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Little fixes for life's BIG faux pas
Figuring out which salad fork to use is a relative no-brainer, but what's the protocol for using a lockless bathroom or getting caught regifting?
Saving Face daringly examines dozens of our worst-case ...
Little fixes for life's BIG faux pas
Figuring out which salad fork to use is a relative no-brainer, but what's the protocol for using a lockless bathroom or getting caught regifting?
Saving Face daringly examines dozens of our worst-case social scenarios. Using helpful illustrations and a "toolbox" of general techniques and technologies, you'll learn what to do if caught:
From the office to the dining room to the appearance of freeloading cousins at your doorstep, you'll confidently turn snafus into saves and finesse those social situations once destined for disaster.
Chapter Five: Friends and Family: Keeping your worst from those who know you best.
You can't choose your family. You have a bit of choice when it comes to friends, but it's more a history of choices than anything relating to who you are today or what you want for your future. So it's no surprise that you're surrounded by annoying losers who cramp your style and ruin your fun.
Nonetheless, you're lucky if you have any friends and family at all. Based on all the times you've blown them off, failed to support them, manipulated, lied to, and hurt them, you're lucky they didn't abandon you years ago. And that's exactly what makes it so tough now. You've already used your best lines on them. They know all your tricks, and they're sick of giving you third and fourth chances.
So study this chapter like JFK Jr. on his final attempt at the bar. Because, lame as these people are, they're the only friends and family you've got.
1. skipping out on an event
Maybe it's a hassle. Maybe you'd forgotten about it until just now. Maybe you'd rather be playing golf. Whatever the reason, you've decided not to attend Aunt Jennie's eightieth birthday party. Screw her stupid son and his uptight wife and those snotty cousins whose names you can't remember. Now, if you could just keep them from plucking your guilt strings...
Recall how you were invited. Was it by phone? Mail? E-mail? Because, short of an in-person or over-the-phone confirmation, you can plausibly claim ignorance. Sometimes mail gets lost. Have you recently moved? Were you out of town and using a neighbor to hold your correspondence? Perhaps someone's been stealing your mail. (After you fail to show, you might ask your hosts if they noticed a strange person at the event.) Have you had problems with your answering machine? Does your voice mail system have some bugs? Does your spam filter go hog wild? Every one of these is a credible excuse, particularly for "save the date" events.
A key to employing this tactic is the angry follow-up phone call. Make sure to beat your disappointed hosts to the phone. Act peeved and hurt. Sarcastically say, "Thanks for the invitation. Did you forget to mail it, or do you just hate the sight of me?" When they insist that they did send it, turn your anger on your predetermined scapegoat: "Damned junk e-mail filter! When is Bill Gates gonna finally get that software right?"
This wonderful method convinces others that you had a tremendous desire to attend but were confounded by extraordinary circumstances totally beyond your control. And it does so without even requiring you to think of an excuse!
Whenever someone mentions your absence from an event, move on to your excitement about the next get-together. When your Dad complains, "We didn't see you July fourth," tell him, "I'm just glad I'm going to see you at Thanksgiving. Now that's something to be thankful for."
call their bluff
Tell others you can't attend because you have no money or nowhere to stay. The ball's in their court: Unless they're willing to shell out for your transportation or put you up themselves, you won't be able to make it.
The risks are obvious but the potential payoff is huge. If others fail to come through, you'll have a guilt-free weekend. They, on the other hand, might be too guilt-ridden to invite you to the next gathering.
With once-in-a-lifetime events like christenings and funerals, you need something rock-solid: the grave illness or death of an immediate family member or, possibly, yourself. After missing your aunt's funeral, tell your relative, "I was deathly ill. It's lucky you didn't have two funerals to go to."
2. being asked to appraise someone's boyfriend/girlfriend
If a guy asks you for your opinion of his girlfriend, it's a bad sign. Nine times out of ten he's looking for a reason to dump her. But that one time can really bite you. Even if you've been pals for twenty years, if he sticks with this loser chick you'll never water-ski at his summer house again.
