

          A little grouchiness is fine, but if she’s being hostile and abusive, nobody has to put up with that for even a day. If she’s dealing with an antenatal mood disorder I can sympathize, but making others accept abuse isn’t the answer

          1. Emily*

            I also think it’s important to note that this is via email. It’s one thing to be short or snippy in person, because sometimes irritability can escape before you get a handle on it and rephrase. But in email to a colleague? That’s bizarre and there’s not really a good excuse for that.

          2. Lacey*

            Yeah, it really depends on what’s happening here.

            Is it a short, curt email? Ride it out.

            Is she actually being hostile? That deserves the manager’s attention.

        3. Despachito*

          I’d still tell my manager to cover my a.., telling her what you have just said (this is she is writing me repeatedly, I’d like to cut her some slack before the last phases of her pregnancy but I just want to give you heads-up in case it continues).

          I reckon a good manager will just take note and not rip her head offf, and given the manager EXPRESSLY told you to bring things like this to her attention … I just would.

          And I would not consider it “getting her into trouble”, because it would be her to get herself in trouble, if something. If she wrote normal notes there would be no trouble.

          1. Allonge*

            I agree. There is no need to go out of the way to report this but it seems to have gone on for long enough to become an issue.

        4. EPLawyer*

          1. OP will not be getting Maria into trouble if she take the emails to her boss. If the emails are a problem, then Maria got herself in trouble.

          2. The boss specifically said to bring any problem emails to her. Ignoring this will only get OP in trouble if boss founds out. If OP is overreacting, the boss can deal with it. If Maria is just addled by pregnancy hormones the boss can deal with that. But this is NOT OP’s call to make. The boss gave clear instructions that are not illegal, OP has to follow them.

        5. Daisy-dog*

          LW1 is clearly extremely uncomfortable with what is happening. A good manager – who specifically asked to be told about these situations – will use care in this situation. Maria won’t be in “trouble” (see letter earlier this week on that word), but she may be coached on the problem. Or the boss may decide to agree with the line manager – she’s going on maternity leave in X days, so no sense in approaching this now. Instead the solution may be to instead have Maria send these emails to someone else. Or to take that particular task off Maria’s plate because someone else will need to cover it soon anyway. Let the boss decide how to manage this situation and don’t put the pressure on LW1 to worry about getting someone in “trouble”.

        6. Observer*

          Don’t get her into trouble a couple of days before she’s to give birth.

          I see nothing to indicate that it’s a couple of days.

          That’s just unnecessary.

          You don’t know that. The OP’s work seems to be affected by the level of hostility they are describing.

                1. Laney Boggs*

                  What weird nitpicking. Most doctors won’t allow more than 2 weeks after the due date, and the people I’ve known that went over 40 weeks were far too uncomfortable to continue working.

                  Also, yes, presumably OPs team has a fairly strong grasp on the due date and when Maria is expected to go on leave.

                2. Observer*

                  @Laney Bogs, it’s not a nitpick. This is the entire basis for a particular piece of advice.

      2. GammaGirl1908*

        I really would like to know what types of things she is writing that are rubbing LW the wrong way so much. I’ve seen people get accused of being hostile and unreasonable because their perfectly average email didn’t involve exclamation marks and emojis, or because they rightly called out an error, or because they matched someone else’s equally terse tone. In those cases, I think the recipient could have some thicker skin.


        or is it more like,

        “There were too many careless typos in the report, and we really need to be more on our game with quality assurance. You need to make sure that you do a better job next time.”

        Which is closer to what she’s actually saying? The second one is blunt and is calling you out, but it’s not unreasonably hostile or anything.

          1. Despachito*

            The problem is what you perceive as BS.

            (When I am irritated for some reason, I get miffed by things I would easily overlook in a more relaxed mood. So one of the possibilities is that Jane’s perception of what is BS/outrageous has shifted towards much less tolerance with her pregnancy). I think it is fair to stop and think about that (is this thing indeed an outrageous BS, or is it rather me because I am more irritable for my internal reasons)?

          2. NotRealAnonForThis*

            Indeed, as well as “bs” having a slightly broader scope. Basically, I was expending every bit of available energy that I had to avoid constantly retching, and couldn’t sit down because it was uncomfortable. Therefore, I was a little bit brittle and frosty. Things that once upon a time would have just been a passing annoyance were truly annoying and got called out.

            I did realize it and frequently did put myself in solitary/time out at work. And said as much. And if one of the folks irritating me at that point continued to irritate me, I figured it was at their own peril.

            Example: New field techs in the field office; see me, the only woman, and decide that I can fill out their paperwork or at least tell them how to do it. Except that I know absolutely nothing about it because I’m a tech engineer! “I’m not HR and cannot help with onboarding paperwork. This is literally not my department and I know as much about it as you. Call XYZ in the main office.” Okay, you’re going to follow me to my office and open the door I shut while continuing to ask me questions about making sure payroll deductions are correct? After I’ve explained that I cannot help you and I do not know and given you the name of who to talk to? “Okay listen up jackwagon…” because I do not have the patience to deal with your idiot self right now.

            1. Despachito*

              I would call this a perfectly normal and logical reaction – you said several times that you are unable to help, and if they were so thick that they did not get it, you lost your patience.

              It is possible that we as women are expected to smoothen such conversation at our own expense (and once we don’t have the energy, it is held against us)?

              Because this seems to me rather that you (very rightfully) refused to do the mental/emotional work for them while they somehow expected you to, while it should have been entirely on them.

              Perhaps I am wrong but if it would have been considered perfectly normal to send them pound sand if you were a man, it seems awfully unfair that a woman needs an excuse (pregnancy causing her to be really exhausted) to do the same thing.

              1. ScruffyInternHerder*

                You’re absolutely correct in your assumptions. The entire chain of command was well aware that if anyone complained that I was a “b!tch” in general (pregnant or not) it was likely because I was behaving exactly like a man with my title did. Knowing that, they put no weight into complaints that I was in essence, doing my job.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I disagree – I would not accept the second from someone who was my peer. I wouldn’t fall apart over it, but it’s not how you should speak to coworkers.

          1. ferrina*

            I’m genuinely curious- why? I totally agree that this shouldn’t be a default and instances should be few and far between (because if there’s a frequent need, then there should be a PIP and/or this person shouldn’t be involved in the process and/or whoever is managing this person is incompetent and isn’t going to change and the best long term strategy is leaving/grey rock), but for a pretty big issue, this seems appropriate to me. Maybe not nice, but not unacceptable.

            1. Filosofickle*

              I’d really object to “you need to make sure you do a better job next time” from a peer. That’s a boss message and the “yous” make it feel very personal. If it were “There were a lot of typos — this isn’t up to our standards” or “it’s critical to catch things like this before they go out” it would feel less loaded. Also the “careless” is unnecessarily judgemental

              1. ferrina*

                Thanks! Thinking about it, you’re right that I wouldn’t say this to a peer. This is something I’d say to someone I was supervising. Even then it’s something that would come after multiple conversations about improving their performance.

          2. Mockingjay*

            I wouldn’t accept the second statement either. “Hey, I found some typos in the report. Let’s set up a QC/proofing process: you review my reports one last time before they go out and I’ll proof yours. A fresh pair of eyes is always helpful!” Make it about process, not personality.

        2. Lacey*

          Yeah. I’ve literally spent an hour composing a three line email to try and make my correction sound friendly enough.

          I just need to let my coworker know that what they’re doing is costing a lot of extra time and I really need them to do this other thing, that will be no additional work for them. But people can be so touchy about emails that I edit and re-edit over and over so it can be as inoffensive as possible.

          1. ferrina*

            Yes, I feel this so much! It’s so frustrating that I need to spend so much time being friendly but communicating with the right urgency- really all I want to say is “Yes, I gave you this info already. Can you read the full doc I sent last Tuesday (not just the first paragraph), then get back to me?”
            My organization values being nice for everyone except the top level, then the top level will scold you because you made one of their pet staffers feel bad when really their pet staffer hasn’t been following the SOPs! I even got yelled at because I didn’t “publicly acknowledge by name” a staffer (who had been quite helpful! and I thanked!) but she felt slighted because I hadn’t thanked her enough and her boss gave me a lecture on how gratitude makes people feel appreciated (this boss also regularly left me off of emails and flat out didn’t listen to what I shared on my area of expertise). I just made a note that apparently that’s how I needed to play politics with her. ugh.

        3. Daisy-dog*

          Honestly, this doesn’t matter. LW1 should tell the boss that the emails make her uncomfortable. The boss can then decide if the messages are hostile enough to take action.

        4. Faith the twilight slayer*

          I had a coworker do this once. I would ask for her help in-person, get a two or three sentence explanation of something I truly didn’t know how to do, and a “try your best”. When I would send her what I could accomplish, I would get back three or four PARAGRAPHS, complete with caps, bold type, italics, and underlined words. Just absolutely eviscerating my attempts to do the very thing she didn’t have time to teach me to do in the first place! And the entire office would be copied! I can’t begin to tell you the number of felonies I committed in my head. Fast forward a year and a half and I complain about this still happening. I have never been so happy as when I was “downsized” a day later (right before the plague, conveniently).

      3. Luna*

        Problem is, after the birth, you still have the hormonal upheaval of the body going through ‘not pregnant anymore’ stage, as well as her now taking care of a newborn. That can come with its own type of irritation and frustration that could be taken out on coworkers.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Typically people are on maternity leave for that stage – which I realize may not be true for a variety of reasons and can last longer than the leave but I can see why that might be less of a concern overall

        2. Daisy-dog*

          Which is why LW1 should bring this to boss’s attention. Regardless of the cause and even if no action is taken now, it’s good to monitor it to ensure it is temporary or doesn’t get worse.

    2. Slightly Less Evil Bunny*

      “ While I have evidence and logical reasoning (that my manager agrees with) to defend myself on the issue Maria is particularly upset about, I feel uncomfortable approaching her because of how hostile her emails have been.”

      There’s something more going on here than Maria being a grouchy pregnant person.

      Sounds like something has happened that she’s blaming LW#1 for, despite evidence to the contrary. I think LW#1 should follow Alison’s advice anyway, but particularly so because it seems like there’s a specific issue behind the hostile emails.

    3. Lilo*

      This is not an excuse to treat people badly, but I will note by post partum anxiety actually started manifesting before my son was born. To be clear I did not take things out on people.

      1. Lilo*

        I’d add, you definitely need to talk to the boss. This might be a wakeup call for coworker.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yeah it’s very possible for someone to be caught up in their own feels and not realize how they’re coming off.

          1. ferrina*

            PPD/PPA is more than “your own feels”. It’s a serious health issue that can often go undiagnosed. The “feels” are a symptom of a biological issue. Many women feel like they need to suck it up or hide it because “it’s not a big issue, I just need to get over it and not subject anyone else to it”. But that’s like saying you can’t subject anyone to your sneezing when you have allergies- you aren’t sneezing AT them, the sneezing is a symptom of a biological issue. This is where a compassionate approach can go a long way in helping someone seek treatment (“Are you okay? You haven’t been yourself recently.”) Once a correct diagnosis and treatment plan is in place, the symptoms can subside and they can be themselves again.
            Not saying that we should tolerate bad behavior because it stems from a health condition, but try a compassionate approach first while they are trying to get their condition figured out.

    4. Bunny Girl*

      Um what if she keeps having children though? Does the LW just have to put up with Maria being openly hostile every year or every other year just because? Or what if her attitude continues? Will the excuse be Oh she just had a baby? Plenty of pregnant women manage to not act like complete pills.

      1. kiki*

        I think it’s for sure worth bringing to the boss, especially since the boss told LW they were interested in that sort of information. Depending on how bad the emails are, I also understand if the boss chooses not to take action right away, since Maria is due so, so soon. Hopefully the issue is resolved when Maria returns from maternity leave. If not, boss will have to bring it up. If the situation recurs with more pregnancies, the boss will have past history to reference and can nip things in the bud early next time.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      I worked with a woman who was super emotional when she was pregnant. To the point of accusing coworkers of things they may or may not actually have done. And she would cry when I didn’t discipline them (I was the supervisor). Only she never had any real proof and even her versions of what happened sounded pretty dubious, and I wasn’t going to write someone up because “X thinks they might have said something and she’s really emotional right now”, which is pretty much what X told me she wanted me to do.

      I’ve had PMS that made me borderline-suicidal so I tried to be sympathetic, but it was a very trying six months or so, until I got a job somewhere else and got away from her. She was spoiled in the first place–she was an early hire at this business and the bosses thought she could do no wrong–but being pregnant sort of pushed her over the edge.

      1. EllyBell*

        I think another factor to consider is that (at least for me) sure, I was grumpy towards the tail end of pregnancy, but I wasn’t hostile every minute of every day. There were times when I would snap at coworkers or family members and then have to go back and apologize. In my opinion that’s the mature way to handle that situation. Sometimes I can’t control my immediate reaction, but I can go back after and apologize for acting out of character. If coworker isn’t doing that, they’re essentially using pregnancy as an excuse to not be accountable for their actions.

    6. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I know LW is uncomfortable, but I think she should talk to Maria. Email can get fraught, but picking up the phone and saying, “I think our lines are getting crossed, let’s discuss this” is often very helpful. I hate the phone as much as any socially anxious introvert but some things really go better that way. I’ll also say that I totally sympathize with the LW because that sucks, AND that when I was days away from giving birth, I was in a mood that was not, wow being 8 months pregnant in the middle of August sure is uncomfortable and it’s making me cranky, it really felt physiological (sort of like having low blood sugar).

