Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Grumpy With Small Talk

Grumpy With Small Talk

I've been noticing once again that I'm really not very good at small talk. For some people the stuff just pours out of their mouth. The person I work with at the moment is and absolute master of small talk. She rarely stops talking. Sometimes it's just garden variety small talk (weather/ what did you do on the weekend/how is your day going/gee that's a nice tie). Other times, it's more random. It's like there's no brain-to-mouth filter so that what comes out are the sometimes startling whimsical musings of a truly nomadic mind.

I had wanted to believe that I'm no good at small talk because I just don't care and small talk doesn't matter. I vaguely recall a quote in an interview about film maker Rolf De Heer in which one of his colleagues said, “Rolf doesn't do small talk.” Don't quote me on this because I can't find the interview in which it took place anywhere so it is quite possible that it was said about someone else... or it was the result of this nomadic mind thinking it would be cool if someone was interviewed about me and they said it about me. Because it struck me as being a pretty cool thing to say. Especially if it was said about me.

The thing is, small talk is a complex thing. There is the absolute utter rubbish small talk... that pseudo-scripted shit that goes something like this:

Person 1: “So how are you today?”
Person 2: “Oh all right. Can't complain.” (Dramatic pause). “Well I could but there's no point; no one would listen.”

People – every time this conversation takes place, a puppy dies... in a random instance of spontaneous combustion. In a little boy's arms. On his birthday. And the little boy, overcome with grief, wanders crying onto the street and under the wheels of a passing bus. The bus driver goes through counselling but never quite gets over the unbelievable coincidence of running over his own son on his 10th birthday right outside the family home. He turns to alcohol and eventually takes his own life. Which would have devastated his wife if she hadn't already taken her own life all those years earlier after witnessing the tragic death of her only son. Obviously the only remaining offspring, the once innocent daughter, is totally fucked up by the demise of her family and turns to drugs as a means of escape, then prostitution as a means to fuelling her ever-soaring drug habit. She falls in with a party crowd who ply her with drugs and abuse her body in the most debauched ways imaginable. She (again) overdoses at one of the wild parties but unbelievably is rescued by a visiting Hollywood A-lister who shall remain nameless due to legal reasons (we'll call him, I dunno, Matthew Newton? Because how hilarious would that be? Matty Newton – Hollywood A-lister. Get it? Hahahaha...).

Back in Hollywood, the daughter dries herself out in rehab but still attends the kinds of parties mere mortals like you and I can only dream of. At one such party attended by the impossibly rich and vacuous, she meets a short, fat, pretty idiotic, deranged leader of a renegade Asian nation with a newly improved mixed bag of nuclear arms which he is pretty keen to show off. The daughter, occasionally suffering flashbacks to that day when the new puppy spontaneously combusted and set off this haunting train of events, doesn't really believe that a short, fat, pretty idiotic leader of a renegade Asian nation would really fire nuclear missiles around the world and risk world destruction just to impress an ex-crack whore like little ol' her. But this is just the kind of opportunity Kim Lil Nong Nong has been waiting for. Bombs away! Missiles ahoy! Destruction! Retaliation! World annihilation!

All because you said I could complain but no one would listen. Think about it, next time you consider engaging in this bit of dialogue.

And then there's that other stuff that starts out sounding like pointless noise but ends up going somewhere. Nice necklace. Thank you, I got it in an exotic holiday destination. Oh really – I've been to that exotic holiday destination – we have something in common.

And then these people with something in common decide to go out for a coffee and talk about some other exotic holiday destinations they'd like to go to to buy nice things. On the way to the coffee shop, there is an unexpectedly loud explosion that sounds very much... like... a puppy dog spontaneously combusting...

Anyway, in thinking about where I was going to go with I'm-not-good-at-small-talk-because-I-don't-want-to-be I decided to ask the internet what it thought about small talk.

Big mistake. Here I was thinking that small talk is nothing more than a really annoying way to ruin a perfectly good chunk of silence that hovers between two people engaged in some sort of mutual activity between strangers, the occurrence of which, in itself, doesn't demand the blossoming of a lifelong friendship or even a fleeting friendship. Why does friendship have to come into it at all? You're the barrista. I need my coffee. Why do you have to interrupt my musings about the weird nature of small talk by asking me about what I did on the weekend? What is it to you what I did on the weekend? I just did stuff. But I can't say, “I just did stuff.” I have to stand there watching you make my coffee and think about the stuff I did. I have to go through it all in the time it takes to froth a jug of milk and pick out the highlights. Then I have to select the highlights that are socially acceptable (because maybe I got up to some really interesting stuff that's NSFW) and that are easy to explain in the time we have left that it takes to make a cup of coffee. I scramble. I say that I had a quiet one, what about you? Yeah same, nice and relaxing, it was good.

However, It's a big mistake to be so dismissive of small talk, according to the internet, because loads of brainy types have spent a lot of time studying the concept of small talk and have deemed it A Very Important Social Skill.

Which means I'm fucked. Like Rolf (real or imagined), I just don't do small talk. It's not my thing. I mean I do try. Working with my nomadic-minded small talk master, I have listened and observed and have seen the rewards... the rewards being a fair exchange of small talk. I have tried.

Them: Hello.
Me: Hello.
(Long easy silence which stretches and bends into a slightly awkward silence, because they are expecting actual small talk while I am trying to amuse myself with the comic potential of this ridiculous small talk thing people are so obsessed with).
Them: How are you?
Me: I'm good. Want to hear a good story about exploding dogs and the end of the world?
Them: Erm...
Me: Sorry. No. Erm...
Them: Erm...
Me: Erm...
Them: Are you okay? You like you're in pain.
Me: No it's okay. I'm just trying to think...
Them: Trying to think? What are you trying to think of?
Me: Something...
Them: Something?
Me: Something to say. Something to say that might, you know, be an appropriate thing to say in a moment like this.
Them: Ah. I see.
Me: Yes. Erm...
Them: Erm...

So don't take it personally when I don't small talk with you. I just totally suck at it.


Bright Precious said...

You might not be good at small talk, but you're utterly hilarious. Stick to humorous blog posts - it suits you. :)

Lee Bemrose said...

Thank you, B&P. Lovely thing to say. I've recently realised I actually need to write funny stuff. Stops my head going weird on me.