Last year, someone felt offended during one of my recent keynotes.

I had started that particular session with the anecdote that Dutch people–I am generalizing here–are considered rude by people in other European countries. I know this because I live in Brussels, the unofficial capital of the EU. People talk.

In my keynote, I also explained that the Dutch themselves are usually unaware of this, and they simply consider themselves frank, honest, and open. I know this because I’m Dutch.

I also explained that many languages have an expression along the line of “not stepping on a person’s toes”, which means not to offend them. I always see plenty of people nodding their heads at this.

Then I said that the Dutch have the opposite perspective, with our expression that some people have “long toes”, which means it is difficult not to offend them. A lot of people find that quite funny. Yet another plain fact.

I then apologized in advance to the audience, jokingly, about any remarks I might make out of frankness and honesty, that might inadvertently offend someone. Particularly the ones with long toes. This always generates a good laugh. The people in the room understand that I am teasing the audience and making fun of myself (and the Dutch).

Except one time, one person didn’t laugh.

After my keynote, I received feedback that my joke was not well-received by this particular person, because she did not appreciate that I “put the blame on the audience” for any bad things I was going to say during my talk. She was offended by my joke about the openness of the Dutch versus public perception.

Point proven, I say.

Long toes…

Would you like to hire me and be offended? Check out my website!

photo credit: Gerry Thomasen

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