Saturday, 20 October 2012

Beware of people

Several years ago, while I shared an office with another woman, my office-mate and I laughed at a power-point presentation entitled 'Engrish', which consisted of anglophone signs from China. The fun thing about it was of course that the Chinese made a lot of mistakes. I make mistakes myself when writing English, so for me it is OK to laugh (I hope). One of the signs were from the exit of a public transportation and it read: 'Beware of people'. The true meaning is obvious, nevertheless the actual sign was hilarious. So much so, that we printed it out, and tagged it to the exit of our office.

It was not just for fun though. Inside the office we were safe (I don't know how she felt about it, this is my rationing), we knew each other very well and we had our things there. We were in control. Outside the office we would meet our colleagues, our superior, or people visiting the institute. Our 'fear' of everything outside our wonderful office developed to the point of us buying an electric kettle and some instant coffee, so we didn't have to walk the 20 meters down the hall to the kitchen. Perhaps it was not fear but rather laziness. Not laziness of walking the 20 meters of course but laziness towards relating to the people we might meet on the way.

Why is it so hard to relate to colleagues in a corridor or while waiting for the coffee brewer? I experience the laziness still, in my present job. I have my own office, very close to the kitchen at work. I usually wait till there is noone there, before I go and fetch myself a cup of coffee. Sometimes I tell myself: what rubbish! and I get up and go to the kitchen before giving it any more thought. It's easier when I can hear a conversation that I know how to join in. E.g. if they talk about cakes, or cell phones, or children.

I think it is because I need a "haven". A place where I can retreat to. Where I am safe. I believe most people do, I just think this need is stronger with me than with others.

I feel the same way about my home. I long to go home and I don't want to leave my home. In particular, I don't want to go to other people's homes. When people are visiting us, I go and stay in the kitchen for as long as possible. And I know very well what is trigging me: I am not afraid of other places, I am uncomfortable around 'people'. Not strangers though, I don't have to relate to people in the line at the supermarket or people on the train. Only people I have to relate to. Colleagues, visitors, etc. Because I am uncertain about how to relate. If I talk to much, or too little, too loud or too soft. If I misunderstand irony or if I try to make a joke and it is just not funny.

A discipline that I never mastered is 'friendly teasing', when I say something 'nasty' to a person that is close to me. While I say: 'Dumbass', I really mean: 'I care about you', but I say 'Dumbass' instead to impress all the other people that listen. And quite often, the teasing is an exchange between me and my husband or me and a friend. And now I've given up. Firstly I don't get it before too late when I am being teased, and secondly when I try myself, it always comes out too hard and I hurt people I care about. So I have decided to resign from the friendly teasing.

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