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Davis, California

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Column: Small talk

I know it’s “like freezing cold” outside, that autumn leaves are cute, that there are just a few days ‘til Thanksgiving. I know homework and testing is the hellish bane of your existence … but small talk is the bane of mine.

Why won’t anyone tell me something new? Most importantly, why must everyone interminably circle around the subject they’d really like to broach like crafty, conniving birds of prey? I’d much rather they swoop to the point, no matter how sharp the transition or painful the subject may be.

The busier I am, the less I appreciate people traipsing along on tangents that ricochet from one extreme of the universe to another. (See Exponential Decay). If I truly must waste a third of my day listening to things I’ve already heard, I’d much rather hide in my room with my iPod than exchange awkward quips about the weather.

While I do prefer the other end of the continuum, where people I’ve known for three extensive nanoseconds promptly begin telling me their most intimate secrets, or scrabbling around (like blindfolded klutzes thrown into an ice-skating rink sans skates) for answers to existential questions as profound as they are annoying — even this gets old.

I’m done hearing people’s assigned life meanings for now, but I wouldn’t mind if people could just be more open and actually tell me something illuminating about themselves (that doesn’t require them to sob oceans of tears over their seventh-grade breakups or angrily stomp faults into the ground because their mommies are too pushy).

Nowadays we really need to be productive and efficient with our time. So why not do each other a favor and be more straightforward?

If you want something: ask for it. Sure, you might get a ruthless “NO”, but I doubt trashing time by hovering around the subject, buzzing nonsense like a pesky fly would’ve helped your cause anyway.

I don’t have the psychic powers to detect whether someone is being friendly to persuade me to do them a favor, or if they are trying to slowly incorporate themselves into my friend circle so they may learn intricate details about our lives which they shall make the material of future blackmails.

Either way, I’m too lazy to listen and too busy to make sense of what’s going down, yet too analytical to resist curiosity.

So while my mind wrangles with the omnipotent trio of irritation, interest and impatience that tugs my thoughts awry, I’ll be temporarily entertained … but mostly annoyed.

If all you want to do is prattle on about your latest obsession, discuss your favorite 30-syllable, sentence-long shade of nail polish or delve into narcissism and list your numerous honors and awards — you better speak quickly.

People should learn not only to monitor the content of their conversations (fabulous foot fungi do not make for delicious dinner discussions), but also the length. When someone else is the only one talking for three tedious hours of hang-out time, I tend to get frustrated.

So make sure you’re talking about things that everyone can relate to. For example, I’m about as sports literate as I am fluent in Sanskrit, so if you’re going to discuss football with me, you might as well be speaking gibberish.

To avoid leaving people out, speak to them in a language they will understand and actually give them the opportunity to speak. Also, try to communicate clearly by following standard word definitions and syntactical norms. Google your grammar and look up words you don’t know before you throw them around, willy-nilly.

People are all interesting in their own ways, so don’t always resort to small talk to deflect the attention from your lovely self, but exercise caution and avoid focusing on solely yourself as well.

College is the time when most people perfect their social skills. It may take a bit longer than you expected, but be careful, be polite and everything should (mostly) work out. Good luck!

Tell ZENITA SINGH your favorite thirty-syllable, sentence-long shade of nail polish at zensingh@ucdavis.edu.


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