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I'm a male in my mid 20s and I've been working at a multinational corporation for about a year. For a couple of months I've had a crush on a female coworker that I've never interacted with (we work on the same floor, but different teams). We've never talked, as I chose not to go over my way to interact with her. Also, she seems to be ignoring me, but I think she does that with all people she doesn't know.

During the first days of Spring, a local custom (I live in Eastern Europe) is for males to make small gestures toward their female peers that consist in giving traditional objects as gifts. It is perfectly acceptable (even somewhat expected) to make such a gesture towards a female friend or colleague, but uncommon with strangers (although not unheard of).

I am considering using this occasion to make such a gesture towards her, by leaving a small gift and a signed card on her desk early in the morning, leaving it to her if she wants to contact me to say thank you/chat or to ignore the gesture altogether. I am concerned for the gesture not to be considered inappropriate by her or her colleagues.

Can such gesture be seen as inappropriate, or even a mild form of harassment? I would hate for the workplace environment to become awkward in any way following this.

Thank you very much for your answers! They were all very helpful. I chose Mister Positive's because it is closest to how I also see the situation.

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    so you would give a gift to every female colleague, not just her? (In this case your question would be whether to exclude her or not) – anon Feb 18 at 19:01
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Feb 20 at 21:07
  • It would be a useful addition for those not from Eastern Europe, this custom is on the 8th of March (or on 1st March in some countries). Just for the sake of knowing it, if you want to include some usage of the time before the event into your answer. – Val Feb 20 at 21:44

10 Answers 10

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Is it appropriate to make a gesture towards a female coworker?

In a word, no, do not do this – local custom or not, specifically because you state you had or have a crush on her.

At the moment, you barely have a professional relationship with this person. You are not even friends. You also mentioned that she is currently ignoring you – this might mean she is either already in a relationship or she is not into you.

Also, consider if she takes your gesture as harassment (she could take it as), you might find yourself in the HR Spotlight and potentially unemployed.

I would also go a step further and say, if at all possible, keep your professional life and romantic life separate. Imagine if you do form a romantic relationship with this person, and break up. Now imagine how awkward it will be for you and her when you have to see each other at work?

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    Sorry but no. This being a custom in Eastern Europe, I would say that, though not appropriate and work/private life should not be mixed, the rest of this answer is incorrect for local customs. Also, what problemofficer noted, giving a gift like this will not constitute harassment anywhere outside the US. – rkeet Feb 19 at 9:07
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    I'm from Romania and I'm very familiar with the local-custom the OP is referring to. And I have to say your train of thought here is simply incorrect. While it's obviously not impossible to go down like you described, realistically it's extremely unlikely, just like @Davor pointed out. And I can't emphasize the word "extremely" enough. PS: I didn't downvote this. – Radu Murzea Feb 20 at 15:28
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    @RaduMurzea if there isn't an answer that covers it already, I encourage you to add an answer based on your local knowledge. An answer from somebody who's lived and worked in the culture in question would benefit the site. – Monica Cellio Feb 21 at 14:40
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    Am I one of the only people in 2019 that doesn't see how a one time gesture of interest could be called harassment? I always thought "harassment" was repetitive behaviour that was unwanted. By nature of... I don't know, reality... you can't know until you know. She could make the first gesture, but following the same logic then she would be the one who's harassing. This logic "Show interest, that's harassment" leads to weird logical consequences like that and I've never heard anyone resolve that philosophical dilemma neatly. But if we rely on the traditional definition, there is no dilemma. – The Anathema Feb 21 at 15:30
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    Anathema, you are the only person in 2019 that doesn't see that expressing obvious interest toward a co-worker (who has shown not a glimmer of interest herself, who's barely aware of your existence most likely) is only the first step. The next one would be to misinterpret the poor woman's fumbling response, polite because she's been bred to be from infancy, and because she doesn't want to alienate a co-worker, as a positive one. And then to continue till your narrow legal definition of harassment is met. The first gesture changes the character of the work relationship, not for the better – George M Feb 22 at 19:57
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It sounds to me that you wish to use this custom as an ice breaker. That, I would argue, is inappropriate. You do not know this person well enough to gauge her reaction. To do this with someone you are even a little more familiar with might be a bit more acceptable.

This can only end poorly. She will likely feel a social obligation to say thank you, which will lead you to think you have an opening that isn't really there. Or she will be creeped out. Or she will be annoyed and you will be hurt. Then the two of you have to go to work every single day being awkward with each other.

Romantic gestures toward people you don't know aren't romantic; they're stalkerish. Don't use this as a crutch to avoid approaching her and saying "hello". Get to know her. Then, maybe, risk the dangers of a workplace romance (which I would seriously caution you about. (Very seriously.))

