How to survive awkward street chit chat
It is a truth universally acknowledged that little is more awkward than bumping into a person you know Just Enough on the street.
We all have these people, the Just Enough folks. It’s not an old friend; stopping to chat to them would be a no-brainer for even the more socially incompetent among us. It’s not a dastardly ex. The only appropriate response to seeing them is to flick your hair, strut a little, and pretend like you didn’t actually see them, you just do the hair-flick-strut maneuver as a matter of course. It’s not a family member, or a current workmate, or someone you already have plans to see three Saturdays from now.
These Just Enough people are those who exist on the periphery of your life: people who may have once had a main part but you haven’t seen in years, Facebook friends you’ve only actually met at parties; old colleagues and university classmates. It’s people you knew from school whose names you have forgotten, even though you still inexplicably remember that their cat was called Montezuma and their dad was a cop.
When walking down the street and spying one of these Just Enough people, one of three things will inevitably occur:
1. You make the split -second decision to pretend not to see them. If they are someone you actually genuinely like and you aren’t in a hurry to save kittens from a burning building or something equally urgent, this can make you feel like a terrible person. Or, it can just make you feel relieved that you have avoided some awkward street chit chat. No judgement from me here, either way.
2. They don’t see you. Of course, they could be doing #1 themselves, but let’s just pretend that you walked by unnoticed. Our fragile egos might fracture otherwise. It’s OK to ignore someone else, but them ignoring you? How rude!
3. Code red! Code red! Awkward street chit chat! You’ve all been there, people. That time when you follow the awkward street chit chat script. It goes like this:
Both politely say ‘what are you doing now’ and nod sagely at the response.
Inquire after mutual friends/family/children/Montezuma the cat.
Both pretend that you should catch up properly at some indeterminate point in the future, both at pains to act like that time is not, in fact, the 32nd day of the month of never.
This script then plays out until the final act: one or other of you saying ‘oh I’d better go’ Usually after looking at their wrist, but less effective if a watch is not actually in place on said wrist.
How, then, to avoid this situation being super-mega awkward?
Maybe by moving to a far away locale where you don’t know anyone? Which is good in theory, but considering I once bumped into someone I hadn’t seen since I was eight in a tiny town in the south of Turkey I don’t know if anywhere is safe from this awkwardness.
Or, by always pretending not to see the people you know Just Enough? Again, good in theory, but maybe we’re nice people. Maybe we don’t want to saunter around town, bruising egos in our wake.
My answer, friends, is this: look at the feet of the person you know Just Enough.
Obviously not too intently, unless you can shrug it off as some sort of shoe fetish. But, a quick glance will tell you that when someone is interested in you, their feet will point toward you. When they are done with a conversation, their feet will point away. This won’t neutralise the awkward encounter, but at least it tells you when you bail. It’s a fail-safe social cue that it is fine to say “oh, look at the time.”
And if their feet never point toward you in the first place, then you shouldn’t feel bad for pretending not to see them the next time. Because, let’s be honest. They probably don’t remember anything about you except the name of your oldest pet, and wish they had pretended not to see you as well.