Facing your fears: The Snail-Watcher

Confession: I suffer from slugophobia. Not sure that word exists (yet), but I use it anyway to describe my very unnatural abhorrence of those slimy little bastards. Shell or no shell, slug or snail – doesn’t matter. I see one, I freeze, I panic. Molluscophobia is the proper name for it. I was scared of them since I was a little kid. And I get mocked a lot: “But they are so slow!” Yes, they are, but they are also slimy, weird and just ew ew ew. I can’t even write about them without making a grimace of disgust. Ew.

One summer, I left my plants at my Mum’s place and she left them outside. When I came back from my holiday, I moved into a new apartment and one random evening decided to repot my plants. After two or three perfectly boring plants, the next one surprised me with a tiny little snail creeping (me) out, unwillingly, like a whining schoolboy with his satchel and shining morning face [yay, Shakespeare reference] approximately the size of a beer cap. Tiny. Any other person would have picked it up by its shell and gotten rid of it. Easy.

And what did I do?

I sat down on a chair on the other end of the room and looked at a pile of soil spread on the floor and stared at one this terrifying moving shell with mollusk under it. For about half an hour I just sat there and cried and couldn’t move. Then I texted DJ, who was luckily still in the theatre and I literally begged him to come by and help me out. He came, he laughed, he laughed some more, he basically never stopped laughing; yet I made him go through every single plant, pot and soil and check for further snails. “There aren’t any”, he said, clearly enjoying himself watching my torture and clearly annoyed about having to dig through pots of soil. Well, turned out he was wrong, CAUSE THERE WERE ANY because a couple of days later I found another one ON THE OUTSIDE OF MY BEDSIDE TABLE PLANT!!!! Ew. Massive Ew. And fuck you, DJ. That night, I changed the bedsheets and put all plants outside, despite the almost freezing temperatures. I was willing to kill off all my plants because there was a slight chance of snails living inside their pots.

If I go camping, I a) have to sleep in the middle. Imagine touching the walls of the tent where slugs crawl up on the outside! We’d basically have skin contact, only separated by a thin layer of nylon. I b) need someone to get out first thing in the morning and pluck all slugs from the tent and then c) check my shoes to make sure there’s no snail hiding somewhere. As a kid, there once was one in my welly and I freaked out. I’d also walk over meadows in a stork-like manner, carefully scanning the ground for a slug-free spot to put my foot down. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Another time, I thought I’m gonna try and defeat the enemy. I was at an annual wine festival in Baden and they served a very traditional local dish: “Schnecken im Weißbrot”, i.e. escargots in garlic bread. I thought: “Well, if I eat those, I sure show that little bastards who’s the boss now.” Long story short: it was the most expensive garlic bread I ever had, and I couldn’t bring myself to eat those weirdly looking things in the middle.

Also, you know that pasta type Conchiglie? I had and still have troubles eating it, once it’s *sluuuurp* sucked to the plate by the sauce like a suction cup – resembling a slug pressing itself firmly and slimily to the ground. Ew.

I am not sure why or when I developed my phobia. One incident in my early childhood, however, contributed very much to it. I must have been 6 or 7, when I read anything I could get my hands on (as if I ever stopped doing that, lol). Diogenes publishing company had these little pocket books, and since I was little and they were little, they looked so cute and compelling to be read. Note: just because a book is little, it is not necessarily aimed to the little ones. The short story that fell into my hands was by the mistress of psychological thrillers and self-declared snail-lover herself, Patricia Highsmith, and it was called “Der Schneckenforscher”, original title: “The Snail-Watcher”. It gave me the creeps. I had nightmares. And I still partly blame it for my overreaction to slugs and snails.

Since I’m all about adulting now, I bravely decided to face my fear. I googled it, I found it, and I read it (in English, this time). I actually read the story that traumatised me. Probably wouldn’t give me nightmares these days (I’ll let you know after tonight, haha) but it is still very disturbing. Like definitely very ew. You can easily find it online. I’m really insecure about all those copyright laws so I’m not gonna copy and paste the whole text, since I’m not sure it’s legal or not. But here or here, you can find it and [disclaimer coming up] I’m not responsible for the contents bla bla bla. Okay, click on either of these and read. And then come back.

It’s both horrifying and fascinating and disgusting (and yes, I’m aware that’s three adjectives I introduced with ‘both’, sue me). It’s so vivid, too. Patricia Highsmith has a talent of narrating in a way you picture it perfectly no matter how much you’re trying not to. Kopfkino, as we Germans say. And mine is in HD.

I mentioned earlier, Patricia Highsmith was obsessed with snails, even had some herself. Again, and I’m aware I repeat myself: Ew. There’s a rumour that she used to bring them along to dinner parties, hiding them under her boobs (super ew!) and even the possibility someone would do that is so cringeworthy, I am cringing right now and experience strong phantom sluggishness under my boobs. Ew.

What makes the story so repellent is with what intensity and almost erotic fascination the protagonist watches his snails mate and reproduce. I mean, the first mating scene is basically sexy snail porn but also really repugnant to the reader (me). Interspecies voyeurism par excellence.

So yeah, that’s that. Did rereading my childhood trauma tale help my slugophobia (#stillabetternamethanmolluscophobia)? Not really. But I dared to reread this traumatizing piece of art. It still sends shivers down my spine, and not the good ones, but I still went through with it. Despite feeling more and more uncomfortable with every line I went further down the snail shell.

To make a long story short: I (s)nailed it.

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2 Replies to “Facing your fears: The Snail-Watcher

  1. I’m so glad I’m not alone on this . My friends and family usually laughs at me whenever I mention I have phobia for those things.. seeing them on TV or even imagining them gives me nightmares ..
    Super eeeeeeewww

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