Social interaction used to be so much easier.
I remember the good old days, when not making an ass of yourself in public was simple. So long as your socks were matched and your fly was zipped, you could make up the rest as you went along. There was no real need to follow, or even learn, the sundry rules of polite society.
“I remember the good old days, when not making an ass of yourself in public was simple. So long as your socks were matched and your fly was zipped, you could make up the rest as you went along.”
My, how things have changed. Social conventions have evolved, international customs have mingled, and we’ve all become more sensitive to respecting the culture and traditions and the sometimes irrational preconceptions of others. Venturing out into social situations has become a veritable minefield for clumsy knuckleheads like me; a wealth of opportunities to stick my foot in my mouth, take the wind out of my sails, and wonder why everyone’s laughing at me when I made sure my zipper was up just a few minutes ago. For those of you who share my crippling social ineptitudes, you’ll recognize these:
Five Common Social Pitfalls for the Modern Chowderhead
1. Committing a ‘Fork Foul’
To be fair, using the wrong utensil is a long-standing anxiety among us boneheads. But back in the day, there was a fork for dinner, and a fork for salad, and that was it. If you could correctly identify a dessert spoon — and refrain from cutting your steak with your butter knife — you had it made.
But now foods have gotten all fancy. It’s not ‘dinner’ any more; it’s ‘cuisine‘. And with each wacko new dish or course comes a piping hot fresh new silverware hell. Is that long skinny spoon for the gelatto, or the iced tea? Do I use the fat fork to help myself to the asparagus, or to mortally wound the oysters? If there really is a fly in my soup, am I allowed to fight it with the crab mallet? These are now questions I’m equipped to answer.
2. “I’ll Take ‘Country of Origin’ for $200, Alex”
Here’s a handy rule of thumb: if you don’t know for certain which nation one of your companions hails from, don’t guess. Not under any circumstances. It can’t possibly turn out well. Most likely, you’ll choose the wrong country and look like an ass. If you think someone is Korean, then they’re probably from Viet Nam. If you say Vietnamese, they’re likely Japanese. If you guess Japanese, and they are Japanese, they’ll still say they’re from Hong Kong, just to screw with your head. You deserved that.
As a corollary, there’s no culturally sensitive way to ask whether someone’s Indian as in ‘from India’, or Indian as in ‘misnamed as a collective group of people four hundred years ago by some drunken European fool who meant to take a left at Hispaniola’. It’s not possible. Don’t go there.
3. Improper Handshake Teqhnique
The problem with handshakes is that there are so many ways they can go wrong. I’ve heard people say that they can judge the character of a person by the way they shake hands.
I call bullshit.
Personally, I find that I need to decipher all I can about a person’s makeup before I shake hands, to properly prepare. Am I faced with a grim, old-school gent who’ll shake firm and quickly, or is it one of those touchy-feely ‘long-shaker’ types? If it’s a woman, do I ‘shake soft’, or does she seem to want the real deal? Is that kid going to squeeze the hell out of my hand to prove himself, or is he still young and fragile and a cracked metacarpal lawsuit just waiting to happen?
And don’t even get me started about trying to accurately predict chest bumps, forearm slaps, and fist knocks — top, bottom, or knuckles ahead. By the time I finally get to the shaking-hands part, I’m so frazzled I’m likely to either shake like a limp wet tuna, or go nuts and kiss the person on the lips. Which can be awfully embarrassing. Mental note for future reference — no more tongue for the in-laws. Maybe I should just wave from afar.
4. “Da, I Sprechen ze Douche”
If you’re like me, you enjoy being exposed to other cultures and customs. You might even like to get involved, to ‘do as the Romans’ once in a while. Possibly, you’d go so far as to pick up a few phrases in the native tongue, and try speaking them to your foreign-speaking friends.
That couldn’t be a worse idea if it involved a cheese grater and a bathtub full of rubbing alcohol. And depending on what you say, and how atrocious your pronunciation, it just might.
Don’t get me wrong — if you want to learn another language, more power to you. Immerse yourself, buy a translation dictionary, and go to it. But remember that a little information is a dangerous thing. Like learning how ‘Hello, friend!‘ is said in another language, and not realizing how it translates to ‘Suck toes, granny-humper!‘ if you forget to roll your R’s. Just don’t be surprised when they pull out that cheese grater.
5. The European-Style *kiss kiss* Greeting
Finally, the ultimate bane for those of us who are neither worldly nor agile. A guy like me doesn’t have many ‘fancy’ female friends — but once in a while, we encounter a lady who expects a peck on each cheek. For her, it’s a simple, everyday procedure. For us, it’s a bewildering and complex dance, as likely to injure as it is to embarrass. There are so many ways it can go wrong.
First, there’s the lunge. Do you go for the left cheek first, or the right? Should you bob in one direction, then weave back to the other? I’ve yet to find a reliable solution. And if you zig while the girl zags, then you either catch her full on the mouth with a wet smackeroo, or you find yourself with your lips crammed in some woman’s ear. Depending on the lady, one or both of those situations may turn out to be rather unpleasant.
Assuming you make your way unimpeded to your intended cheek, what do you do then? Some women want actual contact over there, while others content themselves with ‘air kisses’. And if you thought reading a handshaker was hard, just try predicting in advance what a girl wants you to do involving your mouth and her face. I get served more restraining orders that way. At least the in-laws seem to like it.