Situation #31 – You just don’t get it

15 08 2008

The situation: You and a friend are discussing the poetic nuances of the latest Pussycat Dolls hit, “When I grow up.” You assert that rhyming “nameless” with “name is” is nothing short of lyrical genius. Your friend counters that the words “genius” and Pussycat Dolls should not be used in the same sentence without the inclusion of the words “lack of”. You agree to disagree and move on to other matters of great importance.

Somewhere in the midst of this conversation, your friend casually tosses out a rather controversial statement, assuming (incorrectly) that you share her opinion on a divisive issue.

“Of course pirates are totally cooler than ninjas. You know how it is, right?”

Tread carefully here, Reader! Do not fall into the trap of the rhetorical “you know how it is, right?” This is not an invitation for you to explain that actually, you have no idea how it is, and in fact, you disagree entirely with everything she’s just said. The only socially acceptable answer to a rhetorical “you know how it is, right?” is a nod of the head and an “mmm hmmm” or possibly an “Amen, Sistah!” should you choose to agree in a more emphatic manner.

You don’t want to get into a whole debate about the relative merits of pirates and ninjas with your friend; you just want to escape from this conversational minefield with your loyalty to ninjas intact. However, you also don’t want to give your friend the impression that you totally agree that pirates are “totally cooler than ninjas.” This could lead to further awkwardness when your friend invites you to “Pirates of the Caribbean 4: Johnny Depp Wears Even More Eyeliner, Savy?” and you have to awkwardly decline. So, what do you do?

The solution: When you don’t want to agree with someone and are too lazy to have the debate that will inevitably follow from your disagreement, the best thing to do is this: Change the topic with a smooth conversational segue into a piece of pop culture trivia.

“Ah, speaking of ninjas, did you know that the voice of Shredder in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons was done by the actor who played Uncle Phil on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air?”

Now, not only are you out of conversational hot water, your friend will admire your vast knowledge of early 90s television trivia.


Situation #25 – The repeated story

23 07 2008

The situation: Your friend is launching into a lengthy dissertation on the woeful state of Canadian eyewear manufacture, which promises to include several stories from his travels abroad.

“Did you know that Canada is a third world country when it comes to eyeglass manufacture?” Actually, you do know this. In fact, you’re somewhat of an expert on the topic, having heard this story at least three times before. How do you spare yourself from a fourth rendition of Swedish Spectacles of Grandeur without insulting your friend?

The solution: When faced with a repeated story, the first step is to assess your company. Ask yourself the following questions: Am I on a date? Am I talking with my boss, mother- or father-in-law, or other person of authority? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then the risk of insult is too high – you’ll have to suck it up and sit through another telling of The Unbelievable Mischief I Got Into As a Young Boy. However, since you already know the appropriate places to laugh or express shock, you can free your mind for other tasks. Now is an ideal time to compose a mental grocery list or contemplate the intricacies of String Theory.

If you’re on a date, you’ll have to ask yourself an additional question: How attractive is this person? This is important because the number of times one can tolerate a repeated story is directly proportional to the attractiveness of the storyteller. Superficial? Probably, but that’s how it is. So, if your date is aesthetically gifted, we advise you not to interrupt, but to take this opportunity to gaze into his or her dreamy eyes, while flipping your hair flirtatiously. Of course if you’re male, you can ignore the hair flipping part. If you find that this still applies to you, we gently advise you to get a haircut, you Dirty Hippie!

If you’re with a friend, then you can use the repeated story to great advantage by jumping in with witty comments that your friend has used in the past. She’ll feel a new and undeniable connection with your brilliant humour. If you really can’t stand to hear the story again, stop your friend early on by saying “Oh, is this the one where you stumbled across the flagship Hakim Optical in the middle of Turkey just as one of your lenses fell out? That’s such a great story!” This way your friend will be aware that he’s already told you the story, but won’t feel bad, because he knows that you share a mutual understanding of the shameful state of Canadian eyeglass manufacture.

