tea cup on table

The Awkward Files # 1

Yesterday afternoon we were on our way home from a quick shopping trip (Went out to buy shoes for Max, came home with a sweater for me instead, then had to order the shoes online: standard.) when Terry remembered we needed to buy some tea bags, and suggested we pop into LIDL for them.

We only went in for the tea bags, I swear. Cut to twenty minutes later, though, and there I was, standing at the checkout with an armload of groceries we didn’t need, plus this:

play table

(It’s a play table for the garden, just in case it isn’t obvious. You put sand in one side, and water in the other, then you sit back and curse the fact that you’re now going to be changing your child’s wet clothes, and vacuuming up sand, for the rest of the summer. Pray for us.)

Now, this might not be huge, exactly, but the box it came in WAS: it was very large, and very unwieldy, so it was pretty obvious that it wasn’t going to fit on the conveyor belt thingy at the checkout. While Terry doubled back to hunt down the tea bags we’d gone in for, but then totally forgotten about in our excitement (Because, OBVIOUSLY…), then, I arranged the rest of the shopping on the belt, then bent down to speak to Max, who was in the pushchair in front of me. I straightened up just in time to see the teenage girl who’d been standing in line in front of me beaming at me as she finished carefully rearranging my shopping. “So you can fit that on, too!” she explained, pointing to the gigantic box by my side. The gigantic box that she was now apparently expecting me to somehow get onto the conveyor belt, to have it scanned alongside my bag of apples, plus that bar of Lithuanian chocolate, or whatever the hell other stuff Terry had managed to unearth from the depths of LIDL.

At this point, I’m guessing most normal people would simply have thanked the girl for her kind gesture, but explained that it wasn’t necessary, as that box was never going to fit on the conveyor belt. I, however, am an Awkward Person. The girl was still smiling hopefully at me, obviously pleased to have been able to do her good deed for the day, and I didn’t want to make her feel bad by rejecting her thoughtful gesture, so, instead, I did exactly what any other Awkward Person would do under the circumstances: I bent down and began heaving the huge box onto the tiny conveyor belt, doing my best to ignore the amused stares of my fellow shoppers.

I, however, am an Awkward Person…

“Er, you don’t have to put that up there?” pointed out the girl on the checkout, speaking very slowly and carefully, as you would to someone you’d recognised as being a little bit slow. “Because it won’t fit? And I can, like, easily reach it from here?” She waved her scanner at me to demonstrate.

“Oh! Can you really?” I exclaimed, pretending to be astonished at this brand! new! information! “Well, fancy that!”

I was hoping that would be the end of it, but I hoped in vain.

“What on earth are you trying to get that up there for?” said Terry, materialising behind me, clutching a box of tea bags and some odd looking sweets, with the packaging all in Russian. “I mean, that’s OBVIOUSLY not going to fit!”

My teenaged helper was still standing next to me, so, rather than explain what I was ACTUALLY doing – making myself look stupid in order to avoid potentially making someone else look stupid – I proceeded to dig myself even deeper, by pretending it had been my own awesome idea to try to heft a child’s play table, and its oversized packaging, into a place that was clearly not designed for it. Then I kept up my act the whole time our groceries were scanned, and the checkout girl patiently explained yet again that LARGE items don’t need to go on the conveyor belt? Because, they’re, like, too large for it? And, the whole time, I stood there nodding and trying to look like I was learning something, while internally screaming, “OBVIOUSLY, FFS! DO I LOOK STUPID?”

The thing is, though, I DID look stupid trying to get that box onto the conveyor belt. And I knew it, too – even before I did it, in fact. These, however, are the kind of things that happen to Awkward People: or maybe just Terribly British People, actually. Because, as we left the store, and I was finally able to explain to Terry that, yes, I was doing something stupid, but I was doing it with the best of intentions, seriously, it occurred to me that this was not the first time I had found myself doing something I instinctively knew was silly, purely to avoid potential awkwardness.

These are the kind of things that happen to Awkward People: or maybe just Terribly British People, actually.

