Inappropriate Comments for Work...

So I’ve got something to share and hopefully get some opinions about. I started a new job at the beginning of this month. It’s quite a large company that does outsourced technical support and customer support for different companies. Other than it have EXTREMELY stringent rules and such, it hasn’t been so bad. I’ve been in ‘training’ for my product since I started and we’re nearing the end.

But one thing I’ve noticed is that the atmosphere in the workplace is…different…from any I’ve seen in California (I just moved here to Oregon). Frequently the guys in the class make off color remarks or tease other classmates. Some of it’s quite cruel…comments about other peoples’ weight as they walk by the classroom, making slighty subtle (but not really) comments about peoples’ weight IN the class. Mimicking foreign accents in situations where it’s meant to be derogatory. But there’s been two incidents that have bothered me the most.

It was a normal day, the usual teasing and ribbing but nothing too bad. Then one guy goes “Well, your momma!” as a comeback and the other one replies with “Well at least I only have one.” My friend in the class was “What’s that supposed to be? Is that supposed to be an insult?” and he shut up but kind of smirked. The issue was dropped.

But today…today is what prompted me to write this. We were discussing the proper way of talking to customers on the phone. Your tone, words, speed, and such. The trainer commented that you had to avoid talking too fast and one of the guys pops up with “Like Asians.” My friend and I were just flabberghasted. She said “Excuse me? What did you say?” and he repeated himself. I finally was able to blurt out “That’s so stereotypical!” and he laughed and said “No, it’s true.” I was so mad, I couldn’t say anything else. I didn’t want to start an argument in the middle of class.

Cut to later in the day during a break. I pull the trainer aside and the following conversation is had:
Me: I just wanted to talk to you about something. I think that what ‘Bob’ said about Asians today was not cool at all. In fact alot of things that are said in class step out of line alot.

Trainer: About the fast talking?

Me: Yeah, completely inappropriate.

Trainer: Well have you known any Asians?

Me: complete shock What?

Trainer: Well ‘Bob’ lived in Japan for a year.

Me: It’s still not appropriate! I was too shocked to reply with much else

Trainer: Well, I’ll talk to him about it.

Me: shocked, goes back into room

Later I hear the end of a conversation he had with ‘Bob’ outside of the room.

Bob: Well, it’s true.

Trainer: I know, but even more reason for you to watch what you say.
I can NOT believe this happened. I don’t know what to do. On one hand, this is blatant bigotry in the workplace. But on the otherhand, I don’t want to cause a huge deal over something as small as a single incident. Does anyone have any ideas or opinions on what I should do? Did I overreact?

Japanese don’t talk any faster than Americans that I can tell (living in Tokyo for a sum of seven years.)

However, of all the things to get fed up over, getting mad because someone said “Asians talk fast” seems rather arbitrary. If for no other reason than you’re not going to really be able to prove it one way or another. Any foreign language sounds like jumbled up noises said too fast really until you start to understand it.

If you’re stuck working with a bunch of asses, there’s really only three options for you. Quit, get a thicker skin, or develop your cold stare for when they misbehave in sight.

It’s not that Asians talk fast. The problem is that both Bob and your Trainer have brains that work slow. I don’t believe there is a cure for that. Perhaps you might search out someone in upper management, and see what their thoughts are on the matter.

I just switched jobs, too, and have already had cultural sensitivity training as part of our specific operating mandates. I am also in CA and share your stunned disbelief at the reaction you’ve gotten. I wouldn’t feel comfortable at all with the answers/atmosphere. Where is HR? I believe they would come swooping down from the heavens if they heard rumors of rumors of what was being said and the trainer’s reply to you.
It’s a big deal. It reflects the corporate culture.

Quoted for truth.

I work in an extremely relaxed blue-collar work environment. Despite mandatory sensitivity training, vile behavior abounds. Since I’m there for a paycheck and I’m not being harassed, I deal. You need to decide if it’s something you can cope with, because if it’s this way with a bunch of new people who’re presumably still on their “first impression best behavior” and it’s not being censured by the trainer, that doesn’t bode well for the culture thruout the company.

