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I am renting a room in a large, shared house with people from all ages, ethnic backgrounds, and nationalities.

I was informed by the housing manager that there had been a complaint against me by a fellow female tenant (I suspect Alice (although the Manager never mentioned any names)) for discussing maid cafes and suggesting she wear a maid outfit. (I did talk with a couple female tenants (Alice and Jane) on different occasions about my plans for the weekend when asked and mentioned I would be going with some friends to a maid cafe and may have jokingly suggested they come along as a maid or something similar.)

The housing manager then went on to say that there had actually been a number of complains by other female tenants who overheard me discuss maid cafes, making them feel uncomfortable, although he never mentioned what exactly was said that made them feel that way. I don't believe ever having said anything inappropriate or even discussing it around other people so I have a feeling the complainant may have gotten some of her friends to complain as well.

The manager then wrapped-up the discussion and suggested I be careful about what I say to people and advised I not try to find the person who complained for fear additional tension or awkwardness be created between us.

I am not very upset about them complaining against and am not a spiteful person but would like the complainant I am sorry that something I said made them feel uncomfortable so we can hopefully be on friendly terms (I'm not really concerned about being friends with this person or people but I would like us to be on friendly terms since we see each other almost every day in the common areas).

The problem is that I'm not 100% sure who complained. There were two women I talked to about the maid cafe and unsure who it could have been, although I have my suspicions since one of them always smiles and greets me, and the other no longer does (although as the manager said, there were multiple complaints and it could have been both of them, since they are also friends).

How can I let the complainant know I am sorry what I said upset them and meant no ill intentions?

(My idea was to apologize to each of them, something along the lines of, "hey the manager told me my comment about maid cafes made someone upset so I'm not sure if it's you but if it is, sorry." but of course, slightly better formulated.)

Note: all names used are placeholders and may not the names of the actual people involved.

  • I have edited, substantially expanded and improved my old answer (based on guidance from senior members) to meet current site standards and expectations of detail, relevance and quality -- please read, @Supreme Grand Ruler. – English Student Dec 20 '17 at 10:02

11 Answers 11

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How can I let the complainant know I am sorry what I said upset them and meant no ill intentions? (My idea was to apologize to each of them, something along the lines of, "hey the manager told me my comment about maid cafes made someone upset so I'm not sure if it's you but if it is, sorry." but of course, slightly better formulated.)

There is one important problem with making that approach, which is that the woman or women chose to bring the complaint not to you but to the manager, which should in all seriousness be conservatively interpreted as their signal of unwillingness to engage with you on this admittedly sensitive issue.

So your approach with explanatory or apologetic intent might be unwelcome to them and, as pointed out by several members in answers and comments, possibly be misinterpreted as an attempt at self-justification, argument or intimidation, none of which is helpful to promote better relations between you and your housemates. (It can also create the idea that the manager revealed the identity of the complainant, which he didn't.)

So unless one or both of the women comes forward to bring up the issue with you, it is advisable to respect their wishes not to directly discuss the matter. But you can indirectly express your understanding of the situation through very proper and consistently respectable behavior.

I am making a further assumption based on your question that you were not fully aware of the implications of maid cafe's, and did not intend to offend their sensitivities by your comments. In that case, and because reapproaching the problem can potentially escalate it, you need not apologise for saying something that unintentionally offended an unknown person.

It is notable that if those women had been your close friends and very familiar with your personality, they might not have taken offence at your same statements. So it is best to be very careful how you behave with and what you say to all your housemates till you become very familiar with them and establish specific grounds for making more intimate statements, especially with gender-sensitive connotations.

