Awkward Social Interactions

Dear Blog,

Sometimes I will have a conversation that is undeniably awkward and afterwards I will try to figure out whose fault it was. Was it me? Was it the other person? Does it take two to tango awkwardly?

For example:

While J was at nursery school one morning, I thought I would take K outside and let him play in the snow while I shoveled the car out. I put him in his snowsuit and brought out a big plastic T-Rex for him to play with, because he likes to bury his toys in the snow and then forget where they are and whine miserably while I dig all around until I find them. Fun for everybody.

So, I sit him on top of a pile of snow with his T-Rex, and I start digging out the car. I’m not very good at shoveling snow, I admit; I am not fast or graceful. But I can do it.
Me: You bury your T-Rex in a hole. I’m shoveling.

Enter Neighbor. Actually, I don’t yet know that he is a neighbor, I do not recognize him, but he comes shambling over from across the road. Next to his garage stands a young man with a shovel.

Neighbor: Listen. I want you to let this young man Willie dig your car out.

I look at Willie. Willie is maybe in his early twenties, halfway handsome and decidedly underdressed for the weather, and looks bored. He raises a hand in a half-wave.

 Me: (waving back) Oh, it’s fine. I can do it.
Neighbor: No, I want you to let Willie do it. He is my handyman.
Me: That’s so nice of you. Both of you. I’m really fine. I don’t mind doing it.
Neighbor: Listen. This isn’t about you can do it or you don’t mind. This is about being neighbors. This young man, he can do it quickly for you.
Me: Hold on, sweetie.

Wracking my brain: Have I ever seen this man before? I don’t know if I am supposed to pay Willie, or quite what is going on here. I don’t want to pay somebody to shovel my car. I’ve had people offer to shovel who clearly were wanting to be paid, so I don’t think I’m insane for thinking of this.

 I change the subject with some niceties – I introduce myself and K, while K continues shouting about his T-Rex. Neighbor explains where he lives and which buildings he owns. I hope he will let go of the shoveling thing but he doesn’t, and again presses me to let Willie do it.

 Me: It’s OK, I’m just going to do it. I don’t have any cash with me. (AWKWARD!)
Neighbor: I don’t want cash! This isn’t about cash! (AWKWARD!!!)
Willie: Are you sure you don’t want some help?

OK, obviously I am an asshole.

Neighbor: I don’t know your connection with Yale, but the Yale people around here, they snob you sometimes.

Oh no! I do not want to be a snob. I also do not want to be bullied into letting somebody shovel my car out when I really just want to shovel my own car out. I also want to tell him that I am not connected to Yale, but that is only partly true. What does all this say about me? Nothing particularly flattering, I suspect.

Neighbor: All I want is that you let Willie dig your car out, and then next time you see me, you wave and say hello to me.
Me: Well, I would do that anyway.

Am I an asshole AND a snob???

 Neighbor: WILLIE!

Willie comes over with his shovel.

Willie: I’ll just give you a hand here.

He starts shoveling. Neighbor extends his hand. I shake it. Neighbor screams.

Neighbor: Not so hard! I just had surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome!
Me: Oh! I’m so sorry!
Willie: Cute kid. How old is he?
Me: He’s two. Say hi, K!

K snarls like a rabid dog.

Me: (uncertainly) He’s pretending to be a dinosaur.
Neighbor: Make sure you say hello next time you see me!
Me: Of course. Thank you!

Now I wonder if I have passed him a million times, wrangling kids, and not noticed. I should add here that we live on a friendly street, and I have warm interactions with many neighbors. It’s not like this is a neighborhood where nobody says hi. I just don’t remember seeing him before.

 Willie and I shovel. Willie is very efficient. I toss snow around like an idiot. I make awkward small-talk, including telling him that he is not dressed warmly enough, and then I wonder when I started taking this maternal tone with semi-hot young men. K sits on his pile of snow, banging himself on the head with his T-Rex and glaring at Willie. It takes all of five minutes to finish. I thank Willie. He says no problem. End Scene.

So: I guess I should have just said Thank you, how nice of you right away, and accepted the help graciously, understanding it as a kind offer, overcoming my antisocial instincts, and not wondering about money. I’ve always believed it takes a certain generosity of spirit to gratefully and graciously accept another person’s generosity, and I didn’t pass muster in this scenario. Or maybe, since I really just felt like doing some peaceful shoveling on my own, I should have been firm instead of buckling and accepting a favor I didn’t want. Either way, I’m sure I was not being a weirdo all on my own. Perhaps Neighbor, once I declined, should have let it drop instead of freaking out and being borderline insulting. Perhaps K should have said hello nicely instead of being a grouch (but OK fine, he gets a little bit of a pass for being two). Feel free to cast your vote for Most Awkward Person In This Scenario. In any case, the next time I saw Neighbor, I waved, K gave him the stink-eye, and Neighbor beamed and waved back.

Yours, digging-the-car-out-by-cover-of-night-next-time,


4 thoughts on “Awkward Social Interactions

  1. Lisa

    I’m sure your neighbour only had good intentions. But you repeatedly told him you could do it yourself, and in response he made snarky comments about being connected to Yale (who cares?) and did it anyway. Plus he didn’t actually do the shovelling, so really, how many points is that even worth?

    It’s great to offer help, but when people say no, we should respect their independence (unless of course they’re in danger or something).

  2. samatwitch

    That was definitely awkward, bizarre and borderline creepy. It’s not really a favour if you don’t want it! It sounds as if you were quite firm about wanting to do it yourself. The neighbour should have respected your decision and left it alone. Was Willie his son?


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