Wednesday Worries: Complaining

Today has been one of those days that I’m not supposed to mention on this blog. My new shoes rubbed holes in my feet on the way to work. Then my train ticket stopped working, so I got stuck waiting for a staff member to let me through the barriers at the station. Then I nearly got run over by an old man bombing down the middle of the pavement in an electric scooter, as people dived out of his way (actually, that was pretty funny, I have to admit). And so it went on all day – nothing major, but lots of little irritations that had me feeling the whole world was against me.

So what did I do about it? Well, obviously I didn’t say anything to the people who were annoying me – partly because I’m British and they were mostly strangers, partly because I just assumed I was being unreasonable, and mainly because I just don’t do that. (And, in the case of the old man, because he was gone too quickly.)

I’ve no problem complaining bitterly to friends and family after the fact, but in the moment, I’d rather keep my head down and say nothing, even when I’d probably be quite justified in having a rant. On the rare occasion that I do lose my temper, it surprises me just as much as it does anyone else, and usually ends with me bursting into tears of rage, which is incredibly frustrating and generally makes me cry more. But, on the other hand, it does tend to mean I win the argument, because nobody knows what to do.

My inability to complain is particularly pronounced when it comes to dealing with companies. I think it stems from the fact that I’ve worked in customer service roles, and I know what it feels like to have someone shout at you when there’s literally nothing you can do to help them, however much you might want to. It’s amazing how personal some people can make things, and I don’t like that. My train company, for instance, are a complete disaster area, but I see some of the abuse their staff get on Twitter, and it makes me really angry. Yes, it’s frustrating when your last train home’s cancelled, but that poor person working the night shift isn’t responsible for it, and is probably having a miserable night dealing with the chaos.

So I always go out of my way to be nice, even if someone’s not being particularly helpful to me. The other day I was on the phone with a company who had really let me down – a delivery didn’t turn up; I called three times and they never got back to me, then on the fourth call, they announced they’d cancelled my order and said they’d left me a voicemail, when they hadn’t, and then tried to charge me for the redelivery. And I still felt I had to make a point of saying sorry and assuring the rep that I didn’t blame her personally. (I also apologised for shouting, even though my sister, who was listening to my end of the conversation, told me afterwards I hadn’t even raised my voice.)

I am getting a little bit better at making complaints, though, and I mostly have the internet to thank for that. A couple of months back, I tweeted a company to let them know one of their vans had nearly squished my sister and me on a roundabout, and we ended up with a voucher for free tea and cake the next time we’re in their store. Result!

And the other day I wrote a long email to the train company after a catalogue of disasters on my journey home. There were bullet points and everything, it was quite the essay – but I still started the message by apologising for complaining. And ended it by personally thanking the Twitter rep who’d made me repeat three times where I was travelling to, then looked at his computer and informed me that the train was cancelled. Which I’d figured out for myself, funnily enough, since I wasn’t on it.

Whether I’ll ever progress to complaining to a real live person, face to face, is doubtful. But one step at a time is better than nothing, right?

Does anyone else have trouble complaining? Or do you have any tips for a doormat like me?

Wednesday Worries: Making a song and dance

I had a week off from Wednesday Worries last week, because life all got a bit hectic, and while I’d love to say I was too busy to worry, that would be a lie – because I’m a professional, and a professional can always find time for worrying. But I was a bit too busy to write about worrying, which I suppose is something.

Anyway – today is apparently International Dance Day, which leads me neatly to the subject of…

Making a song and dance

The stupid thing is I actually like singing; I was in the choir at school and in my university’s gospel choir, which was really fun. But ask me to sing on my own in front of people and at best you’ll get a laugh, at worst I’ll burst into tears. And nobody needs to see that.

My favourite place to sing used to be in the shower, the fact that nobody else was in the room somehow convincing me the rest of my family couldn’t hear me belting out show tunes. These days, it’s probably my car, because there I know that – unless I’m stuck in traffic with the windows open – there is definitely no chance anyone will hear me. Although they might see me. But that’s okay, I think.

