Banning Buts

By Erika Hoffman

Recently I had a house guest, a woman I’d not seen in 25 years: the wife of my husband’s friend from grad school. The couple was relocating. He’d gone ahead to take a new position; she was to drive up after their house had sold. Over the last couple of decades, I’d exchanged holiday cards with her despite no visual or phone contact. Because our home was two states north of hers and two states south of her new home, our place was an ideal one-night stop. It might be fun to catch up although I had never known her well. I always deemed her an intellectual. For some reason, I figured she was brighter than I. That was the assumption I’d harbored these many years.

She first said she was coming Saturday, so I cancelled my plans. Then, she called to say she’d arrive Sunday. Then, late Sunday she changed her mind again. On Monday, she started her drive. After several phone calls and getting lost multiple times, despite GPS, she crossed the county line.

On the last lap, she missed my house, and I had to talk her through the final spate, yard by yard. She was in a tizzy when she arrived. After entering my home, she got turned around repeatedly and ended up in the garage, down the basement stairs, and in a closet when she couldn’t locate the door to outside, where her car was parked, which you could see by looking out the window.

I poured her wine to relax her, and soon she prattled on about her career, sons, and how indispensable she was to her employer. She looked around my cluttered home and told me how she had downsized, and how considerate it was to get rid of possessions and not burden one’s grown children with having to dispose of the mess someday. I cooked dinner. My husband brought home a caramel cake. The only comment she made regarding the meal was that she never eats cake. Yet, she ate a slice and didn’t compliment it. She studied the portraits of my children on the walls, and although my kids are good-looking, she made no comment. I took her to the guest room where I had made up the bed, and I showed her the stack of laundered towels and bath products; she said nothing. Later as we chatted more, I found she did have a favored pet phrase she repeated often: “I hope you don’t take this wrong, dear, but…” and then she’d proceed to state something that would have been better left unsaid.

The next day I had to trek out of town to a fancy shop to pick up my altered mother-of-the-groom gown. I told her she need not come, but she insisted it would be fun, and so come she did. I had planned on meeting an old friend for lunch, so I sent a quick missive to my pal alerting her to my taking along a houseguest.

When we reached the boutique, I was ushered into the dressing room to try on my wedding attire. My old pal oohed and aahed and gushed how the style gave me an hourglass figure. My houseguest who’s as thin and flat as a straight pin commented: “Your bra strap shows.” I said that the seamstress had already widened the gown’s straps, and I was sure the tiny bit of beige undergarment would not be spotted under the matching jacket.

When I returned to the change room, the seamstress rolled her eyes and muttered, “No one will notice that micro-millimeter of bra strap!”

I laughed. “Who will notice me anyhow with gorgeous young bridesmaids and a pretty bride nearby?”

During lunch, my good friend, in making conversation, said she was considering liposuction and a tummy tuck. My houseguest, who had met my pal twenty minutes before, turned toward her and said, “Don’t take this wrong, but have you heard of Weight Watchers?”

My friend smiled. “I have no discipline,” she said.

When my houseguest left for the ladies’ room, my buddy asked me where she was from, originally.

“Miami,” I answered.

“But she talks with a British accent!”

“She was a British Literature major.”

We both chortled at that. I hugged my buddy good-bye. Then, I strolled in the rain to my car with my gown in plastic and my houseguest in tow.

“What color is your dress? I couldn’t tell inside,” she said.

“Dusty rose,” I answered.

“Don’t get me wrong, but my mother-in-law wore the same dress with that same hue – forty years ago at my wedding.”

“It’s a classic,” I quipped and counted the minutes until I could reach my car and turn the radio on.

That evening I dialed my husband and asked him to hurry home to go out to dinner with us. I wanted another body present so I wouldn’t erupt if one more time I heard, “Don’t take this wrong but…”

The expression made me think back to when I was a young mother, and my mother-in-law started conversations with: “I know I shouldn’t interfere but…” and then she’d interfere. I feel “but” is the igniter of arguments. If someone wants to throw in a caveat, it’s better to stop cold, insert a mental period and begin a new sentence. Or use the word “and.” Once you stick your “but” into the conversation, the listener turns off her listening ears and braces for criticism. As I listened to TV’s Dr. Phil today, I noted how he almost prefaced his own advice by correcting a guest using a “but;” yet, he caught himself and stated, “I almost said ‘but’…” Apparently, psychologists aren’t immune to wanting to “but in” with advice; however, they realize the word is counterproductive.

Ergo, let’s not just ban “butts” from littering our highways, or ban sagging pants in school that show a bit of “butt,” but let’s ban “buts” from our speech with friends and associates and folks we want to advise. Along with casting out “but,” let’s also retire the expression: “Don’t take this wrong.” When you hear someone say that, you know the ensuing words will render you feeling utterly wronged.

If the past is a predictor of the future, the next time I see this long-lost acquaintance with the anglophile affectations will be in forty years. I have my repartee ready. “Don’t take this wrong, dear, but I’ve unplugged my hearing aid.”

About this writer

  • Erika Hoffman

    Erika Hoffman

    Erika Hoffman writes her vignettes and hopes others enjoy them. She’s compiled many into books sold on Amazon.

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11 Responses to “Banning Buts”

  1. Maria Frangakis says:

    Somebody had to say it and I’m glad it was Erika in her perfect prose. Another great one!

  2. Nancy says:

    I just want to say, ya nailed it again, Erica!
    And, remember, we really don’t need compliments, or others’ approval to confirm our own worth, but it sure boosts the confidence, doesn’t it?

  3. Don’t take this the wrong way but I loved your story! Your humor and sarcasm always make me laugh! This lady is one of a kind. I can’t even imagine being this outspoken in your home! After all you offered your hospitality to someone you barely knew! How rude! This is where the old adage if you can’t find something nice to say, don’t say anything! Your point is right on!

  4. margaret w de st aubin says:

    Wow!! What a “houseguest”!! Your patience certainly exceeded most. But, your words ring true and teach a very important lesson. Thanks for the reminder! Well said!

  5. Rose Ann says:

    So, I think this is my favorite piece, BUT I’ll have to wait for your next one! Seriously funny! Love it!

  6. Claudia Frost says:

    Forty years may still be too soon to meet up with your “trying” houseguest! Thanks for sharing and reminding me about unsolicited advice and banning the “buts”. As always, your humor kept me smiling as you dispensed wisdom and shared an irritating memory.

  7. Cora Brown says:

    Amazing! Amazing that your houseguest was so rude. Amazing that you kept your cool. And, amazing that you once again crafted a piece that not only entertained your readers but offered food for thought, as well. Thanks!

  8. Sheila Mann says:

    I agree with you 100% and will try to avoid using “but” with my daughter-in-law. Thanks for the tip!

  9. Cynthia Atwood says:

    Enjoyable reading. I think most of us have connected with an old friend only to be disillusioned.

  10. Linda O'Connell says:

    This woman was an acquaintance, certainly not a friend. You were more gracious than I would be. I’d have used the word AND. “You annoy me with your condescending comments AND…”

  11. Erika Vogel Hoffman says:

    Yup, an acquaintance. You choose your friends but you can’t choose your family, in-laws, or … the wives of your hubby’s friends!!! LOL I sincerely believe this woman was clueless as to how she sounded. Sometimes, folks hang out with birds of a feather and then when they get around folks who differ from them, they don’t know how to act or relate. Some folks think it is ok to be negative all the time. Sad for them and doubly sad for the people around them! LOL

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