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Cut 'em some slack—it's early

Kat Kinsman
February 07, 2018

I'm a monster—or perhaps I'm not, depending on how you feel about interacting with humans in the morning. My Extra Crispy colleagues are just as delightful as you'd expect them to be, and I am lucky to sit next to them all day. But I ignore them without compunction when I see them on the subway platform in the morning, and I suspect they are grateful. (OK, I just asked a couple of them and they're fine with it.) And it's not like they're storming up to me to talk about last night's Rick and Morty or wanting to discuss important breakfast spreadsheets—of which we have several—before we actually hit the office. For the most part, we're each safe in our self-constructed bubbles of podcasts, books, or staring into the void or at gamboling subway rats during those vulnerable moments before we make ourselves fully available to the world.

But we happen to be based in New York, a city with a mostly undeserved rep for rudeness. What non-New Yorkers take as brusque or standoffish is actually a finely honed collective coping mechanism in a city where complete strangers occupy proctologically tight quarters with one another in public places and we astonishingly seldom resort to fisticuffs about it. The generally polite thing to do is to remain in one's own headphone-wearing, eyes-diverted bubble, ignoring anyone's personal morning shenanigans as best we can. (People who apply mascara on the train, there are so many questions I have long yearned to ask you, but will leave you to your peace.)

I allow other people their solitude and they mine, but I understand this would be terrible behavior if I lived elsewhere. As one person responded to my Twitter query, in her city, a person "must make small talk AT ALL COSTS." I've spent my whole post-school life in New York (in part because I grew up with forced social interaction like that and I sucked eggs at it), so I have to remind myself to switch modes when I travel elsewhere. I do this with an almost aggressive cheer, perhaps pent up from so many months of living in my own little a.m. ecosystem. I am almost dementedly chipper to the other human beings dowsing for coffee in the hotel lobby, and violently perky at front desk workers, cashiers, cab drivers, and restaurant servers. Hiiiiiii! Good morning! How are you this lovely day‽ It is often reciprocated and sometimes dodged, and I wonder for a second—just a second—if I did this all the time, if I'd be a happier, more fulfilled person, with more pep in my step and room in my heart for well, who knows?

I will probably never know, because this just sounds so exhausting to me. I am not at my most articulate and approachable in the morning, and I like to be fully present for whomever I'm speaking with—to me, that's the kindest way to be. Small talk is strangely hard for me, and my panic response when I'm caught off guard is to delve into deep talk, and that's just way too much to expect of another person in the morning. I feel guilty and they feel awkward and then it's just a whole thing. Our batteries get drained before 9 a.m., and then there's less left for the workday ahead. 

It may seem rude, and I get that. I don't wish to bruise anyone's feelings so early in the day (or ever, really), so if someone does make eye contact, I'll smile and nod and let them make the move to walk over and talk if they want to, and I'll be as friendly and open as can muster the will to be. But my colleagues know the drill—including the fact that once we get to our desks, I won't shut the hell up—so I'll stay in my own quiet little world and do what any normal New Yorker would do: Send them messages on Slack from several feet away.

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