52% intelligent. 9% modest. More monkey than bear.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

What the hell am I doing here?

Christmas is nearly upon us. Without wanting to sound too much like Eberneezer, it's a time of year when the roads are choked, the shops are full and the weather is cold, dark and miserable. Even the adverts on tv get worse, if such a thing is possible. I swear Currys are repeating their adverts this year. Did they really bring back Linda Barker? It is also the time of year when my diary starts to choke up with various unavoidable commitments. Now, family and friends at the weekend I can just about cope with. That's okay. They're good people, people I choose to spend my time with. Okay, so I lose a bit of sleep and don't get my usual lie-in on weekend, and have to spend time travelling about the place, but that's alright. The bit that I struggle with is the work stuff. Those parties, those lunches and dinners that I get invited to because of where I work and the people that I work with.

I'm shy.

C. has the kind of job where she has lots of suppliers, and for those suppliers she represents by far and away their most important customer. If C. doesn't list some products, they stop making them. As a result of this, these suppliers fall over themselves to get into her good books by giving her stuff, and by inviting her to major sporting events or swanky society dinners. I'll give you a couple of examples: England vs Greece 2002 world cup qualifiers. England vs France in the Six Nations at Twickenham. Hairdresser of the Year.

Ok. So I'm not really expecting anyone to be that bothered about the last one, but the other two are things I would quite happily attend. I'll go further. I pay to go this sort of thing. I stay up late at night and try to get hold of tickets. I enter ballots 18 months in advance to get tickets to that sort of thing.

Anyway. In my job I get nothing like that (well, I occasionally get bought a coffee, sometimes a nice coffee, one not made by Klix). Actually that's okay. The sporting events would be fine, but I would really struggle with the rest of it - for the same reason that I tend to struggle with parties at this time of year.... I have minimal social skills in this sort of context and I have absolutely no ability to make polite small talk.

I think it's something to do with being introverted (in a myers-briggs sense of the word that is, I'm not a shrinking violet). I am not frightened of large crowds of people. I cope quite happily at Glastonbury with 120,000-odd other souls and no decent sanitary facilities. What does alarm me though is when I am expected to spontaneously make polite conversation with people I do not know well. Somehow its easier to talk to someone that I don't know at all than to talk to someone I half-know.

You know the old conundrum about what to when you see someone you know walking past you? Do you smile broadly and say hello? Do you smile in half acknowledgement? Do you ignore them? Do you suddenly pretend to be interested in your mobile phone? (and don't you just HATE those people who don't just say "hello" but feel the need to say "how are you?" as well? What's with this follow-up question? that requires a response, but you've now already walked past me and I have to turn around and call out after your back... but you knew that. You only did this to humiliate me and make me feel socially inadequate, didn't you?)

How are you supposed to talk to someone you don't have anything to talk to about?

How am I supposed to pretend to be interested in what you have to say, when I can barely hear you over the music and think you are a moron?

Oh. And I'm not interested in cars either. As a man, this is something of a conversation stopper. I can talk about football. I can talk about cricket. In fact, if you have an interest in any kind of sport at all, I bet I can have a conversation with you (albeit one where you may end up hearing more statistics than you are generally comfortable with - I think that's why I like cricket). Cars? Forget about it. X3, MR-2, 2CV, C5, TT? Gibberish. Couldn't care. Sorry.

Worse. I'd probably look at you like I thought you were a brainless shitheap.

That's another talent I have that tends to kill conversation. I wear what I am thinking of you clearly on my face. I have no guile. That's great if I like you and I'm enjoying talking to you, but less great if I just want to run away and hide (actually, this gift does me no favours at work either).

