I work in an office in Central Europe. It’s a creative environment and as an American it’s a pretty sweet life experience, I thought. We just hired a new girl, a native, and before I had a chance to meet her she went around showing everyone a book she bought on Nazi’s and the occult, a book with a big swastika on the cover with Hitler and the rest of his assholes. It was just a general interest book, but it made me deeply uncomfortable because I am part Jewish and can never tell about these people. I took a photo of the book on her desk (in plain sight!) and I’m thinking of making a complaint to my manager (who is also Jewish.) Everyone here seems to think she is OK in having a special interest, but that would never play in an American office. It’s even sadder because she is kind of cute. Anyway, now I am deeply troubled. Should I swallow my anger or should I take action? What would you suggest?
Dear Deeply Troubled,
You’re on foreign soil, literally and socially. I caution you from doing what you’d do stateside under the notion of ‘that would never play in an American office.’ It’s not an American office. You don’t know the ramifications of taking things to managers. You may find yourself in an even stickier situation than you first intended.
But some things are universal; no one likes to be talked about behind her back. And most people appreciate a straight-forward approach. Talk to this cute fräulein and let her how the book makes you feel. Don’t ask what her beliefs are, don’t tell her what you think she should or should not be doing, just let her know seeing the book on a daily basis isn’t kosher for you.
Hopefully she’ll get it, and remove the book from her desk. If she doesn’t, and you still want to take action, do a little homework on how this kind of thing is handled in Central Europe; ask people who don’t work where you work, research it online. Know the rules. Then work them in your favor.
Lastly, not that I’m down with blaming the victim, but, isn’t this what international experiences are about? Taking the good with the bad? Exploring how we’re all the same, yet, also so vastly different? You picked up and moved yourself to a different country; no easy feat. That takes guts and a thick skin. Surely you knew it wasn’t going to be all Oktoberfest and lederhosen. Just remember, this is just one small bump on the autobahn that is this great adventure you’ve chosen!