Once upon a time, a hundred years ago or more, when I was shorter than I was now and not yet proficient enough in my native language to talk my way out performing the tasks my Mammy commanded of me while making her think it was her idea to have me not do them, I was taught to smile.
Most people would have learned naturally, I know, but there you are: my childhood was so tragic, I had to be taught how to smile; even Dave Peltzer didn’t sink as low as that.
Ever since then, I have gurned inanely at everybody who crosses my path. It makes me beloved of young and old. It has led to pensioners foisting Wether’s originals on me at bus stations; it has encouraged women to hand me their babies while I’m minding my own business next to a display of Advent calendars; it has caused me to be driven places by a one-armed estate agent in a red sports car.
Unfortunately, it also leads me to get ambushed by every charity touting, utility providing, survey asking irritant out there. I’ve tried not smiling, but I seem to project an aura of goodwill which transcends my scowl and unbrushed hair. I don’t know what causes it because, quite frankly, I hate everybody (well, not you, but that’s only because I haven’t had the chance to get to know you properly yet. I’m sure there’s something about you which will enrage me.).
Thus, I spend an awful lot of my time saying ‘No, thank you.’ I grown to quite like it. It’s a useful catch-all phrase which makes me clear without causing any offense to the person at whom I would otherwise be shrieking ‘Not when you’re getting accommodation and ten pounds sixty-five an hour you can’t.’.
Most of the time it works. They nod, I nod, they gaze past me, I skirt awkwardly round them, they think judgmental remarks about my shoes, I walk back the long way round so I don’t have to look at them again; the system functions as it should.
Some of the time, it doesn’t. They’ve learned. Asking for a moment of my time won’t get me to stop – they have predicted my answer and rejigged their questions accordingly. Now, when I thank them and decline, they gaze in awestruck horror and intone ‘You wouldn’t like to save money on your electricity bill?’ It’s very irritating.
You see, what I say is not always what I mean. I’m saying ‘no, thank you’, but this can have a reality grounded in many different truths, none of which I care to explain to them at that present time.
It might mean I’m too busy to stop right now. Perhaps it means I’m not the person in charge of the household bills. It could mean I’m already with your company or it could mean I’m with your cheaper rival who has me tied into a two-year contract.
Then again, a lot can be said with a few simple words, like Didn’t you see me just buying The Guardian? I power my home with hope and wind turbines. Or knowing me as I do it’s more probable it means I’d love to speak with you about this matter, but there is a cranial conflagration to which I must urgently attend.
Really though, what it means is: No. Just that. Nothing else. I’m not going to change my mind because you talk to me, or because you try to convince me that all of the things I am not explaining to you are wrong and how if I just took a moment to stop, you would almost certainly save me at least 18c a year. It means, and will always mean: No.