I think my boss may be making slight jabs at my nationality or questioning my intelligence. I may be reacting overly sensitive so please let me know if I'm completely off on this.

My boss has been in his role for about 5 months. He is well liked by everyone and certainly seems like a much better boss than his predecessor. I am originally from Germany and have almost no accent so he was not aware at first that I was not a native speaker. In one one of our meetings a few months back he asked me about my background so I told him where I was from and what my professional career has been since I came to the United States.

On 2 occasions now he has made these comments that I find offensive or that I'm not sure how to interpret.

On the first occasion, during a one on one he quoted a historical figure to give me an example of how to deal with a difficult direct. He says "Well, you don't know much about American history but" and then pauses....since he seemed to pause to let me speak I respectfully just said 'yes I do' (having had 5+ years intense college classes about American culture, history & politics).

So this past Friday a very similar situation occurred; again during our one on one. This time he quoted Thomas Jefferson, looks at me and then says "you know, our proud 3rd President...I'm sure his name came across your citizenship test somewhere" and says that with a slight smirk. I just nodded to confirm that I did know him, of course, but didn't say anything. I've been upset about it since.

So I cant help but feel that he thinks I don't know anything about this country and I am deeply shocked that he would say these things.
Am I overreacting? Is it appropriate for me to address this with him and maybe give him more information about my background? I feel awkward talking up my degree or coming across as a show off but at the same time I want him to know that I am knowledgeable and that Germans know much more about America than he may realize.

Also, he constantly asks me and his other directs for feedback. Wants to know how he's doing, which of course I have not done as per MT guidance. Do you think though that this is something I should address since he wants feedback or should i let it go and tell my ego to get over it?

Thanks in advance for your guidance!

timrutter's picture

Sorry for the cultural pun, but in the words of Frozen, let it go.

I'm in a similar situation, being English but living and working in Australia, so I do get the senistivity, however, he's your boss, so influencing his behaviour is high risk and low return.


happytree87's picture

Thank you Tim, I agree and I doubt it would change his mind.

williamelledgepe's picture
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I had a peer once (years ago) who made similar comments. He was doing what he thought was funny - it wasn't. Everyone just ignored his "odd" comments, until someone was offended. Than came a "conversation" about cultural awareness. He then started making jokes about cultural sensitivity training and how insensitive he was. In your case, I assume your boss is more insensitive than harmful, but you would have to determine that. I have certainly shrugged off comments about my religion - even some that were hurtful.

Given my position at my current company, when I hear any comments like this - however - I make sure to make an announcement. I usually do something to make sure everyone is focused on me (stand up making the timeout hand signal, raise a hand, or make a loud noise) and say something like "[company name] does not condone XYZ. We are proponents of [describe the appropriate behavior]" If I am within ear shot of such a statement and do nothing, it can be seen as organizational support for the behavior.

I also think we need to be aware of the definition of discrimination. Here is the definition from the EEOC: "National origin discrimination involves treating people (applicants or employees) unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world..." and further down on the website it says, "It is unlawful to harass a person because of his or her national origin. Harassment can include, for example, offensive or derogatory remarks about a person's national origin, accent or ethnicity." (

There are a lot of downsides to action on your part, but there may also be a downside to inaction. One question I would ask to assess options for action: Is there any chance your boss would not give you a certain assignment because you are too [fill in the blank with a German stereotype]?

williamelledgepe's picture
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I find humor useful when I am personally the subject of such comments.  In your case, being an American means your boss has a statiscally significant chance of having german ancestry himself.  Or you could make a reference to any of the highly respected german companies.  You could also use the fact that you scored high enough to pass a citizenship test that many Americans would fail (assuming you're a citizen).  

Dmanager's picture

I had that happened (I'm from Mexicon and naturalized american) it wasn't my boss but my coworker who mentioned something about history and asked if I knew it, my answer was "Of course I know it I'm not american." My boss was present and had a good laugh. Nobody has question my knowledge again