Small Talk: Can you always depend on the kindness of strangers?

Small Talk: Can you always depend on the kindness of strangers?

“How’s the weather?” “Suzie started kindergarten today!” “Didn’t Miley Cyrus’ tit pop out last night at The Grammys?”

All of the above, and much more, are things that we experience every day when we need to make small talk with a co-worker or acquaintance. It may not be the most exciting thing in the world, but it allows people who can’t shut their soup-coolers to show off their improv skills and irks those of us who aren’t afraid of a slight silence to no end.

But, when does the familiarity of small talk become contempt? When does a kind few sentences turn into an unwanted dumping of the person’s personal problems with little to no provocation?

The root of the issue is one of personal space, both physically and mentally. If you are close in a room, take two workers who cohabitate back to back in a cubicle. In that situation, there is no way that you could escape small talk, unless one party was dead set against it. The closer you get to someone, the more apt you are to speak to them. How many times have you been in a  grocery story and, as you get on your knees to save the last dented can of clam chowder that has been relegated to the very back of the shelf, when a person getting something on the shelf next to you forces you into a kamikaze conversation? If you are within a few feet of some special people, you better expect to waste five minutes trying to get away from them.

These people tend to forget that there are some people in this world who simply don’t want to be forced to recount every single interesting thing that has happened in a stranger’s day. These are the sort of people who need to be in therapy, to have someone objective to dump their problems onto, yet they insist on saving their shekels and unloading them onto the first sap to cross their path. As a result, those of us who are magnets for these sorts of creatures spend half of their actual therapy sessions trying to find out why these people hone in on us like killer wasps.

There has to be some mental algorithm that deduces whether you are a person strangers gravitate to. If there’s any data on that, I’d love to see it, but I have to think there is some correlation to colors and body features to make you more or less attractive to these drive-by declamators. It seems every time I’m out, there’s some random stranger who wants to tell me how to cook my sausage, trim my flowers, and pamper my poodle. (I know those sounded like sexual euphemisms, but I emphatically insist that it was entirely by accident.)

Has it come to the point where we need to wear signs to signal who is free to chit-chat and who is not? Do I need to wear a shirt that says “I love Hitler” to get people to fly away from me? Should we be constantly thrown into situations we have no control over, simply because someone is having a bad time with their family and needs some hapless soul to weep onto?

If it’s someone who you know, it’s obviously a different story. If you know the person, even casually, it is easier to accept that they’d want to talk to you, as they have every right to. What I’m talking about are the people who approach you in the bookstore and instantly start talking to you based on a book you’re holding (and who are obviously NOT flirting with you, because I wholeheartedly appreciate that.)

I was a sale at Half Price Books the other day and I was carrying the autobiography of Buddy Ebsen (Jed Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies) entitled The Other Side of Oz (because he was the original actor to be chosen to portray the Tin Man in MGM’s classic The Wizard of Oz, but had to drop out because he was allergic to the silver paint in the make-up that was slathered all of very body.) Some odd, hairy man caught sight of the title of the book, literally only the title because my arm was covering the rest. He then proceeded to approach me and utter something so frighteningly inane that it honestly stunned me for a full five seconds: “There’s another side of OZ now? Isn’t the one enough?” After I gathered the ping-pong balls that were my brains and reassembled them, I muttered something noncommittally and proceeded to saunter away. (This was also the man, a few seconds earlier, who insisted that the VHS he was holding was about Elvis, despite the word being spelled E-L-V-E-S. I don’t get it, either.)

What prompted that man to say that utterly vague non-sequitur and why did he think I would launch into some discussion with him simply because he had eyes in his head to read the title of the book.

There has to come a point when we, as a people, decided that enough is enough and stand up for ourselves. I may have become more of an introvert over the years, but that doesn’t mean I have a compulsion to talk to every mope that crosses my path!

If you are a person like me, my advice is to remember that the person usually means well, but you should assert your right, politely, to not talk to them. Use language that’s nonthreatening and let them know you’re not angry, but that you don’t want to talk.

If you are one of the dialogue delinquents, I suggest you think twice (or maybe once, if you’re truly on auto-pilot) before approaching a stranger and trying to spark up a chat. Though you may want to make friends with all of the creatures on this earth, creatures like me want to be left alone by strangers.

I think Streetcar Named Desire‘s Blanche DuBois got it very, very wrong when she stated that she always depended on the kindness of strangers.

Maybe Marlon Brando would have been nicer to her if she wasn’t so chatty?

For those of you that don’t know, I’ve written three books and I’d adore it if you could take a look on Amazon and buy them! 

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