Any time, any place (that you are out in public) there is a horrible likelihood that a stranger is going to interact with you. All the time, right? Not just to me? They aren’t always bad encounters, not by a long shot. Some people are just being kind and good. Others, however, have boundary issues, or are simply so socially awkward and unaware that they don’t realize that they are causing a bad moment. Still others are plain and simple nightmares.
Why can’t people leave other people alone? Who knows! Even Amandoll, a recluse, has her fair share of unpleasant encounter stories. Well, here are some examples of some very uncomfortable interactions I’ve had. I have even included some suggestions at the end, for the next time you too feel trapped in a conversation.
The Park at Night
I was once sitting on a bench in Union Square with a friend. We were hanging out and talking as the sun went down and it was very nice. We caught up a lot and had a great time. Suddenly, someone joined us.
He introduced himself and we both responded, frozen in discomfort. We don’t know him, we told each other with our eyes. Say something, we begged each other.
Both of us were afraid to attempt to make him leave. He wasn’t hurting or even scaring us, but wouldn’t take any hints, and didn’t care if we hardly responded. Although we did respond a little, we were basically motionless, fearing an awkward out from this social obligation, together, on a bench with this stranger, in the middle of the night in New York City.
The Good Ol’ Café
That angry lady in the mornings. I was the only one who worked mornings that summer. I also worked afternoons and would close. I was the only worker that summer. There was a woman who came in every morning and she was very stern looking.
Every morning she’d ask for the same two things: a bagel with butter and a coffee with a little cream. Every morning I’d try to get it right, to no avail. Every morning she had something angry to say!
Sometimes she shouted that I should leave the butter out all day to keep it soft. Sometimes she would shout that I put too much cream in her coffee and sometimes she would shout that I put too little. Sometimes she would shout that I should use a different knife to cut her bagel and sometimes she would shout that I shouldn’t hold the butter while I spread it. Sometimes she would shout that I took too long.
Yes, you’re right, I’d say, and take her money, morning after morning. It was the worst 10 minutes of my day, because she also hung out for a few minutes after getting it. But then she was gone, and everything was fine.
The Classroom, Somehow
I studied Marketing at Business School and I went to a lot of classes set up as lectures, of course. One memorable classroom was recently remodeled, but not very large. If you were late, you had to push slightly past some rotating chairs which were already filled with other students.
One kid came in late, but just barely, and tried to slide by to a seat. He pushed past one who stood up angrily. What the fuck, he shouted! Whoa. The first guy looked back, puzzled, just as I was. “You wanna take this outside?” he said.
The first guy laughed, shook his head and said, “… haha really dude? We’re in college.” He then chose a seat and took out his classwork and books, ready to get started.
General De-Escalating Techniques
Try not to make eye contact in the first place. Some terribly awkward people think that eye contact means you’re their friend or foe. Be nothing. Be a bystander. Look down.
Say very little. Keep your answers short, vague, and possibly untrue. Especially if they ask personal questions. If someone is bothering you in the first place they’ll probably go ahead and talk up a storm regardless of how you answer.
Make a simple, common excuse. “I need to go home” or “I need to get to sleep” or something should be enough. Don’t elaborate if asked. Just apologize and start to escape.
When all else fails, fake a phone call. Briskly walk away while taking it.