It’s not that I’m anti-social, but also: here is my one-way ticket to Svalbard

It’s not that I’m anti-social, but also: here is my one-way ticket to Svalbard

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Written by Christopher Howdle

Moving to Berlin was just a ploy, ok, a very elaborate ploy, to avoid all unnecessary human contact with the people living where I previously lived. For legal reasons, I can't name that place.

To the Berlin-anti-social-but-living-for-the-party-millennial like me, and I hope I speak for us all here, small talk is kryptonite. Small talk has many false names and has been known to operate under the following guises: chin-wag, chit-chat, catch-up, etc. But semantics are irrelevant, the point is this: for someone like me, small talk can be uncomfortable. After all, I once moved house just to avoid an all too increasing familiarity with the regular DHL delivery driver.

 I've been here in Berlin for three years and I don't think I've ever seen anyone I know. Which, thank god. Is there anything more goosebump-inducingly awful than bumping into someone you know on the street? Can you imagine having a chit-chat in Berlin, the kind of chit-chat you might've had when you bumped into Gemma who you went to school with at [REDACTED ...legal reasons], surely your surroundings would fade to black, leaving you in an undulating gloom, the point of no return, which is just a small windowless room full of people making small talk for eternity. Forget it, Gemma, I don't care if your sister is out of jail. If I were the sort of person who counted blessings, one would be this: not knowing enough people here to have to string a conversation together with someone I’ve met maybe twice before when I run into them at Kottbusser Tor.

Moving to Berlin was just a ploy, ok, a very elaborate ploy, to avoid all unnecessary human contact with the people living where I previously lived. For legal reasons, I can't name that place.

To the Berlin-anti-social-but-living-for-the-party-millennial like me, and I hope I speak for us all here, small talk is kryptonite. Small talk has many false names and has been known to operate under the following guises: chin-wag, chit-chat, catch-up, etc. But semantics are irrelevant, the point is this: for someone like me, small talk can be uncomfortable. After all, I once moved house just to avoid an all too increasing familiarity with the regular DHL delivery driver.

I've been here in Berlin for three years and I don't think I've ever seen anyone I know. Which, thank god. Is there anything more goosebump-inducingly awful than bumping into someone you know on the street? Can you imagine having a chit-chat in Berlin, the kind of chit-chat you might've had when you bumped into Gemma who you went to school with at [REDACTED ...legal reasons], surely your surroundings would fade to black, leaving you in an undulating gloom, the point of no return, which is just a small windowless room full of people making small talk for eternity. Forget it, Gemma, I don't care if your sister is out of jail. If I were the sort of person who counted blessings, one would be this: not knowing enough people here to have to string a conversation together with someone I’ve met maybe twice before when I run into them at Kottbusser Tor.

Evasive Manoeuvres

I'm so far from fame that if I held a baby from one of the higher balconies of the Hotel Adlon, I don't think many would care, but my passion and skill at evasive manoeuvres are unsurpassed in Western Europe. In certain ale houses of [redacted] I'm told some slighted former colleagues and jilted ex-associates still reminisce about how I eluded the certainty of a chat following inadvertent eye-contact only to seemingly evaporate into the wind, or into Germany. I could write the book on strategic avoidance of lesser-spotted acquaintances, or, since I don’t have a book deal - this, a DADDY essay about being deeply anti-social.

If you don’t want the logical conclusion of small talk - a million acquaintances, two hundred thousand Facebook friends and zero real friends - refrain from using the word “friend” as much as possible. I use the f-word only as a last resort. It goes too far. "Friend" exudes the friendliness which can restrict friendship development in the early days, the perfunctory exchanges and little more than that days. Those people, the ones you're only friendly with, they're not your actual friends. The only two certifiable hallmarks of real friendship are bilateral abuse and knowing glances acknowledging the twatty behaviour of another.

If you’re giving up the F word for now, I suggest using more specific terminology for the people in your orbit that you might feel fr-----y towards. Me and the guy at work who both employ clandestine methods to improve our "efficiency"? Well, we're collaborators. If you've finally admitted to Janos, the intern eco-marketing executive at the office, that you don't think anyone here knows what they're doing here, then you're confidants. You and the guy who pretends to recognise you from your building and mumbles something possibly in German when you pass in the hof, you can be friends, but only ironically.

The standards of general human interactions in Berlin is low. You’ll know that if you’ve ever done any of the following in Berlin: (a) visited a cafe and tried to pay with a debit card (b) been chatted up (“I like your whatever. Wanna fuck?” is, sadly, not the worst line I’ve ever been fed in this cesspit) (c) Gone to a WG casting. Is this the millennial condition or a product of the city we live in, young and exciting, but also a touch brutal?

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With a lower standard of social norms to adhere to, we can enjoy the freedom of occasional low-key chaos. Alice didn't end up returning your food blender as promised? low-key chaos, but your spinach and psyllium husk smoothie can wait. Rameez didn't come to work and you had to do eighteen 11 hours shifts consecutively? Low-key chaos, but who gives a fuck, apart from essentially all your dumb internal organs.

You hardly care when the guy collecting that rustic mahogany lounge cabinet (battered wood drawers) you just spent the last week negotiating the collection of on Facebook didn't show, because you still harbour a pang of guilt for ghosting that guy in relation to those rugs you were supposed to collect 4 months ago. We hardly notice when one of our colleagues quits and is seamlessly replaced by someone else who apparently once worked in “Fashion” and may or may not have a flagrant speed addiction. This person is either from, or has spent significant time in, Australia, but in the end it doesn’t matter where they’re from, in 3 weeks you’ll have found a common enemy and will be plotting their demise together. That is, until they go to work for N26 or Hungry House.

An acquaintance told me recently that she decided to move out of the shared apartment where she lived because her French ex-flatmate was "too introverted". Just think about that for a second, someone in this city has harnessed the power of misanthropy and achieved the unthinkable: coercing someone to move out by being too unsociable. If you're reading this, unknown French heroine, my DMs are open.

Self-imposed seclusion or being a tech-savvy bon vivant, should I be concerned that my entire existence seems like pure hypocrisy? Well, for the hyperconnected millenial anti-socialite, remaining off the grid requires more skill and perseverance than ever. But, thanks to technology, we can at least choose when to be social, we've all got multiple active Whatsapp groups of minimal personnel crossover from recent nights out and are just waiting for that catalyst to set it all off once again. Don't tell me you don't live for this shit. It's terrible. And we love it. So, what do you say, tomorrow at 8pm? But, ya know, no pressure. In fact, next week is probably better for me. Actually, can we put the whole thing on ice for now?

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