Tuesday, June 24, 2008

FAUX PAS. . . the dubious art of recovering your cool

Betina Here. If, like me, you occasionally step in it (your mouth, that is) I have the book for you. THE FAUX PAS SURVIVAL GUIDE, by Jeanne Martinet.

I could have used this book. . . oh. . . about five decades ago. Would have saved me all kinds of grief.

Ever reached out to touch a pregnant woman's tummy? BUSTED!

Ever asked a woman if she was preggers and she WASN'T? BUSTED!

Ever shared a juicy bit of gossip only to look up and find the object of your tidbit standing there listening? BUSTED!

Ever ranted in a social situation about the horrible service in a hospital/restaurant/store only to find you're talking to one of the managers/employees of the place in question? BUSTED!

Ever assumed a woman was a guy's mother, only to learn it was his wife? BUSTED!

So what are the best/most popular recoveries for the classic faux pas?
(Which by the way is French for FALSE STEP, not as is often quoted "f**k-up")

1. Confess and Apologize: own up to the misstep and offer to make it right or do penance

"Oh, gosh, did I hurt your feelings/ embarrass you/ insult you? Can you ever forgive me?"
"Please tell me what I can do to make this right."
"Okay, I want you to insult me badly. Please. Then we'll be even."
"I can't believe I just said that-- I am so clumsy/stupid/lame."
Non-verbal version: mime hanging, shooting, or choking self.

2. Make an excuse:

"So sorry, I'm not myself. I was just fired from my job/dumped by my boyfriend/had my wallet stolen/was yelled at by my boss."
"I just had some dental work done and I may have taken too many painkillers."
"Please forgive me; I'm really distracted by a huge project/deal/difficulty at the office."
"I'm really sorry; the truth is, someone was really rude to me (no, I don't want to tell you who it was) and I'm just not myself just now."
"Please forgive me; I've got a crashing headache and it's making me irritable."

3. Use Humor:

"I just made a fool of myself, didn't I? I hate it when that happens."
"Sorry, I was raised in a barn."
"I just read a book on 'faux pas' and that one was on page 59."
Talk to imaginary communicator: "Scotty I'm having trouble down here. . . beam me up!"
"You know there are some days you should have stayed in bed? Well, I'm having a whole year like that!
"You know there are some days you should have stayed in bed? Well I should have stayed in the womb!"
"How much will it cost me for you to keep quiet about this?"

There are a few other techniques: denial, diversion, and sudden departure. But the aforesaid three are the best and most honest. And honesty, according to the book and to my mother's wisdom and to good old common sense, is the very best defense.

Being up front about recognizing that you've blundered will go a long way toward mollifying any hard feelings and will make you look at least like an decent, caring person--who just happened to put her foot in her mouth. Hey, it happens to us all.

Own up to your humanity, admit the "faux pas," and go on. Forgiving yourself is part of the equation, because you can't expect others to forgive you and let it go if you can't.

Yes, I occasionally look back on situations where I should have kept my mouth shut or just walked away BEFORE stepping in it. But, being me, I usually just forge ahead into disaster. So, rather than letting a misstep ruin a social situation or a perfectly good working relationship, I intend to confront it head on from now on. I intend to address it in the here and now. . . and hopefully make amends.

So, I'm taking a page from this book and telling myself that to "faux pas" is human and to forgive is divine.

Care to share your favorite faux pas or favorite apology? Ever been the victim of a faux pas? What did you do? How would you react if somebody congratulated you on being preggers. . . when you weren't? (Murder is NOT an option. Have you seen those orange prison jumpsuits?)


lois greiman said...

The wife/mother thing. I do that allll the time. I don't know what's wrong with me. I can't determine ages. Sometimes I can't tell if someone is a daughter or wife. A husband or son. You wouldn't think it would be that hard. But I've grown comfortable with having my foot in my mouth.

Keri Ford said...

"Favorite faux pas"? you say that like we should enjoy eating our toes!

I had someone ask me how far along I was with the baby....before I got pregnant, when I was in relatively good shape--well I thought so anyway. (another reason why I don't care for the baby dolls shirts mentioned yesterday!). It kinda knocked the wind from my lungs, but I had been trying to get preggers for about 8months at the time (see, that many months of trying, you know I had to be decent shape!), so it didn't really offend me as much as I would say, made me a little jealous. You know, looked the part, but I wasn't the part. If that makes any sense.

Betina Krahn said...

