The Art of Small Talk

I don’t know if it’s due to my advanc[ing] age or what, but increasingly I find myself bailing from situations that require small talk. Fleeing is perhaps a more apt description. As one given the choice to either jump off a bridge or run away…quickly.

Seeing as ‘small talk’ is required in nearly 99.9% of human interaction, this could be problematic for my long-term social outlook. Unless becoming an agoraphobe-hermit-recluse is on my bucket list.

The professor and I were talking….about small talk….. after I observed that he’s even more of a bailer than moi. ‘I try to talk to people,’ he shrugged, ‘but they jump out of the conversation as soon as they see someone they’d rather talk to. So I end up with [the guy nobody wants to talk to].’

I knew exactly what he meant. There’s nothing quite as discomforting as trying to converse with another while their eyes are darting around the room, desperately scanning the perimeter for someone – anyone – else with whom to exchange banal information.

Of course, I’m no paragon of social exchange, obviously. I don’t know if I’m guilty of room-scanning and darting-eyes, but I am guilty of saying hideously stupid things in an effort to avoid awkward silences. Or, on occasion, tuning out mid-conversation, silently reflecting on the topic at hand with a morose: this is what we’re talking about?

It tends to happen most often when I find myself in conversations about the weather, or…..the kids. Because isn’t talking about kids with another parent the equivalent of talking about work with a colleague? It serves a purpose, but it can get dull rather quickly.

Sleep patterns. Toilet habits. Food aversions. After school activities. Summer camps. All potentially-useful-information-topics…..that have a shelf-life of about three minutes. After which they may reduce the listener to a puddle of boredom.

So as I lay awake, at 2.30am no less, contemplating the art of small talk, I decided to make a list of ‘conversation starters’ which I could either memorize or carry around with me on a little sheet of paper for (discreet!) reference when trapped engaged in idle banter with another. Something spicier than my other standby’s: ‘read any good books lately’ (yes, ‘one thousand gifts’) or ‘see any good movies lately’ (yes, ‘Gran Torino’) which, instead of eliciting animated banter, inevitably lead to [long pause as acquaintance racks brain to think of a recent book or movie] followed by ‘uh, no’ or, ‘yes, [blank]’! Which inevitably turns out to be the book or movie I abandoned after ten minutes because I found it, awful.


So, after more thought than I should have expended, I came up with these ‘winners’.

1. What do you think about Osama bin Laden….conspiracy? Or the real deal?

2. Do you really think Pippa ‘stole the show’ from Kate?

3. How often do you clean your bathrooms?

And then my well of [pathetic small talk] ideas ran dry. And I was no better off than when I’d first begun. And I’d lost an entire REM cycle.

I shall now be a sleep-deprived recluse.

9 thoughts on “The Art of Small Talk

  1. I have one.

    What do you think about newspapers (orthodox jewish newspapers granted but..) not being able to print the female form?

    They altered a White House photo (in the clutch room waiting for the Osama news) but deleted Hilary Clinton and another white house associate due to their gender.

    I think that could generate some interesting conversation – or the individual will be scanning the room for salvation.

  2. I loved Gran Torino too.

    And you should come watch me in action these days. It’s unreal. Float above my body, can’t believe I’m this small-talkin’ chit-chattin’ schmoozin’ g-droppin’ Queen. The fact that small talk is hard & awkward for you means you’re normal and not a political freak of nature like me.

  3. Vicky, at least toss me your best lines. Maybe I can adapt them for the apolitical arena! Kim, I’m thinking your line is a bit esoteric, but I’m willing to try it out and let you know. Erica, perhaps I could ask what they think of the ‘accent nail’ trend! And, jsj, don’t knock the bathroom line until you’ve tried it. You may be the life of the party from here on out.

  4. I was a small talk killer tonight with the following exchange… Stranger introduced to me by the guy with the concert tickets…”so what do you think of the concert?”… me.. “i really wish there were chairs”… … crickets..

    did i mention i am the oldest man in the world…

  5. Didya ever see The 40 Year Old Virgin? That scene in the bookstore where the friend “teaches” Steve Carrell how to talk to women, where you just ask questions. Yeah, that’s pretty much the art of small talk. Minus, you know, the sexual innuendo.

  6. Chairs? Actually that’s something I would have said. Vicky, have you honestly not come across a small talk situation where you just couldn’t THINK of any questions to ask. I mean, I can ask questions till the cows come home, but in some situations….I’m just stumped

  7. Oh yes, absolutely, I’m in those settings all the time. And keep in mind, I’m by nature a total introvert who has to force myself to be an extrovert most days. (It leads to great quantities of whiskey consumption but that’s for another post…) I have decided, in those settings where I just cannot think of anything else to say or ask and where the conversation comes to a painful stop that the problem is not my conversational skills, but the obvious dullness of whomever I’m talking to. Because, moi, je suis tres, tres interessante. 🙂


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