There's always "damning with faint praise," but for most of the dumb or weak-willed types who want your opinion, such subtlety won't cut it. You'll need something stronger.
ask leading questions
Strike a disinterested, professorial tone and tell your friend you need more information before you can render an opinion. Then begin a barrage of leading questions that paint a picture of the girlfriend as a miserable pain in the ass. Try, "Have you ever known her to be a skinflint?" and "Has she won any beauty contests?" and "Does she ever, ever get you upset?" After each reply, shake your head and murmur gravely. Do not make verbal judgments. Your silence will speak volumes.
i could be wrong
Cover your ass by praising the girlfriend but note that your opinion is not widely shared. Say, "I think she's wonderful, but frankly I'm mystified that nobody else does. Why does everyone else hate her? I don't get it." Bolster the majority opinion by conceding that you're usually wrong on these matters.
the judge of character
Strongly recommend that your friend talk to somebody else, someone who is a better judge of character. "Brainstorm" to come up with just the right person to ask, and then pretend to come up with someone you've secretly been thinking about all along...someone who hates her like the devil. "Hey, what about Jim? Jim's a great judge of character. You've got to talk to Jim."
the positive negative
Praise the girlfriend for all her unflattering qualities: "She tells it like it is. When she told off your mother the other day, I was so impressed." Or, "She's classy. She spends money like an heiress." Or, "She's so independent. She's totally cool with having no friends."
3. getting caught regifting
It's 5:30 and you're already late to your friend Samantha's birthday party. No time to hit the stores. And who needs to when you've got closets full of potential presents from thoughtless or tasteless gift-givers past? There's the vomit green blender, the stinky Brookstone cashew pillow, the "found objects" frame, the cruddy bottle of Merlot, and that dusty copy of Oh, the Places You'll Go! that hasn't gone anywhere. Until now. Happy birthday, Samantha!
Unfortunately, at the party another guest notices the inscription in the book. It's made out to you, and it's dated last year.
i liked it so much...
Tell everyone it's your favorite book (or pillow or Merlot or whatever). It means so much to you that you've made it your standard gift. You've bought so many copies over the years that you must have accidentally switched one with your own. To back up your story, dash to the bookstore immediately after the party and purchase another copy. Wrap it in week-old newspaper before delivering it so they think it was purchased days earlier.
save a tree
Act as though your regifting is part of a master ecological plan. Tell your friend she can enjoy the book for a while, but add, "Please, just as I did, pass it on to someone else when you're done." Tailor your party etiquette to match your "green" attitude. Collect discarded wrapping paper, carve your initials into the bottom of your plastic cup for reuse, and talk about the miracle of the composting toilet.
the good ol' days
They don't make 'em like they used to. At least not the gift you just gave. Sure, you could've run out and bought a brand-new one. But those are made in China now. They're mass produced, disposable crap. Yours was made in Japan, where they practically invented Total Quality Control. It's built of reinforced, overbuilt metal. And even though it's got some wear and tear, it'll last ten times as long as a new one.
4. not calling when you're in town
You and your husband have been planning a romantic trip out west for some time. On the agenda: the finest museums, the best restaurants, and a great hotel room. Not on the agenda: Aunt Frieda and Uncle Nat, who have kind hearts but a musty guest room and endless, dull stories of swap-meet plunder. Unfortunately, walking out of your five-star hotel, you lock eyes with the septuagenarian swap-aholics on their way to a downtown flea market. They are confused and hurt. Why didn't their favorite niece call to say she'd be in town?
Sadly inform your relatives that you are not, strictly speaking, visiting. The windows blew out on your plane and they had to put you up here while they dealt with the problem. But the airline has finally boarded up the windows and you're back on your way to your original destination: a small resort between Shangri-La and Atlantis.
"i knew it!"
Scream with glee, embrace your relatives, and turn to your husband, saying, "I knew if we hung around downtown long enough we'd see them!" Explain that you've been planning this for weeks. "We just wanted to see the looks on your faces when you ran into us. Priceless."
"where the hell am i?"
