Beware the Male Foreign Associate: He Quotes, He Gropes, He Elopes

The Male Foreign Associate (MFA) manages a delicate balance of appreciating Americana (hotdogs! regional dialects! Bill Cosby!) while also steadfastly despising America (international relations! overly litigious! capitalism!). This duality extends to his persona, which initially appears harmlessly ineffectual but is surprisingly capable of subterfuge.

The MFA's body resembles a large banana. He is tall and slim, but not reedy. He neither cowers like a Male Beta Associate (MBA) nor stands up straight like a tough guy. Sleekly dressed in dark apparel, he rests his hands in his trouser pockets, leisurely fingering the interior lining of his fine Italian threads, so that the trajectory of his body arcs, banana-like, into a subtle curve. When he sits, he crosses his legs like a girl.

There is nothing paternal nor fraternal about the MFA's role in the social sphere. He is unmistakably an uncle: slightly removed, unpredictable, as capable of bestowing a princely inheritance upon you as he is of murdering your father and marrying your mother. Yet when you speak to him, he can be so terrifically cheesy that you think you have him all figured out. But as we shall see in today's Departure Email, just because he enthusiastically attends all of your firm's professional development initiatives and appreciates irony strictly as a form of entertainment --not as the lifestyle choice of America's self-appointed intelligentsia (am I rite, folks??!), does not mean that he isn't capable of... plotting.

Of course, the MFA has enviable qualities as well. He has a broader sense of time and place than Americans, and he incorporates references to both in his daily dialogue. His lack of shame and self-loathing allows others to rely on him to make the obligatory toast at work functions, to be the first to wear the firm's racing jersey for the annual JP Morgan Chase 5K, to strike up conversations with the pretty new girl and not notice that, one, it is going horribly and two, the entire office is watching and eavesdropping with great interest. The MFA boosts office morale while allowing you to pretend to be cooly detached.

But beware! Just when you think you can walk all over the MFA's banana-like body for your own amusement, you may be in for a major slip and fall. Let's take a look at the following MFA departure email, written to the New York office of XYZ Law Firm:

From: XXXX
Sent: Tuesday, XXXX 08, 20XX 5:54 PM
To: All NY
Subject: Farewell
“Alea iacta est” – Julius Caesar would say.
The die is cast. The troops of the XYZ Law Firm Italian practice have crossed the Rubicon.
We have been thinking of crossing the Hudson but, with due respect, New Jersey would not have sustained the literary metaphor with Rome.

Our MFA quickly establishes in three short lines his familiarity with historical knowledge, and his familiarity with your lack of such knowledge, via the considerate translation. Notice that even though he is leaving America for Italy, our MFA does not forget to participate in the good ol' American tradition of bashing the state of New Jersey.

More simply stated, this coming Friday will be my last day at XYZ Law Firm. In the last three years, while being formally employed as an associate of the corporate department, I have been primarily collaborating with XXXX in establishing and developing the Italian practice at XYZ Law Firm.

Do not underestimate the MFA. Remember the paragraph above. The phrasing. The implications. Your understanding of what it means. This paragraph is so ingeniously ambiguous it should be categorized as an optical illusion.

Although it was a weighty decision, I have decided to follow my mentor in a new professional venture. From him, I learned that life shrinks or expands in proportion to your courage to always strive for personal excellence, going down, if necessary, non-traditional and risky paths. The so-called Italian desk is primarily the result of XXXX’s vision, intelligence and determination. We are given an opportunity to hold on to such vision, potentially setting the stage for higher achievements and pursuits. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that I will miss all of you who I have worked with and learned from over the past three years at XYZ Law Firm.

Did you flinch at the barely hidden insinuation that unlike his courageous, excellent, life, yours is kinda grey and dinky? To give our MFA some credit, he doesn't only promote himself in a slightly insulting manner --he is just as eager to heap praise on a co-worker, Rihanna, or the bento box he had for dinner last night. He's a little bit clueless that way. But not you; you feel pretty clued in next to him. You think you know exactly what the above paragraph means. Mmm-hmm, let's read on...

My first special thanks go to XXXX, who has been the chair of the Italian affiliation practice. Despite my formal assignment to the corporate department, XXXX has treated me as a protégé throughout the last three years. It is been an honor to be so closely exposed to XXXXs professional and personal excellence. His achievements speak of themselves, and his role in the development of the Italian practice at XXXX has been critical. (Furthermore, XXXX is also one of those special individuals who make you remember that, in the end, it is the person you become, and not the things you have achieved, that is most important.)

Not to nag, but you are keeping up with this Italian office plot line, aren't you?