Further, quoting a recent very pertinent comment under this answer,

the lesson isn't even specific to whatever a 'gender sensitive' issue is. The issue extends to all manner of sensitivities and certainly many men are uncomfortable with the idea of Maid Cafes, as there are also women who are not. The OP is in a living situation with a bunch of folk he doesn't know well, in any such situation anyone would be advised to tread a little gingerly while they get to know people. – Spagirl [link to comment]

The best thing we can do in such situations is to understand that especially with people who don't know us very well, what we say can create various impressions beyond our control, and we should generally learn to be more careful while mentioning certain things. You got your feedback right there:

Talking about maid cafes is not OK!

Remain confident and move on.

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    I'm on board with remaining confident and moving on, I think it is a step too far to brush off the offence felt as 'misinterpretation'. The OP says he 'may' have 'jokingly suggested they come along as a maid or something similar'. The fact that eh now characterises this possible statement as a joke does not mean it can't have been truly offensive. – Spagirl Dec 18 '17 at 13:48
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    I've said nothing that should be taken as suggesting he directly address this subject with any of his housemates. My take on this is that the OP is being very defensive and wishes to 'close the book' on the matter, and thinks foisting an apology on someone will do that. IMV such an action risks inflaming the current situation and does nothing to prevent similar things happening in future. – Spagirl Dec 18 '17 at 14:05
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    The lesson isn't even specific to whatever a 'gender sensitive' issue is. The issue extends to all manner of sensitivities and certainly many men are uncomfortable with the idea of Maid Cafes, as there are also women who are not. The OP is in a living situation with a bunch of folk he doesn't know well, in any such situation anyone would be advised to tread a little gingerly while they get to know people. – Spagirl Dec 18 '17 at 14:54
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+550

I, too, found your name telling (yes, actually, though most likely a joke, it's telling.)

I'm sure you meant it as a joke. That doesn't mean it isn't offensive. I take it you're a male.

You might remember Playboy clubs where the women are/were? dressed as bunnies. Bunnies aren't just cute and fuzzy. Think about it. "Fly me" was the byline of an airline featuring a pretty hostess saying "I'm Cindy. Fly me." That's not subtle either. Neither is a "maid café". I don't think "maid cafés" are popular because they remind men of those good old clean homes their mamas kept.

Some women are sensitive to the objectification of women for the sexual gratification of men. Some women go along with it. I take it your roommates are of the former ilk. It's hard to come up with a pertinent counter because many men don't take sexual objectification the same way.

What you said, in essence, was likely heard as:

I'm going out to a bar that treats women as objects meant for my sexual pleasure. Why don't you get into an outfit that would demean you as a person for my sexual pleasure and accompany me there as well? Hahaha.

That's really creepy, and I agree with the manager who said not to approach the person to apologize. No matter what you say, it will be threatening, because you already are creepy and unsafe in her mind. I mean, what can you say that will change her mind towards you? Very few people know the art of a good apology. Many people (semi-?) inadvertently blame the offended party ("I'm sorry if you..." "Seriously, I was only kidding. I didn't know you would take it that way..., etc.)

How can I let the complainant know I am sorry what I said upset them and meant no ill intentions? (emphasis mine)

This leads me to believe the apology you would make would be of the semi-blaming variety.

So, tell the manager to express your sincere apologies to the tenant whom you offended, then drop it. Go about your life like it never happened, except behave like a gentleman when they are around. That's the best thing you can do.

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    This a really good answer, but I have a problem with the paragraph "Some women are sensitive to the objectification of women for the sexual gratification of men. Some women go along with it. ..." That leads to a different question "Why?". Regardless, it is not applicable to this situation, because there was no way to know in advance. – user3169 Aug 15 '17 at 22:29
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    @user3169: I'd say all women are sensitive to been objectify. Why? Because objects have less rights than humans? If there's any exception, that's only in a playful and intimate setting, within a relationship. – Quora Feans Aug 19 '17 at 23:22
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    @Patrick Trentin - Wow, what a nice Christmas present! Thank you! :D – anongoodnurse Dec 25 '17 at 19:27
  • Regardless of the sexual vs economic aspects (my opinion is always "who is exploiting who?"), the second part of which your answer fails to point out (maid cafés are a business that exploits some men "weaknesses"), this is a very good answer (no one deserves objetification or walletification - as I call it - ). I'm surprised it's not marked as accepted. – Noldor130884 Jan 19 '18 at 7:24
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Until now I'd never heard of a "maid cafe" and now I've googled it, it seems pretty demeaning and creepy (from the perspective of a UK male). You still didn't say what country you're in or that your roommates are from but from my own cultural perspective, I'd expect most women to label you as creepy for even wanting to go to one of these cafes, let alone suggesting they dress up for you.

