Small talk

The trouble is, it’s not small enough:

It’s painfully boring to me to say hello over and over again. If this bit of show is what separates us from the animals, I’ll happily take my place with the ants, busily working with no efforts made to be constantly sociable. “Can’t talk now, I’ve got to drag this dead fly home”. I’m thinking as I walk, and I don’t want that thinking necessarily interrupted by a string of meaningless words.

It’s worse when they’re trying to be amusing. However, this is simply a reflection of an unfortunate fact of life: most people seem to believe that they possess a better-than-average sense of humor, a notion that by definition cannot possibly be true. And expanded to email, it’s worse yet, because the humor-impaired, for some reason, are far more likely to forward you tons and tons of crap. I’ve had to cut the list of people from whom I will accept this sort of thing to maybe half a dozen; everyone else is rewarded with a blacklist entry in my mail filters.

Still, the words aren’t really “meaningless,” are they?

Okay, they’re not meaningless words in a cultural sense, and they really don’t separate us from the many animals who also have gestures of greeting. These little acts string us all together as a society. They keep us buzzing around the same hive. It’s the glue that provides some loose solidarity. What if everyone stopped chit-chatting?

But everyone won’t stop chit-chatting. There’s just a few of us that aren’t into it. We’re free-riding on the sociability of others. A few deviants are not going to destroy the bonds of the rest of them. And some of these weirdos actually advance society through brilliant innovation as they fail to discuss the weather sufficiently.

I don’t claim that anything I do advances society — indeed, there are times when I think my current career path actually retards it substantially — but I see nothing to gain by feigning interest when the chatterboxes start grinding out their resolutely unmelodic themes.

[I]t’s not that I have courage to be different from the crowd, but that my obliviousness to social constructions gives me extraordinary freedom.

“Don’t ask me how I am,” I tell them.

“Why not?” they ask.

“Because I’ll actually tell you.”

Eventually they learn.

Addendum: The Local Malcontent takes exception to this premise:

There’s gotta be a mistake — I’ve missed something, a punchline or an inside joke I hope. Or maybe he woke up grouchy this morning. The man who creates the verbose “Dustbury” anew every hour or so, implies that he doesn’t like the simple small talk which is the byword, the lifeblood, the very identifier of regular Oklahomans.

I am both shocked and disappointed, if true.

It’s seldom I get this reaction from someone I didn’t actually go out with.

Further addendum: Lynn observes:

Small talk has never annoyed me a lot but I’ve always found it a little sad that most people never go beyond that. What does annoy me sometimes is the idle chatter of strangers. I’ll be waiting in a long line, for example, and the person next to me will decide to chat me up but she (or he) won’t say much of anything, just chatter about the weather, how much she hates waiting in line, etc. If they’re not going to actually say something I wish they would just leave me alone with my own mind because what’s inside my head is always more interesting than the weather.

Then there’s Idol chatter, which is a pestilence all its own.


  1. Jeffro »

    1 September 2008 · 11:37 am

    Back when I had to deal with a lot of people every day, I’d agree wholeheartedly with all of it. But, now that my job is more solitary – I can handle a bit more societal interaction.

    But, while on the road, I can’t deal with idiots on the CB. My definition of idiot is pretty broad, too.

  2. sya »

    1 September 2008 · 12:40 pm

    I view small talk as pulling teeth–incredibly painful, but necessary. I wouldn’t get anything done if people thought I weren’t nice. Or at least willing to listen. (I can’t be the only one who has the urge to actually impede progress for those I view as unpleasant.)

    Most of the time, though, after the cursory “hellos” and “how are you doings”, I’m quite content to be silent the rest of the day and shut everyone else out, even if they are just sitting in the next desk over. So I’m also thinking that maybe small talk serves another purpose–for people to reassure themselves that they aren’t alone. I’ve observed that some people require chatter because they’re intensely afraid of being lonely.

  3. localmalcontent »

    1 September 2008 · 11:26 pm

    lovingly lifted from a blogger whose ‘About Me’ says “I’m a courageous technophobe, socialist, and philosophy goddess, one more outraged woman hoping to be heard.

    Keep on walkin’ babe. Not interested in even saying ‘hi’.

    This necessitates a response.

  4. Charles Pergiel »

    2 September 2008 · 9:46 pm

    How are you? Multi-second pause while I consider the question, then I recall my situation and respond FINE. I am FINE. Which sometimes gets a laugh.

    I didn’t get the Bullwinkle joke though.

  5. CGHill »

    2 September 2008 · 10:00 pm

    Pat Paulsen, defending (maybe) the right to keep and bear arms in 1967:

    “A gun is a necessity. Who knows when you’re walking down the street and you’ll spot a moose?”

    Sarah Palin, I surmise, knows, and probably has.

  6. Persephone's Box »

    5 September 2008 · 6:59 pm

    Causing Offense

    Dustbury quoted from my previous post, On Being Nice or Keeping it Real, on giving up the struggle to make small talk. A few commenters seem to understand where I’m coming from, like Lynn who took the words right out of my mouth…

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