Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: Casual, Shallow and Meaningless

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  • JacksonP, in reply to Sacha,

    Though self-esteem can be unhelpful.

    ’Tis better to be vile than vile esteeem'd
    In particular, beware the false adulterate eyes.

    The other side of the coin is everyone else learning ways to communicate and build relationships that respect different levels of comfort or proficiency with small talk.

    Yes.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2011 • 2436 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    It is very difficult to find that value neutral question to start a conversation. I have found that if it is at a party or function for someone or for a particular cause to ask "What is your relationship to x?" and that is usually pretty safe, and they have to answer with more than yes or no and that provides something to build on. People are often happy to talk about their own lives if you can get onto something that is important to them (not too confidential). Once you have got that far you can get on to politics.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3110 posts Report Reply

  • JacksonP,

    I started a conversation tonight with 'sorry, I'm terrible with names...' He'd forgotten mine too, so it was sweet.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2011 • 2436 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    This is almost therapuetic. I thought I was the only one who has troubles with small talk (medium talk is ok; big talk is great). My daughter increasingly comments on my social awkwardness but there are situations that resemble hell eg meeting MPs or, recently, making a hurried tour of the Home & Garden Show. My strategy: walk quickly, avoid all eye contact, reject all offers to sell you dodgy kitchen gadgets or spa pools.

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2502 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    I have found that if it is at a party or function for someone or for a particular cause to ask "What is your relationship to x?" and that is usually pretty safe, and they have to answer with more than yes or no and that provides something to build on.

    What I would really, really love to be able to do is hostess properly. Shush. I mean, introduce people who don't know each other with a little one-sentence snippet about each person that leaves them with something to talk about. I can work out when people I know will hit it off, but I'd like to be able to help.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4620 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace, in reply to Emma Hart,

    I would love to be able to do that. Tricky part is getting them into the same place at the same time, when it is quiet enough for each to hear the other. Unfortunately, they might also dislike each other on sight.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3110 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    And without revealing in that one sentence something they would rather not have publicised. As in, "This is Garth, he has a wonderful model train set in his garage".

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3110 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to BenWilson,

    Ben, I like what you're saying and it makes a lot of sense to me. Trouble is, it runs completely counter to my own experience. For one thing, I find learning foreign languages infinitely easier than making small talk in English. I'm quite happy reading newspapers and novels and textbooks and poetry in French and Chinese, but I need to know somebody reasonably well before I can converse easily with them. And I'm pretty sure it took me until university to learn how to converse in English.

    In my work life, I learned to deal with my social awkwardness by acting, creating a "social Chris" persona that I put out there to deal with my colleagues. Trouble is I have to do that in two languages, often simultaneously, but it works. It drains me, but it gets the job done. With my students, the teacher-student relationship/divide helps immeasurably.

    Outside of work social interactions can be quite fraught. My Chinese-language self reminds me a lot of my 12-year-old English-language self, in that I find it incredibly difficult to take part in conversations. I know I'm supposed to, and in theory I know what is supposed to happen, but there is some mental block that I'm still trying to work through. It drives my wife nuts in the same way and for the same reasons I drove my parents nuts when I was a kid, but there you go, there's me. I can still be very awkward in English, even more so in Chinese. In fact, I'm pretty confident I'd find it easier to learn Mongolian to the point where I could read the Secret History than properly learn this small talk/social interaction thing.

    Shared too much, perhaps, but that seems to be a common problem around these parts.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2384 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    The other alternative is just to get two big brains together and sort of interview them about their ideas in this 1971 Chomsky Foucault discussion http://www.openculture.com/2011/10/chomsky-foucault_debate_1971.html

    I mention this because I got two good friends together finally and they had a nice chat in the rain in a Cuba Street carpark about Foucault and Marx, because the topic was so interesting and there are not many people who share the passion.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3110 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe,

    Emma Hart: I loved this piece; TMI are my middle initials. Why have a conversation if it's not a real one?

    @Isabel Hitchings: I agree, competitive parenting is so vile.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2880 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Yamis,

    What would be some good ice breakers that aren’t of the How are you?, What do you do variety?

    I’ve long suspected Laurie Anderson must be a gas at cocktail parties. Que es mas macho iceberg or volcano?

