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...

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Those Who Dish It Out...

         On the day I met El Zorro, he said to us:  "When I was in my mid-thirties I started to tell the truth whether people liked or not, and it made me feel a lot better." We commended him for this, and agreed that this was the best policy. It wouldn't take us long to realise that he likes to tell the truth to others, but to have the truth told to him? Nah, no so much... 
          One morning after breakfast he was trying to wind me up about something (I can't remember what it was now. I'm really going to have to start taking daily notes on the things that happen...) Anyway, not only I'm not picking up his bait but I shrug my shoulders as if to say: "Whateva...". He then looks at me, not looking very happy, and says: "This dismissive gesture... I didn't like it at all". I smiled and said: "well, you did say you always wanted the truth, didn't you?" 
          It seems to me that a lot of people who make a big song and dance about truth, when it comes to the truth about themselves, well, that's entirely another story, and not one they're particularly keen to hear...

On another note, the weekend after this happened, my friend calls me and says: "Guess what? Don Diego has a new girlfriend!" Well, that's interesting, for someone who made such a noise about telling the truth, he didn't mention this "interest" of his, not once for the whole weekend. I said to my friend: "what? an instant girlfriend?  just add water...?  ;)"

Friday, 13 September 2013

If You're Not Nice To The Waiter...

        I had seen this quote in various places, but until this summer I had never met a person who was -literally- not nice to the waiter (not nice to other people, yes, but not nice to a waiter/waitress, never). The guy that I mentioned in previous posts -El Zorro- was absolutely horrendous to waiters/waitresses (or anybody in a position of service for that matter). It was not overt enough that you could pull him up on it, but appalling enough to make one cringe. I had never seen anything quite like it before, it was something I didn't think it existed anymore: he would treat them with an air of superiority, like they did in Victorian times, when people actually had servants, and with a horrible subtle snobbishness, arrogance, cruelty even... 
       To say that this guy had massive issues is an understatement: a psychiatrist would have a field day with him. Every evening he would have a two hour "mini-depression"; but I don't think it was real depression (people who are truly depressed don't go round advertising the fact to someone they've just met the day before), no, I think he was feeling bad about himself -and rightly so- because our bodies know the truth about ourselves, and if one is going around being so awful to some people -even thought they might be very charming to others- somehow it can't be entirely suppressed, at some point, it leaks out. 
     I felt really sorry for the guy -not in a compassionate way, but more in a "what a sad way to live" sort of way, because to live your life in that dimension, where it's all about looking good, making money, impressing people, and miss out on having true friendships, and kindness and love, is the worse life I can think of.