In which the awkwards explain


Hey everybody, I have a new theory! 

Gather round, gather round. It’ll be better than my theory about how silica gel is probably utterly delicious but ‘the man’ just doesn’t want us to find out, I promise.

This is it: IS SOCIAL AWKWARDNESS THE SCOURGE OF BRITAIN?

Ignoring the fact that I’ve started to think in booming, paranoid Daily Mail headlines (IS THIS BISCUIT GIVING ME CANCER? QUICK, I MUST FLAUNT MY CURVES IN THE GHERKIN AISLE AT LIDL), I think I might be onto something here.

It came to me in a flash on the tube earlier, after someone had got up and left a vacant seat, which a teenage girl and I had both made a move to sit in. Naturally, the minute I realised I had competition, I got flustered, backed off and walked halfway down the carriage to prove I never wanted the seat anyway.

Meanwhile the girl tried to give me the seat. “No, no, it’s fine.” I said airily over my shoulder as I scuttled away. “No honestly, you have it!” she clucked, leaving it empty. “No, no, haha, you have it.” I shrugged, turning pink. “Seriously! Have it!” she trilled after me. “It’s FINE!” I snapped. And just like that, I was suddenly the rude person.

Things like this happen to me at least three times a week. I hate drawing attention to myself in public, so in an effort not to make a fuss or prolong awkward human contact for any longer than is strictly necessary, I come off cold and grumpy.

I’d like to take this moment to apologise to every cheery shop assistant and waiter that I’ve muttered one-word replies to without looking them in the eye. I’m not a horrible person, I promise, it’s just that unprecedented small talk makes me squirm. Even being asked if I want a carrier bag makes me squirm. Make me wait too long for a receipt I don’t need, and I practically break into a sweat.

But if it happens to me, then maybe it’s happening to lots of you too! Not all of you, of course, because there must be the opposite faction to cause these painful situations to begin with (I like to think of them as “non-awkwards”, or “the selfish friendly”), but plenty of you. If a significant number of you are also out in the world looking accidentally rude on a regular basis, think of all the ways society could be suffering!

The non-awkwards are probably angry at the awkwards for their supposed rudeness, while the awkwards are angry at the non-awkwards for making them feel awkward to begin with. And so we rattle around in the world, the non-awkwards creating loud scenes and the awkwards staring at their feet trying not to get involved.

I’d propose some sort of government-funded initiative to combat social awkwardness and teach smoother public interactions with strangers – but I’m just too shy to suggest it.