Hello folks! Today’s post is all about social interaction and social cues, two things that are notoriously difficult for autistic people to understand and interpret. This topic has come up in my life recently after my girlfriend and I were discussing our usual routine when we are watching Netflix and chilling. (Not that sort of Netflix and chill, get your mind out of the gutter.) Usually she makes some tea before we settle down to watch Glee or some other highbrow show, and often she will pass me the laptop while saying something to the effect of “let’s watch xyz…” In my mind, the sentence she says and the act of passing me the laptop are two unrelated events, but it turns out that for her, she is expecting me to open up Netflix and get the program ready! Who’da known!
We discovered this misunderstanding when she confessed that she had begun to get slightly annoyed at me for not getting the show ready while she was making tea, until she realised that I wasn’t doing it on purpose, I was just not picking up on the social cue. I apologised and said that I never meant to be annoying and it wasn’t a case of not wanting to be helpful, but I never connected the two events in my head. She now explicitly says “Can you get up xyz while I make tea?” and I happily set everything up and plump up the cushions for the perfect viewing experience. Problem solved.
As we have discovered, this sort of thing happens relatively often, and I am now learning (at the ripe old age of 23) that when someone says “we need to do…” or “someone should…”, they usually mean “can you do…”. Take the following examples as a guide:
If your Mum says “someone should set the table for dinner”, the correct response is “I’ll do it” followed by setting the table, rather than my instinctive response of “okay”.
If your partner says “we should look up train times for tomorrow morning”, you should say “let me do that now” and look up train times, rather than saying “yep, that is definitely a task that needs accomplishing”.
While I have often caught on and done the task being mentioned, it has come from a place of wanting to be helpful and so volunteering for a task that I understood to be optional. Now I realise it is actually the person asking you to do the task, rather than them just throwing it out into the universe and trying to manifest it. I am now happy to report that if given a laptop and told “let’s watch Glee”, I reply “yeah!” and proceed to pull up Glee, rather than saying “yeah” and continuing with what I was doing until my girlfriend is sat down.
But that isn’t the only social cue that I have been misinterpreting. Apparently, if someone gestures towards the last piece of food and says “does anybody want this?”, what they mean is “I want this but it is considered polite to ask other people”. The correct response is to say “no, you have it”, whereas I, if I want it, have been saying “yes, I do”.
I don’t understand why people would offer something they don’t want another person to take. I don’t do that. If I offer something, be it food or help, I genuinely want you to have it. If I want to eat the last piece of cake I say “is it okay if I have this?” while pointing at the cake. Someone can of course say “no, I want it”, at which point I will offer to split it, but if I want something, I do not understand the reason behind offering it out first. Even now I understand the rule of politely declining when someone says “does anyone want this?”, I might continue to say yes, partially for the banter, but partially because I have no interest in arbitrary social rules that make no sense. Be honest about whether you want to finish the banoffee pie, and life will be much simpler.
Lots of social rules are also culture specific. For instance, I was not told until afterwards that when toasting with a German, you are supposed to look them in the eyes when you do so, otherwise you sentence them to 7 years of bad sex. (And to my German friends who found out that night about my lack of eye contact, I apologise profusely.) Now I know that rule I make a concerted effort to stare into their eyeballs when making a toast, possibly going too far the other way with my Paddington Bear Hard Stare.
Coming from England, London specifically, there are lots of rules that I have picked up on, through a mixture of being told explicitly — don’t watch drug deals happening outside the local Sainsburys — or learning them through trial and error — have your card ready for the ticket barriers when leaving the underground in London. Actually, the last one was less trial and error, and more my Dad instilling it in us since we were old enough to understand the words “being slow”, “annoying” and “will leave you behind to fend for yourself”. I’m just joking! My Dad wouldn’t leave us behind, but he would tell us approximately 50,000 times before we got to the ticket barriers that we needed to have our tickets, and any fools who were fumbling around in their bag in front of him, blocking the exit, would get the worst thing a Brit could imagine… a tightened jaw and an exhale, followed by a murmur under his breath. Usually something along the lines of “bloody annoying… blocking the way… should have had their ticket…”
Another classic Britain-specific social cue is people saying “You alright” or “Hey, how’s it going” as a greeting. For a Brit, these phrases are interchangeable with “hello” or “hi”, and they are not actually interested in your life. If you are friends then it is certainly permissible to answer honestly, but when greeting an acquaintance, the correct response is “yeah fine, you?”, to which they say “yeah, good” before proceeding into the actual conversation. I admit I was a little slow to pick up on this one, but I am now proud to say that I answer “fine”, just as one should! If they ask a more specific question, such as “how was the journey?” then feel free to answer honestly. But a general “alright?” is just a customary greeting, not a sincere question about your life.
At this point I’m not sure if this post has derailed into a Britain-specific post, which wasn’t my intention and will be thoroughly uninteresting if you have never been to Britain and have no intention of ever visiting. I’ll therefore sign off here!
1 thought on “How Glee Contributed to a Major Life Lesson”
This post has been a revelation to me, I have never considered that when someone says something needs to be done they are actually asking me to do it. And I’m 61, no wonder people look at me as if I’m some kind of alien.
I did know the thing about the last piece of cake, so all is not quite lost.