I’m Not Surly, It’s Just My Face

“Oi, you!”

You’d look like that if someone ‘oi’-ed you, too.

That’s how the conversation started this morning. Rude, right? Now, you should know that I’m not easily offended. What I am, is easily angered. And the interaction this morning, with a guy who works near me, raised my ire. This guy is in his early fifties perhaps, and has a tendency to strike up conversations on his way past my shop. This began a couple of months ago, when he greeted me as if we had known each other for years, despite me having never laid eyes on him before that day. I disliked him immediately. See, if there’s one thing I hate, it’s when complete strangers are too familiar too soon. You don’t know me, you are not my friend; you do not get to talk to me as if we have a long standing relationship. Some of you may argue that he was just being friendly, but there is a difference between polite affability, and a straight up invasive personality. Trust me when I say that this guy has a serious case of the latter.

Over the last few months, we have had a series of short conversations. Despite my dislike of this man, I have always been perfectly polite. But his habit of asking personal questions, and making assumptions has continued. On several occasions, and in a few different ways, he has asked me if I have a boyfriend; questions I have always dodged. First of all, none of his business. And second of all, none of his business. Another time, he made an assumption about me having children, which is something I did correct him on. That then followed with the typical “You’ll change your mind” response, which I didn’t deign to acknowledge. He has made comments about wanting to take me to the pub so he can see me when I’m drunk, and comments about how I must be my parent’s favourite child, with no context. Basically, he’s weird.

I could give you plenty of other examples when this guy’s familiarity has made me irritable, but then we’ll be here all day. Today’s comment, however, is where this post began. So, after he called out to me with the aforementioned “OI”, he approached the shop and said, completely apropos of nothing, “What’s the matter with you? I saw you the other day and you looked really surly so I thought I better not come over.”

Now, you might be wondering why that seemingly innocuous comment made me so angry. It’s due to a few things. Firstly, the condescending tone (which I can’t properly convey here, so you’ll have to take my word for it.) Secondly, the way he managed to make it sound as though his not approaching my shop for mundane conversation was a loss for me. I have any number of boring conversations in an 8.5 hour period, man. You are not the highlight of my workday. And thirdly, the assumption that just because I’m not cheery and chirpy every single second of the day, that there must be something the matter with me. Let me be perfectly clear. I do not exist to indulge his (or anyone’s) flawed, archaic ideas of what a woman is supposed to be. And I will not apologise for being a human, with an entire spectrum of human emotions. I am not some Stepford wife, and I am under no obligation to appear perpetually cheerful.

Sure, I could smile all the time, but there are a couple of problems with that. I mean, let’s be perfectly honest here; I would look like a legitimate maniac. The other problem is that after all that smiling, my face would ache. And working in customer service is painful enough as it is. Besides, maybe if I look surly enough, old mate across the way will stop talking to me altogether.

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I’m Calm, and You’re a Jerk

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hate being told to calm down. It’s like red rag to a very angry bull, especially when I’m perfectly calm to begin with. I feel like there’s nothing more condescending than being told to calm down. It’s like saying “I understand that you think there is an issue here, but you’re just being hysterical and your so called problem isn’t that big of a deal”. It’s a criticism of your behavior and makes you feel like you need to justify your emotions. It’s like being told that your concerns are invalid, and thus you aren’t worthy of the other person’s time.

I had that experience yesterday. I had a problem, I rang someone to discuss it so I could sort it out, and the very first thing he said to me was “calm down, I got this”. Now, a quick bit of context here. I had expressly asked this person to do something, and when I returned, discovered that he had completely disregarded my (very clear) instruction, and done things a completely different way. Now, people doing things their way rather than mine doesn’t bother me, if the job ends up done correctly. But in this instance, the person in question had taken it upon himself to do things that a) made giant problems for me,  b) left me completely out of the loop, and c) was entirely the wrong thing.

