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I work on a team of 8 people for a U.S financial company, and a few weeks ago, a business meeting with some clients overseas was taking place. My manager asked us in an e-mail if anyone can speak and translate Russian. I privately responded (I e-mailed the manager directly) and offered to help, as I can speak fluent Russian. As far as I know, before the meeting nobody on my team was aware I could speak Russian. The meeting went great, and both sides were happy. Privately my manager thanked me, and I moved forward.

I don't know if the manager told someone on my team but word spread that I can speak Russian, but the interesting part is, it isn't obvious. I'm not a native Russian, I learned it (the reason is rather silly and unimportant) but didn't think it would come in handy for my job.

My problem is a few members of my team constantly tease me because of this, and given today's political situation, they often reference Trump and Russia in some way. At first I laughed it off, but it is getting on my nerves. They do it before team meetings (while we're waiting in the conference room), or before they go out to lunch (my desk is right by the door).

How can an introverted non confrontational individual make this stop?

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    You're acting as if Introversion and non-confrontational-ness are immutable. Have you considered just asking them (either in person or via e-mail) to discontinue these comments? Is there a concrete reason that wouldn't work? – SeldomNeedy Apr 26 at 21:48
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    Are they teasing? or simply being sociable? Light teasing is a sign of friendship and acceptance... elitedaily.com/life/friends-rag-on-you/1375579 – WernerCD Apr 27 at 15:33
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    Would you be comfortable teaching them some phrases? Depending on the workplace culture you might like to teach them some curses, or some perfectly normal words like "кофе" as a swear word (it translates to "coffee" - high-jinks ensue.) I'd bet there are more multi-lingual people at work who are keeping quiet. – Criggie Apr 28 at 2:17
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    Learning fluent Russian as a second language is a hell of an achievement. As a moderator of russian.stackexchange.com wanted to let you know that should you ever have questions about the language, we're always there for you! – Quassnoi Apr 29 at 15:10

15 Answers 15

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How can an introverted non confrontational individual make this stop?

It will stop when you stop reacting to their teasing.

Never let jealous, ignorant coworkers (or anyone else) bother you when they lack your knowledge. Be proud of what you know. Clearly, it helped your manager.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Apr 29 at 12:47
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    A person should not have to stand strong and mute in order to stop teasing and bullying in the workplace or anywhere else. That point aside, I believe that this answer assumes that said bullies would interpret silence as a cue to stop, and there's no reason to believe that. In fact, I have experience to the exact contrary: I do not speak a lot and rude remarks and nicknames continued to persist. OP asked how to make it stop, not how to feel better about it. – The Anathema May 1 at 14:25
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It doesn't need to be accusatory or confrontational.

If your co-workers are not truly over-grown teenagers, you might try something like this:

Hi folks, I know that everyone is just kidding around and means nothing by it, but the constant Russian jokes have really grown old. I am politely asking that we please give the jokes a break. Thank you. For clarification, jokes are fine, I am just really tired of the Russian jokes.

In short, given them a chance to be adults about it, but be clear about what the problem is.

if they don't respond to this, then hey... you've tried to be civil and mature about it. Ask your boss to politely notify everyone that they need to follow the golden rule, and they'll get the picture quickly.

It is worth including your specific reasons to why it bothers you. If you don't mind the Russian jokes, but being compared to Putin or Trump bugs you, say that (in a way that won't get you fired...). If you really just dislike being the center of attention due to the jokes and always having to be ready to put on a friendly face, that's okay to say too. Your co-workers should and probably will respect your honest reasons.

What you DON'T want to do is put them on the defensive. You should make it clear that you know it's supposed to be in good fun, and is just not a good fit for your personality. Don't accuse anyone of trying to be mean or anything, it will put even the most emotionally mature person back on their heels.

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    This. I like to make jokes, and a new topic is a great inspiration for me. There are not bad intentions. I'd rather have that you tell me, than that you get fed up. I've once had a colleague discuss this with me, and I am glad he did. – Bernhard Apr 26 at 20:33
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It sounds to me as if your coworkers are jealous of your wonderful ability. I feel knowing another language, let alone being fluent in it, is a great asset. I'm sorry you have to deal with childish adults who don't appreciate how cool that really is.

