Tuesday, June 5, 2007

An Extremely Awkward Experience

My Dear Reader,

I suppose that I could tell you that I'm the most awkward person on the face of the planet, but luckily enough for me I've met enough people that I know that's not the case. I think that if I was on an awkward scale of one to ten, ten meaning Fonzi and one meaning Steve Urkel, I'm probably somewhere in the neighborhood of a six*. This means that I am comfortable around boys only when it's clear that we're just friends, and that I am constantly sticking my foot in my mouth without knowing exactly how to get it out again. Every once in a while I'll run into a person at level four or five, and I love it. Now, I know it's wrong, but I get a certain satisfaction from knowing that there are people out there who are more awkward than I am. And then, of course, I always try to be extra nice to them because I know what it's like to be in their shoes.

For example, in my job at the Missionary Training Center (where we train the guys who show up at your door in ties and name tags), I often see missionaries with name tags in many different languages. Each missionary has a name tag with the Church's name written in whatever language they are assigned to speak in their assigned area, and I can recognize the Spanish, French, Mandarin, Japanese, and other languages, but I also see a lot that I can't recognize at all. A while ago, I saw a missionary wearing a name tag in words I didn't recognize, so I stopped him and asked him to satisfy my curiosity. The situation went something like this:

Cecily: Hey Elder**, what language is that on your name tag?
Elder: It's Croatian***.

Now, at this point, he had stopped as if he expected to start talking with me about Croatia, and not only do I know next to nothing about Croatia, but I also I hadn't expected to start a conversation on the subject. I could have just said something like, "That's great!" and moved on with my life, but I wasn't sure what to do, and I made the mistake of letting sound escape from my lips before I had figured out what I was actually going to say:

Cecily: Oh, wow, that's . . . great. You're . . . going . . . to be . . . one of the few . . . Americans . . . in . . . Croatia?
Elder: I'm not American.

Now a bad situation got worse. At the MTC we accommodate every missionary who needs to learn a language for their mission, and since the membership of the church is worldwide this means that we have missionaries from everywhere between Samoa to Spain. So even though I swear he looked and spoke just like your typical American, I had just insulted his heritage and dug my hole just a little deeper:

Cecily: Oh . . . well . . . uh . . . where are you from?

I was originally going to guess Canadian but thought better of it. I'm glad that I did:

Elder: I'm from Sweden.
Cecily: Wow, that's . . . great. You have, like, a really great accent. . . . Is English your second language?
Elder: Yes.
Cecily: Well, that's just . . . that's great. You fooled me! I thought you were . . . well . . . you have a great day Elder.

What I really meant was that his English was impeccable and would he mind if I just curled up and died? But I was still able to stop talking, which was what I desperately needed to do.

I have tried to figure out what creates awkward situations, and while I've come up with explanations such as a lack of experience or a brain that runs faster than the mouth, I think the best explanation I can come up with is that awkward people generally have a small comfort zone, and when a person is uncomfortable with something, people get nervous and things become awkward. And people usually become uncomfortable when they break one of the unwritten rules of society. If you don't believe me, try standing in a crowded elevator with your back facing the door, and you will experience what it's like to break one of those unwritten rules. We have these rules for everything, especially when it comes to conversations. That's why it's awkward to talk about a certain thing with a stranger when you can have the same conversation with a very close friend without a worry, and vice versa. So I guess I need to expand my comfort zone? I'm not sure about how to do that one. I've got to think about that some more. Anyway, the entire purpose of this story was to provide you with a story that will let you know, Gentle Reader, that there are people out there who are more awkward than you are, and I think I've accomplished at least that much.

Regards, best wishes, and Croatian,


*I'm just hoping that life grades on a curve.

**All Mormon missionaries spend their entire mission being called by their last names only, and instead of using a first name, they use their title. The men are all called Elder, because that is the priesthood office that they hold while on their mission. The women are all called Sister, because they don't hold the priesthood and because it acts as a reminder that we are all the children of God. I have some guesses as to why it's done this way, but I'm not sure.

***Okay, so I don't really remember what the exact language was, but it was something like Croatian. Like I said, it was a while ago.


Starla said...

What do you do at the MTC?

Cecily Jane said...

I work in the cafeteria. Basically, I sit at the front door and make sure they swipe their cards. I also do food prep and other various things.