Talking behind someone’s back is not very good form. But it would seem to me that talking in front of someone as if they weren’t there is probably worse and pretty rude.
Of course this is just my opinon.
In a recent proseminar class, one of my students responded to a classmate during a discussion on “Differance” by Jacque Derrida, and referenced something I had just said by refering to me as “he”. Now, I am not one to be referred to in the third person when I’m in the room, so I had to comment, “Did she just call me ‘he‘?”
Hahahah. Anyway, this is a good student. She is dilligent, performs well and is generally very polite, and I am positive that she wasn’t even trying to be rude. So I made the remark, not to embarrass her, but to point out that some people–including me–find it rude when treated in the third person in their presence. Were I to refer to someone in this way, I would feel like I was talking about them as if they were not there, i.e. invisible or unacknowledged. This is similar to talking to someone in a language that another person present doesn’t understand. When I speak in Japanese in front of others–like with M or any other Japanese national who doesn’t speak English–I always explain what we are talking about to the non-speakers who are present. I do this even when M and I are shopping and talking in front of a salesperson who’s helping us. If I’m with a friend who speaks English, I will always speak in English. If they speak in Japanese, I will either explain to the non-speaker, or ask the Japanese speaker to switch to English. It is just too rude for me to talk as if the other person was not there.
Perhaps I am being too sensitive. But I wonder if this has to do with being a minority in the US. When I grew up, I found myself in many situations in which “mainstream” people talked about me or my family in our presence as if we didn’t exist–and for all intents and purposes, a few decades ago, in a more unenlightened society, we really didn’t exist. Asian youths today may not have experienced this–or at least not as much as the previous generation–and you would be lucky, for it is not a very good feeling. I know people who switch languages intentionally–from English to Japanese–so others will not understand them. How rude is that?!? I will remind them that if you don’t want some people to know what’s being said, then talk about it when they are not around, not in their presence.
Anyway, I hope I didn’t make this student feel too awkward–because as I said, I’m positive she didn’t mean to be rude. Do you think I was mean?.