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‘I am a jelly doughnut’
John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush have both recovered from embarrassing gaffes

Did you hear about the employee who applied for leave to perform his daughter’s wedding? It said: “As I am marrying my daughter, please grant a week’s leave.” Or the other appeal: “My wife is suffering from sickness and as I am her only husband at home I may be granted leave.” There was also the job application which said: “This has reference to your advertisement calling for a “typist and an accountant — male or female.... As I am both, for the past several years and I can handle both with good experience, I am applying for the post.”

We smilingly forgive these blunders of syntax, attributing them to a scant knowledge of the language. But when the faux pas comes in the form of an unintended statement made to a superior, or before a peer group, the embarrassment is huge. Your face becomes suffused with a rosy blush; your ears turn beetroot and you wish an earthquake fault would widen at that moment and consume you.

Sure, gaffes happen all the time. The art is to be able to cover up gracefully, or not be cowed down by the mistake. Don’t let it eat you up. What is a gaffe? That slip of the tongue, the clanger that is dropped, often clumsily, causing awkward reactions. A survey commissioned on behalf of Post It Notes revealed an amazing fact. It showed that office workers admit to making at least four embarrassing gaffes in an average week!
If that is so, then we should be able to tide over the many uncomfortable situations that we get into because of an inept remark or even a real howler. The effect could be minuscule compared with the bigger political gaffes that make world headlines. The mind goes back to Kennedy, when, in an attempt to show off his knowledge of German and endear himself to a West Berlin audience, he made the now-famous statement: “Ich bin ein Berliner.” He of course wanted to identify himself with the residents by this statement, and should have said: “Ich bin Berliner.” By adding the “ein” or “a”, this was construed by many as meaning “I am a jelly doughnut.” A Berliner is a jam-filled doughnut.

Neither, in later years, has President George W. Bush lived down a series of gaffes which are the stuff of regular media smirk. However, if he could weather all the barbs, and even sportingly give his apologies to the Queen of England, then we might try it in our more mundane, yet sure-to-happen situations.

When faced with such ungainly circumstances, we should recall what Anatole France, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921, said. “It is human nature to think wisely and act foolishly.” When we do a bungling act, therefore, it would be wise to own up to it, and get people to laugh with us, rather than at us. To err is our prerogative; forgiveness is the privilege of the boss.

What has been your worst gaffe? Tell [email protected]

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