    7. Esmeralda*

      There’s a difference between being tetchy and being mean, rude, and inappropriate for work settings, and it sounds like Maria has crossed the line.

      Now, I’ve been pregnant and I;ve been grouchy and I’ve been grouchy-because-I-was-pregnant. I did not and would not ever cross that line between grouchy and mean. And I always went back and apologized. Doesn’t sound like Maria’s doing that.

      People do not get a pass to be verbally shitty to their colleagues just because they’re pregnant. (Or sick or unhappy or injured or disabled etc)

      Personally, I’ve got a real problem with any representation of pregnant people being mentally out of control.

      1. ferrina*

        Yeah, there’s a difference between being short and snippy and being verbally abusive. If she’s short, let it go (especially if it’s out of character for her). If it’s verbally abusive, hand it over to your boss. The boss’s job is to help navigate difficult issues- you can escalate this and have your boss put a plan in place to deal with it.

    8. Churple Pairs*

      My best friend and I were pregnant at the same time, ended up having the babies two days apart. It was my second, her first. We were both extremely ragey at the end – the difference was, I could see myself and how angry I was and take steps to not take that out on other people, and she couldn’t. I handled her okay because I understood what was going on, but she alienated a lot of her coworkers and her mother in the process.

    9. Momma Bear*

      Two things can be true – she can be hormonal and irritable and she can also be out of line. If she is truly out of line, especially if the comments are more than just email to you (like snark in a meeting), go to your boss, who has greelighted you bringing these to their attention. I also wouldn’t expect her to miraculously be better after the baby is born. Hormones can be terrible after, and many women spend maternity leave learning how to care for a baby, recovering from the birth itself, and losing sleep (that last part can go on for a very.long.time). IMO handle it now because this could be your foreseeable future otherwise.

  6. chipz*

    LW3, I’m sorry about your miscarriage. I encourage you in every way possible to simply care less about what your coworkers write on cards. She was not in a position to treat your grief in English, so it doesn’t matter what language she wrote it in. Is it odd and eye-rolly? Sure, and it’s a great cocktail party story about office sideshows. But…who cares! This is not an actual affront.

    1. Loulou*

      I disagree that it’s not an actual affront! The point of sending someone a card during a difficult time is to communicate a message of care to them. Writing something you *know* they won’t understand really doesn’t do that. I don’t think OP should take it personally, but it’s absolutely thoughtless and much worse than writing “sorry for your loss” in English, which she certainly could have done.

      1. Zephy*

        Disclaimer, I have so far been fortunate enough that I have not been on the receiving end of a sympathy card signed by my coworkers, although I’ve gotten cards for my birthday and when I got married (though I have signed sympathy cards for other colleagues). BUT, I would not expect (and myself don’t write) anything deeper than perfunctory “happy birthday” or “my condolences” or “thank you” or “congratulations” messages in a card signed by the whole office. Like, I’m not friends with these people, I’m not expecting substantial emotional labor from them. The specific words my colleagues write in the card aren’t actually important, the overall sentiment of “we are acknowledging your Life Event” is the important thing to glean from the presentation of a signed card from the group. Is writing “[appropriate phrase of acknowledgement]” in a language the recipient can’t read a weird thing to do? For sure, especially on a sympathy card, but yeah, it’s not something anyone should take personally.

    2. S*

      Since English is her native language, I’d say she was perfectly in a position to treat LW3’s grief in English. Just like the others who signed OP’s sympathy card.

      1. Catherine*

        Yeah but she’s also just a colleague, so on the scale of people that should be sending heartfelt messages she’s low on the scale. I don’t think the OP should be taking it to heart.
        If it was a good friend or relative on the other hand…

        1. Amy*

          It’s true that you don’t necessarily expect a colleague you’re not close with to send deeply heartfelt messages. But you definitely can expect someone who’s opted into signing a condolence card to do so in a way that actually communicates their condolences. The colleague could have signed in English, or she could have opted out, but using a sympathy card as a place for her Cool Language Party Trick is absolutely off-putting.

        2. Observer*

          so on the scale of people that should be sending heartfelt messages she’s low on the scale.

          The problem is not that she didn’t send a “heartfelt message”, but that she effectively took time and effort to *not* even send a normal platitude that shows some human level of sympathy, but send a squiggle instead.

          Like, if she hadn’t signed the card at all, OK. It’s nice to express sympathy, so there is something a little off. But when you make a demonstration of refusing to sign the card, that’s a different level. And although I’m betting that that wasn’t her intention, that is what it looks like (assuming it’s a note not just her actual signature.)

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            OK now back up. Chinese isn’t a “squiggle” it is a language and we have no idea what she wrote. It could be, “My heartfelt sympathies”. Obviously the writer should have done it in English, but she didn’t just draw a “squiggle”

            1. Observer*

              Chinese isn’t a squiggle. But *in this context* it has that level of information content. AND CW KNOWS THIS.

              Now, if the coworker were someone who really was good at specifically Chinese calligraphy and sent me a card with the message in Chinese with a translation, then I would be impressed – you get the esthetics of the art form (well done calligraphy is an art form) and the content of the message.

              But that’s not what’s happening. You’re getting a “message” with zero content created by someone whose whole knowledge of the script is from having “ studied Chinese in college, and took a couple trips to China during her college years … well over a decade ago

              1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

                The coworker could easily be incredibly fluent in written Chinese. That is not the point at all. The point is that LW is not able to read what CW wrote, which CW presumably knew. This is very much a “not the time or place” situation.

                1. Observer*

                  Mostly, I agree with you. And, yes, even if the CW were fluent in written Chinese, the fundamental problem is that they are giving people something they can’t read.

                  In this case, though, I do think it matters a little bit, in that it makes it a bit worse. Mostly because if the CW were skilled or using something printed, the people getting these “notes” would at least be able to theoretically find a decent translation using something like Google’s tools. But with handwritten script done by someone who is far from expert, it’s pretty much impossible.

              2. MCMonkeyBean*

                It has the same level of information and content as writing in French or Spanish if people in the office don’t speak those languages, but I suspect you would not have referred to a French message as a “squiggle.”

                1. Observer*

                  You suspect wrong. As I explicitly pointed out in my other response to you.

                  French or Spanish would be marginally better only because it uses the same alphabet and there are tons of resources for easy translation. Google Translate, for instance, would make short work of something in Spanish. Most easily available tools are not so good with many other languages.

                  Add a different script and you’ve made the whole situation far more complicated. A (poorly executed) handwritten version? It’s hard not to believe that it wasn’t meant to be deliberately done to make it impossible for people to know what the note said.

                2. Emmy Noether*

                  There is the difference that if the message were written in latin alphabet, one could at least type it into a translator and get the meaning (and automatic translations between latin/germanic languages are getting really good)*. People have explained above that this isn’t really possible with handwritten Chinese. So, for the purposes of this card, it may as well be an invented symbol with no meaning, because it is absolutely indeciferable by the recipient. Which is what I interpreted “squiggle” to mean.

                  *to be clear, expecting the recipient of a sympathy card to take the time to type something into google translator is still not ok.

              3. linger*

                Not true, because this context allows us to infer a general interpretation.
                It’s a workplace-circulated card, which by its very nature is at least partly performative. It is seen by other coworkers as well as by the recipient (OP3). The message will be some bland socially-appropriate response to the situation; it will not be overly personal. The number of signatures, indicating the extent of solidarity, is possibly more important than the exact messages written. In that context, the extra performativeness of choosing a different language, even one not comprehensible to others, is not really that extreme.

                1. Falling Diphthong*

                  This doesn’t make sense. The card is a physical symbol conveying emotional support and solidarity to someone–someone who is likely overwhelmed with grief and managing polite interactions by muscle memory and the skin of their teeth.

                  Co-opting the medium for a special little quirkiness performance that will mean nothing to the recipient is off.

                  Traffic lights have an agreed upon symbolism, but if I go perform an interpretive dance in the middle of the intersection, adding my own quirky symbol on top of the standard one, that’s not a normal and expected filip that would naturally arise because an intersection is a symbolic space.

                2. linger*

                  A closer analogy to the context given is this: You pass through a series of traffic lights that you know are all changing from red as you get to them. You can assume they will change to green. Some sets have bulbs, some have LEDs, and different sets have different shades of green. In one area it’s a teal-green shade that the locals call ‘blue’. But they’re all still recognisably green-and-definitely-not-red. And now you come to a set with slanted shutters over the lights. You can see it’s changed from red, but the angle of the shutters hides the light that’s on from your view.
                  Why not just admire the design of the shutters, assume from context it’s some shade of green, and move on?

            2. Lucy*

              To someone who doesn’t know the language nor the alphabet, it is indeed a squiggle. English looks like a squiggle to people who only know Chinese, too.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      This is what “I am sorry for your loss” is for.

      Every time another human in your circle suffers bad news, such that sympathy and support from others is the expected response, you don’t need to craft a unique message in words never before combined in the English language. “Only express sympathy if your message will truly treat their grief” is not the standard.

      Same for crafting a response to happy news: “Congratulations!” “That’s great!” “Happy Occasion!” are all fine.

    4. I should really pick a name*

      The purpose of a card isn’t to “treat your grief”. It’s to express condolences. Which should be expressed in the form that the recipient can understand.

    5. pinetree*

      Since condolence cards aren’t a work-related task, I agree with Allison’s advice that OP shouldn’t say anything. OP would have to do so in a perfectly calibrated way, or risk other coworkers seeing OP as overreacting. Unfairly and unkindly of them, but only OP directly experienced the most egregious example of the behavior provided. and other people likely won’t have the stake in the issue OP does.

    6. Dust Bunny*

      Naw. On a sympathy card? 100% attention-grubbing. You don’t write condolences that people can’t read.

      I wouldn’t care about this on a birthday card but on a sympathy card it’s really . . . unsympathetic.

    7. Ellis Bell*

      If a colleague feels they can’t be intelligible when expressing sympathy for a loss, they should go with no note at all.

  7. Amy*

    LW3: People get weird about languages sometimes, especially ones that are seen as ‘exotic’ or ‘difficult’. I speak Japanese, and I’ve had this happen in reverse–colleagues have looked up how to write something like “happy birthday” in Japanese and put it in cards to me! (No, it’s not a language I used at that job. Nor had I ever written in Japanese in any of their cards. Nor did I even talk about it much–it’s just the kind of thing people remember, apparently.)

    If it weren’t for the miscarriage card, I’d say to write it off as a weird little quirk. In that particular instance, though, I do think it rises to the level of showing poor judgment. I agree with Alison that you aren’t really the person to address it, but it’s understandable to be put off by it.

    1. Cold and Tired*

      Do we have the same coworkers? I lived in Japan for a few years when I was younger and speak Japanese a bit, and it always comes up when we get to certain types of icebreakers, which is the only time it’s relevant at work. And once it does, there’s always someone who either pulls out the “domo arigatou mr roboto” quotes, or Google translates things into Japanese occasionally. I think it’s just because it doesn’t use the same alphabet as most western languages?

      But I agree – it’s just a weird thing this person does that I’d just roll my eyes at and move on from. This person probably just wants to seem cool and mysterious and instead is coming off as an insensitive jerk. I would love to know though how bad the grammar and handwriting is though – I know my Japanese is grammatically awful these days even if it’s functional enough to survive when I visit since it’s been 10+ years since I lived there, so I can’t imagine her Chinese is doing any better.

      1. Amy*

        I said a little about this earlier in the comments, but I think people get weird and a little orientalist about Asian languages–a lot of people see them as more exotic, interesting, mysterious, foreign, weird, cool, etc. than other languages. I think that’s what inspires the quotes and Google translated messages and other weird behaviors–people think of them as personality traits, not communication tools.

      2. Radical Edward*

        This is exactly what has happened to me in new social/work situations too! (Same general experience: lived in Japan, speak passable-but-not-fluent Japanese.) I have a couple of relatives who think it’s cute to say ‘konnichiwa!’ to me occasionally, which I smile politely at and reply to in kind, and then change the subject.

        When people I have just met or total strangers (like a customer who’s just been told this ‘fun fact’ about me by my coworker) do it, it feels deeply awkward and makes me more uncomfortable, because I have trouble gauging what sort of response they’re expecting. I still smile politely and say the shortest vaguely-appropriate thing I can think of, hoping that they won’t be encouraged to continue.

        This person definitely sounds like they’re using their second language as an attention-getter or personality prop. I have seen it many times before, just not with Chinese. I would also find it personally annoying, but agree it’s not OP’s problem to deal with so they can safely ignore it. However, that last bit about the message in a sympathy card (message! not just a signature!) is beyond the pale. At *best* it demonstrates a concerning level of cluelessness, and they deserve to have that bubble burst by someone going over their head and mentioning it to their manager, rather than getting to play teacher when asked directly to explain it.

        1. philmar*

          I speak “phrasebook” Japanese, and if I were in a shopping situation (which I assume from the customer-coworker ref), I would probably say “ohayou gozaimasu” or “ogenki desu ka” to you. Why is this awkward and uncomfortable? It’s the same way I would make chit-chat with someone at the register over the weather, or TGIF or something.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Presumably Radical Edward is not in Japan when someone uses Japanese phrases with him, and neither person in the conversation is Japanese. Unless the other person says they are a language nerd and or studying Japanese, it does seem a little weird to me. (And yes I’m a self declared language and nerd who will now be more careful about their own conversations.)

