Chalk it up to human infallibility: even the most poised among us do embarrassing things. Thankfully, these acts of awkward mortification tend to happen in close company—a rogue burp, an indiscreet clothing adjustment—where they’re laughed off and instantly forgotten.
But every so often, they happen in the watchful eye of the public arena—and that’s when true humiliation kicks in. Have you ever tripped over your own feet? Or slammed “play” on Spotify only to realize your headphones aren’t plugged in? These embarrassments—and more, which we’ve rounded up here for your amusement—are among the (admittedly) low-stakes ignominies that stick with us for minutes, hours, sometimes days. And yes, we are all guilty of all them. Just read on and see. And for some truly next-level public embarrassment, check out the 30 Most Awkward Celebrity Awards Show Moments.
Clearly pressing the elevator door “close” button when you see someone coming, but being too slow
You know that person sprinting to make the elevator before the doors close can see you do it, and yet, you still press the “close” button furiously. To be sure, sometimes, you get lucky, and are rewarded with a few moments of blissful silence. Most of the time, however, you have to sheepishly smile at the person who saw you clearly trying to sabotage their plans for punctuality. Can you say awkward… And for more ways to comport yourself on an elevator, learn the 13 Cardinal Rules of “Elevator Etiquette.”
Checking yourself out in the mirror or reflective windows
It’s hard to walk by a mirror or reflective window without at least glancing at your appearance, making sure your clothes, hair, makeup, whatever are still in place. But more often than not, it doesn’t stop at a quick look. Everyone does it, but it sure is awkward when you get caught. To make it so you don’t have to check yourself out, check out these 15 Genius Tricks for Appearing More Attractive.
Farting somewhere empty, only to have others join you
On an elevator, in public transit, in bathrooms—it doesn’t matter. You think you’re safe so you let it rip, only to have another person walk in more or less instantly. Then you have an agonizing decision to make as you see the stench register on their face: Do you acknowledge it and play it off as someone else’s doing, or do you just pretend it’s not happening?
Picking your nose
“I’ll just do it really quickly; no one will notice,” you think. Newsflash: If you pick your nose in public, someone will probably see you do it. It’s up to you to decide whether to care, but remember, there’s always a chance you could run into someone you know. And for more shameful situations, check out these 20 Embarrassing Things Literally Everyone Does.
Tripping over your own feet
You’re walking down the sidewalk, going about your business, and then, you stumble, on… what, exactly? You look around, searching for the thing in your way that made you trip, when you realize, oh, it was your own foot. You tripped yourself. Nice work.
Not being able to find your credit card when it’s time to pay
It’s weird how everyday activities—like paying for your groceries—can sometimes become pressure-filled moment of stress. Case in point: You’ve been waiting in line for 10 minutes to pay, and when it’s finally your turn, the universe picks this exact moment for you to lose your credit card. Is it in your wallet? Your pocket? You bag? Who knows, but you can feel everyone else’s collective eye rolls as you search.
Waving at someone you don’t know
You know when you spot your friend a block away and excitedly wave at them? And then, as you get closer, you start to understand why they’re not waving back. You don’t know them, and now a stranger thinks you’re crazy.
Thinking someone is waving at you or talking to you when they’re not
Almost as humiliating as waving at someone you don’t know is thinking someone’s waving at, smiling at, or talking to you, when they’re really trying to get the attention of someone—probably their friend—behind you. Awkward doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Walking in on someone in a public bathroom
Or the flip-side: having someone walk in on you in the bathroom. There’s nothing like being interrupted mid-business by a complete stranger. Public service announcement: The lock is there for a reason, people. Use it.
Pretending you’re texting when you’re really just waiting for someone
While waiting for a friend, date, or partner in a public place, some people are comfortable passing the time just sitting around. If you’re not one of those people, you’ll recognize the looking-busy tactic of pretending to have a text (or even phone, for the truly desperate) conversation to appear as if you’re doing something important, even though you’re not.
Getting caught staring at someone
You might stare at someone because they’re attractive, or simply because you’re interested in whatever they’re doing or saying. But it’s extra weird when they catch your eye and realize that you’re staring them down. Especially when you’re on the same bus, subway car, or other inescapable enclosed space. Still there’s an even worse situation: getting caught and making awkward eye contact twice. Because of course you didn’t learn your lesson the first time.
Wondering if those people over there laughing are actually laughing at you
When a group of people is giggling and chatting and also looking in your general direction, it’s natural to wonder if they’re making fun of you. Rest assured—if they are strangers, the answer is probably not.
Sweating like crazy
It’s the summer and you’re walking to work—or maybe it’s not even that hot out, but you sprinted to make it to an 8PM reservation—and now you’re drenched. Whatever the reason, if you’ve ever had the experience of being sweat-soaked when those around you are not (you know: anywhere not in the gym), it can be seriously mortifying. What’s more, sneaking a whiff to see if you stink is equally awkward. And yet, everyone does it. To combat this human inevitability, learn the 20 Best Tips For A Sweat-Free Summer.
Picking a wedgie
First, you look around to check if anyone’s behind you. Then, you go in for the kill. If no one sees it, no harm, no foul, right? Sadly, someone always sees.
Walking around with something on your face, only to realize it later
Food, pen ink, makeup that’s not quite rubbed in—everyone has had that moment of utter embarrassment when they realize how long they’ve been walking around with whatever it is on their face and no one told them. A similar situation: having food in your teeth all day without knowing it.
Deciding not to wash your hands in the bathroom, but running the water *just in case* someone’s listening
Look, we all know it’s bad not to wash your hands after using the bathroom. But if you’ve ever been super rushed for time, don’t have the energy to get your hands properly dry, or just really hate those air dryer things, you’ve probably done this.
Getting caught talking to yourself
Maybe you’re practicing a presentation on your way to work, reviewing phrases in a new language, or literally just muttering to yourself about something, it’s always weird when someone catches you doing it.
Starting your ’90s hits playlist without having your headphones plugged in or synced
While this slip up has the potential to be not-so-embarrassing, it really depends on what you’re listening to. A dignified podcast? Fine. Your all Britney Spears gym workout mix? That’s a bit different.
Accidentally spitting when you’re talking
Whether you’re usually a close talker or not, sometimes this just happens. No matter who it is, it’s embarrassing. What do you do? Reach to wipe it off? Pretend it didn’t happen? There are no good choices here.
Walking around with your fly open
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