Situation #18 – The sneeze

29 06 2008

The situation: You are sitting in a meeting, trying to look important and smart. You’ve got that puzzled look, the chin resting in one hand and you are twirling a fountain pen in your other hand. Then you feel it. Its coming. You are about to sneeze.

Now, the first piece of awkwardness to avoid when sneezing is the audibility of your sneeze. You don’t want to be too quiet…quiet sneezers seem like they’ve got something to hide. You don’t want to be so loud some people think you are practicing your best Chewbacca moan. This is something we advise you to practice home, not in front of the mirror.

However, the foremost awkward event that can arrive from a sneeze is, dare we say, when your launch a rocket, of the snot variety. There is no pretty way to put it. You sneeze, you got nose contents in your hands. What are you going to do?

Solution: The solution to this quandary involves multiple steps. All steps must be completed in order and none are to be left out.

  1. Clasp your hands together, nose contents within, and regain your puzzled yet interested look.
  2. Count to 10 in your head (with those Mississippi’s!). Maintain your interested look.
  3. Ensure all nose contents are shuffled over to your right hand. Do so without unclasping your hands.
  4. Now, oh, it seems your ankle is itchy! Reach down with your right hand and scratch your ankle (so it seems to the public eye). While doing so, wipe former nose contents onto your sock.
  5. Clear! Congratulations, you have avoided awkwardness!

Situation #17 – The spontaneous reunion

26 06 2008

The situation: You’re working on the Saturday crossword over a coffee at your local Starbucks, when a guy who is only vaguely familiar approaches your table, claiming to recognize you from somewhere. Quick, what’s a seven-letter synonym for uncomfortable?

If you choose to go down the “Where do we know each other from?” path, you will inevitably arrive at some unsatisfying conclusion, such as the realization that you once shared crayons in kindergarten. Then you will engage in strained reminiscence. “Remember how you couldn’t pronounce ‘l’s so you kept asking to borrow my boo?” Now you are left to account for the last twenty-some-odd years of your life. It’s similar to the oft-dreaded high school reunion but without the opportunity to rent a Rolls Royce ahead of time.

The solution: Whenever someone approaches you and says “Excuse me,don’t I know you from somewhere? …You were in my class!” there is one and only one acceptable response:

“I was your teacher.” And it is imperative that you say this with a feigned British accent and a smugness reserved only for those who had the foresight to protect their skin from fine lines and wrinkles while still in the midst of puberty. All other responses you may think of on the spot will only put you on the fast track to Awkwardville.

Frankly, who cares where you actually know each other from? Whatever the answer is will only provide you with a very limited means of relating to each other. If you can’t bond over a shared appreciation for early 90s Oil of Olay commercials, there is no hope for you anyway.

Situation #16 – Everything is broken.

23 06 2008

The situation: You’re visiting a friend, and as she steps into the kitchen to get you a glass of water, you decide to examine the finery in her china cabinet. (Yes, you have very classy friends. We know.) And then just like Sir Isaac Newton sitting under his apple tree on that fateful day, you too become suddenly and acutely aware of the Earth’s gravitational pull. However, unlike Sir Isaac Newton, you are not graced with a scientific discovery worthy of universal acclamation, but instead just a broken vase. How should you go about telling your friend what you’ve done?

The solution:

1. If your friend has a pet, you are home free. Blame the pet! And don’t feel badly about it, not even for a second. Pets have a pretty cushy existence, you see. In addition to the regular walks and treats, people actually bend down and clean up their waste. Think about that for a minute. And all they have to do in exchange is look cute and accept the occasional blame for an unfortunate odor or a broken lamp. Besides, pets rarely get punished for breaking things – they’re too cute to punish.

If there are no pets around, you’ll have to be a little more creative.

2. Act as though you have just done her an indisputably large favour.

“Great news! You know that Faberge egg that never quite fit with your décor? Well, …”

3. Frame it as retribution for some long-forgotten and petty wrongdoing on the part of your friend.

“Remember when we were in second grade and you started a rumor that I still liked to eat glue and I was called ‘Elmer’ for the rest of the year? Well, I broke one of your family heirlooms, so I think we’re even now.”

Situation #15 – The window seat bathroom run

20 06 2008

The situation: You’re sitting comfortably in the window seat, watching Hugh Grant bat his eyelashes through the in-flight feature, when suddenly that latte you enjoyed in the airport lounge decides to beat a hasty path towards the exit, if you know what we mean. Unfortunately your seatmate has been lulled to sleep by all that British charm. The seatbelt sign is off, and yet you remain captive, a prisoner of someone else’s sleep-wake cycle. How to escape?

The solution:

Step 1. Flail about violently in your seat. If you have a book with you, throw it into your seatmate’s lap.