Act disoriented. Say, "Where the hell am I?" and "What are you two doing here?" When they insist that they live there, rebut their contention, using an archaic or alternate name for the locale. For example, when in San Francisco, you might say, "But this is the Bay Area. You live in San Francisco. When they explain, stick to your guns. Shake your head and furrow your brow. Eventually, allow yourself to be convinced that they are right. But angrily blame the city for "not standardizing its damned nomenclature."
Explain that you haven't called because you'll be in town for a long stretch and you've set aside lots of time to visit with them. If they insist on your staying with them, tell them you don't want to be a burden, since you expect to be around for a very long time — months, possibly longer. At the very end of your trip, call them, feigning distress. Explain that an emergency has come up at home, something vague but scary: a septic backup, an electrical fire, or the levee needing more sandbags.
Refuse to acknowledge that you are yourself. Talk in a foreign language, contort your face, and walk with a hunch. If your relatives confront you, shout at them in badly broken English: "I not him! I dream of a man who look like me but he from America. That is the man I want to be!" Shake their hands vigorously and move on, muttering, "Yes, yes, I love America."
5. failing to return a call
In the early days of telephony, missing a call carried little psychic baggage. Not so today. The guilt begins when the caller ID displays the dreaded digits, revs up while you screen the long-winded message and pathetic pleas for a quick response, and festers during your days and weeks of indecision. You wonder, "Should I call back? I don't want to, but if I wait it could be worse." So you wait.
Things gets uglier when the other person calls again. And again. And uglier still when you suddenly need a favor from him. Now you're in big trouble. You're going to need a cool head, creativity, and the balls of a Reform Party cold caller.
Phone Tag is a handy phrase that should become a standard part of your return call lexicon. No matter how remiss you've been, Phone Tag implies that both parties have put in effort and are feeling frustration. Use it liberally to bathe short-term hurt with the rosy glow of an innocent childhood game. (It matters little that this version of Tag more closely resembles the version of Hide and Seek where everyone ditched the seeker and went off to play in Melvin's pool.)
Send an e-mail beginning with the line, "We can't seem to connect by phone." A mere 1K of text magically shifts blame from you to an ill-defined entity, leaving the recipient wondering whether his phone, your phone, his service, your service, or the entire worldwide telecommunications infrastructure is at fault.
Call and say, "I'm trying to solve a mystery. I've been looking at some chicken scratch on a piece of cardboard that's been lying around for months. I'm not sure if I wrote it or somebody else did, but it seems remotely possible that it's your name. Any chance you called me two or three months ago?..."
Almost as powerful as Phone Tag, "I'm back" says you were unavailable to receive or return calls for an indeterminate period of time.
Simply say, "I'm back. I saw that you called," and move on with the discussion. If asked where you're back from, sigh loudly and say, "All over the place. But I'm back now. Hopefully back for good."
6. getting rid of guests
All cultures place great importance on the tradition of hosting. The Hawaiians offer their guests generous helpings of pit-cooked pig and colorful necklaces strung with native flowers. The Japanese lavish guests with disturbingly big-eyed dolls and tiny sushi refrigerator magnets. The people of Yemen present visitors with crates of khat leaves, which, while mildly mood enhancing, carry a ten-year term for trafficking in countries signatory to the 1971 International Agreement on Psychotropic Substances.
And what custom, in return, is a guest obligated to perform? Well, primarily...to leave. Perhaps not immediately, but soon. And certainly well before he has gone through two sets of alkaline batteries on the TV remote control.
Unfortunately, many modern-day guests have lost touch with the ancient tradition of leaving. Which means you may find yourself forced to employ one of the following customs.
Do you practice the drums? Do you play the accordion? Have you tried the bagpipes? What about skeet shooting? These are all pastimes you'd do well to take up. Also consider sunrise photography, chainsawing, hammering, in-home auctioneering, and hydrogen sulfide (egg rot) research.
Otherwise-reasonable people have latent political "hot buttons" that can be exploited to hasten their departure. Divine the political preferences of your guest by slowly flipping through the AM radio channels and watching his face. When it registers revulsion, stop, turn up the volume, and say, "Damn right!" to the radio, pumping your fist in the air enthusiastically.
