One of life’s great skills, I am told, is the ability to make small talk. That is the ability to make conversation at times when there is little of importance to be said. Or to look at it another way, the ability to seem enthusiastic when discussing things of no consequence.
Sadly, my ability to make such diminutive talk is poor at best. It seems that I was born without whatever piece of mental apparatus it is that enables a person to find the pursuit of binge speaking entertaining. The result is that people often see me as antisocial, and if truth be told, they might be right. It’s not that I refuse to speak to people, it’s just that if I don’t find the conversation engaging in some way, I struggle to participate, and make every effort to cut it short. If I’m engaged on some level, I will talk all night, but if talk is purely for that sake of talking, I would rather keep my mouth shut and the rest of me elsewhere. I just don’t see the point.
Sport talk is a particular bugbear of mine. I’m not a sports fan at the best of times, but I struggle to understand how anyone can chat into the wee small hours about the finer details of how some bloke they’ve never met kicked a ball through a large rectangle, or went really quickly on his bicycle. It doesn’t involve me, it doesn’t affect me, and let’s face it, it doesn’t matter. The fact that it doesn’t involve or affect the vast majority of the people who bang on about it either makes it doubly baffling. Don’t get me wrong. If you are one of those people who can enjoy discussing the finer points of Leo Van Troopenbury’s penalty kick last Saturday, then God’s speed to you. Fill yer boots. Just don’t expect to fill mine with it.
A guy once told me that the best thing about football is that it gives men something to talk about. I gave it some thought, but concluded that this said less about the value of football than it did about the value men. If they have nothing better to talk about, perhaps it would be better if they just hung out with other people.
With this in mind, I feel fortunate to have spent a good chunk of my adult life in countries where I have a very basic grasp of the language. I can ask for a loaf of bread, but can’t be told the hilarious story of how the delivery driver slipped on some leaves last Tuesday. You know, because there were some leaves that were… well, slippery. I can order a pint of beer without having to listen to the barman tell me about this other foreign fella once came in and said something funny about something that neither I nor he have ever been or will ever be aware. I can get what I want and get out unencumbered by another human’s mental detritus.
Another great joy of my linguistic deficiency is not having to listen to other people’s conversations.
“He said I looked 32. I’m only 30.”
“Oh my god, Julie. I don’t know how you put up with it.”
“I know, Tray, but I love him.”
“Have you tried biscuits?”
“Oh my God, Tray, I fuckin’ love biscuits.”
Where I live now, conversations like this just sound like white noise, and I am spared many a mind full of unhappy relationships and crispy baked goods.
It is one of life’s little pleasures to be able to go through a supermarket checkout without having to make conversation about my shopping. Lines like “Ooh, baked beans. It’s going to be windy night!” or “Ooh, chocolates, who’s the lucky lady?” rub me up the wrong way. I invariably end up just giving a curt smile or making some regrettably harsh retort that the bored employee, who was probably just trying to make the day feel a little less toxic, really didn’t deserve.
I’m being a bit hard on myself, I suppose. What I want to do is hit them in the face with the beans and then force feed her the chocolates until they choke, and I’ve never actually done that. Not even once.
The problem with making small talk is that I am abysmally poor at it. When someone throws a comment about the weather in my general direction, I try to deflect it to the nearest person qualified to respond. If I try to respond, or make such a comment myself though, I assume that everyone is as ungifted as I am in this department, and that they are secretly planning to chew a hole through my body in order to get away from the mind numbing dullness of it all.
Why other people find ‘making conversation’ so important leaves me cold. If we have no food, we don’t eat. If we have no energy, we don’t run around. If we have no car, we don’t drive. Why is then, that when we have nothing to say, we continue to speak?
Imagine arriving to a dinner party. “I’m sorry,” says the person sitting next to you, “I have no mutually engaging topic of conversation, so I’m going to sit here and tell you about my holiday for the next hour and a half. I will be offended if you don’t feign interest”.
“I’m sorry,” says your host, “I don’t have any food, so grab a napkin, I’ll squat on the table and shit directly onto your plate. Then I’m going to try to hold your gaze while, out of politeness, you try to choke it down”.
Both situations can be eased with mouthwash, but one of them requires you to beat somebody to death with the bottle.
As ever, none of this is actually important. It is, after all, only stuff. If you are lucky enough to find solace in a conversation about the cricket, or about how pert Taylor Swift’s tits are, then it’s all good. Have fun.
If you need me, I’ll be at home.
Minister of Stuff.