It's funny. When I was at school, we used to have prospective parents or eminent visitors come round to our house for lunch, and my housemaster always used to take me to one side and ask me to make sure that I was sat next to them. Perhaps this was because of my dazzling repartee, although I think more likely it was because I was because I could be relied upon to at least be polite - there was a rather unfortunate trend at my school to completely ignore the person who sat at the end of your table. Some days a poor soul could sit through lunch and not exchange a word with any of the people who were sitting next to him. I was a nice polite lad, a scholar, I could be relied upon to smile weakly and talk about the weather or something. Same thing happened at forum. This was an alternative to chapel (which we were occasionally spared on a Sunday). This was where someone came and gave the school a lecture about, say, mountaineering, or the perils of smoking. They would often have a sprititual theme, but were in the main infinitely preferrable to the constant standing-sitting-kneeling of chapel. Of course, we were always desperate for them to finish. It had to be shorter than chapel, else what was the point? The speaker would eventually wind down and would ask if there were any questions. It took a brave boy to ask anything (or a stupid one - and I'm thinking here of a chap call Hugh Huxley). They would stand up to ask their question, and a 100 pairs of eyes would be throwing daggers at them.

Of course, the school were embarrassed if there were no questions asked, as it made it all too obvious that we would far rather be somewhere else. Anywhere else (except chapel). Inevitably this meant that some people would be given questions to ask as they trooped in for their talk. The questions had to be given to someone who could be relied upon to ask it, but could also be relied upon to ask the question without reading it off the little piece of paper it came on, word by painful word.

Yes. Of course I always got given one.

Yes. Of course I always asked it.

It was a fine line you know.... asking the question in such a way that made it look like I had just thought of it, but to make it clear to my fellows that this was not MY question.

Anyway. Christmas parties. A room in a pub is okay, I suppose. You can sort of find someone you know and try and spend the whole evening with them. Mingling is not something I do. I can't walk up to a group of people and impose myself on them. Why would I do that? Why would anyone? Why do people do that to me when I'm talking to my friends, well, the people I'm hiding in the corner with? Sit downs are worse though. I always end up sitting right at the end of the table with some people I barely know, while all the people I do know end up sitting at the other end of the room, at that part of the table that I will end up calling the "fun" part. Meanwhile, I'll have a polite conversation with someone about the hotel they stay in during the week, or (as on one excruciating occasion) their passion for growing orchids.

I don't know why I'm like this.

Everywhere I go, everything I do, I have this ability to step outside of myself, look down at what I am doing and think "Wanker". I find this inhibiting. I know when I am bullshitting. I know when I have nothing much to say to someone. They don't know it, but I know it and that's enough.

Words. They're the thing. Why do you need a phone? Why go and see people when you can say it so much more articulately in an email?

It's pathetic, and I try to fight it. I make myself ring people up. I force myself to get up off my arse and try to talk to people. I'm 30 years old dammit. I can pretend I'm as socially skilled as the average 10 year old can't I?

Everyone else can.


  • At 8:50 pm, Blogger Aravis said…

    I'm sorry ST but I had to laugh when I read this because you sound exactly like me in those situations! I'm also an INFP (Myers-Briggs)and I think and act just as you do. Except for the "friend on the street" scenario. It is my belief that if they ask me how I am and don't linger for the answer then they don't really care and I needn't bother to respond!

    You are expected to discuss cars you say? As a woman I am expected to dance with my husband's boss. Not by my husband, mind. He doesn't expect me to schmooze. But you don't say no to the boss of your spouse if you can help it. Horrible, horrible situation. It's made worse by the fact that the boss is older and has a son who is also my spouse's boss and he, too, expects me to dance. Grrr. I hide down the hallway and try to pretend to be busy with something but the come and find me and drag me back into the ballroom. I must have FUN! Only it's their idea of fun, not mine. I would be much happier sitting with my husband and our acquaintances, dancing occasionally with them when I choose to. Not when I'm being dragged onto the floor. I'm shy. Why can't they just leave me alone?

    And what is with the mandatory conga line??? Whose sick twisted idea was it that nobody is allowed to sit that one out?

