Social Awkwardness


So, technically this was a speech that I performed in a Toastmasters contest. But blog, speech, really, they are all ways to communicate so I thought this might make an interesting read! So here you go…

When we are kids we don’t care about what the world thinks. We don’t know social norms or etiquettesOver the years our parents and teachers instill “proper habits” in us using various modes of persuasion – lectures, punishments, bribes, and sometimes just some good old spanking. 

I can still hear my mom emphasizing, “Chew with your mouth closed, Sumedha.”

………” Did you say thank you for the nice gift, Sumedha?”

………” No, don’t pull your skirt up, Sumedha” 

………” Don’t stick your finger in the nose and then in your mouth, Sumedha’s friend”.

Eventually all parents win and they tame us to be socially adept. Well most of us. The rest of us become engineers (To be clear, I am an engineer).

I recently realized that our social adeptness comes to its peak at around 18 years, at least my social adeptness graph has been plummeting since. When I was younger and I would bump into people, I used to stop to say hello. As I grew a little older I started greeting people with just a smile. As I got even older and cooler, I learnt the art of head nodding while casually walking on. And now, when I bump into people I start playing peekaboo. 

A few years back I was in the security line at the airport and I noticed a man who looked very familiar. He turned and looked straight at me and there were two long awkward seconds of silence where we both just stared at each other without knowing what to do. We both looked away without smiling at each other. As I progressed in the line I managed to steal a few more glances at him, very sneakily and methodically of course. I didn’t want to induce any inefficiencies in the flawless screening process at the airportsTurned out I did not know him, and that game of peekaboo lasted all the way to Atlanta while he sat next to me and I pretended to read the SkyMall magazine for three hours.

I feel such situations of random encounters get even worse in the virtual world of social networking sites. I don’t have a problem with Facebook or any other social networking site. I like these websites because now I can have friends too ;). But no one ever teaches us social networking etiquettes when we are younger, neither parents nor teachers. How are we supposed to know what’s “normal” and what’s not? I tried to self-teach by observing how the cool kids were using abbreviations lol, yolo but that didn’t work out for me. My friend, ex-friend, Sara posted about her grandmother’s death on Facebook and I commented saying lots of love. Then she blocked me. After that I completely stopped using LOL 

I learnt the hard way.

Now, I don’t comment on anything. I just like everything! The other day my middle school classmate Rahul bruised his thumb while chopping vegetables at his kitchen counter in Houston, Texas with his wife Priya and was feeling upset #itsBleeding # MyPotatoesAreRedNow. And I just liked the picture of his bleeding thumb. 

So far, this technique has been working out great for me. 495 friends as of today morning and 5 more projected by 6 pm today (Send me a friend request @ don’t-know-you.)

By the way, the problem doesn’t end here. Apart from dealing with random encounters in the real and virtual world, we have to deal with ending conversations and saying goodbyes. It is so difficult to say good-bye. Because there are so many ways to do it. Should you wave or shake hands? Or should you hug? And then should it be a side hug or a full hug?  And the stakes are really high here, because you know if you are going in for a handshake and they go in for a hug things can get pretty awkward. This is why the inner unpolished child in me prefers Irish good byes, you know when people just leave abruptly without…


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