Sometimes I see stupid things as funny. Such as going to a cold country when there are many other options.
OK. What the hell am I talking about?
During my first trip to Europe, I wanted to see Auschwitz. After seeing that horrible place and some of the rotten snotty people I met there, I wrote about my experience. I tried to start with some humor by writing, “Who goes to Eastern Europe in January?” It was just supposed to be a joke directed at me about how stupid I was to go to a freezing cold country in the middle of winter.
Then I forgot about that particular column until my Twitter page was moderately bombarded by angry Polish people.
I was not being intentionally racist or ignorant. I just used the wrong word. Maybe that is a good definition of ignorant and racist, but I don’t care at the moment, I’m trying to make a point.
Plenty of Polish people were furious with me because I called their country “Eastern Europe,” when they call themselves “Central Europe.” I wasn’t trying to say anything demeaning by it, like I said, it was just an honest mistake.
However, as a former reporter — and one with backbone and dignity — I feel that I should always write my stories (even if the jokes are at my own expense) completely factual. So, I apologized to everybody and the editor at the Colorado Daily changed the one word in the online version of the story. (We couldn’t pull the hard copies because they’d already gone to print.)
Even so, I learned something valuable.
With that experience, I learned that some Polish people can get really angry. But, I also learned that it’s important to stick with your guns — if you make a mistake, fix it. If I’ve made other mistakes as a reporter — or an opinion columnist — I want people to know that I will own up to them. That’s unlike most other opinionists out there (I feel that way at least).
Being a writer of any sort can be tough. Working in a newspaper is tough. While there’s about one writing job for every 10 writers out there, those writers need to know the differences between there, their and they’re. There are entire manuals to learn. Do you use the Oxford comma or not? Do you capitalize the term “Oxford comma” or not? (In our style, we capitalize Oxford but not comma.)
So, the lessons learned are that you can always make a mistake, but you can always apologize for it. The Polish folks never jumped on me again, nor did they apologize for going nuts on me. But, I also learned that Poland is not Eastern Europe. Will I ever use that knowledge again? I don’t know, but like one of my old journalism teachers said, “Make sure, and then make sure again.”