The following unspoken rules characterise most of the conversations I have had with the law students who have surrounded me since my return to Singapore. (Though obviously there are exceptions, who should know who they are.)
- If asked what you did over the weekend (which is rare) it is acceptable to state the title of the movie you watched, or the club you went to. But be so bold as to actually venture an opinion of the activity you participated that goes beyond “Yah, not bad lah, quite fun” and all of a sudden you’re the weird one, because no one actually gives a shit what you think, especially when you do weird things that they’ve never heard of or considered doing.
- Personal information beyond the most mundane facts eg. “I have a cat” or the most trite statements “It’s important to try and still have a life even though we’re working” is unnecessarily revelatory and must be kept top secret. If someone is asking you about yourself, answer in monosyllables. Perhaps they have an ulterior motive. If they continue to try to draw you out (the flaming cheek!) answer in banalities to bore them into submission.
- Never give in. These upstarts must learn.
I am getting more socially awkward among these people by the day, because I don’t know how to behave. In England I behaved as confidently and talkatively as I felt like being on a given day. I met my best friend within freshers’ week, and within a month he told me things about himself he had never dared to confide in any other friend. In my public debating debut at the UCL Debating Society, I argued for the legalization of hardcore pornography, accused the other side of wanking under the table instead of listening to my team’s case, and rejected one guy’s incessant points of information by telling him he’d ejaculated quite enough. The club embraced me. In the pub, I let on that I was a practising Catholic. The club still embraced me. Throughout my time there I was an oddity, Chinese and female and Catholic in a club that was predominantly white and male and degenerate, but I never felt it.
But what worked so well for me in England seems to be anathema here, in my “homeland” where I should feel anything but an oddity. Confidence is overconfidence. Chattiness is met by reticence and suspicion. Before I went to England, I knew all this. I dealt with it by acting shyer than I really was, which seemed to make other people more comfortable with me. Since returning to Singapore, I’ve reverted to that old strategy, and I try to follow the rules when I actually know what they are, but it terrifies me. I don’t want to wake up one day and realize that I have become my disguise.
I really want to believe that all these people have great personalities which they just choose to keep hidden. Perhaps they have Personality Parties on the weekend, where they let it all hang out, and then button their stuffed shirts up for the week ahead, and I just haven’t been invited to these parties. Perhaps every dull statement made is actually code for “On the weekend I had a threesome and one of us was a goat.” But if so, why stay locked in this vicious cycle of conversational nothingness, where I say nothing because I think they’re boring and they say nothing because they think I’m boring?
Some days I wish I just had Tourette’s syndrome. That’d be a great excuse to break the fucking ice.