• Seven tips for making conversation (with strangers)

    talking.studentsI read this blog entry at The Happiness Project the other day and thought “what the hell was that?” Most of them, I thought, were fairly straightforward. I couldn’t argue with them. Comment on general topics, shared  interests, ask open questions, react in kind.

    But a couple of things she mentioned were so ludicrous, seriously!

    • 4. If you do ask a question that can be answered in a single word, instead of just supplying your own information in response, ask a follow-up question.

    Fair call. Up till this point:

    • For example, if you ask, “Where are you from?” an interesting follow-up question might be, “What would your life be like if you still lived there?” If you ask, “Do you have children?” you might ask, “How are you a different kind of parent from your own parents?” or “Have you decided to do anything very differently from the way you were raised?”

    Oh really? Let’s see, if someone asked me how I parented differently from my parents, thirty seconds after meeting me, I’d have to try very hard not to turn and simply walk away from them, or barring that, try to resist shouting “WTF?” in their face. That’s super weird, super intrusive and super personal. Not an appropriate third “getting to know you” question, in my opinion. I would not take kindly to someone who did that and probably wouldn’t speak to them ever again if I could help it, and yes, I WOULD tell all my friends about that creepy person I met who asked about my parenting style or upbringing immediately after asking my name.

    • 7. A friend argues that you should admit it! “We’re really working hard, aren’t we?” or “It’s frustrating—I’m sure we have interests in common, but we’re having a difficult time finding them.” Clearly this is a desperate measure, but my friend insists that it works. I’ve never had the gumption to try it, I have to admit.

    Well, good on her. Even I, the queen of social awkwardness, wouldn’t bring up just what an awkward time I’m having with someone. There are some times it’s best to be straight up, but this really isn’t one of them. What do you expect to happen after putting it out there between you? “Wow, we really have nothing to say to each other!” “Yeah…so….lovely weather isn’t it?”.

    I find that how well I make conversation really depends on my mood. Sometimes I just don’t feel like talking and will go out of my way to avoid crossing paths with people, even ones I know. Other times I just can’t be bothered making the effort, especially if after efforts to engage in dialogue, the other person doesn’t respond in kind. But if I’m feeling good about myself and what I’m wearing and how I look (shallow, yes) it makes a world of difference and I could almost pass for an extrovert-in-training. Not so much with people older than myself, or REALLY IMPORTANT PEOPLE – they make me nervous –  but definitely with people around my age.

  • Flipping heck!

    Goddamn. Some people are just so plain rude.

    I was just at the bank queuing for a teller. Ahead of me were a couple of guys and a girl clutching a big wad of cash.

    She asked the guy directly in front of her if he could calculate something on his Blackberry for her. He obliged. He fumbled a bit – either it’s a new phone, or he just doesn’t ever have to use the calculator – and was nice enough to ask her if SHE wanted to do it herself. She declined.
    He fumbled. And fumbled. And fumbled. After a bit of back and forth, she sighed loudly, rolled her eyes and practically threw her hands up in the air. He apologized profusely. She repeated her numbers with the air of someone struggling to potty train a child.

    That saga ended. The line inched forward. A new teller appeared and started tapping away at their computer. The bitch stepped forward and had a go at the guy at the front of the line (not Blackberry man, the one before him), something along the lines of “get up there already, this line is so long and there are people waiting behind you!” Poor guy scurried off.

    I wanted to punch her.

    You don’t just go up to the teller. You WAIT until they call you forward. The teller JUST got here. She would have still been logging on. Who knows how long that takes? What if her computer had frozen? You WAIT for a reason, and if he’d gone up and she still wasn’t ready for him, and someone else opened up, how stupid would that look? There is a reason for how they operate, and we abide by queue etiquette at banks and at the post office FOR A REASON. Would you demand a chef bring out your meal RIGHT NOW, because you’re RAVENOUS, ready or not? Didn’t think so.

    Then Blackberry guy offered to let her go ahead of him. Oh, she turned all sweetness and light then, let me tell you.

    “Oh, really? You’re such a gentleman!” And stole his spot at the front of the line.

    I swear. One day. I’m going to have a public brawl with some bitch like that who gets up my nerve on a bad day.