What She Wants

How to Handle a Socially Awkward Guest (And How to Avoid Being One)

Stillness can be dangerous. At the very least, in polite circles, it can be misconstrued as being rude. At its most alarming, it can be read as threatening, an icy silence that tells people to just go away (if they know what's good for them).

Among the nine children of Mrs. Mary Lina Amelia Fortez-Sevilla, a wrinkled old lady who always makes it known that she can trace her lineage to the French and Spanish (though what kind of French and Spanish families, whether fine or insignificant, she never tells us), it is her twin daughters, Celina and Irma, who are most intriguing.

The two are perfect mirrors of each other in fairness, intelligence, and also unsettling stillness. Celina, who has one green eye, the left, and another hazel, is quiet in that old-fashioned sense, as in she is shy to a fault, a woman who would rather converse with the pages of a book than with the person she is sitting next to (me!).

Irma, who is older by a minute, also has the same quality about her, but there is, my intuition tells me, a stirring behind her eyes (both green) that hints that her stillness comes from something less innocent than just being inept at conversation.


Stillness as a Truly Rich Virtue

Stillness can be dangerous. At the very least, in polite circles, it can be misconstrued as being rude. At its most alarming, it can be read as threatening, an icy silence that warns people to just go away (if they know what's good for them). 

But, yes, in the Truly Rich World, I will concede that it is not uncommon for Truly Rich People to be still, quiet, reserved, or, that description I hate most, buttoned up.

The Truly Rich Ladies have been taught to keep their emotions close to their lacy brassieres, under lock and key, behind sealed lips and beautiful smiles. How we truly feel can and will only be released when we are in the privacy of our homes or, say, when startled most aggressively—a very ugly shoe comes to mind.


But, yes, at certain times when we are thrown together at a fancy dinner or in a serendipitous encounter, we somehow unguardedly unlock those lips and engage in masterful or, at least, polite conversation. Some Truly Rich (Working) Ladies have even become so skilled at how-are-yous that they've built entire empires from gabbing. They are so noisy.

In sum, stillness—or that projection of perfect grace by saying nothing, like the enigmatic Mona Lisa, or adopting a shy flower demeanor, like, uhm, a two-year-old, is acceptable only when you can, as my riotous nephews say, turn the volume up.


Stillness as a Social Sin

Now let me tell you why this is frowned upon. Stillness makes people uncomfortable. An unusual silence breaks the social harmony that we so prize. For what will you do when you are trapped at the dinner table beside Celina, and no matter hard you try, she doesn't give you a bone.


“Celina! The show was marvelous this year, wasn’t it?”



“Your emerald brooch. It so matches your left eye. Colombian?”



“Hey, mademoiselle! You awake?””



It is most frustrating. You will be forced to take too many bites of bread just to check if your mouth still works.

On the other hand, stillness can also be sinister. A person may be suspected of using the guise of awkwardness to mask meanness. Behind the little smile and the curt hello can be a murderous thought (“I keel u”), and no one wants to be around that.

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It's very distressing for the people who have to be around the Quiet But Mean guest because they will need to adjust to her sullenness. They walk on eggshells, speak in hushed tones, and circle back all the time, feeling like they're being judged.

I know for a fact that the cheerless Irma once wrote a very mean note about me on a small piece of paper. I was crestfallen. I thought we were friends or, at least, peers who tolerated small doses of each other.


Unsettling The Stillness

The first can be easily addressed by both the shy guest and her friends.

Friends of the guest can be more gracious to the obviously introverted dear. A skilled host or a patient friend would know how to make the shy guest relax so that, by the end of the night, and with the help of some bubbly, the unknowable monolith finally says something. Who knew Celina was full of sardonic humor?

As for the shy, please do your best to loosen up. It may be hard to believe, but I, the marvelous C.C. Coo, am also an introvert. But I have learned, through years of experience around the circuit of socials around the world, to turn myself on and engage in witty banter or, at least, go through the motions of basic conversation.

Just open your mouth (but check first if there is a foul smell, for it has been closed for so long.)

As for the second case, this will be more challenging.


For the people around the Sly Quiet Type, a deeper understanding is required. We will continue to smile agreeably when Mrs. Fortez-Sevilla insists, with a nervous giggle, that her daughter is just shy, “so please forgive her misstep.” (She failed to greet the host of the party.) 

This person in question may need deep personal reflection (quiet time in Bhutan perhaps) or re-enrollment at a finishing school (also in Bhutan). Or she may just need someone to say that what she has been doing is not palatable.

Now who will dare say this to Irma’s face? Don't look at me.

In the end, we must all have an always ready cache of patience for the low-spirited and quiet. Some people are just more comfortable on a lonely road, while others cannot live without a gaggle of people, usually strangers, around them—which is another brand of annoyance.


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