4 Unintentional Ways We Offend People Every Day
Three's Company is one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, thanks to the effortless way John Ritter could weave physical comedy around a cheesy one-liner, Don Knotts' nonstop parade of amazing outfits, Norman Fell's penchant for looking directly at the camera, and nipples. God, that's a sexist overview of the show. Audra Lindley could drop a sarcastic one-liner like nobody's business, too. See? Not a total pig!
The entire run of Three's Company -- which was 174 episodes, incidentally -- hinged exclusively on comic misunderstandings. Every plot dealt with one character taking something out of context or mishearing something. They kept this going for eight years. It was amazing. Now, every misunderstanding on that show was wrapped up in under 30 minutes, often with the assistance of nipples and/or Mr. Furley's neckerchief. But in real life, most misunderstandings tend to be either of the "immediate 'oh, I just meant this' and we're done" variety, or the long, drawn-out, tortuous variety that never ceases to frustrate the living hell out of you. Like these ones!
Words Out Of Context
Two years ago, I wrote an article about things that make people feel racist, and I still get hate mail about it. People will send me messages telling me I'm a racist asshole. The entire point of the article was that context is everything, and I actually intended it to be an essay against true racism, but it didn't matter. I was racist. Some people still think I am.
For that guy who asked: No, I don't sign "Felix" with a swastika instead of an X.
If I were a racist, I bet I wouldn't care if people thought I was a racist. If any racists out there have insight into that, feel free to let me know. Do you care if you get called out? I, on the other hand, do let it get under my skin a bit. Not a lot -- I understand that I could write an article telling each of you personally that you're wonderful and witty and beautiful and that I'm sending you $100, and someone would call me a shithead for not sending $200. You can't please some people. That's OK.
But it is frustrating when you're trying to make a point and someone misunderstands it so badly that they think you were saying the exact opposite thing. I may write a lot of goofy jokes, but as a person, I have a lot of passion for the ideas of equality and justice for all people. For me, getting accused of being racist is like getting falsely accused of cheating on a partner, or stealing, or picking the "wrong" hole on purpose. It's a shitty, raw deal. So to speak.
How do you fix such a misunderstanding? In normal, polite society, a quick discussion is all it takes, but "normal" and "polite" are two things that didn't get programmed into the Internet back when all those tubes were glued together. So you get people yelling at you in talk show fashion, where louder equals righter. If they keep attacking you, eventually even you'll see how you're wrong. It's charming.
"WHERE'S THE KEY THAT TURNS EVERY LETTER INTO A FIST!"
Everyone has had something they've said taken out of context before, and it's like opening one of those fake cans of nuts full of spring-loaded snakes. Backtracking makes you sound like a liar, because that's what a liar would do, right? Stumble back and try to fix it. Make up some new, awkward shit to cover for how horrible you are. But the reason you sound all awkward and stumbly is because you know that person misunderstood you, and you're shocked and horrified by what they now believe, so you're at a loss for how to coherently fix it. Plus, now they have a spring-loaded snake stabbing them in the eye, and that's unfortunate.
Give people the benefit of the doubt sometimes. If someone says something vastly insane, like, "Man, that Hitler sure had some swell ideas," give them the chance to at least explain if that was misheard before you string them up. If they say it again, then by all means, that person is a crazy Hitler lover and should not be invited to cocktail parties ever again. But if they point out they're just reading a message they got from some dude on Tinder about what the tattoo on his nutsack says, well then there you go. Also, don't date that guy from Tinder. Pro-Hitler nutsack tattooing is the number one indicator of a dude being a douche.
The second being the fact that he uses Tinder.
When I was just out of college, I got my first apartment in a building right downtown, so I could be sure to be home at night and hear everyone else outside having fun. Across the hall was an apartment where two women lived. Both were new to the country, one from Italy, the other from Russia. They were models. They were insanely hot. They wanted to be my friends. I had just set the tone for a popular ABC sitcom.
Vera and Sophia were both super bubbly, super nice, and absolute party animals. Also, because I was not over 50 or a corpse, they assumed my home was an extension of their home and would often hang out with me in an infuriatingly platonic way. One would come over to shower at my place if the other was showering at theirs, that sort of thing. And they touched me all the time. Constantly. Like they were thieves trying to pickpocket me at every turn. You couldn't talk to either of them without them putting a hand on your hand, or your leg. Plus Sophia had the habit of kissing hello and goodbye. Every day, I woke up expecting one of them to maybe suggest a threeway after we watched cartoons. It never happened.
However, one day, as I was getting my standard "I'll be leaving the room for two minutes so here's a kiss goodbye" kiss from Sophia, I thought "Is she into me? Is this like ... really overt flirting?" so I tried my hand at a return, secondary kiss. You would have thought I shot her mother, then plucked the bullet out, ate it, and shit it in her espresso.
