The Faux-Pas-cifist: My Suppertime Superhero

Written by Jeanne Martinet on . Posted in Uncategorized.

Admiring the brave souls who step in when social doom looms

By Jeanne Martinet

In a room full of people, there is a certain kind of silence that tells you there is something terribly amiss.

It was a buffet dinner party, and I had just returned to the crowded, candle-lit living room (after a brief visit to the WC). Without much thought, I decided to dive right back into a gossipy conversation several of us had been having about a certain invited guest’s a man who reportedly made a habit of RSVPing in the affirmative but then never showing up. The party had begun two hours ago. “So what are you going to do about the Man Who Never Comes to Dinner? Are you going to keep inviting him? I said gaily to Vera, the hostess. That”s when the horrible deathly stillness dropped over everything. Vera looked as if she had swallowed her own tongue. Everyone else froze. I heard a cough, and a man behind me said, “I assume you are talking about me? in a cool voice.

Apparently the missing guest had shown up while I was powdering my nose. I stood there, staring at the man”s stony face, considering my options (apology, denial, escape, turning back time). Nothing seemed particularly doable. Suddenly another guest, a guy I had only just met that evening, piped up: “No, she”s talking about some other fabulously popular and elusive guest. Then he grinned. “Actually, Vera told us a lot of really cool things about you, and Jeanne and I were talking earlier about how disappointed we were that you might not be coming. We were both dying to ask you about this crazy boat trip to Mexico we heard you took. My savior proceeded to get the late-comer talking about the boat trip, and after five or 10 minutes, drew me into the conversation. The hostess brought her new guest a drink. Eventually we were all laughing and chatting away as if my initial gaffe and the ensuing awkwardness had not occurred.

If there is one thing that warms my heart, it is watching this kind of “faux-pas-cifist at work. A faux-pas-cifist, otherwise known as a “faux-pas guardian angel, is a third-party witness who accurately assesses the cause and effect of a social snafu and steps in unselfishly to save the day. Of course, sometimes the faux-pas victim himself will be generous enough to help the faux-pas perpetrator overcome her embarrassment. Or the host or hostess will see it as part of his or her duties to try to rescue a drowning guest. But it”s another thing altogether when an individual who would not otherwise be directly involved offers assistance. These types of people are nothing less than social superheroes.

Not all faux-pas-cifists are as masterful as the one in the above situation. It does not take an inordinate amount of finesse to come forward to help others recover from a faux pas with a simple line of some kind (“Don”t mind Jeanne, she”s had about five seconds of sleep today ). Almost anyone who can will try to take over for someone who is floundering during an introduction, by jumping in to provide information that person is obviously unable, for one reason or another, to come up with. Another common form of faux-pas-cifist aid is that of diversion; a kind bystander will see someone in conversational trouble and change the subject or tell a funny story (a technique called the Anecdotal Antidote). But the bravest faux-pas-cifists are the ones who will join in and actually support the position of the originator of the faux pas. This is the social equivalent of throwing themselves in front of a moving train. (I had a friend once who, after I had spilled my own glass of red wine, spilled her own, and then exclaimed, “I think these glasses must be top-heavy! )

Of course, we can”t expect a faux-pas superhero like the one at Vera”s buffet to pop up every time we need to remove our feet from our mouths. But all of us can try to spread a little faux-pas-cifism wherever we can, to make our social universe a better place. Give faux-pas-cifism a chance.

Jeanne Martinet, aka Miss Mingle, is the author of seven books on social interaction. Her latest book is a novel, Etiquette for the End of the World. You can contact her at

Trackback from your site.