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My boss is from Russia and has a thick accent, but as he's told me he's lived in the US for a long time and considers it where he's from. However there may be a language/cultural barrier.

On a couple occasions my boss has said very strange things that I'm not fully comfortable with. For example "as a man you want to do work as your a provider for your family, but on the other hand as a man you need to take breaks so you can work well". That comment was out of the blue.

I work in a room by myself and he came in and asked if I felt lonely, and I said not necessarily and he told me the previous person who worked in the room felt lonely by himself. After some thought, I did think it would be better if I worked in a room with some other people as I'm starting a new job and have much to learn. I went back to my manager to ask about working in a room with someone else and he asked if I had a girl friend and what my age was.

This is where I get quite uncomfortable. He asked me if I'm looking forward to getting married and if I would like to establish my self first. I first half-chuckled at this and he replied "do you want to focus on your career?"

What would be a good response?

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    What country are you working in? – Vietnhi Phuvan May 6 '15 at 11:39
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    That is bizarre. If you don't step in it may get worse. It may be just a sincere personal interest in you. But you need to establish some boundaries. "That is personal matter - I don't understand how that affects my performance nor career planning." – paparazzo May 6 '15 at 16:04
  • @VietnhiPhuvan USA – Jimmy Bauther May 7 '15 at 1:57
  • The things mentioned above do not seem significant enough to escalate or even spend much time mulling over. You probably have more important things to be thinking about. The responses below indicate these are relatively minor cultural issues that could have easily been worse in degree, or easily overshadowed by personality differences. Not worth straining a relationship over. Try to learn about your mgr's habits and interests and use that to your advantage. Build positive rapport. He will appreciate your easy-going nature and adaptability and it will pay off with his greater trust. – A.S May 7 '15 at 13:05
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I'm Russian and I can say that's not our proverbs or smth like that. All I can say, such talks are common in Russia between men. From the first phrase I could say that may be he wanted to point out he understands your will to work hard for whatever reason, but he worries about your health and wants you to relax a bit.

He feels like you are good fellow and thinks you both can talk less officially. Or he tries to look more American type from his point of view. Tries to show you that he cares as he thinks all Americans act like that.

Some people really don't think they ask something inappropriate. May be he is of that type.

But the last mention isn't appropriate even for us. He checks your long-term plans if you are going to spend more time for work or to establish your life.

It's hard to say what he is looking for. It really depends on your boss' mentation. What he does want to hear. In Russia we often say something like "Of course, the work in your company is my top priority, I want achieve a, b and c (and etc.). Family? What is it?" Because most of them expect us to pay more attention to work. In their mind family ruins all that. On the other hand (but it's really really rare) there are people who feel themselves like fathers/mothers and they expect you to be more sincere.

I wouldn't try to guess who is he and would avoid responding such questions. Say something general like you haven't decided yet, some joke, or say what I've written previously and do what you think you should do.

Update:

Wow, wow, wow, @Blam... I would call it "cultural difference". In 2nd case his boss clearly stated: previous person was uncomfortable with his workplace. Some people would leave the company if they get inconvinient desk/laptop and etc. It's widely known psychological fenomenon when southerns can't understand notherns. By the way, my American boss always drops in and asks whatever he has in mind and in our company it is considered as team-building. He just tries to predict whether we satisfied with our role in company.

Either way, give him a hint that you are uncomfortable with such question. I would be shocked if someone would consider me as harassing them.

My experience

I'm working as web-developer for America-based company. So our stuff is half-American, half-Russian. For half a year I was asking my management to relocate me to some place in office (for a reason I would omit). Not so long ago we moved to a big office and I got my desk in separate room with 1 other developer. He works mostly from home so I got the whole cabinet for myself (Bwahaha). So every coworker, manager, boss who passes my door by asks me if I'm feeling lonely. They don't understand that in fact... I like it! But from your point of view the whole company is harassing me D:

In case you won't leave this company

We, Russians, get along with Indians, Italians and Texassians :D We like unofficial way of speach. Even at work. Thank you for your post, though, I will be cautious when asking my foreign coworkers about how they feel about... anything.