During my tenure as a corporate associate, I have been lucky enough to work with many talented lawyers. My thank-you award goes to XXXX. XXXX taught me how to deal with ability and (reasonable) grace in a tension-filled environment. His professionalism, knowledge, and mentoring skills set a model of corporate attorney that I will strive to imitate. (And, if I ever land a job as a general counsel at Prada or Ferrari, good chances are that XXXX would be my U.S. securities counselor…)

The MFA dedicates entire paragraphs to three different people: his mentor, the recipient of his first special thanks, and the recipient of his thank-you award. He does not explain what distinguishes one from the other. How frustrating would it have been to read and revise his legal memos? He writes with the precision of a teddy bear.

I also enjoyed working and being acquainted with XXXX, XXXX, and XXXX. In particular, I would like to thank XXXX for taking me to my first Yankees game, which, by default, made me a Yankees fan, I guess (however, Mets fans will be pleased to know that it was a crushing 1-9 loss, which also explains why XXXX stopped inviting me…).

The MFA thinks of parentheses as little textual hugs for run-on sentences.

The quality of my work, if any, has enormously benefited from our special, competent, hardworking, staff. XXXX is really a fine lawyer, as much as the other members of the library. The corporate paralegals have always assisted me with unique dedication and competence. And, special thanks to my assistant, XXXX, for her unique patience in dealing with my relaxed Italian-style (i.e. lazy) time recording habits…

An acquaintance who graduated from the nation's top-ranked law school once lost a pre-recession interview because he made a joke about taking naps under his desk at work. Lesson learned? In an industry that bills by the hour but pays its employees a flat wage, making laziness jokes is professional suicide. The MFA is the only one who can get away with it; he's not lazy, he's laissez faire.

While strolling down the firm’s hallways in the vain search of a good espresso shot, I made some great friends. One is XXXX, who left the firm last year. Another is XXXX, who has been a uniquely patient and supportive office neighbor. For those of you who believe in old stereotypes about Italian men, I swear I did not pick XXXX because she is blonde and pretty

While typing his Last Day Email, our MFA pauses here and flashes a debonair smile at his computer screen.

XXXX and XXXX, although you are not blonde, I did not forget you. As many of you already know (or should know), XXXX, besides his work as litigation associate, has attained fame and recognition as captain of the XXXX basketball and soccer teams. We are all grateful to XXXX for having brought the XXXX sport programs at sidereal highs. I am personally thankful to him for appointing a European with a funny accent as the vice-captain of the basketball team. Accompanying me in so many battles on the parquet was also XXXX. It is been comforting to play with someone who, besides having such an inviting, almost familiar, last name, bears a striking resemblance to Michael Jordan...

I hope that this colleague really does bear a striking resemblance to Michael Jordan and that this isn't like how all asian males in small town America are told that they look exactly like Jackie Chan.

Beginning next week, my contact information will be as follows:
work e-mail:
personal e-mail:
I wish you all continuing success both professionally and otherwise. Please, stay in touch!

Ok, remember how I kept telling you to keep track of the Italian office narrative? Did you? If not, I suggest you go back and read those paragraphs again. Now tell me, where did you think our MFA was going? Did you, like me, think he was going to Italy to open up XYZ Law Firm's Italian office, with his mentor? Because he had said he was going to?


But look at his new work email address, Why ABC and not XYZ? Could it be that instead of making a "weighty decision" to develop the international presence of XYZ law firm at considerable risk by opening up an Italian office with his mentor --as implied in our MFA's departure email-- he is actually following a defecting partner to go to the Italian office of another firm? In other words, instead of saying, "hey guys I'm leaving the firm along with partner XXXX to work in the Italian office of another law firm," which any normal red-blooded American would've done, the MFA spent at least three solid paragraphs making it seem like he was spearheading the "so-called Italian desk" of his current law firm?


Did he lie in his departure email? No he didn't. If you re-read what at first appears to be shapeless, meandering prose, you will see that he manages to be effusive without asserting anything concrete. He says everything but he also says... nothing. Though he dances very very closely around it, he never directly asserts that he's going to open the Italian office of XYZ Law Firm. In fact, he admits right off the bat that not only is he leaving the firm after three years, but that for the entire three years he was at the firm, he has been "primarily collaborating with XXXX in establishing and developing the Italian practice at XYZ Law Firm." (emphasis added) That is to say, he has been planning to break-up with you since the day you guys agreed to change your Facebook status to "In a Relationship."

How do you feel, sucker?

Of course, you want to know why. Why did our MFA bother to go to great lengths to mislead you with his departure email, only to reveal the truth at the very end? To be funny? Because he felt guilty about leaving the firm? Your guess is as good as mine.

Alas, our MFA's departure letter is no different from our overall interactions with MFAs at the workplace. At first you think you're the one having a laugh at his expense, but come Friday at 5 PM, you're stuck at your desk inputting your billable hours for the week, meanwhile he's strolling past you with his arm around a pretty blonde, winking thanks at his assistant for doing his hours for him. He's just heading out for a cigarette break, he says, but you know he's never coming back.

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