My post about male fashion and reluctance to express oneself has made me think.
There is a joke about a group of strangers from various nationalities marooned on a desert island. After a month most of them have buddied-up … but the British are still waiting to be introduced to each other.
I’m not a fan of cultural stereotypes but this one does have ring of truth about it, though maybe it should just be English rather than British as the Scots and Northern Irish I know are nothing like as uptight as the English (I don’t know many Welsh people so can’t comment).
Being an introvert and quite shy I rarely make the first approach to anyone. And even if introduced by a third party there is always that tentative dance around whilst I work out if I have anything in common with them before I start to let them in. This can last years, especially as I don’t want to seem nosy or creepy by asking questions! Decades of this have taught me that it is easier to simply not ask questions – but this is silly as it makes me seem disinterested. Asking questions helps form bonds as people like to talk about themselves to someone interested enough to ask. Or at least I do.
Each morning I share a bus stop with two ladies. We have done this for ten years but have never exchanged a word. Even when I met one of them elsewhere (she was working in our polling station at elections) and we smiled and acknowledged each other and had a brief chat – it was back to silence in the bus stop the next day. This really messes with my head. The two ladies stand together at the opposite end of the stop to me but they don’t talk to each other either – sorry ladies but it reminds me of sheep clinging together in the presence of a predator and really gives me the impression that they are prejudiced against me due to my sex.
In case you are wondering – they don’t get the same bus as me in the evening so can’t remember the ‘Bus Papers’ experiments…
It makes me a bit paranoid. I know I send out ‘go away’ vibes – even my wife says so – but TEN YEARS! One of these days I’m going to crack and introduce myself as this is SO silly.
OK – I know I’m being daft. They have that British reserve themselves, or don’t do mornings, or have had bad experiences with men. Chances are we’d have nothing in common anyway.
Earlier this year we had a Dutch MSc student working in our lab, though not with me. I was aware she was about to start that week but had never met her. I had heard she was going to share an office with my colleagues Hayley and Sarah. Anyway – I was in there chatting with Hayley when the student came in. To my absolute shock she marched straight over to me, looked me in the eye, gave me a big smile, held out her hand and introduced herself. My defences dropped immediately and we always stopped for a chat whenever we met. She later told a colleague that my goodbye hug when she left a month later made her cry.
This instant bond has happened to me just a few times in my adult life, with both women and men. The one thing they have in common was that, with only one exception, they have all been from overseas and introduced themselves in a direct and friendly way that disarmed me. Sometimes I think that it actually helps to bond with me when someone has English as their second language because my social awkwardness is perhaps less obvious to them. BUT – that doesn’t explain the friendly self-introduction that we British people seem so crap at unless trying to sell you something.
Their directness was a big help. British people are also often bad at being direct – unless they are being rude; which, sadly, many seem to excel at. I’m an introvert with under-developed social skills. I can’t cope with social subtlety. If someone likes me and wants to spend time with me I want them to say so or I’m going to expect the worst and distance myself before I get hurt.
In order to make a small effort to combat this – two nights last week I made a point of introducing myself to a new member at the gym. It went OK, though they did seem a bit surprised!
(Last night one of the ladies I am friendly with at the gym actually clapped her hands with delight when she found out she would be working with me – I blushed! )