Wednesday, February 8, 2006

The Fine Art of Small Talk

Mom — ugh, Mom — found this book in the library called The Fine Art Of Small Talk, a self-help classic that will teach me to make inane, worthless conversation with strangers, or, failing that, will remind me that those of us who don't hold up our ends of the conversation are inconsiderate louts. That's pretty much the entire message of the book: half the book is this "get out there and go for it" pep rally and half the book is stories about the terminally shy and how the more garrolous among us don't consider them fit to join society. Thus, Fine Art of Small Talk book, meet mockery.

I actually had pretty high hopes for the small talk book, despite my previous adventures in the art of conversation. A few days back, Dad was telling Mom and me about some random women he struck up a conversation with at an art museum, and my reaction was, "Whoa, Dad, somebody looked around the room and decided you'd be the most interesting person around to talk with? How did that happen?" Mom, who wasn't at the museum with Dad, answered my question with an analysis straight out of FAoST: Dad made eye contact with this woman, he introduced himself, and he started the conversation with an icebreaker. I guess I was in some sort of shock at that time, because what Mom said made sense. Perhaps it's been such a long time since I made eye contact with anyone that I'd temporarily forgotten how difficult it is, how there's that uncomfortable balancing act between a normal attempt to socialize and "why the hell are you staring at me?"

Maybe there is a way around that awkwardness that doesn't involve a television producer or anything, but it's certainly not in FAoST. For instance, there's a list of fifty icebreaker topics in the book — and I'm always having trouble coming up with new and exciting things to say, so no one appreciates a good icebreaker like I do — but not one of them is less contrived than "what's your sign?". Here's a couple, and it's not my fault that they're totally devoid of context:

  • What would you like to come back as in the next life?
  • Tell me about the first car you ever bought.
  • Describe the scariest person you ever met.
  • How can you tell if that melon is ripe?
(No, I didn't just make that last one up.)
Apparently, there are people in the world having the following conversation: "Hi, Random Woman Drinking Alone in a Bar. My name's Jim. What aroma brings forth a special memory?" And the fact that someone, somewhere is getting lucky with that line just depresses me even more.


Mike said...

Boy that sounds like an awful book.

DL said...

Yeah, I always heard that people like someone who would listen to them the most, although I have to admit that's not really my specialty. I normally try something more along the lines of, "Hard day, eh?" or "how's your day been?", because if the person's really interested in talking they'll go on to tell me why exactly they're day has been so tough or more rarely good and if they're not interested in talking it sounds completely innocuous.