It seems as if every time I go out to a party or any kind of social gathering I say or do something stupid. Sometimes to the point where I actually have to call the next day and apologize. And speaking of apologizing, I seem to have to do a fair amount of that to my fiancée, who will often say she is embarrassed by the things I say. But then if I keep relatively quiet she will complain that I didn’t “contribute” enough. It seems like I just can’t win. If I talk or don’t talk, either way I get in trouble. How do I navigate the treacherous waters of social interaction without constantly putting my foot in my mouth and getting myself in hot water?
Man, have you ever come to the right place with that question. Or the wrong place, I’m not quite sure which.
Because my renown and expertise in the area of the faux pas is without serious peer or challenger. I am the King, the Lord of the Faux Pas. Anyone who has ever blurted out something dumb at a party should kiss the knob of my royal sceptre.
I am ... Faux Pas-varotti. I open my mouth in social situations and they come out in one never-ending-seeming faux-pas-ria. If it weren’t for gaffes, goofs, blunders and misstatements, you could probably boil down everything I had to say on a given evening to five minutes. My unfortunate, long-suffering wife, will glare at me; has kicked me under the table; and has even brought the heel of her shoe crunchily down on my toe.
But nothing stops Faux Pas-varotti once he is in full flight. Faux Pas-varotti makes innumerable minor blunders, but has also made some so hair-raising and eyebrow-scorching that they have burned themselves into my brain and no doubt into those of my interlocutors. “Oh, you must be so-and-so’s mother.” “No, I’m her sister.” Or: “Nice to meet you.” “Dave, we’ve met like three times before.”
One I actually thankfully haven’t done is the classic: “Oh, hey, congratulations.” “For what?” “Well, you’re pregnant.” “No.”
The most spine-tingling one I did not do, thank God, was at a Halloween party which had a Dickensian-type theme. Everyone was complimenting the host’s outfit. (I had basically crashed the party and didn’t know him.) “Oooh, I love that stove-pipe hat.” “The grave dust on your frock coat is a nice touch.” “And those jagged scars on your face are so realistic.”
And I, Blurt Boy, almost blurted out: “And your teeth are really gruesome too.” But something stopped me. Again I say: Thank God. Later, a mutual friend who knew the host said to me: “Dave, those are his real teeth and he’s really sensitive about them."
"So, yelling out that they were gruesome might not have been that good a move.”
My friend put his hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes, and said: “Dave, if you had done that, no one in that room would ever have been the same.”
But I don’t think the answer to being a faux-pas artist is to clam up in social situations. In this, I agree with your fiancée. Non-contribution is a non-viable option. Nothing worse than a ball-dropper. You just have to soldier on. Take the pain, private!
And if you screw up and say or do the wrong thing, call (not e-mail or text, IMHO, it’s more human) the next day and apologize. You’d be surprised (and this is one of the central tenets of Damage Control) at the human capacity for forgiveness.
Say: “Listen, sorry about that dumb/offensive/outrageous thing I said last night.” Prediction: You might be surprised at how little feathers were ruffled.
Then, “moving forward,” to use a corporate neologism, maybe do your best to be a bit more judicious in your verbiage. I don’t know if this is your situation, but I have observed a lot of cases where people hoist on the petard of “saying what we’re all thinking but don’t dare to say.”
Don’t do that. Bad move. It can end careers. It can end friendships. It can end marriages.
And maybe don’t try to be funny for a while, if that’s not too weird a piece of advice. Be engaged. Listen. Be your best, true self — which is all, in the end, any of us can be.
Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.
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