Tag Archives: awkwardness

Germans Probably Have a Word for This

We need words for some of the various social discomforts that arise around public restrooms.

Like, how about that feeling when you walk into a public bathroom, and it’s just … horrific. Like it smells like a decomposing roadside deer crossed with a wretched witches’ brew and a healthy dose of eau de dumpster. And you handle your business in the fog of it, but then as you’re walking out, somebody else walks in, and they can only assume you’re responsible for the atrocity besetting their nostrils. This feeling — that panic where in your head you say hey this isn’t my fault, I did not do this thing, please don’t judge me but in reality you say nothing because to say something about it would be weirder and worse than being judged?

This feeling needs a name.

Or that feeling when you go into a public stall and have to sit down, and there’s no immediate sign that anybody else has been there recently, but when you sit down, the seat is warm. I mean, bathrooms are kinda like hotel rooms, right? You know other people use them — that’s kinda the whole point — but while you’re in there? That space is yours, and the thought of somebody else’s butt on your seat? It feels like a crime against decency.

This feeling needs a name.

Here’s another one: you go into the restroom, not to do business, but for something else. Like you had to check your face to make sure your co-workers haven’t failed to notify you that you have shaving cream on your ear. But on the way in, you pass by somebody just hanging in the hall outside, in a way that kinda says yeah, I’m gonna be here for a few minutes, on their phone, or chatting with a friend or whatever. So you go in there and you do whatever you need to. But this isn’t a hand-washing visit; you just had to pop in. But now you think, shoot, that person out there is gonna think I did my business and didn’t wash my hands. So you think about washing your hands, but then another part of your brain says, no, that’s stupid, nobody’s paying attention to whether you had enough time to wash your hands. But then you say to yourself maybe you should just wash them anyway, but then no, this was not a hand-washing operation, I’m not gonna be pressured to wash my hands just because somebody might notice that I didn’t. So you stand there staring yourself down in the mirror like a maniac because you won’t be self-pressured into washing your hands but you also won’t be socially shamed for not washing them.

This feeling needs a name.

Or, what about — and I’m a guy, so I grant that girls may play by different rules here — what about that feeling when you’re in a public restroom — doing anything, be it your business, washing up, checking your watch, whatever — and another guy in the restroom says literally anything to you? This is an egregious violation of the social contract, but this jerk has done it, so now, what do you do? Ignore the joker who has so little sense of the social order that he wants to open his mouth and say a single solitary word in this sacred profane place? But to do so seems to violate the other social contract which dictates that you speak and respond when spoken to. So do you break the unwritten laws of the restroom and respond, opening yourself up to the possibility of having an actual conversation with a stranger in the last place you want to have a conversation? No, you chuckle awkwardly and double-time it away from the weirdo.

This feeling needs a name.

I dunno. What are some others? Or better yet, some names for these feelings? I am desperate.

Bathroom, Toilet, Wc, Restroom, Outdoor, Forest, Autumn
A socially isolated toilet, the way nature intended. Sure there’s no plumbing, but thank heck there are no awkward interactions.

This post brought to you out of sheer bloody-minded determination to write something not even vaguely related to current events.

Faking It

Here’s the funny thing about language: though we speak the same one, it’s so rare that we actually understand one another. We spend our days in constant contact with people who we very rarely get to choose: coworkers, supervisors. And nice though they may be, and well as you may work together, how often do you feel really in sync with them?

We muddle through our days making the best of our circumstances and putting on the niceties that society calls for. But for some of us – and here I’ll single myself out as one of those socially retarded individuals who never quite know what to say and who live in perpetual fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, and ends up as a result standing around looking at people long after a conversation has reached its natural terminus or awkwardly exiting early – those trifles are exhausting. Others, it seems, glide through the world as effortlessly as figure skaters, joking and laughing and shaking hands and hugging, but every time I’m in a social situation I stress out and lock up, hitting the ice less like a figure skater and more like a newborn goat.

I don’t do well with people, generally (well, outwardly I guess I do okay, but in my head is another story). I pretend it’s because I hate everything, and by extension, most people. But the truth is that it’s because I’m cripplingly shy and overwhelmingly insecure.

How did a guy like that end up teaching the next generation to be actors, to get up on stage in front of crowds of people? Easy. It’s an act. On stage, or in front of a classroom, or here on a webpage, I get to play a character who’s like me but who isn’t exactly me. I get to manufacture a guy who isn’t a social mess, who isn’t a walking train wreck when it comes to human interaction. Turns out I’m pretty good at faking it. But at the end of the day? I’m speaking a second language. That air of confidence and easy interaction is not my native tongue — it’s a hacked-together pastiche thinly layered over a perpetually vulnerable underbelly.

But I started this post today by thinking about the way we talk with people, and the way I manufacture speech with most of the people in my life, trying to say the “normal” things or the “right” things. And the reason I’m thinking about that is that recently I’ve had a few encounters where I haven’t had to manufacture anything.

There are a very few people on this planet that I don’t have to speak that second language with — with whom I can speak my native tongue and get along just fine, be understood just fine. I’m married to one of them; unfortunately, the others pretty much all live in different states, so interaction is limited. But when that interaction does come, it’s refreshing. Invigorating. I come away energized, recharged, like I’ve slept for a weekend after a long bout of insomnia.

But I guess that’s why you learn that second language.

Then again, I wonder. I can’t be the only one speaking it. There have to be other fakers out there. I wonder how many times I’ve been fooled the way (I think) I’ve fooled others?

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.

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