Etiquette for Acquaintances

What is the etiquette for running into people you know, but have nothing to say to?

This evening, I was at DuizendenBoekenInTranen, waiting to pay for my stack of books at severly reduced prices. (Yes, sticker fever. But also: thousands of new, exciting pages of words for a few tens. Can’t argue with that.) I thought I recognized the girl behind one of the registers, but couldn’t place her. So I stared a bit, and a bit more, but couldn’t catch her eye. And then it dawned on me: this was a friend of a friend, one I’ve met at the occasional birthday party but know next to nothing about. I know she doesn’t eat red M&M’s and that she is fluent in Spanish. That’s pretty much where it ends.

So, naturally, I also looked away as if I just happened to have a million things to look at other than her. And then I left, without either of us ever acknowledging we’d seen the other. Clean, painless, neat.

I grabbed a “vegetarian Greek toasty” (pita bread with pickled cabbage, cucumber and gloriously garlicky tzatziki) for dinner and all was well with the world. Then, getting off the train in Amsterdam, I heard my name. I looked around, and had another “who are you? come on, you look familiar, who are you?”- moment. Only this time I was a lot quicker to catch on and instantly wished I had pretended I hadn’t heard my name. Looking at me expectantly was a guy I shared a house with in university. Even back then, we had very little in common aside from our address. Now it is ten (TEN! can’t believe it) years later, and you can probably imagine how much we had to talk about.

Still, we stood there for minute after agonizing minute, talking about work and train journeys and Amsterdam. The whole painful episode finally ended when I didn’t hear him right, thought he said “so I’ll see you Saturday”, practically yelled “see you Saturday!” back and made a bee-line for it. (Yes, I am in fact seeing him again this weekend. What are the odds of running into someone you’ve seen twice in ten years, only to discover that you’ll both be at the same event days later? Someone, somewhere is amusing herself greatly by embarrassing me.)

So I wonder, should this guy have been a bit smoother, pretending not to see me so we could pass unnoticed and unscathed? Or were the M&M- girl and I impossibly rude and should we have sucked it up and greeted each other like the adults we are?

All of which is an incredibly long-winded way to say that I didn’t cook dinner tonight, so I don’t have a recipe for you. What I do have is some good advice. Next time you’re in Utrecht and want a quick, cheap dinner without reverting to burgers or noodles, visit El Greco. Tucked away at a corner of the Ganzenmarkt (behind the town hall), it looks like any other snack-and-go hole in the wall, but they have seriously good pita with meat or vegetables. Slathered in creamy tzatziki, these sandwiches will put a smile on your face without putting a dent in your wallet. And they do fries too, if you are into that kind of thing.

But run into any old acquaintances afterwards, and you run the risk of living on in someone’s memory as “Mr(s) Stinky Garlic Breath”.


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One response to “Etiquette for Acquaintances

  1. Manon

    Yes, that Greek thingy is GOOD. We often had dinner from there in the old Utrecht period at student union. Firday nights, tired of a weeks politicians, the feta made life again worthwile.

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