The Art of Small Talk is a Blank Page to Me
I was at a networking party this week--my first ever, actually--and everyone I talked to said they were new to their job, new to the city, and yet, a few minutes later, they were in cozy little triangles...talking.
I isolate. Look out windows. Read matchbooks. Play a little guessing game with myself called, "What business is that person in?" I introduce myself to see if I guessed right. They walk away when I make small talk.
What on earth do other people talk about? My conversation topics bore even myself. "What neighborhood do you work in?...Oh, yes, that's a lovely neighborhood with the old Victorian homes. The old Victorian homes are so lovely in that neighborhood. Lovely how the Victorian homes are so old in that neighborhood." That's not conversation. It's rearranging words. Like a damn Dr. Suess poem.
I know it's just me. My friend Kara was in a sorority in college. During rush week, the girls would discuss the new candidates. When the other girls said an incoming freshman was hard to talk to, Kara had no idea what they were talking about.
She thinks everyone is easy to talk to. That's because Kara can talk to anyone. Actually, I have two friends named Kara, and they both can talk to anyone. And by talk, I mean talk turkey. Say you were adopted. Kara would know that within two minutes of talking to you. Thinking about breaking up with your boyfriend? Three minutes. Trouble at home? Four minutes. Unhappy in your job? Five. And so on. Some people have a knack for that. Not me. I can't even find the bruschetta.
Others are walking around with cute little plates with toasty bread and the tiniest cherry tomatos you've ever seen on them. A kindly man tells me where these appetizers are. Still, I realize that I'm eating some guy's cold cheeze fries at the bar. I thought it was a second buffet, but I guess not.
Like I said, I'm at a networking-type party. People might have work to offer me, but I can't even figure out how to get a glass of wine. It goes without saying that I forgot my business cards at home. Bottles and glasses are set out on a table. A wine representative is talking about how the vineyards starve their grapevines until they are ugly and straggly. Do I pour my own glass or do I need a one-on-one consult with the wine rep first? I don't want to reach behind the bar, so to speak. I mean, I'm not a neanderthal. But how is it that other people are drinking wine? There is nothing this guy could tell me about the wine that would entice me to drink it more than I'm already enticed. I have three children at home, for God sakes. It's my first night out in seemingly years. I don't care if the vines are supermodel skinny--or Jaba the Hut fat, for that matter--I'll give it a whirl.
Meanwhile, networking-wise, I have nothing to offer anyone. Unless they happen to need to know the line of work the guy with the wire-rimmed glasses, white shirt and tie is in. (He's a restaurant manager.) Or the slightly sweaty guy with his shirt untucked (He's a young doctor. Actually, I know that he's a writer because I saw his picture in a magazine, but if I had to guess, it would be young doctor.) Or need a recipe. For disaster, that is. I have several. Or if they need advice on children. Or not advice really, but reassurance that you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want and, as long as you love them and spend time with them and listen to them, they will grow up with whatever personality--be it impossible or easy-going, gregarious or shy--that the lord intended them to have. No one wants to know that. It's like telling someone the end of a movie.
Thankfully, I know the restaurant hostess, and she is someone who, like the Karas, can talk to anyone. Her sister, who I know from high school, is having a baby. So the hostess said I should call her mom to get on the guest list to the shower. To the hostess, I'm sure a conversation like this would flow quite naturally. For me, it would be a little awkward. "Um. Mrs. So and So? Hi. It's Bridget. I'm just calling because I heard there was a baby shower and I thought you'd probably want to invite me. Right. Well, of course I understand. Yes, that makes sense because I haven't seen your daughter in a couple years. So. Okay, well tell her hi. And she can call me. You know, for parenting advice. (Screaming in the background) Hold on. I thought I told you boys not to punch each other above the shoulders or below the belt. Now one of you has a crooked nose...Hello? Hello?"
So I had the good fortune to run into a gregarious person, first, and next, someone who was willing to talk turkey. At every party, someone cuts the crap and just puts herself out there. With no prodding, she talks about family. About the past. What she wishes she did and didn't do. About what she wishes she didn't do and did. I love people like this.
You realize, in talking to the turkey talkers, that everyone at the party has something important to say--maybe even some peice of the puzzle that would solve the riddles of the universe. In most cases, you just have to ask the right question. And I'm pretty sure it's not, "What line of work are you in?...I knew it. You've got general manager written all over you. So, this is really, like, a fun place. A place like this is really fun. Isn't a place like this fun, really?...Oh, okay, see you later then."
Kara would know what the question was. I was just proud of myself when I found where the appetizers were.