That awkward moment when…

I have to tell ya, I bloody hate those ‘awkward moment when’ posts of fb now. They started out somewhat of a kin to the Jerry-Seinfeld-esque funny little things about real life comedy (‘and how bout those tiny packets of nuts on airplanes huh? Huh?’), and I could live with that. But somehow it’s digressed in the hands of idiots who don’t understand the shared social language of the internet… memes.

Currently there is a vast glut of facebook pages that display not only the unimaginativeness of their creators, but also the brainless sheep that follow them, e.g.:

  • That awkward moment when you glance at someone staring at you (1.6 million likes)
  • That awkward moment when you say hi to your crush (12,760 likes)
  • That awkward moment when it’s quiet and you’re eating something crunchy (8,688 likes)
  • Etc. ad nauseam (eleventy billion likes)

The thing that makes these so goddamned annoying to me is that they are things that are only awkward if you make them so. I guess if you’re a bella or Anastasia-esque all-blushing-all-the-time-awkward-robotron then maybe these would have you squirming, but the majority of people (or at least adults) can navigate these without puddling on the floor. That or avoid them – no one forced you to say hi to your crush – I say hi to (one of) mine every morning as he hands me the best coffee in London (yes, biased, don’t care).

However, coz I’m a hypocritical bastard, I’m about to turn tail and add to this laboured point, because I believe there are some moments that are truly, and inherently awkward – to all of us, no matter what, no matter how many times. Before anyone protests (I’m looking at you LMC), no these aren’t specific to London, but perhaps I’ve experienced them more here due to the sheer volume of people to clumsily navigate in this seething city.

Awkward moment #1: Dancing the two-step with a stranger on the street
You’re walking in a perfectly straight line, making your directional intentions clear, minding your own, aware of the oncoming stranger who is also managing his own path without too much trouble. Suddenly, inexplicably, your intentions tangle and paths cross and you are in the same personal bubble, trying desperately to get back into your own. You move longingly into the free space to one side… and so does he. You shuffle to the right, avoiding eye contact at all costs… and so does he. At this point passers-by are not only staring, but throwing hairy eyeballs at you for disrupting their stride. In a worst-case-scenario, the black hole of awkward pulls others into its orbit and you end up with a crowd hot-stepping furiously on the sidewalk.
Solution: Stop. Make eye contact, smile, laugh. Apologise. Wave your hand to show that they should proceed past you, in the direction you indicate. That is, take control of the situation. As you move off, shake your head and smile to yourself to assuage other pedestrians of their bystander-awkwardness, with a little laugh that says “oh pedestrians, you so silly!”

Awkward moment #2: Head massages
Haircuts are goddamned-awkward situations as it is, fraught with forced conversation, pretending to love the hack-job of an untested hairdresser, making excuses for why you can’t book in your next appointment, and the very worst: trying not to look vain while staring in the mirror for an hour. I find it especially bad being in a new city and not knowing where to go or what to expect or what’s a reasonable amount to pay. But LD complained to me about a whole new level of awkward – the head massage. This used to be for poncy snooty salons only, but seems to be compulsory world-over now, and I know for a fact that some people luuurve it – to the point of SUPER awkward moaning in the odd cases. I’m a bit on the fence myself: in terms of cranial enjoyment, it’s better than having my hair brushed but not as good as the aptly-named orgasmatron. But LD HATES it. During her recent wash/cut/blow-dry she decided she’d just grin and bear it, but was dragged out of her happy place when the ruthless washer’s prying fingers began to delve harder and deeper until (in her words) “it felt like he was massaging away my brain particles!”
Solution: as I told LD, I would be just as unlikely as her to interrupt this fiend mid-massage. It’s too hard to tell someone you don’t like what they’re doing while they’re actually doing it (said every women ever). It’s just too much of an attack on their capabilities or lack thereof, and when it regards a service industry, we all fear it’ll lead to them spitting in something. Therefore, the only solution is a pre-emptive strike. Next time LD is directed to the chair of scalp pain, she must first say “I’ve got a delicate scalp so can we just wash and not massage today? Thanks so much!” And smile sweetly of course; we don’t want no spit in the shampoo now.

Awkward moment #3: money matters
Now this one actually is specific to London, or at least specifically not found back home. NZ is a nation covered in ATMs and card machines and almost nothing is done in cash. I used to carry maybe $2 at all times just in case my bus card ran out or a charity bucket was rattled persuasively at me. Other than that, everything is done by EFTPOS. That is not a term known elsewhere  and I often have to explain that it’s like a debit card, but you can’t use it online. That sounds like an idiotic system to most here, but what they don’t get is that we’ve been all over EFTPOS for a long time prior to buying shit on the internet. In fact, in 2006 70% of all retail transactions were made using EFTPOS, leaving only 30% to be divided between cash, credit, cheque, barter, or blackmail. This differing approach to money matters leads to a number of awkward moments…

Awkward moment #3.1: splitting the bill
Somehow, no matter how many times it happens, I never think about having cash (in various denominations) for the bill until the bloody thing is slid onto the table and its un-round numbers stare baldly at me. Do we just split it evenly for ease? But KJM only had a salad and I had four wines. Work it out then and each pay our way? Naturally, we all owe 13.75 or 9.68 or 17.23 and everyone’s got a twenty. Even worse, two people have no cash and want to pay by card. AND no one’s worked the tip into their share.
Solution: always carry cash. Always have coinage. If you know you’re going out, do everything you can during the day to break those twenties! If you are poor and need to eat and drink relative to the health of your wallet, say so as you order. It won’t be awkward at the end if you say at the beginning, “hey guys, I’m really poor so I’m just gonna order light.”

Awkward moment #3.2: tipping
This city has made me goddamned poor but it has not made me a scrooge. However, I come from a country that steadfastly doesn’t tip – not by rudeness, but by policy. Our minimum wage is much higher, so the service charge is already worked into wages, and when you look at the price on the menu, you know that is what you will actually pay. By some miracle we still have renowned good service, although JJ did point out that may have something to do with the two degrees of separation – as KJM would put it, “we just don’t have the population for it”, in this case meaning that if you’re shit, people will know about it and you’ll have a tough time getting another job. I understand that in the US it’s all very clear and understood – just tack on 15% or whatever the going rate is, depending on the service. In the UK, it’s a little muddier. Sometimes it’s stated up front on the menu what they expect. Sometimes you get the bill and there’s a surprise service charge, taking the meal you painstakingly picked for its cheapness to something bordering on expensive. Sometimes it just says ‘service not included’, leaving me bloody bewildered as to what they expect, or in some cases if they’re just admitting that they had pretty shite service. And at other times, there is just no mention, leaving me briefly relieved, and then worried that I’m going to walk out to the sounds of the staff muttering about ‘ungrateful basterds.’
Solution: three options. The first two are to just pick a policy and stick with it: if it’s not clear what to do, either a) tip or b) don’t tip. Option c) is my preference… do as the locals do, or in my case, where there’s no such thing as locals, just plead ignorance and follow the crowd.

So what makes you feel like a socially awkward penguin? London folks specifically, is there anything you’ve experienced, done, or seen here that’s left you blushing or just plain bewildered?

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