I was reminded again yesterday how difficult I find it to speak to someone when there’s no eye contact. It’s partly that I seem to have a mental block against addressing someone till they stop and look at me; other times I’m not sure whether they’re speaking to me or to someone else.
I was in a health food shop, looking for peanuts, but it was just my luck that they had one of those enormous storage trolleys set up beside the peanut rack (why, on a working, shopping middle-of-the-week day??) I was trying to look round it, and one of the two shop assistants came up next to me and faced me, talking (or rather gabbling), but when I turned to see if she was speaking to me, she was busying herself with some work, and her eyes were down. I still didn’t know if she was talking to me, or to the other girl, who was just round the corner and out of sight.
It wasn’t as though she was saying “can I help?” and waiting for an answer, as the words kept coming.
Mysterious. Maybe I should have pulled a Robert De Niro. His line in Taxi Driver is apparently:
That’s probably the only time you’ll ever see the f word on my blog. It doesn’t mean I don’t use or think it… do you think they wrote that line for me?
The next thing I did was go to Currys to look at the PCs and laptops. My interest in buying one was fast dwindling, but I thought I might as well see what was there and how they looked. They must have been having a slow day, as two different salespeople came up and I had to say twice, “thanks, just looking.”
The thing I noticed about that was I didn’t hear them speaking, though I sensed them hovering. I looked round and their words floated away like bubbles… I always marvel that people can converse that way with each other at all; there is no sound! Not like the girl in the peanut shop, perhaps; I could hear her gabbling but not what she was gabbling. Perhaps the acoustics of the two shops are different; Currys was carpeted and dim; the peanuts shop is bright with hard flooring.
The thing about going out is that there’s always someone somewhere either speaking to you or to someone standing next to you. First you have to determine that someone is there, speaking; next you have to figure out whom they’re addressing, then (if it’s you) what it’s about. I get quite nervy in some shops; always looking over my shoulder to make sure there isn’t someone saying “excuse me!” – and when the shop assistants are yelling across the floor at each other, or scatting loudly about on high heels, I’m always keeping half an eye on that as well. Are they speaking to me; do they need me to move so I can get past…? I bet I give the appearance of a shoplifter checking to see if I’m being watched, but I’m just looking to see if you’re talking to me.