Strangers and Their Small Talk

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.

How I Awkwarded Myself Into Buying a Giant Cup I Didn’t Want

Do you ever walk away from a situation cringing internally about how awkward you were? It happens to me pretty regularly. Honestly, if I ever need inspiration for an awkward character, I need look no further than my own reflection. My entire life is a string of humiliating experiences and cringeworthy encounters.

Today I had a day off, so I drove down to a nearby cafe. I stop into this particular cafe from time to time because they make an excellent soy hot chocolate, and you’d be surprised how difficult it is to get a good one in the town I live in. I walked in with a firm idea in mind regarding what I wanted. See, in addition to my takeaway beverage, I wanted to buy one of the reusable cups they sell. I eye off the display every time I walk into the cafe, and keep intending to buy one, so today I thought I would.

I approached the counter and placed my order for a large soy hot chocolate, and then enquired about their cups and I said I would like a black one. This is where the miscommunication, and my inability to clearly explain myself threw a spanner in the works. See, I wanted a small cup. My daily takeaway beverage is a chai, and I only ever have a small because too much sugar sets me teeth on edge. The small size in this particular brand of cup is perfect for what I wanted, and it never occurred to me that there would be sizes other than the small and medium cups on display.

My mistake lay in ordering a large hot chocolate. My intention was to buy my larger drink, and then also buy a small cup. Instead, the girl interpreted it as me wanting my hot chocolate IN a large cup. She told me they had no black cups in the large size, and indicated to a blue one instead. Instead of explaining that I only wanted a small cup, I got flustered by the unexpected information and said “a blue one is fine!”

The girl behind the counter then disappeared to grab one before I had time to correct myself. By the time she came back with a large blue cup, I felt too embarrassed to explain that I really only wanted a small one, and in black. The barista asked if I wanted my drink in the mug, and having resigned myself to buying the large cup, I said that was fine. The girl who served me then said they would need to wash it first if that was the case and I, by now flushed with embarrassment and desperate to not be any more hassle, blurted out “I’ll take it however it comes!” I think I startled the barista a little, and the girl serving me was probably silently begging me to get out of their tiny space in case my awkwardness was infectious.

The thing is, I’m aware that it probably doesn’t sound all that embarrassing but standing there in that little cafe, unable to properly verbalize what I wanted, was absolutely, horrifyingly uncomfortable. The notion of actually asking for a small cup, after the girl had gone to the trouble of getting a large one, felt like I was being a burden, and made me increasingly anxious. Which of course only made the words stick in my throat even more. Go figure.

My cheeks burning red with mortification, I paid for my drink and the mug, and silently stepped away from the counter. While I waited, I considered the fact that had I have just been able to get my stupid brain to work, I’d likely have saved myself $35 and actually ended up with the item I wanted. The giant hot chocolate filled cup came out moments later, and I scurried out the door as quickly as I could. But not before I babbled nervously about how I didn’t mean to make things difficult. So now I can never go back (ok, perhaps a tad dramatic), and I have a massive reusable cup that I will probably never use. Ah well, what’s a socially awkward girl to do?

Alone at a Wedding

It’s official. My life has finally become a bad comedy for real.

Yesterday my friend got married. I was invited to the wedding sans a plus one, because I don’t have a significant other. But I knew that another couple from our old work place were invited, and I always got on with them very well, so I knew I would have someone to sit with, and talk to.

So when yesterday arrived, I got myself dolled up and drove an hour to the venue. I got there and gave my friend a hug (I’m not usually a hugger, but I made an exception because it was his wedding, duh). Then he said the words that made my heart sink. Our other work friends weren’t coming. I didn’t know a single other person besides the bride and groom. I was very much alone, in a room full of strangers. Aaaaand cue my social anxiety.

The ceremony was fine; short and sweet. The bride looked lovely in a simple, yet elegant dress of tulle and lace. The venue itself was a school camp, and despite my initial thoughts upon hearing that, it was actually quite a lovely spot. During all that talking, it was ok to sit there quietly, alone. Afterwards, whilst the bridal party did all the official stuff, another guest came to sit with me and we started chatting. As it turns out, her cousin actually runs the networking event that I attended a few months ago, and we had a laugh about a few remembered moments from the night in question. She was quite a character, and I enjoyed talking with her. But when it came time to go inside for dinner, she and her husband were seated far away from me, and I was put on a table with a bunch of middle aged strangers.

The meals were brought out – a serve yourself kind of deal, with roast meat and vegetables – but my stomach was churning and I was unable to eat. Which of course only served to draw unwanted attention, as people questioned why I wasn’t eating, and then cast sideways glances at me while they all conversed. I could read the looks on their faces, and practically hear them thinking how strange and rude I was. I attempted conversation with a few guests at my table, but none were particularly interested and I fell into sitting in silence.

My friend did come to chat to me a few times, but it was his wedding and he had many other people to talk to, so I didn’t want to monopolize his time. A couple of the groomsmen also came to chat a little, but for the most part I sat there very much alone, one of the few single people in a room of couples, and groups of friends. Am I glad I went, to celebrate the wedding for my friend? Yes. Did my solo presence stick out like the proverbial sore thumb? Absolutely. Was I acutely uncomfortable and anxious? You bet your ass I was.

Weddings are not traditionally events that one attends alone. They are a celebration of the very nature of being in a relationship. And there I was, sitting like the loser in every bad comedy you’ve ever watched. The only difference is that my actual life doesn’t come with that story arc and happy ending!

