How friendly am I supposed to be?

I was working in a predominantly male office with older conservative men who had never had to work with a woman during the course of their careers. I realized within my first few days at work that I was encroaching upon an exclusive boys club whose patrons now suddenly felt compelled to mind their Ps and Qs. And though they always referred to me with the respectful moniker of “Madam” and were jovial and friendly (albeit in a somewhat patronizing way – more on this later), my intrusion into their historically male work place was something they were clearly unsettled by. In deference to this, and also because my work involved having direct communication with the boss of the unit, our interactions were limited to when we were specifically assigned to work together. I also sensed that a more open demeanor would breed contempt, calling into question just how “modern” of a girl I was. My impressions were more or less validated when my other female colleague recounted how her team members had crudely commented on her “fondness” for pink lipstick during one of their meetings.

One day I went to their office to say good morning as I did every day before I went into my own cubicle when one of the senior managers jokingly complained that I didn’t say salaam to him yesterday. I laughingly apologized and said that he hadn’t been in the office when I had come in, but to please be forgiving because I say hello to everyone, every morning. To this he startlingly replied, “Haha, oh, the way you say salaam! You throw it in our face like this!”, flinging his notepad across the room close to where I was standing. I felt it whiz pass my face, and I remember looking down at my chair where it landed, pasting a smile on, laughing and then leaving their offices. It was only when I sat down at my desk that I realized how utterly inappropriate, not to mention threatening, his behavior was. His irritation at my what he viewed as a perfunctory hello was at odds at what I had considered a mostly cordial but impersonal work relationship that we had established over the past few years. I guess he thought I wasn’t friendly enough, but just how friendly was I supposed to be with a 43 year old man with a wife and three kids?

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    1. Though he wasn’t aiming it at me, he aimed it at the chair close to where I was standing. I can’t quite believe it happened either…


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