And yeah

Never ask Russian "How do you do?" Because we will tell you How, When, Where and For how long we did it. And no sexual background here, just beacuse in our culture we don't ask such questions for politeness. We really ask person about his weekend and really will answer how we spent it.

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    russians are totally bro-tier. :3 – easymoden00b May 6 '15 at 18:45
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Anything can be going on. Russian proverbs literally translated to English? Not-so-good social communication skills (we're all human)? A sense of humor that does not match yours? A social background that differs radically from yours (as you suggested, cultural. Not a barrier though).

Just ask when you don't understand what he says ("I don't understand your remark, is that a Russian proverb or something?"), or why he says.

Keep it light and don't overthink this.

Consider that the fact that you get uncomfortable says something about you also. E.g. maybe you get suspicious? Worth an investigation as well.

  • All good advice (+1) but I feel this answer fails to cover one aspect: What to do when your boss makes comment that are unambiguously unacceptable and impinge on your private life. Surely taking it lightly and chalking it up to some misunderstanding is not always enough. – Relaxed May 6 '15 at 7:53
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    @Relaxed "comments that are unambiguously unacceptable and impinge on your private life" It is unclear from the post that we have reached that stage. That's why I emphasize the OP asks for clarification. If they turn out to be unacceptable that's an other question. – user8036 May 6 '15 at 7:56
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    I would argue the post leaves both possibilities open and it's difficult to determine that when you are on the receiving end so those are not two separate questions. Just assuming the comments are benign is convenient but makes the answer less helpful than it could be. – Relaxed May 6 '15 at 8:00
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You really have three options:

  • answer the question as asked, truthfully, and forget about the conversation as soon as it happens. Don't look for deeper meaning or try to catch something that may be being hinted at or discussed obliquely. This may include "I don't know, I never really thought about that" or "I think it's a bit of both really" kind of nonanswers, or a simple "yes, sure" or the like. No thought, no deeper meaning, just answer what you're asked.
  • refuse to answer ("that's really none of your business, you know") or ask meta questions like "why would you ask me that?" or "are you trying to find our if I [something]?" - this may lead to a terrific conversation with your boss, or may upset your boss and lead to a falling out, especially if there wasn't any deeper meaning and this is just random chat
  • go to someone else and say that all this talk of loneliness, reference to family, and so on feels a little creepy and you'd like someone to explain to your boss about personal boundaries. This might work or might backfire.

In the past, I went with option 1. I think this is a little easier to do for women - some men will assume we're naïve and innocent. I didn't encourage the line of conversation but I didn't object to it either, I just answered what I was asked with whatever came into my head in as unenthusiastic a way as I could. So not "yes, absolutely! I wish more people understood that approach to life!" but more "oh, I suppose, you're probably right" kind of thing. The conversations were super creepy but I was young and really didn't know how to tell him to stop asking me such things. It was a co-op job so after 4 months I moved on and since he never got past "creepy and overly personal conversations that could in theory be interpreted as a fatherly interest in my wellbeing" I didn't have to do anything more than pretend to have no idea what he was trying to start. I am not sure I totally recommend this approach, especially in a job you won't be leaving in a matter of months, but it is the easiest to do.

If you can't do that first option, or doing it is seriously creeping you out, then your only options are the other two. Choose between them based on the size of your company. In a large company HR will be competent and you'll be anonymous. In a small company there's no anonymity anyway and chance are there isn't someone who knows how to tell your boss that these conversations are over the line, so you'll have to do it yourself. Probably the simplest thing is to have a standard line like "I'm really not comfortable discussing my private life at work" and trot it out every time you feel your boss is over the line.

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Tell the individual that they're making you uncomfortable and to either be clearer or stop or both. If they don't or can't, consider talking to HR.

(Reading between the lines this sounds like it could be a sexual harassment case in the making... but that's guesswork based on an incomplete account of only one side of the story. )

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