So I'd say your approach to the situation should be to move on and try to learn from it and think a bit more about how your words and actions affect other people. It sounds like any other response is only going to make things worse, and any apology would only serve to make you feel better, and probably them even more uncomfortable.

  • @Supreme Grand Ruler Maybe it's time for you to think about this a bit deeper. Is going to a place which demeans women fun for you? Why? What is funny about it for you? How do those women feel about it, under the mask? Is this the way you like women to feel about you? Honestly? How would you feel if a close relation had to work there? Would it still be fun? – RedSonja Jan 12 '18 at 8:04
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Here's an article from Psychology Today on "creeping women out", I'm posting it to help anybody else who finds this and doesn't understand why they're creeping women out.

I too used to be "creepy" when I was younger, simply because I was clumsy at phrasing jokes on sensitive subjects. It's best to avoid sexual or demeaning topics with women you don't know well, if you're a man.

From the article. This makes it pretty clear:

Women almost universally reported the feeling that the guy in question had some sort of sexual interest in them, and this was not perceived as harmless or flattering. The fact that women are simply at greater risk for sexual assault and that the costs of this are potentially greater for them means that they must be especially vigilant about sexual threats for sound evolutionary reasons, and hence, they are more likely to fear that a guy may not be just a creep, but a pervert as well.

  • "Women almost universally reported the feeling that the guy in question had some sort of sexual interest in them [...]" This happens most of the time, even if you are not clumsy :) – Noldor130884 Jan 19 '18 at 7:26
  • Actually i would say that it's best to avoid sexual or demeaning topics with anybody you don't know well, regardless of your gender – F. Emin May 15 '18 at 15:13
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Can you elaborate on why you think you need to know who it was? It doesn't seem like you really believe such a thing happened. Especially when you write stuff like:

so I have a feeling the complainant may have gotten some of her friends to complain as well

which one might interpret as your feeling threatened.

If it is just about apologizing, if you told the Manager you are sorry the Manager can relay your message to the offended parties. That should be enough.

There probably is no way to independently prove what happened, so I would let it go. Pretend it didn't happen unless someone else initiates some contrary action.

However, to be clear about saying something like:

I would be going with some friends to a maid cafe and may have jokingly suggested they come along as a maid or something similar

DON'T DO THAT. Make sure you understand why that is. By writing "jokingly" you seem to be trying to make an excuse rather than owning up to it.