There was the time I politely paid for the worst eyelash extensions in the history of eyelash extensions, for instance, just because I couldn’t bring myself to say, “Wait, I can’t even open my eyes any more: remove these at once, my good woman!” Or the time I went on an excruciatingly awkward date with someone I barely knew, and wasn’t even remotely attracted to, because saying no would’ve been, like, SUPER-awkward. So, yes, I endured several hours of awkwardness in order to avoid a few seconds of it. Because that is EXACTLY the kind of thing I do. Over and over again. I mean, don’t even get me started on all of the times I’ve invited people to a party at my house, purely to fill an awkward gap in the conversation. Seriously, it’s like some weird kind of reflex for me: the conversation starts to falter, I start to panic, and the next thing I know, I’m on my way home, trying to work out how I’m going to explain to Terry that we’re throwing a party next week, because I told a bunch of random people we would, just for something to say.

(At one such party, meanwhile, I enthusiastically tried to welcome the pizza delivery guy into our home, assuming he was a friend of Terry’s who I hadn’t recognised. I’ve filed that one under, ‘Times I’ve Tried to Pretend I Know Someone Even Although I Have Absolutely No Idea Who They Are…’ The times, they are many. And AWKWARD.)

Then there was the time I spent six months making up increasingly elaborate excuses why I wouldn’t be engaging the services of a cleaner I’d emailed for a house-cleaning quote. The ACTUAL reason I didn’t want to take her on was because her rates were eye-wateringly expensive: instead of telling her that, and risking offence, though, I valiantly came up with a series of excuses, ranging from my pregnancy at the time, to the various building projects we’ve been doing over the last couple of years. Honestly, if she hadn’t stopped chasing me up in the end, I think I’d probably have either, a) convinced Terry to do even MORE work on the house, just so I could continue having genuine excuses not to employ a cleaner, or, b) I dunno, maybe taken out a loan or something, so I could employ her anyway, rather than having her hate me for rejecting her quote?

(Yes, I am very aware that she would be more likely to hate me for stringing her along. In my defence, when I gave her the first excuse, I told her I wasn’t able to proceed right then, but would be back in touch if things changed in the future. It was only when she kept chasing me up that I decided to come up with another one, and, well, things just kind of snowballed from there. Don’t worry, she couldn’t possibly hate me more than I hate myself…)

Here’s the thing, though: the vast majority of my awkward encounters are born from my desire to AVOID awkward encounters. For instance, I’m short-sighted, anti-social, and have a tendency to wander around in a dream world most of the time, which means that there have been occasions where I’ve walked past someone I know without even seeing them, or failed to return a wave from a neighbour I see out of context. Terry’s forever scolding me for my failure to recognise some of our neighbours when I see them out and about, which is why, when I saw one of them out cycling in the street a few weeks ago, I was sure to give him an enthusiastic wave, and a cheery, “HI BOB! HOW ARE YOU?!” I was a bit put out when the man in question simply raised his eyebrows in surprise at this, until…

“That’s not Bob,” said Terry, smugly. “That’s just some random man on a bike.” And it WAS some random man on a bike: a random man who was now cycling off while glancing back over his shoulder, obviously hoping I wasn’t following him.

the vast majority of my awkward encounters are born from my desire to AVOID awkward encounters.

(The last time I saw the REAL “Bob” meanwhile, I totally ignored him, because, the fact is, unless your car is bright purple and has your name printed on the side of it, the chances of me recognising it when I see it anywhere other than on your driveway are slim to none. Sorry, Bob.)

(Er, you all know his name isn’t ACTUALLY Bob, don’t you? Just checking…)

“I was just trying to be nice!” I explained to Terry, on all of these occasions, and, indeed, it’s true. Almost all of my awkwardness stems from my desire to do the right thing, or just not make myself a nuisance to people. This is why, when I used to sell a lot of stuff on eBay, rather than rock up at the post office with twenty packages, and annoy the life out of both the post-office staff AND everyone who had to stand behind me in line, I’d either split the post office trips over a couple of days (So, I’d take half the packages one day, and the other half the next), or – and I’m aware as I’m writing this how totally cray-cray it sounds – I’d split them between a couple of different post offices. So, I mean, the post office staff may not have hated me for coming in with dozens of parcels every day, but I DID hate myself a little bit for giving myself an extra journey, and an additional post office queue every time I had more than a few parcels to send.

