Friday, March 30, 2007

Wax lyrical

I'm not, and never have been, great at small talk. At first it was an age and experience thing; I couldn't understand why people were prepared to engage in such banalities for the sake of politeness. My brain works quite quickly, constructing complex topic trees with tenuous, awkward links that sometimes I can't even articulate.

I was being too literal; small talk is supposed to be boring and inoffensive. After all, if you have no history, no reference points with people, you have to talk about the weather, the roads, about 'what an interesting flower arrangement that is, so unusual, mmm'.

I can have rich and meaningful conversations with my friends; so I'm more comfortable with the idea that I will sometimes have to talk small with people. For this, I've adopted a simple strategy; questions, questions, questions. Keep asking questions, if you do stumble across a subject of common relevance, investigate a little and then move onto other questions.

"So where are you from?"
"I love Brighton, it's one of the places I would like to live. Have you always lived there?"
"No. I used to live in Manchester"
"Manchester to Brighton is a long way, why the big change?"
"I changed jobs."
"Wow, changing jobs is a big deal, travelling from one end of the country to another to do it is something else. Were you brought up in Manchester?"


Yesterday, as part of a work thing I was sitting with a Brazilian/Italian woman (and a Kenyan/Pakisani and a German). She was very interesting and talked a lot about the differences between Brazil and Britain. She was very easy going and loved talking so the small-talk was a doddle.

However it was quite a long event, so we were able to race through and exhaust heaps of subjects. It was far from boring, in fact it bordered on enjoyable. We talked food, culture, travel, weather, politics, inevitably got onto the subject of football; which is good for me. Eventually I pretty much knew all there was to know about Brazil and the differences with Britain. We'd also talked about business, so that box had been ticked. I still needed something. I scoured my brain for things I know about Brazil and Brazilians.

Hmm, Brazilians? What do I know about Brazilians?

Luckily, the other thing age and experience has given me is a degree of control, I had this empty pot of Brazilian conversation topics in my head with just the subject of radical bikini line waxing techniques left. I mentally slammed the lid shut on the pot, but for the rest of the evening I could hear it jumping around like a conversational Gollum banging about and asking to be freed "ASK ABOUT VAGINAS, ASK ABOUT VAGINAS". Every time there was a lull in the conversation I could hear it. V-A-G-I-N-A.

I turned to the German and talked about organisation and efficiency. I could have talked about sausages, but sausages on my right and vaginas on my left would have taken me to dark synergistic places I should never investigate in polite company.


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