How Do You Correct Pronunciation or Grammar Without Sounding Like A Know-It-All?
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In New York City, you can find anything and everything.
Want to see what hair looked like in the Victorian era? There is a scrapbook that shows just that—bits of human hair!—at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn.
Aching for a Lisa Frank-meets-medieval-age moment? Check out the sumptuous and violent set of seven Unicorn Tapestries at the Cloisters Museum in Upper Manhattan.
Homesick for the delights of balut? The ones at Maharlika are dependable craving quenchers.
And if, for some reason, you are inspired by Martha Stewart, at the height of her full power, and want to serve octopus at an elaborate dinner party—and, more important, do the cooking yourself, even if your faithful kusinera has traveled with you—there are Italian nonnas who will teach you how to kill, clean, and cook the slimy creatures everywhere.
“Si-se, you are, how they say, stu-peed. You jas hav to doo et,” the signora said as she took a small knife, cut off the eyes, and then made a hole in the body of the freshly dead polpi. She guided my hand into the fleshy pocket and let me pull out its beak! Eeep!
And then she instructed me to beat the tentacles of poor Paul, the polpi (I’d decided to name it by then), to “make tender, Si-se. Jas doo eet!”
Readers, I am very fond of this story because it was when I realized that cooking is not for me (that’s what private chefs and caterers are for). It’s also the memory I turn to whenever I encounter something uncomfortable that I must “jas doo.”
Recently, at a forgettable party, Long Ago Friend was gushing about her latest acquisition: “I was in the City of Lights, and I finally was able to get an Hermey Birkin. Can you believe it? An Hermey!?”
Yes. I could not believe it. I cringed, but my face did not show it.
When these slip-ups happen in the circle of the Truly Rich Ladies, the reactions are imperceptible, but they are there. There is the Single Raised Eyebrow, the Slightly Open Mouth of Disbelief, the Nodding With Conservative Smile, and my personal go-to, the Looking Left And Right To See If Anyone Else Caught It.
Because there were three things that were not quite right: Paris is the City of Light, Hermès is pronounced as er-mez, and the Birkin, even if it is considered by many as the Holy Grail of bags, is not a Kelly, which is my preference because it is more uptown and also named after my most favorite princess, Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco (sorry, Kate!).
Now, because she is a long-ago friend, I could not just leave her to the mercy of the sharks, the Truly Rich Witnesses, who would most certainly gab about this forever. How would I inform this butcher of the French language about her error? How would I tell her she made a mistake without making her feel bad? And how would I silence the Truly Rich Sharks? (I still had to make an octopus dinner!)
Jus doo eet
The voice of the signora—may God bless her soul!—rang through my head, and I was compelled to tell Long Ago Friend about her mistake, because the night was young and I was worried the soul-cringing words would fall out of her mouth again. And the Sharks are always listening.
But not right now
So I stole her away and then deed eet. I did not want to embarrass the country bumpkin from Makati further by correcting her on the spot, in front of the judges, jury members, and executioners. An empty flute glass was an opportunity to take her aside (“Let us get a top up, Long Ago Friend!”) and proceed with my rehabilitation plan.
Fatten her up
So, this may feel insincere, but beginning with a compliment softens the blow and is a good segue into what you really to say: “You look so good! You must have had a wonderful time in Paris, Long Ago Friend.”
But skip the disclaimer
The phrase, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but...” may lead her to take what' you're about to say the wrong way. Forget it.
Keep the moment tender
As with online shopping from an international fashion portal, delivery is key. Keep up the soft, non-confrontational mood that you’ve established with your disingenuous compliment. That means using a mild tone, a honey-dipped delivery, a girlish giggle (I know. So gross!). Never say these killer sentences: “You’re wrong about...” or “So where did you hear Hermey?”
Turn to a question
Now for the climax, the actual correction, a statement can be blunt, so instead, ask a question: “I’ve always heard that it’s pronounced as er-mez.” You can also soften the correction by adding an element of uncertainty to a statement. This feels as if you are jumping into the same wrong boat as she is (if that makes sense). As in, “I think it is pronounced er-mez. Right? I just don’t know with these French people!”
A trick: When conveying something important (or asking for someone for a favor), I usually employ a light touch on the arm, as if I am making an emotional connection via skinergy. Coupled with the right tone, this usually works. (And yes, I am guilty of using my womanly charms to get what I want.)
Now, make a case
Whether it is a small case of mispronunciation or a more serious misdemeanor, you can’t stop at the correction. Leaving it there makes you look like a tut-tut-ting teacher or a know-it-all authority. It will be important to tell her why you needed to address the mistake.
I was around 70 percent forthright with Long Ago Friend: “Long Ago Friend, I had to tell you this because, you know, these people are so weird, and they may find what you said weird. (Insert gross girlish giggles here.) “But enough about Er-mez! Let’s just drink!”