I had a weird encounter at lunch today, and it was entirely self-inflicted. I am so completely embarrassed at myself I can’t even. It’s not the actual encounter, or the error, it’s the masochistic perpetration of both that I can’t quite get my head around. I put it down to being “terribly English” which is the excuse I usually deploy to console myself when I behave like an irredeemable knob but when I was told my partner what had happened, H was like “no dude, that’s not English, that’s just you.”

Here’s what happened.

I was in the queue at my favourite deli and the woman next to me accidentally hustled a bit close. Apologies were exchanged in the usual fashion and, as I looked at her, I was conscious of a sense of recognition. She looked like the wife of my friend J, or rather she looked like the wife of my friend J if I hadn’t seen her for about two years, which was about right considering they moved down to London about two years ago, and although I’ve met up with J since, I haven’t seen her.

“Oh hi!” I trilled, seeing recognition light up her face in return. “How are you?”

“Great! How are you?”

“Great! I thought you’d moved to London?”

Small frown. “Um, no, still living here.”

And that was when I realised, I had no fucking clue who this woman was. And, yes, she looked a bit like J’s wife, which was why she seemed familiar, but she was not, in fact, J’s wife. Or the wife of anybody I knew. In short: a complete and total stranger.

And that was when I had my second realisation: she didn’t have a fucking clue who I was either.

Except … we’d sort of mutually pantomimed recognition and, indeed, delight. So we were stuck with it, and each other, in this deli queue, clutching our pots of peculiarly delicious curried tofu (it is that sort of deli – it takes food that should be totally wrong, like the gluten free brownie, and makes it inexplicably delightful).

And it was just awful, the way we just built up this appalling fiction that we knew each other quite well, because it was marginally less awkward than the alternative.

So I’d be like “And are you still at …?” (doing that vocal lift at the end of my sentence) and she’d be like “Archaeology, but no, I’ve moved on.” And then I’d ask the sort of questions a concerned friend would ask about a new job. And then I’d Sherlock Holmes the fact she had a wedding ring and I’d be “So how’s….?” (vocal lift) and she’d be “John. Oh he’s fine.”

And so on. And so forth.

And as it went on I could see the screams trapped in her eyes, probably reflecting the screams trapped in mine, and I kept thinking to myself: For God’s sake, AJH, just admit it, save yourself, save this woman, all you have to say is: “we don’t actually know each other, do we?”
Except I couldn’t. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t. It just felt socially and personally impossible.

So we parted company about ten excruciating minutes later, swapping vague intentions to meet up again soon.

Two total strangers performing the ritual of social avoidance that is the non-specific coffee date.

Why? Just. God. Why?

What is wrong with me?


25 Responses to srsly?

  1. syleegurl says:

    Oh god…I LAUGHED AND LAUGHED AND LAUGHED at this!!! (my co-workers think I am insane…and that’s beyond just my outburst. ha!) This is so hysterical. But, I have to be honest…if you had admitted to not knowing her TEN MINUTES into it, it would be even more awkward…like I literally cringed when I thought of you doing that after all your efforts to pretend otherwise. And H is right…your are painfully polite sometimes and I think this is just an AJH’ism. 🙂

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Well, I’d rather you were laughing than weeping into your keyboard 🙂

      It was the very awkwardness of just saying “oh fuck it let’s be honest” long after the be honest opportunity window had closed that appealed to me.

      Like I was some crazy social iconoclast 🙂

      But I basically lacked the balls. I think if you pretend to know somebody for ten minutes you probably don’t get to tear down what you’ve built 🙂

  2. Hanne says:

    ROFL! Priceless my dear! 😀

  3. msaggie says:

    I do have mistaken identity boo-boos too – usually I see someone about 10-20 feet away and wave at them with a big smile, and they tentatively wave back, and then when they come a bit nearer, I realise it’s not the person I know. I just go “Oh I am so sorry – I thought you were someone else”, giggle a bit, and feel a bit of a doofus. But I must admit I have never talked for 10 minutes with a total stranger while pretending I actually know them, and they are frantically trying to place me as well…Maybe we have to learn to be more stand-off-ish? I am very sorry for the agony you and the other person went through….how many new grey hairs do you think have sprouted on your head because of that incident?!!