            1. philmar*

              Right, what I’m saying is if I were in an American store, and someone told me (a white person) that RE spoke Japanese, I would probably say a greeting/how are you/how interesting in Japanese, and the same goes for any other language I can speak 10 words of. I don’t see why that would be awkward. It’s just store counter small talk.

              1. Robin*

                I think there is a difference between doing that in the moment that you learn that another person speaks a language you know (to whatever degree) and doing so unprompted later. I know a few different languages and when I share that, I absolutely react positively to people saying “hello!” or “how are you?” or whatever phrases they know (sometimes we are both fluent enough to actually have a conversation, which is great!).

                But language is also identity to an extent. So if a person who does not share the language with me started greeting me in that language unprompted, it feels like they are identifying me more with that language than with how I actually present myself. Example: I know Russian pretty well and have family from there. I also know Serbian and some Spanish and maybe ten words of Modern Standard Arabic. If folks who do not have familiarity with the language or a desire to learn it started saying “privet” or “zdravo” or “hola” or “ahlan wa sahlan” to me every time they saw me, I would feel like they only see me as “that language person” and not “Robin, their coworker”. It would be even more odd if a third party did that because then they were (1) told by another coworker and (2) if they do not also share the language, they are trying to bond with me over something we do not actually share? That starts to feel either like becoming a game to your coworkers or being identified more with the culture/people of the language than your actual self. I am not Arab, Spanish, Serb, or Russian. If my language skills can help you, please ask away! But unprompted greetings with no underlying shared interest is annoying.

        2. Observer*

          and they deserve to have that bubble burst by someone going over their head and mentioning it to their manager

          Yeah, they deserve that. But it’s not really something you can bring to your boss. Like you probably couldn’t go to your boss if Attention Seeking CW had instead said “Everything happens for a reason. The baby was clearly not compatible with life.” (And, YES, people do say stupid stuff like that!)

          You would know to stay faaaaaaar away from this person on a personal level. But it’s just not something you can take to your manager.

      3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        LOL. I returned from secondment to Georgia (the country) and my colleagues decided to decorate my cube “Georgian” for my return. OK, cute to see you looked up where I have been. Then my birthday rolled around and they did that “Georgian” too, including a bunch of birthday greetings in “Georgian” taped to my cube. That continued until I got a new job. Top it off, all of the “Georgian” was gibberish. Occasionally it was Armenian.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      To me this comes across as colleague is putting notes in Chinese in the cards as a way to practice and keep up their fluency. If this is the case, maybe ask colleague to also put the translation beside the Chinese characters, so everyone can understand.

      Now if I’m wrong, and she’s being showy or trying to make herself look important – fair game to just ask them to knock it off and use English/the common language in the office.

  8. Passionfruit Tea*

    Google translate has a pretty decent text recognition function. I’d check what the Chinese actually says and if it’s just general attention-hording I’d roll my eyes and move on. If it’s not and turns out to be something inappropriate then HR needs to be involved.

    1. Amy*

      Unfortunately, Google translate is often pretty bad with handwritten Chinese characters! It can handle typed ones OK most of the time (though it can still struggle with grammar) but I really wouldn’t trust it for this.

    2. Pyjamas*

      Does Google recognize handwritten Chinese?

      If you want to give her the benefit of the doubt, it’s probably the kind of phrase you’d see in an appropriately themed greeting card. Possibly it would sound more flowery in translation.

      (Very weird that she doesn’t translate it. Weirder that no one has ever asked)

      1. Despachito*

        I do not consider it weird that no one ever asked – I know attention-seekers like that, who repeatedly and on purpose do/mention things you are very unlikely to understand, and expect you to ask (for them to bask in glory of being THE EXPLAINER). And, being a meanie, once I recognize the pattern and figure out they are doing it as one-upmanship, I just DON’T ASK and let them stew in their own juice. (Some of them proceed to explaining anyway even if you don’t ask though)

        1. Sean*

          Exactly this. And if the OP’s colleague thinks they are being impressive in a look-at-what-I-can-do-and-you-can’t kind of way, the OP can deliver a reality check quite easily.

          Remind the colleague that this ‘exclusive’ skill she flaunts in a weird passive-aggressive way is shared by 1.3 billion other people in the world, who have been able to do it from infancy. None of whom feel the need to brag about it.

        2. KelseyCorvo*

          Like people who use industry jargon, especially acronyms, in the hopes that someone will ask about it, so they can be the expert in explaining it. And from what I’ve experienced, if no one asks, they’ll pretend they used the jargon accidentally and will then explain anyway.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        Yes, that’s what strikes me as weird. Being Irish, I often send online friends birthday messages that include Irish, but…I send them billingually. Lá breithlá shona/happy birthday. I could see using a second language in a birthday card where it feels a bit like you weren’t even trying sometimes if you write the same thing as everybody else, but…there’s no reason not to translate. And a card for a miscarriage is another matter altogether. Best not to do anything out of the ordinary in a case like that.

        1. londonedit*

          Yes…if I’m wishing my friend who I know is fluent in French happy birthday, I’m likely to put ‘Joyeux anniversaire!’ in their birthday card. And I might still do that in a birthday card for a colleague, I might put ‘Joyeux anniversaire! Hope you have a lovely day!’ because it’s a bit more interesting than yet another ‘Happy birthday’ message and it’s sort of akin to an English person saying ‘Bon voyage!’ or ‘Au revoir!’ if someone’s talking about going on holiday or you’re signing a leaving card. But the majority of people will understand those simple French phrases, or you’d at least do it in a situation where you’re pretty sure the recipient will understand. Writing a message in Chinese characters when you know the person isn’t Chinese and has no connection to the Chinese language just smacks of wanting to show off that you know how to speak Chinese, because the chances of people knowing what the characters mean are far, far lower.

      3. Antilles*

        Speaking just for myself here, I wouldn’t have ever asked because…honestly, I just flat out don’t care that much about work birthday cards. I’ll skim the card for 60 seconds reading people’s messages and that’s about it. So I’d probably see the message in Chinese, think “huh wonder what that says”, then throw it in a desk drawer and forget about it until the next time I clean out that drawer months (years?) afterwards.
        Maybe OP’s co-workers are the same way when it comes to birthday cards.

    3. Loulou*

      I don’t think there’s any reason to think that this person is secretly writing inappropriate messages in a language her coworkers can’t understand.

    4. SereneScientist*

      Unfortunately, Google Translate doesn’t do super well with Chinese, especially when it’s handwritten.

    1. Madame Arcati*

      Probably apocryphal but a good reason never to get a tattoo in a language you don’t understand is the tale of someone finding out the pretty Chinese characters they had inked on them meant “gullible round-eyed [very rude word for womanly space]”

      1. Venus*

        The easy way to address this is to get someone to type or write it for you, then to take those to someone completely separate and ask them to tell you what it says. I did this in a work situation with something that was going into a public space. I trusted the first coworker, but it felt even better when the second one confirmed it. In work situations we often have at least two people review a document so it wasn’t unusual, but I admit that I specifically wanted the second opinion because I couldn’t understand it at all.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Yeah, when I’ve had things translated at work, it was a good thing I had a coworker who was a native speaker who could confirm the translation!

  9. All Hail Queen Sally*

    My thoughts are with you, OP2. I used to work down the hall from a woman who was a life-long very heavy smoker and constantly throughout the day she would be coughing and gagging and sounded like she was coughing up a lung. It was a pretty miserable time, but the guy who had the office right across the hall from her had it worse than we did.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I had a Greek prof in college who was like this. I think we all spent the semester in fear that he would literally cough up body parts and die in front of us.

      Honestly, he looked miserable and genuinely ill and I felt kind of sorry for him, but it was weirdly traumatic.

    2. 2 Cents*

      There was a woman who worked in my building, so thankfully, all I had to do was share a communal restroom with her. I armchair diagnosed her with COPD — her breathing sounded like she’d keel over at any minute. Though I felt bad for her, I also couldn’t imagine sharing an office space with her.

    3. OP #2*

      I really feel for her! It sounds so painful and uncomfortable. But as Dust Bunny said it is kind of scary to even listen to.

    4. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Yeah, I worked with a guy who had chronic post-nasal drip. Every 3 minutes a long, loud snort.

      Somebody finally convinced him to see an ENT – I don’t know what happened, but he was cured practically overnight.

    5. JustaTech*

      I used to work with a guy who was forever forgetting to shut his door when he was doing something loud (on speaker phone, losing a fight with his computer, etc). One year he came back from a long trip and was coughing like a whole TB ward. He sounded *awful*, and he wouldn’t close his door. When I asked how he was feeling he said he was “much better” (what was he before, dead?) and that he was “fine to work”.
      We were in the middle of one of our periodic “no WFH!” orders, so he couldn’t go home (he was out of sick time) so I started just walking over and closing his door whenever the coughing started up. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t make eye contact, I just closed the door. But I also knew that this was a temporary thing (he was recovering from bronchitis), and in our office it was acceptable/polite to close your door if you were making more-than-average noise.

  10. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    #2: a friend of mine has the same frequent throat clearing, as a side effect of multiple sclerosis (not sure if it’s the disease or the meds). It’s helped me to have more compassion for her but she knows the sound is maddening to those around her and feels bad about it. You’ve only been there one day – see how you feel in a couple weeks and maybe once you’ve built some capital you can discreetly ask someone else in the office how they cope with that particular sound, and refer to it perhaps more delicately, as in: “I absolutely love my new office set up! As so and so seems to suffer from allergies and has the sniffles a lot do you think I will come off as rude if I shut my door to concentrate?”. Calling it sniffles or allergies seems a lot less gross than throat clearing or snorting or something.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      How interesting that the new employee is right next to the person with the annoying vocal tic?

      By that I mean, other employees may feel the same way as the LW and moved as far away from noisy office as possible. I recommend LW speak to her boss. Maybe she can be moved; maybe not. Maybe there’s something that worked for the people who previously occupied that office. You may will at least learn the cause and make you more sympathetic. Not that the LW doesn’t sounded sympathetic.

      1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        This is exactly what came to mind for me, too. It’s unsurprising the worst spot is where the new person is. Hopefully you can stick it out and move once another office opens up (just like whoever was in there before you did).

    2. OP #2*

      Thank you all for your thoughts! My supervisor is wonderful so I will probably discretely ask her for advice in a little bit. I think it’s unlikely there will ever be a spare office (social services, resources are limited, etc) but I’m working on making this one as comfortable as possible!

    3. ferrina*

      I think that knowing what’s going on makes a difference. Your friend has shared that it’s a side effect of MS, which helps you feel more compassion and you know that she’s doing all she can. I have other friends with chronic conditions that will give a quick explanation for folks that are often exposed- I tell my coworkers when my allergies kick up so they don’t need to worry about me sneezing my head off, going on mute or off camera at odd times. They know it’s not me trying to be rude, it’s me dealing with a health condition.
      On the flip side, I’ve dealt with people who either don’t know about it or deny the impact, which is frustrating to no end. I had a boyfriend who would get a little sick and sniffle all the time. It would drive me nuts pretend it wasn’t there, and get huffy if I asked him to give me some space (dude, I’m trying to focus and you’re standing there sniffing at me).

  11. Sara Monstera*

    LW2 I almost feel like it’s worth saying something. I managed to kind of zone out my own throat clearing and it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with vocal chord dysfunction that I realized how severe (and obnoxious) it was. Everyone’s situation is different of course, but I think something subtle, with kindness of course and not annoyed, could be productive. She really may not even realize it’s happening so much.

    1. soontoberetired*

      Good point. I’ve worked with two people who made throat noises all the time and one of them did have a vocal chord issue and she finally saw a doctor about it after all of her office mates pushing her. She’s grateful for our pushing since it turned out it was a serious issue. the other one was just had an annoying habit we all learned to ignore.

    2. Drago Cucina*

      This is a good point. Often it’s much more than a tick or annoying habit.
      When I was first started on high blood pressure medication I developed the common side effect of a dry cough. I couldn’t help it. I had to constantly tell people I wasn’t ill. I had someone who sat outside my office that it bothered. Sorry, cough drops and other solutions didn’t fix it. The only thing that did was my body getting used to the medication.

    3. OP #2*

      If I wasn’t brand new I probably would–it really does sound like something is wrong, and I don’t know if she’s aware of it. I don’t feel like that can be the first ever conversation I have with someone, but maybe as we get to know each other! (I also have personally benefited from a colleague being like “hey, that symptom isn’t normal and you need to go to a doctor”). So thank you for the perspective that it’s something people have found useful!

  12. Michale*

    The Chinese letter writer really annoyed me. I am South Asian and can speak Urdu fluently . If I had written a card in Urdu I would get into trouble. I have regularly faced racism when using my native language because of the colour of my skin. My Dad is a barrister and he had one photo in his office with a quote in Urdu and people kept assuming he couldn’t speak English. If I accidentally use an Urdu word while speaking people start talking slowly and loudly to me. If OP’s colleague had been Chinese someone would have already talked to her or told her off. Also it’s just plain unkind especially the sympathy card.

    1. Wisteria*

      We don’t know the ethnicity of the colleague, only her country of origin and native language. As a reminder, not all American-born, native English speakers are white.

