My husband and I recently attended a birthday party for our 4 year old nephew. It took place in a large backyard. There were a lot of people and everyone was having a great time.
There were small tables set up in the yard. My husband, our 16-month-old and I were sitting at one table eating dinner. A few feet away were three women. It was Fay, her 17 year old daughter Mary, and another woman I had not met. I know Fay and Mary as they had been at numerous family gatherings. My husband and I are not related to her.
Our tables were close enough together that it was impossible to not overhear their conversation, although nobody else was close enough to do so. They started discussing Fay’s job, which led into her mentioning a certain religious group always causes problems for her. As I am part of this religious group (Judaism – I am not sure if you want to include that or not), I was surprised at what I heard. The women then spent about 10 minutes talking about how “disgusting” people of this religion are, how they can’t stand them, and they are always the most difficult people to deal with. They also discussed many fallacies about the religion (sex through a sheet, etc.).
This whole experience was very upsetting to me and I was nearly in tears. I did not say anything because I did not feel that a 4 year old’s birthday party was the time or place. My husband agreed that I should stay silent.
My questions are: Did I do the right thing in staying quiet, or should I have politely informed them that I am part of that religion and find their comments highly offensive?
Do I discuss what happened with my sister-in-law? They are her family members and I do not want to upset her, but I do feel uncomfortable about being around them in the future. I had not originally planned on telling her. It should be mentioned that she is a wonderfully sweet person and would be devastated that something so upsetting had happened.
Thanks for your help! 0819-14
Had you said something to Fay you would have acknowledged that you were eavesdropping on their conversation whether you intended to do so or not. Just because we may be placed in situations where we hear things we’d rather not does not mean you need to pay attention to it. The presumption most people have is that their conversation is private and if it happens to be overheard, that unintentional hearers will, at least, pretend to have not heard it. And you are correct that a 4-year-old’s birthday party is not the time for a confrontation on religious differences.
Judaism is not the only religion to suffer from stereotypes and hatred. Religion is not the only area of life in which people have negative opinions and stereotypes. The point being that there are a lot of ugly opinions about a lot of things out there and a large part of learning to live a happy life is to recognize the badness, realize you cannot singlehandedly change all the badness in the world, don’t perpetuate any new badness, bide one’s time to speak out about badness when the circumstances favor it and, finally, never let someone else’s badness ruin your happiness.
As I understand it, your sister-in-law is your husband’s sister, not yours. I’m a firm believer that any information that has the potential to blow up one side of the family should be addressed by the spouse whose family is causing the drama. That means it falls to your husband to use his discretion as to if, when and what he would say to his sister regarding the inclusion of guests to his family’s functions that hold obnoxious opinions.
As for you, I would never let the distasteful opinions of someone else dictate my relationships or actions. If you love your sister-in-law, keep attending her family functions but now you know who the snake in the family grass is and you are under no obligation to get friendly with Fay. Civil, yes, but bosom pals, no.