First Lecture

Day one of specialized courses on human awkwardness and uncomfortable situations.

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Welcome, everyone, to our first lecture of “How to Make a Drive-Thru Interaction Incredibly Awkward”! I am your professor, Dr. Archibald Cringe. Don't wear it out! My name, I mean… don't wear my name out by overusing it—that setup wasn't clear at all. Dammit, Archibald, get it together.

We’ll begin today’s class with introductions. When I point to you, please stand up and say something about yourself. For example—pointing to myself here—my name is Archibald Cringe and I am sexually attracted to people of any gender as long as they resemble Ronald McDonald. Oh dear. That was too much information, wasn’t it? Read the room, Archibald.

You there, in the front row! Introduce yourself!

What was that? You’re name is Golf Butt? I can’t understand you. I’m sorry could you say that again?

Okay stop! Did everyone notice how awkward it became when I asked Robert here to repeat himself? Did you note the clench of the jaw, the heavy sigh and the annoyed tone when I made him say his name a third time? People hate being misheard. Even more than that, they hate repeating themselves, except of course my wife when she stubbornly forbids me to keep any spherical red wigs in the house. Now isn’t the time, Archibald! Say normal things!

I’m saying my inner monologue out loud again, aren’t I?

Back to the lecture. You should always ask the McDonald’s employee—we’ll just use McDonald’s as our drive-thru example, for no particular reason, since I definitely don’t have a sexual fixation with their mascot—to repeat themselves when they speak to you through the intercom. Always.

Even if by some miracle they manage to greet you clearly, you should still respond with what? on pure reflex, as if you have been so conditioned to not understand them you simply can’t register that this time, you have. The irony, of course, is they always say the same thing. How can I help you? or some variation. It would be perfectly reasonable to just order, even if you didn’t catch the exact words, but that wouldn’t be awkward now would it?

Once they are thoroughly annoyed, you order your food. Awkwardly. Remember: someone of your social ineptitude fears any conflict, no matter how minor, meaning you should absolutely feel nervous about upsetting this bored stranger you can’t even see. Like Jeopardy!, you order in the form of a question. Can I get a chicken sandwich meal with a Dr. Pepper, please sir? The tone is not simply polite. It is a pleading whine, like a condemned man begging a king for his life, as if this food service worker is within their rights to refuse outright and say I don’t like the sound of you! No food today, get out of here!

Your incongruous tone will confuse the McDonald’s employee, who doesn’t view themselves as a cruel food czar, and will thus make the interaction much more awkward.

When the clearly perplexed McDonald’s employee asks you to pull up to the window, they are primed for the awkward coup de gras. They’ll ask, How are you doing? or something to that effect, and that is when you completely misread the context. They are expecting a simple Fine, you? But you’re not fine, are you? And they need to know. You’re still disappointed about the last season of Game of Thrones. Your lactose intolerant dachshund ate a hunk of Gouda you dropped and now he has fountainous diarrhea all over your new white carpet. You’re empty inside, meaninglessly slogging through life, stuck in a loveless marriage to a sexually vanilla prude who looks less like Ronald McDonald every day.

Stop talking about that with your students, Archibald!

If they don’t glance back at a coworker to silently communicate, this is super weird, then you haven’t been awkward enough. The rest from there is just epilogue. You can fumble the credit card hand-off, ask for sauces they don’t have, and answer you too when they say thank you for choosing McDonald’s, but really, you’ve already done what you came to do.

Okay, let’s break into pairs and practice. Let’s make this awkward enough that you mentally replay it later and you have to scrunch your faces to endure the burning shame. Begin!