As of late, society has adopted a curious fascination of the awkward. We laugh at Napoleon Dynamite and basically any Michael Cera character, and “that awkward moment when…” has become a popular introductory phrase for interesting Facebook statuses. But the word itself hasn’t changed very much and certainly hasn’t been changed into the kind of adjective you would want used to describe yourself; in fact, its definition remains deplorable: “lacking social graces or manners.”
Fortunately, most people are familiar with fundamental social manners, such as the magic words “please” and “thank you” and turning away from others to sneeze or cough. Here are some of the most common faux pas of college life and how to avoid them.
1. If you see someone eating alone in the dining hall, politely catch his or her attention and invite him or her to eat with you. Remember that others may not be as outgoing as you, but that doesn’t make them any less fun or interesting - even if it did, you’d only have to endure their presence for the half hour or so that you’re feasting.
2. If you are early to class and waiting in or out of the room, make conversation. Talk about the weather or mention last night’s assignment (in good terms, in case the professor is within earshot). No one likes to be sitting silently twiddling their thumbs, and it won’t put your professor in a good mood like seeing his students discuss and debate with one another will.
3. Know how to address the faculty. Never use “Mr.” or “Mrs.” when referring to your college instructors. “Dr.” is used when the professor has successfully completed his or her PhD – which is usually noted on the syllabus or class website. “Professor” is your safest bet when you are unsure, but pay attention to how they introduce themselves or sign their e-mails.
4. Learn how to give clear directions. People will get lost occasionally; when they ask you for help, you want to be able to point them confidently and efficiently in the right direction. If there is no hope for you in terms of verbal explanations, and if you have the time, offer to walk them to their building. They will appreciate it, and you will earn a ton of brownie points.
5. Be kind in the bathroom – girls especially. Make it a rule that you won’t gossip or say anything negative or malicious about another person. If someone asks if she has something stuck in her teeth, or if her hair looks okay, be honest and be nice. One more unofficial rule: be the person who always has the solution to hygienic problems, like a girl dropping her toothbrush on the floor (offer her some mouthwash until she can buy another) or running out of toilet paper in the bathroom stall.
6. Reply to all e-mails and other communications within a day – phone calls and texts should merit even quicker responses, since it is assumed that you will always have your phone on you. If you’re waiting for more information to respond to an e-mail, that is fine; however, don’t let more than a week pass without sending an update, even if all you have to say is that you’re still waiting.
7. Don’t jaywalk. It doesn’t matter if everyone else is doing it. Crosswalks are created for a reason, and it is much more awkward to be almost hit by a bus than it is to wait a few extra seconds or walk a couple more feet to the safest place to cross.
8. Look presentable for class. This doesn’t mean you should dress in business or professional attire in what seems like million degree weather, but allow yourself to go beyond a big t-shirt and gym shorts. Remember that your professors have great networking potential. You wouldn’t want to be caught unprepared if they wanted, randomly one day after class, to introduce you to someone significant in your field.
9. When you meet people for the first time and they say their names, repeat them back. Then use their names in greeting the next time you see them, and if you’ve forgotten them, ask. Remembering and using someone’s name makes him or her feel memorable and, as a result, more open to meeting up with you again.
10. If you’re living in the dorms, keep your door open as long as you’re in the room. UGA has a kind of informal “open-door policy” for people who are genuinely interested in meeting people, and it really does work wonders. Even just having people pass by and say “Hey, Kristen!” makes me feel like I belong here, and it also wins me more invitations to dinner or parties or just hanging out in the hallway.
11. Go to class. All college students are familiar with the story of the guy who shows up only on the first day of classes and the last – and that’s awkward for everybody, most of all the professor.
12. Smile at people you pass on the street. It doesn’t have to be a dazzling display of dental work. You just want to give the impression that things are all right, and if you can do that, suddenly the campus feels a little more like home.
And lucky number thirteen: don’t just hang out with your high school or upperclassmen friends. The twelve social rules listed above will definitely help expand your social circle, so don’t be too scared. If you stay within your own little bubble, you’ll miss out on a lot of really cool, passionate people who will go on to do incredible things, change the world, and take you with them along their (graceful, not awkward) journey.