Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Find the proper way to steer a friend away from embarrassment

The incident happened in high school -- where self-image is worth one's weight in gold.

The day started off normally, but he had to blow his nose in the restroom.

Later that day, his friend told him he had something on his white T-shirt, which he had noticed throughout the entire day.

Apparently, some of Escalante's "nose blockage" fell onto his shirt in a place where he couldn't see it looking down.

Talk about embarrassment.

"It was the whole feeling that after the whole day has gone, you realize the number of people who could've seen that," the 25-year-old said. "I could do nothing about it because school was over."

If someone would have nicely pointed out his not-so-indiscreet social mishap, he could have been spared that moment of silent humiliation.

But pointing out potentially embarrassing situations is not the easiest thing to do for most people.

What do you say to your best friend who's grinning from ear to ear with a piece of broccoli stuck between her teeth?

Or that guy over there who is hitting on a girl while his fly is open?

The truth is no one wants to be embarrassed, and every day we jump through hoops to save face or at least salvage our dignity.

In Escalante's case, his friend thought it would be easier to leave him exposed and tell him about it later.

Cynthia Lett, the director and CEO of the Lett Group and executive director of the International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals, said the proper way to approach these situations is to let someone know regardless of the potential awkwardness.

"If somebody has something stuck in their teeth, first of all you have to say something -- otherwise you are leaving them out there to suffer the indignity," she said.

The process does not have to be awkward.

For bits of food stuck in teeth or on the face, Lett said make eye contact and point to yourself to show where the food is, and the other person will mimic you because that's what human beings do.

The same rule applies to a woman whose button is undone on her blouse.

"Using body language makes it a lot less obtrusive -- it's quick and to the point," she said.

There are some situations where eye contact should be avoided.

For men who have their flies open, she recommends putting yourself in a position where you don't embarrass them.

Then walk behind them and whisper in their ear, "Your fly is open." Then keep walking and do not make eye contact with them and don't mention it again.

The same rule applies to toilet paper stuck on the shoe.

As seen in Escalante's case, timing can be a tricky in these situations.

Lafayette resident Mark Baker often misses the opportunity.

"I usually miss that window where you can tell someone," the 24-year-old said. "If I wait until the end of the conversation, it would be embarrassing for the both of us."

Nursing student Brandy Green said it's easier to just not say anything.

"It's awkward having to talk to someone you don't know, " the 28-year-old said. "To tell them they are doing something embarrassing on top of that is like triple awkward."

She would rather avoid the situation and hope someone would return the favor.

"I'd rather not know who saw me," she said. "You don't have to accept the fact that people saw you."

Another nursing student, Lindsay Palmer said she usually plays it off to avoid the potential awkwardness of the moment.

If someone tells her she has something in her teeth, her reply is, "I know, I was waiting for someone to tell me, it's a test," the 28-year-old said.

Lett said that most people avoid addressing these situations and some people laugh.

However, mature adults try to fix it because they put themselves in the other person's position, she said.

"I've seen people whisper and giggle and share it with someone else," she said. "It discourages me when people do that 'cause it's really mean."

She said typically people who giggle and whisper are younger than 25.

"They don't have the frame of reference to think this could happen to me or they haven't been taught proper etiquette," she said.

Bookseller Sharon Capporelli doesn't have a problem tucking tags or ridding shoes of toilet paper.

"Most of us do the mirror thing, it's subtle and not in your face," the 51-year-old said. "If you rub your nose or touch your face, the other person will mimic you, whether it's conscious or not."

She even has advice for the toilet-paper-on-the-shoe dilemma.

"The least embarrassing thing is to walk behind them, step on it and let them pick it up," she said. "By and large most of these things are pretty petty anyway."

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