Monday, 23 September 2013

Small Talk

             I have a confession to make: I have not set foot in our local supermarket for at least over a year. I've shopped online or in the next town. Why? Because I just cannot bear the thought of having to make small talk with my sister's flying monkeys should I bump into them. And quite likely I would. We live in a very small town. Whereas I have been facing a lot of other situations pretty much head on, this one still beats me. It's turning out to be my Achilles heel.

             Blogger RTB has written a few posts about small talk recently ( that got me thinking as to why we all seem to struggle so much with this issue. After musing on it for a few days, the answer emerged: it's not small talk that is the problem. The problem is to have to keep doing small talk when you are well past the point of being at that stage with that person. It was RTB's realisation that sometimes there is something such as too much information, that made me think that small talk itself was not the problem. Let me explain:
            When you first meet someone (and/or in certain circumstances in public life) small talk is appropriate. But after a certain reasonable time of knowing a person, you should be able to move on to more open discussions. To have to keep doing small talk with people you have known for years isn't natural. It's like playing a board game where you never make it past square one, or like being invited to someone's house for dinner and only being given a starter but never a main meal. From those two scenarios you'd go away bored and hungry, and I think that's what happens at an emotional level when we have those sorts of interactions with people. In a way, it's also like being stuck in "Groundhog Day" (film), with people repeating the same things over and over like a protocol. It also reminds me of the Stepford Wives film. There is a woman I have known for years and both DH and I have noticed how, if we say anything that remotely strays from the "protocol", you can see in her eyes that you've lost her, her brain is starting to "malfunction" and you quickly have to "undo", so she doesn't spontaneously combust ;) Though we always have a laugh about this, I think it's very sad to live your life at that superficial level all the time...
           I was recently on a train trip and I took "The Tenant of Widlfell Hall" by Anne Brontë to read with me. I was blown away reading how the main character -Helen Graham- feels exactly how I feel about small talk:

(In this excerpt Helen is having a conversation with Mr. Markham) 

'Why have they left you alone?' I (Mr. Markham) asked.

'It is I who have left them,' was the smiling rejoinder. 'I was wearied to death with small talk - nothing wears me out like that. I cannot imagine how they can go on as they do.'
I could not help smiling at the serious depth of her wonderment.

'Is it that they think it a duty to be continually talking,' pursued she: 'and so never pause to think, but fill up with aimless trifles and vain repetitions when subjects of real interest fail to present themselves? - or do they really take a pleasure in such discourse?'

'Very likely they do,' said I; 'their shallow minds can hold no great ideas, and their light heads are carried away by trivialities that would not move a better-furnished skull; - and their only alternative to such discourse is to plunge over head and ears into the slough of scandal - which is their chief delight.'

'Not all of them, surely?' cried the lady, astonished at the bitterness of my remark.

'No, certainly; I exonerate my sister from such degraded tastes - and my mother too, if you included her in your animadversions.'

'I meant no animadversions against any one, and certainly intended no disrespectful allusions to your mother. I have known some sensible persons great adepts in that style of conversation when circumstances impelled them to it; but it is a gift I cannot boast the possession of. I kept up my attention on this occasion as long as I could, but when my powers were exhausted I stole away to seek a few minutes' repose in this quiet walk. I hate talking where there is no exchange of ideas or sentiments, and no good given or received.'

I wouldn't have been able to put it better myself...


  1. Afternoon Kara! Anne Bronte--I'd never heard of this book, but the passages you quote are PERFECT. Her words nail exactly the exhaustion of having to square the same damn circle over and over and over again. RE: shopping the next town over, I completely understand that. Why should you risk bumping into your sister or her FM while you go to get food, if you can travel a few minutes farther and avoid disturbing your day? One day you'll be able to shop in your town, and have it all roll off, but not yet, and that's fine.

    Small talk has gotten infinitely harder for me, with people I've known for years. Colleagues, esp. but with FOO? It's pure torture. Zsa Zsa, you never get anywhere with her. My father--well, you know. Talking, "where there is no exchange of ideas or sentiments," not really, is agonizing. I know it makes me feel like I've lost some of my social skills; but I just can't go through that kind of minor agony anymore, and don't see the point. You either, and that meakes you--like Helen, or Lizzie Bennett--a woman of substance. But it IS hard cause the world is full of natterers.

    1. Pure torture, yes, that's what it's like. Like the character puts it: "I have known some sensible persons great adepts in that style of conversation when circumstances impelled them to it; but it is a gift I cannot boast the possession of." I used to have that "gift", but I seem to have lost it completely.
      I hadn't heard of this book until recently either, it was only because I was talking about this very subject with a friend of mine and she (who also feels the same way about small talk) told me about it and lent it to me that I got to know about it. I don't understand why this book is not as well known as "Jane Eyre" or "Pride and Prejudice". The Preface of the book is also very interesting.

    2. In general, I find that the more I have learned about NPD, the worse my social skills have gotten. Because I do much less pandering now to people's egos. Although I'm much better at detecting when my own fleas are being activated, so I guess that's a fair tradeoff! love CS

    3. Hi there,
      OMG, CS you summed up exactly what has been happening; my social skills are going way down and at the same time I'm getting in tune with what I'm feeling when interacting with people. The recovery process didn't happen at such a great time, when we moved and I desperately needed social skills to meet people where we live. But that this the trade off. Hugs, TR

    4. It's probably a trade off worth having. I know I always was 'trained' to try to hard to get people to like me, depend on me, to do things for people, too quickly. I'm learning to be more reserved, and to try to just hear what people are saying to me. Fleas are nasty creatures!

    5. Indeed, the fleas - I attracted them well :). Like moths to a flame. xxoo

  2. Interesting post. Small talk seems to be such a waste of time to me, most of the time.

  3. Great tie in to RTB's post; That is an excellent point - there is a time where it is okay, like meeting someone but after spending some time for a while - it leaves you hanging. When I read this I thought of my in-laws, after 14 years we still do small talk and at this point I can't be around them.

    Great references to the book; how do you find the book?

    Hugs, TR

    1. Thanks TR. After 14 years I can imagine it must be unbearable to still be doing small talk.
      I'm still in the early part of the book but so far I'm really liking it. The writing is very honest -reminds me of Thomas Hardy's books.

      Kara xxoo

    2. Some families have perfected the art of talking about nothing :). Going to add this to the list to read. xxoo

    3. Hi guys, reading Mark Matousek's "When You're Falling, Dive."
      Two thumbs up--a good book for putting things in a different perspective. Thanks for the rec on that, Kara. xx

    4. Hi CS,
      You're welcome, I'm glad you're enjoying it :) xx