The Fatal Faux Pas

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  by Michelle / ISR Columnist

Universal consensus has it that our world is rapidly becoming smaller and smaller with communication and news now available to everyone, everywhere at every single moment of our lives. But for international teachers, new locales and near continuous worldwide travel sets us up for some truly susceptible and embarrassing moments where it might take days for the blushing to stop. Here’s one such story:

The school year was about to begin at this, my second international school. A few days earlier the board arranged a PR event (with newspaper photographers and reporters) to introduce new students and their families to the community, while also spotlighting the new faculty. All of us new teachers joined the families on stage to present our brightest and most eager smiles for the photographers before the social activities to follow.

As everyone was getting situated on stage I noticed a child who looked to be about a second grade student hidden behind the adults. Gently but firmly I ushered this child toward the front of the group, thinking that surely the parents and this shy child would want to be included in the photo. I looked up, smiled and said to the parents standing nearby, “Your little girl is so lovely. I’m sure you’d want her to be in front, yes?” My comment was met with deadpan stares and silence as the photographer continued his clicking racket without pause. The child moved forward and looked up at me with gorgeous eyes and a slow, easy smile.

Once the photographers were finished we left the stage, back to the front rows of the gathering to listen to the congratulatory speeches as another teacher leaned forward to hiss in my ear, “That is a boy. His family is Sikh. The covering over his hair is part of their religion.” Oh. My. God. At that point I wanted to melt into my seat, hoping desperately for a nearby hole to crawl into.

His long hair, gathered into a topknot and enclosed with a small elasticized bonnet, along with those long, wickedly beautiful eyelashes had completely fooled me. For days I remained embarrassed, thinking my colleagues must be positive I’d just fallen off the cultural turnip-truck. It was a rocky start to a new country, a new school, and new set of colleagues.

Whether it’s awkward social situations, miscommunications in the local language, or a world of other hurts large and small, we’ve all experienced the occasional embarrassing situation. Stay in touch with your colleagues around the world to compare notes on how to keep yourself out of fatal faux pas disasters, here on ISR!

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