This whole answer also doesn't even touch on the very real possibility that workplace romance could be expressly forbidden at your company.

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    +1 for 'Romantic gestures toward people you don't know aren't romantic; they're stalkerish' – Dave Gremlin Feb 19 at 14:16
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    // , Except when they're not. – Nathan Basanese Feb 20 at 19:13
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    // said - every stalker ever. – bruglesco Feb 20 at 20:00
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Can such gesture be seen as inappropriate, or even a mild form of harassment?

I suggest you ask around with some coworkers that you are close to what they think about this gesture, and if it is acceptable and practiced in your company. This will help you be 100% sure that this will not have any fallout on you.

I also suggest you try to approach her and start to know each other in a more classic way (greeting, saying good morning, etc.), as just dropping a gesture out of nowhere from someone you don't know much can be seen a bit out of place.

If, after doing this probing and thinking it, you are still not sure, the best thing would be not to give the gesture and start to know each other more organically.


... Now, when you get to the point where you know each other a bit more (enough for the gesture not to be awkward), this would be more acceptable... You say that this is "a local custom (I live in Eastern Europe) is for males to make small gestures toward their female peers that consist in giving traditional objects as gifts."

You also mention that "It is perfectly acceptable (even somewhat expected) to make such a gesture towards a female friend or colleague"

Given these facts and context you provided, and that this female is a colleague of yours (now knowing each other better), I think we can say that this gesture would be ok and unlikely to be seen as inappropriate or harassment.

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    +1 for "try to approach her and start to know each other in a more classic way" ;) – Radu Murzea Feb 20 at 15:31
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Being maybe a little closer culturally, I'd give a radically different advice. I think I see your expectations as well as I don't hesitate to try to predict her possible expectations and available options in a cultural context of Eastern Europe. I would also reframe your question to not be about gifts.

  • Show up in person, introduce yourself confidently, and ask her out.

    • No surprise cards.
    • You are not friends - fine, as it's not required and doesn't really help.
    • No harassment - the first chance is the last, and please make it short.
    • Public place, to a moderate degree. (Not alone in the elevator. Not in her office space in front of her entire team.)
    • Check the company policy.
    • Make sure there is zero political/hierarchical/social pressure here.
    • Does a gift fit in this scenario at all? Seemingly it would only complicate the simple message. If it helps somehow, use it.
  • Good luck!
  • Luck? It'd take a whole lot of luck to have a work relationship work out in the long term, even if it seemed to go well at first – George M Feb 20 at 0:21
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    @GeorgeM My outlook remains positive. – kubanczyk Feb 20 at 0:27
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    This answer is not answering the question, and not on-topic for workplace. Rather it's giving advice for OP to get what they want, rather than for how to behave appropriately towards their coworker. – R.. Feb 20 at 3:28
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    @R.. Believe it or not, I intended to address exactly that: "how to behave appropriately towards their coworker". Yet it looks like in some cultures my answer is completely out of place in the office; as for off-topic for the entire workplace.se, hmmm, could you help me with understanding the reason here? – kubanczyk Feb 20 at 10:51
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    Horrible. the poor woman thinks she's safe at the office and some creep tries to pick her up. Please don't do this. Get a life outside the office. – RedSonja Feb 20 at 14:15
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While I do lack the applicable cultural knowledge, I'd still suggest not doing it.

She doesn't know you, so:

  • It would be hard to put the gesture into proper context regarding what the purpose of it was.
  • The best case interpretation is that some guy is interested in her - for most women, this isn't news.
  • The leap from never having spoken to giving her a gift may be jarring and imply that you'd have problems with proper social etiquette (or, in other words, it may come across as a bit creepy).
  • If she is indeed also interested, she will still need to, in some sense, "make the first move" - she will need to start the first conversation with you, which is still quite a lot of pressure to put on her. This doesn't make the gesture more or less appropriate, but it does make it less likely to succeed.
  • If she hasn't given any sign that she's interested, she probably isn't. (But of course she may become interested if you get to know each other more "naturally".)

Instead, I'd suggest simply starting to talk to her.

Say hello when walking past her. If you run into her in the elevator or some other scenario where you'd spend a few moments together, introduce yourself (if necessary), ask her what she does at the company (if you don't know) and how her day is going. Later you can ask things like what she did over the weekend. You can build on that until you're at a point where asking her out would be appropriate. Or the interaction would fizzle out, in which case you wouldn't have lost much, and you'd have gained a pretty good signal that you won't be a great match.

Note, however, that many people strongly recommend against getting romantically involved with coworkers and some companies even have policies around this (whether disallowing it or requiring you to tell HR).

