Be careful what you say and how you say it

Sometimes a person just says stuff without thinking. It comes unexpectedly blurting out of your mouth before you can stop it – bursting out like a nervous budgie when you open the door of the birdcage.

Sometimes a person just says stuff without thinking. It comes unexpectedly blurting out of your mouth before you can stop it – bursting out like a nervous budgie when you open the door of the birdcage.

But there are some things that are better left unsaid, as they say.

Let’s say you and your Better Half are strolling through the mall, where she’s intensively searching for unimportant things like pillow cases or the perfect feng shui paint color and you are intensively looking for more important things like the chocolate store, and you happen upon a mutual female acquaintance that you haven’t seen in a long time.

And even though you notice a markedly different body shape than the last time you saw her, and even though you are just trying to make conversation with the very best intentions never, ever say “So when’s the baby due?” unless you’re one million per cent sure she’s absolutely with child. And that you have confirmed that she is in fact in the early stages of labour, and she has an official pregnancy certificate signed by a practicing Ob-Gyn.

Also, if you wife ever asks the question, “Do I look fat in these pants?” (and she will) never say “Not really,” even if you are distracted on account of the game is in overtime, and you never actually even glanced at her pants. There is only one answer to that question, and, gentlemen, we all know what that is.

Other verboten verbals? “My god, you have big feet!” “I’ll bet you got that jacket at Value Village didn’t you.” “Wow! Has your nose always been that crooked?” “So, have you been on any hot dates since your husband left you?”

These are not great conversation-starters.

Similarly, “Man, it’s sure been windy lately” is a much better opener than: “So, I hear there’s been a wicked herpes outbreak in town.”

And of course, don’t ever joke about anything within 10 kilometres of any airport.

As a general rule, I would say that common sense, good manners and a buttoned lip is often the best strategy. Especially if you have slightly warped sense of humor, or a seriously skewed sense of adventure with which I am sometimes afflicted.

True story: it was our first trip to Disneyland, and we had just arrived late in the evening with our two rotten kids. Our hotel was just down the street from a McDonald’s, as are all hotels, and since this was way before I cared about the evils of fast food (as if I did now, ha ha) my mission was to bring back “supper.”

I was admittedly giddy with excitement about going to Disneyland the next morning, and with being in a foreign country (I don’t get out much). In fact, I had even more gid-ridden giddyness than either of my elementary school kidlets who were busy bouncing off random walls.

So when I entered the foreign country McDonald’s all excited and finding myself in the midst of people from all over the world, I suddenly got the bizarre notion to talk with an accent. You know, pretend I was from an exotic place. That sounds perfectly logical, right?

As approached the counter however, I still didn’t know what country I was going to pretend to be from – at that point I was thinking Germany for some reason, and then Swedish, but the only Swedish accent I knew was from the Swedish Chef on the Muppets and he doesn’t actually say any real words in any known language.

“Can I take your order, sir?” the lady at the counter says in a bored fashion, even though she was working, like, right across the street from Disneyland for crying out loud!

And in the last millisecond before I opened my mouth, I decided, for reasons only explained by a faulty brain and a Disney-induced euphoria, I decided I would talk with an American accent. And not just any American accent – a Deep South American accent.

It apparently never occurred to me at that particular moment that this was possibly the worst choice on account of I was, in fact, in America and that any number of actual Deep South Americans could be standing right beside me.

That and the fact that I can’t do a Deep South accent to save my soul. You’d think that “y’all” drawl would be easy to pull off, but trust me, it isn’t. At least it isn’t if you are me, and all excited and not having time to practice or anything.

Still, for some reason I hauled off and drawled: “I’ll be havin’ one of them there Big Mac burgers, and a real big Cokey Cola, iff’n you don’t mind, miss…” and went straight down hill from there with the rest of the order, when I realized with every word my fake accent was getting worse.

But there was no turning back now, and in the end, I completely forgot what everybody wanted and ordered a bunch of random items that were easy to pronounce in the Deep South dialect. I ended up sounding like Foghorn Leghorn with a speech impediment.

Still it could have been worse. It briefly crossed my mind at the time to talk with an Asian accent. Or East Indian – I used to think I was pretty good at that.

Point is, sometimes you have to be real careful what you say, and how you say it.

As Mark Twain said: “Always tell the truth. That way, you don’t have to remember what you said.”

Or what accent you were using when you said it.

Harley Hay is a local filmmaker and freelance writer.