      1. Mid*

        No one was saying that only white people are American-born native English speakers, but if OPs coworker was actually Chinese, it wouldn’t rub people the same way. But also, it doesn’t change the fact that the coworker is being rude by constantly writing messages on cards in a language she knows no one else can read. This clearly isn’t being done to share the coworker’s culture.

    2. The Green Lawintern*

      Yes, this exactly. The people dismissing the coworker’s behavior as “quirky” and “she just wants to practice” don’t seem to realize that for a lot of us, coworker’s behavior isn’t even an option. It’s behavior that could cost us a lot of social capitol in the workplace.

    3. Storm in a teacup*

      This is an interesting take. I wouldn’t write in Hindi for the same reason. Now I think about it, it’s because it isn’t cool for me to do so but *backwards* however a non-Indian speaking Hindi – oh wow! Look how cool and cultured and educated they are to speak more than one language!
      However as annoying as this coworker undoubtedly is I don’t see it as cultural appropriation as has been suggested above in the comments .

      1. Nameless in Customer Service*

        It’s not simply “interesting” that Michale has to choose between enduring racism and avoiding Urdu. Also, I think this is what makes what the coworker is doing appropriative — whatever the coworker’s ethnic background she is clearly not Chinese and she’s using Chinese in a way that an actual native speaker of Chinese would be punished for. I mean, it’s sufficient for her to stop that she’s being annoying, but she’s not just being annoying.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        Yeah: I was once in a staggering training session where the trainer asked if anyone spoke another language, and when my South Asian colleague put her hand up, he said “obviously not you”. We shall we say, complained.

    4. Nameless in Customer Service*

      Situations like what you’ve experienced are exactly what I thought of when reading about this person using a language as a shiny plaything.

    5. Emmy Noether*

      This is an important point that hasn’t been adressed.

      I’m a white woman who speaks two frankly un-spectacular other languages. The level of admiration I sometimes get is kind of uncomfortable, when I see more impressive language skills of immigrants or second generation people just sort of shrugged off. I’ve very rarely gotten the slow-talking when someone realizes I’m foreign even though I’ve talked to them normally before, and it pissed me off to no end. Can’t imagine what it must be like to get that regularly.

  13. Luna*

    LW1 – Just reading your question, my answer is already ‘No’. If mental issues, like autism or ADHD, are no excuse for being a jerk, then pregnancy isn’t one, either.
    It’s understandable if she’s a bit snippy, like heaving a frustrated sigh before talking to someone or maybe using more vernacular terms in emails, that can happen to anyone in a bad mood and if they are not able to rein it in. It happens, people sometimes have a bad mood. But if it’s constant, it has nothing to do with her being pregnant or anything, she is just being mean. And might even think that her pregnancy is a get-out-of-jail-free card.

    Go ahead and show the emails to your boss. It doesn’t matter what the line manager says because, frankly, that is not a type of ‘managing’ I can respect. Especially with their reason being ‘she’s pregnant’. Might as well use any cheap excuse you can think of to yell at the line manager, saying that it’s okay because of that.

    LW3 – Your coworker sounds like me, using an ‘artist nickname’ to sign my schoolwork. When I was in *middleschool*.
    I stopped quickly, especially once the teacher called out that no such student was in this class, and I (in my then-undiagnosed Autism-blind-to-social-norms brain) bluntly explained that it was a nickname I had chosen. But I stopped. Looking back, it was embarrassing, but also dumb on my part.
    If the coworker in question maybe left a little note alongside her message, giving a translation, I wouldn’t think it’d be such a big deal. As it is, it just… looks a bit weird.

    1. JustaTech*

      Even if there’s a good reason someone gets snappy (like low blood sugar) there is still a professional expectation that they will apologize aftwards.
      I used to have a coworker who was prone to bouts of low blood sugar when she could get very snappy (and also would suddenly be really bad at basic math). I knew this about her (she warned me) and I would say “hey, Betty, you should eat something”, she would go have some nuts or something, come back, apologize (and mean it) and we’d get on with our day.
      Did I like getting snapped at? Of course not, and sometimes it did hurt my feelings, but I knew that Betty was trying to stay on top of it, and her apologies were sincere.

      The fact that Maria doesn’t seem aware of the fact that she’s coming off snappy/unkind/mean and that it’s interfering with LW1’s ability to get stuff done makes it a lot less excusable. And even if there is a real physiological reason that Maria is short-tempered, it’s still her job as an adult to be aware of that and try to mitigate the impact.

  14. Irish Teacher*

    LW1, to be honest, the fact that these are e-mails makes me a little less inclined to give her so much grace. Like I could imagine snapping at people if I were in pain or uncomfortable or not feeling well, but…with an e-mail, you have to sit down and write it and you have time to think about what you want to say or to take a break if you really aren’t in the mood, plus you can read back over it and rephrase anything that came out as snappy. I’m not sure pregnancy can cause somebody to sit down and write a snappy e-mail.

    That said, as somebody else said, if this is out of character for her, I’d be inclined to let it go, at least until after the pregnancy and see if things improve. If, on the other hand, it’s an escalation of her usual behaviour, then I’d be more inclined to take a negative view of it.

    LW3, as others have said, I think the weirdest thing is that she doesn’t translate. I can understand wanting to do something a bit different on a birthday card, though not on a card for something like a miscarriage, but…what’s the point if nobody understands it?

    LW4, Glad to hear you are cancer-free.

    You really shouldn’t feel you have to take on tasks that you can’t physically manage. As Alison said, all you need to say is that for medical reasons you have been advised by your doctor not to do such tasks at the moment.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      LW1: I dunno, I got a snappy email from someone who was just in a bad mood yesterday. If the coworker is being hostile – or heck even if she’s just super uncomfortable and moody – she probably isn’t taking the time to edit her emails for tone.

  15. Ganymede*

    LW4 – to be honest, I don’t even think you should be doing the quarter-mile document delivery that causes you to be laid up for an evening. I know how hard it is to say no, but if the people you work with knew that this apparently simple task that “anybody could do” actually causes you a whole evening of debility, would they still expect it?

    Obviously, you need to represent your position very clearly to whoever is requesting you to sort out the storage room, and others may have good advice on how to do this.

    However, if the request doesn’t go away, you could try writing out a schedule of works for it (in table form if that’s your thing), itemising the physical input you would need from other staff, eg “Move filing cabinet: requirement: 2 assistants for 20 minutes; Unload files from cabinet: 1 assistant for 12 minutes…” etc. This isn’t a fully serious suggestion, but your employers need to understand what they are asking! Do not compromise your health for this.

    1. T.*

      #4, offer to take something administrative off someone else’s plate to free them up to do it. You’re still going above and beyond but in your scope.

    2. Cat Tree*

      Yes, I imagine that if coworkers realized the consequences of OP walking that far, they wouldn’t expect her to do it. Any decent person would think, “Oh, I better pick up that document so LW doesn’t have to walk it over here.” Only a truly selfish person would think, “Ugh, what an inconvenience for me. LW isn’t a team player.”

      But, I also get that OP might just want to feel like they used to and not draw attention to their health. It seems like OP has decided this specific thing is worth the price.

    3. EPLawyer*

      I completely agree on the walking a quarter mile. Does this really have to be done? Even if a wet signature rather than digital is required, you could send it to them and have them print it out and get it to you. Being a team player does not mean go out of your way to do things that actually take more time away from your job. Presumably while you are walking that quarter of mile, you aren’t doing the other parts of your job. So think about priorities and what is the best way to accomplish ALL the parts of your job.

    4. A Yellow Plastic Duck*

      When you’ve been out sick, the desire to get back to normal is strong.

      She did say she was pushing herself to walk the 1/4 mile. It doesn’t seem to be a job requirement or expectation.

      She’s “newly” cancer free, so she’s likely still weak from her illness, but that doesn’t mean she’ll be weak forever. The 1/4 mile walk may serve as a benchmark for her recovery.

      If she wants to do it, and nobody is forcing her to do it, I don’t see a problem here.

      1. quill*

        This. OP knows best what exercise is building things up and what isn’t. Getting back to walking any distance doesn’t happen if you don’t first walk a much smaller distance. (Also walking and lifting are two separate beasts depending on fatigue and what area of the body needs the most recovery.)

        1. OP#4*

          Yes, I’m OP #4 and I’m actually really savoring being able to walk that far. I do save tasks up and combine trips when I can, and if I’ve already gone once I won’t try to go again the same day.

          1. quill*

            I couldn’t walk for a month-ish once and let me tell you, people HEARD about it when I made it around the block.

    5. Green great dragon*

      Yes! LW, it’s up to you of course, but it’s totally reasonable to say something is difficult for you right now and ask if someone else could pick it up at least some of the time, and I would hope your coworkers would be very happy to take 15 mins to walk something over for you. Or just let things take a little longer. There should be no issues of capital or not being a team player in any reasonable office.

    6. calonkat*

      OP 4, having been part of storage room reorgs before, I promise there is usually LOTS of sorting! Just having someone you can give a box of “stuff” to and have them (while sitting at a desk or on the floor (if possible) go through it, means that everyone else can get back to moving stuff around. Or printing labels, ordering lunch, or just handling all the phones for the people who are busy!

      Be willing to do what you are able to do, but do NOT do anything that puts your health and recovery at risk.

      1. JustaTech*

        This is what I was going to suggest! That kind of re-organizing is usually more than a one-person job, so it’s totally reasonable for LW4 to say “I really can’t life that amount right now, is there someone who can help me move the things while I figure out the organization?”
        And the “right now” strongly implies that this is not a forever condition, but that you expect to be able to do more lifting in the future.
        It’s the same as if LW4 had recently thrown out their back, or if they were pregnant or anything else that makes lifting difficult/unsafe. You’re still being a team player, you’re just also acknowledging your limits.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          “I really can’t life that amount right now,” I know this is a typo for ‘lift’ but I can’t help but love it. I have the summer off, and my brain has turned to goo. I really can’t life very much right now.

    7. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. I think you OP4 should ask for reasonable accommodations given their medical history.

  16. Turingtested*

    LW #1: I think if her emails have gone from warm and chatty to abrupt that’s acceptable. But if she’s being extremely rude, all caps, cursing you should let your manager know. Basically I’d think “If this person were really sick with the flu, would I give her a pass?”

    LW #3: I could be misinterpreting the situation but it sounds like your coworker has a severe case of intentional quirkiness. In my experience the best way to deal with it is to ignore it unless you sense an element of racism.

    1. Nanani*

      If there’s any racism here it’s on the part of the people made so uncomfortable by a foreign language that they feel the need to write for advice about it.

      1. Just… no*

        So if someone whose 1st language is the same as your 1st language decides to express condolences to you in a language you don’t speak or read, so you can’t understand what they said or wrote, you think the speaker/writer should be offended that the grieving person isn’t grateful for the incomprehensible-to-them words? Hmmm….. I don’t think you’ve thought this one through.

        Condolence cards have an audience of one. If someone chooses to write to someone who is grieving in a language they know the grieving person doesn’t understand, when they share a native language with the griever, that is a selfish and bizarre move. There is not another rational way to read this.

        1. Momma Bear*

          I agree. It is not racism to find it off-putting that your English speaking colleague chooses not to write in English to English-speaking recipients of sympathy cards. I would feel the same way about French or German if no one other than the writer actually understands it. The coworker here is being rude.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        This is not about it being a foreign language. This is not like those situations where people complain about foreign language conversations within earshot, or about multi-language emails or answering machine messages. In those cases, it’s communication adressed to someone who does understand it, and has nothing to do with the complainer who doesn’t.

        A card to one person, in contrast, is exclusively adressed to that person. Using only a language the adressee doesn’t understand when one is perfectly capable of using a language they do is really rude. It’s like writing in secret code without giving the key, or like redacting the message completely. With the extra aspect of using a whole language as a kind of party trick (“look how exotic I am!”), which isn’t very respectful of those people using it for actual communication.

  17. Madame Arcati*

    Slight repetition as i nested it all wrong further up!
    LW3’s colleague is being a show-off. She prioritising “look at me, I speak a difficult foreign language” over the content of the message. She’s saying, this isn’t about your birthday (or worse, your tragic loss) but about showing people how clever she is.

    Over here this sort of thing would be dealt with by most of her colleagues stoutly and merrily taking the p!ss out of her until she stopped doing it, but I understand LW’s culture might not permit that.

    1. Madame Arcati*

      I wonder does she have an office friend that could gently say words to this effect? Couched in terms of, you probably haven’t realised this and I’m sure you don’t mean it but it comes across as making it all about you, not sending a nice message, and I know you are lovely person etc

  18. APsychNurse*

    I would let this go. Yes, the person is making it “all about her”— she obviously wants people to be interested or impressed with her Chinese writing. However, I put it in the category of annoying and clueless coworker.

    As for the sympathy card, unfortunately, people often respond to tragedies in an unsympathetic way. It would be common, for example, for someone to write a religious sentiment that you don’t agree with (such as “everything happens for a reason” or “you’ll meet them in heaven one day” etc) and it would rightly make you feel upset. But that is just the reality of dealing with humans— they are sometimes clueless and handle situations all wrong.

    1. Just… no*

      Which doesn’t mean you need to let it go. It just means that you need to decide where to direct this. Is this a talk to the manager situation? Or is this a rant to your spouse situation? When my daughter was stillborn, my support group heard a lot of stories about the clueless and hurtful things people said. (And I heard their similar stories.) I would encourage you to seek out groups like that – it can help.

