As we eagerly look to return home, we must all be careful to remember that winter break is not only a time of great festivities, but also a time fraught with great danger. I speak, of course, of those awkward moments when you run into an old acquaintance at home and find you have nothing to talk about. These dreaded moments make winter break so stressful that by New Year’s Eve, you might begin to believe that your auld acquaintance should, in fact, be forgotten, and never brought to mind.
The possibilities for disaster are endless, especially for freshmen returning home for the first time. You might run into that girl you pined for all throughout high school, the one you professed your love to at graduation, thinking you’d never see her again. Or you might see that kid you don’t really like any more, the one who thinks you guys are still best buddies. Or the guy you had lots of classes with but whose name will, without a doubt, go Benedict Arnold on you and desert your brain just as you’re about to greet him. Or you might just run into someone, simply have nothing to talk about and consequently come across as utterly vapid or boring.
But friends, fear not. These situations are easy to avoid or defuse. You could pull a popular upperclassman strategy: Pretend you don’t actually have a winter break (the pretending part may or may not be necessary) and tell friends you’re holed up doing a “freshman thesis.”
When that excuse stops working, the number one rule is simple: Avoid public excursions to places like restaurants, movie theaters or shopping malls. These are among the most common locations to run into someone. And the more people you see, the higher your chances are of having to engage in conversation, which increases the probability you will be so flustered in your attempts to be polite that you mumble “I’m good, thank you” before later realizing that no one actually asked how you were. If you absolutely must go to a public gathering, remember the timeless adage “head down, chest in” and you’ll probably be okay.
“Head down, chest in” is not an infallible strategy, however. Occasionally you will meet someone who disregards this social cue and will approach you. When this happens, you must be prepared.
Take care to review your “friends from high school” list on Facebook and note who has gone to what college. The last thing you want to reply to “How’s Princeton?” with is an awkward “How’s ... your college?” or even worse, “How’s USC — I mean, UVA?” Flash cards might come in handy — you should be able to not only match colleges with names, but also list everyone that goes to each college. This will give you an extra half-minute of conversation as you ask about every person on your Facebook feed who goes to UVA.
If worst comes to worst and you have nothing to contribute to a conversation, just nod and mumble, “Yeah, yeah, that’s cool.” You must strike a fine line between sounding unintelligible enough to avoid a follow-up query and sounding clear enough that they’re too embarrassed to ask you to repeat yourself.
If you can’t get through a conversation by repeating that strategy over and over again, I guess you’re on your own. Don’t worry, though. If you really can’t engage in small talk without embarrassing yourself, it’s not like anyone will think you’re some Ivy League nerd who doesn’t know how to socialize. In the end, remember: Your mom still loves you.
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