I don’t know why I’m so afraid of singing in front of people. I know my voice is okay; I mean, I’m not about to win any awards, but I’m probably not going to shatter any glasses either. And yet if there’s any chance I think someone’s going to hear me, it’s like my throat closes up and the best you’ll get out of me, even if I try, is a strange croaking sound. The one exception to this is, occasionally, after a few drinks – but even then I’ll be so quiet you probably won’t be able to hear me.

And it’s not just singing. I don’t dance in public either, unless forced as part of a non-optional social convention – and yet I have no problem having a boogie around my living room if the moment feels right.

My aversion to dancing in public is partly a horror of the awkward ‘stand in a circle and bob about’ so beloved at parties and weddings. I always feel very self-conscious in this situation, like everyone’s watching me and judging my particular style of bobbing, and will usually make my excuses and hurry off to check my phone at the first opportunity. And then not come back for several hours.

And then there’s what I call ‘real’ dancing – the kind you see on Strictly – which I’d love to be good at, but am terrified of actually having to learn, lest someone realise how horribly uncoordinated I am. And before you tell me anyone can dance, let me stop you with two words: Judy Murray. (I happen to love Judy Murray, by the way, but that doesn’t change the fact that the woman can’t dance.)

At the end of the day, any kind of performance leaves me a quivering wreck – even the thought of giving a presentation to a handful of colleagues, most of whom I’ve known and worked alongside quite happily for years, is petrifying. Invariably I’ll end up forgetting whatever I planned to say and panicking completely, no matter how prepared I was going in.

This is probably why I love the theatre so much: because I’m in total awe of anyone who can get up on stage and perform for other people. And why I’ll probably always be the nicest theatre reviewer around, full of respect for a cast giving it a go in the first place, whether the result ends up being any good or not.

And so I think it’s clear a life on the stage is not for me. But maybe I can start by trying to loosen up a bit on the dance floor. Like this guy, who clearly doesn’t care what people think and is just having fun. I could stand to have fun, I think – although I probably won’t put the results on YouTube. (Trust me, that’s a good thing.)

Wednesday Worries: small talk

Thank you to everyone who’s commented so far on my Wednesday Worries posts! It really is comforting to know there are other people who worry about the same things I do 🙂

Up next:

Small talk

I’m so bad at small talk. I’m fine talking to people I know (some might say a bit too fine – the tough part is usually shutting me up) but put me in a room full of strangers, and suddenly I can’t think of a thing to say, intelligent or otherwise. I really envy those people who can just talk to anyone, without worrying that a) they’ll laugh, b) they’ll think ‘who is this idiot?’ or c) they won’t even notice. There’s nothing worse than walking up to someone, summoning up the courage to speak, only for them to completely ignore you and walk off.

My boss is one of those confident people. A couple of years ago, we were at an event that included a networking session afterwards. He’d already been chatting to random strangers throughout the day, including trying to sell our company’s language app to a girl sitting next to him, purely because he saw that she had an iPhone.  And when we got to the reception, he was in his element, walking up to people – some of them really quite important people – and starting a conversation without a moment’s hesitation.

Obviously, being at an event with someone like that is great, because they do all the hard work and you can just join in the chat. But then what happens when they excuse themselves to go to the loo? Nightmare. Particularly as they’re probably going to find someone else to talk to on the way back and forget all about you. (Yes. That happened. It was hideous.) And there’s only so long you can frown at your phone and pretend to be dealing with a very important email before you start to look suspicious.

I even find networking online a bit nerve-wracking. The ‘jump into any conversation’ nature of Twitter makes me really anxious, even though I know it’s all public, and that’s sort of the whole point. I’ll often spend ages trying to write the perfect response to something somebody’s said, and by the time I’m happy with it, the conversation’s moved on, so I just delete it again.

But on the plus side, at least being ignored isn’t as painful or embarrassing online as it is in the real world. So that’s something.

Is it just me that finds small talk terrifying?

Wednesday Worries: Recommendations

So last week, I launched my new weekly blog post, Wednesday Worries, in which I share one of the stupid things I worry about, and then sit back and wait for people to tell me that I’m not alone. Last time, it was reassuring to hear that others find driving just as stressful as I do. So let’s move on to…

Recommendations

This is a tough one, because, like most people, if I discover a book that I love, or watch a great film, I want to tell my friends about it. But doing that also fills me with terror, because what if they don’t like it? And then what if they blame me for wasting their time with this rubbish?