      I’m sorry, LW3, this is really hard. And I’m really sorry your colleague took this opportunity to comfort you and was selfish and hurtful instead.

  19. MI Dawn*

    While Alison is usually spot on, I have an additional suggestion for OP #4: Go to your manager with information from your doctor with *exactly* what you are physically capable of performing and ask them to go to HR with you for documentation of temporary disability. You are not asking for forever, and this way you have it in writing that you should not be (walking 1/4 mile carrying 6 lbs of mail/lifting printers/moving file cabinets/moving full bankers boxes/whatever). And this can be re-assessed every 3-6 months as you heal.

    Congrats on beating your cancer!

    1. No Crying In Baseball*

      I second this. I work in Safety, and to have this documented by a doctor, no matter how temporarily, kicks off some workplace protections that you and your employer should be aware of.

    2. OP#4*

      Hm. This feels fraught to me. I don’t at this time have, for example, an official post-surgery lifting restriction. It’s just that my physical limits are much lower than they used to be, and I need time for my body to get strong again. I don’t know that there’s a member of my care team who would find it in-scope to specify exactly how much I can lift.

      1. Observer*

        That surprises me. If your care team is any good, they should be more than happy to, and perfectly capable of providing written guidelines of what makes sense. Will it be exact? No. But you don’t need exact. You need realistic and conservative enough to keep you safe.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        OP4, mention the issue to your care team manager and they should know who can handle that type of documentation for you.

  20. Harper the Other One*

    LW4 – if it helps to hear, saying you aren’t able to do the lifting also doesn’t necessarily imply “because I had cancer/other serious disease.” I’ve been on lifting restrictions for 6 weeks and 3 months after very minor surgeries; my husband was told not to lift over 20 pounds after he wrenched his elbow. If you keep the tone light, I suspect people will assume it was something minor like that.

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      I would add/caution that if you’re a woman of child bearing age, my own experience with completely not-related-to-pregnancy-lifting-restrictions has been an assumption of others that I’m expecting. (Yes that sound is in fact me rolling my eyes)

      But yes, keep the tone light. I might still consider documenting them with HR as a temporary adjustment. Feeling that spent after a quarter mile walk is something that caught my attention, please take care of your health LW4!

    2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      Co-signing this suggestion of “I can’t lift more than XX pounds right now.” You can add in “Because I’ve had surgery recently” at the beginning, t a lifting restriction is pretty common.

  21. Coffee and muffins*

    LW4 I think you should talk to your boss when they bring up the filing room and find out how much manual labor is expected from you in this position. Is the walking files 1/2 a mile really what you are there for or is there inter office mail that would be a better option. I say this because we have had admins and entry level staff before that took manual labor on because they didn’t ask or saw another admin doing it, but we have people whose entire position is to deliver mail internally.

    1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

      we have people whose entire position is to deliver mail internally.

      Oh my god, I want this job! (We need an internal courier/errand-runner at my office, but will we ever get one? Naaaaaaah. But I want to get off the front desk and into something active like delivery so badly!)

    2. cubone*

      4 really bothered me because I hate how admin jobs are so often assumed to also be responsible for manual labour! I understand if it’s clear from the job description and yes lifting some things will happen, but I’ve worked so many jobs where the receptionist/admin assistant also has to then unload huge crates of deliveries, reorganize furniture and spaces without any help etc.

      I once had an admin coordinator job and had to order 100 boxes of paper products and when I asked the office manager who I speak to to coordinate receiving and carrying them to our storage unit from the loading dock, she literally laughed and said that’s your job. And the worst part is, I did it. It took hours and my body hurt for a week and I really wish I had said no, that’s not going to be possible to do alone.

      1. catsoverpeople*

        Oh, no! I’m so sorry this happened to you! Your story makes me grateful for the safety-conscious bosses I’ve had in the past who were very specific about not letting me or other admins do that. We were allowed to hold open doors for delivery people, but not move the products, because (IIRC) in the case of an injury, a workman’s comp claim would be rejected because I was doing something outside the scope of my normal job duties. I wonder if the OP could mention that? Or do those laws vary by state?

    3. OP#4*

      I understand your concern.

      The walking files around is not required but universally and loudly appreciated by the people I’m doing it for. I could say no, but I am savoring going for walks in the middle of the day in a climate controlled environment with lots of hand rails. (I work in a big complex.) I really shared that to indicate clearly how close I am to my physical limit.

  22. Salsa Verde*

    #2 reminded me of a woman I worked with in an open office who sniffed and cleared her throat constantly from the time she finished her coffee in the morning until lunchtime. It was maddening. But that is the type of thing that some people might not notice at all!
    The white noise machines should do it, in fact, if you are a psychotherapist, I’m surprised the office was not full of white noise machines before you even got there. I feel like every HR department and therapists’ office I’ve been to in the last five years has a white noise machine in every individual office.

      1. Susan Calvin*

        I don’t know that I’d go as far as Lexus Lawyer, but I’m definitely side-eyeing some of the apparent kneejerk “foreign languages are only for pretentious wankers (and the poor sould who are actually foreign and can’t help it I guess)” that seems to be going around. Pretty sure everyone is in agreement about the condolence card NOT being the time and place, but the amount of hand wringing over the rest of it puts a bad taste in my mouth.

        It’s like, we’ve more or less come around to the idea that diversity is good and we shouldn’t judge people for benign non-conformity from our idea of “normal” but if we manage to reach far enough to slap a “cultural appropriation” or similarly progressive label on it, then we’re safe to hate on it again? Come on.

        1. Raboot*

          > kneejerk “foreign languages are only for pretentious wankers (and the poor sould who are actually foreign and can’t help it I guess)”

          Absolutely no one is saying that. They’re saying it’s pretentious to use a language A that isn’t your native language B, with a crowd of people who all speak B and not A, in communication meant for those people’s benefit. This is a very specific situation and it’s odd to generalize it.

          1. Nameless in Customer Service*

            Yes, this. It’s a pity that it’s a language that’s getting used as a caltrop by the coworker, because the point isn’t “demonstrating knowledge of another language is bad” but that “using something with actual meaning as an attention-getting caltrop is not best behavior, especially when ostensibly expressing sympathy.”

        2. Ellis Bell*

          It’s not her language ability that makes the colleague pretentious; that part is legitimately just flat out cool. It’s the fact that she doesn’t use it as a language! She uses it as a garnish on everything. So to give you a different example, going to university is not pretentious, but putting a B.A after your name on everything is (thanks university landlord for letting us know you also got a degree on your letterheads, signatures and the return address on your envelopes!) People are rolling their eyes at the context, not the language. On something harmless like a birthday card it’s just an eyeroll, but on a sympathy card it turns from an eyeroll into a wince.

        3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I don’t think it’s wrong to use other languages (written or spoken), but it is considered good manners to make sure the other people involved in the interaction can also understand you. What that other language is is immaterial.

    1. Nanani*


      The foreign-languages-are-scary attitude is far worse than any imaginary slight the signer has done by daring to know a language other people don’t.

      1. Esmae*

        It’s not that foreign languages are scary, it’s that it’s rude to write a message on a sympathy card in a language you know the recipient can’t read.

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          Agreed! My team and I work in a language that is not the dominant language in our area, but most people know at least a bit of it. When the five of us are having social chats, we often use our work language, although we’re all as, if not more, fluent in our area’s dominant language. It’s good practice! However (and this is a big however) when a co-worker who doesn’t work in language 2 comes along, we immediately switch to the dominant language, although most of the people in our area know enough to tell the difference between “What was up with the traffic this morning” and “Did you hear what Fergus did this time?”. Switching to a language that’s mutually understood is just the polite thing to do, especially because it’s not a hardship for our team (Unlike if one of us could only speak language 2).

      2. wordswords*

        Oh, come on. This isn’t about “daring to know a language other people don’t,” and nowhere did OP3 say anything derogatory or dismissive about studying a language, about Chinese itself, about Chinese people, etc. Neither has anyone in the comments so far.

        But language is a tool of communication and this is about someone taking opportunities to pointedly avoid meaningful communication in favor of showing off to an audience they know is unlikely to understand, in contexts ranging from the quirky but harmless (birthday wishes) to the really thoughtless (miscarriage sympathy card).

        Signed, someone who learned and uses a second language for a living, and has studied several others. If I know the recipient of a card or message speaks a given language, sure, I might write something on a card in that language, depending on the context and our relationship! And I’ve been known to write my (non-Arabic) name in Arabic letters on a handout or paper cup or something — it’s quick, it’s a moment of fun for me, and it truly doesn’t matter if anyone else in the room understands. But writing on a card meant for another person is something else. It’s not racist to be annoyed by that.

      3. Emmy Noether*

        Oh please. I speak several foreign languages. I don’t use them at people who do not understand them, I use the with people who do. There’s a difference. It’s only the former that’s pretentious.

    2. Observer*

      Perhaps instead of a hit-and-run meant to make you sound soooo much better than everyone else, you’d explain exactly what the racism is.

      I would ask you what you think would be different if someone had pulled this in Gaelic or Greek?

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I’m not sure what they are referring to in the letter, but personally the biggest example of racism I saw in the comments was when you referred to what she wrote as “a squiggle.”

        1. Observer*

          Did you read what I responded? I didn’t call CHINESE a squiggle. I called the person’s behavior – deliberately writing a note in a format that no one else in the office can understand the equivalent of a “squiggle”. It would be the same if she used any other alphabet.

          The coworker is making an effort to write something that has no meaning to the person who is reading it.

          1. Observer*

            PS I would have said the same thing if the person were using Hebrew in a similar setting.

            And that’s why my question was specifically pointed out that the responses all worked with other languages – and chose a language that also uses a different alphabet.

    3. Raboot*

      So can I start responding to your comments in Hebrew? Since it would be racist for people to object to that apparently?

  23. Marny*

    For OP1, why not just ask Maria what’s up? All you have to say is, “Hey Maria, your last few messages sound like you’re upset with me. Did I do something to offend you?” Either she’ll tell you that she’s upset for a certain reason or she’ll realize she’s coming off hostile. If it’s unintentional, she may try harder to curb it. I don’t get going to the boss without attempting a direct conversation.

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      If OP 1 is a person of color I wouldn’t recommend a direct conversation. It might not go well and might be seen as OP1 being hostile.

      1. Nameless in Customer Service*

        Come on now. As a person of color I have had a couple such discussions from either side and they were managed without interethnic conflict.

        Which is why I’d advise leaving the “did I [personally] offend you?” part out, and making the question more general: “Maria, your last few emails sounded really upset so I wanted to talk to you about this situation. How can we handle things better? What can I do to help?” It’s a little deferential, which I admit can grate on one’s soul, but hopefully feeling considered will help Maria both understand her own emotions, and be able to talk about them and about the work issues to LW.

        1. Nameless in Customer Service*

          On rereading I noticed that the Boss actually asked to be notified of unfriendly emails, so yeah, go to the Boss.

          1. Nameless in Customer Service*

            Yes, I’m Black. Child of Caribbean immigrants, raised in New York City.

            1. Database Developer Dude*

              Then you should understand. -We- are ALWAYS expected to be conciliatory, even if it’s other people who are acting like a bull in a China shop.

              1. Nameless in Customer Service*

                We ate, and it’s beyond aggravating. “which I admit can grate on one’s soul” was an oblique reference to that. But I think saying “no one can talk to someone of another race” is a bad idea because that statement will just be used as a weapon against us. It’s not White people who’ll be excluded from business and employment under such an idea.

    2. DJ Abbott*

      No matter what color, if it seems likely that the person will be sensitive about it – as in this case – it’s probably better to let the manager handle it.

  24. Scott*

    LW#2 – I would be wary of white noise machines unless you have experience with them. I have worked in places with a lot of white noise and have been amazed at how often I have realized that my shoulders were up around my ears only after the noise stopped. For me at least, any white noise loud enough to drown out other noise is really uncomfortable.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Same. I don’t think my brain actually processes white noise the way others do (I have other auditory processing issues) and to me it’s just noise. Usually very loud and grating noise.

      1. londonedit*

        I think I’m pretty neurotypical but I’m not a fan of white noise – I have friends who love sleeping with a fan going in the summer, or love having a background hum going on, but it just irritates me. During our recent crazy hot weather I bought a fan and it annoys me enough just having it on during the day, let alone trying to sleep with it on.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I am a musician and white noise weirdly causes my brain to discover rhythm and melody in the sound where I’m fairly certain there is none, so it is still very distracting for me. I definitely prefer earplugs to white noise (even though I haaaaate earplugs) and quiet to earplugs. So, yeah, white noise isn’t always a good solution. Coworker with the cough might haaaaate white noise as much as or more than I do. Earplugs don’t seem like they’d be a solution here either. Sorry, OP, I don’t have a good solution for you but you definitely have my sympathies. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate with that noise either.

    2. WellRed*

      Oh this is me. When the upstairs tenant has a fan or the AC going, the hum and vibration, however gentle, have this effect on me.

    3. OP #2*

      I’ve never really used one, so this is good info to have! Especially because it’s not just me that needs to be comfortable in my office, I want to make sure patients are having a comfortable experience as well, especially people who might be neuroatypical or have other sound sensitivities.

      1. Kit*

        Experimenting with various sounds might help, but you could also do what I’ve seen in some multi-practitioner psych spaces: the white noise (or pink noise, etc) generator is installed just by the door in the hallway, rather than inside the office. That optimizes the sound-masking to volume ratio and lets the closed door serve as a baffle to reduce the perceptible effect inside the office.

