The lost art of conversation

I have mentioned before how highly I value good conversation and it is becoming a growing concern of mine that an alarming majority of people seem simply unable to have a basic, two-sided conversation. I’m not asking for Austen-esque repartee, I’m not demanding the verbal parry and thrust of the inhabitants of Meryton. (Just check out Miss Bennet schooling Mr Darcy on chit chat:

Elizabeth: I love this dance.
Mr Darcy: Indeed. Most invigorating.
Elizabeth: It is your turn to say something, Mr Darcy. I talked about the dance. Now you ought to remark on the size of the room or the number of couples.
Mr Darcy: I’m perfectly happy to oblige. Please advise me on what would you like most to hear?
Elizabeth: That reply will do for present. Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones. For now, we may remain silent.
Mr Darcy: Do you talk as a rule while dancing?
Elizabeth: No. No, I prefer to be unsociable and taciturn. Makes it all so much more enjoyable, don’t you think?

Eerrggghhhhhhh! It’s like a SCIENCE! I fucking love you, Lizzy Bennet.)

Meanwhile, back in the tiresome 21st century, I am losing patience. When you live in a city like Bangkok with its pulsating social scene and high turnover of inhabitants, small talk skills are essential, and this is why I have such little tolerance for the lack of it. SMALL talk, guys- not LONG and TEDIOUS talk all about yourself. I cannot count how many times even something as simple as this has happened, by text, on Facebook and in real life:

Me: So, how have you been?
Conversational Moron: Oh you know, working really hard, we’ve just got this new customer at work and the project’s getting really out of hand so we had to take on a whole load of new staff. But my boss is really pleased with the work I’ve been doing so I got a promotion. Apart from that, I’ve been really killing it in the gym – I’m on this new health kick, no carbs, just green tea and eggs all day. So I feel pretty great.

Me: Wow. That’s good….

My beef with the above example is two-fold:
Part un: I invariably don’t give a shit about any of what you just said. In fact I reserve all my shits, I’m stockpiling them. Your conversational content is boring, irrelevant and we’re in a social situation. I’m asking because I have manners. In researching this post (rant), I stumbled across a really fantastic site called the in which there is a vintage list of rules for conversational etiquette. Number 6 is a gem, allow me:
6. Never, unless you are requested to do so, speak of your own business or profession in society; to confine your conversation entirely to the subject or pursuit which is your own specialty is low-bred and vulgar. Make the subject for conversation suit the company in which you are placed. Joyous, light conversation will be at times as much out of place as a sermon would be at a dancing party. Let your conversation be grave or gay as suits the time or place.

Riiiiiiiight? No one wants to know about your merger while we are playing beer pong. Tell your long-suffering girlfriend – that is what you are paying her for.

Part deux: my choice at this stage is
a) ask another question about something you talked about (work/the gym/the diet …..meh!)
b) VOLUNTEER some information about myself. Because you lack the social wherewithal to know it’s your turn.Well, I’m sick of interviewing people. And it’s sooooo simple – it’s just a matter of two eensy weensy teeny tiny words. I have, for the visual learners among you, taken it upon myself to present the options in two easy-to-follow diagrams – for the purposes of comparison (because I care – deeply):

Toodles. I'm off!


Thank fuck for that

This is a basic example but you can use it in almost any scenario. Try it.

Marla Singer (the character played by the inimitable Helena Bonham Carter) in Fight Club is searching for people who listen instead of just waiting for their turn to speak. Unfortunately, she theorizes that this only occurs when they think you are dying. Which is not encouraging; I, unlike Marla, do not have time to trawl around support groups, exploiting sympathies just to get a good conversation. So, let us consult the ‘rules’ once more. Number 4 has it that:

4. It is ill-bred to put on an air of weariness during a long speech from another person, and quite as rude to look at a watch, read a letter, flirt the leaves of a book, or in any other action show that you are tired of the speaker or his subject.

Here, I must politely and firmly disagree. This person NEEDS to know they are tedious and tiresome. LOOK at your watch, shift restlessly, open-mouth YAWN if you have to. I am fearlessly leading the revolution against boring, self-serving conversational narcissists.


4 thoughts on “The lost art of conversation

  1. Pingback: People who don’t know how to behave | Scribblings of a Scribbler

  2. Pingback: Top tips in these trying times of the storytelling takeover | Scribblings of a Scribbler

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