The usual refrain as the summer holidays grind on into infinity.
What once started out as a joyful anticipation of two whole months of freedom from school- no responsibilities, no timetable, has finally come to this:
“I’ve done everything and now I’m bored.”
I recall one of my daughter’s pre-school teachers saying, “If you’re bored now, the rest of your life is going to be very disappointing.”
True Enough. Kids don’t appreciate what they have when they have it. We adults would kill for empty days where no one is demanding your attention, no meals need to be prepared, no budgets need to be juggled, no dog is pooping on your Persian rug (oh, is that just me?). Sigh.
But actually I’ve come to realise boredom might just cause more misery than it should. And the phrase: The Devil makes work for idle hands to do is as relevant now as it was in the 4th century, or thereabouts.
Before I come to this glittery sandpit, I lived in another glittery sandpit. We moved into a brand new apartment tower. And when I say new, I mean so new the smell of the original paint still lingered, and we were one of only six occupied apartments in the whole 19 floors. It was a gorgeous apartment with big, bright rooms and sea views, in the most expensive area in the city. It was staffed with a concierge, security staff, cleaning and maintenance teams and a bell boy who wore a top-hat, tails and velvet monogrammed slippers. I shit you not. The bell boy’s main task was to take your grocery bags from your car to your apartment on a gold trolley. Surreal, but I got used to it very quickly.
The staff were all lovely, very friendly and obliging, but the problem was, with only six families in the building, they were also very bored. They worked 12-hour shifts and for the most part just stood around trying to look busy. When I asked them for something, instructions on how to use something, or just general information, I would be surrounded by three or four of them all trying to be helpful. It could be intimidating if you let it.
I did feel sorry for these guys as constant and genuine boredom really does screw with your head. I worked in a small hardware store during my University holidays (zillions of years ago), and when we weren’t busy serving customers or bagging up nails by weight, we would have to look busy dusting, or straightening things on the shelves. It was sheer delight when someone came into the shop and you could interact with them. Probably not so for the poor potential customer who was approached by a crazy-eyed girl with a ridiculously big smile who just wanted to ‘help’.
So, as I slowly get to my point, I also feel sorry for the many staff who work in retail here in the glittery sandpit who follow you around the shop, at a less-than-discrete distance. Often you’re the only one in the store and they are tasked with making sure your every query is answered immediately to get the sale. And they do this by limpiting-on to you like you’re a potential shoplifter and you can’t be trusted one inch. (If you’ve been shopping here during the day, you’ll know what I mean). And it’s tempting to try and duck and dodge them down the aisles in a game of cat and mouse just to get them off your tail, or if you’re an expert you can ignore them and pretend they don’t exist. But I’ve found, no matter who they are, acknowledgement and recognition can go a long way to making someone’s day. So I engage in a quick conversation about their day and sometimes where they are from, and I smile and say I’m just looking and will call if I need help.
It takes nothing to be kind. And it can go a long way to alleviate the boredom for that person.
One of my best and wisest friends told me, when I had first moved to the Middle East and was struggling with what I was seeing in front of me, “You can’t change the system, you are just one person and there are many things against you to prevent it from happening, but it takes no effort to be kind. To everyone. Smile, make eye contact, and be that person in someone’s day that treats them like a human.”
So as an ex-pat I encourage you to do the same. Don’t lose your humanity. It’s easy to fall into the behaviours you see that you wouldn’t do in your home country. But even though you cannot change the system, change a person’s day. One smile at a time.
And you’ll never be bored.