Reverse Culture Shock: The Ramblings of a Recluse

I am fortunate with my new life back in Bangor. I feel I have everything I need. I have my happy family and wife, a manageable number of friends (Dave), and no desire to integrate further into the society around me. Each day I pursue my hobbies, I cook a lot, do some gaming, a few movies, and I like to drink and eat. I am also fortunate that I can work from home. So it is a nice way to live here. I am somewhat living my perfect life. At least until I leave the boundaries of my home.

We do kind of live on the fringe of society here, on the outside looking in, observing the quaintness, quirks and prejudices of what at times feels like an ideal society. More so recently when the sun is shining, people are active and smiling, and I just feel happy to be among them. Which is a daily thing now as I escape ‘lockdown’ for a walk through the nearby woods and coastline. Joining all sorts like elderly couples, families, baby buggies, dog walkers, speed walkers, joggers, cyclists. It’s a hive of activity.

But the other day I was put off during my daily walk when I was fiddling with the exercise app on my phone (firing eggs into incubators on Pokemon Go) and 2 walkers passed me and mumbled in my direction “…on their phones”. So I looked up expecting to see someone I knew only to receive a sidewards stinkeye from some chunky lass in ill-fitting leggings. Ans was even me who scooched to the side for them to go marching past, side-by-side, during social distancing.

Anyway, this ‘incident’ kind of spurred this post, but I’ll l ignore it for now, to share the favourite game of the walk that I call ‘Coastal Path Tag’. Every day there will be a wee game like tag going on where people greet each other “Morning!, Hi Ya!, Hello!, Lovely day, isn’t it!” And while it’s not compulsory to join this game, it is hard to avoid, and once you are in, it is hard to get out. “Morning”… “Awk, how’s it going. I’ve not seen you in years”… Who is this?

So I do get caught on occasions and I do join in with minimal involvement. With a smile and a nod. But once you’ve joined the game, you’re all in, you’re tagged, and now you have to pass it on to the next person. So you go to tag the next person, teeing up the old nod and a smile, but, nope, they completely blank you. Game over. You lose. Then I feel scundered for the rest of the walk. “I didn’t want to play anyway”.

The game is fortunately non-compulsory and there are ways to get out. Obviously the cyclists are able to speed past without being caught. The same goes for runners and joggers. But at walking speed it can be hard. I find earphones to be a popular option and speed walking. As it’s obviously harder to communicate with someone who can’t hear you. But this defeats the purpose of my walk where I’m really there to soak up the woodland and coastal atmosphere. The twitter of birds, the crashing of waves, the babbling of brooks…. “on their phones!”

Anyway, back to the whole phone thing. I did live near 5-years (2013-2017) without even owning a phone following the death of my BlackBerry while playing Sudoku in the back of a Philippine Jeepney. But now my phone is a big part of my life right now, partly because Fanfan has been stranded in Bangkok since Covid cancelled her flights, and were constantly in touch. “…on their phones”. But working remotely means I can pretty much work from anywhere. My office is my phone.

I do find there are more hazardous distractions/obstructions as a walker on the coastal path, dangers even. Runners and cyclists speeding past without signalling, dogs sniffing at my crotch, dog owners whose dogs dirt is too precious for the bin/ground so they bag them and decorate trees with them. On my last visit there was so much dog crap just dumped around bins because they’re obviously to heavy to carry home. People may act all civilized here but the reality is that many of them just act like animals.

Anyway, it seems like phone users is where people draw the line? And I honestly don’t know why? Is it rude or ignorant to use a phone in public? And why? Given it has absolutely no impact whatsoever on those around us. But I have always hated these type of whiners. Where people complain about society because it’s different to how they picture it. And they complain about others because their interests are different to theirs.

It is like a weird form of discrimination. Phoneaphobia or Phoneuserism or something. I was just keeping to myself. Going about my day. Not bothering anyone before this unprovoked discriminative attack. It’s probably not the most pressing when it comes to discrimination, but that woman did ruin my day. For a start, instead of something constructive I’m sitting writing this. But more than anything I regretted not having told her to take her head out of her hole.

But this is just a weird British thing. A quirk in social norms where people expects everyone to be friendly and social and to do as they do. It’s also a quirk that doesn’t really translate across borders or even into new generations at home. But this is why I always preferred travel and life in big cities and Asia. If she walked around greeting every random stranger she passed in Asia she’d more likely be put in a home.

I guess we have ‘active politeness’ where it’s considered almost polite to say hello to random people around you. Whereas Asia is more ‘passive politeness’ where it is polite to give people space and not demand attention or engagement. But politeness should always be more about consideration for others which seems to be lost here. Whereas, in places like Japan, with a society often seen as cold and unfriendly. They’re probably the most selfless, respectful, and polite nation in the world. They were literally cleaning up the last World Cup stadiums while all other countries trashed them.