    4. Just Another Zebra*

      I’m the same way with white noise machines, but they do make some (usually marketed to babies) that have other noises. My daughter listened to either a forest river or whale songs at night. Maybe a more natural sounding white noise would work well?

  25. Person from the Resume*

    since we had a discussion about email tone a couple weeks ago and the boss said to take anything to her that was not friendly.

    Tell your boss. A discussion about unfriendly email tone? That sounds like some sort of discussion where everyone is told not to do something because one person is doing something, but the boss don’t want to single out the offender. That discussion could have actually been directed towards Maria. Let you boss know.

    Also she is so hostile, they you’re feeling bullied and harassed (not the legal definition) and reluctant to talk to her. This is not something to brush off because it’s impacting your work interactions with her.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I somehow read that as they had talked with the boss specifically about Maria’s email tone and the boss said to loop her in if it happened again, not that it had been a broad conversation, but your read also makes sense. It doesn’t change my advice it just makes me more annoyed with the boss if that’s how it was handled lol

      1. Person from the Resume*

        If your read is right then the boss ASKED to be informed so yes, do as the boss asked.

        I know alison has a request legnth limit and I imagine that all LW’s think theyr’re being clear, but there’s so much left unclear in many letters.

  26. ArchivistPony*

    LW2: at least you have a door to close! I’m in an open office with someone who clears their throat at least once every 15 minutes. And/or sniffs his nose and you can hear the amount of snot. It’s absolutely disgusting. He won’t go to the doctor because he hates them (his exact words). It’s awful and my misophonia makes me want to open his coffee and dumb a whole bottle of Benadryl in it.

    Any before anyone comments, I can only wear one earbud, so noise blocking is not an option.

    1. OP #2*

      I’ve never had an office before so I feel very fortunate! At least I have some privacy. Open offices are terrible, you have my sympathy.

      1. ArchivistPony*

        Thank you. Its only that noise too which sucks, I can block a lot of stuff out but that one sound…

  27. ecnaseener*

    Maybe LW3 could address this by being the one to pass around the next card, and after this person writes their note just say “could you add the translation?” (At least in my mind, writing in Chinese is silly but not rude – the lack of translation into the recipient’s language makes it rude.)

  28. PlanoDancer*


    Soft foam earplugs might help.

    They will only reduce the noise by 32 decibel or so, but sometimes that’s just enough.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        Yes, many years ago I worked in a factory where we had to wear those. They blocked enough of the noise, but you could still hear people speaking to you.

  29. Marketing Unicorn Ninja*

    LW #1, speaking as a pregnant woman, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for Maria. Pregnancy is uncomfortable at the end. Pregnancy can make people shorter-tempered, more irritable, or generally tetchier. None of those are *your* issues to handle and are instead Maria’s problems to solve.

    The only accommodations I ask for from my co-workers is to give me time between meetings for bathroom breaks and to get from one area of the building to another (our main building is huge) because (a) I have to pee all.the.time and (b) I am slow.

    If Maria were snapping at you over personal things — i.e., you keep asking her about her plans for breastfeeding — she’d be in the right to snap at you, but that’s not what’s happening.

    Being pregnant and uncomfortable and tetchy doesn’t give you a pass to be rude to colleagues.

    1. Risha*

      Exactly. I really don’t understand why OP1 should give Maria a pass at all. I was pregnant x4 with severe preeclampsia each time. I was miserable, in pain, etc etc. During my 3rd pregnancy I found out my mom had stage 4 breast cancer and had a month to live. Not once did I snap at my coworkers or anyone for that matter, because they didn’t do anything to me or cause my pain. Often times people make excuses for the rude person and expect the recipient to just lay down and take it.

      Ok she’s pregnant. Maybe another coworker has a dying spouse at home, or dying child. Maybe someone else is about to lose their home. But all these people still manage to not take their own personal issues out on their coworkers. Everyone is going thru something in their personal lives and it’s not the problem of your coworkers and they shouldn’t be expected to be someone’s verbal punching bag.

      OP, if you feel comfortable doing so, tell Maria to knock it off and act like a professional at work. If she pushes back even once, or if you don’t want to speak to her directly, go to your manager. Don’t allow anyone to treat you rudely, pregnant or not.

    2. tg33*

      I agree with you up to a point, but, everyones pregnancy is different, and hormones affect everyone differently. The hormones can have a huge mental health effect.

      1. tg33*

        Ack, replying to myself. This doesn’t make Marias behaviour acceptable, just pointing out that things can be very different for everyone.

        1. calonkat*

          The fact that her supervisor is aware and wants to be notified says to me that this probably isn’t a pregnancy issue, this is something that’s been ongoing and she’s using the pregnancy to escalate.

    3. Observer*

      BTDT. The end of my pregnancy was difficult, I had several young kids at home, my father was dying and I was my mother’s primary support. And I’m pretty sure I didn’t take it out on people. So, I hear what you are saying.

      And, to be clear, if Maria is actually being abusive (which is what it sounds like), the OP absolutely should be bringing this to their boss, despite what the line manager says. But let’s not get into “if I could do it, so can everyone else.”

    4. Nameless in Customer Service*

      Hey, here are some random good wishes for all the best for you and progeny, from an Internet denizen.

      1. Marketing Unicorn Ninja*

        Thank you! I am a high-risk pregnancy, so I appreciate all the good wishes anyone is willing to send!

        1. Observer*

          You have my best wishes, too. Hopefully all will end well. And you’ll actually be able to SLEEP in between dealing with the baby…

  30. ABCYaBye*

    LW1 – She’s writing you an email. That takes time and calculation. That’s something you can go back and read to ensure things come across properly and might not be misinterpreted. And you’ve all been spoken to about email tone by your boss, who asked that you bring them anything that crosses a tone line. Bring them to your boss. And definitely phrase your concern in a way that shows that you have understanding that Maria might be uncomfortable in her final days of pregnancy.

    I assume since you’re writing in, these messages aren’t just a little terse. Given that, you need to say something.

  31. WellRed*

    The next time there’s a card for I Studied in a China! You and your coworkers should each sign the card in a different language.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I know that’s a suggestion steeped in sarcasm, but if the behavior of the coworker in #3 is rooted in being a linguaphile as much as or more than being a Sinophile, that could backfire. I would be touched by, and even encouraged, my coworkers doing that for me.

      1. Observer*

        but if the behavior of the coworker in #3 is rooted in being a linguaphile as much as or more than being a Sinophile,

        The behavior is almost certainly not rooted in either.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          Why “almost certainly”? I took a lot of linguistics courses as an undergrad, and a significant proportion of my college friends were major language nerds who (1) would have loved to get a multilingual birthday card and (2) I could totally see them doing the same thing the colleague does in their first job out of college.

      2. Nameless in Customer Service*

        Heh, yeah, I’ve made a mental note to do this for someone I know who’ll enjoy it, but it might not discourage this particular coworker. OTOH, maybe it’ll make her feel so appreciated she doesn’t need the quirk anymore and can let it go?

  32. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    As someone also dealing with recovery and after effects of cancer treatment, including six minor surgeries, two 6+ hour surgeries, and one doozy of a 10+ hour surgery within the past three years, I want to send support to LW #4.

    Even if you leave avd come back, so most people know about your health situation, they forget you’re not at 100% *very* quickly. They don’t realize that even small amount of physical activity can wear you out for days. Stay strong and tell them what you need.

    1. OP#4*

      Right! And this is a new job for me, so I’m not surrounded by people who even have the context of “OP was out for several weeks so maybe they’re not well.”

    2. OP#4*

      Yes, and this is a new job for me, so many of the folks I work with aren’t even aware of how long I was out of the workplace. But I am enjoying the lack of deeply concerned looks.

  33. Annie*

    Couldn’t the throat clearing likely be a temporary thing? Like the coworker is recovering from illness or something. So early in the game, I wouldn’t assume it’s going to be constant and unchangeable.

    1. OP #2*

      That’s a good point! I hadn’t even thought of that because my brain was just like “AHH UNENDING NOISE” but this is true!

  34. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    #2: wait a week to see if it still bugs you. The human brain is usually extraordinarily good at filtering out repetitive noises. We had a beeping piece of equipment that drove me NUTS the first couple of days, but when they finally got the repairman in a week later, I’d totally forgotten about it.

    1. ArchivistPony*

      I’ve been dealing with it for 7 years. Sometimes sounds drive us nuts and there’s no way of filtering them.

    2. OP #2*

      I probably should have mentioned in the letter–I am neuroatypical and tend not to “adjust” to sensory stimuli in the way other people do (like if something smells weird, my understanding is most people eventually sort of stop noticing it, and I never do). But I am definitely trying to be patient to see if I can find a way to adjust, and if anyone has tips on how to get used to noises, let me know!

      1. DJ Abbott*

        Sometimes reminding myself it’s background noise and I don’t need to pay attention to it works.

  35. Lobbyista*

    Lw1 – a few thoughts for you: As others have mentioned, how “aggressive” are these emails? Is this her normal tone? And does she seem to be acting this way to others? I only ask the last one because your mention of having “logic and reason” on your side hedges a bit closely to calling her hormonal / hysterical / whatever. So give some thought to whether she’s being rude or simply terse and if it might be linked to pregnancy or maybe a larger dynamic at play.

      1. catsoverpeople*

        Why? Pregnant lady won’t leave OP alone. They both have a responsibility to communicate appropriately in the workplace. Pregnancy isn’t a free pass to stop treating people with basic courtesy.

    1. Just Another Zebra*

      Thank you!

      When I was near the end of my pregnancy (which was NOT EASY), I had a manager pull me into his office and accuse me of being “curt and snippy” in emails with coworkers. When we went through some of the “offending” emails, the only thing I’d changed was some of the flowery polite fluff. Emails went from “Hey girl! Can you please send me the XYZ from that job? Thanks!” to “Can you send XYZ from Job?” I always felt like I had a looming deadline, and was trying to wrap up as many loose ends as possible.

      So, OP, if the emails are actually abusive, take them to your manager. If they are just short or curt, cut Maria some slack, especially if it’s out of character for her.

  36. Phony Genius*

    On #3, we have employees who sign cards in their native language, and then provide an English translation immediately below. It can be any kind of occasion. Nobody is bothered by it. But all of them are from the countries and/or cultures of those languages. I’m not sure what to make of this person without knowing their background.

    1. APsychNurse*

      My workplace too, but this seems totally different. For one thing, the OP implied that the person has no family or heritage connection to China. Also, she doesn’t provide a translation. My coworkers often write cards in Spanish, but if the recipient can’t speak Spanish, they provide a translation too.

    2. Generic Name*

      This is lovely! Other than your coworkers being native speakers, I think the main difference is that a translation is provided. It’s a nice cultural exchange. I imagine if the I Studied in China woman provided translations, people would be less annoyed.

    3. Irish Teacher*

      I think the fact that they provide English translations is key. I’d like seeing a bit of another person’s language, but writing it ONLY in that language seems like you’re making the recipient “work” to get the meaning.

    4. Observer*

      But all of them are from the countries and/or cultures of those languages.

      That’s a bit better, because it’s not so “show offy” But still not THAT much different.

      we have employees who sign cards in their native language, and then provide an English translation immediately below

      THAT is what makes it fundamentally different.

  37. LMG*

    LW #2 I used to know someone like this and it turned out she had advanced GERD (and eventually passed away due to complications). Assume a compassionate approach. And agreed: I hardly noticed it after a few weeks.

    1. OP #2*

      Absolutely, I feel terrible for her (it sounds very uncomfortable, whatever the cause is) and I don’t want to say or do anything that might make her feel self-conscious. I hope I’m able to just adjust!

      1. LMG*

        Yes, I have a milder version myself. The constant acid scars the esophagus and can cause cancer.

  38. HailRobonia*

    For the Chinese card thing, I wonder if the person isn’t even bothering to read what the card is about. Years ago one of my coworkers receive a promotion and another coworker had a death in the family at about the same time. There were two cards circulating and I nearly wrote “congratulations” in the condolence card. (I cringe just thinking about it).

    1. calonkat*

      arrrgghh, we get the “things to sign” piles as well! When I pass them to the next person, I try to draw a black border around the checklist on a sympathy card, or at least have it turned a different way and point it out to the next person.

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      Yeah, sometimes people don’t read those properly. My former coworker felt a bit embarrassed the time he wrote “happy birthday” in what he didn’t realise was a “congratulations on your new permanent job, goodbye and good luck” card to our temp – that wasn’t as bad as it could have been and she just thought it was funny, but I can see how that could easily happen.

    3. APsychNurse*

      Have you seen the scene in The Office where Darryl’s grandmother dies but everyone writes “happy birthday!” And “congratulations!” on the card?? This situation reminded me of that so much. I wonder if the Chinese text says “happy birthday” and the writer would be mortified if she realized it was a sympathy card.

    4. Snackbreak*

      See this was my first thought! In my office we don’t get many sympathy cards but we have birthday cards all the time, so if someone asked me to sign a card and I wasn’t paying attention, I would just sign my name and call it a day.
      Now that I think on it, maybe this coworker has a similar name to someone else and just chose to use something in Chinese (maybe even a name she was given) to sign cards to differentiate.
      At the end of the day, I would just ask. Go up to her and say “hey what did you sign on my card?” If its her name then it’s problem solved, now you know.