  • At 2:00 am, Blogger OLS said…

    I can sort of relate - I'm an ISTP, but pretty borderline on everything. I've found that I'm very friendly when approached by a stranger, but I won't approach people myself. As long as the other person strikes up the conversation, you'd almost call me extroverted - I find small talk easy and I'm told I'm even occasionally funny. The way I write on my blog is the way I talk in person, so that would give you some idea.

    As for the recognition "hello" - I usually make do with a nod and a smile, which removes any awkward "how are you?" moments. It also means I don't reveal that I don't remember anyone's names! ;o)

    I can talk cars (down to the benefits of a limited slip diff) even though I have no interest in them. I can do the same with cricket - I have no idea who is playing who when, but I can tell you that Don Bradman's batting average was 99.98 (the guy where I buy my lunch was very impressed by that). I'm pretty much the same with any sport. It's really just a matter of asking the right questions. You don't actually have to know anything about it!

    I do know what you mean by body language though - apparently mine doesn't just talk, it screams! Thankfully most of the people at these social events are far too drunk to notice. Either that, or I get better at masking it the more drunk I get. My big problem is distraction - the less sober I am, the more likely I am to be distracted by anything bright and shiny - like the gorgeous guy who just walked past smelling great! That generally doesn't go down well... ;o)

    Anyway, I was going to comment on your books post, but for some reason, IE keeps on crashing every time I try to access it. I actually posted about this very topic a while back, when the voting was open for My Favourite Book. The results are now in, and you can see Australia's top 100 books here.

    Well it's good night from me, and it's goodnight from him.

    - OLS

  • At 2:02 am, Blogger Mark said…

    You and me both on this. Here's a hint : stop being such a good faker at fitting in, and I won't feel like I'm the only person who can't fully integrate with others either?


  • At 2:37 am, Blogger Jim said…

    Hey Toni:
    I can relate a little. Being that my job is to shmooze the wealthy, who can be either charming or hideous...I've become a great actor. I'm great with people...but it's very draining. I don't like crowds where I cannot focus on a few individuals. I can read people well, and be what they expect...for a living.

    My neighbors hardly know me and I have very few real friends.

    You shouldn't feel bad, you aren't trying is all. If you wanted you could chat up a storm and project amiability. I think you just don't want to is all, and that's OK too. Doesn't mean anythings the matter!

  • At 5:46 am, Blogger Jenni said…

    The worst (for me anyway) is when you go to a function of your significant other's, and they suddenly become very busy and important talking to people and you are seemingly unavoidably left to fend for yourself amongst a crowd of people you know next to nothing about. Although I also sympathize with Aravis's dancing problem. Although not married, I've been in similar situations. Never comfortable.

  • At 10:06 am, Blogger Teresa Bowman said…

    I know exactly what you mean, Swiss. Although I'm not quite as cripplingly shy as I used to be, I still find it difficult to make with the small talk. Even worse when you're at the sort of function where everybody else knows each other and you know only a couple of people, or nobody at all. I'm a bit more outgoing now than I used to be, but only really because I kind of forced myself to be. I'm only acting, really - and therefore can understand exactly what you mean when you talk about standing back and looking at yourself and thinking "Wanker".

    Mind you, I say that, but a couple of years ago I went to a party where I hardly knew anybody at all and I ended up arranging fridge magnets into rude words with a complete stranger. (The phrase that we came up with that sticks in my memory more than any other is "pig orgasm", for some reason.)


    "I wasn't laughing properly
    When you were talking to me
    I didn't find it funny
    Your story didn't do it for me
    False conversations
    A waste of time ..."

  • At 2:51 pm, Blogger Damo said…

    >and don't you just HATE those people who don't just say "hello" but feel the need to say "how are you?" as well?

    No. No I don't. I wouldn't ask the follow-up to someone I don't know, but I ask it of my friends and colleagues all the time. And I don't intend to stop doing so either.