I just think you need to get a thicker skin. They said something you didn’t like, what’s the big deal? As long as they’re not rude to the customers, it doesn’t really matter?

If they said something like, “Those Asians talk too fast and should be taken out and shot.” Then maybe you should worry. But just saying that they talk to fast? No reason to get upset over.

umm…am I the only one who thinks this is a case of political correctness gone wild? Nobody said “Asians are lazy and smell bad”. Nobody said “asians are lazy.”
Nobody said “Asians all believe in jihad and want to kill you”.

Chinese is a language based on totally different sounds than English. A rapidly changing tone,( almost musical) , with very short words.The fact is that most Asians speak English with a “shortness-of-syllables” that makes it hard for me to understand them for the first few sentences. And I’ve never measured it with a stopwatch, but if you cut your syllables short, then you’re going to sound (to me) like you are speaking faster than an average American speaks.

Diversity training is okay. But refusing to recognize simple facts is not. The few Chinese that I have known all spoke English faster than I do.
And… (get ready…horrors lie ahead…) they had different shaped eyes than me, too. Should I get fired for being a racist?

Heh, look, my SO is Chinese and he wouldn’t get offended by this. It’s not so much that Asians talk fast, it’s just that Japanese has a very different type of inflection, and Chinese sounds so musical that it soudns like they’re talking fast. To me, Spanish speakers race along and talk a mile a minute, and I took lots of Spanish! And can understand them when they go slow. I understand it’s only a matter of familiarity.

I get the impression that the outrage is not over this particular thing that was said, but over the way people in this company say nasty things and no one thinks anything of it. One thing I’ve learned over many years is that management sets the tone in companies - if this is going on, I would feel pretty safe in assuming that taking your concerns to management wouldn’t help at all - they already know about and condone the bad behaviour. You can certainly document instances of what you consider inappropriate things and bring them to H.R., and best of luck to you.

You bring up a difficult point about working with people not doing what we like, though, Aunt Flow.There’s behaviour that is harassing and illegal, and should not be condoned in any amounts anywhere, and then there’s behaviour that you wish people wouldn’t do, but you really don’t have any say in. The comment about Asians talking fast is prejudicial, sure, but it isn’t a particularly negative comment. I would say more than anything it was a non-sequitur - it served no purpose for him to make that comment.

Do you have any more examples of inappropriate behaviour that are a little less grey than this one?

I don’t see any problem with addressing those comments with “Let’s keep things professional here.” Hopefully the cream will rise to the top and the dregs will sink to the bottom and on down the drain.

I would share your consternation about talk like this. Part of it is really messed up in the sense of making broad statements about people based on their ethnicity, etc., and part is just these people being assholes. Gossip and cutting other people down is some people’s idea of fun and hopefully you will not have to work directly with them? Discriminatory comments about people based on race, ethnicity, etc., would really disturb me too.

Frankly, I think most young people talk too fast, but that may be a symptom of my advancing age. I often ask that people speak a bit slower, especially on the phone. If I’m listening to someone w/ a foreign accent I think it may seem like they’re talking faster, because it tales my brain a tiny bit longer to discern the words.
Aunt Flow, I’d suggest that you pick your battles a little more carefully. If your instructor starts calling people “gooks”, “greasers”, or some such, then it’s time to stand up and be heard, but, while the incident you describe sounds a bit racist, I don’t think it warrants a full fledged assault. You’ve made your feelings known, just let it go. Your more likely to make things difficult for yourself, than change these guys behavior.

This whole thing is not about whether Asians talk fast or whether political correctness has run amok. I agree completely with featherlou here – it’s about the climate in the workplace and what management is prepared to tolerate.

And I have to say, I’m seeing some bad, bad signs about your employer. If the kind of behavior described in the OP is commonplace and tolerated, then you’re in for a poisonous work atmosphere. If management at any level tolerates that behavior, then you have a pretty fair guess that management at every level of the company is screwed up. And why? In my experience, if middle manager X is terrible, then the boss he or she reports to can’t be any good either, and so on, from one end of the corporate ladder to the other.

I think people are too tolerant, generally, of unprofessional behavior in the workplace. It doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve worked in workplaces at both extremes of the gentility scale, and believe me, more genteel is better – better for morale, better for job satisfaction, better for productivity, better for outcomes.

