A couple of years ago, while sitting in on my daughter’s basketball practice, I noticed a father and his daughter sitting next to a Star Wars book. I’m a huge Star Wars fan, so I made my introductions. Yes, her father replied, they were fans.
Long-story short, we’ve become great friends. Now, it’s not all about Star Wars. We actually have a lot in common – we’re from New York, our wives are both doctors, we have a mutual love for Marvel movies, etc., but Star Wars definitely broke the ice.
Anyway, an unfortunate incident occurred to our friends last spring. They were at the middle school concert, and got to talking with a couple who were there to see their grandkids. At some point, the gentleman said “your kids are really lucky to be in this school, it’s a great school system.” My friend, flushed with anger, replied that it should be for all the taxes his family pays to live here.
This wasn’t run-of-the-mill anti-tax sentiment. You see, because of my friend’s apparent ethnicity, this gentleman assumed his family didn’t live in Suffield and that their kids participated in the Open Choice Program.
I feel like I know this older couple. They’re nice people, good neighbors and not in the habit of offending people.
They did, however, make a few errors in etiquette.
First, if you’re going to make an assumption, put it in the form of a question and make it benign: “Is your child in band or chorus?” or “Are you a Star Wars fan?”
Second, choose words carefully. The phrase “you are lucky” connotes unearned rewards and that the speaker, at least in this context, possesses a position of superiority. The guy might be a canonized saint, but it’s still not a nice tone to strike.
Finally, if you offend, apologize. Instead, this mistake hung uncomfortably for the entire night.
Granted, I sympathize with my friends, but maybe you feel for the older couple — “they were just trying to be nice, this person was nonetheless offended so maybe the answer is to mind your own business.”
In the short run, maybe that would have been a wise thing to do. My friends wouldn’t have felt unwelcome in their own town, and this couple would still feel good about themselves.
In the long run, however, they missed out on the chance at being friends with an incredible family, who are gregarious, generous and just lot of fun.
We are lucky they live in Suffield!