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Should I stop to say hello, or just keep on walking?

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Uh-oh! You’re out taking a walk and you suddenly spot someone you think you know. But are you sure? And does she know you? More important, do you remember whether you like her if you do know her?

Or it could be that you do know one another, and one of you is sore at something the other did. Or didn’t do. It could be that you had a recent Tupperware party and didn’t invite her. Or she had a cosmetic makeover party and didn’t invite you.

But in any case, you’d rather be the snubber than the snubbee. And maybe you can. If you’re lucky, her eyesight may not be as good as yours, and you can immediately whirl around and get out of there fast.

Otherwise you’re on a collision course. Oh boy! It turns out that she has noticed you. Why else would she be waving? And how bad could it be to stop and chat?

Bad.

“How is, uh, Thelma?” you ask.

“Who?”

“Thelma,” you repeat. “Have you heard from her since she moved to Iceland?”

“Do you mean Margarine?”

By now it has started to drizzle, and you both sidle under whatever cover you can get from the hardware store’s awning.

“So,” you say, “how’ve you been?”

“Well, since the last surgery my hip’s much better,” she says.

And there she stands, with her improved hip, waiting for your reaction.

“That’s terrific,” you summon up, hoping you sound enthusiastic enough.

“And how’ve you been,” she asks.

That sprained wrist you’ve been complaining about doesn’t even belong in this conversation. So you just gesture in a vague manner and compliment her on her appearance.

“You’re looking wonderful!” you say. “And I wish I could talk more now but I have to get to the bakery while they still have rum babka.”

Note: If you tell someone she looks terrific, that can buy you a lot of time. While she stops to look at her reflection in a store window, you can wave to her cordially and slip away.

But don’t stop there. Look into other strategies that help you avoid a protracted conversation.

• Say that your doctor has ordered you to walk briskly every day for at least a half hour. If you have a pedometer with you, pull it out, look at it, and say something like, “Boy, I gotta keep walking.”

• Sound desperate when you say you think you left your credit card at the drug store when you bought the glucosamine with condroitin. Whimper a bit as you rush off.

• Start to limp, and say you have to get to the shoemaker so that he can fix the heel on your shoe.

• Always have an umbrella with you that you can belly out as soon as you spot someone you want to hide from.

• Whip out your cell phone and start talking as soon as someone gestures and begins walking in your direction.

“What?” you say, “you gave them your Social Security number!” Then you can just wave the phone and shake your head to show you’re in the midst of a serious crisis that may keep you busy for weeks. And just keep talking into the cell phone, and walking.

True, you may get a reputation for not being too friendly. But then, maybe you won’t have to pretend any more. They may avoid you!

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