  • 1) I never stated I needed to know who it was, well except in the case of apologizing since I would need to know who it was in order to apologize to them. 2) How can I not believe it happened when the whole question is about me saying it did? 3) Yes, the manager may or may not relay my message or even do it accurately. Me telling them myself would be more authentic and truthful. 4) well since I admitted it might have happened, that would be proof enough. 5) Don't do what? I'm not making any excuses since I did admit to it and want to apologize for it. – user3178 Aug 15 '17 at 7:30
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    @Supreme Grand Ruler, to them you are a stranger. A stranger, who made comments, that creeped them out enough to make them file an anonymous complaint. They didn't call you out right then. They don't know you and what you are up to (you may be the nicest person, but try to view it from their persepective). All you know is, that they were offended and don't want to let you know, who they are. Honour that by not tracking them down. Try the housing manager first. Plan B would be the female roommate, who still smiles and greets you (but make sure to not create the impression of suspecting her). – Anne Daunted Aug 15 '17 at 11:00
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    @AnneDaunted I'm waiting for you to post an answer. It appears you have a lot to say on this. :) – NVZ Aug 15 '17 at 11:48
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    @SupremeGrandRuler 2) "I don't believe ever having said anything inappropriate or even discussing it around other people" 3) That is the manager's responsibility, not yours. You wouldn't tell your boss what to do, right? If any of them were comfortable with your knowing who they were, they would have told you already. Don't push it. 5) My recommendation for future reference in similar situations, regarding sensitivity to other people. – user3169 Aug 15 '17 at 17:18
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    @SupremeGrandRuler You say you don't believe you did it, but that you have admitted that you might have. I think this is what is making people feel that your apology may not be in good faith. Your preoccupation seems to be in being seen to have made good in some way without really addressing whether your behaviour was problematic in the past, is problematic in how you are handling this now and is likely to be any different in the future. You said stuff, people were worried enough to speak to the manager. Do you want to be a person who worries people? If no, consider changing how you act. – Spagirl Dec 18 '17 at 13:58
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Some things to consider -

  1. You've already made one or more of them uncomfortable, and now you want to go against the explicit instructions of the housing manager and seek them out. That's going to be potentially viewed as an attempt to intimidate ("I know it was you"), and if you do apologize and improve your behavior around them, the question will be whether you actually wanted to change or are just putting on a show for the ones who complained, to avoid getting in trouble ("doth protest too much").

  2. They complained because they want you to stop with the sexist/demeaning remarks. agoodnurse's paraphrasing captured, very well, why they found those comments offensive. The housing manager also said there were a number of complaints about you in this regard, so, really, why does it matter which specific ones complained? Your discussion clearly made a number of them uncomfortable, which means, yes, the problem is probably your own lack of outgoing filter. You need to not just improve your image with just the one or two, but for the number who complained, and the others who were probably irritated but didn't complain.

  3. If you don't know who it is, then your default will be to behave in a respectful and appropriate manner with all the women you live with. That will improve your image with everyone, and it will avoid the whack-a-mole situation where you behave more appropriately with the ones you know complained, but then wind up offending a whole different group because you haven't altered your overall behavior, just towards the ones you think have the real problem (aka, not you). Who knows, if you get in the habit of using that filter, or putting yourself in their shoes before speaking, that might carry through to behavior outside of your household, and you will avoid offending strangers you don't live with and any hot-headed companions they might have, as well.

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  1. Avoid that type of thing in the future. It's probably obvious but now that you know it made people uncomfortable the most important course of action is to learn from this and rectify that aspect of yourself. This is more important than any apology might be; continuing to make people uncomfortable is the worst case.

  2. You could consider making a generalised apology in front of a group of people that you were really sorry that something you were speaking of was a bit creepy or inappropriate. Don't bring up the topic again, even if tempted! If they don't know what you mean then tell them it was something you were talking about ___ night. Don't mention that you were told of any complaint. You don't have to, and their complaint may have been made in confidence. Don't defend yourself, with statements such as "it was only meant as a joke" or "I was only joining in with others", "I didn't mean to offend", etc. If you can't trust yourself not to break any of those "don't"s maybe don't worry about an apology. There are certain ways of apologising that can make things worse, and people - even celebrities - regularly bumble into that very situation. The safe option is definitely to forego an apology and just pay attention to option 1).

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I am renting a room in a large, shared house with people from all ages, ethnic backgrounds, and nationalities.

It's progressive that everyone(?) where you live is blind to gender, not sure why the other attributes are relevant to your question; if you live with children what you say needs to be age appropriate or you need to check around the corner before you bring up adult-oriented outings.

Since you've brought up that the tenants are of various backgrounds you might want to consider if what you do or say is interesting to everyone.

