I’m an irrepressible grump in public (when I’m out alone, or just me and the Sproglette), but not without reason. Categorise my behaviour alongside that of 80-year-old men wearing knee socks, polyester shirts, camphor-scented underwear and muttering about the good old days.
It started during my uni days. I honestly believe someone had tattooed my forehead in my sleep. A tattoo visible to all but me, which read, “Attention strange or annoying people! Talk to me NOW!”
The Greenpeace street recruiters saw it, and signed me up to hand over $24 on a monthly basis, from my paltry part-time-job-fed bank account. The mobile phone sellers saw it, and sold me a phone on the lowest plan with the highest call rates. And all those times you’ve witnessed a loud conversation between a borderline psycho (perhaps a recently escaped prisoner), and a very uncomfortable-looking person on the train or bus? Well, the cringing person was probably me.
I was a magnet, I tell you.
But times changed. I finished uni and got me a job in the suburbs, where the only method of transport to and fro was my own automobile. And then I moved overseas for a few years. Where the same conversations took place, I’m sure, but blessedly, I didn’t understand a word.
And then I returned to Australia…
I recently found myself smiling politely through really weird conversations taking place in the completely wrong context: at the library, at the checkout in the supermarket, even in my doctor’s waiting room.
These conversations were initiated by complete strangers (albeit, not the weirdo-loser-salespeople of my former years) talking about things I just don’t want to know about. Boyfriend troubles? Check. Flooded toilet at home? Check. Sexual dysfunction? Check. Rare infectious skin diseases? Check!
It made me wonder. What’s the reason for this penchant of ours for striking up conversations with total strangers? I personally think it’s a form of therapy. Never before have our movements and lives been more transparent than in today’s ‘social networking’ age. It’s oh-so-difficult to keep a secret, so most people don’t.
Instead, they spill their secret beans to strangers they’ll never meet again. The minutiae of these conversations are never remembered by either party, and the speaker gets whatever’s bothering them off their metaphorical chest.
This brash and willing openness is an inherently Australian trait, it seems, and one most Aussies are proud of. But it niggles the be-jesus out of me. And after mentioning my frustrations to my friends, who then called me all sorts of names for being so intolerant, I’ve discovered it’s inherently UN-Australian to complain about it.
After months of suffering, I went on strike. I took a stand and shut down every conversation that came my way. When someone initiated a coversations about their infected big toe and runny nose, which leak the same-coloured liquids, I shot them my version of Blue Steel and left them cold.
I was happy for a while. The grumpy public persona did wonders. No-one tried to sell me cable TV at the supermarket anymore. I could buy my milk in peace… Hurrah!
But now I have a problem: life’s become a bit too boring. No one talks to me. I listen wistfully as my friends regale me with witty stories about engaging in weird conversations with people who work at the local takeaway curry joint, and I want to reciprocate with a funny story too.
It’s time for me to stop complaining and drop the grumpy face.
Which is great timing actually, because now I can tell that nice lady I met at the library about the colour of Sproglette’s poo yesterday.