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12363 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    The worse small talk starter ever (and one I use distastefully often) is "And what do you do?" How the hell do you answer that?

    If you ask this of someone like me, for whom parenting is my primary occupation, you are going to come away with the perception that I can't talk about anything other than my kids because that is the only opening you've given me. Asking "what are you interested in?" is better.

    I frequently get stuck in situations where people blithely assume I agree with them and it often takes quite a while until there is a conversational space where I can put them right by which stage saying what I really think is impossible without being horribly rude. I find this utterly perplexing as I never assume someone shares my opinion without fairly solid evidence.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 719 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    All my life, I've found other people - inscrutable.
    I learned to understand my mother (who also understands me best)
    some of my siblings (5)
    and a very few friends.
    Or, people I've known in safe social relationships for many years (Shakespeare reading group.)

    Small talk/gossip/ socialese - cant do it. I am very bad at normal social gatherings,
    and, over the years, have stopped trying at them.

    Some sound so inviting - Foo! - but then I realise the logistics & all the rest of it,
    and know, No-

    I know it is slightly unhealthy but I prefer now to not go to any social gathering
    where it involves a majority of people I dont know.

    It sounds pathetic but it is waaay less stressful than finding yourself with people who ask, "Well, who do you reckon will win on Monday?" (or whatever.)

    For the record, I've never been to a hair dresser in my life. My mother cut my hair until I was 18 - I've cut it thereafter.

    Fortunately, I have this mass of curly stuff which is very forgiving of - hacking-

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to 3410,

    ... which largely explains why Craig is yet to be knighted.

    I could see how offering to steam clean the head of state's downstairs carpet for a modest fee would put a crimp in that ambition.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12363 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Emma Hart,

    What I would really, really love to be able to do is hostess properly.

    It's a skill, most certainly. But there's small talk in it. Introducing people to the next love of their life might involve wading through the shallows. It seems like a very meaningful activity to me.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10504 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    yeah, you'd probably have to offer to do it for free
    and not mention putting a crimp in it.
    royals are just so entitled, eh.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1751 posts Report Reply

  • Amy Gale, in reply to Emma Hart,

    But this was my first professional colour, so the first time I'd been in the salon for two hours. My tweets became increasingly desperate.

    I cannot emphasise strongly enough that no matter how good the salon's espresso machine is, you should UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES drink coffee the entire time. Not unless you enjoy buzzing round like a toddler who has just had its very first raspberry popsicle while your friends laugh hysterically.

    Also, hair salons tend to have way better trashy magazines than dentists.

    tha Ith • Since May 2007 • 471 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    Okay, this has made me think. Everyone is, at some stage, strangers to each other. So how have you initiated your friendships? Have others initiated, or have you made the first move? Did someone introduce you? I am curious, because I'm thinking about how we make friends. So if you don't do small talk (I'm assuming we mean that initial "Hi, how are you? etc" that people do when they first meet), what does that first blooming of friendship look to many of you?

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    And without revealing in that one sentence something they would rather not have publicised. As in, "This is Garth, he has a wonderful model train set in his garage".

    unless of course that's a wonderfully crafted euphemism for something else ..... as in

    offering to steam clean the head of state's downstairs carpet for a modest fee

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2556 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Jackie Clark,

    beyond the mall stalk... entering amityville

    what does that first blooming of friendship look (like)

    when buds branch into buddies
    cordiality flows to new tolerances
    blowhards puff into harmonicas
    alleys widen to alliances
    sidekicking along companionways
    thus pals become palpable

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7480 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    Yes! Couldn't have said it better myself, Ian.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome, in reply to Jackie Clark,

    You can get by without small talk: I've managed to initiate friendships and the like by launching straight into the big talk ("Come on, boffins!") by just being disarming (and slightly charming). It probably is a special skill: years of speech and drama coaching (once again, part of my learning to work with my disability) has been useful, but small talk isn't necessary, just sufficient (for some people).

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 440 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to JacksonP,

    remembering where students were sitting when I first met them

    You could tell them that you will call the person in that seat John regardless of who sits there, then it's up to them if they want to be called by their own names.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4366 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    I could see how offering to steam clean the head of state's downstairs carpet

    Don't be silly she has little people to do that for her already

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4366 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    corgis

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19413 posts Report Reply

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