I did talk with a couple female tenants (Alice and Jane) on different occasions about my plans for the weekend when asked and mentioned I would be going with some friends to a maid cafe and may have jokingly suggested they come along as a maid or something similar.

During the numerous previous occasions when I had non-girlfriend female roommates I didn't ask about "their plans" or "what are you doing later", when I was asked what I was doing I politely declined to go into details and didn't invite them along.

  • The second half of your answer before they responded to the first half is: a one-two punch, or TMI.

The manager then wrapped-up the discussion and suggested I be careful about what I say to people and advised I not try to find the person who complained for fear additional tension or awkwardness be created between us.

Seems like good advice.

Hopefully the manager explained not to ask people about their plans, seeking to either: be nosy, comment upon their activities, or seek an invitation. If you don't know someone why check/test boundaries.

Letting it drop and everyone go back to winding their own wool seems best. They're not going to ask "whatcha doing" and you're not going to volunteer TMI.

Don't forget your lesson, they only live with random men; other things they're not interested in.

I don't approach random women and ask what they are doing later (or for the weekend) hoping that it's either well received or that they tell me about their much better looking friends. I have asked female friends and indeed they have hooked me up.

Random people, random results.

How can I let the complainant know I am sorry what I said upset them and meant no ill intentions?

Tell that to the manager.


Three simple rules for getting along:

  • Live with children, watch what you say and do.
  • Live with adult strangers, watch what you say and do.
  • Live with adult friends, watch what you say and do.
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I agree with anongoodnurse's answer

So, tell the manager to express your sincere apologies to the tenant whom you offended, then drop it.

However, you mentioned that you talked with two women about maid cafe and thought it might be possible that one (or both) of them is the complainant.

In addition to telling the manager, if you feel must apologize to the tenant personally, I would come to both of them and apologize profusely, regardless of whether one (or none) of them is the complainant.

  • Not the downvoter but I believe that apologizing to the tenants at all is a bad idea. Right now the accuser feels safer for having reported the incident, if OP apologizes personally they will assume the manager revealed their identity and their feeling of safety will be gone (he knows I reported him, will he try to get revenge?). This will do nothing to repair what remains of the relationship and could destroy it entirely. Best to move on and let time heal this wound. – Lord Jebus VII Nov 1 '17 at 10:58
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Understand that using a term like "maid cafes" is barely acceptable in some circles.

Meaning that if you follow up by suggesting that someone (you don't know well) attend, or participate in one, you may have crossed a line.

It's unfortunate that people spoke to the manager about it, rather than you directly. It means that you broke "unwritten" (rather than written) rules. Technically, you did nothing wrong but you did offend social sensibilities.

This situation may be "too far gone" to fix. Just learn from it for the next time.

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I completely agree with anongoodnurse's answer.

I'd feel really bad about what I said, if that lead even to a formal complaint to the landlord. However, since the tenant(s) does not wish to talk about this subject to you personally for whatever reason, you could send your apologies to her/them through the landlord. If you want to go further, you can attach a small note, simply stating that you're really sorry if you offended her with your words, and possibly a small gift - nothing incredibly pricy, just something to show her that you took some time to think about what you did and you want to remedy it.

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    "...simply stating that you're really sorry that you offended her with your words..." He did offend her -- using the word if is admitting no wrongdoing and placing the blame on the listener, so it doesn't really qualify as an apology. – user4788 Dec 20 '17 at 9:30
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    I've not downvoted, as a woman who has lived in shared houses, here's my thoughts on passing a gift via the house manager. It's extraordinarily creepy and would probably ensure that said gift was displayed prominently in the top of the waste bin. I certainly would not keep the gift and if it was passed to me away from the house I'd probably not even take it home as being seen with it gives away who it was that complained, and I'd suspect that as the motive. If you must gift give, try cookies for the house to share and a note that says, 'I've been a crap housemate, I'll do better in future.' – Spagirl Dec 22 '17 at 14:15

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