7 Types of Awkward Social Encounters You’ll Have—and How to Avoid Them

From office get-togethers to swanky shindigs, you can commit a party foul anywhere. These tips can help save you.

The awkward greeting

december-FEA_Book_SocialDisasters_US171204Peter Arckle for Reader's Digest
Smiling conveys openness and warmth, but if you immediately jump to a full-on grin, you will come across like a sales­person—here’s what your smile says about you. Instead, try this trick: Stand in front of a mirror and repeat the word “great” in a number of funny voices. This should make you smile. The next time you meet someone, think “great,” and you’ll flash a natural-­looking smile. Keep your arms uncrossed and your hands unclenched. If you can, stand up for greetings. If you’re in a booth at a restaurant and can’t get up, extend your hand and say, ­“Excuse me for not standing. Pleased to meet you.” Lastly, poor eye contact will make you seem dishonest, but don’t carry it too far. If you stare too long, you’ll make the other person uncomfortable.

The joke’s on you

december-FEA_Book_SocialDisasters_US171204Peter Arckle for Reader's Digest

This may sound obvious, but to tell a joke, you have to remember it. The biggest joke disasters happen when you launch into your humorous tale only to discover that you have not quite committed the pertinent ­details—for example, the punch line—to memory. So as soon as you hear a joke that you might want to tell later, write it down.

Telling a joke is not like reenacting The Barber of Seville. Be brief, upbeat, and to the point. Get to the punch line in as few steps as possible, but be sure you don’t leave out any important bits. Here are short jokes anyone can remember in a pinch.

Playing pass the baby

When you meet a new baby, there is a good chance that someone will ask whether you want to hold her. If you are the type that gets nervous about this, have faith. You do not randomly drop other things, so the odds are you can manage to cradle a newborn for two minutes. Just relax and let the baby rest in your arms. The main thing to remember is that you need to support her head: In the first four to six weeks, a baby’s head is actually heavier than the muscles of the neck can handle, and she won’t develop enough neck control to hold up her own head until she is three to four months old. It is not necessary to bring the baby a gift, although it’s not wrong to do so and will likely be appreciated. If the new arrival has siblings, bring something small for them, too, so they do not feel jealous. Here are some other bizarre facts about newborns you might not know.

Showdown at high spoon

december-FEA_Book_SocialDisasters_US171204Peter Arckle for Reader's Digest

If you’re not one for parties with formal table settings, there is a simple rule that will keep you from committing a cutlery gaffe. Start with the outermost fork and work your way in. There is an exception—a soupspoon may be needed before you get to the next fork on the far left—but it should be obvious that even the stiff set does not use forks for soup.

Bread is the most common way people mess up on etiquette, at least in the minds of those with an eye for such things. Instead of biting into a whole roll, put it on your bread plate and tear off bite-size pieces to butter and eat. You should also check your napkin use. Once everyone at your table is seated, unfold the napkin and lay it across your lap. When you finish eating and leave the table, loosely crumple your napkin to hide any stains and set it to the left of your plate. Make sure you never, ever commit one of these annoying eating habits.

Meet my ex–best friend’s lover’s son

You’re over 30 and have been with the same guy for three years, but you are not married. Calling him your boyfriend seems childish. Significant other is a euphemistic mouthful. Partner sounds as if you’re in business together, and lover seems too steamy. How do you introduce him? Along similar lines, how do you introduce your ex-husband? Or his sister, who is still your friend, or his biological children with his new wife?

Simple. Introduce the person by name. “Debbie, I’d like you to meet Ian. Ian, this is Debbie.” As the conversation progresses, the subject of how you know each other may come up naturally. You can decide then how much to disclose. Most people you meet will not need to know—nor will they even be that interested in—your family history and dramas.

Champagne and suffering

december-FEA_Book_SocialDisasters_US171204Peter Arckle for Reader's Digest

You do not want the bubbly bottle to be vertical when you’re opening it, or you might shoot yourself in the face. If it is too close to horizontal, however, the gas will float up and form a bubble in the bottle’s shoulder. When you remove the cork, the bubble will expand all at once and shoot the liquid out of the neck. It looks impressive, but it’s messy, and you’ll waste some expensive (or even cheap) champagne. So the angle you’re looking for is 45 degrees. This tilt will ensure that the gas stays in the neck.

Still, just to be sure, do not aim the bottle directly at any person or anything fragile—it is considered a social faux pas to destroy your aunt Minnie’s collection of Precious Moments figurines. To avoid losing your grip and accidentally dropping the bottle on your feet, twist the bottle rather than the cork.

These are the wine terms you should probably know by now.

Post-party disorder

Peter Arckle for Reader's Digest

Dehydration is one of the main causes of hangover symptoms. The best thing to do is to alternate each alcoholic drink with a glass of water. Here are some other ways to prevent a hangover while drinking.

The next day, drink a lot of water or an electrolyte solution (such as Gatorade). Even though you may not feel like it, eat a well-balanced breakfast. Alcohol raises your insulin levels, which can make you feel weak. Eating will raise your glucose levels. If you feel nauseated, snack on toast or crackers to settle your stomach. Avoid coffee; caffeine narrows your blood vessels and boosts your blood pressure, which will make your hangover worse. Also, as much as you may want pain relief, steer clear of ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen. All may aggravate inflammation in the stomach and liver caused by the alcohol.

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