Brasilmagic\’s Weblog

Venting to the World

Being fake at work

What prompted me to bring this up is a conversation I had with a European friend. It’s normal for foreigners in the USA to get together and exchange impressions of life in America. It’s not meant for Americans to hear, as most would be offended, but it’s inevitable. For an American, just imagine if you ran into another American in, let’s say, Singapore, you would also make comments about the advantages and disadvantages of living there.

Which brings me back to the point my friend and I discussed: when Americans at work smile and say “how are you doing”, are they really interested? Do they really want to know how you are doing? The answer is no. They really don’t give a damn. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. See, most of us have to spend the whole day at work. Everybody has problems in their personal lives once and awhile. We cannot be in a good mood every day. But what happens when people bring their personal problems to work too often? The work day can become unbearable. Do we really want to see sourpuss faces for 8 or more hours a day? Do we really want to carry the heavy burden of hearing that Cindy’s grandma has cancer or that Saed can’t make his mortgage? Do we want Allen barking at his subordinates because his wife refused sex last night? Do we want to hear Lakisha complaining about how many bills she has? Or Doris constantly complaining about her arthritis? I don’t think so. We want work to be a civil, neutral and peaceful place where we can concentrate in work. We want to have friendly conversations and even get a few laughs during our work day. We should use our spouses, close friends and therapists to discuss our personal troubles.

To illustrate this, my friend mentioned his experience working in a lab in Europe where he said people were always complaining, always in a bad mood. Once he came to work in America, he noticed how everybody smiled and had a positive attitude, as if no one had problems outside work. He said that made his work day smoother and more productive.

I also have learned to leave my personal problems outside work. I have learned to smile at everyone no matter how awful I am feeling inside. I have learned to never release anger or frustration on strangers or co-workers. Do I tell my co-workers personal things? Sure, as long as they don’t compromise my image. Do I joke and talk about general things? Sure. Do I sometimes complain? Yes I do, but carefully. We are not robots devoid of emotion. We cannot be fun and nice all the time. But we can learn to be more often. We can train ourselves to make the workplace a pleasant place instead of a war zone. We can be considerate without burdening others and not letting others burden us.


February 15, 2011 - Posted by | Difference between cultures, Workplace


  1. I have to agree with your post, though I admit is a bit hard for a person coming from a Latin culture, to realize the “Thanks for Sharing” is not at all welcomed (specially) in the workplace.

    When I first moved to the US I though those polite exchanges we often see were a bit contrived. Now I understand that’s part of the “how to increase production at work manual” 🙂 And you know what? It’s true and it works.

    Now picture this common scene that plays out in Brazil on a daily basis. Try to get a city employee or a supermarket cashier to stop talking about last night’s “balada” or a soap opera episode (or the current Big Brother Brasil) with her co-worker…tell them, politely, you still have more errands to run so they need to quit talking and get back to work. They will look you up and down, make a face and sloooowwwwly, perhaps, decide to resume work. The concept of “time is money” only applies to taxi drivers in Brazil….

    Here, while Americans might not be as heartfelt as in the Latin countries (again, Brazil comes to mind, where you say Hi to someone and five minutes later you know that person’s whole life), but we have to separate our personal lives from the workplace. Not that we have to become unsympathetic, boring people or robots, but too much personal information shared around the office often leads to gossiping and other troubles. Like we say in Brazil, “roupa suja se lava em casa”…

    Comment by Flavia C | February 15, 2011 | Reply

  2. So in Brazil, if you go to work and your boss is going through a miserable divorce. Would she bring her problems to to work and express it all day long every day?

    Comment by RamonB | February 26, 2011 | Reply

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