Bolster this political "poison pill" by actively supporting positions your guest loathes. Purchase and subscribe to radical publications. Decorate your house with NAMBLA or "White Power" posters. Ask for help stuffing fundraising envelopes for "the movement." For extra help with the food budget, consider invoking the names of hated politicians in your prayers before meals.
crowd 'em out
Invite additional guests to your domicile, preferably ones you trust to leave promptly when asked.
The prospect of competing with other moochers for limited household resources will frustrate your problem guests, perhaps driving them on to greener pastures. Sometimes, however, a beautiful thing happens. By "holding a mirror" to their faces, you will awaken long repressed memories of courtesy and manners, causing guests to apologize and leave behind parting gifts like bottles of wine or money for gas, water, and electric bills.
Set the stage by hinting to your guests that you may be forced to leave town for several days. (They will doubtless plan to stay since no similar hints have pried them from your residence thus far.)
In the following days, should you ever return to your house to find your guests away, try locking them out. Park your car far away, lock the doors, and settle in for an extended home hibernation. When your guests return, stay away from all doors and windows. Don't answer the phone. Maintain total silence. You can pass the time sleeping, meditating, or reading in the closet.
Be careful. Like ducks fed bread crumbs by well-meaning humans, long-term guests may have become dependent on handouts. They may wait days or weeks in your driveway before tragically succumbing to deprivation and cold.
Though your guests may not accept hints or even statements suggesting they are putting you out, they are material beings and will respond to the physical conditions of their environment. Buy no food, cut off unnecessary services such as phone, cable, Internet, and electricity. Sell furniture. Turn off the heat. If your guests complain, explain that you're making sacrifices because of the "current situation."
Then wait them out. Eat all you can while at work or in the car. Buoy your spirits by imagining life without them and knowing that your glee can only be pissing them off.
Create a legal rationale for your guests' departure. Pretend to be your landlord and post your own eviction notice, specifically citing over-occupancy. Your moochers are unlikely to be aware of local zoning codes, so don't be concerned about the arbitrary or unfair nature of the notice. If necessary, fake phone calls to your lawyer, expressing outrage that your case, as reasonable as it is, is essentially unwinnable. As a last measure, pick a time when your guests will be away to throw their possessions and your own onto the street and "evict" yourself. Sob uncontrollably until they leave, banging on your own front door and blubbering about the wonderful memories forever locked inside.
7. encouraging someone who shouldn't be encouraged
You have a friend who's never quite accomplished anything. You've listened to her horrible ideas for so long that, when she mentions something slightly promising, you encourage her to do it, only because you don't want to be the perpetual bubble burster.
Of course, your encouragement has disastrous results. Empowered by your uncharacteristic enthusiasm, she quits her job, mortgages her house, and goes into business making cosmetics for dogs.
Stand by your encouragement. The idea was great; the implementation was sloppy and mismanaged. Try to pin the blame on issues you weren't asked about: "The font on the lipstick is all wrong!" or "You went with that name?" or "Who told you to sell it in the bodega?"
Insist you misheard her plan, or she misheard your advice. If she opened a donut store, say you thought she said donut storage: "A donut store is a terrible idea. But I guess you found that out."
Pretend her failure was part of a bigger plan: "I wanted you to see what it's like to have no material possessions. Now you're hungry. You've got nothing to lose. No house. No job. Zilch. Now go get 'em, tiger."
8. leaving a bad phone message
You hang up the phone, troubled. You've just left a message for someone you're trying to impress. Unfortunately, something weird happened. Something that will haunt you forever. Perhaps you called the person — or his wife or child — the wrong name. Perhaps you revealed inappropriate details about your own health or hygiene. Maybe you stumbled in an embarrassing way, belched loudly, had your voice break, or forgot your own name. Or perhaps you lost your temper, yelling obscenities at the kids, at your wife, or at a supervisor.
