Turn a potentially embarrassing moment into perfectly normal and acceptable behaviour. Boom!

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Turn a potentially embarrassing moment into perfectly normal and acceptable behaviour. Boom!


“...not holding my husband’s but someone else’s hand. I was at National Gallery Singapore, staring at a painting while discussing it with my husband, who was standing slightly behind me. When I pulled on his hand to move on, I was met with resistance. Turns out, I’d grabbed a man I’d never seen before!” – Adeline, 29

“So you grabbed the wrong guy? It happens,” says Laura Ratnam, certified etiquette proficiency trainer at Etiquette & Image International. “Just let go and apologise; say something like ‘I’m so sorry, you smell like my partner! Is that (any brand name you can think of) cologne you have on?’ Th is will diff use the tension and get you some laughs.”

“...showing everyone my underwear. It had been raining, and I slid on the top step of the escalator at an MRT station. I bounced down the entire length of it with my legs akimbo. When I reached the ground, I was so mortified, I immediately scrambled to my feet and hobbled away.” – Yun Xin, 29

“If you’re unhurt, strut off like a diva with your chin up,” advises Laura. “If you think you could be injured though, stay put to regain your composure and assess the damage. Then, make a beeline for a crowd-free spot. To minimise your embarrassment, avoid making eye contact with anyone, and if someone comes to your aid – to hand you a plaster or to give you a hand up – accept their help gracefully.”

“...saying goodbye the ‘wrong’ way. After an important boardroom meeting with a Western client, I reached out to shake her hand before parting ways, but she went in for a full-on hug. My arm ended up crushed against her boob. Awkward.” – Samantha, 33

“Westerners are known to give informal big bear hugs, so just roll with it,” says Laura. “Chances are, your client didn’t even notice the blunder, so just stay calm, continue with the hug, then gently extricate your arm as you pull away, making out that nothing weird just happened.”

“...waving zealously at a stranger. I was at the airport, waiting to receive my cousin from Perth. I hadn’t seen her in a while, so when a woman started waving excitedly in my direction, I waved back and ran towards her. Seconds into my sprint, I realised she wasn’t my cousin – and that she was gesticulating at a family behind me. My arm was still waggling in the air, and I knew she’d already seen me...” – Lynda, 35

Laura suggests that you “act like nothing has happened. Continue in her direction, but break the eye contact and gaze into the distance behind her.” Basically, make like you’re heading for someone behind her, and once you’ve passed her, “disappear out of sight – even into the restroom if need be.”

“...loading my groceries into someone else’s shopping trolley. I was so focused on shopping fast at the supermarket that I started putting my items into a stranger’s trolley by mistake. When I turned around to see an auntie eyeballing me – and then her trolley – I realised what I was doing. She wasn’t amused.” – Lucie, 26

“A simple ‘Oh, you caught me trying to get away without paying!’, accompanied by a smile, can quickly turn the situation around. Just make sure the other party knows you’re joking,” says Laura. “Also, ask ‘May I?’ before you remove your items.” However, if no one but yourself is aware of your gaffe, just quickly slip away!

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