Lois, I gotcher back on this one. Sometimes (especially down here in The Land of Second Wives) it's danged hard to tell! So I just lay low these days and try to let them cue me in before I say too much. And if you thing that's isn't hard. . .

Keri, I hear you on the wishful thinking thing. When I wanted to get pregnant, I would have been thrilled to be asked. . .

Of course these days, the notion that anyone could think I might be preggers-- with all these sags and wrinkles-- is almost flattering!

Playground Monitor said...

The question "Are you two related?" works if you're not sure. If she IS his mother, you can comment on the resemblance. If she's his wife, you can say that studies show couples often resemble each other because of shared emotions. You can leave out the part where it says "long-married couples" especially if you mistook the young wife for his daughter.

I can't remember any personal faux pas but I'm sure my life is riddled with them and I'm blocking out the pain and humiliation.


Samantha Hunter said...

I know I've done it, I just prefer not to remember it... ;)

Though I think I probably went with one of the three fixes instinctively... I know when I screw up, and mostly don't mind facing the matter upfront. Most people are good natured about it if you deal with it openly, I've found.


Debra Dixon said...

Open foot. Insert mouth.

Yes, that's my daily exercise routine.

Most embarrassing? Sitting next to an author in a booksigning giveaway at RWA (I was a newbie) and her book hadn't arrived. I gushed to big author that'd I'd read it and it was fabulous.

Then later, much later, I was done and her books came in. I got in line to get a free copy. She said, "I thought you'd read this?"

Recovery? "Yes, absolutely. That's why I think my chapter library would enjoy it. Please make the autograph generic."

Then I slunk away.

Cindy Gerard said...

My biggest problems is remembering names. Faces, yes, names - forget it - um - literally. Forget it.
I HATE it when that happens.
So Betina, when I see you at conference and address you as 'hey you', you'll understand why :o)

flchen1 said...

Debra, now that's thinking on your feet!

Cindy, I totally can't remember names either--the worst was when I actually forgot within minutes of meeting the person and we were STILL in conversation. Ooops... I shamefacedly apologized and confessed that I had no brain to speak of and could she please remind me of her name? Now I just tell people up front that I'll probably be forgetting their name promptly and not to take it personally ;)

And I'm sure I've done all of those faux pas(es?) at one point or another, but am blocking those to avoid reliving the embarrassment...

Christie Ridgway said...

I'm sure I've faux pas'd recently, but I'm really good at putting it from my mind. But I was with a friend at the gym the other day and she spoke to this very nice-looking man that she obviously knew. Indicating his companion, she said, "Oh, and is this your daughter?"

Uh,no. It was his girlfriend. He was probably late thirties and he has a teenage daughter. The, ah-hem, female he was with could have been anywhere between 15 and 20. Okay, maybe she could have been 25, but I doubt it.

catslady said...

Never assume a baby is a he or a she - mother's don't like it lol. And don't ever talk about the boss to anyone - my luck was he was having an affair with a girl 20 yrs. his junior who ended up pregnant and his wife!!!

Betina Krahn said...

Marilyn, excellent pro-active question! Get the facts straight with a neutral question.

Sam, yes, honesty is the best policy! Especially when confessing small things.

Deb, I've made so many woopsies. . . one of which was when I first met Susan Johnson and was talking with her on the phone. She was so gracious about my stupid foot-in-mouth episode, that I've tried to remember how it felt to be let off the hook and to follow her example whenever anyone says something dumb to me. I'm a lot more careful now about expressing my opinions of certain sub-genres and plotlines of books.

Cindy-- aghhhh-- names! If only everyone would just wear nametags. . . all the time. And if only the writers at RWA would just wear the same clothes all week, I'd do a much better job of putting names and faces together!

Flchen 1, In groups I now take a moment to practice the names of people I've just been introduced to. "Andrea, right? Ellen. . . one of my first editors was an Ellen. Allison. . . you write contemporary, right? As Allison Something, right? I love the name Cai, it's very 2000's and very hip.

Christie, by my lights that's no faux pas, it's KARMA rewarding the guy's poor judgment in dating someone who was just a zygote when he was doing fraternity keggers. Again, down here, there are a lot of May-November relationships going on. I am learning discretion. Slowly.

And Catslady,you're right about the touchy moms. But if they don't want people to say "What's his name?" why do they dress a kid in blue? We can only overcome so much social conditioning, and I'm saving my heroic efforts for something more important. :)

Estella said...

I cannot remember any faus pas, but I am sure there probably are some.

Playground Monitor said...

Re: Nametags

At RWA everyone walks around staring at other people's chests because that's where their nametag is. LOL!