So I guess life in Asia amplified how odd culture back home actually is, and often I would see these clashes in culture in Asia. And I always remember one of my long-haul rail journeys where there was a mix of local travellers and western backpackers. And through a 12-hour journey I remember listening to a random traveller nearby asking anyone and everyone odd questions, like “Have you ever been skiing?”. Only instead of waiting for an answer, he would just go off on random narcissistic rambling. “I remember skiing…” And then onto the next one “Have you ever seen the Taj Mahal?” Just kind of fishing for people willing/forced to listen to him.

The weird thing is that this scenario would probably be considered normal behaviour back home, where the introvert instead gets a bad rap for wanting to be left alone. “How rude”. There just seems to be this weird obligation to satisfy the social needs of others, and it’s obviously not rude to go yammering on in some innocent bystanders ear. But few will ever understand the plight of the introvert as we really have no interest in talking about it. And while the sun sets over coconut trees and limestone karsts, I can only watch on in anguish. “Ever go tubing in Laos?”

So I do prefer to be on the fringe of society these day, on the outside, looking in, I guess. And it is hard to ignore the rather striking contradictions and hypocrisy in this shared society, where we’re all in this together, etc. If Brexit taught us anything it was that the “United Kingdom” could hardly be more divided. A country where the NHS has been abused and manipulated and put on the brink for years, until we realize we need them. Then we’re all out painting rainbows and clapping for them. Until next polling day. When we’re more than happy to be hoodwinked by lies of politicians than question our own cultural norms. Ignorance is bliss here.

I honestly don’t think of myself as being anti-social… as I’m really not anti-anything. I have better things to do with my life than oppose things that have no influence or relevance in my life. But I admit I may be a bit selfish. In that I think of myself and family before others. Simply because I have no interest or involvement in society or those around me. At the same time, I would never let my own actions negatively impact others. And I almost see selfishness as the first stage of selflessness. Whereas it’s the greedy, the ignorant and corrupt that just ruin society for the rest of us.

There have been 3 car accidents in my family in the last year. Two hit-and-runs on our cars and a fault from our side where we left a note and were billed 5x the amount of the actual damage. Awk, their car insurance will sort them out. Forget about the no-claims bonus and the premiums… But these are probably the same people that sue for everything and anything and then complain when they can’t have things for insurance reasons. No conkers, no tossing pancakes, living in the ‘nanny state’ that they created. They then go to whinge online from their homes stockpiled with pasta and bogroll…

There does seem to be this real underlying ugliness in society behind the fake facade of niceness and empty ‘hellos’. But I am fortunate to have been brought up in politics so I learned early on not to trust people. And these days I kind of go with a 50-50 rule, not far off Brexit, where I expect every other person to be quite horrible for one reason or another. A bigot, a racist, a busybody. Or maybe they just like to play their music really loud. Or complain about people using phones. You never really know.

I wouldn’t say I’m antisocial either. Because I’m not really anti-anything tbh. Simply because I have better things to do with my time than to oppose things that have absolutely no influence or relevance to my life. At the same time, I am happy to highlight and promote a more accepting and respectful society where I can use a phone in peace. I just want to use my phone. What’s wrong with it.

Anyway, I feel like this thread has become a vent of sorts for observations and annoyances of my daily life in Northern Ireland. A place where I can share my rambling with anyone happy enough to read them. Without forcing them onto others. As that would be rude and annoying. That’s the thing. I could be one of those horrible people I avoid, maybe just half the time, but I am at least respectful enough to distance my horribleness from others.

So we’re near out the opposite end of the worst public health crisis in a generation. At least we were nearly out. Until the sun was shining, and the rules were relaxed, and screw the NHS and the new normal. Tailbacks for McDonalds, cramming up every public space, and this doozy of a BBC headline from our delightful coastal path: ‘Drugs, no social distancing and defecating in gardens’. We’re surrounded by animals. Then came the ‘blacklives’ matter protests, while I don’t want to diminish and a righteous cause, these gatherings both lead to the same inevitable ending. Death.

There is a time and a place for these protests, and it’s definitely not in Northern Ireland, where the police really are quite amiable, during the middle of a deadly pandemic. But I never really understood this bandwagon thing where society here is quick to align themselves with America and it’s somewhat 3rd World society in terms of poverty, the wealth gap, health care, gun violence, and things we should be thankful to avoid. I’m surprised Bono hasn’t sang a song for them yet. But people obviously feel it is more important to be relevant and woke on ‘global’ issues than to protect the lives of those dying around them.

Unfortunately people are emotional and impulsive here, not allowing for diplomacy or even logic to get in their way. They are people who thrive on conflict and division to give them purpose and keep them alive. Essentially, they are crazy people. But again it’s this whole 50-50 thing. Two tribes pairing against each other. Left/right, catholic/Protestant, phones/no-phones. “Round 1: Fight”. Dedicating their lives to pointless pursuits to win or outwit the others. Only there’s no winners and only losers. But without these ‘rivalries’ many people will have no real purpose or passion for life. It’s all a bit sad 🙁

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