My daughter has a new best friend whose mom is pregnant. Or at least I thought she was.
You can probably guess how this story ends, but I’m going to finish it anyway.
The other week, she bent down to pick up something in her driveway. I told her that a pregnant woman shouldn’t do that. I thought it would be a nice touch, since I already missed the window to congratulate her.
But then she said those three fateful words: “I’m not pregnant.” And now my daughter needs a new best friend.
Even if you haven’t found yourself in this exact mortifying scenario, there’s a good chance you’ve made an equally awkward social mistake. When I wrote about my encounter on Facebook, many friends chimed in with their own embarrassing foot-in-mouth moments, some of which are included here.
This isn’t a guide on how to prevent doing something dumb, because we’re all human, and mistakes happen. Instead, use these smart tips from etiquette experts to rebound in the moment after you’ve already made an ass out of yourself.
1. The mistake: Acknowledging the pregnancy of a woman who isn’t pregnant.
The fix: Say you’re sorry and make fun of yourself, says relationship expert April Masini of AskApril.com.
Drop a quip like, “I haven’t had my eyesight checked in over a year, and I clearly need to—stat.” Then move on.
“The more you dwell on your faux pas, the worse it becomes,” Masini says. “Don’t pick at the quickly healing scab.”
2. The mistake: Shit-talking someone who is standing right behind you.
The fix: “Sincerely apologize, because you’ve hurt that person’s feelings,” advises Deborah Smith Pegues, author of 30 Days to Taming Your Tongue.
But defend yourself in a positive way.
Let’s say you ragged on a coworker for screwing up a big project. Tell him your trash talk wasn’t personal—you just felt so passionate about the project that you got caught up in the heat of the moment, Pegues says. He’ll appreciate the honesty.
3. The mistake: Accidentally forwarding an email to someone you insulted earlier in the thread.
The fix: Offer a public mea culpa for sending the email, then privately apologize to the guy you burned.
“This happened in my organization last month,” says Anne Klaeysen, director of the New York Society for Ethical Culture. “The response to it was immediate and angry, and there were a lot of hard feelings.”
If you hurt someone, Klaeysen says, don’t continue the mistake and try publicly defending yourself. “Go directly to the person you harmed and ask for forgiveness.”
4. The mistake: Introducing someone by the wrong name.
The fix: Self-deprecate, Pegues says. Blame the brain fart on your age, or say something like, “I understand the mind can only retain three points of information at any given time, and that must have been number four.”
“People like it when you humble yourself and say, ‘I screwed up,’” says Pegues.
5. The mistake: Cursing without realizing there’s a child in the room.
The fix: Designate yourself as dad’s dumb, foul-mouthed friend. “Just put a hand over your mouth and say, ‘Oh no, did I really say that?’”
It probably isn’t the first time the kid has heard an F-bomb, so he or she will likely laugh, Klaeysen says. And if the adults don’t chuckle, they should lighten up.
“Kids are going to hear bad words,” says Klaeysen. “I think it’s appropriate for parents to have that discussion.”