A few months ago my family stopped for lunch at a little small-town diner while traveling home from visiting my parents. The menu was endlessly entertaining because of the outrageous number of spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. We started counting and then gave up halfway through the menu after finding 25 mistakes.
One of the errors that we particularly liked was the description of “chicken strips saved to perfection” – a phrase that raises three important questions in my mind:
First, how exactly does a chicken get saved? And does “saved” chicken taste better than “unsaved?” Finally, is it morally wrong to eat a chicken that has been saved?
I have to admit, we felt a little smug as we counted up the mistakes. And then . . . I overheard the owner speaking rapidly in another language and I realized that this menu actually represented a pretty amazing accomplishment for someone whose “heart language” is not English.
In my travels outside the English-speaking world, I have frequently been the one whose communication is limited. I know a little Mandarin and Spanish and Swahili (to be honest, this amounts to little more than simple greetings, please and thank you and “where is your bathroom?”). So I’m certain that I’ve sounded ridiculous to native speakers whenever I’ve tried to communicate in a language not my own.
I’ve realized that my mockery of this small diner’s menu highlights an ugly truth about myself; namely, that I can be very quick to find fault with others – while simultaneously giving myself a free pass.
Now don’t get me wrong – I still care about getting spelling and grammar right. But my default setting appears to be set to “criticize” and that needs to change.
Anybody with me?