Don't react to their comments and continue to do what you do. I'm personally impressed that you speak Russian. I learned Mandarin for a silly reason too (a girl). But it's come in handy later in life and I don't let the haters hate.

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Here are some things that won't work

  • wait until no-one is teasing you, approach them, and start a whole thing about how you're fed up with this teasing and it needs to stop
  • variants of the above involving having someone else (your boss, HR, one colleague you trust) approach them and tell them to stop
  • over-reaction at the time of teasing that can be interpreted as whining. "You Guuuuys! You're hurting my FEEEEEELINGS!"
  • escalation of any kind where you tease or insult them back

Two things that will work

  • one neutral rejoinder that says "I know this is a joke, I'm taking it lightly, it doesn't bother me." I don't have wording for you, you will have to come up with it yourself. You could for example joke that you are a spy between missions and have some sort of catchprase that refers to it. "Just building software to pass the time till I get a mission" or something else ridiculous. For the Trump stuff, "I'll remember you all when I'm on the Supreme Court."
  • find what I call the "mother voice" - not angry, not loud, just completely sure I will be obeyed - and give one word orders. Stop. Another time: Enough. Perhaps two words: New Topic. No "please", nobody's name, no explanations. Just the order. You don't need to explain -- they know that extended teasing goes beyond "just fun" and that they have done this already. If they respond with "why?" or "what's the matter?" or anything else, just repeat your order in the same tone. They know very well that switching to bothering you about the teasing is not separate from the teasing.

If teasing you is not interesting, they will move on. Laughing it off is typically quite interesting, because we don't do it well and people can tell it bugs us. To be clear, the reason they are doing it is precisely because it bugs you. Some people are like that. So, either turn it into an in-joke between you and them, or make it stop.

  • +1 for "mother voice". Add stern look with eyes if necessary. – Captain Emacs Apr 27 at 12:18
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    +1 I've lived in California since 1975, but my voice is still recognizably English. I have a stock joke "I don't have an accent, I am just surrounded by people with American accents." for when I get bored with people commenting on it. It usually works. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 27 at 12:49
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    +1 for owning up and becoming part of the fun. As a wise man once said: "Never forget what you are, the rest of the world will not. Wear it like armour and it can never be used to hurt you." – fgysin Apr 29 at 8:11
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This is from some advice I read about dealing with people telling racist jokes, but I think it's applicable to many other brands of low wit humour:

Ask them to explain exactly why it is funny. Not in a confrontational manner, just express a genuine interest in understanding the underlying joke. Then for every answer they give you, ask them to explain that too, like root cause analysis. It will pretty soon reach something which isn't all that funny, or which they are embarrassed about finding funny. Most likely they will bail out of explaining it before it reaches that point.

If you have trouble convincing them you don't understand, you can lie about why you are trying to understand. Maybe them you want to start making the same jokes. Or that you want to explain this to a Russian friend who doesn't understand.

It takes a bit of nerve to do this, as you're being very obtuse, but you have asked nicely and they're not listening, which means that at this level they are not respecting your wishes and right to social comfort, so you are perfectly entitled to strip them of a bit of social comfort, just enough to put an end to the situation.

You'll also need your wits on as someone might try to turn the game on you and try to drill down into who don't find it funny, which is unnerving, but not understanding why something is funny doesn't require elaboration, whereas finding something funny does, so you have the upper hand.

Still, you may be dealing with people far more socially adept than you who will be able to twist the situation around and you come out the loser. That's fine, just wait until next time and ask again. People will very quickly tire of cracking jokes if they have to explain them each time.

This is actually a pretty nasty weapon, as you can use it dismantle any joke, even a hilariously clever one, so long as you can stick it through, and it can really put the joker on the spot.

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    I found this "People will very quickly tire of cracking jokes if they have to explain them each time" pretty revealing of the nature of jokes, the use of them and the conditions on which they thrive. Hence, +1 – XavierStuvw Apr 28 at 11:25
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    Indeed. Humour relies on shared understanding that needs no explanation (hence why many jokes don't cross culture or social class so well). And if the understanding needs explaining, then it is not shared, and so the joke dies. – andyhasit Apr 28 at 12:14
  • Concur (confirmation bias acknowledged). This links up very well with the word 'cracking' associated with jokes: jokes live out of a sudden bursts created by a rapid association between diverse objects. Slow-motion destroys the onset and functioning of it. – XavierStuvw Apr 29 at 5:16
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If you can't stand up for yourself (some people are just very nice, have a hard time doing that, etc), then your boss should stand up for you.

