Ask Babs: I Corrected My Friend's Pronunciation At Dinner, And Now He's Mad. How Does One Keep It Classy In These Situations?
This month: walking the fine line between 'smug jerk' and 'enabler of bad pronunciation.' Also, a married person (shockingly) stresses about her in-laws.
"Ask Babs" is a new advice column for people who made embarrassing language mistakes (and are desperately trying to redeem themselves). If you’re cringing your way through a new language, Babs wants to hear about it. To appeal to her divine wisdom, email email@example.com with your awkward language questions.
I think I might have messed this one up. I was out to dinner with my friend the other night, and when he went to order the "duck con-fit," I corrected his pronunciation in front of the server. I guess I didn’t expect him to react as strongly as he did, because we spent the rest of the meal not talking. He’s still being terse with me a couple days later.
What do you think? Am I a jerk? Is my friend a snowflake? Is there a Babs-approved way to handle people who butcher menu items in your presence?
Yes. Yes to all of your questions. You’re obnoxious, your friend is a total drama queen, and it’s sort of a given that I always have all the answers.
Want to know what Babs would have done? I’d have pursed my lips, silently judged the other person, then silently judged myself for judging said person. Then I would have tweeted something passive-aggressive about it and started the process of slowly ghosting my uncultured companion because I don’t associate with rubes.
Okay, so here’s the real rub: it might grate your ears (and even embarrass you a little) to be in the presence of yokels who can’t effortlessly roll "bœuf bourguignon" off their tongue. Smug school marms like yourself are probably doing more damage, however. Roughly 41 percent of New York City’s restaurant and bar staff say they’ve witnessed diners avoid ordering certain items for fear of mispronouncing them.
Clearly, our collective foodie psyche is harboring a painful wound, and Shame is not the hero we need right now.
My advice to you: extend an olive branch to your friend in the form of a confessional. Tell him about the time you ordered a "fo-ca-chee-a" bread sandwich every day for two years in college until someone finally corrected you. Lie and say this happened to you if it didn’t. Explain to him that you were merely projecting your own unprocessed shame onto him. Avoid launching into a pedantic, condescending explainer if he doesn’t know how psychological projection works. Just tell him you love him, and that you’re sorry, and that this doesn’t change the fact that he really needs to take himself less seriously.
And then leave this article open in his browser window so he can feel emotionally safe about getting a clue.
And that’s how it’s done,
I hate to bore you with an in-law question, but I’m legitimately nervous about their upcoming visit. This will be my first time spending an extended period of time with them, which means I probably won’t be able to constantly rely on my husband to be a Polish translator. We’ve gotten by in the past with hugs, smiles and really basic phrases, but I cringe when I think about how awkward it’s going to be when my husband has to run out on an errand, and I’m left to play "good hostess" with only Google Translate and Pictionary at my disposal.
I know I probably should have started studying Polish months ago, but I’m a procrastinator (#facts), and now I have a billion other things I need to do before the holidays are in full swing.
How do I make this bearable?
Desperately Seeking The Gift Of Bab
Dear Desperately Seeking,
I see what you did there, and I like it.
I also don’t necessarily see the problem with using Pictionary. That’s honestly kind of a brilliant idea.
Why don’t you spend the holidays developing and testing a product that you could eventually market to stressed-out spouses like yourself? No one has to know that it’s essentially just a lazy ripoff of a popular children’s game.
You can throw in lots of helpful adult-themed "conversation starters," like a picture of a woman looking very unsure about when she’s finally going to make you some grandkids, or a picture of a group intervention for Pawpaw’s liquor habit. Then you can give your new "startup" a pithy name like "Bridg" or "Depikt," slap a 65 percent markup on the game for its savvy branding and design choices, and then voila. By next year, you’ll be sitting pretty, with a personal assistant-slash-Polish-tutor who follows you around and remembers your lessons so that you don’t have to.
In the meantime, I would disabuse yourself of the notion that you don’t have enough time to learn some basic conversation skills.
If you can commit to one 10 to 15 minute lesson every day for the next couple of weeks, you can actually get to a fairly functional conversational level by the time your in-laws get here. Maybe not enough to hash out the nuances of foreign policy, but to be honest, that might be for the best.
Also, don’t just think about how much less awkward you’ll feel. Think about how damn smitten they’ll be with you!
At the very least, this will give you ample leverage next time your hub-hub complains about your family’s annual Thanksgiving karaoke tradition.