Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Explaining the 'Rue Unique'

If you're new to this blog, or just don't know me personally, you may not know that I derive great pleasure from poking fun at awkward or otherwise comical social situations and then coining original phrases as a means of describing them.

Here's one such phrase: rue unique. So, you might ask, what am I talking about? A rue unique [comes from the French term for 'one-way street'] is a social situation involving two parties wherein one party feels some high level of awkwardness or tension that the other party either a) doesn't feel, or b) doesn't even know exists.

Obviously, any type of rue unique is funny, but in case (b) the absurdity is way better.

If you're still confused, here's an example I just experienced:

Recently, I met up with a good friend who I had not seen in many months, or perhaps over a year (I'm really not keeping track). As I went to give a big greeting and bear hug, the friend immediately launched into a wholly unprovoked and hard-to-understand quasi-apology/quasi-tirade about how sorry he was that he hadn't responded to some e-mail I had sent him many moons ago, but he had been so busy, and he really meant to, and then one thing led to another, and then, and then, and then...after what seemed like nearly 5 minutes of this, I just stopped him:

"Honestly, man, it's just good to see you. Don't worry about it," I said before quickly changing the subject.

The funniest part of it all was that I had no idea what he was talking about. I mean, I seriously didn't have a clue, and the only thing holding me back from saying so was that he had made this tremendous deal out of this *thing* and I didn't want to downplay it too much.

I'm sure it was based in some sort of reality. I'm sure that yes, at some point in the not-too-distant past, I had fired off a quick e-mail to the guy to ask how he was doing and hadn't thought much about it since.

Not so on his part. What made the situation a classic rue unique was that he had obviously been harboring some sort of anxiety about seeing me, which was borne out by the body language and awkward, apologetic monologue that he stumbled through right after our initial salutations. The funny yet strange and shouldn't-there-be-a-Seinfeld-or-Curb-Your-Enthusiasm-episode-about-this aspect to all of it was that I not only didn't feel any of that same anxiety or expected animosity, but I could barely understand what the guy was saying.

In case you need another example, here's one: A couple years ago, some friends of mine ran into a guy we had gone to high school with in a diner. As everyone caught each other up on their respective groups, and they mentioned me, he came in with a plaintive, "I think Page hates me."

"Why?" they asked.

"Because I wound up going out with his senior prom date in between the time that he asked her and the actual prom."

When they relayed this back to me, I honestly had to put the phone down in combination laughter/befuddlement. Now, bear in mind, the story was true, so I'll give him that, but I had literally not thought of the guy in nearly 5 years. I mean, literally, the combination of his first and last names put together had not entered a single thought pattern in the 2.5 million or so minutes that had passed since I last saw the guy.

So here was this guy thinking I was staying up stabbing his eyes out in the form of voodoo doll effigies at night, and I had not only thought of him, but would barely have remembered what had happened had I run into him in the diner myself. In fact, I would've been happy to see the guy, and probably would've bought his cup of coffee!

So what do these situations tend to have in common?

In each of the two rue uniques that I described, the person who imagined the tremendous grudge/animosity basically committed the cardinal but all-too-human sin of overestimating one's own importance in the lives of others.

I can't say I've never done that, don't do it now, and won't do it in the future...but if you really think other people sit around thinking and talking about you...unless you're either the President or some other major celebrity, you're very, very wrong.

If you think someone in your life is bearing some strange grudge against you but you don't have any hard evidence to back it up, get over yourself. The grudge may not exist.

And if there are those around you who may be guilty of the rue unique -- co-workers, friends, family, etc. there may not be much you can do but to kill them with kindness and hope they get over it.


Because real interpersonal awkwardness has to be, well, a two-way street.


Chris said...

That's a good one. It is amazing how two people can have such different memories of the same event.

The New Englander said...


Absolutely. And even if the event is something everyone agrees on (like the high school example), it's amazing that it can really live in one person's mind, but completely die in another's. Of course, one of the funny aspects to the rue unique is when it comes sans evidence -- to go back to the comment in the diner, I have never said (or even thought!) a bad thing about that kid during or after high school -- in fact, I even remember thinking good for him for ultimately becoming *involved* with the prom date long after all that had passed. But oh, well, sometimes you just can't win..