One Foot In EHell, The Other In Mouth

by admin on November 26, 2012

I’ve been reading this blog for several years and finally decided to share my story. It happened quite a few years ago but I can remember the embarrassment like it was yesterday.

A little background is needed. I was just eighteen at this time and in my first job that was not retail. This was a simple administrative assistant job in a small office that only included 8 people total. The only person that had their own office was our boss, who I’ll refer to as Rita, and the receptionist/greeter was up front. Everyone else had a desk in one large open room that didn’t even include cubicle walls which meant quite a lot of socializing went on throughout the day since we were all sitting relatively close together in this one room.

My neighbor was a lady I’ll call Lisa who chatted non-stop about how hard it was to single parent her then thirteen-year-old daughter. She was extremely loud and opinionated and was also quite raunchy. She delighted in sending perverted emails to everyone in the office which they all found hilarious and I found rather disgusting and inappropriate. Now, I am a very introverted person, and was a lot worse then since I was the only person under 40 working there. I literally had nothing in common with these ladies and Lisa was very extroverted so I had quite a hard time fitting in at my new job. I’m very soft spoken and Lisa often assumed I was being snobbish when, in reality, I was just painfully shy.

Fast forward a couple of weeks later and I’ve managed to throw off some of my new girl jitters and was telling jokes with the other ladies in the office in an effort to build some rapport with my fellow employees (yes every employee was female!). I had my back to the hallway that led to my boss, Rita’s, office (this is important) and someone mentioned spending time in another state. I decided it would be hilarious to share with the room that all my friends thought everyone who lived in that particular state were quite stupid and backward. Yes, it was a very immature and inappropriate thing to say even in jest at work, but I can only say I was young and extremely thoughtless and I wanted my coworkers to like me very badly!

Just as the last words were leaving my mouth I saw Lisa’s eyes dart to the hallway behind me and her face froze into a look of horror. Everything seemed to slow down as I turned my head to look behind me to see Rita standing there with the frostiest look I’ve ever seen on a person. She looked me straight in the eye and said “I’m from [state] born and raised.” I was shocked and fervently wishing for the floor to swallow me up as I rushed to apologize profusely to Rita. I was so ashamed and I can feel my face burn a little even today and this was 20 years ago! Luckily for me in the middle of my rushed apologies she burst into a smile and said “It’s ok you think that way. I hated that place and I was so glad I got away!” She then went on to tell me about how she grew up extremely impoverished. I was so relieved I hadn’t offended her! She had every right to send me to ehell right then and there!

Needless to say since I’ve grown older I’ve learned my lesson about making offensive jokes just to fit in! 1112-12

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Bint November 26, 2012 at 5:07 am

Ai, we’ve all done that one when young and daft! At least you were ashamed and apologised.

Not that long ago, someone at a tutorial found out I’d spent a long time in Scotland and said hey, this bloke’s from Scotland! He’s a politician, you’ll have heard of him (I had), he’s just across the corridor! In they bring him, we have a little conversation, and he asks where my husband is from. Then he says ‘Oh, my God, that’s unlucky. I hope you don’t have any kids with a man from X!”

Where was I giving the tutorial that day? In a prison. That politician was inside for fraud. I didn’t say ‘at least my husband’s not a criminal’, but it wasn’t hard to laugh!

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Sazerac November 26, 2012 at 5:10 am

I would say this is far more “foot in mouth” than in eHell – you at least apologized quickly and it was all said and done. I think we’ve all said things we immediately regretted when the brake between our mind and mouth failed.

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Lisa Marie November 26, 2012 at 5:43 am

My dear mother pounded into my head (and I into my own childrens) to never ever say anything to anyone at work that you wouldn’t want printed in the newspaper. This one pearl of wisdom has saved me time and again from making a fool of myself. The one time I did say something to a coworker about my boss’s wife and of course it was repeated to her and she called me on it, I could look her in the eye and repeat it. Boss’s wife accused me (thru coworker) of having affair with boss. I said perhaps she was the one having the affair (she was) and I wasn’t. It got back to boss and he stood up for me. I liked that guy. and I could go home and look my husband in the eye and not be ashamed. This lie could have gotten back to him.

