Please help me avoid being offensive!
March 11, 2010 9:45 AM   Subscribe

Are the stupid jokes I made in an email offensive?

I think my offensive-humor-meter is completely out of whack. I got in a big fight with some people after posting that Jesus beer link to facebook a while back, I just didn't find it that offensive and they did.

My very large family sent around an email of the "you know your from an Irish family if" sort. I thought it would be funny to add to the list so I replied all back with:

"27. You haven't voted for a Democrat in years, but your favorite president is JFK.
28. -something about movies, I'm certain its not offensive-
29. You're planning to read James Joyce's Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake one of these days, but for now are googling 'dirty limericks'."

Yes, in hindsight these really aren't all that funny and I don't know why I sent them. I live far away from them and we don't interact often so I thought it would be fun to send something.

These are probably benign to the thick skinned such as myself. However- if you were not thick skinned, and the JFK thing is actually true about yourself, would you be offended? Does the one about googling 'dirty limericks' make me sound like I'm calling them stupid? I want to apologize if I'm in the wrong here, but I can't figure out if I am. They aren't likely to tell me directly if I was offensive.

What's done is done now though, so moving forward, can you explain to me how make sure that I don't offend people?
posted by nowoutside to Human Relations (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have any of your family members actually expressed or implied any degree of offense, or is this all coming out of your head?
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:47 AM on March 11, 2010

I'm of Irish descent. I vote no, not offensive. I can't imagine anyone on the Irish side of my family being offended.
posted by desjardins at 9:49 AM on March 11, 2010

How in the world would we know if the total strangers (to us) that received your email found it offensive?
posted by xmutex at 9:50 AM on March 11, 2010 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: One cousin replied "oh, snap" regarding the JFK one. Other than that, I haven't received any feedback.
posted by nowoutside at 9:51 AM on March 11, 2010

Best answer: Tips to avoid offending people in the future: Don't make assumptions about their political habits and don't imply that they google for dirty anything.
posted by amethysts at 9:51 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What's done is done now though, so moving forward, can you explain to me how make sure that I don't offend people?

Keep doing exactly what you're doing, minus the overthinking and asking people you don't know whether your jokes are offensive to people they don't know.

No, your jokes aren't offensive to any reasonable person.

posted by General Tonic at 9:52 AM on March 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

My Irish ancestry runs deep, but I am not the slightest bit offended by Irish jokes. However people can be really weird about humor depending on their open/closed-mindedness or their personal convictions, so if I send along a joke it's usually only to people whose tastes I understand very well. The extended family is probably too big a pool of people whose sensitivities are all over the map.
posted by crapmatic at 9:53 AM on March 11, 2010

I think sending bland, marginally funny jokes by email to multiple recipients is far more offensive/irritating than the jokes you've mentioned (and it's oh, so totally 1999), so if you're worried about how others perceive you you may wish to stop doing that.

As for Facebook, I've noticed that no matter what I post about 5-10% of the time I'll get fighty/borderline trolling comments (most recently someone fiercely objected to my status update lamenting that Lindsey Vonn was leaving Vancouver). People don't know how to behave online.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:56 AM on March 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

Humor is extremely subjective. And stuff about politics & religion are especially likely to light people's fuses. As long as you're not being racist/homophobic/whatever, you're probably all right. As an Irish-American I don't find any of your additions to the list at all offensive, but hey, that's me. But if Great Aunt Kathleen doesn't appreciate you taking JFK's name in vain, just take her out of your mailing list.

P.S.: You're not sending out joke-stuff to coworkers are you? That's something that's just better to stay out of altogether.
posted by Caravantea at 9:59 AM on March 11, 2010

Any joke that begins "You know you're a BLANK if..." is probably going to be as offensive as any of the jokes you posted. If you're family is passing around these sorts of jokes, they are probably okay with this kind of very low level offensiveness.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:01 AM on March 11, 2010

How not to offend anyone: don't make jokes about ethnicity, religion, or politics.

How to actually not offend anyone ever: don't make jokes.
posted by lore at 10:02 AM on March 11, 2010

These jokes seem incredibly benign to me, but to be fair I am often an astoundingly crass person.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:04 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

For a long time I worked in a small office with a couple other girls and we forwarded all kinds of offensive crap to each other all day long and it was a blast. Then I started a new job at a bigger company where it was mostly men in my office and forwarded this thinking that since even my prissy aunt thought it was funny, it would be okay. I ended up making a few people uncomfortable and looking back, I'm really lucky no one reported me to HR. The moral of the story is that if you are not absolutely sure your audience is thick-skinned like you are, and if it involves sex, religion, or politics, DON'T send it.