Honestly, it was a lovely wedding and I’m so very happy for my friend and his new bride. But I don’t think I’d be in a hurry to repeat the experience.

On Social Anxiety, Gift Giving, and Unintentionally Being a Bitch

It’s Christmas tomorrow. The time of love and joy and family and…whatever. It is also a time for gift giving. Now, if you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you will know that Christmas is not my favourite time of year. I am the Grinchy Scrooge of Bah Humbugville, and I spend most of December waiting for the 26th, when I have a whole year of freedom before I have to do it all over again. But one of the main things that I don’t love about Christmas is the gift giving.

I can almost hear the collective sounds of eyebrow raising (supersonic hearing, yo) but hear me out. Most people enjoy receiving gifts, whether expected or not. But the thing that I hate about it is having to open them in front of everyone. And my unwillingness to do so makes me seem ungrateful, and rude. The thing is, I do appreciate the gifts at Christmas. But the thought of having to open them publicly literally makes my heart race. I get uncomfortable. I get awkward. I get ridiculously anxious.

Today, I had that experience. My boss came out to work today to give Christmas gifts to me, and Sarah (my workmate). It was incredibly thoughtful, and I was incredibly thankful. But could I express that? Uh, no. I thanked him and then set the box down on the counter to be opened later. Which would have seemed like I couldn’t care less that he had gone to the trouble of going into a shop, and choosing a gift for me, and then coming out to deliver it. Normal people are happy to open gifts in front of the giver. Not me. Despite his insistence that I open it, I just couldn’t do it. My heart started to race, my hands started to shake. And all I could do was try and brush it off. Which I did, effectively. (and then I refused him a high five, because it’s usually my knee jerk reaction when he holds his hand out for one. Even though for once, I didn’t mean to! Ooops.) Anyway, I think I offended him. So yup, I’m a total jerk. Thanks, anxious brain.

Of course, once he had left and I wasn’t being watched, I did open the gift, and it was a sweet, dainty little silver bracelet. I was actually really impressed at how Amy appropriate it was! And I promptly sent him a message to thank him. See, in addition to being plagued by social anxiety, I also have this issue with being affectionate. Which is to say, I’m really not very good at it. I don’t really hug, and when I want to be nice, it often comes out as an insult or something. It’s like, in my head I want to say to people ‘hey buddy, you’re a rad dude and I like your face’ and what comes out is ‘you’re a fucking dickhead’. It’s a problem…I should probably work on that, so I don’t develop Heinous Bitch Syndrome (it’s a legitimate thing, I’m sure of it). Over text message or in writing, I can be nice as pie. Because there’s a kind of detachment there I guess, in the sense that I don’t have to do it face to face. It’s not that I mean it any less, but I just feel more comfortable when I don’t have to be a human in person. There is an actual possibility that I am part robot. I’ll make a note to ask my parents.

So, if any of y’all know me, or will perhaps one day meet me; if I seem like a cold, heartless banshee woman, that’s why. I’m not a cow, I’m just awkward.

The Art of Flirting

I went out for tea with a friend of mine last night. We were sitting there after finishing our meal, waiting, at first patiently, and then less so patiently for the waitress to come and clear our plates so we could order more drinks. (‘Full table service provided’ doesn’t mean much to these people, evidently.) When the somewhat snooty waitress finally deigned to do her job and come and ask us if everything was ok, we decided to order two hot chocolates. As she was taking our order, another waitress came up and stood beside her while she wrote our order down. Then she told us, completely unexpectedly, that our drinks would be free, courtesy of two young chaps who had been sitting outside and thought we were cute.

Never in my life has anyone bought me a drink and I confess, I thought the gesture was impossibly sweet. But it presented us with a problem; how to avoid awkwardness. My friend is in a long term relationship and me? Well, guys aren’t really my thing. Neither one of the lads came up to speak to us personally and I only caught the barest glimpse of them as they walked up to the counter a little later. We told the waitress to pass on our gratitude but when they went up to the counter, we did the cowardly thing and left while they were distracted. Bit of a pussy move, huh? I can practically see you shaking your collective heads as you read this.

The thing is, neither one of us really know the proper etiquette if you will, that is involved in being on the receiving end of a shouted drink. Do you go and talk to the buyer? Do you give them a nod of acknowledgment from across the room? Do you go home and sleep with them? Ok, honestly now I’m just confusing movies with reality again but the sad truth is that I honestly don’t know how to react to flirting. From a personal standpoint, I’m not very good at it. And I’ve never really been flirted with so much as had guys aggressively flirting at me.

I’m not the greatest in social situations, especially those involving horny guys, or even to a lesser degree, guys who just find me attractive. It’s not that I don’t think I’m a bit of alright, it’s just that I’m never interested and would rather avoid that awkwardness altogether. I’ve had a number of experiences with guys who just couldn’t take no for an answer and my polite indifference soon turned to vehement and defensive anger. I’m not trying to be rude but I just don’t want to have a drink with you, or see a movie with you, or catch up some time. It’s nothing personal.

I don’t flirt because flirting leads to trouble if only one party is interested and I’m legitimately never interested. I don’t see the point in leading a person on if you have no interest, all for the sake of being polite or because you’re bored. The problem is that being that I’m no good at it, I don’t flirt with people I find attractive to start a conversation either. Social awkwardness and all that. So really, the moral of this story is that I am destined to be single forever because I have not and can not master the art of flirting. Bring on the cats.

P.S. I actually don’t like cats. Shit. Better think of a Plan B.