I believe that my brain operates differently than everyone else’s in social situations. Well, not all social situations, mostly situations where I need to interact with another human to achieve the desired outcome. It’s as if my ability to think clearly and form intelligent thoughts ceases to exist (if that ability ever does actually exist).
As I write this, I have no trouble finding the right words to describe how I am feeling, events that have happened, etc. However, if you came to me and said you needed me to write about a specific story that you found funny… the words would disappear, I would begin to sweat and the anxiety would begin to crush my chest.
Still doesn’t make sense? Let me provide you with a few examples so you can laugh at me.
A prime example of a forced interaction that I am unable to handle is going through customs when traveling internationally. I know that a lot people get nervous and that it is something that needs to be taken seriously. But, while I am never doing anything illegal when I approach a customs officer, I feel like George Jung attempting to smuggle cocaine from Columbia.
When they ask me questions, simple questions, I struggle to find the answer, the tone of my voice changes, and I speak in an odd staccato cadence.
Last summer, while traveling to Winnipeg, I had this fun exchange –
Customs Officer, “Where are you coming from today?”
“United States.” Obviously, you are in a car crossing the Canadian Boarder. The officer just stares.
“Minnesota.” License plate probably gave that one away. Still staring. This is my nightmare.
“Maplegrove,” I shout, making it one word rather than two while my wife cringes in the passenger seat.
My wife and I were on our way to upstate New York from Montreal, driving again. This time, I was determined to act like a normal human being. I was practicing my answers as I pulled up to the gate.
Everything is going great. I answered all questions perfectly.
The Customs Officer hands me our passports and says, “have a great vacation.”
“You too…” I say, as I start to pull away slowly something clicks in my brain and I cannot let it go.
Awkward mode, activate…
When I am about fifteen feet passed the customs booth, I stick my head out of the car window and shout, “you’re not going on vacation!”
And it’s not just at customs that this happens.
Another instance occurred on the same trip to Winnipeg mentioned above. We were returning to the United States… Minnesota… Maple Grove.
We stop at a gas station next to a Tim Hortons that is full service to fill up the car for the trip home. Now, in my entire driving career, I have never been to a full service gas station… this was DEFCON 1 in my brain. Here is how it went down…
The gas station attendant walks to my window and says, “what can I do for you?”
“Just getting gas.” I answer. Maybe this won’t be that bad.
“How much?” This is a curve ball that I was not anticipating.
Oh no, how do I convert gallons to liters? Maybe he knows…
“Well, this car holds about 16 gallons… what’s that in liters?”
He gives me a confused and irritated look, then says, “I don’t know.”
Of course he doesn’t, you idiot, why would he? What do I do…?
Meanwhile, my wife is whispering, “just fill it up… just fill it up.”
I hear her, but I am not comprehending what she is saying. Then, I decide to go with this intelligent question.
He is smiling now, “Umm, I have no idea.”
What’s average? That is what I came up with? Should I just drive away…?
My wife nudges me with her elbow, obviously embarrassed that she is married to me, and says, “Just say ‘fill it up.'”
“Oh, just fill it up!”
“Sounds good.” He walks to the pump, then to the gas tank. I am trying to figure out what just happened when he shouts from the rear of the car, “can you pop the gas tank?”
Still embarrassed and panicked, I quickly mash my finger on the button to open the gas tank.
He shouts from the rear again, “Uh, that’s your trunk.”
I pressed the wrong button, perfect, I press the correct button and shout, “Sorry!”
My wife and I sat, shaking our heads.
But, there is nothing else that I can do. It is the way that I am. I can tell jokes when just casually mingling with friends or strangers but, if someone asks me to tell a specific joke or do something else that they though was funny, I clam up and get awkward.
If you have the same problem, just know that you are not alone. I am out here making an awkward mess daily.
Telling cashiers at the movie theater to also enjoy the movie.
Not using coupons because I am to afraid that I will mess it up.
And, finally, eating or drinking whatever is brought to me at restaurants because there is no way in hell I would ever correct the waitress.
All the while trying to find the right answer to the question my wife most frequently asks me, “why are you so awkward?”