And if anyone was offended by what you sent in the past, apologize and move on. If they're worth having in your life, they'll get over it.
posted by cottonswab at 10:06 AM on March 11, 2010

Count me with the other Irish descendants here who care not a whit. I can't speak for your family, of course, but in general I find the Irish abroad have become so integrated into their new culture that they -- or rather we -- are not quick to take offense at jokes that, with many other ethnic groups, might be touchy.

I think the supreme demonstration of this was that at the height of the late-twentieth century political correctness era, Rosalie Maggio released a dictionary of inclusionary and non-offensive alternatives to possibly charged terms. She unhesitatingly said that that one term for a police vehicle used to transport a large number of suspects simultaneously, black maria, should be avoided and replaced with the neutral paddy wagon. It aparently did not occur to her that people of Irish descent might take offense, but then, it probably didn't occur to us either.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:11 AM on March 11, 2010

Regarding the Jesus beer thing...I thought it was quite funny but I would never post it on my Facebook account because I am FB friends with several family members who "have personal relationships with Jesus Christ" listed as their religious views. I also don't post anything political because the same family members (and some friends) are rabidly not-my-affiliation. Do I hate censoring myself? Yes. But I hate family drama even more and they have responded in kind by not posting stuff they think I'd find offensive. Wish I could get some of my friends to be that respectful.

At any rate, I didn't find your Irish jokes offensive but I certainly can see someone getting their panties in a twist over Jesus beer.

can you explain to me how make sure that I don't offend people?

Don't discuss politics and religion in polite company. That now includes Facebook and email. If you're hanging out with friends of like mind, go ahead and bring out the jokes. Also, the next time you're tempted to "reply all," wait five or ten minutes, read it again and then decide whether or not to hit "send."
posted by cooker girl at 10:11 AM on March 11, 2010

My big Irish-American family wouldn't even blink an eye at that, and it's full of people who vote Republican and keep pictures of JFK on the wall next to those of the Pope. If anything they'd ask why you didn't work in references to alcoholism or nuns.
posted by sallybrown at 10:15 AM on March 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The ones you added are likely to be interpreted as targeting specific individuals, rather than generalizations about Irish-Americans, so I think that's where you may have went wrong. Aunt Kathy probably didn't find that JFK dig very amusing, and Uncle Joe doesn't want you exposing his tendencies toward dirty limericks.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:23 AM on March 11, 2010

They're not offensive as standalones, but even less so as a response to a 25-item list that presumably tried to be irreverent and slightly funny to start with. I mean what were the first one-liners before you added to it? "You have a really ossum shamrock tattoo" and "You like soda bread a whole lot" or something?
posted by jamesonandwater at 10:24 AM on March 11, 2010

The only way you can guarantee that you won't ever offend anyone is by never saying anything. That's no way to live. Obviously, you didn't find these things offensive - and it's your life, so why let other people dictate how you live it?

However, if you're really worried about hurting Great Aunt Maggie's feelings, then this is the best rule I have found: When in doubt....DON'T. Because if you think there's even the tiniest chance that someone will be offended, then it's a sure bet that someone will.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:35 AM on March 11, 2010

I'm (half) Irish with an enormous Irish family. I'm not offended by these Irish jokes.

I do get annoyed at anyone who sends me chain letters or joke emails though. So, I normally hit "delete" without even reading them. Therefore, you wouldn't get any response from someone like me, but it wouldn't be personal or because I considered the jokes offensive.
posted by jeanmari at 10:52 AM on March 11, 2010

I'm offended you excluded the thing about movies. I'm sure that was going to piss me off!
posted by SNACKeR at 11:25 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Viola players tell the best viola player jokes, but are generally unamused if someone else starts telling them. This mechanism can be transferred to making - even benign - fun of any sort of group. If you're of Irish origin yourself, you're likely on the safe side of things this time around.

Otherwise a good rule is that you don't impose the kind of stuff on others that you wouldn't like getting into your inbox (except perhaps from people you know really well). If you observe this rule, and people react offended anyway, you can write your apology nevertheless, but needn't feel bad about it.
posted by Namlit at 12:56 PM on March 11, 2010

If you can imagine a reasonable person being offended by something (like the Christian facebook friends in an earlier example) and any of those people are an acquaintance of yours, don't send or say it. If you wouldn't say it if they were in the room listening, don't say it to anyone.

I wouldn't find any of those super offensive, but it wouldn't make me think of you as classy, either -- especially the last one. :/
posted by ramenopres at 2:06 PM on March 11, 2010

I would be more offended by receiving an email that looks like "Fw: FW: fw: FW: FWD: ZOMG FUNNY JOKES", because I probably saw the material on the net in 1998, than by the content of the jokes themselves.
posted by thewalrus at 2:11 PM on March 11, 2010

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