Email or speak directly to your boss that you've been getting teased about Russian stuff after the meeting, and it's interfering with your work performance. You're not sure how to tell the rest of the staff to please leave it alone, so you're asking your boss to step in.

Any boss worth their salt will step up to the plate and straighten the team out. Some coworkers think razzing each other builds morale (eg: might have a couple of coworkers that constantly prank each other.. that's their thing, they love it, and it creates a bond between them). What creates flak is when an action coworkers do that builds a bond between others is what they do to someone else that doesn't like that similar action (in this case, teasing), and the folks have such a low EQ (emotional quotient) to pick up on the fact that you're not liking it.

A bad boss will handle this by telling you to stand up for yourself, take care of this yourself, stop wasting their time. Start looking for another job if that's the case. This is not a boss that has your back, and doesn't realize that small things they let slide today turn into major issues that drive away employees tomorrow.

A so-so boss will have a "come to jesus" meeting with the offenders and make it a negative experience for them.. basically reaming them out like a parent scolding a child.. or they'll bring it up in the next team meeting in awkward fashion "I'm not gonna name names, but some people have been teasing others" (and immediately the folks teasing you know you narc'ed them out and hate you more).

A good boss will get with the offenders one by one or in a group, and explain to them firmly but politely that some people don't respond to teasing the same way others do. That teasing can feel like personal attacks, and, as the boss, it's his/her job to make sure everyone on the team functions well together. So, if the teasing is creating tension in the group, it creates lowered work performance, lower morale, and is not conducive to a good work environment. If folks want the PRIVILAGE of teasing (yes, it's a privilage, b/c it's an extracurricular activity that isn't mandatory for work to happen) then they must also have the RESPONSIBILITY to know when someone they're teasing isn't responding well to it and how that is affecting that person's self esteem and their role in the team. As the boss, it's their job to make sure things get done, and to ensure the team runs smoothly.

How this plays out also depends on if you have professional coworkers, or unprofessional ones. Professional ones simply need to have something pointed out and they go "oh, I never thought it was hurting them.. sorry.. I won't do it again." These are reasonable people that we all hope to work with.

Unprofessional employees will get upset that they feel someoen narc'ed on them, and are some how having some form of power stripped away from them. (Teasing is ultimately a power trip... some people do it to try to test others and run them down to see who stands up for themselves and who wilts. Teasing and bullying are forms of social dynamic darwinism where some folks feel the need to harass others to find some form of pecking order.. who will stand up to them, who will dominate them, and who they can keep kicking around.)

Unprofessional employees also won't respect yours or the boss' wishes, and keep trying to slyly sneak the teasing in. They'll down-play it and switch to using glances to each other at meetings and smirks, or will do passive-aggressive BS to try to irritate you.

If it escalates, then you go to HR.. b/c either your coworkers are unprofessional and don't realize they need to get their s*** together, or they don't respect your boss when s/he tells them to get their s*** together. So, head to HR, explain the situaiton, and start getting it documented. Because when folks get away with things, they tend to escalate it. So, you need to have documentation of what's going on happening sooner rather then later.

Depending on how bad this teasing is, HR may step in immediately, or simply document a complaint, or go speak to your boss... If you're a timid person, you may be downplaying the teasing.. what you consider "teasing" others may consider full-blown harassment. If HR decides it's harassment, then the individuals could have to go to sensitivity training or start facing some serious repercussions at the job.

So...game plan...

1) next time they tease you, stop them politely and calmly explain that the jokes are getting old and it's making you uncomfortable, so you'd like them to stop. And use the word "uncomfortable". That is a polite keyword most people understand means "I'm feeling harassed". Don't say "unhappy" or what-not.. "uncomfortable" is the word you need to use.

2) if they don't stop (or escalate), then speak with your boss.. tell him / her you're feeling uncomfortable (again.. use that word specifically)

3) if your boss can't make them stop, or they simply switch to passive-aggressive BS after a good talking-to from the boss... head to HR... use the word "uncomfortable" with them, watch their eye brows raise and their faces get serious, and they'll start documenting things and getting the ball rolling on the teasers being straightened out.

