Monthly Archives: July 2009

Etiquette for Awkward Situations — Vol 2

At a BBQ

Awkward Situation: You attend a summer BBQ in which the host declined your offer to contribute food or drink.  You normally would bring something anyway, but didn’t want to presume that she would be lacking something.  When you arrive, everyone else has brought a dish or bottle of wine.

Solution: You are now the official helper.  Be at your host’s side when she’s serving food, offering to help with anything in the kitchen.  Be the first to initiate cleanup and offer to pick up any refills at the store.  It might be a little much, but you should even offer to start on dishes.  If she refuses your help, send a bottle of wine with your thank you note, and be sure to invite her for dinner to return the hospitality.

At the Bar

Awkward Situation: You, or a friend of yours, is treating your group to a couple rounds of beer.  You notice that no one in the group is offering to get the next round, and frankly this is getting expensive.

Solution: The simple solution is to cease the offer.  The absence of drinks will always prompt someone to get the next one.  If you’re truly on a budget but would like the evening to continue, simply say in a congenial manner, “Alright, who’s eager to impress by getting the next round?”

At a Wedding

Awkward Situation: You are attending an outdoor wedding and everything is going swimmingly…especially the sweat in your underarms/back/enter-awkward-place-here.

Solution: Against all odds, get up and move.  While it would seem that sitting at your dinner table would be coolest, standing upright and allowing a breeze to do it’s work is much more effective (especially for the ladies…hello skirt!).  Gentlemen, you are completely free to remove that jacket, but the tie stays.  If you need instant cool, grab a beer.

At the Spa

Awkward Situation: You are getting a pedicure and the woman working on your nails just asked you a polite question, but you cannot understand her accent so you have no idea what she just said. You feel horrible and racist and completely useless.

Solution: See if you can catch the eye of a person sitting near you, or another pedicurist.  Emphasize that you are completely mortified that you aren’t sure what was said, and simply repeat back a question that sounds reasonable for the situation.  Most times someone will chime in with what was actually said, and you’ll be saved.  Huge smiles and a tip go a long way, too.

At Dinner

Awkward Situation: You are having dinner with a new friend who recalls exactly what you do at work with great clarity, but you cannot even remember where he works, much less what he does.

Solution: Generalities are best.  Ask open ended questions like, “How busy has work been for you?” or “What are your hours like these days?” that will lead them to talk about their job, wherein you can piece it together.

If you have an awkward situation that needs addressing, please email me at  No guarantees on solutions, but two heads are better than one.


Filed under Good WORD (Etiquette)


In 2005 I attended a student retreat in Gettysburg, PA with a number of friends from the University of Washington.  Days earlier we attended events in Washington, DC (the “other” Washington, as it’s called around here) and then headed to rural Pennsylvania for leadership training with students from around the country.

But that is not all we did.

After the first meet-and-greet day, and all of the awkwardness that comes with it, everyone pretty much settled on with whom they would spend any voluntary time.  In fact, we were given four free hours the next morning to do whatever we wanted:  mistake number one.   We were also given a choice of steak or crab cakes for dinner that evening, and I chose crab cakes:  mistake number two, though I wouldn’t find that out until later.

The leaders suggested we invest in our country’s history and take a guided tour of Gettysburg.  I had already done it, and it’s something one needn’t do twice in a decade.  The rest of my crew hadn’t done it, but for some reason didn’t find it necessary to learn about the Civil War.  That left us perusing the brochure stand to find a viable alternative.

What a relief that the good people of the Carroll Valley Resort had included the brochures to every antique and quilt store in a 50 mile radius!  And look at the literature on the ten thousand museums on the Civil War — every college sophomore’s dream!

Skipping past those thrilling options, our eyes settled on a tourist’s heaven-on-earth: a brochure for Boyd’s Bear Country.

“Welcome to Boyd’s Bear Country!” it read.  “A picturesque country setting of the world’s largest teddy bear store, perfect for a family day trip or weekend destination.  Yer heart will melt as ya look at all the lil’ bear cubs.  Enjoy the day with those you luv!”

It was like all our minds together formed one thought bubble above our heads that read “WHAT THE…?”

We immediately got into the car.

Annie, Hunter, Casey and I were on our way to the most heinous tourist trap imaginable.  Who needed Gettysburg?

After a ten minute drive through winding roads lined with endless fields, we arrived to a parking lot that rivaled Costco’s in size.  We stared in wonder at the largest red barn any of us had ever seen (but really, how many red barns have we Seattleite’s encountered?).

We walked inside and were immediately visually assaulted by so many thousands of stuffed bears, even the Berenstain’s would have turned and run back to the car.

Hunter:  “This is like the mothership of bad taste.”

Annie:  “I don’t know whether to be horrified or amazed.”

Casey:  “Get me the HELL out of here.”

Abby:  (Stunned silence)

Allow me to paint a picture of just how insane the entire concept of Boyds Bear Country truly is.  As we walked from room to room, we saw bears in various human situations – at school, at a picnic, sitting around the Christmas tree at home.  Things went from appalling to creepy when we found the Boyd’s Teddy Bear Nursery.  It was built to look EXACTLY like a real nursery – one stands on one side of the glass looking into a room of infant incubators filled with STUFFED BABY BEARS.  The nurse on duty (yes, this is someone’s actual job) walks up to you and asks if you’d like to hold a bear to consider for adoption.  I briefly considered poking her in the face to see if she too, was stuffed.

