I can forgive the shyness of youth: lack of self-confidence, out of one’s zone, away from one’s tribe. But when is shyness just plain old bad manners, lack of etiquette; being an ignoramus of the airs and graces required to get by in this world. Socially.
As a parent I’ll try anything. Once. Recently I hosted two teenage billets. I deducted, after four days, shyness is: mostly-trying-not-to-be-a-bother. Mostly.
How to make yourself invisible and other stuff when you’re a teenage Billet:
1. Do not respond effusively to any landmarks of significance pointed out to you while driving around the picturesque countryside from activity to activity with your host. In fact, best only to make remarks in a low voice to your co-billet in the back seat should the urge arise.
2. Do not under any circumstances get out of the car when taken to see something as dull and interesting as a crumbling historic homestead surrounded by heirloom spring flowers. Remain in the backseat and eat your ice cream like good children. Wait patiently while your host gets out to snap a pic of the springtime ambience. She might look like a nong tip-toeing through the tulips, but she can’t see you either. The windows are tinted.
3. Learn the map of the house ie. the direct route to your bedrooms – through the blue door at the front of the garage door, down the hallway. Never deviate from this route when in transit, vacating or returning to your host-house. The views are pretty shit in the country, who’d want to walk on front lawn and look at them, let alone scramble down a private track to the river. Did I say shit. I meant SHIT.
4. Only speak when spoken do. Do not try and create conversation of any kind with your host unless you use, ‘Toast’. ‘Where are the cups?’ Or ‘We’ve run out of toilet paper’. As conversation starters while being served breakfast. Please. Just keep it to yourself. This is actually a four day silent meditation retreat with sightseeing and a bit of sport.
5. Avoid at all costs a family meal. At home. Best get clean away and spend time with your school mates. In town. Sucks meeting new people anyway. Especially those who might put you up for a night or two when you rock up on your gap year in the middle of the ski season. They’re probably arses anyways.
6. Do not use your host’s name when saying endless thank yous for drop offs. Or at any time. Total giveaway that there are two teenage strangers in the house, living in the resident teenage children’s bedrooms currently bunking in the living room. Unless of course you want to go to TOWN again.
7. If you get spoken to for not getting the bus home as planned after that last evening trip to town. Make sure you message your group chat straight away. WTH. The billet is always right.
8. By the following day you’ll find boutique chocolates and a scented candle are real levellers. Witch hunt complete. You really did have a nice time. Looking back. And you need one last favour. A taxi to the airport.
9. This host home is now invisible also. Black listed. They may never billet again. They know your names. They’ll probably forget them. But their children won’t ...
I've thought a lot about these teenagers, their families, their home life. Maybe they learned something about themselves. About the company of strangers. I know my children did. And we ate barbecue for a week!