I don’t sell on Ebay any more, thankfully (And yes, the awkward post-office trips were one of the deciding factors in that decision…), but when I do have packages to send these days, I now opt for online courier collections instead... and spent most of my time worrying that the Hermes delivery man secretly hates me because he frequently has to deliver something one day, and then come and collect it again the next. (He doesn’t hate me, by the way: he gets paid by the package, so he only hates me when I go to the post office, instead of giving him the job. I know because he told me…)

Want to know the worst thing in all of this? I’m pretty sure there are plenty of other Awkward Things I do in the name of Trying to Avoid Award Things, but I’m also pretty sure I’ve made myself sound crazy enough for now, so I’m going to leave this one here. If you want to make me feel better, though, feel free to tell me some of your own Tales of Awkwardness: I promise I won’t judge…

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  • May


    Oh, I’m an Awkward Person myself. I get embarrassed over the smallest things and blush bright red, so most things that people would classify as “confusion” I see as “awkward. Get me out of here or I’ll DIE”.
    One that frequently happens to me is a combination of my tendency to be lost in my own thoughts plus my natural er…. intense look and features (I have really dark eyes and thick jet black eyebrows that seem to have a life of their own). So in my mind I’ll be looking at nothing in particular because I’m not paying attention, but the unlucky person in front of me will think I’m staring at them, hard. I’ve had people wave at me. I had strangers (mostly men) come up to me to start a conversation. I even had a girl that said I’d have a “reall bad time” if I kept staring. And how can I talk myself out of that? Nothing sounds more like a lie than “oh I wasn’t staring”. So I just kinda… go with it I guess and worry people will forever think I’m so rude I openly stare at people

    June 11, 2019
    • tom


      move to Germany, Mary , everybody stares here…..

      June 11, 2019
  • Tom


    the most awkward thing I have done: failed to meet sweet Amber way back before she was married ?

    June 11, 2019
  • Mary Katherine


    Who could forget the eyelash extensions? I had to pull up that post on my phone (quite a feat for techno-challenged me) at the hairdresser’s to show her, and we both laughed so hard she had to stop doing my hair for a minute!

    The good news is that the older you get, the less of a %&*# you give about what other people think, so this problem SHOULD diminish with time.

    My husband thinks he sees people he knows everywhere. “Oo, there’s David”, looking at someone he thinks is our brother-in-law, although all they have in common is that they are male. Or “Is that Leslie’s truck?” although her truck is a grey 5-yr-old GMC and he’s looking at a 20-yr old white Ford. With small children in the cab. And cattle in the back. And she has neither.

    Anyway, thanks for the chuckles every week. And more photos of Max in bow ties, please.

    June 11, 2019
  • Jules


    I just realised I do the parcel thing (splitting them over a couple of visits to the post office). But the thing is the post office is also the corner shop. I go in fairly often and I’m not good at casual chat. So in my head I believe they think I am unfriendly, and I don’t want them to think I am annoying too. Basically I get you!

    June 11, 2019
  • Myra


    I’m sure it is situations like this this where the saying, “Just say no comes from”.

    June 12, 2019
  • Anna


    I know how you feel. I’m very awkward, and I also have trouble placing people out of context. For example, I had no idea my neighbor was also my coworker until he started talking to me about work. I’m currently trying desperately to figure out if the woman who says hello to me at the gym is his wife or just a friendly similar-looking woman.

    June 12, 2019
  • Corinne


    Kindred! I’ve still not worked out if being British just increases the awkward or causes it.

    June 15, 2019
  • Oh God, this is me all over! I have lost count of how many times I have gotten myself into a ridiculous predicament just to avoid potentially offending someone. Dan actually banned me from talking while we were haggling on holiday in Morocco, because I found the idea of actually asking for things cheaper than they were advertised (despite knowing full well this is completely normal and expected) the most excruciating thing ever and kept finding myself want to rush in and shout BARGAIN! WE’LL TAKE IT!! before he’d even got an offer in! Probably the most cringe thing I ever did though last year was lie about being pregnant when I snuck into a pub to use the loo, because I felt bad for not buying a drink. I came face to face with a bemused waitress and just blurted it out – no idea where it came from, I just shouted it in her face, like HI! I’M PREGNANT!! She so obviously could not have cared less if she tried but for some bizarre reason in the moment I just felt I had to justify my cheekiness! And now I’m embarrassed all over again just thinking about it!

    June 17, 2019