I am Australian.
I grew up in Australia, went to school, and started my career there. Although I have lived in the US for a long time, and it is now my home, as the old adage goes, “you can take the girl out of Australia, but you can’t take the Australian out of the girl.”
There are certain expressions, ways of saying and doing things that are just comfortable for me, and part of who I am and how I was brought up. I have changed many things about myself by choosing and living in another country and learning different ways. But, when I am with my fellow Australians, I speak Australian, which has gotten me in trouble.
I was at an event an event sometime ago with one of my best friends who, yes, is an Aussie. We were catching up speaking Australian and having a great time. Beside us at the bar were two women who are work acquaintances. I introduced my friend, and the four of us began chatting.
Things were going well. We discussed travel and Cambodia and the work I do with an organization I love called Hair Aid. One of the ladies said,” Tabatha, I would love to come with you but, you would need to take care of me. I would be so nervous on my own” Well, before I could even put my three-second rule into play, I blurted out, ” Oh come on ….. You are big enough and ugly enough to take care of yourself.”
My friend and I didn’t give it a thought and kept the conversation moving. The women we were talking to abruptly left and were clearly offended. It took me a minute or ten to realize that I had spoken Australian to a non-Australian and had insulted them. When I mentioned this to my friend, she said, ” How in the world could that be offensive? It’s an expression we use all the time”! I knew I was right, and a few weeks later, I had proof.
I was at another event, and the same acquaintances were there and ignored me. It became even more evident when another person came and relayed the exchange we had pretty much verbatim and asked me why I would call……. Old and ugly. The tongues were wagging, and the rumor mill was fired up and circulating.
When has this happened to you, either as the giver or receiver? When has something been said that you have misconstrued? Or something you delivered in a way that may have missed the mark. We all have had those moments. It’s called being human, but how do you handle it? Do you ask for clarification or reclarify your message? Do you walk away hurt and annoyed and attach your own meaning to it? Do you spread your misinterpreted message with others and gossip, or do you go to the source and share your feelings? Do you acknowledge your poor delivery and offer an apology, or do you just let it go?
Again we are human, so we miscommunicate at times. It’s how we handle it that matters. I should have provided clarity as soon as I realized I was speaking Australian, and, my comment may have been taken not the way I intended it to be. I would have also hoped the person I said it to had asked for clarification or said, what the hell Tabatha? That was rude! Not only so, I could have explained, but so they expressed their boundaries and stood up for themselves and their values.
I did apologize and interpreted my comment hoping to rectify the situation and let the other person know I in no way meant to be rude to them or insulting.
However, the exchange and the quick spread of gossip got me thinking about how and why we often don’t express what is and isn’t acceptable to us. Why we usually prefer to avoid confrontation and asking for clarity from someone but are perfectly fine speaking about them behind their backs. Why we don’t take ownership of our mistakes and rectify situations before they become more significant than they need to be. And how if we valued ourselves and others more, we would ask questions of each other and learn instead of making assumptions and letting things get lost in translation.
I learned a lot from this exchange, and I am definitely ” Old enough and Ugly enough.” to keep learning.