Being an interculturalist with a great IDI score does not free me from the limitations caused by kernels of primitive discourse squirreled away in my own apperceptive mass. These, despite my intercultural expertise and best intentions, can emerge in nutty ways in my perception of others and, of course, of their names. This makes me a bit more forgiving of the faux pas that others may take in dealing with my name. Here is a self-incriminating story as an example.
Some years ago, I was eager to rent a room in my rather large house in California, so I perused the classified ads in the local newspaper and came across a notice that read: "Young highway engineer in search of room to rent on the West Side of Santa Cruz,” along with a phone number to call. I rang the number, and, assuming it was a guy, asked the woman who answered the phone, “Can I speak to the engineer who is advertising for a room in the Sentinel classifieds yesterday?” “I am the engineer," she answered in a somewhat corrective tone. Gulp! I swallowed my error and went about talking with her and setting up a time to meet her and interview her more fully in a local restaurant. When I asked her name, she said what sounded to me like, "Chevonne.” “Hmm, a black woman engineer," I mused to myself, given that I had never met a white woman with the name “Chevonne.”
With a buddy of mine I went to the restaurant at the appointed time, drank coffee and waited. About 15 minutes after the appointed time, a white woman who had already been sitting in the restaurant when we came in, stood up from at one of the other tables, walked over to us and asked, "Is one of you George?" I admitted my identity. She sat down. We talked a bit and I agreed to have her move in. Then, when she gave me a check for the first month’s rent, I discovered that she was a good old Irish “Siobhan.” Gulp #2! And, she was a great tenant.
Owning up to my own faux pas when I am teaching or training often gives others permission to relax and reduce guilt feelings around their own mistakes and then become more open to learning and trying new practices. I have found that this normally doesn't reduce my credibility as a trainer and facilitator, but rather enhances it with a touch of communality.
Image: Room for rent