My secretary, Todd, recently copied me on an email he sent to a potential client in Beijing. (Let’s call her “Emma,” since every Chinese person I know seems to give themselves a Tweedy English name).
Here’s how the email read:“Hi Emma, I’m a rittle confused. Did you mean 10 am or 10 pm EST for the Skype call with Evan and David? Best, Todd.”
Rittle?!?!? When I saw it, I was, of course, mortified. (Maybe I giggled a little). Was Todd mocking Emma? Was it just an honest typo? Or is Todd a big racist? (I can imagine him thinking “rittle,” not intending to actually type it…and then OOPS).
So what do I do? Fire Todd? That goes without saying. I do it twice a week. But what do I do about Emma? What’s the business etiquette reboot? Is there one? How could we, well, save face?
A) Make Todd send an apology?
B) Correct the mistake and send the apology myself?
C) Ignore it and hope that Emma doesn’t catch the mistake? I mean it’s not as if I don’t often have to guess what she means in her emails: Just the other day she wrote: 并把相应的航班行程和价格发给您，如果没有问题咱们就出票. Translated by Google, this means: “And the corresponding flight itinerary and prices sent to you, we would have no problem if the ticket…” That was clearly meant for somone else, but it was later followed up by another email—in English—that read: “China is limited but his leaves all of us working for the Chinese families. A room to have the families well informed of the US education.”
It took a few minutes of going through old emails for me to figure out what the f*ck she was talking about, but I eventually got it.
Now, I want to be clear: This is not just a Chinese issue. I have had some of the strangest emails come from France, Portugal, and Germany—not to mention Scarsdale—that have been completely unintelligible. And I am sure my attempts at responses in Spanish et al haven’t been much better. Still, this email from Todd—unintentional though it was—bordered on racism. I think.
To that end, I have this to say: Slow down when writing emails. And always reread them—no matter what. But you didn’t this time, so here are some possible ways to fix the tres raciale mistake:
1) Arriba, Arriba! Andale, Andale! (To quote Speedy Gonzalez): The second you realize the faux pas (or slip-up, en Français), just send the exact email with the correction. Don’t bring any attention to it. Sometimes menos is mejor.
2) Short and Sweet: Still worried? Ok. Ok. So, you’re too worried to say nothing. So, make a joke out of it. By this I mean, Make fun of yourself for the error—followed by an apology—in front of everyone copied on the email: “Oops, I meant to write ‘little’! Damn carpal tunnel.”
3) WWJD?: You’ve dealt with this colleague (Emma) before and she’s not forgiving. In fact, she’s a real asshole. Well, you’re just going to have to bend over and—as Jesus would say—“turn the other cheek.” Don’t even wait until she realizes the error. Preempt her anger with an apology…plus the corrected version.
Of course, there’s always lying. Send out a BCC email that looks like an apology form letter. Lead with “During this very busy season [even though it’s mid August], a small number of emails may have been sent to you with misspellings. They were in no way intended to offend the recipient…” You get the point, but this is really a last resort, and should only be implemented if you receive an angry response to the original email—and/or you’re a damn coward.