You get home after a busy day at work and glance at yourself in the mirror. You’ve had a long, hectic day so you look a bit drained. As you look away, out of the corner of your eye, you catch a glimpse of your teeth. You turn back to the mirror to have a proper look. There it is – that pesky particle of spinach wedged firmly between your two front teeth.
Then it dawns on you that the spinach has been there since lunchtime – the funny look your boss gave you makes sense now and you are filled with horror as you remember flashing your winning smile at a client earlier in the day.
Why didn’t someone tell me? You think to yourself. The brief awkwardness of someone pointing out the spinach would have been far less embarrassing than a whole afternoon of your spinach smile.
A British thing.
People are just too polite – maybe it’s a British thing but it seems that most people are happy to let you walk around all day with spinach in your teeth simply to avoid the mild discomfort of pointing out the problem.
The other day I was in a restaurant grabbing a bite to eat before the theatre.
When the waitress came over to take our order she asked, ‘Are you ready for order?’ Of course she should have said, ‘Are you ready TO order?’ (a really common mistake for speakers of French, Italian and Spanish). I smiled politely, resisting the urge to correct her – It just seemed too embarrassing – I didn’t want to be that know-it-all customer who takes pleasure in making waitresses feel stupid.
After we had ordered I overheard the waitress going from table to table repeating the same sentence. “Are you ready for order?’ she said happily. Then it occurred to me that she probably says it several hundred times a week and no one ever corrects her.
I had to act. I simply couldn’t let the poor girl carry on making such an elementary error.
I waited until we were leaving and I started chatting with her to ease the blow and when I saw my moment, in the friendliest and kindest possible way I explained her error.
It was an awkward situation – she went red and I kept saying sorry but in the end she was grateful.
So if you don’t want to experience the linguistic version of having spinach stuck in your teeth you have to stop what you are doing and find out what your mistakes are NOW!