You know those people that you kind of know, but not really, but you might be expected to say hi to them when you pass them on campus, but you also don’t really care how their day is but you feel like you should ask, and you’re not sure if they know your name but you had a class or two with them or maybe talked to them at a party or were in the same tutoring group or see them in the dorm halls sometimes or maybe it’s the math teacher you had whilst in your One Direction phase, and you’re not really friends but in a room full of strangers to the both of you, you’re suddenly best friends?
You know those kinds of people?
One of the things I hate the most in life is when I am walking around campus minding my own business, and I encounter one of these individuals. It’s not that I hate the person, it’s that I hate the small talk. A common misconception when I describe this phenomenon to people is that I am antisocial and I hate other humans. Not the case.
In reality, I detest when one of these people says hello to me, I say hi back, so we both awkwardly skirt to a stop and cause a traffic jam of students rushing to class around us. They ask how my break or weekend or day or class was and I respond with a boring and uneventful answer, and ask about theirs. They tell me it was good, I start to say goodbye, and we promise to catch up this semester. Sometimes as I am walking away they will restart the conversation, and next thing you know I’m 50 feet away and in the middle of a discussion and I know that if I walk back up to them the conversation will be finished by the time I get there, but I also know that I look like a complete idiot as I yell to this person down the hill from me.
This entire encounter makes me seriously consider cutting my tongue out and selling it on Craigslist to a nice, middle aged, mustached sociopath with a comb over in a Wisconsin suburb.
Now, there aren’t many things that I am good at. The list includes tripping, blushing, looking offended, butchering the French language, writing articles no one wants to read, wearing ugly clothes, and avoiding people.
Over my many years in the practice of avoiding small talk with acquaintances, I have mastered a few actions that usually always allow me to come out of the situation unscathed, and unspoken to.
1)Pretend to be on the phone. This is perhaps the most predictable and widely used tactic. It’s also one of the easiest. I usually pretend to be making a doctor’s or dentist appointment, to really ensure that no one wants to talk to me. This way I can make quick eye contact while speaking with the “secretary of the dentist’s office” and get away with a small smile instead of a conversation. Crisis averted.
2)Pretend to have forgotten something. This method is best for when you have some time to kill. Avoid it if you’re in a rush, risking being late to work, etc. It’s simple. All you have to do is spot someone you don’t want to talk to coming your way, pat your pockets or root through your book bag, roll your eyes, and turn the other way. Though you are merely running away, bystanders won’t think you’re a weirdo who doesn’t know his/her way around very well. Then proceed to go a different way to your destination. Problem solved.
3)Clean your glasses. Unfortunately I can only extend this advice to my fellow four eyed nerds. When I’m wearing glasses and not contacts and I would like to avoid someone, I remove my glasses and clean them until the person of disinterest has left. This isn’t even entirely a lie. Without my glasses I’m completely face blind. Another bonus about this tactic is that in the off chance that I run into this individual again and they say “You didn’t see me the other day in the library!” I can always respond by saying that I’m blind sans eyewear, which means they will ask to try on my glasses, which means at least I have a conversation going and don’t have to ask about their weekend plans.
4)Look annoyed. For me, this is the easiest precaution to take. On countless occasions I have been told that my resting bitch face is intimidating. Making this face is not a conscious effort for me, my resting facial expression naturally looks like someone just told me that Kirk is better than Picard, or that Reload is the best Metallica album. I look annoyed, angry, and irritated, all of the time. For somehow persistently happy people, this may indeed be a challenge. My best advice is to remember that kid in your high school who was homeschooled until 9th grade and had never been taught that no one besides their mom wants to hear what they have to say. Channel the anger that this person makes you feel, and then you have it. Your resting bitch face. If it’s a good one, the Lehigh University squirrels will act like normal squirrels and actually avoid you, and people will be afraid to make small talk.
5)Pretend to be sick. Picture this – you’re in the library, minding your own business, when you glance up and see someone you had one class with last semester, whom you hardly spoke to. Yet, they look like they might come over and engage in a loud conversation, thus causing a scene in the quiet library. A usually successful way to avoid this is to start coughing. No one wants to get your cough germs all over them, or to be associated with the one person in the library who has whooping cough. Unless this person is a stalker or in love with you, they’ll save the small talk for another time. Make sure to follow up with a fake sneeze or fake blowing your nose, but not too soon after the first fake cough. This is a commitment.
I do realize that some people who I actively use these tactics with may be reading this article. Others may be reading this and thinking, “What? Raina is so friendly! She always smiles and says hello.”
If you’re someone I avoid, don’t take it personally. To quote something corny, it’s not you – it’s me. I’m the jerk who hates awkward conversations, and you’re the nice and friendly one. Pat yourself on the back, and all that. But don’t act like you’ve never used these tricks on someone, at some time.
To people who I don’t avoid – you’re probably a pretty okay human. Nice job.