Are you rude and you don’t even know it?

I don’t wear shorts very often because I kind of hate my legs. I try not to hate my legs, or be overly preoccupied with my physical appearance. But I can’t help it, because I’m human and also I’m a product of my environment, at least to some degree, and because life is weird and people are complicated.

Well, I was recently at a barbecue wearing shorts and some guy I didn’t know – like, had never met before and wasn’t even speaking to at the time —  looked at my legs and said “Wow. Your legs are really white!”

Well, that took the spring out of my step…

I tried to shrug it off – my legs are white, after all —  but, of course, I was self conscious about my legs for the rest of the afternoon.

I got over it, because I’m only a little bit sensitive. But I couldn’t stop wondering, what if I didn’t get over it? What if I was actually a lot sensitive? What if my legs were white because I never wear shorts, and the reason I never wear shorts is because I am super self conscious about my legs because of whatever life experience led me to that place? And what if that day I decided to take a deep breath and put on shorts because I was feeling brave, and just a couple of hours later some jackass tore it all down with one stupid comment?

That would suck.

‘Your hair wants cutting,’ said the Hatter. He had been looking at Alice for some time with great curiosity, and this was his first speech.

;You should learn not to make personal remarks,’ Alice said with some severity; `it’s very rude.’

“Don’t make personal remarks” is the advice my mother always gave me. And it’s good advice. You can never know how you’re going to affect people, and you’re very likely to be perceived as rude, even if that’s not your intention.

The guy who commented on my white legs may not have intended to be rude at all. Maybe he likes white legs, or maybe he works in the colour department at a paint company and was like “What a fascinating shade of white!” I don’t know. I didn’t ask, because I was too busy silently hating him.

You don’t want people to think you’re rude

Some people might get irritated with the idea that we have to be careful about what we say and start grousing that people are so oversensitive these days. But being perceived as rude is bad for your image, particularly when looking at the bigger picture of your overall career success or “personal brand.”  You want people to like you, and they won’t like you if you make them feel bad about themselves. Getting defensive about the way you affect others isn’t going to change that

So what constitutes a “personal remark”?

Wondering what constitutes a “personal remark?” Unless you know someone quite well and know whether it’s OK or not, don’t comment on a person’s:

Physical attributes

Like telling them they have nice legs or boobs. I’m not saying never to give a compliment, and maybe it’s nice to do so when you’re flirting and have been given the green light. But before you do, think carefully about whether the comment is appropriate and will be welcome. 

Weight

As a society we are grossly obsessed with weight and always seem to think telling someone they’ve lost some is the best way to give a compliment. There’s a guy who says every time I see him that I have lost weight. I have not lost weight and it’s weird. Attitudes about weight are changing and increasing numbers of people are just fine walking through life carrying a few, or many, extra pounds. Another person’s weight is not your business. Don’t assume someone wants to be told they’ve lost weight. THEY MIGHT NOT WANT ATTENTION DRAWN TO THEIR WEIGHT. And don’t say they’ve gained weight, thought you’re less likely to say this.

Appearance “flaws”

Don’t tell someone you don’t know that they need a haircut or  that they look tired. Don’t remark on the state of someone’s nails or skin, or comment on their stretch marks or weirdly long second toe. Don’t tell a stranger they have really white legs.

Clothes

To be clear I think it’s OK to tell someone you like their shoes. But it’s not OK to comment on the state of someone’s clothing or the fact that they’ve worn the same shirt two days in a row (maybe they didn’t sleep at home or are strapped for cash). If you don’t have anything nice to say, shut your trap. I used to work with a woman who regularly tossed thinly veiled insults at my vintage sweaters. She was a bitch.

Personal life

If you don’t know someone really well, keep out of their business. It’s not your place to comment on someone’s friendships, relationships, or sexuality. Even if you think you’re making a joke, the other person might not find it funny.

A mormon guy named Carl W. Buehner once said “[People] may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.” (No, Maya Angelou is probably not the person who said this, despite what you’ve heard).

You can usually avoid coming across as a d***head by thinking before you speak.

 

 

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