I’ve always suffered from a fairly significant guilt complex, which leads me to look for reasons to feel bad, even if nobody’s blaming me for anything. I’m not very good at letting things go; I tend to dwell on stuff for a long, long time. I still occasionally feel guilty about an argument I had with someone at primary school (I’m not even joking). So even though I know it would be pretty unreasonable if someone were to blame me just because we disagree over what makes a good book, that doesn’t stop me waiting anxiously for their verdict. And if it does turn out that they hated it, I’ll definitely feel bad about it for weeks – so I’ll still be stressing long after the person in question has forgotten all about it.

So I’m as surprised as anyone to find myself writing theatre reviews, not just on here but on a couple of fairly influential websites. After all, that’s not just me making suggestions to a friend – complete strangers could well end up spending their money based on my opinion, which is petrifying when you stop and think about it. And I do tend to have a small panic attack before any of my reviews are published, assuming that a) I’ve totally misunderstood what I’ve just watched, b) I’m the only person who liked it (or not – but that’s pretty rare), and everyone’s going to think I’m an idiot if I say so, or c) nobody cares what I think anyway. It particularly terrifies me to know that the actors and producers of the shows are going to read what I’ve written…

But so far, I’ve had only lovely responses to my reviews, and nobody’s laughed at me (at least not in public), which has really helped, just like every time someone says something nice about this blog it gives me a little boost. I’ll probably always be slightly scared to make recommendations, but like any irrational fear, maybe the way to overcome it is to do more of it… which means lots more theatre reviews. (Sorry.)

Does anyone else worry about recommending stuff to friends (or strangers)? How do you deal with it?

Wednesday Worries: Driving

Yesterday, I read this post on Buzzfeed, which so accurately described me that I had to share it on Facebook (also, it contains both Mr Darcy and minions, which is an automatic win).

It was reassuring to read the article in the first place, and realise I’m not the only person who thinks this sort of thing. And then when I shared the link, and several friends jumped in and confirmed they can relate to it as well, I felt so much better.

So I’ve decided to start a new weekly post called Wednesday Worries, in which I share one of the many (many, many) ridiculous things I worry about. The hope is that a) others will tell me they worry about this too, so I don’t feel like such a weirdo, and b) it might comfort any readers who thought they were the only one.

First up:

Driving

I actually quite like driving, and I love my car (his name is Pierre, and he’s blue – which is essentially all you need to know). Here he is.

PierreI wouldn’t give up my car for anything; I enjoy the freedom of not having to rely on trains far too much. But I do find driving to be one of the most stressful things in the world, if I don’t know where I’m going in advance. Not because I’m afraid of accidents, or breaking down, or even getting lost – because that’s what I have Seamus the sat nav for, after all. No, my main concern is that I’m going to do something wrong – get caught speeding, for instance, or drive the wrong way down a one-way street.

I’m aware that this is ridiculous, for two reasons:

1. I’ve never done any of those things.

2. I’m perfectly capable of reading road signs, which are there to stop me doing those things. Anyway, I have to meticulously plan every route before I leave home, using Google Streetview, so I know exactly what to expect. And if I have to go off route for any reason, it throws me completely – not least because Seamus is usually screaming at me to go the way I can’t go. Last year, I spent a good hour trying to find my way out of Guildford on the way home from a wedding, because the main road I’d intended to take was shut, and the diversion signs were worse than useless. I eventually ended up in a multi-storey car park at midnight, and still have no idea how I got there.

And it doesn’t stop there; when I get home, I usually have to spend a bit of time thinking back over the journey in case I did anything wrong. Which is even more ridiculous, of course, since even if I did mess up, there’s not much to be done about it after the fact. I once spent several days waiting for a speeding fine, although I didn’t think I’d actually been speeding and hadn’t even seen a speed camera (it turns out that’s because there wasn’t one).

Having said all that, I find driving on motorways, which a lot of other people hate, strangely relaxing. I suspect this is because there’s only so many ways you can mess up on a motorway and for the most part it’s just ‘keep driving straight’. On the other hand, the big roundabouts at motorway junctions absolutely petrify me; all that changing of lanes is the stuff of nightmares.

Please tell me I’m not the only person who finds driving to new places stressful?