In every situation in life, there's always a way to make a tit of yourself
Living in a very small city, in which most of the people you know tend to be walking along the same sort of routes at the same sort of times makes it pretty much impossible to set foot outside your abode without bumping into one of them. Aside from being potentially problematic when you’re running late, this can lead to all sorts of uncomfortable situations and considerable public embarrassment. Here are six to watch out for.
1. You face the issue of determining at precisely what distance to acknowledge the acquaintance who is walking towards you. This may seem like an unnecessary concern, but misjudging this can have disastrously awkward consequences. Picture this, you are strolling along, minding your own business, trying to remember that if you’re going to talk to yourself then you mustn’t do it out loud in public areas, when all of a sudden you spot someone you know walking towards you.
Now, look up and officially greet them with a small grin or a casual head nod too soon and you will either be forced to walk towards them grinning like a loon for an unacceptably long period of time before you actually get close enough to say something, by which time your smile will no doubt have become as forced as the time someone gave you a jigsaw of the Wolverhampton ring road for Christmas. Or else you will have to feign an all-consuming interest in a patch of nearby shrubbery in order to have an excuse to look away until you are within speaking distance.
Look up too late and you risk missing entirely the window of opportunity for greeting. Your acquaintance may have noticed you studiously avoiding their eyes, interpreted this as some sort of heinous social snub, taken great offense, and mentally struck you off their Christmas card list forever.
2. Bumping into that person you don’t really know well enough to say ‘hello’ to. Oh, the dilemma that faces you. Do you pretend you have absolutely no idea who they are, never seen them before in your life, and soldier on with your journey? Do you attempt a smile and a discreet wave, hoping that you can quickly disguise it as a crafty chin scratch if they seem to be opting for the first option? Or do you go for broke, avoid potentially offending them, and cry out a verbal embrace, in the process risking appearing embarrassingly over-enthusiastic about seeing someone whose name you don’t really remember but who you met at a flat party three years ago and had a completely unremarkable conversation about cheese with?
3. One of the worst things that can befall you in an open public setting – waving back at someone who was actually waving at the person behind you. Sometimes when this happens there is nothing else for it but to hurl yourself under the nearest double-decker bus. Sometimes there are no double-decker buses handy, however, and we must find an alternative coping mechanism. There is the ‘disguise the wave as some sort of suave hair flick’ approach, but, let’s be honest, pulling off anything remotely suave is not usually an option. Or there is always the ‘wave double-bluff’, i.e. pretending that in fact you were waving at someone behind the initial waver as well. This can save face successfully in front of the initial waver as you go about the pretense of greeting an imaginary person walking behind them. To everyone else who is witnessing the situation, though, you do look genuinely insane.
4. Upon seeing someone you know you must decide whether to pause to chat or to keep moving, firing your greeting at them on the way past in the manner of a drive-by. This isn’t really an issue if the stars align, the universe enters a moment of perfect, tranquil harmony, and you both happen to make the same decision. If, however, you don’t both make the same decision, you are plunged into an uncomfortable dance routine best described as ‘an awkward period of dithering’.
5. Spotting an acquaintance who doesn’t seem to have spotted you. This has a tendency to instigate an extended moment of indecision and self-doubt. Perhaps they simply haven’t noticed you and you should do something to attract their attention. Perhaps they are attempting to execute the aforementioned correct timing of a greeting and you should leave the situation in their capable hands. Perhaps they have noticed you but are studiously avoiding your eyes in a heinous social snub at which you should take great offense and strike them off your Christmas card list forever.
Whatever is going through their mind, you are not sure whether they’re going to look up, shouting something would be risky incase they don’t notice that either and you look more like an idiot, and so you just end up staring at them intensely as you walk along. Which can prove embarrassing if they glance up at the last minute and find you eyeballing them with a peculiar mixture of rage, disappointment, and the pain of the socially slighted.
6. A similar situation can occur when you realise that you are behind someone you think might be your friend, but there’s a risk they might not be. Any kind of approach from the rear is generall ill-advised as it can backfire horribly if the person in front turns out to not actually be your friend after all. So you end up just stalking them along the pavement, in a vaguely threatening way, like a lion stalking a baby gazelle, only ever-so-slightly less graceful under pressure.
The Awkward Guide accepts no responsibility for adverse reactions to the implementation of advice supplied herein. Side-effects can include: smug laughter, mild disdain, and temporary irritation.