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Green123 November 26, 2012 at 8:01 am

Ouch. A lesson learned! The OP should consider herself lucky to have kept that job!

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Lo November 26, 2012 at 8:01 am

This a lesson I also had to learn the hard way in my youth, so my sympathies. The urge to fit in by saying something controversial or offensive that others will laugh at is particularly strong sometimes, especially in an enviornment where other sorts of inappropriate jokes are considered commonplace.

As someone who grew up in a state that many people here up north think is a bit “backwards”, I too have encountered my share of people, most of them quite young, who think that it must have been an awful enviornment. I try not to get offended and I gently correct them. I understand that sometimes people have prejudices they don’t even realize they have, they just know that that’s how things supposedly are. Everyone’s guilty of having their mind made up about a place they’ve never been to at some point in their lives. Being on the receiving end of that statements like that, I assure you, it’s more common than you think and not the greatest offense in the world– indeed it’s one of the easiest to laugh off for me because it’s so universally human.

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Lo November 26, 2012 at 8:09 am

This a lesson I also had to learn the hard way in my youth, so my sympathies. The urge to fit in by saying something controversial or offensive that others will laugh at is particularly strong sometimes, especially in an enviornment where other sorts of inappropriate jokes are considered commonplace.

((may be a repost as I think I had submit twice))

As someone who grew up in a state that many people here up north think is a bit “backwards”, I too have encountered my share of people, most of them quite young, who think that it must have been an awful enviornment. I try not to get offended and I gently correct them. I understand that sometimes people have prejudices they don’t even realize they have, they just know that that’s how things supposedly are. Everyone’s guilty of having their mind made up about a place they’ve never been to at some point in their lives. Being on the receiving end of that statements like that, I assure you, it’s more common than you think and not the greatest offense in the world– indeed it’s one of the easiest to laugh off for me because it’s so universally human.

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Yasuragi November 26, 2012 at 9:26 am

OP spent an awful long time painting herself as a victim in this relatively simple Foot In Mouth Story.

But I guess it’s ok, since she was right about people from that state being stupid and backwards after all?

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Just Laura November 26, 2012 at 9:40 am

I think we’ve all done something like this! I’m glad you actually apologized, unlike some people who will accuse the offended person of being “too sensitive.”

Live and learn. :)

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Stacey Frith-Smith November 26, 2012 at 10:34 am

OP, we can all remember the Great Gaffe; maybe it’s time to let yourself off of the hook for time served and good behavior. It’s truly amazing what the simple desire for acceptance and a pleasant environment can motivate us to do when we are vulnerable, but that is human nature. The good news about an incident or two like that in your past is that it will make you a little more careful about speaking before you’ve considered the consequences.

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MichelleP November 26, 2012 at 10:53 am

Bless your heart OP, we’ve all been there. Good on you for recognizing your mistake and please remember you were young. You sound awesome.

Been there done that. When I was about 19 I ranted and raved to a fellow employee about how rude a customer was, and immature and stupid to boot. She calmly told me he was her husband. I apologized and hid from her for the next year.

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Allie November 26, 2012 at 10:57 am

It’s always tempting to act differently or say something you don’t believe just to fit in with a group, but with age you really do learn it’s better always to be yourself (with, of course, the appropriate levels of restraint for the given situation you are in – i.e. I’m more myself with my closest friends than I am at the office). I was in a similar situation once except I said a racist comment to try to fit in. Nothing horrible, but I used an unpleasant nickname for a particular race, thinking it would be funny. It wasn’t and I felt horrible. I tried to explain I was just joking and, in fact, one of my closest friends was of said race, but that didn’t really help and I sure felt like a heel. I regret it to this day. Not much to be done about it, though, than learn and move on. I do know exactly how you feel, though, if that’s any consolation.

