I’ve resolved, during 2014, to work on my social skills, including making a renewed effort to improve my streetwalking technique.
The most serious problem is that I often find myself in a situation, which there ought to be a word for, when I encounter someone coming the other way and neither party can decide which side to step to, so there’s temporary paralysis and awkwardness all round.
I think the answer may be to go proactive by simply making an instant decision and following it through, but there’s always a chance that your opposite number, possibly walking home from an assertiveness class, will adopt the same tactic, which could lead to a collision followed by fisticuffs and hospitalisations or, more likely in England, muttered apologies while avoiding eye-contact or the word ‘ouch’.
Another awkwardness I will make efforts to avoid next year happens when you see someone you think you know but you can’t remember why.
The answer, if you don’t want to be accused of cutting people dead, is to say ‘Hi, good to see you – must dash,’ or to feign interest in a shop window, providing it’s not a lap-dancing club, and stare at it intently until the mystery person has passed.
Or you could approach the person and say ‘I’m sure I recognise you but I can’t remember who you are’. This should work, providing the encountee isn’t suffering from a traumatic identity crisis and is not your probation officer or ex-wife.
Another awkwardness concerns whether to part from a mature male acquaintance with a hug or a manly handshake. For the first 40 years of my life the answer would have been easy; hugs for women, handshakes for men. Now it’s hugs for everybody. This helps to break down frosty British reserve but isn’t always welcomed by over 60s males like me.
The ideal solution is to wait for them to make the first move and if that fails to do a high-five and say ‘Yo my bro’, which will confuse them for long enough that you’ll have the opportunity to escape.
I experienced awkwardness number four last week, while staying overnight with friends. In the middle of the night, I wanted to spend a penny (I never use the word ‘urinate’ because I was well brought-up).
I crept upstairs without knocking anything over – always a feat in my case – spent my penny without making a sound and then faced my moment of horror.
In a totally silent house, I triggered the sound of what seemed like a hundred of gallons of water being flushed down the pipes, followed by prolonged after-gurgles from the cistern. I imagined everybody being woken up and cursing my noisy ways and bladder deficiencies.
There isn’t much you can do about this humiliation except trying to will the plumbing system to restrain itself. Luckily, on this occasion, which followed a big party, the house was packed with sleeping guests and nobody could pin anything on me, so in the morning, when people asked me how I slept I said “Like a log. Didn’t wake up once. It wasn’t me.”
There are other problems, notably bus etiquette and what to say when your waiter asks whether you’re enjoying your over-priced, badly-cooked meal. The answer to all of them is to either stay in at all times or, which I’ve never tried, to lighten up a little.