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Jim Walker: Speaking of awkward social moments

Posted: October 21, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: October 21, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Judging by the reaction to last week’s column on the bro handshake, there are, apparently, a lot of you out there who struggle with these kinds of interpersonal interactions as much as I do.

So, let’s dive deeper into this soup of social etiquette. We’ll start easy, and then finish with the question I posed last week about Aunt Edna.

Exactly when do you make direct eye contact as you pass someone?

Here, I refer you to my previous column “Thin grins and social white lines,” which explored this subject in depth. But inquiring minds have asked for a revisit.

There are two issues here, really: (1) the correct distance at which direct eye contact should be made (accompanied by the thin grin and nod); and (2) what to do with yourself before that, as you approach.

 Approximately 5 feet is the solution to the first issue, depending on your approach speed. If you are closer, it requires a creepy, puppet-like turn of your head as you pass, and doing it farther out means you have to maintain the eye contact too long (also creepy) or do it more than once, which will invite unwanted conversation.

The second issue, what to do while waiting to make eye contact, is a wide-open field of possibilities. Watching the floor go by is the industry standard, but glancing at your cellphone is becoming more popular all the time. For added flair, why not bust out in a song?

What do you say when you doorway dance?

The doorway dance (aka sidewalk boogie) is the dance you do in any confined space when you attempt to go around someone and you both move the same direction at the same time, getting right in each other’s faces.

You know, then you both move the other way at the same time, laugh nervously and offer tired old saws, such as, “Shall we dance?”

Now, if everyone followed the rules of the American highway, as in staying to the right, the sidewalk boogie would never happen. But pedestrians are easily confused, and crowds add multiple permutations, and sometimes you just run into an Englishman. So, this dance will always be with us. But, people, please, let’s get creative with our responses to it.

Maybe …

“This reminds me of prom night,” (which is fun).

 or …

“I dreamed this would happen,” (which will really get them thinking).

or even …

“Your fly’s open,” (which will get them to stop and look, and allow you to choose which side to pass on).

And, finally, the one you’ve all been waiting for…

Just how long should your lips stay on Aunt Edna’s when you greet her on arrival at her house on Thanksgiving?

It seems like such a small thing, really. But a wrong choice here could lead to problems, especially since Edna is slipping a little and sometimes blows things out of proportion, emotionally.

Now, Edna, being semi-close family, and having mailed you socks for every birthday and Christmas since you were age 5, deserves some extra sentiment — something along the lines of a short lip-peck, followed by an extended cheek-press, combined with a firm hug and an “Oh, it’s so good to see you.”

But you’ve got to get it right. If you miss the lip-peck, she could feel slighted, and you could end up with only the turkey neck on your Thanksgiving plate.

And if you get distracted and overstay on the peck, well, you might be awakened at midnight by Edna in a negligee.

You’ve got to be careful, right? Anything over a half-second is asking for trouble.

To help clear that image out of your mind, think about these:

* the awkward moment when you say goodbye to someone — and then end up walking in the same direction;
* the awkward moment when someone asks for their pen back — that you’ve been chewing on;
* and the awkward moment when you move to hug someone who is very attractive — and head-butt the mirror.

I’m just sayin’, there’s a million awkward social moments. You’ve got to be ready for them.

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