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It sounds to me like your coworkers are trying to relate to you on a non-work dimension, and since you say you're introverted, they probably don't know much non-work-related stuff about you. Try picking a non-work-related interest of yours that you'd be happy for them to talk and even tease about---for example, many people use sports teams for this. If you start putting Pittsburgh Steelers news headlines around your desk, they'll probably start talking about that instead of Russian. (If you really don't care about the Pittsburgh Steelers, maybe pick an interest you really do appreciate. There's always a chance someone will buy you season tickets.)

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For me it seems like this situation is less about a language problem and more about "joking" in the workplace. Like one of the answers already stated: it's a quite childish behavior from your colleagues. Any language skill (which is always a very good thing) has nothing to do with it.

I would not recommend making a "group announcement" to say that these jokes are not funny, but rather mentioning it to co-workers individually in mid-conversation. Something like: "Before the meetings Person#2 and Person#3 sometimes make jokes about language I am speaking, but honestly, I don't find it funny at all." It's much easier to convince 1 person rather than a group. You don't have to talk with all of them, as soon as "jokers" start losing support of the audience, they will stop. Of course, you should not respond to these "jokes" in a positive way either.

Good luck.

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All the answers seem to agree that teasing you is mean spirited and unprofessional and should stop and be replaced by a neutral and sterile conversation about work topics.

Let me bring up another perspective.

This is based on job and office culture and I can only relate to private corporate western office jobs, so take it with a grain of salt if you are totally out of touch with that.

In the office, we tease each other. A lot. That is a kind of camaraderie. We talk to each other, we laugh with each other. About the work we do, about our private life, about the mistakes we do at work. That's a form of humor.

If somebody says "my program crashes when I press F5 to start it" I will never just say "That's not enough information to help you, please elaborate". Days would be booooring. I will say "Oh, you should see Benny on team B, I heard he has great F5-pressing-skills. I think he took the specialist training on it." Then we will chuckle and he'll maybe explain his problem in detail.

I would never tease somebody I don't like. Why would I waste my time interacting with a person I dislike? I will tease people I like or people I might like, hoping they join in.

So the next time someone teases you, why not assume the best and see it as a form of making contact, to invite you to the club so to speak. Try humor yourself. As a first step, laugh about yourself, not the others so you can test the boundaries of what goes.

Example answer you might try:

Hey, didn't you listen to Barr's summary of the Mueller report? It says I'm totally exonerated and don't speak Russian at all.

Or:

The admin password? (English, But thick fake Russian accent) I could tell you but then I'd have to poison you with a laced umbrella. And I don't have one here. Please wait for rainy day, da?

Who knows, you might make really good friends that are not just the sterile neutral grey people of the cubicle next to you.

Maybe not. Maybe they are just idiots. But it's worth a try, if it turns out they are idiots, you can always try one of the other solutions.

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How can an introverted non confrontational individual make this stop?

It may stop when you stop reacting to their teasing. Don't even "laugh it off" as you said. You might be giving them the wrong impression that your are enjoying it. Just don't react at all.

But you should not follow such strategy for an indefinite amount of time. You should agree with yourself about a deadline. 2 weeks is plenty of time, maybe even a week would suffice. But whatever deadline you choose do so now after devoting a bit of time to think about it. Otherwise it will never seem like a good time to change strategy.

If the issue persists beyond your deadline you will have to change strategy. Maybe you are already at this point. Talk with your coworkers in a non accusatory and non confrontational tone. Adonalsium's answer is an excellent way to do so. Some people prefer to start with this and skip the 1st strategy. An introvert might prefer to start with the 1st strategy, but do not apply it indefinetily.

A pair of days should be more than enough to see a change when the 2nd strategy is applied. Sensible co-workers will drop the teasing immediately after a friendly explanation about how it is affecting you. If it does not stop, when you are at home, write this in a paper : "I work in a place where co-workers make me miserable knowingly". The act of writing it is important, do not skip it. It won't solve your problem at all. But it will help you realize that your problem is not what you thought it is. How to solve that is material for a different question. Hope it does not get there though.

That finishes the "get ready for the worst" part. Now the "expect the best" part. Most likely your co-workers think highly of you and greatly value your work. They would like to improve their relationship with you but find it difficult because you are an introvert. They've recently become aware of a non-work interest you have and are clumsily trying to use it to improve their relationship with you. Introversion has left then with little openings so now that they have a topic (and the only one so far) to relate to you they are using it non-stop. Most likely there is no ill will. So don't worry, talk with your peers about it if you need to, smile and hope for the best.

