Letters: December 2010

Letters to the Editor

Don’t Fret Over Faux Pas

Having lived most of my life out- side the United States (40 of my 67 years), I am naturally attracted to articles about cultural differences. I am usually disappointed by them because they consistently fail to mention the most important aspect of encountering “foreigners.” That is: They aren’t the foreigners. You are.

It has been my happy experience (with rare exception) that once people recognize you as new to their culture, they give you wide latitude for unintentional faux pas. If it is a minor error, they probably won’t mention it. If it is more substantial, they will good-naturedly explain it to you so you won’t be embarrassed by doing it again.

Learning and observing cultural customs will indeed help you avoid making awkward mistakes. But there is no need to become obsessive about it. Your interlocutor is unlikely to take offense. Quite the contrary; most people love explaining the customs and idiosyncrasies of their culture to others. An awkward mistake may very well be the beginning of a lasting friendship. 
Philip Yaffe • Claddagh Toastmasters • Brussels, Belgium 

Not Just an Average Joe
I read the article “Make Them Laugh” by William H. Stevenson, III (August) with a big smile – especially the story of Mr. Bruce Jin. I was fortunate enough to win the District 27 Humorous Speech Contest in the fall of 2009. Believe it or not, I had a very similar idea to Mr. Jin’s. My speech, “Recognized by All Americans,” was about living life with the last name of “Joe.”

Like Mr. Jin, I am Chinese. My speech highlighted how my grandfather immigrated to the United States in the 1920s. One of his first tasks was to select a recognizable surname that could be spelled in English. He chose “Joe” since it sounded like our Chinese surname. But he certainly didn’t anticipate the many stories that would result for future generations.

I will be using Mr. Stevenson’s article as a focal point in a Toastmasters Leadership Institute workshop I will give on how to deliver a humorous speech. 
Edmond Joe, ACB, CL • Ashburn Professional Speakers Falls Church, Virginia 

When Sharing and Conversing Collide
Patricia Fry’s article, “Become a Better Conversationalist” (August), spoke to me because I struggle with so many of the poor-communication points mentioned. I am especially guilty of “She talks on and on and on...she chimes in with a story of her own.”

I’ve tried to break this annoying habit for several years (still working on it as evidenced by writing this letter). From my perspective, the author’s explanation of her friend who does this – “She doesn’t care what you have to say” – doesn’t quite apply to me. I tell my story because I want you to know that I understand and empathize. That is my reason, though not an excuse to continue this bad habit.

As for the third point, “He doesn’t contribute to the conversation,” my husband often is talked over for the reasons stated. I ask people to wait a minute, and I explain that my husband was getting ready to say something. Or I bring the conversation back to him so he can share his thought.
Lenet Compton, ACB • Masters Toastmasters club Overland Park, Kansas 

Standing Up for Keeping It Clean
Thanks for the great articles in the September issue about using clean humor. It really came at the perfect time. I started stand-up [comedy] about a month ago and have been onstage three times. The last couple days I’ve been thinking about not going back because everyone else uses dirty humor. I don’t talk or even think that way. After reading your article I am going to work on being funny with clean humor and show the others that it can be done.
Steve Jans • Westend Club • Billings, Montana

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