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Cat November 26, 2012 at 10:59 am

Everyone has had the “foot in the mouth” moment. If Rita forgave you, it’s long past the time for you to forgive yourself.
Rev. Jesse Jackson was caught on audio referring to New York City in a racist comment regarding people of the Jewish faith. I am sure he has kicked himself over that one many a time.

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Library Diva November 26, 2012 at 11:25 am

Wow, how embarrassing. Don’t sweat it too much, though. If there’s a person alive who hasn’t done something like that at least once, I haven’t met them. You did all you can really do when you find yourself in that situation — apologize and hope for forgiveness.

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Enna November 26, 2012 at 12:23 pm

@ Yasuragi, I think it is more to do with trying to fit in with a crowd and it backfiring badly. I think the very loud colleauge who sent rude emails wasn’t the best role model. Yes the OP did something stupid, she apologised and didn’t to it again, but if the office is going to encourage heavy “banter” then it can send the wrong message to people about what is aceptable and unaccetapble as a “joke”.

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amyasleigh November 26, 2012 at 2:17 pm

OP and other posters — I can truly feel with you: “been there, done that”. When young (and certainly in my case, also when old enough that I should have known better) one can — especially if not very confident — feel desperate, in seeking acceptance by those around one, to come across as lively and with plenty to say; and in the course of that, to light upon highly inadvisable things to say.

Particularly, Allie of Post 11 — I recall, and still blush half a lifetime later, having done something similar to what you recount; in my perception, my offence was considerably worse. I’d had more to drink than was sensible — which is, or is not, a mitigating factor, depending on one’s point of view ! Grasping at straws re trying to be comical, I told a rather horrid racist joke (not reflecting any sentiments which I truly held); then realised that one of the group I was with, was (not very “visually obviously”) of the race concerned. She expressed some disquiet, in a very civil manner. I felt mortified, and went hyper-dramatically over the top with contrition, in ways which for sure caused greater embarrassment to all, than the original faux pas. Stupid stuff which very many people do, in the course of growing up — a process which for some of us, can last a fair few decades.

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Angel November 26, 2012 at 3:15 pm

I don’t think you did anything wrong, OP. you were trying to fit in with the climate of the office. you offended someone and apologized right away. Honestly I don’t see what’s so bad about that. It is ironic that the person you offended happened to be the one who set the tone for interactions in the office. Maybe what you did made her think twice the next time SHE was going to make an offensive comment.

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Drawberry November 26, 2012 at 3:44 pm

As someone who is introverted as well, and being pretty young still (I am 23), I can count a few times where I felt pressured to say or do something outside of my character as the expectation to fit in.

I’ve also been on the receiving end of people assuming a number of things about me because I am quiet and private. Whether or it it’s just ‘I am a freak’ because I am introverted or they assume I don’t have any friends or even that I am snobbish and look down on people. It’s just others not understanding that not all of us can or want to be the ‘life of the party’ and introverted people lose energy from social situations.

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Cat Whisperer November 26, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Ah, yes, lessons from the workplace School of Hard Knocks! I think most of us have opened our mouths and inserted our feet at some time or another. If we’re lucky, no harm is done and we learn from our mistakes.

Things I learned, sometimes the hard way, sometimes from watching other people’s crash landings:

1. Risque jokes and denigrating humor, especially the kind that involves stereotypes of any kind, are never appropriate in the workplace. Never. Ever. Under no circumstances.

2. Never say anything bad about one co-worker to another. Friendships and alliances can shift and change, and the only thing that you can be sure of if you bad-mouth someone you work with is that it will, eventually, get back to them somehow. Usually in the worst possible time, in the worst possible way.

3. If you want to be considered a valued professional, you need to guard your integrity and your professional reputation like they’re the most valuable things you possess, because they are. Don’t palter them away by trying to be pals or fit in with people you work with. If fitting in means compromising your integrity or professional reputation, then you don’t want to fit in. You want to get out, because you’re in the wrong place if you have to compromise them to fit in.

