This morning, I was making a cup of tea in the work kitchen when a colleague came in. I didn’t really look up or make eye contact, being focused on stirring my Dilmah. I braced myself for the inevitable “Good morning! How are you?” but it never came. Grateful, I finished making my cuppa in blissful silence. For once, I had stumbled on someone who didn’t want to make small talk, whether through tiredness, laziness, rudeness or just plain failure to give-a-shit I don’t know, but I was happy with it.
I really hate small talk. I don’t just find it annoying or hard, I hate it. I recognize there’s a place for it in our interactions, and that it helps fill the gaps when you don’t know somebody very well or have to kill time, but I still reserve the right to dislike it immensely.
Small talk is hard for me. I think the main issue is, I just don’t care. If you’re not a close friend or family member, I don’t care how you’ve been, what you did on the weekend, or how you had your sister come to visit. I am not going to ask you whether you have any kids, or where you live. In the office on Monday mornings I actually dread people asking me about my weekend because frankly, I don’t think it’s any of their business. The most you might get out of me in response to the old standby “How was your weekend?” might be “yeah, good”.
What is priceless though is the person’s face when they realize I’m not going to ask them how theirs was in return. They stand there all expectantly; answer prepared in their head, ready to tell me about how they went on a picnic, or cleaned the pantry or some other intensely boring thing. I am probably a mean person, but I get a small satisfaction out of watching them squirm when I don’t reciprocate and ask them the question they most desire me too. Some even take things into their own hands after a few seconds and voluntarily start blurting things. It’s like they just can’t NOT SHARE every personal detail.
The other socially-expected behavior I won’t conform to is taking an interest in people’s leave or holidays. If I see someone at work back from a month off, I deliberately won’t ask them how their break was. I figure they will already have been asked a hundred times that day by workmates who probably care about the answer about as much as I do (very little) but are going through the motions anyway. I think I’m like this because I physically dread people asking me about my holidays after a long break. It grates on my nerves and annoys me no-end. I’m on tenterhooks the entire morning of my first day back, waiting for the barrage of “Oh hiiiiiii!! Good to have you baaaack! How was your holiday???”. They usually look disappointed when I say “good thanks”. Some feel impelled to ask for more information, because they CAN’T JUST LEAVE THE CONVERSATION THERE (why? Why do you even care to continue probing?) and ask “What did you get up to?”. So I tell them, but I’m watching their face and the entire time you can see they’re not actually listening, but preparing their own reply, which consists of what happened to THEM while I was away.
By now, I think you can tell that I am not the kind of person who makes conversation in queues, or talks to the people sitting next to me at the theatre. I try my very hardest to use the minimum of words with the supermarket checkout operator. Sometimes I even get away with not saying a word, just smiling thinly. Have you every NOT responded to someone who has asked how you are? It’s a very hard impulse to suppress, but sometimes I just do it to be perverse, or provoke a reaction. I like to think I’m conducting some kind of ethnographic study, however really I’m just amusing myself by being selfish and annoying.
I think I’ve blogged before about how my partner is the total opposite to me. He IS the kind of person who will make conversation in a queue. The King of Small Talk I call him. It’s just his nature to talk to people, any people. The guy behind the parts counter at Supercheap Auto, people at the table next to us at the Coffee Club, the owner of an interesting car that he spots in a car park – he talks to them all. I don’t begrudge him this talent, I really don’t, but because I’m not really interested I usually just stand there and try to look half-interested.
Sometimes I must admit, I trip up and do share some things via small talk. It’s usually if someone says something interesting, like if they have seen a movie I want to see and I will ask them what they thought. Or they’ve travelled somewhere I’m interested in going. On these occasions, I might venture to put forward an opinion of my own, and the talking moves beyond the realm of “small” into an actual conversation. That, I’m ok with.
I realize this post probably makes me sound like a monumentally rude cow. But honestly, I find small talk exhausting and uninteresting. How do you feel about it?