The Foot In Mouth Phenomena


While waiting at the airport, a friend called me. She was waiting for her flight to leave. As I was her ride once she got home, she was calling to let me know it had been delayed for the second time.

“So, I saw this Asian cleaning lady, and I thought of you,” she tells me out of the blue.

“Um, thanks?” I responded.

As she continued to tell me about how she struck up a conversation with the woman and how the lady seemed surprised to be receiving a greeting, my mind wandered.

I wondered if my friend realized that it sounded as though she thought all Asian people looked alike, and that maybe they were all in the housekeeping business. If she knew how she sounded, she’d be mortified. She’s a teacher.

As often happens with thoughts, one led to another until I started realizing how often people say things that just come out all wrong.

For example:

My sister, a few years ago, posted that our grandfather had passed away. One of her very best friends responded with…”I’m so sorry! LOL!”. Ouch. When my sis mentioned how inappropriate “laughing out loud” was in reference to a funeral, her very sweet friend turned beet red and said, “I meant Lots Of Love!”. Apparently she wasn’t up on online shorthand.

At an Asian church group function, these Chinese guys were trying to hit on me and my friends. To strike up a conversation, one of them looked at my girlfriend and said, “Are you Philippines?” to which she responded, “No. Are you China?”

Or there was the irate (and racist) customer who was complaining to me, the manager, about “that Oriental girl”. Was he ever surprised when the young lady in question (who had done nothing wrong) advised him, “Sir, Oriental is a rug. I’m Asian.”

And finally, a very competent female manager, calling to tell me she’d elected to promote someone else into her store cited her reasoning for selecting someone other than me was because she didn’t think her store could handle “too man hens in the hen house”. It’s a good thing I knew her well enough to realize she didn’t mean it that way. What she’d really meant to say was that she didn’t think her store could handle two very aggressive personalities in management. She needed someone to be good cop to her bad cop.

People say things all the time that, without a little bit of humor, context or kindness, could do significant damage to a person. Have you ever encountered this phenomena? Care to share?