Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Famous Last Word's Guide to Small Talk

After I stopped playing softball, my dad helpfully suggested that I start following professional sports, since I was "bad at small talk" and would "need something to talk about."

Look, I'm no wunderkind like Ashton Kutcher Paris Hilton Jenny McCarthy, but I think I can reasonably say that my parents have always underestimated my social skills. 

Now, some of that may be my own fault.  High school Katie didn't play the long game.  Uninterested in explaining who my friends were and where they lived, I would always just tell my parents that I was at one of two people's houses.  They're not illogical people.

They concluded that I had only two friends.

I love you Wilson.

This conclusion had consequences.  The reason they encouraged me to play a sport in college, my brother later told me, was because they thought it would force me to socialize.  "Katie only has two friends," they told him.  "This way she'll be forced out of her room."

Computers: 523891098   Parents: 0

And then I dropped softball, and my dad and I had that talk on the front porch.

His words come back to haunt me all the time.

I was told by one former co-worker, who caught me hiding at an event, that I "don't play the game."

"Baby," I cooed, "I don't play no games."

Baby I bowl but baby that is a sport.

It's true.  I don't play games.  I master them. You can therefore count yourself lucky that I will share my wisdom and help turn you into the social butterfly of every occasion. Just stick to the below topics, and the moment, as they say in France, will be perdu a jamais1.

Your very important views on literature
Finding out what people love to read is a great way to get to know them.  Books are a safe territory, where you can discuss something of interest without getting too personal.  Plus, in the right setting, you can impress your colleagues and higher-ups with your indepth knowledge and literary prowess.  Please witness the below example.
You: Jonathan Franzen is my favorite author. 
Them: Oh, I read The Corrections but I couldn't get into it. 
You: Oh, well you probably just didn't understand him.  Not everyone can get all the references-
Them: That's not really fair.  I understood what he was saying, I just don't like his style.
You: -and the higher use of language.  I really understand Jonathan Franzen on a much deeper level than everyone else.  I think it's because we have really similar outlooks on life.  Like we both understand the inherent evils in Oprah's book club.  Like, writers are artists, and shouldn't be concerned with money and other societal evils.  
Them: Well, I mean, at least Oprah's Book Club gets people reading? 
You: What's the point of people reading if they can't understand what's on the page? When my novel is published, the proletariat shall not read it!
Them: have a novel?
You: I have the concept.  In my head.

People love to talk about their religion.  Encouraging them to question their most deeply held concepts of faith and moral convictions will only endear them to you! For instance:
You: So how do you two know each other?
Them: Oh, our kids go to Sunday school together down in Alexandria.
You: Oh, wait, you're Protestant?  Listen, true faith is a living faith, which by dogmatic definition includes charity. Charity itself is not a "work" but a divine gift of love that comes from the Father through the Holy Spirit.  It is through this gift of divine love that faith can realize itself in good works, or to echo James' analogy: works are to faith as the soul is to the body.  Or, in other words, Martin Luther eats pooh2.
Them: I never thought of it that way before!  Instant conversion! 

Remember, this is small talk, so I was at first reluctant to include sex on the list.  Even in our godless society (see above), some people are still hesitant to talk about their sex lives, so in particular approach the topic carefully with baby boomers and above.  However, this still leaves an abundance of people who would love to share their most intimate moments with you, who they just met.  In fact, if you do this the right way, you may be able to combine sex and religion for an especially light yet memorable conversation. 

You: Congratulations on your recent marriage!
Them: Thank you.  We're so happy!
You: Not so happy to be back from the honeymoon, I bet!  So, should we be expecting a little bundle of joy soon??
Them: Uh, no, we don't think so.
You: Oh, are you trying natural family planning?
Them: We are!  Thank you for asking!

As Americans, we do love our food and we also love to talk about our food.  Feel free to mention recent restaurants you've tried, or recipes that you've loved.  However, you should always be aware that not everyone may have the same dietary restrictions or restraint that you do.

You: So, where would you like to go for lunch?
Them: Oh, I don't really care, someplace where I can keep it fairly light.
You: Oh, no!  There's a great burger place around the corner, we have to go!  You'll love it!
--inside burger place--
Waitress: What would you like?
You: I insist you get the Big American Burger!  Order it rare! Get extra bacon!
Them: Well, okay, if you insist...
Waitress: And for you?
You: Oh, just a salad, thanks.

Remember what I said about challenging people's most deeply held convictions?  This is doubly true for politics (especially in this godless country, amirite, red states?!).  You should take advantage of this downtime to small talk someone into switching sides of the aisle.

Them: Obama is a socialist pig who wants us all to speak Chinese!  He wasn't even born in this country!  Global warming is a scam!
You: Ha! I bet you also think that the Loch Ness monster exists3,  you ignorant hick.  The Chinese have done wonders in the field of gymnastics, and furthermore, I think we should immediately start looking into cultivating bananas for fuel to solve the man-made global warming crisis!
Them: <<has left to join the Occupy Wall Street movement>>
You: Success!

Lifestyle Choices
 No, no gay jokes here.  Sometimes, however, dietary restrictions go from triumphant waist-trimming into the realm of a lifestyle choice.  A simple cocktail party is often the best place to let people know that you've chosen a way of life that just makes you, frankly, better than them.

Them: Would you like a cocktail weiner?
You: No, God3, no.
Them: What's wrong? Are you vegetarian?
You: Well, when I was younger I started out as a vegetarian.  However, now that I'm fully mature and realize how much my choices affect the world around me, and how unethical it is to eat meat, dairy products, or use any type of animal products, I am a vegan.  But go ahead, eat your weiner.  I'll just pray for that animal's eternal soul from over here.  Have you ever listened to Dead Prez?

1. Barely French.


3. She does exist.


  1. Is there an advanced version of this course that includes how to handle waiting in lines at bars? As I recall, you had a particularly effective technique for that.

  2. That course actually requires a wardrobe consultation.