It’s no secret that I’m not a social person. I have very few friends, and I’m not especially fond of the idea of making new ones. This is largely because I am acutely uncomfortable in new social situations, particularly when I have to maintain conversation with someone I’ve only just met. However this social awkwardness and discomfort is not reserved solely for new people. It also applies to people I already know, and haven’t seen in a few years.
I truly dislike being recognised by people I used to know, or by casual acquaintances. Because with that recognition comes the expectation – nay, obligation – that I engage in a conversation with said person. And given my propensity for feeling anxious in unfamiliar situations, this is a sure fire way to make me feel uncomfortable. Twice this past week, I have been recognised by someone who is familiar to me, though I didn’t have a close relationship with either. The first was a teacher who taught my brothers in either primary school, or early high school. She wasn’t even a teacher who taught me, but nevertheless she recognised my face, and struck up a conversation about how we all (myself and my siblings) were, and what we were doing with our lives.
The second person to recognise me was a cousin of one of my school friends, who I haven’t spoken to in probably two years. She recognised me, and again struck up a friendly conversation. Now, there are two things I should point out in both of these scenarios. The first, is that both of these encounters happened whilst I was at work. And the second is that neither one of these conversations were inherently bad, impolite, or rude. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was simply that I was put into a situation, by way of standing at the counter of the shop that these two people happened to need a service from, where I was unable to simply politely nod and move on, as I would have done had I passed them on the street.
I am one of those people who will, when I am out in public, avoid people that I may potentially end up stuck talking to, unless they are someone that I know well and enjoy talking with. For example, I ran into a good friend of mine in the supermarket the other day, and was more than happy to stop and chat to her for a few minutes. But if I know there’s even the remote possibility that I may have to have a conversation with someone that I don’t really know all that well and/or haven’t seen in a while, I will do anything I can to avoid it. Partly because of the aforementioned awkwardness, but also because I abhor filler conversation. I don’t really want to be subjected to a ten minute tirade about your recent hospital trip, or hear how that person we went to school with is getting married. By the same token, I really have nothing interesting to tell other people either. At the most, I would be content with a “hey, how’re you doing?” and the reciprocal “good thanks!” whilst both of us continued on our way without stopping. I don’t want to feel compelled to continue a mundane conversation, just because someone else is up for a chat.
This is something I encounter a lot at my job. I work in a kiosk, visible to everyone who passes. This seems to encourage people to come and talk to me, or ask me questions that people in proper closed-in shops don’t seem to deal with. I get stopped at least daily to get asked where the Tattslotto shop is in the centre. It’s literally right next to me, clearly signed and visible, and yet people will ask me constantly, often interrupting me to do so. And then there are the customers who, completely unprovoked, will proceed to give me a ten minute story about one thing or another. The tendency of complete strangers to give up personal information to people they don’t know is astounding. I have been told more than once that I come across as distinctly unapproachable, and yet something about being at my counter makes people want to chat to me for significant lengths of time. I am like the bartender in american sitcoms, who acts as some kind of wise man/therapist. It is a job that I never asked for, but rather seems to have been thrust upon me.
I, of course, can’t be rude to these people. After all, a customer wanting to have a chat is hardly the worst thing I might encounter in a day. But it doesn’t mean I want to stand there and make small talk with a stranger, or semi stranger. So if you ever see me down the street, give me a wave and I’ll happily wave back. But if ever you want to strike up a conversation, just remember that I will probably hate every second, and be counting down until it’s polite to make an excuse and sidle away.