On a recent day off, I met up with a friend for a quick conversation. At my request, we went to a local cupcake shop. I immediately noticed an accent from the woman who took our order. I ordered tea and she asked me if I wanted to save room for milk. As a child I put milk in my tea, but the thought of it now grosses me out. Having lived in London for a year, I had to return plenty cups of tea because they put milk in it without asking me. Instead of responding “no” or “yes” to the lady, I immediately responded “how very English”. I rarely, if ever, have anyone ask me if I want milk in my tea – aside from when I’m traveling outside of the United States. She hesitated and in fact told me she was not English, but from South Africa. I was embarrassed as I committed a faux pas that I rarely make when it comes to culture and language. One can never assume, but in that moment, humility and my generally inquisitive nature escaped me. In retrospect, I could say that my travels have made me develop a superiority complex.
I read somewhere (I don’t know where exactly and since this is a blog I don’t have to cite my sources) that traveling is a status for people. Traveling takes time and money – which many people don’t have. Traveling also educates you in a way school cannot. Having educated myself substantially over the past few years through travel I believe I grew an air of supremacy subconsciously.
Some people, like Michael Scott of Dunder Mifflin (from the show the Office), are guilty of making faux pas such as this on a daily basis. So what’s the big deal? I mistakenly thought someone’s accent was British? The problem is that once we think we ‘know’ something about a person or culture, it leaves little room to grow or get to know about them further. Stereotypes or generalizations are never good. It also shuts down conversation. Had I said to the woman “I notice you have an accent, could you tell me where you are originally from?” I believe I would have set the stage for having a more open conversation rather than creating a barrier or awkward tete-a-tete as I paid for my cupcakes and tea.
So have you made any faux pas recently? Was it small or Michael Scott epic?
<a href="” title=”Diversity Day gone wrong at Dunder Mifflin”>