Snail Stepping (v):
1. A dance-like way of avoiding crushing snails after heavy rainfall
2. The art of avoiding topics that may offend someone
A few years ago when I lived in Queensland, Australia, the summer season meant humidity and lots of heavy rain showers. Those rain showers brought hundreds of snails out of their tropical homes and onto the hot sidewalks. Normally, it wouldn’t bother me. I’m all for being one with nature, but I’m not exaggerating when I say there were hundreds. The ground was covered in snails, of all sizes, to the point that you couldn’t avoid them. I had to take a deep breath and close my eyes as I heard the crunching beneath my feet. That is how I created the term ‘snail stepping’, because it reminded me of hopscotch or when, as a child, I pretended certain places were lava and I couldn’t touch them. Then, twenty years later, I found myself playing those games once again, but under different (and quite detrimental to the snails) circumstances.
As I thought of this ‘dance’ if you will, it also reminded me of a game we play as adults. This game is more subtle and, if not played right, can cause friendships to end. I am referring to the second definition of the term ‘snail stepping’. I found that, much like those childhood games, there would be moments in conversations with friends, colleagues and complete strangers where I would have to sidestep to another topic or end the conversation altogether to avoid going someplace I would rather avoid or to avoid any embarrassment for other people.
I shall give you an example.
Last week, we took a mini-trip, or paseito in Colombian Spanish, with friends. One of our friends brought another friend, whom we had never met, but we love meeting new people. This person had the same background as all our other friends, which isn’t uncommon. My husband was talking with our friend and this new person, getting to know him, when he mentioned (in context at the time) that multi-cultural relationships do not work. Now, our friend knew that I (from the US) and my husband (from Colombia) had been together for years and was trying to tell his friend that that wasn’t true and he shouldn’t say things like that, but my husband just smiled, knowing that person had no clue about me.
You see, my husband was engaging in the art of snail-stepping, because he wanted to not embarrass the new person. It’s these delicate moments which can turn ugly or even confrontational if you let them, but when engaging in snail-stepping, can avoid the death of a conversation and even, sometimes, a friendship. So, even though I made up this phrase, I think it could be quite useful when referring to these moments and others like them.