I’m sorry to be so negative about a job you have just taken. I hope I’m overreacting.

I’m no expert, but I do a fair share of EEO work, and see many many workplace complaints. I’m not terribly sympathetic with a great many of them (odd how the most incompetent folks coincidentally tend to be discriminated against). But a workplace that tolerates behavior as described in the OP is leaving itself wide open for charges of hostile environment. Whether you feel it is good or bad, it is economically bad business.

(Somewhat relevant digression: just the other day I was told of a workplace where the labor contract specified that the employees were allowed to swear while on the job.)

Thanks everyone for their thoughts.

My main thing isn’t that I was offended by the comment (even though it was said in a way that was derogatory) but more so that I was completely shocked about the response I got. Sure, there’s nothing ‘bad’ about saying asians talk fast but it’s still a stereotype. Not all stereotypes are about bad qualities. No company should simply brush off something like that, especially when someone else raises a concern about it. And it wasn’t just me who thought it was completely out of line, but my friend as well.

I’m not going to management or anything about this. I’m not about to make a huge deal out of it. But if something like this happens again, I will be saying something to someone higher up.

Aunt Flow - I can’t really say that there’s anything particularly offensive about that fast-talking comment. It seems to me more cluelessness than anything else. What I do have an issue with (and has continuously rattled me ever since the phrase “sexual harrassment” was first coined) is how grownups in a professional environment can act like disgusting bratty schoolkids, and this is considered acceptable behavior.

In my lifetime, I have worked for numerous private, city, state, and federal entities earning anywhere from $5.50 an hour to about $25,500 a year, and not a single one would tolerate a tenth of the garbage you described (much less something as grossly repugnant as sexual harrassment). I have never encountered any situation where someone who showed an utterly callous disregard for the feelings of others wouldn’t be fired. Oh, sure, there were some dumb kids who thought they could somehow beat the system, but reality caught up to them pretty quickly.

Since this is still the learning stage, there’s a chance that some of these idiots don’t yet realize what work is like and will wash out in short order. Believe me, if this job involves any kind of contact with the public, they’ll dig their own graves.

Aunt Flow welcome to Oregon. We tend to be pretty liberal (west of the Cascades anyway) so I hope it is just your workplace. Is it a small company? I worked for large companies my whole life and I am surprised by what I hear that goes on in some smaller places that don’t have an active HR dept.

As to the Asian comment, I think it makes a difference whether the person was talking about what he (maybe incorrectly) thinks non-native English speakers do vs someone with an Asian ethnic background who is a native English speaker; i.e., does he think it’s a genetic trait.

I once heard someone say that “Asians” can’t pronounce “R” correctly because they have a different structure of their mouth. I wanted to reach out and slap them for being so freeking stoopid.

This is actually a decently large international company with sites all over the world. And like I said before, it wasn’t the words of the comment that made it sound bad but the way it was said. As in all Asians who talk English talk too fast. Whether or not that was the intention, that’s how it was perceived by more than one person in the class.

And somewhat oddly, my friend and I were discussing it when we both realized something. Every company we’ve both worked for, especially the larger ones, addresses sexual harrassment in some way at the beginning stages of employment. Be it a whole seminar, a video, or just pointing out the section in the employee handbook. But it was never even mentioned. I’ll pull out the handbook later to doublecheck but I’m pretty sure it’s not even in there. This struck us both as a little odd.

I wonder if the trainer knew you came from California when he asked you if you knew any Asians? If so, he must never have been here.

Did you think the comment was that Japanese spoke Japanese faster than we speak English, or that they speak English faster? I’ve never noticed Asians speaking particularly fast myself. Course I’m from New York, and speak a lot faster than anyone. So, stupid comment and wrong too.

My concern would be the overall behavior, not the issue of whether the specific remark was true or inappropriate or whatever. The OP gives examples of them teasing people in the class about their weight, for example. If there is an overall trend of rudeness and mean-spirited teasing, this should be addressed, and quickly.

I do agree, though, that you have to pick your battles and if this is a job you need, this might not be one worth picking.