It took a great deal of self control to not call him some nasty names over the phone. Instead, I told him not to minimise the problems at hand, or tell me to calm down when I hadn’t even been remotely not calm. He responded with further condescension and a blase attitude that tested my level emotions. And even more infuriatingly, didn’t seem to acknowledge that he had made a mistake. It’s frustrating to have your work and your authority questioned, but those two little, seemingly innocent words have the power to make everything so much worse.

Think about it. There are very few situations where telling someone to calm down is a helpful solution. Your friend is upset because her partner has just broken up with her? Give her ice cream, give her hugs, tell her she’s better off without the ex and let her cry and rage and get her emotions out, but do not tell her to calm down. Your workmate is stressing about a job they have to do? Offer to help, get them a cup of tea/coffee and remember that telling them to calm down will seem disingenuous and like you don’t really care. A loved one is in hospital? Be there for you family/friends, cry if you all need to, and be mindful of telling grieving or anxious people to be calm. Because I think in times of sadness and stress, you are entitled to your wild emotions and no one has the right to tell you otherwise.

Calm has its place, definitely. Ask Manny, he’ll tell you, But it is something that you control and something that no one else can tell you to do, or be. Unless they want to be punched in the head for being insensitive, dismissive jerks.

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An Open Letter to Customers; I am Competent, I Promise

Dear customers,

I have been doing my job for two years. I know that that is probably not information you are privy to before approaching my counter. For all you know, it could be my first day. But given the job I do, I think it’s a fairly safe assumption that if it was my first day, or my first week, or even my first month, I wouldn’t be in the shop alone. Suffice to say, yes, I do know what I’m doing. So you really, truly don’t have to ask three times in a row if I can do my job. I promise you I can.

I know a lot of you are disheartened or dubious about being served by me, because I am a girl. It may then interest you to know that my vagina has absolutely no bearing on my ability to do my job. No, for those of you that have asked, I don’t need a man to supervise me and yes, I do everything in my shop all on my own. And I have to say, I really don’t understand what is so surprising about a woman being able to repair shoes, or fix watches.

To that one gentleman (and I use that term loosely) that wanted to know when the manager would be in, so he could ‘speak to the man that does the work, and not just the pretty face who serves the customers’, the manager is in the shop six days out of seven, and her name is Amy. Though she is certain that you thought your backhanded compliment was flattering, she would like to inform you that it wasn’t. She is much, much more than her appearance. Furthermore, she is incredibly offended by your casual dismissal of her based on her gender, and by your misogynistic belief that only men are capable of doing anything useful, whilst women are nothing more than eye candy. She would like to tell you, politely, that you are an asshole, sir.

On another note, customers; when I ask you to come back in fifteen minutes, I promise you it is because it really will take me that long to finish your job. Please do not come back after three minutes and get mad at me when I still have twelve minutes before the work is expected to be finished. And do not hover at the counter and tell me how to do my job. Unless you have had the proper training and are standing on my side of the counter, you know less about my job than me, and thus, are in no position to offer advice or direction. For some of you, I’m sure you’re just trying to help. But if you are so confident in your ability to do my job, then by all means do it yourself at home, and stop wasting my time and testing my patience.

Lastly, and this goes for people in general, I would appreciate it if you would not take your bad mood or bad day out on me. I have done nothing to you (though if I have, I am deeply apologetic and you are entitled to be mad at me). I really am just here to help you with a problem that requires you to approach my counter. I will treat you with respect and a friendly attitude, so I don’t think it’s too much to expect at least the former from you in return.

Sincerely, a somewhat put out customer service assistant/shop manager/woman who knows how to do her job.

Cafe Dining, and Breakfast Culture

I went out for breakfast this morning. I sat down with my dad, uncle and aunty at a busy but not overly crowded cafe. It stayed that way for approximately ten minutes and then before I had even fully realised what was happening, the outdoor dining area became overcrowded with lycra-clad yuppies and a young hipster crowd with a collective air of disdain so thick, I could have carved myself off a slice and buttered it to have with my eggs.

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It’s funny really, when you consider what breakfast has become. There was a time when the idea of breakfast conjured up an image of burnt toast and cereal in your pyjamas, still groggy from sleep and sipping absently at your cup of tea to wake you up from a zombie state. These days, breakfast has become more than a meal; it’s a culture.