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I worked closely for several years with a team from Eastern Europe. For someone within the team to bring a small present to female colleagues for International Women's Day was entirely acceptable. As long as they brought similar presents to every woman on the team, or women they worked with closely.. Anything else was definitely not OK

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    Yes but to ALL the women, not just to the semi-stranger they're stalking.. – George M Feb 20 at 19:45
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+100

It's hard to assess how appropriate it would be for outsiders who do not know the local customs (and live in a different part of the world). I'm certainly an outsider, but I hope that I can help you find the answer to your question yourself, based on the information you provided. This is about both, you and her (or your future relationship to her and your colleagues).

Background:

  • You have a crush on her
  • You never interacted with her
  • You work in different teams

The important question you need to ask yourself is, whether you would want to give that gift to her, if you didn't have a crush on her?

Answer: No

You noted in a comment

I would give a gift to every female colleague in my team, that I interact with on a daily basis, she would be the only one outside this circle

This means that you would single her out. And you'd do so publicly with the gift on her workplace.

She doesn't know you and can't read your mind, but it would not be hard to infer from this action that you have some kind interest in her (note that even if your intentions are innocent and you are the nicest guy possible, she doesn't know you nor your exact intentions). But you are a stranger who kind of happens to work in the same building, and that's it.

I don't know her and don't know how she would react or feel, but you mentioned something very interesting:

Also, she seems to be ignoring me, but I think she does that with all people she doesn't know.

Like that gift would show your interest in her, her behavior towards you (and people she doesn't know) shows her lack of interest in you. It seems safest and least selfish to respect her wishes. The gift, on the other hand, seems very risky

  • explicit (it won't go unnoticed, that she's the only recipient outside of your team)
  • public (there may be even be gossip about your actual relationship to her, perhaps it's not as unilateral as it seems they may think/say)
  • forcing (perhaps she'd feel that you want to force contact between her, even if it just means she'd have to tell you she didn't want further contact with you)

Indeed, it could become awkward for you. But it's highly likely that it will also be awkward for her. We do not know her background and her past experiences and they may have an influence on how she sees it (she could have been secretly in love with you all the time and be overjoyed, but she could also have been stalked by man before and be terrified etc.). Whether it'll already be considered harassment where you live, I don't know, but even if it isn't, it seems too much and too early.

As others already have noted, romantic relationships at the workplace are problematic. You may ask yourself, whether you want to pursue this further. And you do not even know her. If you really want to, slow down considerably and maybe start with a simple greeting in the morning. Also maybe get to know some women who are not your colleagues - perhaps there are some who show more interest in you.

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    This is a really nice, complete and correct answer. – DarkCygnus Feb 22 at 22:35
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    Very thorough! +1 – Richard U Feb 22 at 23:59
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You have a crush on her.

She works in the same company as you.

My advice: Do not. Stay away from her, and do not pursue any relationships with any coworker you might feel attracted to.

It just not worth it.

Also, the gift would have been OK if you were to give it to other people. But your motivation is not to follow your local custom but to romantically approach your coworker.

There are billions of women out there, why bring yourself professional headaches by approaching a co-worker? It almost never ends well.

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    I'm in a different culture I know (Ireland), but several times I've seen co-workers meet and get together in work, and often these relationships have worked out and, in fact, ended up in marriage - it seems that through work is an acceptable way to meet people. OK you could break up and it might make things awkward, but as long as both parties are professional, it shouldn't interfere with their work. Besides, the OP and the crush are in different departments, so avoiding each other should be easy, it seems they've been doing that until now anyway. – colmde Feb 20 at 12:18
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    There are billions of women, out of which, he will probably come in contact with a few hundred, out of which he will probably find a dozen attractive, out of which he will have a crush on a few, out of which (hopefully) he will successfully make a move which isn't entirely anti-social. – pwned Feb 20 at 14:55
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Professionally: NO. If you want to give the same gift to all women, saying it is a tradition where you come from, then great. Singling out a person with a language expressing your crush to her can very well be harassment (whether it's enforced or not in the area of the world your workplace is located).

Personally: NO. As a friendly SE'er, my advice is that this could end up bad and soil a relationship that could have advanced naturally. Also, I always say, Don't dip your pen in company ink. But this is just friendly advice and it is opinion-based.

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Do it for all or don't do it at all.

Even if you explain that it is a local custom, it won't explain why she - and only she - is on the receiving end of this. This can lead to her interpreting it the way pretty much every other answer here has interpreted it. Do it for all the women in your workplace as a GENUINE cultural offering or don't do it at all. Doing it for one person will raise more than a few eyebrows at best.

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