4. A secret is a secret only as long as you’re the only person who knows it. The moment you tell anyone else, it isn’t a secret anymore. If there are personal things you don’t want the people you work with to know about, then don’t tell ANYONE. EVER. Corollary: if someone you work with wants to use you as a confidante for their personal life, STOP THEM. You don’t want to know. People usually regret telling co-workers their secrets, and it will absolutely affect your relationship with that person forever, usually in a negative way.

5. There is your work life and there is your off-work life. The more separate you can keep these, the better. Do not mistake one for the other or believe they are the same.

6. More people get fired for not getting along with the people they work with than for not being able to do their job well. Think about this every time you are tempted to get into a conflict with someone or there is friction in the workplace over something that really doesn’t matter.

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Libby November 26, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Cat: truer words were never spoken. I’d like to add that it’s important to treat everyone with the same respect and dignity, from the president of the company to the temp custodial worker. It’s good etiquette, and good common sense, not to mention good karma.

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Louisa November 26, 2012 at 9:01 pm

@Yasuragi, I agree with you. And whenever we read, like here, that some background is ‘needed’ we always know it isn’t-cue the long-winded story justifying the comment. Could have done it snappily in a few lines. It was not that big a deal and a long time ago. I think you have learned your lesson-relax now! Plenty of people have done this and being young and inexperienced socially is a better excuse than some.

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babs November 26, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Ohhhh I feel your pain. This isn’t work related so forgive me, but this story brought to mind my biggest cringe-worthy “foot in mouth” episode. Many years ago when we had just finished building our house, I had my Sunday School class over. I was taking the ladies around the house, and somebody asked me how we selected that floor plan. I proceeded to tell them that my husband saw some houses being built and went through them. He liked the floor plan so he contacted the builder and convinced them to sell us the plans. Then… I said, “It was so much smaller. We made it larger and we made so many changes it hardly looks like the same house. I drive by the house now and wonder why in the world we were ever attracted to it. It’s actually not a pretty house at all!” Well.. one of the ladies that I didn’t know well, said “What area was the house in?” After I told her, she said (you guessed it!) “That’s my house! I knew this floor plan looked familiar!” OHMYGosh. I don’t remember how I got out of that one, but I wanted a big ole hole to open up and swallow me right up! OK, again, no comparison to the OP’s story other than the sheer embarrassment, but I still get the willies more than 20 years later just thinking about it!

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Jinian November 27, 2012 at 1:17 am

Sounds like an inappropriate thing to say at all. Work standards should be high, but surely not spreading prejudice is kind of a minimum for decent behavior in general. But yes, we’ve all said exactly the wrong thing in some fashion, and it’s great that Rita was so gracious about it.

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Angela November 27, 2012 at 8:42 am

The lesson here is to use your own standard about what to say (or not), and not be lulled into lowering it by others’ questionable standards. And be very judicious about any critical comments. In the mid 90′s, my husband and I taught at the same university in the same department. I had retained my maiden name for professional purposes, and a lot of students didn’t know we were married to each other. A student and I were talking and DH’s name came up. The student went off about how arrogant and condescending DH was. You can imagine his reaction when he realized he was talking to the man’s wife! Of course, he shouldn’t have been saying such things to any of DH’s colleagues but students don’t always know how to be diplomatic. (The kicker was that DH could come off as arrogant and condescending, so I actually found it pretty amusing).

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M.R.B. November 27, 2012 at 8:51 pm

@Cat Whisperer

I couldn’t agree with you more, especially about point 6. I took a university course focused on HR, and learned that 90% of people who are fired within their probation period are not fired because they cannot do the job, but because they do not fit in with the workplace “culture”.

OP, we’ve all been there, consider it a lesson learned and don’t lose sleep over it

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Michelle November 29, 2012 at 7:39 am

OP, I’m something of an introvert, too. In my situation, I have a sense of humor that is very dry, so I’ve learned to be very careful not to use it on people I’m just meeting or getting to know. They have to know who I really am first before I (slowly) start letting the observations escape my mouth. I’m glad your boss responded so graciously – she sounds like she was a wonderful person!

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