You replay the message repeatedly in the answering machine of your mind. You wonder who will be present when he plays it. His wife? His children? A cynical friend? Will they be offended? Will they laugh? Will they copy it and share it with coworkers, posting it on the Internet for the comedy-starved masses?
you've heard it all before
Contact the person again through some alternate means. Call his cell phone, e-mail him, track him down at the golf course. When you finally reach him, give him a long-winded, boring version of the message you just left — leaving out, of course, the offending comments.
Before you part, tell him you left the same message on his machine and that he can erase it.
Call back and leave thirty brief messages explaining that your phone is on the fritz and you're "not sure if this is getting through." The hope is that, on returning home, the recipient sees a blinking 31 and feels the need to quickly skip through messages that aren't vital.
Call back and press your keypad frantically while his outgoing message is playing. If you happen to press the right code, you may be able to erase his messages remotely. Note: Most people who have attempted this have had no luck, even on their own machines with prior knowledge of the code.
9. feeling obligated to buy from a friend who makes crafts
One woman's art is another's junk. Why should you have to shell out a hundred and fifty bucks for some twine-and-soda-bottle wind chime? Just to maintain a friendship? Yes. Unless you can call upon one of the wallet-saving maneuvers below.
i can't decide
Rave about several of your friend's creations. Then focus in on two you're "just crazy about." But don't buy either. Deliberate. Mull them over. Ask for photos of each. Describe exactly where the object is going to go in your apartment. Ask for her opinion, but don't take it. Say you need to consult other friends, your husband, your decorator. Above all, leave. And don't come back to your friend's shop or home until she's abandoned this horrible sideline.
tit for tat
As your friend will attest, one doesn't have to buy the things one makes oneself. So join the club. Create your own crappy knickknacks and show them off, or at least talk about them whenever she talks about hers. If she lays on the guilt by implying that hers are different from yours, barter with her so at least you don't have to lay out cash for her junk.
"save it for the show"
Pretend to fall in love with a piece. Expound about what a masterpiece it is, how artfully rendered, etc. But decline to purchase it, claiming it'll be best put to use in an upcoming exhibition at a gallery or museum. You're not refusing to buy it; you're refusing to shortchange her career by selfishly removing it from public circulation.
Once again, fall in love with a piece, but make sure it's small or has small parts. Claim that the presence of children in your household prevents your bringing home such a choking hazard. If you don't have children, worry about visiting nieces, nephews, or senile grandparents who "put everything in their mouths."
10. borrowing something and destroying it
If you're like most people, you break things you borrow more easily than things you own. It's not just that you're less familiar with devices you don't use frequently. It's also that you couldn't care less about other people's crap.
So when you run your neighbor's leaf blower with no oil, it's no surprise that the engine housing cracks to pieces on you. What is a surprise is exactly how much it costs to replace the damn thing, which you used for only twenty seconds for God's sake.
don't mention it
If the damage isn't apparent, return the item without mentioning the problem. It is possible that your neighbor won't use the leaf blower for months, by which time he'll have forgotten that you were the last person to borrow it. If the damage is obvious, fix the cosmetic flaws cheaply (Krazy Glue, duct tape, a nail, etc.) and put it back in your neighbor's garage.
If the item is something your neighbor uses frequently, break an inexpensive but vital part and confess to the smaller sin. Insist on replacing the part yourself, but put off the repairs until leaf blowing season is over. When your neighbor next uses the twice-broken item, he might vaguely remember that you borrowed it last, but he will quite vividly remember your honesty and diligence in addressing the smaller problem, and chalk the larger problem up to normal wear and tear.
Grab the broken item and storm over to your neighbor's house in a rage. Scream at him about how irresponsible it was for him to let you borrow something so poorly maintained, or something about which you weren't properly instructed. Tell him you damn near killed yourself. Threaten to never borrow anything from him again.
wait it out
Over time, many items decrease in value. Wait long enough, and the item you borrowed and broke might go the way of memory chips, Japanese office space, recordable CDs, and Razor scooters. What's more, periods of general price deflation surface from time to time. A scythe borrowed and broken in 1929 could have been replaced for a third of the price in 1945, although by that time most people would have preferred a shiny new Ferguson Model 9 Grass-O-Matic.