Step 2. Repeat step 1 as necessary until he/she begins to stir awake. Once you’ve thrown your book, you will have to start throwing other objects, such as headphones, or possibly magazines.

Step 3. Say the following: “Wow! You actually slept through all that turbulence? Well, now that you’re up, I’m going to squeeze past to get to the bathroom.”

Situation # 14 – The street corner showdown

19 06 2008

The situation: You are walking (perhaps even strolling) to meet a pal. You are almost at your meeting spot. There it is, just across the street! Ah, the light is red, so you have to wait on the street corner. We know, this in itself is not very awkward (but, please see situation # 4 for how waiting can become awkward). However, say your friend is on the other side of the street and spots you with a wave (the good ol’ gesture equivalent of hello). You are too far away to talk, but not too far away to stare. Yikes, street corner showdown! This situation is likely to trigger an automatic tightening response in the facial muscles, resulting in an open mouth grimace: the tell-tale sign of awkwardness. You will also become far too aware of your standing position as it is being stared at. If you stand there with your legs straight and arms to the side, you will end up looking like a gingerbread cookie (although tasty, not an ideal cookie shape to mimic). We all know that standing with your arms crossed, slightly aloof, means you are closed off and too cool (although this stance will be ideal if you are the owner of an ironic mustache because, my friend, then you are too cool). So what do you?


1. If you are lucky enough to be stopped near a convenience store, then signal to your friend that you’re gonna conveniently visit it, escaping the stare and stand. This will also avoid the awkward situation of both you and your friend attempting to cross the street to meet. We also advise that you buy something with good conversational quality while in the store. For example, root beer. This can start conversations about age-appropriate beverages and, hey, why don’t they serve root beer + vodka drinks?

2. Don’t just stand there, adjust. Oh no, your shoelace is untied and handily the time it takes to tie a shoe is equal to that of a red light stop. Don’t have shoelaces? Well, you do have a rock in your shoe…shake that shoe out! Other adjusting: rolling up sleeves (does not work for short sleeved shirts), or buttoning and re-buttoning your jacket with concentration (from across the street, this will look as if you are actually doing something).

3. Wear sunglasses with mirrored lenses to avoid the stare-down.

Situation #13 – Stuck in the middle with…no one to talk to.

18 06 2008

The situation: When a large group of people gather around an equally large table, it’s natural for several sub-groups of conversation to form. If you’re sitting in the middle of two such groups, you may have the rare privilege of being excluded from two different conversations simultaneously. What to do?

The solution: Chin up, reader! No need to feel twice as sad. This potential social crisis is actually a golden opportunity. A crisitunity, if you will. You have just lucked into the dinner table equivalent of Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak, freed from the scrutinizing gaze of your mealtime companions. We recommend that you take full advantage of the social world’s diplomatic immunity card. Clean out that earwax. Scratch that annoying itch. Eat that steak with your bare hands, then lick your fingers clean while slurping back your wine. All those days spent sipping tea with your pinky in the air have earned you this brief reprieve, so relax and enjoy it.

Situation #12 – The T.M.I.

12 06 2008

Situation : You are strolling down the street, trying to remember what exactly did happen in Season 10 of Beverly Hills 90210, when you spot a casual friend. You greet your friend with the usual “how are you?” Your friend, remember this is a casual friend, actually tells you how they are, and its not pretty. So how do you avoid the TMI (too much information) deluge and becoming the confidant by the convenience store?


In your head you may think this is a great opportunity to recite the lyrics to a well-known country song (Here’s a quarter, call someone who cares), however, this is not a good option. This will, as they say, bite you in the ass. This situation is best handled in two steps.

First, you must listen attentively for approximately 45 seconds. This timing issue is crucial because if you listen attentively for too long, you will only encourage more self-revealing information. For example, if your casual friend initially responded to your “how are you” with a “shitters, I just got dumped, I am so lonely, life is miserable”, listening for too long may bring out more information : “…AND he/she gave me genital warts!” This is not something one needs to hear on a street corner. We also advise to season this attentive listening period with some “mmm” in agreement and looks of shock (how could he/she!).

The second step is to do the ol’ hand on the forearm, perhaps do a little sympathetic head tlit and a 1.5 second eye close and then say “It sounds like you have been through a lot and it seems like a good time for you to focus on yourself. I should leave you to do that”. You must then briskly walk away.

Alternately you could give the ambiguous “I really would love to listen, but I have an emergency to attend to”. It is best to follow this with an awkward sound “ack”, grimace, a “sorry” and then BOLT.

Alert! A potential second awkward situation is when you spot said casual friend ata time when they are not as depressed as Ray Ramano sounds. In this situation, avoid ALL talk about the T.M.I. incident.  In fact, avoid any discussion on topics related, even remotely, to why they were depressed because they may be reminded of their sadness.  Then they will find you. And disclose more information. This is a circle of awkwardness even we cannot get out of.