    You should ponder on this, because I know that some people are less shy than others. But you're perfectly capable of talking at length on your blog about things, which is fine. If you can do it through a computer but not so easily in public, you need to think about that. I was pretty shy until I was 18 (I'm 32 now) then I made a conscious effort once I went to university to do something about this. I took a computing degree and got to know many people through the PC - but many of them, once down the pub or wherever, were not so fluent in conversation. This was an eye-opener and probably explains why I've got the (possibly slightly harsh) viewpoint that I have.

    I don't go for any of those American-style self-motivation books and phrases, yet the title of one of them embodies the philosophy that I've adopted - Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway. Sounds daft... sounds very daft, but there's a lot in that. Haven't read the book mind, and it's probably crap.

    It's not an overnight process, but you need to think about this... in my opinion anyway. A couple of things I read in today's blog entry alarmed me somewhat, so apologies if I seem a little forthright.

  • At 3:02 pm, Blogger Damo said…

    I should probably clarify the above before one of at least two people who know me jump in. I haven't always been the quickest at doing this I should have done - what I meant above was that I've taught myself not to be afraid of anyone or anything. It's a skill that can genuinely be acquired with practice.

    But I worry slightly when you say that if someone talks on a topic not of interest to you, you don't want to know. If you talked to a car enthusiast about music and he/she showed disdain, you wouldn't be happy (and for the record, I'm a music rather than a car enthusiast myself). It's important to be interested in people - otherwise we wouldn't be reading each others' (many and varied in nature) blogs...

  • At 4:17 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    Thanks for the comments.

    I should probably say a couple of things at this point:

    1) Although I do wear what I think all to readily on my face, and I am genuinely rubbish at small talk - I am not a social cripple and I do make the effort to talk to people (and sometimes succeed)

    2) I am genuinely interested in people and I like company. I do not class myself as a loner or anything like that. I get a lot of stimulation from building on what other people have said or written - one of the reasons I like reading blogs actually (and why you may have noticed that some of my posts have been "inspired" by something you may have said)

    I was trying to write from the point of view of my internal voice.

    I know exactly where you are coming from Damo, and I appreciate your comments and your forthrightness.....


  • At 4:26 pm, Blogger LB said…

    have you not seen that new Mazda RX-8? Rotary engine, 0-60mph in 6.4 seconds, 146mph maximum speed?



  • At 6:22 pm, Blogger John McClure said…

    Can tomorrow's entry be about why the entries you most want to take the time to construct a decent comment for always come on the days when you have clients in the office and you don't get the chance?

    I'm with you on the people asking how I am thing - but I'm also with Damo. I suspect what ST is driving at (and hitting) is that the question has become a phrase devoid of meaning - it has become the thing that pops out of your mouth immediately after you've said "Hello" and that most people who use it aren't genuinely interested in finding out how you are. As such, as Damo says, asking (or being asked by) friends and family is fine, but, as ST says, asking (or being asked by) people who really don't care and are just making conversation is a complete waste of time.

    Small talk sucks if you suck at it (and I'm too lazy to do anything but suck at it) and it is entirely confidence based - it doesn't take much of a sultry response from the person you're engaged in conversation with to derail a thoughtful and analytical mind that is playing at being a robust and chatty mind. Next thing you know, you're seeing yourself and calling yourself a wanker and resolving never to speak again because it will be easier to just shut up.

    The problem is that life can't be one of those blindingly wonderful conversations, which crop up from time to time, all the time. If it was, we'd all be exhausted from the emotional strain. I have a tendency to react to wonderful conversations by condemning the meaningless drivel that I've had to endure since the last one, but really, you can't reach that other level without swimming through a lot of old rubbish to get there first.

    I spent a long time assuming that everyone was the same as me - but it turns out that there are people in the world (a great any of them when it comes to it) who don't have a deeper level that they're trying to hide from me. They're not being deliberately bland; they just are.

