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More than language at times, it is usually cultural differences as well. You gave the example of elevator chit chat. I think it might have more to do with the fact that your Indian/Chinese co-worker might not have a lot of common things to talk about. For example, sports. A typical american likes american football or baseball at least knows enough about it talk to another american. Someone from another country may not relate to this at all unless they are actually following the sports (a lot of them do of course). So sometimes they are not sure what to say and hence go with the usual "weather" or "watched TV" chat.

Having said this, I personally think that it is rude to talk in a language in work settings that someone else does not understand even though you may not be talking to/about them. However, many times, the people doing this do not realize it is rude (again due to cultural differences). They will think "what the heck, I am talking in my mother tongue to someone else, why does he/she care". They do not realize that it might be making the other person uncomfortable.

P.S: I am an Indian who moved to the US many years ago.




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