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Well, the correct solution is to confront the person doing it and tell them to stop, if possible in public so that the other people also stop. But if you insist on a solution for introverted, non-confrontational people, I suppose that option is out. Lucky for you discrimination based on national origin is illegal in the US. While you are not of Russian origin, you could easily make a case to the HR that this sort of humor is insensitive and creates a discriminatory environment. If HR is not stupid, they will see that this opens the door to litigation in the future and confront people so you don't have to. It would be difficult for you to actually sue anyone for this, but that is beside the point - a future employee could be hired who IS Russian, or someone could allege that this workplace culture is the reason why there's no Russians at your company. Which again, are also weak claims but still a headache to deal with in court, the exact headache HR exists to prevent.

The question is already answered but I decided to post this because I saw other answers say things like "complaining won't work" or "stop whining about your feelings". Well, whiny or not, you have to consider the reality of the modern workplace where feelings are very much carefully considered by corporate management as well as (and because of) the law. If you want to deal with it informally, using your own approach, as a matter of personal principle that's fine. But it's worth remembering that a system exists to handle this, and you might as well use it. This wouldn't apply to any teasing in general, but in this particular case the teasing can be construed as potentially illegal, and you don't have to pretend otherwise.

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I remember people joking about stuff I knew in school, and that made it harder (for a bit) to go learn more than just what was in the textbook. This is probably less damaging as a grown-up, but still it is still distracting and unnecessary enough.

The Golden Rule sometimes seems a bit corny, but invoking it carefully can sometimes help people to see things from your point of view. "Hey, I bet you guys know neat stuff I don't, and I'd be interested in that, too. You all are obviously pretty smart. Maybe it's something I could never get around to, but it'd help me to get to know you better or remind me of something I meant to do."

This is a bit of schmoozing and deflection, but it appeals to their better side and makes it hard to be a jerk. If they are not actually interested in your knowledge of Russian, it's a bit of a signal that the attention is unwanted without you losing your temper.

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A friend of mine had an excellent method. She would simply give a fake laugh - I mean obviously fake. She would say, "Ha ha" and give a fake smile. It's a way of saying, "You're not as funny as you think."

Other possibilities are to say, "Yeah, yeah" or yawn and tap your mouth with the flat of your hand.

Whether this will work for you is not certain. It might be worth trying. It's worth noting whether they do this sort of thing to each other as well as to you. If they do then observe how each person reacts and see if you can copy it.

Good luck!

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I liked @andyhasit's answer for exposing some useful insights on jokes. Developing on that I would add the following hypothesis:

  • your colleagues are bored: that's why the feel the urge of cracking jokes (granted that one can crack jokes without being bored, just humorous)
  • your colleagues are boring: because they fall into repetition (granted that repetition is not necessarily a symptom of nuisance, just concern)

So the question is how to deal with people that are bored and boring at the same and one time?

I kind of recall having read about a distinction between

  • teasing someone: making him/her central for some feature that could fix, work around, and the like (a glitch, a gaffe, anything awkward, ...)
  • bullying someone: making him/her for things that they have no control on (gender, race, nationality, body features, ...)

Now, putting these things all together, I would think of something that blows off the whole house of cards

I have already heard of that joking away. [fact]

Think if I were Russian, though. [change of perspective by exaggeration]

I would not appreciate this... [reflection and position]

...even if I was a fellow American. [paradox; because you actually are so, as much as they are: reunion of Russians and Americans as humans]

This could sort out some effect stopping the epidemics if, at a minimum, they get confused by it or if, at premium, it stimulates some reflection on being and becoming.

Final note: An remote association with Russians by Sting (1985) has also contributed to building this answers

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You could tell them to stop, and that you don't find it funny. I guarantee this will work 9/10 unless your coworkers dislike you, and if they dislike you, that's another question to ask.

Your coworkers are not malicious, they are trying to get along with you and make you laugh. If they are made aware the jokes offend you, they will stop making them as they will have failed at both objectives.

Also grow a backbone, you will need to deal with confrontation head on at some point in your life, or you will have lived a meaningless one.

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