11. purchasing embarrassing items
It's the moment you've been dreading. Your hemorrhoid gel is squeezed so flat you're not sure even a pair of scissors and a spatula would get you any more. Itchy but meek soul that you are, you decide to hit the drug store early Saturday morning when foot traffic is at a minimum. In fact, making the most of the empty checkout lines, you seize the moment to stock up on lice shampoo, fart pills, enemas, condoms, "Herpes Helper," and an internal massage wand.
Then, walking to the cashier, you bump into your childhood minister, who, eyes twinkling, greets you with a big, "Hello!" And notices your shopping cart of shame.
Make no attempt to hide the contents of your cart. In fact, find an opportunity during the conversation to pull out a few items and laugh. "Can you believe this? Who really buys this stuff?" Explain that your friend is having a bachelorette party and you've been charged with assembling a silly gift basket of unsavories. It's not your idea of fun, but she has a strange sense of humor, and you want to be a good sport.
While you're chatting, grab other items that suggest you aren't shopping for yourself: a cane, a footbath, reading glasses, a hernia truss, adult diapers, or old people's vitamins. When your minister stares at one of these products for too long, mention that your great-grandmother has trouble getting to the store these days.
Quickly toss anything you can into your cart, burying the offensive products beneath reams of notebooks, tuna cans, and inflatable pools. Even if he's already seen the embarrassing stuff, your minister may now surmise you have an obsessive shopping disorder or have begun part-time work as a destocking clerk.
12. being asked to recommend someone who is undeserving
Over lunch, a friend tells you she's applying for a job at CorpTech. "CorpTech?" you say, "That's Harold Berman's company! I work with him all the time!" You should have kept your mouth shut. Your friend begs you to write a letter of recommendation, an act whose refusal would leave a most awkward silence in its wake.
Making the task especially hard is the fact that your friend is a lazy, incompetent dilettante. Your Hobson's choice: Recommend her and risk losing respect and credibility, or write a nasty recommendation and risk that, hired or not, she learns of it.
Imbue your letter of recommendation with a sarcastic tone that belies the laudatory words on the page. The more effusive you appear, the stronger your real message will be. You might write, "She would be so amazing selling for you. There's no one who could possibly sell as well as she could. God."
While your sarcasm might not be apparent to the potential employer, it provides cover should he come back to you wondering why you recommended a buffoon. Shoot back, "What are you talking about?" and grab the letter from his hands, reading it with the proper tone and emphasis. When finished, tell him that merely writing a negative recommendation wouldn't have cut it. You needed to be sarcastic to sufficiently convey the contempt you have for the applicant.
Of course, should your friend obtain a copy of the letter, she will be overjoyed and reminded of your undying loyalty and support.
"i pissed berman off"
Sadly inform your friend that you've burned your bridges to Berman. Say, "We had a major falling out. I can still write the recommendation if you want me to, but I think it'll do more harm than good. Considering he hates my guts and all."
If, idiot that your friend is, she still wants you to pen the letter, forge an honest appraisal, brimming with harsh words. Should she come upon the letter, remind her, "He hates me. I thought if I wrote it that way he'd hire you just to spite me."
the right — other — stuff
Enumerate all the great qualities your friend has. Since none of these has any bearing on the job at hand, you'll neither support her candidacy nor earn her enmity. You might mention skills like crocheting, kayaking, and gardening. Or traits such as sound sleeping, hawk-like vision, and normal-to-oily hair. End your letter with the words, "For these reasons, as well as her second place finish in the sixth grade student council presidential election, I heartily recommend my friend for the open position."
While we often prefer to think of others as the cause of our awkward moments, most of us realize that the problem lies deep within ourselves. In the next chapter, it's all coming out.
Text copyright © 2005 by Andy Robin and Gregg Kavet
Posted May 21, 2005
A laugh-out loud look at many of life's most awkward social situations. The book offers practical solution for problems like forgetting someone's name, clogging the toilet, and getting rid of unwanted guests, as well as a few outlandish options for the truly desperate. A very funny read!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.