March 20, 2019

AKABAS | The 10 Commandments of Awkwardly Running Into People on Campus

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You’re walking straight down College Ave. and find that someone else is walking straight at you. You both realize a bit too late that an unfortunate collision is imminent, so you each try to get out of the other person’s way at the last second. You both move in the same direction. Then you both hop back the other way. You keep side stepping back and forth into oblivion until one of you gets fed up and just plows through the other so that you can both get on with your lives.

Wouldn’t it be nice if society had a rule stating that everyone should just move to the right when walking straight toward another person? Millions of collisions could be prevented annually.

It would be similarly helpful to have a set of rules for running into people you know on campus, a situation that is occasionally pleasant but more commonly the epitome of awkwardness.

A quick, but important, note: The rules of engagement for these interactions are completely different if you’re at an event or a meeting, rather than a chance encounter on the Arts Quad. It is much less acceptable to head nod at an event, and a conversation is not only expected in most cases, but it actually has much greater odds of being fruitful — you’re in the same place as other people because you actually have something in common.

The 10 Commandments

  1. If thou doth see an acquaintance walking towards thee from a distance of greater than 50 feet, thou shall look away and pretend to not notice the acquaintance until thou and the person are separated by less than 10 feet.

If you see one of your best friends from really far away, then this is your canvas. You can do pretty much anything (shout out their name to embarrass them, stare them down the whole time you’re walking towards each other, pretend not to see them for the joke, etc.).

But if you see someone you don’t know well from really far away… well, that’s just the worst. Making eye contact is simply not an option. As soon as you see them approaching, you can look down, admire the scenery, or take out your phone, but you have to decide quickly and commit. Then, if you time it correctly, you’ll look up when they’re in close range and give a head nod or a simple “hey.” As you pass them, you’ll wonder if they also saw you from afar and pretended not to see you. The answer will almost certainly be yes.

  1. If thou has never once voluntarily hung out with someone, thou shall head nod to them rather than initiating conversation.  

If you never once during your entire time at Cornell, no matter how bored or lonely you’ve been sometimes, thought it was worth it to go out of your way to talk to a given person, and they never once during their entire time at Cornell, no matter how bored or lonely they’ve certainly been sometimes, thought it was worth it to go out of their way to talk to you, why the f*** would the two of you talk just because you happened to end up at the same place at the same time? You may even like the person. It doesn’t matter. You might think, “The only reason I’m not friends with this person is because we never hang out.” The more likely truth is, “The reason I never hang out with this person is because we’re not friends.”

  1. Thou shall not respond to a verbal greeting with a head nod.

The head nod is a very versatile gesture. You can use it for people who you want to talk to but don’t have the time, or for people who you have the time to talk to but you just don’t want to. A little eyebrow movement and a chin raise is almost never a bad idea if you’re the initiator of the interaction, but if someone says “hi” to you, the head nod is no longer an option. That’s just rude. It’s the face-to-face equivalent of leaving someone on read.

  1. If thou doth head nod to someone for an entire semester but never converse with the person, the following semester thou shalt no longer head nod.

It’s nice to head nod to people who are part of your life, and walking through campus having others acknowledge your existence feels good as well. But sometimes you get to a place where your entire relationship with someone is based on the fact that you head nod to each other once every couple months, and at some point it just has to stop. There’s no need to be head nodding to someone who’s in two of your classes if you’ve never actually talked to them, much less that one guy who’s never been in any of your classes but you’re somehow aware of their existence exclusively because you happen to see them all the time when walking between classes. If you run into them on campus, you should pass each other, neither of you should say hi, and nothing will happen. Life goes on.

  1. If thou hath only interacted with someone whilst drunk, thou shalt not be responsible for greeting the person.
  2. If thou hath ghosted a date or was ghosted by a date over text, thou shalt ghost them in real life as well.

Walks to, from, and between classes should be stress-free situations. There’s no need to introduce potential hazards. It’s hard enough to decide on the spot if someone should get a head nod, a wave, a “hey,” a conversation, or none of the above. Trying to do that in the above special cases is simply too much to handle.

  1. If thou doth see someone who is not a douchebag with whom thou used to be good friends or with whom thou lived, thou must initiate conversation.

Unless you’re actively avoiding interacting with someone annoying (which I fully support), why not chat it up for a few minutes with an old friend? The memories of when you used to be tight will come flooding back, which is guaranteed to brighten up your day. The only thing you’ve got to keep in mind, though, is that you must end the conversation by offering to catch up with the person over a meal, regardless of whether you actually intend to follow through.

  1. Thou shalt not open the conversation with a question if thou is in a hurry.

Humans do this thing where we ask people how’s it going when we don’t actually want to know how it’s going for them. But some people aren’t in on it and try to answer the question you quickly shoot them in passing. How anyone could have missed this societal memo is beyond me, but these people very much exist. You don’t want to hear about their upcoming prelim, maybe ever, but definitely not if you’re trying to complete the Morrison Hall to Arts Quad run in under 12 parsecs. So if you don’t have time to hear about how their day is going, maybe just don’t ask them.

  1. If thou doth accidentally respond to a wave or “hello” that wasn’t meant for thee, thou shalt run away at top speed like Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

It happens to the best of us. You see a wave from someone facing your direction and you just wave back without thinking. Should you have given a quick glance over your shoulder to make sure that the wave wasn’t actually meant for someone else? Absolutely. But you were acting on your instincts, so don’t beat yourself over it. Just get the hell out of there because damn is this mortifying.

  1.  Thou shalt not hold a grudge against another person for not responding to thy greeting… thou art not the f***ing Queen of England.

I generally prefer to head nod or say “hey” rather than wave — an unreciprocated head nod can pass as a neck stretch, and a “hey” can pass as clearing of the throat, but if you wave then everyone sees it. An unanswered wave is equally, and tremendously, embarrassing whether the other person genuinely doesn’t see you or if they intentionally ignore you.

But don’t hold a grudge. If you ever make the same mistake, you would certainly hope to be forgiven.