I have come to notice something in recent years, something upsetting. I seem to have a particular skill, and I’m not talking about assembling burritos when driving (I’ve only done it once, but it was seriously skilful. Sour cream and everything). It’s not a skill that I like or have worked at. It’s not a skill that comes in handy. This skill comes out on average around once a week, and always ends in sadness on my behalf. What is this mystery skill?
Accidentally pissing people off when I am trying to help them.
I first noticed it a few years ago on a tram. A (red-eyed, twitching, most likely high) man was obnoxiously wondering where the tram stopped. He continually asked the quiet, well-behaved tram patrons, “Oi! Does this bloody tram stop on Clarendon St or not? The fucking driver just ignored me when I banged on his glass.” I hadn’t heard him the first few times because I had been listening to some bad-ass, cutting edge Backstreet Boys tunes on my iPod, but I had noticed the uncomfortable air on the tram. I took my headphones out just in time to hear the druggie mouth off again, demanding some help. My inner Girl Guide stood to attention – she was trained up every Tuesday night from ages 8-12 to help out people in need (and know the feather pattern of a New Holland Honeyeater Bird, which comes in handy SO often...). In my kindest, most considerate voice, I said to the man who was annoying the shit out of everyone, “it does stop on Clarendon St just near Max Brenner’s. Actually there is a map just here, if that helps you”. I kindly pointed out the map, and gave him a big smile, pleased that I had done my Girl Guide leader from a decade ago proud (her name was Tawny Owl, she was all about helping the strangers and singing Kumbaya). But I might as well have yelled it at him, spat in his face, and said something rude about his mum for the reaction that I got. He stared at me angrily for a full thirty seconds – while I nervously cast my eyes around the patrons wondering what the hell had actually come out of my mouth for him to look like that – and then he said, “there is no need for you to be such a BITCH about it”. I didn’t know what to do. I looked at my feet, feeling ashamed for my obviously horrible behaviour. He continued, “I just asked a bloody question and then you try to make me look like an idiot, you unhelpful BITCH” (yep, he said it in capitals both times). I questioned my entire existence and dumb personality. I got off the tram at the next stop, before he could fight me for his honour or lack thereof, and felt confused and guilty. A feeling I have since labelled Accidental Bitch guilt.
|A member of the Accidental Bitch brigade.|
A week later, I was on another tram (going past a different Max Brenner’s – I tend to navigate by chocolate). A small, angry Asian lady was demanding some help. She looked up at me and said something very loudly in what I first assumed was Chinese. I smiled at her and said “I’m sorry?” as my inner Girl Guide rubbed her hands together in gleeful preparation. She repeated the same sentence, and I realised she was asking me a question in English with a very heavy accent, because I had understood the word ‘does’. So I repeated ‘does... sorry?’ starting to feel bad for not listening better in my seven years of Chinese lessons*. She repeated her question again, not slowing down at all to help me understand her, and starting to get mad at me for being so thick. I thought I had figured it out. “Oh! Does this tram run all night? I think it will probably go to about midnight.” She yelled at me “GAHH!!!” and stamped her foot, then repeated her question again at full volume, shaking her fist in my face. Finally I worked it out. “OH! Is this the 109?” and she nodded angrily... and then I unfortunately had to say “Umm.... I don’t know” at which point she stamped her foot again, gave me the finger and walked away in a huff. Once again, as I had only a week earlier with my last Girl-Guide-gone-wrong experience, I got the Accidental Bitch guilts. It was not her fault, she was probably very frustrated (and maybe in need of some anger meds). It was my fault. I had tried to help someone again, and done it so badly that she gave me the finger. That’s when I realised I had this skill. I could piss people off without even trying – in fact, the more I went out of my way to help, the more I pissed them off.
Last week I was walking through the park near my house and I noticed a little boy wandering around by himself. I would have guessed he was about 7 years old. He had a big backpack on, and a running-away-from-home jaw set. He looked lost and very sad. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him because I was very worried. I could not see one parent around that might be his, and he was wandering near a main road. The Girl Guide inside of me jumped up (she’d been laying down for a while, eating Girl Guide biscuits and practicing her New Holland Honeyeater bird call) and made a quick and easy decision - follow the lost little man and make sure he got home or to a parent safely. So, from a respectable distance, I changed my path to follow the little soldier for a few minutes. I watched him as he walked past a skate park and kicked the wall. I watched him as he walked into a crowd. And then I watched as his grandmother appeared from the crowd, took his hand and gave me the finger** – apparently she had noticed me following him, and had either been offended by my assumption of his lack of care, or thought I was stalking him. I wanted to go over and explain to her why I had been staring at her grandson for a while, and perhaps suggest that she doesn’t let him stray so far in a huge public park, but my scars from past experiences stopped me. Not only did I accidentally piss another person off, I also managed to make myself look like a paedophile.
There is not much I can do with this skill of mine. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. I don’t want to stop trying to help people, because occasionally I manage to actually help them and get a nice reaction that doesn’t make me feel like an Accidental Bitch or a child sex offender. I’ll definitely keep trying, because I was a good Brownie Girl Guide, full of helpfulness and bird knowledge (the New Holland Honeyeater’s scientific name is Phylidonyris Novaehollandiae. Boom) and I took the Brownie vow - Lend A Hand. I’ll keep pointing out maps to druggies on trams. I’ll keep following un-lost boys through parks. I’ll doing everything I can, however offensive and unhelpful, to Lend A Hand.
Even if, thanks to my accidental skill, all I get in return is a finger.
*The only thing I remember from SEVEN YEARS of Chinese lessons, is "Can I go to the toilet please", because it was the only way to escape the classroom.
**Although I was depressed about a Grandmother giving me the finger, I was quite impressed by her phalangeal dexterity and lack of arthritis. Hope to be like her, abusive qualities aside.
By Lucy Gransbury. Follow her on twitter @LucyGransbury. Or follow her in real life. Just follow the cries of "you unhelpful BITCH".