Small talk: polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions.
I’ve always been hopeless at small talk. Put me in a group of people and I’m generally fine socially: I’ll find my rhythm, find where I fit into the dynamic and play my part compliantly. I’m relaxed when there’s a number of people around, and I’m even more relaxed when it’s good friends or family with whom it’s totally effortless. However, put me in a one-on-one situation where I have to make small talk and I completely flounder.
I think what it boils down to is that I find it painfully boring. I honestly do not care about the weather, and believe it or not but I couldn’t care less about the traffic you crawled through on your way to work this morning. To me, small talk is an admission of having nothing interesting to say. Where’s the grit, the audaciousness? I recently went on a yoga retreat and met a girl around the same age as me, who was there on her own. I commented on the fluffiness of her jumper (I told you I was bad at small talk) and after an awkward introduction, I asked why she had decided to come on the retreat. Without skipping a beat, she told me that she was on a journey of self discovery, had recently quit drinking and was trying to find her way in life, and meditation and yoga were proving to be a big help. She was also on a break from her boyfriend and needed some time away from the city and everyday life to gain a little clarity. Just like that, she lay everything out there. Here was the raw honesty that I craved from conversation.
We discussed everything that we were currently going through in life, compared books we were reading, our experiences with abandoning a life of brunches and parties for yoga retreats and tea parties. To anyone else, I’m 99% sure we sounded like self righteous, twenty-something year old highbrows, but for me it was the most refreshing conversation I had experienced with a complete stranger. We were, it turned out, kindred spirits and I was extremely grateful that she had politely accepted my bullshit attempt at small talk and given me a chance.
When you engage in mundane chit chat, without any interesting conversation, debate, or discussion, what are you really getting from it? We all know a handful of people who, if we were to meet up with them tomorrow, would proceed to spend the afternoon discussing the very basic, boring elements of their life. They might chat about what they did at the weekend, or tell us they’re feeling especially tired today, or that the traffic was a nightmare into the city tonight. We wouldn’t even scratch the surface of our deepest fears or desires, of our existential anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, this is of course all standard conversation and I don’t expect every meeting with a friend to begin by me declaring that I am not sure what the meaning of life is and expect them to join me in dissecting this all night long. I just want to know that there’s going to be substance in what we talk about, and that we’re being completely honest and open; not just making polite small talk and pretending that this constitutes for a “good chat”. There are so many deeper and more dignified topics to address.
People are so interesting- I’m fascinated by what makes us all individuals, with opinions and hardships and flaws. So why waste time with small talk when we could have a heated debate about the #metoo movement or discuss the effect that the book Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine had on you?
I don’t want to dismiss small talk altogether; and it obviously has its place in social situations. I won’t go barging into a group of strangers proclaiming my political views, but I will always favour a decent conversation over idle chit chat any day of the week.