I have a confession to make. I am not very good at talking to strangers. I know, I know, this comes as a complete surprise to everyone. I don’t know how to come up with things to say on the spot and I have to rehearse any impending conversations with strangers to make sure I know exactly what I need to say because otherwise I trip over my words and get completely lost. And even when I have rehearsed, the slightest deviation from the expected conversation can bring the whole scene crashing down. Don’t even get me started on the trouble I have with answering machines, because I never expect those at all.
On a seemingly unrelated note, I wear some very striking clothes. This leads to the common misconception that I’m outgoing. So people who have no idea that I’m shy walk up to me in the street and say things like “I like your boots” and I’m completely unprepared for this so I often just stare at them speechless for awhile until I decide the silence has gone on too long and it’s too late to salvage the situation, so I just walk away.
I have a long purple coat with corset lacing up the back that attracts a fair bit of attention. People are always chasing me to ask where I bought it. Luckily I’ve gotten used to that particular question and have my answer ready now. In case you’re wondering: “London” (and I say it apologetically because they’ll inevitably be disappointed not to be able to buy one in Sydney).
But one day I went into JB Hifi and a man said to me “That coat must keep the back of your knees warm” and I had absolutely no idea what to say. Because what the fuck is that supposed to mean? Is he mocking me? Does he like the coat? Does he think it’s excessively long at the back? Is it excessively long at the back? Is he concerned that, being shorter at the front, it might be insufficient to protect the front of my knees? Because … I’m wearing pantyhose. My knees are fine. I don’t need the coat to cover the front of my knees. Why the fuck are my knees the object of this conversation? Then – Omigod we’re not even having a conversation. I’m still just staring blankly at this guy because I haven’t a clue how to respond and I don’t even like my knees.
So I did the only thing that occurred to me: I turned around and walked away as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, I was in JB because I was after a CD and when I couldn’t find it, I called for assistance, and guess who came to help me.
When I saw the knee guy approaching me, I panicked. What if he says weird things to me again?
So I braced myself and tried to think what to say, and whether I needed to explain my previous urge to flee. Then I glanced behind me and to my immense relief another salesperson was coming down the next aisle. So I very smoothly and subtly and coolly fled from the strange man for the second time that day.
And this is why if you have no witty response prepared you run the serious risk of people thinking you’re hostile. It’s also why I never go into JB Hifi anymore.
Please tell me I’m not alone here. Everyone does this, right?