The Awkward That Binds Us

Due to the pervasive presence of humans, awkward social situations are inevitable. But, as one of those lists-of-stuff-to-get-ad-traffic websites said (with surprising insight), these awkward encounters can bind different types together as common experiences. In this vein, I loved the bit Brian Regan once did about what it’s like when a servant in Buckingham Palace must explain gently to the Queen that a particular toilet handle needs jiggling to work properly.

The situations at those devour-this-list websites seem a bit fabricated, perhaps to craft a Top Ten for millennials’ amusement. Or maybe I just can’t relate because my social ineptitude is at another level. So, with little temptation to plagiarize those, I offer up my own (unranked) list of awkward but surprisingly common encounters I have experienced first- or second-hand over the years. Hope you can relate.

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Holding a door open for someone who was just a bit too far away, so now you’re wearing the “hurry up already” smile.

When a person with a high estimation of his or her importance talks loudly over others in public using Bluetooth earbuds.

A child making a scene in public, continuing to do so, as all eyes look to see which adult is culpable. [Becomes particularly uncomfortable after 3-5 minutes. Especially when it’s your kid. More so when it’s your teenager.]

Passengers on the way to coach class trying not to gawk as they walk through the gauntlet of the first class elite already seated with ample legroom.

Congratulating someone on being pregnant when she is not. [Most likely to occur in January or February.]

When you get to the urinal after the person next to you, relieve yourself, and they still haven’t started. [Or being that person. (Young = stage fright; old = enlarged prostate).]

Waving hello at someone that wasn’t who you thought they were.
   Waving back at someone who does this, out of instinct. [“Do I know them?”]

Responding to a comment that was directed to a person behind you.

Asking a retail associate for help and finding out the person was another customer who happened to be wearing the franchise’s colors and something that looked a bit like an apron. [Further uncomfortable when the person helps you anyway.]

Saying “you too” as a nicety when it doesn’t apply.
   [Agent at the boarding scan-in: “Have a good flight!” Me: “You too!”
   Retail store clerk: “Come back again!” Me: “You too!”]

Going in for a hug when it’s clear that a handshake was the maximum contact desired. [Or being the person accosted by the unexpected hug.]

Having someone tell you about something that happened to them that they’ve told you before. [If you can jump in early and say, “Yeah, you were telling me about that the other day…” then it’s a briefly shared discomfort. Yet if you miss this window and the story keeps going, you must feign first-time interest, so it’s only awkward for you. The worst, though, is when, toward the end, the storyteller realizes they’ve told this to you before—concluding that you were either patronizing them or didn’t listen the first time.]

Using the phrase “ordinary Joe” or “some Joe” with a person named Joe.

Interacting with someone well beyond the number of times in which you could ask their name. [“Hey…YOU, there…. We meet again!”]

When an old person pretends they are really a pro on their smart phone but it’s obvious that they are just looking for a picture using over-exaggerated swipes and taps.

When you need to use the toilet after the previous person has stunk up the place. [Problematic not only with offensive odor but also because the next person will think you were the culprit.]

Getting out of the car to pump gasoline only to be body blocked by a miffed attendant. [Applicable to Oregon or New Jersey visitors.]

When a woman tells a man “Hey, buddy, my eyes are up here!”
   When a man tells a man “Hey, buddy, my eyes are up here!” [Possibly more awkward because less expected.]
   When a man tells a woman “Hey, lady, my eyes are up here!” [Rare but would also be uncomfortable. Or maybe a bit of a boost. Can’t say I know.]
   When an adult female former student tells a certain man “Hey, buddy, my eyes are up here!…Mister B!?!

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Although misfired social contact may give us common ground, is it worth the cringing? May I suggest that such discomfort could be avoided by 1) never talking, or 2) remaining oblivious. Interaction has consequences. Your choice, my friends.

Copyright © 2022 Richard Berndt – All Rights Reserved.

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