Situation #22 – Nothing to say

9 07 2008

The situation: You’re with a group of people, who all seem to know everything there is to know about carbon nanotube windmills. Huh? You have little conversation to offer and you can’t even think of any questions to ask. Time is dragging on: you feel as though you have had a slightly frightened look of puzzlement on your face for at least three weeks. What do you do?

The solution: Grab hold of any word someone says and use it to jumpstart story-time…about your awesomeness. “You know, those nanotubes remind me of the time I was surfing, it was tubular.”

Don’t have a good story? Well, just make it up; however, we advise to not tell a story about adventures based off a television show. Someone may have seen that episode of Perfect Strangers when Larry and Balki become invincible (alas…it was all a dream). Need a fake name for your story? Just look around you, pick the first thing you see and then add man. Now you have a valid last name. “Oh, my old friend Terry Phoneman, “I was palling around with Dan Brandyman”. Gold.

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.

Situation #10 – The unexpected ex.

28 05 2008

The situation: You sweetly and innocently ask your friend how his or her boyfriend or girlfriend is doing, only to learn that they broke up last week.

The solution: First, you are entitled to some righteous indignation, so start by lacing into them with a “Dude! Why didn’t you update your Facebook status? How was I supposed to know?” Follow this up with an exasperated sigh.

Next, you’ll probably feel an urge to console your friend with some variation of “Well, he was a douchebag anyway. You’re better off.” Although well-intentioned, this tack is ill-advised for several reasons:

  1. Even if it’s true, your friend still misses that douchebag, and so it’s kind of insensitive and dismissive.
  2. It raises the question of why you let your friend date a douchebag for so long in the first place. (Explain THAT!)
  3. It will give rise to future situations of social awkwardness should they ever get back together.

Your best option (and also the one carrying Buddha’s seal of approval) is to take the middle path. You shouldn’t rhyme off a laundry list of character flaws in your friend’s ex that will make her sorry for dating him. Nor should you join her in lamenting the failed relationship. Instead, find a petty criticism of her ex, one that is unrelated to his actual character.

For example: “The guy wore transitions lenses. I mean, did you really see yourself with a guy who is too lazy to take off his sunglasses when he gets inside?”

Then give him a ridiculous nickname, like Old Transitiony Lens James. Now you can refer to him by this ridiculous name in future conversations with your friend. Speaking in such coded language will enhance your friendship. Plus, she’ll think you’re hilarious!

Situation #9 – The ambiguous costume.

28 05 2008

The situation: Is your friend on her way to an 80s party after work, or does she just have a thing for neon pink leggings? Is your coworker being ironic, or is wearing a picture of her cats on a t-shirt a way of expressing genuine love? Did someone forget to notify you about Mullet Appreciation Day? Does that guy actually work for Steve’s Hardware or is this another Value Village “find”? The question of costume or bad taste is a socially awkward minefield; even the perpetually poised fall victim.

The solution: NEVER, let us repeat, NEVER greet an ambiguous costume wearer with “Great costume!” Even we can’t get you out of that mess, so consider yourself warned.

If you somehow fail to heed this advice, then you can expect the same degree of scorn usually reserved for those clumsy enough to ask an ambiguously pregnant woman when she’s expecting. It’s one of those things you just don’t do. Seriously. We hope know a thing or two about computers, because Bill Gates may be your only hope for friendship now.

To be ever more cautious, it’s best not to comment on other people’s clothing in general, unless explicitly asked. If you are not about to present them with a “FIVE THOUSAND DOLLAR Bank of America card with YOUR NAME on it!!!” then keep your criticisms to yourself and don’t take social cues from people who perform “fashion interventions” for a living and think that shoes and pants are singular.

But we digress. Your other option is to cultivate a monotonous pattern of speech so that no one will ever know if you are being sarcastic or genuine.

You (flatly): “Nice hat.”

Co-worker: “Are you being sarcastic?”

Now, pay close attention: If your co-worker sounds offended, then she is wearing the hat in earnest; If she sounds hopeful, it’s probably ironic. Mock away! Still, proceed with caution. If you guess wrong, you’re on your own.