By Z.S. Roe
I despise small talk—I really do. As far as I can see, this particular bit of social etiquette benefits only those who’ve found success in life and don’t mind regaling us with the stories of their exploits.
Because I’m not particularly socially adept, you might be tempted to think that I hate small talk simply as a matter of course, but that’s not the case. Let me explain.
If you were to pull out and read my résumé (or CV), you’d discover that I’m a graduate of two Canadian universities. I have an Honours Bachelor of Arts (in English Literature) and a Bachelor of Education (i.e. I went to Teacher’s College). On paper I am a fully qualified and licensed teacher (of English and History).
Upon leaving university, I believed that I would very soon be teaching full time in a high school somewhere in Southern Ontario. But it’s been three years since then, and I haven’t once been on the inside of a classroom. These days I work as a glass cutter and screen repairer at a small glass shop in Cambridge, Ontario (Canada). I don’t much like the job, but it pays the bills, which I suppose should count for something.
Sure, teaching was never my “passion,” but I did enjoy it while it lasted. Nevertheless, it was made apparent to me by my last Associate Teacher that I probably wasn’t cut out for a job in education. And it didn’t really matter, anyway, because when I graduated there were very few teaching jobs to be had.
And so I ended my pursuit of a career in education, and have since then been doing my best to put the whole thing behind me, as it is something of a sore point for me. But it’s been three years and I’ve still to put the bloody thing to rest, though not for a lack of trying.
You see, each and every person I’m reunited with (be it at a family function or group gathering) always begins a conversation with me by asking if I’m teaching yet. I usually respond with a “no, I stopped looking for teaching jobs three years ago.” Sometimes this is enough to end the current line of inquiry, but not always. Several times I’ve had people then go on to marvel at just how much money I wasted on “all that schooling.”
Yes, it’s true—I spent tens of thousands of dollars on schooling that I’ve put to use exactly zero times. And, trust me, asking me about it makes me feel all the better for my loss. No, really.
Here’s the kicker, though: the person in question (be they a relative or friend) isn’t trying to be an asshole; they’re simply trying to be polite. I certainly can’t fault them for that. It’s what they’ve been taught to do in social situations—ask a few light questions, say good-to-see-ya, and then hug goodbye. It’s good manners, and most of us play by those rules–it’s Small Talk 101.
But I’m of the thinking that maybe we should skip the small talk, and instead jump right into something a little more meaty. This way we don’t have to pretend at pleasantries.
Let’s talk about what matters and not about how you or I are doing. After all, if we’re meeting at some awkward family/social gathering, then we’re probably doing pretty lousy, despite however “good” we might otherwise suggest. And, really, who wants to march to that rumba of social respectability all damn night?
Let’s be real; let’s be honest. It makes for good conversation.
Opinion is a bi-monthly column of just that, my opinion. While opinions are like noses and everyone has one, mine are especially snotty. Please leave a comment or question—all opinions are welcome, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. If you like what you read here, please subscribe.