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I was watching something on the telly and realized I must be part British. Not cool British like James Bond or Paul McCartney. Or even Johnny Rotten. I’m just like an awkward old extra in a Miss Marple episode.

I’m on record as not being a hugger. For me, a chin nod with a pleasant expression is the same as someone else’s bear hug. I just cringe about how I’m supposed to interact.

Here’s one, what if I said hello to someone and then see them again five minutes later?  Do they get the same hello? Or maybe just a smile? Do you go over the top and exclaim, “We meet again!” Or maybe you act like you got a call and start talking into the phone just to get past this very awkward second encounter.

The fake phone call is right out of the British playbook. They’ve got themselves on speed dial just to avoid bro hugs, air kisses, and just about every other human interaction. They’re socially paralyzed. They feel awkward to start with, and the last thing they want to do is make others feel awkward. Exactly.  

The north of England is an exception where people are friendly. “I know,” says a British woman, “that’s why I moved away.”

I assumed that the Brits were snobs. I was in Portugal a couple years back and it seemed more like Liverpool with all the tourists from the UK. You’d pass a couple of these aristocratic hoity-toities on a quiet street and they wouldn’t even glance your way. I wasn’t expecting a Texas howdy, but it would’ve been nice to get a tiny chin nod or a nanosecond of eye contact. What’d I get? Nuthin.

These frigging limeys. Acting like they won the Revolutionary War. A weird thought to be having in Portugal but I digress…

I’ve complained about them ever since —never realizing they have an affliction.

This television series, Very British Problems, (yes, they made an entire series of how screwed up they are), tries to explain all this. Basically, the Brits think about greetings far more than they should, so they end up unsure and frozen.

After pulling to a stop, they sit in their cars and wait before getting out because they see someone they know nearby. They hope the person will move on just so they don’t have to say hello.

If they’re on the their way home and see a neighbor putting out the garbage or taking in the mail, they’ll walk around the block until the coast is clear. They insist they’re not being unfriendly, they’re just trying to keep the awkwardness for all to a minimum.

It’s normal to me. I mean, if you’re in Stop and Shop and you say hello to someone you barely know, you spend the rest of time strategizing how not to go down the same aisle again.

I’m not the only one. Somebody I know won’t even go in the store if she sees someone she knows going in ahead of her. She’ll just shop the next day or do other errands elsewhere.

I hate when you pass someone from behind that you kinda know. Do you turn all the way around to say hello? That might be a stretch of the implicit understanding you two have. That might be breaking some kind of boundary. Or do you roll past them and act like you didn’t see them? Then you run the risk that they know what you did. You might be twenty or thirty feet past them but you’re wondering if they think you’re a snob.

It’s endless. And if you manage the hello, it’s not necessarily over. I mean, you say hello to someone often enough that you feel you should know them better but you don’t. You’ve really just been saying hello for a while and you’ve got no idea how you even met. Or maybe you’ve never really met but for some reason you’ve been saying hello for a long time. You’re afraid to have an actual conversation because you’ve got nothing to work with. You’ve been saying hello for so long there must be something there. You must be forgetting your kids went to school together or you were in their wedding party.

I know, you’re Americans, I don’t expect you to understand this. But if I don’t say hello, no offense, I’m just afraid of making you feel awkward.

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