Friday, December 2, 2011

Awkward Social Encounters

I'm not a social person, really. I used to be, but I think many years of working in customer service and having to speak politely to many, many people all day long has turned me into something of a hermit. I have a really limited tolerance for people, even those I like enormously. At some point when I am spending time with them, it occurs to me that I am over this now and I would like them to just leave.

One of the things I really struggle with is awkward social encounters - those moments where you are forced to interact with someone you don't really know, don't really like, or don't really have anything in common with. These are torture to me, and I do everything I can to avoid them, including - if I have to and I can get away with it - hiding around corners until they have gone.The reason I was thinking about this is because I was telling Noodles the other day about how I constantly get approached for money in the street. The reasons for this are two-fold:
  1. I look like the kind of person who will give someone money (and if I have it, I generally do). 
  2. I've worked in welfare for years and a lot of the kind of people who ask for money kind of know me. 
Since it was beginning to get to ridiculous levels, I developed a strategy of pretending to talk on the phone whenever I spied someone in the distance I thought was likely to hit me up. I'm sure I'm not the only one who does this, and I'm sorry if it makes me a bad person, but I generally only have coffee money on me, and I need that coffee, man!

Anyway, that started me thinking about awkward social encounters generally, because I consider the people who 'kind of know me' as an awkward social encounter. They'll do the whole 'Hey, how are you going?' dance before coming out with the request for cash and it's excruciating. Other situations where I become completely unstuck:
  1. Running into someone I know but not very well when I'm about two blocks from work, and they're heading in the same direction. I hate this so much. I don't like chatting to people first thing in the morning at the best of times, but being forced to make small talk with someone I don't really know very well, and - let's be honest here - don't really care to know does my head in. I usually make up some excuse about needing mints or a newspaper and veer off towards a shop just to escape. One time the person came to the shop with me - I still have nightmares. 
  2. Running into someone you don't like in a public place, but feeling obliged to speak to them. Doubly painful if you know they don't like you either. 
  3. Running into someone whose name you can't remember. This happens to me all the time, because I have the memory of a goldfish. Last year I worked two desks away from a girl for two months, and then a couple of months after that I ran into her in a supermarket and not only could I not remember her name, I couldn't remember how I knew her. She was all, "Hi, how are you!" and I was thinking, "Where do I know you from? Where do I know you from? Agh!" I kept asking questions to try to figure it out, "So... what are you up to now...?" It didn't work, she was vague in her responses. I kind of got the feeling she couldn't quite place me either. It was days later that I realised I had worked near her, and to this day I still cannot remember her name. 
  4. When you start off with a cordial relationship but as time goes on you have less and less to do with one another so it becomes more and more strained. Seinfeld did a whole bit on this and it's so true. You start off with little friendly chats every time you see someone, then it's just a quick hi without stopping, then a nod, and then eventually neither of you makes eye contact when you pass each other and you pretend you have no idea who the other person is. 
  5. When you see someone you don't know well (or don't like) coming towards you and you don't know whether to just say hi or whether to stop, and then the two of you do this awkward little dance where one seems to stop but the other keeps moving, so the stopped one starts to move again at the same time the moving one notices the other one stopped so they stop, and on it goes... oh, so painful.
  6. The unexpected kiss. I don't expect to be hugged or kissed by anyone I don't know very well, so when it happens I am always really thrown and tend to either jerk away slightly or veer off the path - for example, once Lily's granddad leaned in for a kiss on the cheek and I thought he was going to hug me, so I had my arms out and moved my head towards his shoulder and he missed my cheek and just kind of kissed the air while I was awkwardly patting his back - it embarrasses me just thinking about it, and it was years ago.
So, is it just me? Do you dread awkward social encounters, or are you that person who enjoys getting into elevators and randomly chatting to whoever is in there?


  1. hahahaha, you described me (except I never worked for welfare) but everything else... well that's me as well, I like to keep my social interactions to a minimum...

    when my sis and I went to NY, one night we met up with some people she knows... and I was basically forced to interact with practical strangers... I did my best for a while... but eventually it's like I hit a wall and just wanted to be left alone, and leave.

    And don't get me started on elevator rides with people I barely know... ughhhhh, it's the longest most excruciating 10 seconds ever...

    and on and on :)

  2. I used to be very shy (read low self esteem) and never could make friends easily. I have come a long way but even now, I stick to people I know and those who don't intimidate me for chats and catch ups. Many people intimidate me :(

    Strangers in the elevators, well, I smile very briefly and keep staring blankly at the wall or the door and just wait for it to open. No eye contact, that way they won't talk!

    I think the internet was made for people like us :)

  3. LMAO! Awkward social encounters are unavoidable, whether you're a people-person or not. I was pretty anti-social and still am to some degree, so these things used to bother me a lot. Now most of them roll off my back, knowing that other people feel just as awkward as I do when these things happen. I had a blind date show up at my door and try to do the double cheek kiss. I was like, "WTF? You're Asian, not European." His kiss landed somewhere between my ear and the mailbox. After the date, we never spoke again. Often these things are much more embarassing for the other person! Is it cruel that I take a perverse sense of pleasure out of it?

  4. Lucy, I forgot that one! I have a friend who always used to make arrangements to meet up and then bring along some random person I didn't know, and it drove me nuts!

    Su, I try never to make eye contact with strangers, although where I live people are irritatingly chipper and say good morning or hello all the time, so I'm forced to look at them, lol. ;-)

    Liz, you are an evil, evil woman! Still waiting on that list of things everyone but you likes too...

  5. I'm the same, I mean I'm nice and I think I'm friendly but I never think of myself as particularly outgoing. Over the last few years I've admittedly become a kisser and hugger though lol, think it started because hub's family are kissy/huggy types.

  6. Ugh, you know what's worse than kissing/hugging? Hand shakes. I HATE touching people's hands.

  7. I don't speak to most of my family, which does cut down the random kiss/hug business; but the bloke's family are all very touchy-feeling AND SPACE INVADERS!!!!! Lordy, the concept of personal space is totally foreign to all of them. That's something I can't handle... people getting right up close and personal with me. For one thing, I don't like it; and for another - being ridiculously long sighted means I can't see them properly and it's quite uncomfortable.

    My dad taught me the value of a good, strong hand-shake, lol. I has one.

  8. Don't even get me started on personal space invaders.

  9. Oh how this spoke to me..recently I was faced with a crowd of relatives/family friends who I had not seen in ages. All I could think of was finding a place to escape so I could avoid the awkward small talk. Loved this post!

  10. Oh, I can relate to that one, Tracy! I haven't seen most of my relatives in years and I have pretty much nothing in common with them. On the rare occasions I do have to interact with them it's soooo painful.