Is It Awkward?

| November 13, 2012 | 11 Comments

Que awkward-o.”

Yes, that is bad Spanish. Well, it’s not really Spanish at all. But it’s what we Americanos studying in Spain have taken to saying. Why? We sound like idiots; people add O’s to English words only when they don’t know how to speak Spanish. So why am I, a pretty fluent Spanish speaker, making up such words?

Because there is simply no translation. Google Translate’s suggestions are all related to different connotations of the word: awkward/clumsy movement, awkward/difficult to understand wording, and the like.

It’s fascinated me in the two months I’ve been here: the absolute lack of even the concept of “awkward.” Sometimes I want to feel it; I itch a little bit, because I’ve been told so long:

This is an awkward situation. Steer clear.

But when my host mom’s boyfriend and I argue about my president over lunch, we’re not on edge. We’re animated, but nobody at the table feels uncomfortable. When I do that weird sidewalk dance – you know what I mean, when a person coming the other direction steps the same way as you, then you both step the opposite way, then you both wait, then you both go again at the same time – with a stranger on the street, we don’t lower our heads and run away afterward. We smile a little and move on.

And the staring! It’s not weird to stare here. At first, it made me uncomfortable. Now, I meet eye contact as boldly as I can, having a game with it. I stare at people on the street, on the subway, in cafés … and it’s okay. I love it; I feel so much more connected to where I am, where I’m going, and what I’m doing. It gives me a sense of understanding that I haven’t felt before. Then, as if the staring isn’t enough, there’s honesty.

We all know that honesty – eek – can be the most awkward thing.

I didn’t like a sandwich my host mom made me, and agonized over how to tell her. Finally, I just told her that I liked the other sandwiches more and didn’t like this one. Without a pause, she said she wouldn’t make it anymore. Easy. In fact, the honesty here extends to complete strangers. Crossing the street the opposite direction from me, an old woman told me I was pretty. It’s normal to hear a compliment from a complete stranger, standing outside for a smoke as I walk by.

Living in a country that lacks the “awkward” phenomenon, I feel free. I wish I never knew that itch that tells me to stop being honest, stop being curious, and stop discussing important topics. Is it a side effect born from our interest in political correctness? I understand the need for sensitivity – people do say some awful things sometimes – but,

At what point to we allow it to start restricting our daily life, and in turn, or capability to be honest?

What do you all think: have we become too sensitive? I mean… it’s just a sandwich. It’s just an interested stare. It’s not awkward until we give it the name.

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Category: featured, HTC Abroad, Philosophy and Religion

Cecilia Weddell

About the Author ()

Cecilia (or Ceci—not Cece, not Sassy) graduated from BU with Comparative Literature major and a Math minor in May 2015. She wrote for Culture Shock from 2011-2015 and was an Editor-in-Chief from 2013-2015. To keep up with her writing and other doings, follow her on Twitter @CCWeddell.

Comments (11)

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  1. Kate Conroy Kate Conroy says:


  2. juan marbán says:

    adjetivar generalmente lleva a generalizar.Yo prefiero personalizar y decir me gusta o no me gusta. Cuando en México coincidimos en el paso y la duda al mismo tiempo, si ambos estamos de buen humor preguntamos:Bailamos?

  3. Janelle Bean says:

    I have to agree with this article: Americans are definitely to blame for overuse of the term. And there is no doubt that the entire concept of creating an “awkward” situation is very restricting to the honest lifestyle, or any lifestyle at that. I think the superficialness of American culture certainly hasn’t helped create any disincentive to use the term, but it couldn’t have been the sole perpetrator either. Awkward cannot be summed up in a nutshell by superficial behavior. It is that catch in your throat when you feel out of place, be it from speech or action. I think–at least to some degree–every awkward situation is the consequence of self-doubt either of yourself or another person(s)’ actions. But self-doubt (of yourself or other people) is a mental thought which therefore can be changed, just like how your perspective of past situations you had previously labelled as “awkward” you’ve recently changed your perspective of, and resultantly your label. In summary, it’s like what I tell my friends, “YOU make it awkward,” aka “It’s only awkward if you think it is!”

  4. Jenny Gilbert says:

    This is so true. I’ve actually had a problem since I came back of staring a lot more just because it became a habit. A lot of it is how we interpret things. However, I would say the concept definitely still exists – if I explain the same story and swap awkward with torpe or incomodo, people definitely get it and have the same reactions that others do when I say it in English. I’ve been called out a lot for doing awkward things abroad without anyone needing the exact word to say it. But you’re right, we further exaggerate it in the US when it isn’t necessary.

    • Cecilia Weddell Cecilia Weddell says:

      Don’t be ashamed of your staring! I always feel that “torpe” has a connotation of rude, and “incomodo” is the closest, I agree.

      But still, I don’t think anybody here would understand WHY I considered it incomodo when I disagreed with a man over politics at lunch, or WHY I found it incomodo to ask for a different type of sandwich.

  5. Emily Sheehan Emily Sheehan says:

    Wonderful post Ceci! I find that I often claim that things are awkward when they make me uncomfortable. Instead of thinking about the reason WHY certain situations make me feel uncomfortable, I dismiss them as awkward. Yet, as you have pointed out, it’s only awkward if you let it be. To think of the world in terms of awkwardness is really very very limiting, because you end up dismissing so much simply because it makes you feel uncomfortable.

    • Cecilia Weddell Cecilia Weddell says:

      You’re so right. Being in a place without “awkward,” where I can’t translate it, has helped me there; I wonder why I thought something was awkward, and then determine if it actually was (the answer is always no).

  6. Sergio Reyes says:

    Beautifully written. This is a recurrent topic between many of my friends and I (mostly as an excuse whenever I inadvertently do something awkward).

  7. Mike Bruffee says:

    This is a great post. I’ve also noticed that the very American term “awkward” does not translate into many different languages. For me, it’s French. I’ve had to explain that it roughly translates into… well, a cross between “embarrassing” and “cumbersome”. But not quite either. In French those words are “embarrassant” and “encombrant,” respectively. But even those don’t do it justice.

    I have even started to get really annoyed with my friends who use the word, like, oh my god, ALL the time (and by my word choice there, you can tell how they say it)…. awkward….

    We’re such a superficial culture here. We dance around the truth because we’re afraid it might hurt others, or cause them embarrassment, and yet we often wish people would jsut be straight with us and some beating around the bush themselves. Obviously you don’t want to be outright mean, but just tell the truth! The truth is often simpler and easier to forgive than trying to soften the blow.

    And you are a pretty girl. The old lady crossing the street was right.

    • Cecilia Weddell Cecilia Weddell says:

      Thanks for commenting, Mike! I agree with you for the most part. I’ll admit though, I used the word (probably way too much) before I came here and found that I literally could not.

      Is it superficiality? Or fear of seeming too forward? I see your point about the truth being easier; I think that it’s all this beating around the bush that builds the situations into their proclaimed “awkwardness,” making them a much bigger deal than they should be.

      And thank you. :)

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