“Sure, I like cheeseburgers,” the random hostess replied to my mother, smiling, as my mom exited the breakfast bar. .
This might have seemed the perfect, polite response to an inquiry if my mother had actually asked about her menu-choice preferences, but that wasn’t the case
Rewind to provide context.
My mother, sister, nephew and I were traveling back to Florida on vacation. We decided to stop at a hotel in South Carolina on the way home.
My mother, a huge Florida Gator fan who grew up seeing Steve Spurrier (the current South Carolina leader who played for and coached the Gators to glory), felt inclined to give him his kudos while she was in his current home state.
That due diligence manifested itself in multiple ways during our morning at the Holiday Inn Express:
First: She obnoxiously dropped football and Spurrier references as we ate next to two over-sized guys that she convinced herself must coach or play for Spurrier.
“No, mom, they’re wearing XYZ company’s shirts. I can assure you that they’re not Gamecock players nor coaches,” I exclaimed after the second biscuit.
Second: She hollered to the hostess (as only a Southern woman can) upon exiting the breakfast buffet:
“You must like Steve Spurrier, right?” but pronounced the question with a stroke-influenced blurring of words.
According to my eldest sister, who accompanied my mother, the overweight hostess paused, looked down, chuckled and replied:
“Sure, I like cheeseburgers.”
My sister said she was too embarrassed to correct the hostess’ misinterpretation because:
- she thought my mother’s question wasn’t appropriate given they weren’t near a football game,
- and she feared that the hostess thought my stick-thin mother asked about burger-love to make fun of the hostess’ heftiness.
They both shook their heads, hunkered down and returned to our room as I pulled around our car for pack up.
They also failed to share this exchange with me until we’d traveled 30+ miles down the road.
I expressed mortification at their action/inaction, but I also laughed so hard that I nearly peed my pants!
I still do, in hindsight.
As a marketing/public relations professional, I understood that this represented the perfect example of how saying or writing something doesn’t mean you communicated it.
“You like stevpurrier?” can easily become “You like cheeseburger?” in the wrong meal-related situation.
And this was the ultimate model of bad context!
Say what?!? I say…God love, whatever our elderly parents utter, you should just laugh and move on.
What do you say?
(This post is one of 30: 30 Somethings I’m writing for the weekly countdown to my 40th birthday, but I’ve been remiss in doing so. Still, please celebrate with me as I share other lessons or humbling experiences from the past decade.)