    Often though, I find my reaction to other people is more dependent on my own mood than what they're like. Sometimes I could find the dullest person on earth spectacularly interesting, and sometimes I could yawn and yawn at someone who has the greatest stories in the world and more charisma than David Hasselhoff.

    As for the "I can be interesting and have good dialogue online, so why can't I do it for real" - because for real doesn't have a delete button. For real doesn't have as much thinking time. For real means you know the reaction you're getting as you're speaking (and you'll always focus on the bad bits), not waiting for a considered verdict on the entirety of what you've said.

    Online has its downsides - dredgers love it ("You said X at Y o'clock, look *copypaste* see? Now you're saying Z, you shallow fucker!") - and the heat of the moment (which is often required to spark those interesting conversations) is somewhat tepid.

    Anyway - like I said - I've too much work to go into it now *cough*

  • At 9:37 pm, Blogger Damo said…

    > I was trying to write from the point of view of my internal voice.

    Fair enough. My opinion in all honesty is that the Internet is not always the best way of conveying these things because there is no sense of nuance. Reading back what I wrote, it comes across very harsh and it isn't meant that way at all. This is the main reason I changed the nature of my blog... but that's just me, and the comparison in number of readers between yours and mine (i.e. you get many more) speaks for itself in terms of what people would rather read!

  • At 2:33 am, Blogger Mark said…

    "hell is in hello"....

    That song had Richey Manic intellectually stumped for days.


  • At 11:36 am, Blogger the urban fox said…

    ST... I think everyone feels the same way you do, and thinks nobody else does. Everyone nice, anyway. Over-confident types are probably OK with the meaningless chatter of social events but people with both brain and heart almost always see through it. Er, in my view.

    As for the fatuous "how are you?" asked while walking past, I find a similarly swift "Good thanks, you?", without turning or breaking stride, usually suffices. Then let them be the one to have the "Eek, do I answer or not? WHAT is the etiquette?" crisis. Harsh but fair. Ha.

  • At 1:11 pm, Blogger Ali said…

    Wai-ai Tone.

    And, "How are you?" ;)

    Since it's been weeks since you posted this, and I'm not caught up with all your posts, and you never hang out behind the bikesheds on Bookcrossing Street anymore - I just wanted to say in one place;

    Next time you're down in London with your ment-ee do let me know. We could go out for a glass of squash, and sit struggling for conversation quite companionably together.

    You really must swing by my 'blog' at the "other place" from time to time and post something intelligent to raise the standards over there.

    I wish you peace in your heart, and peace on earth for Christmas.

  • At 9:00 pm, Blogger The Num Num said…

    Hmm. I'm an INFP, and I'm drawn to those Self-Help books that damo laughs at. TBH I do laugh at them afterwards too, but I kinda need them to help me feel I'm sorting my issues out and getting a bit better at being better.

    You're close you know, to figuring out why you are like what you are. The MBTI is a powerful tool, and being a fan, I've come to the conclusion its the closest to accurate that Ive come across. The books are required though, they'll go into more detail and provide a thorough test.

    Still, feel the fear - its the premise of EVERYTHING I do. I haven't read that book, but I do know this. I am naturally afraid of the unknown, and I'd wager 99% of the population are too. I am also afraid of situations where my actions influence the outcome almost entirely - i.e. a chess game, a meeting, a showdown, a one-one on the football pitch etc.

    The thing I am drawn to to help me through that is that - fear is natural. Its just a signal that you can use to (a) focus you or (b) distract you.

    I used to go with (b) but now i use it for (a). If I feel butterflies, nerves, tension, I realise something demands my attention, I breath slow and enjoy whatever it is. Heck, I'm gonna make mistakes, I'm gonna upset people (even my pals), I'm gonna f**k up. But I do those things not because I want to, but because I'm not perfect. And the saving grace is...I'm doing my best to learn and avoid doing those things again.

    Anyway, thats my fear management. Cheaper than a book and as useless and up my jacksy as any loud mouthed motoguru could manage ;-)


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