Speaking a different language with co-workers is rude
Arizona Daily Star

Opinion by Peter Post

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/216609

Q Is it rude to speak a different language in front of others at work? A few people at my job tend to speak to certain colleagues in their "native" language while in the presence of other co-workers (I put "native" in quotes because these individuals were born and raised in the United States and hold advanced degrees, and are fluent in both the language of their culture and that of their citizen country).

Sometimes they're talking about work-related issues and sometimes they aren't.

I myself understand their native language, but I believe it's inconsiderate to speak a language in front of others who don't understand it, regardless of whether the topic is personal or professional. They do this, by the way, whether the excluded person is a friend or not. I appreciate any advice you have to offer on this.

A This is clearly one of the most vexing issues received by this column. The problem in the situation you describe, from an etiquette perspective, is that anytime people engage in behavior that's exclusionary, it causes difficulty. Speaking in a language that others can't understand when you could be using an inclusive language is like whispering, and it's rude.

The conversation may be perfectly innocent, but from the viewpoint of the people being excluded, they feel like they're being treated rudely.

The issue is really one of consideration, of making the effort to understand how your behavior is affecting others and then asking yourself: "If I were on the receiving end of that behavior, how would I feel?"

Being excluded never feels good. If the intent of your co-workers is to have a private conversation, then they should move away and have the conversation in private. Otherwise, they should put off the conversation until later. My advice is to say something like: "Jim, I'm sorry I missed that. Did you have something you wanted to say?"

Q: I'm in the middle of sending out our company's 10th anniversary holiday party invitations, and I'm having trouble figuring out how to address the envelopes for female employees and their spouses. If the female employee's name is Jane Smith, I can't write "Mr. & Mrs. Jane Smith." But to address the envelope to the spouse who isn't an employee of the company seems strange. Please help! I'm at a loss.

A: The easiest way around this conundrum is to omit the titles, so that an envelope addressed to the employee and spouse would read "Jane and John Smith." An alternative is to address the envelope to the employee alone and then, on the invitation, indicate: "You and your spouse or significant other are invited."

● Peter Post is a director of the Emily Post Institute. E-mail your questions about business etiquette to bizmanners@globe.com, or mail to Etiquette at Work, The Boston Globe, P.O. Box 55819, Boston, MA 02205-5819.