  39. I Lo*

    Did anyone else clear their throat when reading #2? Just me? I am married to a throat clearer. At times I don’t hear it, at times it annoys me to no end. It’s also nice in public when I can always tell where he is by the throat clearing.

    The white noise machine idea is a good one, but you may stop hearing it at some point.

  40. Cabin Fever*

    Full disclosure: I am male and obviously do not know what it is like to be pregnant. That said, I DO know what it’s like to have a condition causing near constant pain reading from “nagging” to “genuine agony” and having to work through it. And it is NOT ok to take that out on anyone else, period. My condition lasted several months. I did occasionally slip and snap at people. I always, always stopped myself and apologized on the spot. There’s just no excuse.

    1. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

      THIS. I live with chronic pain, among other things, and catch myself on my bad days being crotchety. I apologize when it happens, because it’s rude.

  41. Hiring Mgr*

    #3 sounds eye-rolley but overall OP said it herself: “irrelevant but harmless”. I’d just ignore – this can’t be more than a few times a year anyway?

  42. Making up names is hard*

    Just a note — this coworker waiting in Chinese is not cultural appropriation, because she is not benefiting from it any real way (financially or power). What it is a weird display of her enthusiasm for the language, which ends up coming across as orientalist. Like a commenter wore above, it’s important that we don’t apply the term cultural appropriation inaccurately because it decreases the severity of it’s meaning. In addition in this case the language and culture group in question is not missing out on a chance to also use their cultural artifact (writing) in the same way.

    So not appropriation but also not cool nor appropriate. ;)

    1. Susan Calvin*

      Thank you. Agree with you 100% – coworker is definitely missing the mark in terms of social graces – I’m 90% sure she’s literally just writing ‘happy birthday’ or ‘congratulations’ or one of the other three stock phrases everyone else has also already used, and thinks it’s nice to mix things up a bit, but it’s clearly not landing like that an that’s ultimately what counts – but the vitriolic attitude from some commenters here is bothering me.

      1. Alexis Rosay*

        Same. If this person truly put years of her life into studying Chinese–any dialect or variety of Chinese–and living in China then my guess is she has way more of an enthusiasm for & knowledge of Chinese and Chinese culture than the commenters who are so sure she’s an evil appropriator.

        That doesn’t excuse her behavior. It for sure is rude and crappy that she’s trying to use other people’s greeting cards as a way to get more attention for herself.

        1. Nameless in Customer Service*

          ” commenters who are so sure she’s an evil appropriator.”

          This is an example of an interesting process which happens in these discussions.

          Person A: You did something that was bigoted
          Person B: OMG you called me a bigot!
          … and now the discussion turns away from the incident and towards the character of person B.

          or, put more succinctly, no one called this person “an evil appropriator” until the comment I’m replying to. There’s a discussion about whether or not her action counts as appropriative, but it’s not about who she is.

    2. Nameless in Customer Service*

      In addition in this case the language and culture group in question is not missing out on a chance to also use their cultural artifact (writing) in the same way.

      This is the point where I don’t agree. As Michale pointed out above, a native Chinese speaker might well be scolded for doing this or treated as if their English language skills are lacking. Basically, this coworker can “get away” with something people from the language & culture group may well not be able to.

  43. Observer*

    #4 – work you can’t do.

    You don’t actually know what your boss has in mind. Do NOT bring it up unless your boss specifically asks you to do it.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      Yeah, that thought occurred to me. This is something OP has been told by a third party, and it’s possible that the third party got the wrong end of the stick somewhere along the way, or the boss was considering asking OP that but then decided against it, never bothered mentioning it to OP because as far as they were concerned it’s not happening but the coworker doesn’t know that boss changed their mind and so mentioned it to OP (definitely seen that one play out!)

  44. Shorthand?*

    LW3 – If she did this on my card, I would write on hers in shorthand. {Writing this makes me feel really old as probably not many people can read or write shorthand anymore}

    1. PumpkinPanda*

      Hi Shorthand?: I also know shorthand, and you ought to see what I write when I’m boring meetings.

    2. quill*

      I signed up for dracula daily and am weirdly enthused by the idea of writing in shorthand… mostly because if it meant I would write faster I could maybe do first drafts of fiction faster… but also because I have a thing about secret codes that rears it’s head every 5-10 years.

  45. Observer*

    #3 – Chinese signatures

    I’d put this in the category of quirks that you can be privately annoyed by but which don’t rise to the level of something you should address.

    This is really it. I think her manager can have a word with her if it’s more than just the signature. But you should not be going with this to your manager, much less saying anything to her.

    Yes, it’s annoying. Yes, it’s attention seeking and in the case of your miscarriage that’s an extra level of “stop trying to make yourself the center of attention.” But it’s still one of those things where you simply have to live with it. Yes, you should absolutely keep your distance with this person, but that’s where it ends.

    For some contexts, I’ve had miscarriages and people have said some absolutely hair raising things in the aftermath. So I do get the rawness and how out of line this is. But, it’s still not something you can raise to your manager. The only exception is if she’s doing something like this with outside people.

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      As an aside, if people have said hair raising things in the aftermath of miscarriages, that’s not something you should let slide, especially at work. That’s ignorant AF for someone to make an insensitive remark like that. The only kind of remarks to a work colleage in the event of a miscarriage are “so sorry for your loss” or if you have the bandwidth for it “let me know if there’s anything I can do” or if you have the bandwidth for it “let me know if you need to talk”.

      Do NOT let yourself be walked on because some of your colleagues don’t understand basic human decency.

      1. Internist*

        When someone has experienced a miscarriage, they do not always want to pursue a complaint to HR at the same time as they grieve. People can handle these things the way that best suits them.

        Also, ignorant comments can come from anywhere, not just at work. Having experienced multiple miscarriages, plenty of ignorant comments came from friends.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          Agree wholeheartedly that ignorant comments can come from anywhere, not just from work. Work, however, is most of the jurisdiction of this blog, and most of what we talk about here. Handle your friends how you wish to handle them, but know that if you let someone step on you, they’re going to continue to do so. If that works for you, so be it.

          Someone being ignorant at work, however, isn’t just ignorant to you. They’re ignorant to others as well. Dirty laundry that never gets aired, never gets cleaned. While I do totally get that one may not have the spoons to deal with it in the moment, letting it slide permanently means it never stops.

  46. Just Me*

    LW 1 – Alison is right that many pregnant people are able to send emails without being rude to their colleagues…..if this is something that has JUST come up in the last few weeks of her pregnancy and she’s otherwise a great colleague then I would be inclined to cut her a little slack. Because she’s due “any day,” she’s probably stressed about getting everything set up for her maternity leave, she’s getting everything set up for her hospital trip, family might be in town (or not! which is also stressful), in addition to the changes happening to her body and the nerves about giving birth and becoming a parent.

    I’ve worked with a LOT of expectant mothers/new parents and everyone is completely different–some people are basically the same up until literally the second they give birth, some people have a ton of physical and emotional symptoms leading up to it, some are stressed beyond belief. I’ve found that having a quick check in with someone by phone/zoom/in person in that situation is helpful, just starting the conversation by saying, “Hey, how’s it going?” because it gives them space to talk about how they’re feeling, physically and emotionally, and their concerns about logistics. Once you get a feel for where their head’s at (and often see they’re not actually angry in real life), then you can say, “We’ve exchanged some emails but I thought it would be more helpful to just have a conversation about some logistics before you go on your maternity leave.”

  47. kiki*

    #1: In my view, Maria doesn’t get a pass and LW should report these emails to their boss (especially since boss said they were interested in getting that sort of info). If this is a drastic change in behavior from Maria’s norm, that may inform how boss handles the situation, but LW shouldn’t have to deal with continued hostile emails at work. That being said, if it helps LW not take Maria’s emails as personally, pregnancy can be brutal and have psychological effects. That doesn’t mean Maria’s not responsible for the way she treats others, but if Maria was a decent colleague before, it may be worthwhile to extend her an extra bit of grace now.

  48. Miss Suzie*

    #5 how many times have we heard in an interview “You are our first choice” and then not get a job offer? You have no obligation to tell this company you are no longer interested unless you want to tell them.

    1. Loud Dove*

      Hard agree with this one. Companies (and recruiters) do this all the time to job seekers. The company should just shrug and move on with no hard feelings nor repercussions.

  49. Q*

    I am a throat clearer. I don’t like it either but there is nothing I can do about it. I’m already self conscious about it and although none of my coworkers have ever said anything about it, I can’t help but feel like it is annoying them.

    1. OP #2*

      I’m sorry you’re dealing with that! I hope my letter didn’t make you feel more self-conscious, and I wish I’d done a better job keeping the irritation out of my tone. I feel quite sure that it’s something she can’t help and it doesn’t sound comfortable for her, just as it is for you.

      If I can ask, is there a way you’d want the noise issue addressed if it was causing an issue, or would you rather people not bring it up at all?

  50. Nanani*

    Allow me to laugh at all the OMG A LANGUAGE I DONT KNOW

    You all sound like children.
    Foreign languages aren’t hurting you.

    It’s not cultural appropriation, it’s not mean, it’s just a foreign language. People use them.

    This whole attitude that languages you don’t know MUST be being used nefariously (more in the comments than in the OP mind) is far more toxic than your discomfort at the scary foreign glyphs could ever be.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      So what exactly is the point of addressing someone in a foreign language if they don’t understand it?

      1. OyHiOh*

        It can be attention seeking and showing off, and be a weird immaturity in this person’s behavior, without being nefarious or cultural appropriation.

        Myself personally, I’d straight up ask the Sinophile what she’s written. It may play into her attention-seeking a little, but my personality is such that I’d rather just know, than play a part in the whisper-rumor mill.

    2. The Green Lawintern*

      I don’t think people are upset about foreign languages being “scary.” They’re calling out the fact that Coworker’s insistence on Mandarin (I assume) on company birthday/condolence cards is inappropriate – if the purpose of a card is to send someone positive sentiments, it defeats the purpose of the card to write the message in such a way that the recipient can’t even read it. The foreign language itself isn’t at issue, it’s the fact that Coworker is using Mandarin to be a show-off.

    3. They*

      It’s weird to sign a card in a language the receiver doesn’t understand without a translation. It’s extra weird when this isn’t a native language or a language you have a cultural connection to. I’m bilingual in English and French and if I signed a card for an anglophone in French, it wouldn’t be the end of the world but they’d be justified in being a bit annoyed.

    4. SereneScientist*

      Nanani, it’s less about it being a foreign language and more about it being out of place both socially/professionally.

      I’m a Chinese-American immigrant who can read some Chinese and I would find it a bit unsettling that a presumbly White coworker felt the need or impulse to do this regularly. And frankly, assuming that LW3 and co are based in the US, I’d have even more questions because China is not really looked upon very kindly these days. There are way, way more layers here than you’re suggesting.

      1. SereneScientist*

        That said, however, for me–the identity of the coworker would change things significantly. If she’s Chinese-American like me and is a heritage speaker of Chinese, this would be more understandable though still a bit weird.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think this is really unwarranted. People aren’t reacting to a foreign language being scary; they’re reacting to the fact that in a sensitive situation where communication is the whole point, she’s choosing a method that she knows the person she’s supposed to be communicating with won’t understand. Leave this here, please.

    6. Database Developer Dude*


      I speak, to some degree, five languages, and a smattering of a sixth. Having said that, you’re wrong about this. I’ll use the language IN THE APPROPRIATE PLACE. Sure, if I’m speaking to a fellow Spanish-speaker and someone else objects, I can take the “this is an A to B conversation” tack…but communication with someone means we’re speaking the SAME language. I’m not going to speak Spanish, or German, or French, or Czech, or what little Korean I know, to someone I know doesn’t speak or understand it. Why? For what reason?

      “Foreign languages aren’t hurting you?” Seriously?? No one was complaining about a side conversation between two people that they couldn’t listen in on……..the person the OP describes is acting bizarrely, and needs to cut it out.

    7. fhqwhgads*

      What? You’ve totally missed the point. If I know two (or more lanaguages), one of which is in common with another person, the rest of which are not, and I approach that person and start speaking a language I know they do not speak, what could I possibly hope to accomplish? Make the person reply by asking for clarification? Make the person reiterate that no, they don’t speak those other languages? What is the end game here of speaking or writing to someone in a language you know they don’t know? It’s pointless.
      That said, I am wondering if it might just be her signature rather than a note. If so it’s mildly obnoxious – because again – writing to someone in a language you know they don’t know – but it matters less if you all you need to know is “that’s so and so’s name in that language and they choose to sign everything that way”. If the person is writing full sentences they know the recipient can’t understand, it’s just…WHY?

    8. Nameless in Customer Service*

      I almost always agree with you on sociopolitical issues, but in this case I honestly don’t think [most] commenters are being xenophobic. I’ll continue being wary and see if I see what you’ve seen here.

  51. OP #2*

    Alison, thank you so much for answering my letter! I am a huge fan of the blog and have been reading it for years, and I really credit Alison’s advice and this wonderful community for helping me launch my very new career. Honestly, just writing the letter helped me get some of my irritation out and I also think I might be able to adjust a little once I’ve settled into the job and am not as on-edge just because I’m like, very anxious and brand-new.