However, the real low point came when we happened upon “Peeker Boo’s Folkus Pocus Portrait Studio” (I couldn’t make these names up).  We saw cute families getting their photos taken together against a typical brown backdrop.  The photographer was printing out some results so we walked over and took a look.

It pains me even to write this.

When the picture came out of the printer, the nice family’s bodies were gone, and their heads were superimposed onto STUFFED BEAR BODIES.  Bear, bear, bear – human face, human face, human face.  It was all I could do not to light my hair on fire.

We immediately signed up to be photographed.  How else would anyone back at Carroll Valley believe that we had seen such atrocities?

After wandering around with our eyes glazed over as we toured the FOUR FLOORS of bears, it was finally our turn to have our bodies replaced with bear fur.  There was serious debate as to who should get which kind of bear body, but given that we were all different in size, it quickly became obvious.  Hunter was stocky, Annie was shortest, I was average, and Casey had dark hair and eyes – obviously the kitten bear.

As I sat to have my picture taken, I realized this was one of those moments in life when I’m sure I have left Earth and entered an entirely different planet comprised of a wack-job species.  How else to explain that in some boardroom a group of people decided there needed to be a Wal-Mart sized barn full of bears and people who take pictures to look like them?

The resulting picture caused such a scene of laughter and hysteria between the four of us that you would have thought we had just won the lottery and discovered it was tax-exempt.  That’s right, we were all going to split $65 million and the government wasn’t getting a dime.  We were THAT ecstatic.

Except for the cashier.  The tears of laughter streaming down our faces probably caused her to feel somewhat suicidal due to her form of employment.

And to think we almost passed this up to tour Gettysburg.

Bear Country


Filed under AwkWORD (Humor)

House of Worship

I will be the first to admit that the Coldplay concert on July 11 was epic.  It was intense, beautiful and incredibly well done.  Best of all, it was the only concert I have ever experienced that filled me with an indescribable joy from start to finish.   The music was euphoric; even their more somber songs were played with an air of triumph.  I have never seen anything like it.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I was ecstatic the entire set – literally jumping up and down for hours.  From the moment they entered the stage, I started screaming and bouncing at the sight of my favorite band.  Seeing them at The Gorge was ideal – it’s been named the best outdoor concert venue in the US, and that’s no exaggeration.  It’s stunningly gorgeous (no pun intended).

What happened next gave me pause:  during the first and second songs, I had tears in my eyes.  Two times, without warning, I felt like I was about to cry.  This had never happened before and I stopped jumping around for a moment to take stock.

Why would this make me emotional?  Why on earth was I acting like a teenage girl at a Beatles concert in 1965?  Chris Martin is NOT that good-looking.

Suddenly it occurred to me that it wasn’t the band that was sending me over the top, it was the collective experience.  Here I was among 30,000 people all singing the same lyrics, all fans of the same music, all happy together for three hours.  Where else can this be found?

Certainly not in Seattle.

Statistically, Seattle is the least-churched city in the US.  Given that absence, it’s no wonder that people are drawn to gathering by the thousands for a common interest such as a concert.   Where else in Seattle can one experience the community and fellowship of coming together to adore a single entity?  Where else can one stand among strangers and feel like you all have something in common?  Even sporting events can’t compare – they always involve competition.  The person sitting next to you could HATE the team you are rooting for.  At a concert, you are all there because you love the same performer.

As I was thinking about this, I had a flashback.  Two years ago, my father-in-law attended a Dave Matthews Band concert at The Gorge with me, Mike and all of our siblings.  Afterward, we eagerly asked him what he thought of it.  He paused, and then said, “It was a worship service.  Idolatry, really.”

Not critical, not positive or negative, just fact.

At first I thought, you can’t be serious.  What, we’re bowing down to gods made of stone? But he explained that today’s idols are really anything you put before God.  That could be musicians, actors, comic books, even your own beauty.

Then it was obvious; what I was experiencing was akin to going to a massive worship service — of Coldplay.

For me, it’s not too much of a stretch to fall into idol worship…but that’s less because of the music than because of their celebrity.  When they entered a smaller stage inside the crowd, just thirty feet from us, what did I do?  I bolted straight for them to get as close as the burly security guard would let me.  Why?  Because I idolize their talent and success.  And because, hello, the lead singer is married to Gwyneth Paltrow.  Need I write more?

It is fantastic to recognize that the music Coldplay creates is brilliant, but I have to remember the ability to create that music is God-given.   To recognize it as anything less is idol worship.  So while I’m amazed by what I’m hearing, I’m also thinking how incredible it is that we are created to create.  And that was the difference, I believe: I was in awe of the talent the Lord gives people, rather than being emotionally in awe of Chris, Will, Guy and Jonny.  And who wouldn’t be, with lyrics like this that make you feel invincible?

“Oh love, don’t let me go/Won’t you take me where the street lights glow?/I can hear rain coming like a serenade of sound/Now my feet won’t touch the ground.”  (Life in Technicolor II)

After considering these thoughts as the band played on, I had one of those ridiculous Christian-panic moments where I was thinking, “Now am I supposed to interpret all the lyrics through this lens?  Do I have to analyze everything to see how God is involved?”  No, I don’t.  In fact, when I have those thoughts, God is probably looking at me thinking, LIGHTEN UP.

So I am free to enjoy the music.

“I can hear rain coming like a serenade of sound…now my feet won’t touch the ground.”

Summer 09 050


Filed under One WORD (Current Events)