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I am quite bad, in general, at recognising people at a distance and, apparently, up close if they look vaguely like someone I know. But I occasionally do that thing if seeing someone waving, waving back happily and then discovering they were waving at someone standing behind you. That always makes me die completely disproportionately to how actually embarrassing it is. I mean, people do that all the time right?

      Thankfully we both appeared to have survived, and I haven’t spotted any grey hairs, which I’m vain enough to be pleased about 🙂 Actually I think I’m that horrible stage of being middle aged where grey hair is encroaching first on my facial hair. I see it gleaming sometimes when I’m too lazy too shave.

  4. Aija says:

    Ohmygod, laughing so hard! XD
    I can see it all too perfectly. Actually, I’ve done something similar. After which I’ve learned to say to the other person, “do we really know each other? Are you SURE? Who are you again?” I guess I prefer the awkward silence to guessing games with strangers. 😀

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I think rationally I would prefer awkward silence to Holmesian guessing games – but in practice the horror of the awkward silence strips my capacity of rational responses.

  5. Anne says:

    *swapping vague intentions to meet up again soon.*
    I think more than any other part of your story, THIS is the part that struck me as the MOST odd. I can see some of the “oh, crap, i’ve totally mistaken this person for someone I know , so let me wing it a second here,” but the ” let’s pretend this should be ongoing” part, just blows me away. Of course, I seldom ever say to people upon departing company, that we should meet up again. I’m usually more of a “Well, it was GREAT to see you. I had fun. Thanks for coming.” Stop. The end. But maybe that’s more about me not liking to make plans, or not trusting the fates to let any plans I DO make stand.
    Anywho, this story was delightful, especially since I missed your Weekly Friday contribution to Dear Author. 🙁
    Any chance of my email box seeing the delivery of the 5000k post story tidbit you mentioned a bit ago?

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Oh gosh, I thought I’d sent it to you. *scowls at gmail*. Let me fix that.

      Also, yes, I’m sad to say my DA days are over. Jane no longer felt my writing fitted the ethos of the site.

      You’re also making me feel like a pretty terrible human now. I think there’s just a social convention either in England, or in my social group, whereby if you run into someone you don’t see very often, especially if you used to see them fairly regularly, you vocalise your intentions to drop them an email or give them a call … and then never do. I don’t think this is completely intentional. Like, it’s not cold blooded, balls-to-the-wall hypocrisy. I just think by that point life has caused you to naturally and gently drifted apart so it takes an actual effort to re-establish the friendship. Aaaand nobody gets round to it 🙂

      Obviously when I’m with my actual friends and loved ones, and I say “let’s meet up again next week” I do, in fact, mean it.

      • Anne says:

        WHAT THE?!?!? No more happy Friday book reviews?! 🙁 This makes me very sad. Didn’t fit the ethos? What? Too witty? Too thought out? Too not from a woman’s point of view? I was really looking forward to reading your reviews of a couple of the books you’d put on your list, per my suggestion. Sigh…well, that sucks.

        And, to clarify, I wasn’t suggesting you were an awful person for making vague future plans with the stranger. Everybody I know does that. I understand it’s meaningless. I was simply kinda amused and bewildered that the illusion of an acquaintance you had fostered in that short an amount of time, had penetrated your thinking [ or whatever] deep enough that that type of instinctive farewell habit actually kicked in.

        • Alexis Hall says:

          Oh gosh, it’s fine, it’s her site, her ethos, her rules. I’m sorry to go though – I’ll miss the discussions. I’ve actually been re-homed by Heroes and Heartbreakers, so the story has a happy ending. I’ll be writing less regularly, but here I am talking about Julie James:

          I was only teasing about strangers and vague plans. You’re right it was the absurdity cherry on the idiot cake. I think it was that was pretended to know each other but not like each other sufficiently to actually carry through on a meet-up plan 😉

  6. Dallas says:

    The fact that both of you kept up the pretense–that between the two of you, someone didn’t eventually say “oh I’m sorry, I thought you were someone else”–is what makes this so hilarious.