I forget Sophia's exact words to me -- she may have literally sworn in Italian at first -- but the gist of her response was "The fuck?" With wide-eyed shock, she stared at me as though she was seeing a dyed-pink gorilla loose in the subway. I stumbled through some sort of idiotic response about liking her and was immediately schooled with this little number: "No no no. You don't kiss like that without permission."
You must complete the three riddles and be approved by the Council first, stupido.
Sophia, being Italian, and a model, and carefree as a gum commercial, could kiss anyone and everything at her leisure. Me, being a trog in an apartment that had a suspicious stain on the carpet right at the door that wasn't caused by me I swear but no one ever believed me, could not. Shit didn't work that way. When she kissed someone, it literally meant "I don't hate you" and had no more to it than that. When I tried to kiss her, it basically meant a bunch of sweaty, gross noises and urges that are best left untouched. And that, my friends, is cultural ignorance. It'll get you every damn time.
You ever tell a lie just to save yourself some time and frustration? Like you can't go to a party this weekend because you have a hysterectomy planned or whatever? You say it quick and easy to avoid the truth -- that the person throwing the party stinks like cabbage and dick cheese, and you find this repulsive and hate to be around them -- and you're pretty confident all is well. Then, on the night of the party, a solid 30 minutes after it was supposed to have started, you run into Ol' Cheese Dick of the Cabbage Patch at the KFC because they changed plans or whatever. And here you are, up to your neck in functional uteri and chicken.
In situations like that, you can either build upon your tower of lies, or just face that ugly moment of realizing they know you lied and accept it. There's no grace here. Only the most accomplished of liars could ever hope to get out of this situation with their gullible friend buying whatever load of shit is being sold. Some of us probably think we're that accomplished, but put yourself in the other person's shoes -- you wouldn't believe you either, would you? Hell no. You'd spit in your own face for lying like a cheap Persian rug from that store that's always going out of business.
Seriously, they've been "closing" for 16 years.
The worst part about a white lie situation is that almost everyone does it, and it's not a malicious thing; it's born from a sense of propriety. You want to spare someone's feelings, since the truth can needlessly hurt sometimes, so you just make up a dentist appointment. But when you get caught out, you always feel like you've just been filmed pooping in the sacramental wine. Don't let that person judge you; they do the same thing, and we all know it.
As a society, we need to agree that we have no right to a moral high road when we catch someone in one of these insignificant white lies. We should just have a system, maybe a code word or something, to express how both parties understand what just happened and are going to make a clean break -- no harm, no foul, no awkward interactions. Next time you catch someone in one of those lies and you realize they lied to you, probably just to get out of something they didn't want to do, offer a fist bump and some words of encouragement, like "good effort," and just go. You nod to each other and go. And you never bring it up again.
Bad Taste And Bad Timing
I seem pretty cool, right? Like, you read my articles and laugh, and show your friends and family and laugh more, and then tell people that you met me once even though you didn't, and you let those friends and family touch you, and you tell them we made out and I was really good and they all believe you? Yeah. But truth be told, aside from it being true that I can make out so good, I have bumblefucked my share of social situations, due to maybe not fully thinking something through, or shitty luck and timing.
This past Christmas, I attended a party with some old friends from high school and college who I hadn't really seen in a long time. You know how it is -- you graduate, get a job, become Gollum, fester in a cave and shun the light for years, then crawl out for that for one Christmas party and hiss at everyone who wronged you. Well, in the midst of doing that, I was mingling with some folks, and someone dropped the old "fuck me!" line in regards to who knows what. I'd had a cocktail or two at the time, and said something like, "Your grandma says that all the time too, no matter how many times I do it." The whole situation seemed much funnier in context, what with me insinuating I was banging my friend's grandma on a pretty regular basis and all. I chuckled. He didn't, because his grandmother died the day before. Awww, shit.
Getting your foot stuck in your mouth is even worse when it's covered in a Christmas stocking.
That joke, which I swear seemed funny at the time, was maybe less funny and instead kind of evil and morbid, and it just sat there like oil on the surface of a pond. And of course I didn't know, yet somehow everyone else in the room was well aware, so I got that look that people give you when you make jokes about plowing dead grandmothers.
Now, I'll concede that man, that was a bad joke ONCE I LEARNED ABOUT THE DEAD GRANDMOTHER. Before, it was just a really good bad taste joke. It really was. It so was. People would have laughed. But I'm not a monster; I just said a monstrous thing. That's the issue here. Bad timing and bad taste turned my hilariously inappropriate quip into a creepy, necrophiliac shot to my friend's emotional nuts. It happens.
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