Please avert eyes from uncomfortable stare downs

Making eye contact is like eating ice cream: There is a point when you can hit a limit.

With that said, for goodness’ sake America, making eye contact in public places does not have to be a stink eye staring contest. Take a tip or two from Sweden on how not to go overboard with eye contact.

For instance, imagine walking across the Quad when the Altgeld bells are playing at lunch time. The Quad is covered with students walking closely together and trying to avoid eye contact with complete strangers. However, the eye contact is inevitable.

A quick glimpse at another student’s face results in about three seconds of an awkward stare down. There are a few options for how to deal with quick eye contact with a complete stranger:

You could look at your shoes. Suddenly that black scuff mark on your big toe seems as mysterious as “The DaVinci Code.”

You could pull out your phone. No one may be texting you, and you have already checked your Twitter for the 207th time today. Even so, going through your contacts has never been so interesting.

You could pull a Lady Gaga and put on your best poker face to be the stone-faced Clint Eastwood of the situation.

You could pretend the person is your grandparent and put on a slight, shy smile. That seems like a pleasant route.

Or you could turn the scenario into a game and attempt to turn the eye contact into a staring contest. That may make the situation more awkward, though, when your eyes start to water and everyone stares at you, wondering why you are crying.

The route you choose to deal with the situation depends on the context and the culture. For instance, eye contact is usually encouraged in the United States. Maintaining eye contact in public demonstrates boldness and self-confidence.

Avoiding eye contact in the U.S. implies you are more shy or standoffish.

These connotations are not universal. In fact, the situation is much different in Sweden.

While studying abroad in Uppsala, Sweden, for the Spring 2013 semester, I witnessed first-hand how Swedes interact and approach one another.

I quickly learned that Swedes tend to avoid eye contact. Instead, they keep to themselves to keep from disturbing others and being perceived as rude.

That does not mean you have to stare at your winter boots and wool mittens at the bus stop in Sweden. You can look around at the snow covered landscape. In fact, you could glimpse at the person next to you. Just do not stare them directly in the eyes for a few seconds like Americans tend to do.

Avoiding eye contact in Sweden is not perceived as standoffish like it is in America. Instead, it is perceived as being polite. Generally, you should avoid eye contact, but that does not mean the Swedes are not nice.

If you have a purpose to talk to a stranger, such as asking for directions, a Swede would generally be more than happy to help direct you on the right path. However, if there is not an intent or need, avoiding eye contact in public helps to keep people from disturbing others.

These general rules about eye contact in Sweden are much different than in America. In some cases, America could learn a thing or two about eye contact from Sweden.

Consider an encounter in Temple Hoyne Buell Hall that happened to me last week. You enter through the doors from the parking lot. Inside, a man is standing by the elevator, waiting for the elevator doors to open.

You walk toward him to go to the stairs. The man makes eye contact for far longer than three seconds. You try all the methods: stare at your shoes, smile, grab your phone. It does not matter. The man keeps staring. It is as though he is Johnny Carson doing Carnac the Magnificent, trying to predict your future.

It is too much. Americans, your comfortableness with eye contact has gone too far. Yes, it shows confidence. But confidence can also be domineering, making others uncomfortable when there is too much eye contact.

This is when Sweden needs to intervene.

We do not need to avoid eye contact all together. That is impossible. However, eye contact could become less domineering and a little more considerate.

The next time you are walking along the Quad and are passing a complete stranger, do not try to start a staring contest. It is just awkward, and no one is going to win.

Instead, keep this in mind: Stare unto others as you would want others to stare unto you.

Rebecca is a junior in Media. She can be reached at [email protected]