    However, the more important question is, do folks in the U.K. really say “dude”? Really? (I allude to your first paragraph.)

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Yes, I think I met someone as socially anxious as me and we just mutually combusted to create this intentional vortex of doom 🙂

      Well, H and I call each other ‘dude’ fairly regularly but … as a sort of ironic and faintly bizarre endearment I think? Like our own private ‘darling’.

      And the nerdier corners of my friendship group also use it. I think it’s one of those things you start saying as a joke, and then gets stuck.

  7. Oh this was hilarious!!!! Maybe because hypothetically I might have potentially been involved in a few events like that before.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Oh, have you really? Share the shame. Enquiring minds want to know 🙂

      • Deb says:

        This is an old post of yours but response was necessary…Even if no one see’s it except the cyper ghosts!

        Just finished a few of your books this past month,and at the point where your on the 5th by an author you become curious(stalkerish) and go see who your reading!

        yeah…so THIS happens to me ALL the time. Thinking I know people that I really don’t know. “socially anxious” – hadn’t self identified but see it.

        I have finally arrived at the point where now after a few minutes when I realize I have no idea who I’m speaking to I just say…”Hey, Hi again, I don’t think we really know each other but you’ve been really friendly! I’m Deb and I think we were meant to meet.”

  8. LOL! Oh my… The worst is when people approach me in public and start jabbering away and I *know* them from somewhere but because they’re out of context I don’t have a frigging clue… And eventually they see my slightly pained expression and realise that I am CLUELESS. But I’ve reached the point where I just tell them flat out I have the attention span of a goldfish when it comes to names.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Meeting people out of context is always completely terrifying. I remember when I was … very early in my career, so about 24 maybe, I was out clubbing with some friends and I ran into one of my supervisees. He took one look at me and literally ran out of the club.

      That was when I realised I was officially Old.

  9. KindleRomance says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I agree with others that you’re just a nice person and couldn’t embarrass the person.

  10. syleegurl says:

    I still laugh when I think about this story. How many days later (???)…and I still chuckle…

    Like right now, sitting on the bus, I have a big-arse smile thinking about the scenario…

    Stay indoors and avoid the deli at all costs. 🙂

  11. g8torgrrl says:

    I can’t even imagine how you managed to maintain the facade for 10 minutes! lol I’m terrible about remembering people. Seriously, in college especially, I was notorious for it.

    Once I was in line at the bank and there was a guy, about my age, right behind me. At one point I happened to look back at him and he saw me, gave me great big smile and said “Hi!”. Very enthusiastically. I gave him a half-hearted smile while thinking *yikes, what a wierdo!* I turned right forward right away and kept waiting for the line to move forward. A minute or so later, the guy tapped me on the shoulder, so I turned to him, and he asked “You don’t remember me?”
    “Uh, no.” (I don’t like talking to strange men I don’t know, so I was probably pretty dismissive.) I turned back around and started praying for the DAMN TELLERS TO GO FASTER!!!
    He tapped my shoulder again, but before he could say anything at all, I snapped out “Look, we’ve never met!”
    A couple minutes of silence, then he asked “Aren’t you Susan?”
    That’s when I started to get that “oh, no” feeling. I turned and said “Yes, how do you know that?”
    “You’re friends with Rob Lee.”
    *Oh Crap* . “Yes, how do you know Rob?”
    “He’s my roommate. You’ve hung out at our place a few times now. That’s where we met.”
    *OH MY GOD!* My glorious, stupendous response? “Oh. Well, sorry I didn’t recognize you. I drink a lot.”

    And my friends have never let me live it down. \o/

  12. Pam says:

    I’m reading your older posts & this was so hilarious! Don’t know if you even look at these comments when it’s responding to something from this far back – But it reminds me a little of something that happened to my Aunt. She & her husband were waiting to be seated in a restaurant when she saw a woman across the room looking at her and smiling. She thought it must be someone she knew, so she waved & the woman waved back. Then my Aunt moved a little closer – and could see a man next to the woman & something clicked. My Aunt realized it was a reflection of herself & her husband in a full length mirror. She laughed so hard that she cried & couldn’t even get the words out to explain to her husband what had happened XD

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