    Re: the door issue, most people keep their doors closed only when they’re in session, but that is most of the day for most people, and I do really want to get to know folks. I’ll try a white noise machine, and I may also be able to talk to facilities about soundproofing, since I’m worried about confidentiality anyway (given the fact that the walls of this office appear to be made out of tissue paper). And I’m working on therapy-ing myself with some mindfulness and radical acceptance, too :)

    Thank you again to everyone who has chimed in!

    1. Slightly Above Average Bear*

      Please be aware of your client’s needs if you choose a white noise machine. I have major anxiety/ panic attacks, if I can’t hear what is happening around me.

  52. cubone*

    I had a colleague who always used to write a short poem in the cards that went around (like one they’d made up, a few lines at most). After a few years I learned some people thought it was really cute and funny, while some thought it was annoying and weird. Obviously this coworker didn’t speak or write in poems in any other context and this was just her chosen approach to card signing. I wonder the colleague in #3 has done something similar and just decided .. for all cards I’m going to sign in this language. For whatever reason, whether they think it’s fun, interesting, exciting, or are deep “showing off” the language they speak or whatever other assumptions people are assigning to this behaviour.

    I dunno, but I think this is completely a non issue because lots of people do unexpected things or stuff they don’t do in any other context while Signing Cards at Work. If this was actually occurring in a work communication, maybe this would be a different letter and discussion, but if I wrote to AAM about every Card at Work signing that made me go “hmm” this site would never run out of content.

    1. Observer*

      I think that there is a difference between the poems and the notes in another language. I can see people rolling their eyes about the poems, and I can even see people considering a grab for attention. But no matter where you come down on that, no one can argue that they were showing off at the expense of people actually being unable to understand what they were saying.

  53. SoCal Kate*

    OP 4, congratulations on being newly cancer free! You might want to consider disclosing your health condition. You don’t have to! But I have found that people are more responsive when I disclose the basics of my health conditions.

    At my current job, I was transferred to a new boss. I told my new boss at our first check-in that I have nerve issues in my arms which makes it difficult for me to do certain tasks such as stuffing envelopes or lifting weights, but that I have no issues with working on a computer. He has been very supportive.

    If your current boss seems generally decent, you might consider telling them the basics — you are newly cancer free and don’t have any issues with core tasks of X, Y, and Z but task A and B are difficult for you. I think most people would be supportive.

    Of course, you shouldn’t have to disclose the specifics or feel obligated to, I just have found in my own experience that cheerfully telling people why you can’t do something makes them more sympathetic.

    1. OP#4*

      I will think about it. My boss does seem decent, and I am very tired of managing others’ feelings about my cancer. So it’s a balancing act.

      1. JustaTech*

        That’s very understandable. Could you say something like “I’m recovering from a medical thing and it’s taking me a while to get my strength back”?

        You don’t have to specify the “medical thing” (or maybe you could say illness and let people assume COVID or something), and you’ve made it clear you’re better/getting better, so there’s nothing for the boss to worry about.

    2. OP#4*

      Hi, I will disclose if I have to. My boss seems decent, it’s just that I am very tired of managing others’ feelings about my cancer.

  54. SereneScientist*

    LW3, as a Chinese-American immigrant who can read *some* Chinese in writing, this is still really weird and….also feels like something I’ve witnessed from American-born folks who’ve studied abroad. They are deeply enamored with their experience and/or the culture they visited….and often times want to bring that into their lives or try to gain social standing by flexing those experiences. But in the workplace, especially when no one else uses Chinese, it just doesn’t feel appropriate.

  55. This One Time at Band Camp*

    I am baffled by the OP’s question about the Chinese writing and all the hostility to the coworker. Who cares what you write on a birthday card?! Everybody writes the same thing: Happy birthday! Have a good one! Enjoy your cake! Another trip around the sun! None of it matters. It might as well be written in Chinese or any other language. At least it adds some visual interest to the page.

    The tall poppy syndrome I’m seeing here (“She thinks she’s special!”) and the assumptions of bad intent (“She’s writing something rude!”) are just bizarre.

    (I will say that the writing on a sympathy card does matter, and she made a bad call there.)

    1. Salt*

      Agreed! I wrote below:
      It’s off beat and impersonal and but I get a sense that she’s youngish and she might not really feel/ realize that signing cards is such a big ‘deal’ for people. The letter writer was put off because it was such a terrible thing to have happen to them- but often such big things don’t always register to someone who hasn’t had enough life experience to know better. In her mind it was just another card and this is the funky thing she writes on cards. She likely means no harm in it and while it’s not beaming with sympathy the scrawled ‘so sorry’ from Bob probably had as much emotional out pouring as her thing.

  56. Database Developer Dude*

    I read the letter about the hostile pregnant woman, and it fills me with an impotent rage that she’s being allowed to get away with this. Pregnancy is no excuse for treating your co-workers any old way, and it’s sexist to defend this.

    As a person of color who’s been in the corporate world for more than 20 years, I’m tired of not being able to even professionally express any type of frustration for fear of being labeled “The Angry Black Man ™”. Even if the situation is 100% justified in my expressing frustration, I still can’t…-BECAUSE- of the color of my skin, while this clown can be regularly hostile to coworkers over nothing because she’s pregnant???? Miss me with this b.s.

    I recently submitted a request in my second job, having to do with a certain time frame of half a day. It was clearly marked, yet still sent back because I was asked to address the entire day, when the entire day had nothing to do with my request. Why? Because the approving authority didn’t really bother to take 30 seconds and read the request. I had to resubmit it, and point out that it was only SUPPOSED to cover half the day. THEN and ONLY then did it get approved. I had to just smile and accept the b.s.

    If I worked with Maria, I’d be immediately putting pen to paper. I’m not tolerating that crap.

    1. Alict*

      Whoa, “impotent rage” is a really extreme reaction to the suggestion that we be empathetic toward pregnant people, a group historically extremely marginalized in the workplace. And on a post where the overwhelmed consensus is that that empathy should have limits!

      Consider that there are many groups and identities who are marginalized in American workplaces, and suggesting empathy for one of them isn’t a slight to the others. The fact that we are trying to treat a pregnant person with compassion doesn’t negate that POC are also marginalized and black men also have unique experiences of marginalization, it just means right now we’re talking about someone else. It can both be true that we care about gender issues in the workplace *and* that we care about race issues.

      Oppression isn’t a zero sum game where only one kind of experience can matter and we have to stomp all over anyone else trying to work their way up.

      Also, being subject to men’s anger because obviously they’re getting special treatment they dont deserve is the exact kind of thing pregnant people have had to face for decades that creates hostile environments for them and pushes them out, so maybe examine why your instinct here is to perpetuate that.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        This is not about me being required to do heavy lifting and a pregnant woman not required to do so. I get that and would support that wholeheartedly.

        This is about a pregnant woman being able to get away with HOW SHE TREATS OTHER PEOPLE………BECAUSE she’s pregnant. Meanwhile, if I as a black man am the slightest bit not subservient enough, it comes down on me like a ton of bricks.

        Treating other people with unprovoked hostility is something legitimate to complain about.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          And I will bet my paycheck against yours that Maria is either white, or if she’s not white, she’s also not black.

  57. SJJ*

    LW#4: One additional possible suggestion- you could offer to help organize the effort, but would need 1-2 folks to help with the actual work due to medical restrictions.

    1. JustaTech*

      Agreeing with this suggestion, and with the comment that even if you were in tip-top physical condition it would be completely reasonable to ask for more people to do a job like this.

      When we had to sort our archives a few years ago there was the EA in charge, the people who might remember what was in the archives (me) and a few other people who were asked to help out for a couple of hours at a time because it was a big job and a lot of lifting and was genuinely more than just two people could do. (And because our Health and Safety person had recently reminded everyone in the building about safe lifting practices.)

  58. Dawn*

    LW4: If you were just recently hired following cancer treatment, IF it is necessary and you’re not working for the same person who hired you, you can also imply that they were aware of your temporary limitations during the hiring process. It’s not as if you’re asking for anything unreasonable here.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      I don’t see the need to be deceptive about it.
      It’s an accommodation for duties that weren’t described as part of the job.

      1. Observer*

        I agree. If the OP is working for someone who is even minimally reasonable, just be up front about it. Alison, as usual, provides perfectly good scripts. And the OP has shown that they are perfectly willing to be helpful to the extent that they can.

  59. Jake*

    My step mother was pregnant 3 times when I was 7-16 years old. She was the meanest person I’ve ever been around to everybody around her during the 2nd and third trimesters of all three pregnancies (which was an extreme change of her normal behavior since she was normally a reasonable and nice person).

    I can tell you as somebody trapped around this person for days at a time, it really doesn’t matter what the explanation is, it will permanently damage relationships if it isn’t addressed, and the behavior isn’t corrected.

    1. Observer*

      I can tell you as somebody trapped around this person for days at a time, it really doesn’t matter what the explanation is, it will permanently damage relationships if it isn’t addressed, and the behavior isn’t corrected.

      I’m sorry you went through that. But, yes, that kind of behavior is a problem if it’s not kept in check, no matter what the reason is.

  60. A Pound of Obscure*

    #2. I feel for you! That’s not a situation I could tolerate. I literally get angry (misophonia) when I can hear someone popping gum near me and I have even considered hypnosis to purge this from my brain! Yours has to be worse because at least gum-chewing/popping is an utterly voluntary activity (done by rude people… but I digress). If it were me, I’d ask my boss about the distraction, as I can’t imagine others haven’t already brought this up before since it seems so unusually loud. Could be Tourette’s syndrome or something, which really is a sad thing, but your boss might have insights or suggestions that can be shared tactfully with you without revealing anything that would violate the person’s privacy.

  61. Kevin Sours*

    LW #5, you acted in good faith and have nothing to apologize for. They might have a legit complaint if you were planning to take offer #2 and pushed them to go through the process “just in case”. But that’s not what happened. Presumably if the job was what you thought it was you’d have taken the offer. It wasn’t. That’s why there is an interview process. Sometimes things don’t work out.

  62. Salt*

    I’m surprised by the vitriol the girl signing in Chinese is getting- It’s off beat and impersonal and maybe not the norm but I get a sense that she’s youngish and she might not really feel/ realize that signing cards is such a big ‘deal’ for people. The letter writer was put off because it was such a terrible thing to have happen to them- but often such big things don’t always register to someone who hasn’t had enough life experience to know better. In her mind it was just another card and this is the funky thing she writes on cards. She likely means no harm in it and while it’s not beaming with sympathy the scrawled ‘so sorry’ from Bob probably had as much emotional out pouring as her thing.
    My advice to OP is try not to take it personally or view it as her bid for attention. Maybe she doesn’t ‘get it’ and that’s a quirk worth not disliking her for.

    1. Observer*

      My advice to OP is try not to take it personally

      You are right – it’s probably not personal.

      view it as her bid for attention

      Except that that’s the most likely reason to be doing this.

      I get a sense that she’s youngish and she might not really feel/ realize that signing cards is such a big ‘deal’ for people. The letter writer was put off because it was such a terrible thing to have happen to them- but often such big things don’t always register to someone who hasn’t had enough life experience to know better.

      The OP specifically mentions that this ADULT WOMAN is more than 10 years out of college. She’s not “youngish” and certainly old enough to know that writing notes to people in a language that others can’t read is eye-rolly, in general. And unless she’s been living under a rock or is totally insulated from all others, she should have enough “life experience” to know that on a sympathy card, it is just flat out rude.

      No one is asking for outpourings of heartfelt sympathy. But a “scrawled” expression of sympathy is miles ahead of someone who can’t be bothered to do even that, but does take the effort to show off.

      PS, this is not a “girl” doing this.

  63. It’s always cold here*

    I worked for years with a throat clearer. Turns out she had undiagnosed cancer.

  64. Jordan*

    Hello, white person with experience living in a culture and speaking a language that aren’t my native culture/language here. There’s lots of maybe-okay specific situations for this Chinese-writing coworker’s behavior that we could wade into if we wanted to, but as I read this comment, LW and Coworker are in an English speaking country with no connections to Chinese culture as native English speakers. So, Coworker’s behavior isn’t just kind of weird and annoying, it’s also fetishizing. ‘I lived in China and can write in Chinese’ is her shiny accessory to make her feel special, and she’s flashing it around at every opportunity. I think it’s worth asking how welcome an ethnic Chinese coworker would feel observing her behavior. This is almost definitely not most racist thing that person has experienced in their lives, unfortunately, but easily a flag for them that says ‘oof, no thanks’ to Randomly-Chinese-Writing Coworker and something that can easily cast suspicion on the other white people around her who shrug this off as a weird quirky thing she does.
    I get it’s hard for us white people to talk to fellow white people (or even non-white but not-of-the-culture-being-fetishized people) about things that are so ‘small’, but it’s an essential part of truly making safe and welcoming environments for everyone. In many workplaces it’s the little things that build and build and build, rather than Bob in Accounting Who Loves Racial Slurs ™.

  65. Smitty*

    #2 – all I could think about when reading your post was Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance in the movie Along Came Polly. Brilliant. RIP

  66. blood orange*

    OP #2: For what it’s worth, I used to work in a behavioral health facility (inpatient/outpatient) where private conversations with patients happened constantly. It was very normal to walk through halls of all closed office doors, and we kept white noise machines going regularly every few feet. We also had a sign on every door that was something akin to one side “Quiet Please/Meeting in Progress” and other side “Welcome, please knock”. If that’s not out of step with the rest of your workplace, that may help if you do find it best to keep your door closed.

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