I work in another country, in a company where I am the only foreigner other than a woman who I think comes off a bit abrasive for cultural reasons, but at the same time is quite outgoing and does have friends in the office.
I have no friends in the office. Part of it I chalk up to the fact that I only work part-time, that my project involves working only with my boss, and that people are unsure of me, some apparently thought that I didn't speak the language, etc. I am also not terribly outgoing, and in the foreign context I have been downright shy. In the main social contexts like cafeteria lunches, I really can't follow everyone talking at the same time so I tend to drop out of the conversation.
So I am not that surprised or upset that people haven't quite warmed up to me. I realize there is more I can do, and I am making an effort to chat more with people and show interest when I catch them in smaller groups.
However, I am starting to feel that a number of people actively don't like me. Maybe this is a natural consequence of not having made a particularly positive impression in my window of opportunity, but a few people act as though I am downright abrasive. In a couple of cases, I know I have made cultural mistakes, but for the most part I am mystified.
So I am considering asking someone in the office whether there is a particular reason I may come off badly. I have thought about asking my boss (who is happy with my work and seems to like me fine, but is still my boss), HR, or someone my age who seems nice (though I don't know anyone well). Which if any of these channels would be the right way to go?
I wouldn't suggest going to HR. Unless your behavior becomes a major issue (like you're given negative comments about it in a performance evaluation or something), I'd stay away from asking them about it. I think, if you can, you should talk to someone who you think would give you a chance (it doesn't have to be someone your age). I wouldn't start off with, "Hey. Do you know why people don't like me?". Just get to know this person gradually, like you would any other person who could potentially be your friend. This person may give you insight later on, when (s)he feels more comfortable with you. If you can't find someone like this, then I'd suggest going to your boss.
I think if it's a social issue, and by social, I just mean fitting in and feeling comfortable, I wouldn't go to HR. I fear it would become a bit like going to a teacher or parent, who then instructs others to treat you a certain way. If any of these people feel like they've been scolded for how they've treated you, it could back fire for you.
If you can find a peer that you feel comfortable addressing it with, I would take that route. They may indeed have an answer for you, that gives you something to work on. They may not feel comfortable giving you a specific answer about you or your personality, but you can ask them if there perhaps something cultural that you don't know, and if you are inadvertently slighting anyone. Maybe they'll invite you somewhere when a group socializes, or make an effort to draw you into a conversation at work.
I'm sorry, this sounds like a touch situation, and it's great that you're making the effort.
You could ask around (even HR) if they are planning any group activities like team buildings in the future and if you could help them in organizing (and of course attending.) This may get you closer to getting to know people plus you will come off as someone helpful/positive in their eyes.
OP: how much research have you done on the culture in which you work? A big part of fitting in to a new culture and making friends is going in with some knowledge about what's socially acceptable and what isn't.
Also, just be honest. Say something like: I'm sorry can you repeat that? It's really hard for me to follow when people talk in a big group. Or approach one of your co-workers (a more friendly sort) and ask if they'd be willing to get coffee because you'd like to practice your language skills. Just be humble and smile a lot. I can't emphasize how much just smiling and seeming friendly, even if you don't talk much, really helps.
I remember once I was sitting in a village watching the family women preparing food for a wedding. They were speaking the regional language so I couldn't understand and they were clearly talking about me. One of the women asked: "Do you understand?" (meaning what they were saying.) I responded in the main language (not their regional language): "No, I'm just sitting here with a dumb smile while you all gossip about me." And then smiled. It was a joke. They all cracked up and it really eased the tension. After that, I was warmly included. So sometimes a bit of humility and self-deprecation goes a long way (though again, depends on culture--I understood that in this particular part of the country humor was really appreciated).
Thanks for the input, everyone. I will put my question on the backburner until/unless I know someone well enough to ask.
poppet, I know the culture wellish and have friends with no issues outside of work, but I am not that great with work-related/written politeness/politics, and have none of the natural sensitivity to it that I have in English-speaking environments.
I've decided to just try harder to relax/make more of an effort to be myself I realize that people don't necessarily know what to make of me, so the more they get to know me the more I think they will be willing to approach me. And the friendlier I am the more benefit of the doubt I can hopefully get when I do make my little gaffes.