“Oh shur don’t be talking t’me…. I know… Oh I know… Compared to last year…. Oh wasn’t it terrible…………… So that’s the way now…………… Well I’ll let you go now Brid, I’m here in Penney’s. Bye now. Bye (X10)…Bye.”
The woman hangs up and looks a little lost. I catch her eye and I feel as if we both have the same thought. “The weather has been terrible for small-talk”
This time last year, with the snow lying on the ground, inspiration was all around us. Small talk was easy. Everyone had a story. “I was going grand until SOME CLOWN decided to stop on the hill” “I went out to the back-kitchen and the PIPES WERE FROZEN”. “Well I got a land when I checked the thermometer. Zero degrees KELVIN! Absolute zero, entropy was at a minimum value. I had to put an extra jumper and all, and I’m normally good with the cold.”
It was also the spring-board for well-meaning, though sometimes gauche, attempts at cross-cultural communication. “You’re used to this I’d say Pavel, hah. Not a bother on you” and “I’d say this must be a big enough change for you Thandi is it?…Oh you’re here since 2000? Oh right, fair enough.”
This year the weather is more clement and it can be difficult to get some small-talk going. Here are some tips to get you started.
What to say
Notwithstanding the fact that the weather is a little boring now, there is still plenty to talk about. Mild Januarys mean early spring so pre-prepare some stories of sightings of snowdrops, crocuses and whatever-else-you-remembered-from-the-Nature-Board-in-school. Don’t overdo it. It’s not that hot and this isn’t global warming so tales of wildebeest migrating to Kanturk will be given short shrift. A word of warning: While technically, the tilt in the earth’s axis means that the days are getting marginally longer, it’s too early for the “grand stretch in the evenings”. You need to keep your powder dry until the official stretch start-date, on February 4th.
The economy is always good fodder for discussion but most points have been covered before so try and have a new angle and be positive. A litany of stories of ordinary people outfoxing the banks is always popular. “Do you know what they’re doing now? Some people are climbing onto their rooves covered in porridge and honking like a goose, getting themselves declared insane. The bank can’t do a bit!” Or “It turned out, the bank had got a stoat to draw up the contract! The whole mortgage was null and void!”
On a related topic, people love the chance to talk about the foolishness of others – especially young people. This being Ireland, be careful that your companion is not related to the subject so start off gently. “What’s yer man at over there?”…. “A pagoda is it? Begor.” Now check for a knowing smile. If you sense the coast is clear, you can then launch into a general list of stupid things ‘yer man’ has done before.
Where to say it
There are certain venues where the world seems to slow down, distractions are blocked out or just the general feel of the place makes it extra conducive to small-talk.
The most obvious is a taxi. Treat the conversation as if it were the tides of the sea or the direction of the fur on a dogs head – just go with the flow. Embrace it. Even lead it. Sit into the cab and just say “Isn’t the Taxi Regulator an awful imposition on ye’re livelihoods altogether? Such bureaucracy and little understanding of the realities on the ground.” This may even lead to stunned silence – which is what you wanted in the first place.
The hair-dressers is another fertile breeding ground for chat. While men’s barbers will often adopt a Jeeves-like attitude of “If Sir wishes to indulge in conversation, then that too will be accommodated”, the ‘salong’ is different.
As a male who attends a female salon – I know, I know, but I have different needs – I find myself sharing far more than I ever intended to. It’s almost as if the words escape from me as the burden of hair is being removed. If I’m silent for a while I can hear others confess too. Small talk becomes big talk. I hear phrases I have to look up when I go home. Like HRT.
A butchers is also a round-the-clock news network. Whether it’s the sight of all that naked – though admittedly dead – flesh, the reassuring presence of a man in uniform carrying a large knife, or perhaps just the sight of animal tongues, some spark in there makes people loosen their own tongues. The butcher orchestrates the banter; effortlessly mixing business and pleasure. “I’ve a nice bit of lamb for ya there missus. Shur ya could have a barbecue in this weather like! Hah?!”
When the talking stops.
Some situations militate against freedom of speech. This occurs because something else is dominating the participants. That other element could be the presence of a third party. Particularly someone who is perceived as being a bit odd. Neither side is willing to offer an opinion out loud lest it bring “yer man over to us”. Other death knells for talk include an environmental one, like a bad smell. Especially if one side suspects the other of causing that smell.
Finally, make sure you equip yourself with a selection of handy non-committal phrases, words and sounds which can act as the ball-bearings that facilitate the smooth operation of the answering machine. Musha, Dhera, Oh Shur, ‘Magine that, Indeed, I See, Of course, Rightyouare, Trueforoo, Wasn’t I thinking that myself, Hmmmhph, What-was-I-going-to-say, Thee-aaaammm will all buy you vital seconds to keep the conversation going.
So now, whatever the weather, you are ready to talk small!