How To Handle Embarrassing Conversations

September 13
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My father once attended a wedding where delicious traditional Cuban food was served at the reception. After chowing down on plantains, mojo chicken, and beans and rice, he made his rounds; saying hello to the people he knew and introducing himself to those he didn’t, then he excused himself to the bathroom to wash his hands. His germaphobia served him well that evening, because as he smiled at himself in the mirror above the sink, he noticed a large piece of black bean skin trespassing on an incisor.

Not one of the wedding guests whom my dad had flashed his pearly whites at informed him — or even hinted at — the obvious dark invader. Alerting another person that something is awry with their being is a very gray area of the social behavior code. Our brain ranks each offense on a scale from Point That Out to I’ll Just Let Them Discover That On Their Own. Of course, the rules bend a little based on how well you know the person. My husband regularly points out when I have food in my teeth. (It is almost always green and definitely smack dab in the middle.) If mouse traps were as good at catching mice as my teeth are at trapping kale, America would be a rodent-free country.

Since I have lived with this affliction for years, I have vowed to always tell people when they have food in their teeth. No one is leaving lunch with avocado in their grill on my watch. What good comes from keeping that info on lockdown? You are not the only person who will see this. After you part ways, everyone your friend speaks with will know they said “yes” to fresh ground pepper on their salad. If you think you’re sparing their feelings of dying from embarrassment when you break the news, just think of how devastating it will be when they stumble upon that peppercorn three hours later. It’s just the right thing to do. Furthermore, you gain points as a cool ass person. You stepped up and saved them from public humiliation. Technically you could say they owe you one. . . but let’s try and keep this as the Good Samaritan act it was intended to be.

Food in teeth is a fairly easy misfortune to mention, but the comfort level changes with the location of the offense. Take for example a lazy zipper. Unless you are very comfortable with someone knowing you have been staring at their crotch, you probably let this go unmentioned. A significant other will understand when you tell them to XYZ (eXamine Your Zipper, as we said in middle school, when staring at crotches was a favorite past time), but it’s highly unlikely that you will point to your boss’s down yonder and say, “I think your zipper’s down?” Because it’s always easier to phrase things like this as a question, since it makes the other person feel better. The inflection at the end of the sentence says, Your zipper is definitely down, but possibly I’m mistaken or maybe you knew it all along and this is part of an elaborate prank. Anyway, it’s no big deal and these spreadsheets are super awesome so let’s start the meeting now. K?

But if I’m being honest, the worst is boogers. There is no delicate way to tell another adult human that they have a boogie peeking out a nostril. I just stare and stare at that booger while they talk — only half hearing what that person is saying — as my brain runs through a list of the various ways I could break the news to them. Inside my head, it sounds like this:

Holy shit. I can’t let them walk around with that booger.
 It’s fine. Who cares? Just concentrate on what they’re saying.
Ugh. It’s so not cool to not tell them. I mean, I would want to know.
Just say, “you have a little something. . .” and as you trail off motion to your own nose.
GAH!!! You’re right. But I can’t. I want to so bad, but I can’t make the words leave my mouth.
If you don’t tell them you are going to be cursed with a boogery nose for the next five years. I’m pretty sure that’s how karma works.
*Sigh* Why couldn’t they just have pepper in their teeth? That would make this so much easier.

It’s amazing the agony we endure to spare another person’s feelings — even if the attempt to protect them leaves them more exposed. The moral of this story is: do your fellow human a solid when their face gets jacked up, and the same favor will be returned to you. Plus always travel with a mirror, toothpicks, and a small pack of tissues. Which is more practical advise than moral, but you get the idea and it’s just good hygiene.

Photo credit: mintchipdesigns/Pixabay

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