Small talk is an art. You’re either good at it or you’re not. I’m not. This is true especially when I’m dealing with a new acquaintance. After a couple of hellos and how-are-yous, I’m done.
I find it difficult to expand a thread in a conversation. It becomes awkward when a conversation with me stops because I can’t contribute anymore. Either the other party starts looking around for someone else to talk to or I myself find an excuse to break off. (“Excuse me. I have to go to the bathroom.”)
In contrast, my wife, Lally, has mastered the art of small talk. There are many things I admire about my wife, and this is just one of them.
We would go to a wake, for example, and find that there was no one present whom we knew because the relatives of the deceased would be coming later in the evening. She would sit beside a stranger and, before you know it, she would be engaged in a lively conversation about who knows what.
And she doesn’t delve into any heavy subjects. Just small talk. But she somehow manages to engage someone in a conversation about something that interests both of them.
By this time I’m walking around the room, looking at the Mass cards and flower wreaths, trying very hard to pretend that I’m interested in who sent flowers.
At the risk of being called a sexist, I sometimes wonder if it’s a guy thing. For example, have two or three guys together in a car and there would be significant moments when nobody speaks. And everyone is comfortable with that.
But have the same number of women together in a car and there’s hardly any lull in the conversation. They can even have different topics going on at the same time and nobody gets confused. It’s a skill that never ceases to amaze me.
My problem extends even to telephone calls. It’s all right if I initiated the call, because I could end it without being rude. But if I received the call, it would be awkward for me to be the one to say goodbye. It’s tantamount to saying I have no interest in anything you might want to say to me, so let’s end this right here and now.
It has gotten even more awkward lately, because I also now have a hearing problem. That means I find it very difficult to engage in any meaningful conversation when I’m wearing my hearing aids.
In a group of more than two people, everything around me is mainly just noise. Others with a similar hearing problem will know what I’m talking about. But this is another subject altogether. I think I brought it up because I’ve run out of things to say about small talk and I don’t know how to end this conversation…
Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom. —CONTRIBUTED