The Metropolis

Diary of the shy Londoner

Mike Pollitt | Monday 19 September, 2011 13:14

Many of the 200,000 nomads who move to London each year are just as brash as the braying masses who grew up here. But at least some newcomers are introverted, self-effacing souls who approach the city gates with trepidation, if not dread.

This city is an unforgiving habitat for the socially awkward. Potential embarrassment lurks behind every bollard, self-loathing stalks the coffee-shop queue. To illustrate the problems of this underreported group, I’ve compiled this typical day in the life of a Shy Londoner.

0730 Wake up. Experience blissful 5 minutes free of fear, doubt and crushing self-awareness. Wonder if that creaking noise in the bathroom is the pipes or your housemate having a shower. Decide to forgo shower so as not to disturb them.

0800 Move aside as a lady with a pram passes you in the street. Inadvertently step in the way of a jogger. Try to move out of his way, forcing pram woman to swerve. Apologise profusely to both parties.

0830 Swipe Oyster, forgetting that it’s not topped up. Before you have chance to leave the gate, the person behind you swipes theirs, but you block their path so they can’t get through the gate before it closes again. Apologise profusely, and join the lengthy top-up queue in disgrace.

1030 Hold the door open for someone at work. As you do so smile at them (without making eye contact) and blurt out “Thanks!” as if it were they holding it open for you.

1100 Spend 20 minutes in a toilet cubicle berating yourself for saying thanks to that colleague, and resolving to be more assertive in future. Cover the sound of your pep talk with strategically timed flushes.

1330 Go to corner shop to buy Kitkat Chunky. Discover you only have a £10 note. Bulk out purchases with Monster Munch and hummus until they reach approximately £3.50 in value, so the shopkeeper doesn’t have to give you an unacceptably large amount of change. Apologise profusely for his trouble.

1800 Approach a pelican crossing. Pretending to check your phone, hang back from the kerb while heavy traffic passes. Then, try to time your arrival at the crossing to meet a gap in the traffic flow, so that as few drivers as possible are inconvenienced.

2000 Offer to buy the first round of drinks down the pub. Stand motionless at the bar for 30 minutes relying on your patented “raised eyebrows” technique to get served. Finally earn the pity of a fellow customer who directs the barstaffs’ attention in your direction.

2330 See some urban youths on the way home. Half cross the road to avoid being mugged, but then accuse yourself of racism/socio-economic prejudice and return to your original path. Apologise profusely to them in your head.

0000 Forgo brushing teeth in case that is your housemate in the bathroom.

Sound familiar? If you think you could be a Shy Londoner, please don’t run straight to your bedroom and hide under the covers. There is still hope. Many such people live perfectly normal lives by managing their shyness using the following helpful tips.

1) Keep a smartphone to hand which you can pretend to check at any given moment. For added insurance, keep 5 unread junk emails in your inbox at all times. This will allow you to pretend to be doing something useful rather than just repeatedly opening and closing the weather app.

2) Surround yourself with gregarious narcissists who will have no problem keeping up a conversation, and who will be so self-obsessed they won’t realise that you haven’t said a word for the past hour.

3) Compensate for your crippling social inadequacy by getting drunk and then blurting out long stored up feelings to a relative stranger.

By following this advice, even the most bashful shysters can find a place for themselves in the London scene. Take the first step today, and who knows? By next week you could be making regular eye contact with people in the service industry. By next month, you could be crossing the road on YOUR terms. In a year, you’ll be taking showers when YOU feel dirty. So grab the bull by the safety rope, throw caution to the light breeze. This city is yours for the taking, and if it doesn’t work out, don’t worry. You can always apologise profusely and give it straight back.

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