BITE ME: the culturally oversensitive

don't ask why. ask why not.

BITE ME: the culturally oversensitive

Bite Me is a special 14-installment series based on an undercover  stint at a supermarket to draw out lessons on how to better relate to challenging colleagues in the workplace and how to be a better colleague.

These “profiles” are based on real people who wanted free food.

It’s cheeky and deliciously honest.

To read the others:
The Humble
The A-Hole
The Slob
The Negative
he Snob
he Mute
The Righteous


The Culturally Oversensitive
diversity is not a buzzword

The Personality

The Culturally Oversensitive has traveled. Or has at least has read about traveling. He might even have an ethnic minority as a friend. Because of this, he thinks he’s the most culturally sensitive person in the world. He “loves diversity,” thinks “the world of the Latinos,” and believes Chinese acupuncture “is so misunderstood by the Big Bad West.” He’s down with the peeps.

When I’m around, the Culturally Oversensitive gets excited. He finally gets a real “ethnic” person to speak with. He comes up to my table and  proceeds to tell me about his next trip to the Tuvalu Islands next week, where he will spend the month scuba diving and studying with a guru on Ayurvedic massage. He shares how the Tuvalu people are so friendly, especially the women, who are lovely and beautiful, and it is their tradition to wash the soles of visitor’s feet thrice daily. He read that somewhere. But of course, he chuckles, “I am a modern man. I will not require someone to do that! But I am looking forward to rubbing their feet!” Gross.

The Culturally Oversensitive tells me how he feels so connected with the Tuvalu because “in college, my roommate’s brothers’ best friend was friends with a woman from Samoa, and you know, the island people are all so warm and friendly. They are so generous that they’ll give you the shirts off the back. I feel the same way.”

I hope he moves on.

It’s Not Me, It’s You….

Diversity. Inclusion. The Culturally Sensitive throws these words around because he believes he is so sensitive that he is beyond the need for diversity training or dialogue. After all, he is so knowledgeable that he feels the necessity to instruct others on other cultural norms, especially those that aren’t his.

Being open and interested in other cultures is wonderful, and in today’s workplace, necessary. However, appropriating someone else’s culture is not. Throwing around the words ‘diversity’ without being aware of your biases can also be dangerous.

  • Point it out. It’s easy for the Culturally Oversensitive to not understand how he is being offensive. After all, if others around him want to avoid sounding ignorant, they take what he says to be the truth. Other people will likely be relieved that someone spoke up – and if that person is you, you also enhance your reputation.
  • Acknowledge misperceptions. By acknowledging what you don’t know and what misperceptions you may hold may also help to make it OK for others to not always be right as well. Model the behavior.
  • Ask questions. Be genuinely interested in asking questions of the Culturally Oversensitive how he came to his conclusions. Perhaps he has a point. Engaging in conversation can help to unpack some of the misperceptions and stereotypes embedded in his speech. Ask others for their perspectives and experiences.
  • Find allies. If you are unfamiliar with a culture but sense that the Culturally Oversensitive is making overgeneralizations, find and ask other people who may be more familiar with the culture their perspectives. Find allies who may have a broader perspective.

It’s Me…

  • Don’t appropriate. Don’t just follow trends because they’re cool and think all of a sudden you are “down” with it or took a yoga workshop about it.
  • Understand your biases. We all have them. Acknowledge them so that you are aware of when a situation arises, how you might have a tendency to react to them. We are all human and we all have biases.
  • Learn about other people. Really learn about colleagues different than you. Take them out to coffee or lunch. Show a genuine interest and engagement, acknowledge what you don’t know, and be willing to admit that you might ask them what seems a silly question, but you genuinely want to know to get to know them better, “Can you tell me more about why you fast during this period?”