Saturday, 2 January 2010

"Sometimes I just can't be bothered to speak to people. Am I anti-social?"

It was 8pm and we were sitting face to face on New Years Day; him: sleepy eyed and hungover on the outskirts of London, me: resting against a concrete pillar in Perth’s darkening cultural square.

“I don’t think you’re anti-social” he replied, looking the webcam straight in the eye. “You just don’t like small talk”.

Unfortunately, small talk is something you have a hell of a lot of when you’re backpacking. Generally people are thrown together by convenience and coincidence, and the need to escape from their boring life back home. Sometimes you find a common ground, a shared interest or sense of humour, as I did with the Devon Boys. But the rest of the time, you end up travelling with people for no other reason than that you both happen to be heading in the same direction.

The German Girl I’d worked with in Coral Bay had appeared at just the right time. Our plans followed the same route and ensured neither of us would be alone for Christmas and New year. And so it goes, her impeccable English and my basic German ended up spending the next 3 weeks in each other's company.

She was 21, polite and friendly. We would have nice conversations, share costs and food, while also managing not to be stuck to each other’s side at every hour of the day. As far as travelling partners go, she was all good.

We just didn’t have all that much in common.

The thing is, conversation after three weeks was much the same as in the first. That and…well, maybe it was just a cultural gap, a kind of German observational sense of humour, or the lack of anything else to say that made her remark on absolutely everything. “Oh, you are having a milkshake today.” She'd say with a smile whenever I bought a milkshake to kick off the morning. "Yeepppp", I'd reply. Or – come to think of it - each time I didn’t get a milkshake, too. “Oh, you are not having your milkshake today”. Noooope. Or each time I ate pasta and pesto (regularly). “Ah! Pasta and pesto again”. Yeeeep. Or, “Not having pasta and pesto tonight?” Umm…Noope. But thanks for the running commentary. Blimey, this is like travelling with the food police.

Then there was the fact that despite numerous attempts, I couldn’t get the girl drunk. I realise that makes me sound quite predatory, but it’s true. I’m not saying I wanted a rave up every night, but occasionally the evening would be calling, screaming for a boozey sesh and she’d have one glass then go to bed. “It’s CHRISTMAS!” I’d say, exasperated after another one-glass night. The clincher came on New Years Eve when me, the German Girl and a Swiss Bloke were having some drinks before heading into Northbridge, the local entertainment district, where stages were set up and bands were playing until 12.

Still with unfinished wine which we decanted into plastic water bottles (classy), the German Girl took us to meet some of her friends. When I found myself sitting opposite an incredibly irritating Californian girl who I had gone great lengths to avoid on my last bus trip, and the two most boring-faced Germans ever to grace Western Australia, I could have cried. They – on NYE – were in a cafe, drinking coffee and ‘trying to warm up’, having got ‘tired’ after one glass of wine. I held back incredulous laughter just long enough to remind them it was Australia, New Years Eve, and 25 degrees outside. Then I grabbed the equally unimpressed Swiss Bloke and we headed away from the awkward silence and painful conversation, and into the bustling streets outside.

Thankfully, the next people we met were Irish. Need I say more? New Year came in a vague haze of wine, Jagermeister and livelier travel buddies from further up the coast. By the time I rolled into our room around 4am, the German Girl was asleep. Enough small talk now, thought I. It’s 2010. Time to move on. Out with the old, in with the new.

And yeppp, I had a strawberry milkshake today to celebrate.


Blue soup said...

You have far more patience than I do Jo. After a week of food observations, I'd've lost my temper and told her to stop.

What a bore (her, not me or you).

Blue soup said...

Oh, and Happy New Year! Glad to hear you had a good one :) Irish :) Great stuff. :)

not twitter said...

Didn't the fact that she was German give you a clue that she might not be-
a/ witty, amusing, interesting
b/ a party animal

The PC crowd want us to get rid of cultural stereotypes because they deem them racist when they are, in fact, almost always correct.

Hails said...

I had a similar experience with two French girls in China on New Year's Eve. Fortunately I found a slightly bonkers Dutchman, an Australian girl and an Irishman. :) Hooray for the Irish! Heheh.

Your blog has been fabulous since you've been travelling. Not that it wasn't before, but you know what I mean! I identify with almost all your experiences, and you've got a great knack for "personalised travel writing", as I like to call it.

Happy New Year to you!

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

blue soup - Thats the thing, I said something like 'What are you, the food police' in a jokey way to see if she got the hint, but no go. So by the end of the 3 weeks I just started pretending that I didn't hear her when she spoke. Rude, but it worked. And Happy new year back!

not twitter - I hate to admit it, but you're right. I came out here with an open mind ready to meet people from all different nationalities, and so far thats meant a lot of Germans. I haven't found any of them particularly exciting. The Swiss on the other hand, now they're a good laugh...

Hails - Thanks thats a nice compliment! Although I haven't actually had time to comment on blogs too much lately, I've really enjoyed yours since you've been in Korea too - it's so interesting because its a completely different culture. I'm actually really enjoying blogging about my travels so its nice to know you're liking reading it.

Al said...

I dont think its anti social to not make small talk. honestly silence is better than meaningless babble when you are stuck with people for 3 weeks...

Ellie said...

Strawberry? Oh, God! (Trying to imitate the food police). xx

Robbie said...

It doesn't seem like disliking small talk, if I was in your shoes I'd hate having to repeat myself every three weeks to new people. It's almost like pressing snooze on a conversation and starting again. It would bore me that. I think I'd end up making stuff just so I didnt bore myself listening to my own same stories.


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