Be pretty if you can, be witty if you must, but be gracious if it kills you- Elsie De Wolfe.
We have seen from previous articles that it takes a level of grace to demonstrate good manners and that it takes another level of grace to be dignifyingly composed in the extreme lack of it.
It however takes yet another level of grace to maintain calmness when one inadvertently commits a faux pas. Any gentleman or lady would want to display propriety all the time but this is not always possible as circumstances can and do get beyond our “etiquetted imagination”. Spontaneity sometimes ruins preparedness.
The difference between a faux pas and outright ungraciousness is that a faux pas is committed mistakenly while ungraciousness is exhibited out of ignorance. It’s a faux pas when your fork flies out of your hand because you are trying to push it into very tough beef but it’s discourteousness to eat with your mouth full. A faux pas can be graciously corrected by apologising which is not likely in an ungracious display because the person doesn’t even know he/ she has done something wrong so no apology can be rendered.
We sometimes ask questions or pay “compliments” out of good intentions but this does not mean that we do not embarrass others while at it. Have you ever asked a couple whom you know to be married for ten years how their children are only to learn later that they are not yet parents? Or have you complimented a colleague on how handsome her dad looks at ‘his age’ only to hear that it’s her spouse you are referring to? Good intentions sometimes produce bad outcomes.
Once, my sister and I were having a conversation with an acquaintance who happened to have an accent.
Our friend was trying to describe a curvy lady but kept using the word “coffee”.
I quite understood that our friend meant “curvy”.
Unfortunately, my sister (who happens to be somewhat outspoken) did not and with a puzzled look on her face ‘necessarily’ interrupted and asked what “coffee” meant- supposing it was a slang of some sort.
Our friend repeated the accented word wondering what my sister did not understand about it yet my very sincerely confused sister kept asking.
I wasn’t close enough to give my sister a “keep-quiet” pinch so I took it upon myself to create a silhouette of a curvy woman in the air with my hands to save the conversation that was fast becoming awkward.
While my sister didn’t mean to emphasise our friend’s accent, (she was innocently lost in the conversation), she did make the conversation somewhat awkward by her sincere confusion.
This is just an illustration of much unprecedented awkwardness that occurs in social gatherings.
Chances do exist that something will go wrong and an effective remedy I recommend is this: Apologise for the gaffe, make a light humour of it (if you can) and excuse yourself where it is applicable.
Depending on the situation, one, two or all of the above may be suitable.
Apologising is a gracious way of acknowledging a blunder- it shows that you know what you did is inappropriate and that you are civil enough to render an apology.
This does not suggest in any wise that you apologise continuously when giving a speech for instance, that is fraught with blunders- it can be distracting and may suggest insecurity. It is more acceptable to say “rather” and afterwards use the appropriate term.
Two must haves to exhibit the good grace are resilience and self possession.
Nothing beats these when it comes to recovering from a blunder asap.
A classified example of exhibiting good grace is what this piece will close with. It’s a true story of a beautiful young woman who had been kind enough to serve as a maid of honour at her many friends’ weddings.
She played the part so well each time she was called upon that a guest who had noticed her ‘prowess’ complimented her saying, “You are so good. The role of a chief bridesmaid suits you perfectly; people should beckon on you more often to do this”.
This chief bridesmaid was of marriageable age and this ‘compliment’ got her thinking…. “In other words, I’m always the bridesmaid, never the bride”(You know how they say it).
Rather than cause a scene at the ‘tactless compliment’, she walked out of the hall to ‘cool off’ only to bump into a jaw-droppingly handsome gentleman at the exit.
To cut a long story short, he is her husband today.
If she had caused a scene instead, she may very well still be chiefbridesmaiding now.
Talk of the goodness of grace.