(I’m in this picture, you just can’t tell because I’m hiding behind the watermelons.)
I grew up in a small-ish city (60,000 people), moved away for about six years for school, and now I’ve come back to live. I love this area, and I’m happy to be here (not that I wouldn’t trade it for, say, Paris, given the chance), but there’s one particular hazard that is making me nuts lately.
The problem with going to the grocery store around here is that I’m almost certain to bump into someone I knew in my past (pre-college) life. I am so awkward about grocery store reunions, I can hardly begin to explain. Old teachers, mothers of kids I used to go to school or church with, classmates I only sort of knew even at the time, my husband’s first girlfriend…
Option one is that you lock eyes, both decide a reunion would be awkward, and pretend you didn’t see each other, both knowing full well that you did and that you both know it. This makes me groan inside (I should be more polite and social than that!), but at least it’s over fast.
Option two is that you spot the person you recognize, decide you don’t want to talk to him, and turn away really quick before he has a chance to notice you too. You then spend the rest of your shopping trip peaking around aisles to make sure the coast is clear before you run out to grab some bananas. This is only embarrassing if you get caught, either by the person you’re trying to avoid or someone else entirely.
Option three is that you can’t conceivably avoid talking to each other because one or the other of you accidentally let’s slip a noise of recognition, usually involving a name, making it irretractable. Then follows an awkward conversation that, depending on the person, revolves around what you’ve been up to/what your parents have been up to/why your hair is so short/why you don’t yet have babies/why you haven’t been to church in ten years. Lots of smiling and nodding, then finally someone has to beg off on the excuse that her husband is waiting/children are crying/ice cream is melting/bladder is bursting. I don’t really recommend the last excuse. It winds up being more embarrassing than anything else you might have conversed about.
Option four is that you spot someone you really ARE glad to see, and then things should theoretically flow easily. (That is, of course, assuming that the other person is as glad to see you.) I don’t know much about this, because even if I find someone I want to talk to, at a grocery store, the whole setting is so awkward that I’d've been happier to go without.
And here’s the ultimate embarrassment: not recognizing a person who recognizes you. This is more than a name problem, it’s a complete “I don’t know who you are – why do you know me?” problem. It happened to me a couple days ago.
“Laura?” asks a voice from the salad shelf. I spin around and spot a tall, lean, be-goateed man holding a package of romaine. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen him before in my life. I squint at him, I scroll through a list of possibilities and still come up blank.
“I’m so sorry,” I’m forced to say. “I don’t recognize you.” It’s too late to pretend I do; the stunned, confused look on my face has certainly already given me away.
He gives me his name and it still takes me several fractions of a second longer than I’d like to figure out where the name fits in my list of All Acquaintances Ever. He was a childhood neighbor and friend. In fact, he was THE childhood friend. We did nearly everything together up until the age of 12, when his family moved to the other side of town. In my defense, he looks absolutely nothing like my memory of him at age 12. I even went and looked him up on Facebook so I could check out this theory yet again. Sure enough, even knowing for sure who he is, I still can’t see any resemblance.
But I’m still so very embarrassed. We did the awkward chit-chat thing. I even stuck out my hand for a super-weird handshake-of-reacquaintance. I begged off on the Husband Waiting Excuse.
If I had to try it again, being more prepared, I think maybe I could have pulled it off a little more elegantly. Surely, at least, I could have come up with something more intelligent to say than “nice goatee.” Okay, I don’t think I really said that, but it definitely flitted through my mind as a possibility at some point.
And this is reason number 452 that I will never run for president.