The cafe today was like a fully rehearsed scene in a play, each person playing a role already set for them. As I watched it unfold I realised that my party were the odd ones out. We were there to enjoy a meal and have conversation. For the other people there, it seemed largely an exercise in judgement and fitting into fashionable stereotypes. The hipsters all walked in together; loud and brash and with an air of arrogance that only the aggressively pretentious can pull off. They were dressed almost exactly the same, and perused the menu with a kind of dissatisfied sneer that was mirrored on every single one of their flawlessly made up and manicured faces. Those in the activewear sipped coffee, and made a grand show of taking off bicycle helmets – though none of them looked as though they had ridden further than a block or two.

Cafe breakfasts are meant as a social occasion, I completely understand that. That’s the reason I go out to eat too. What I can’t understand is how, or why, breakfast went from a simple meal, to a gross display of pretentiousness. Cliches seem to converge on cafe doorsteps, and it’s not enough to just order a meal; you have to do it whilst fitting into some kind of stereotype. Because apparently normal everyday people don’t have breakfast dates.

In addition to the people eating at cafes these days, I can’t help but wonder about the staff. I’m trying to remember the last time I went to a cafe and had a friendly customer service person, or competent waitress. Is there some unwritten hospitality law that you have to pretend like your emotional range and subsequent facial expression repertoire is limited to discontent and boredom? Did I miss a memo somewhere? I work in customer service, I know how shit some people can be. But if I greet you politely, I don’t think it’s too much to ask to expect the same in return. Or hell, if you don’t mean it, I’d be happy with a well executed fake smile. Anything to indicate that you are not in fact, dead inside.

On a side note, I feel like cafe breakfast menus are getting too fancy for a simple girl like me. Frankly, so long as you give me bacon, I’m content. Because everyone knows that if you say you don’t like bacon, you fakin’. And as an additional side note, to the kid who brought out our meals; it is customary to read out the order and place said order in front of the person it belongs to. Coming to the table in sullen silence, placing the plates randomly at the end of the table and walking away is not the done thing.

I had plans of this post being a lot more eloquent but, well, I did a lot of driving today and my brain is fried like eggs on toast. Maybe the next one will be better (no promises!).

On Hating People

People are fickle, aren’t they? They change on a whim and you can think you know a person one day, and they can be a complete stranger to you the next. Sometimes I think I’d be better off without them. Actually, most of the time I think that.

I’m not a people person, and there’s few days that I live where I’m not reminded of that fact. Day after day, people continue to prove what I’ve known about them all along; they are selfish, and cruel. They are dishonest, and disingenuous. They are careless, and malicious, and full of vitriol and vice. People are fucking jerks.

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Wednesday is my spirit animal.

I think back on past relationships, and past friendships. At the time, those people meant a lot to me. I’m sure I meant a lot to them too. And now, I can’t think of a single reason to speak to any of them again. I’m sure they think the same of me, and that’s fine. Even the people I once thought I would have in my life forever now mean nothing to me. Because people change. I’m not exempt. I’m a people, and I’ve changed.

And then I think about the people I know now, and I can’t help but wonder how many of them will be strangers to me in two years. Five years. Ten. Am I going to hurt them? Are they going to hurt me? Should I just give up now, and save us all the trouble? Sometimes I want to. But no, I won’t. The people I love, I guess they can stay. But as for everyone else, I’m getting as far away from them as I can.

To be honest, I grew tired of people a long time ago. I hate them. I mean hell, read the title of this blog, it’s literally in the name. So, here is what I’m going to do. I’m going to write my book. And I’m going to make a lot of money. And I am going to move away from this town I’ve lived in for twenty two years, and I’m going to live in seclusion, as a recluse. I am going to be the less bald, more female version of Spider Jerusalem, living as far away from humanity as I can. I will have a typewriter, and a dog, and a shotgun to shoot anyone who dares intrude upon my self imposed solitude.