I was in the health food store yesterday and helped a little girl, about 8 years old, who couldn’t reach the roll of plastic food bags. When I left the store, I saw her standing with an older woman; I smiled at the woman and asked if the little blonde was her granddaughter. In halting, Scandinavian-accented English she told me no, the little girl was her daughter. Hoping my embarrassment didn’t show I went ahead with what I was going to say in the first place – that the little girl was beautiful and very polite. But with her having trouble speaking English, and it being the holidays and all, I do think it was “mormor” after all, visiting from Europe.
I’ve been wrong other times, too; either by omission or assumption. When I greet already-established clients as newbies what is there to say? Name slips are easier to cover; I just correct myself after apologizing profusely. It’s when I discover my screw-up after the client’s left that grates; unfinished business or lack of closure or something like that. All I know is that I hate having apologies go undelivered. The absolute worst is making dead-wrong assumptions that are innocent but insulting. Ever asked an overweight woman when she’s due?
I don’t think I’m the only one whose engagement with others doesn’t always work out. It’s not always true that other people want to be vulnerable to strangers; it’s the grand assumption I make about people, probably because of what I do for a living.
There are unspoken rules about physical proximity, “getting in someone’s space”, and there are verbal ones, too. Like how you talk, what you say, the purpose of saying something at all.
Women often complain that their partners don’t talk to them. It’s assumed (there’s that word, again) that a partner’s thoughts, and especially feelings, are being purposely withheld. It would be a darned interesting experiment (but unethical) to see if those same partners are verbally receptive to stranger-talk. We’re usually nicer to strangers than we are to the ones we love.
Sometimes things just come out wrong. Last time I was snacking my way through Costco I told the sample lady I’d knock her out just to steal every one of the cream puffs she was demo-ing. Thankfully she was quick on the uptake, got it, and didn’t call security.
Do guys make these goofy blunders? I know they do in sitcoms but do they in real life? Don’t know; my partner hasn’t said.
Kathe Skinner is an inveterate chatter who specializes in coaching couples, especially couples whose relationship is impacted by invisible disability. She lives in Colorado with her mostly-quiet husband, David, and their two hooligan cats. Lucy chats more than Petey; guess what they say about women talking more than men is true of cats, too.