The judgment of small talk

Being an introvert makes social situations a little challenging at times.

Even when it is with people I like or want to know better, I find gatherings quite hard to deal with.

It’s not that I hate people, mind you. Even though I do prefer the company of animals to most humans, that is not it.

No, it’s the small talk that does me in.

I loathe small talk.

I can talk at length about things that range from random trivia to deeper subjects but the tedious ‘getting to know you’ questions and chatter drive me batty.

Mainly because the mundane conversation can be used to judge and people have sorely forgotten how to be polite and inquiring without belly flopping right into someone’s personal life.

“Are you married? Do you have kids?”

If you answer no to either question, you can bet the next question is “Why not?”

People sometimes forget one is not necessarily a precursor to the other, which can make for some uncomfortable exchanges.

But perhaps the most annoying one is, “What do you do?”

Such a simple question really.

But one that is very loaded.

Depending on your answer, people are going to decide how to treat you.

If you say you are a doctor or other professional, people will treat you with respect.

If you say you have a blue collar job, their reaction may be a little different.

It’s wrong, but it is something I have witnessed far too often.

I was raised to treat everyone equally, and to not let their job title dictate the level of respect they received.

Yet, that one simple question carries a tremendous amount of weight to it.

Many times, people feel like titles and what they do for a living defines them, and sometimes, it can.

We do tend to get caught up in our jobs and worry about the image we are projecting into the world.

I have met a few people who let you know with every breathe what they did for a living and how important they were.

And, I have known folks who were humble and down to earth that did not need any kind of recognition for their positions.

In parts of Europe, it is considered rude to ask someone what kind of work they did. It is a matter of pre-judging someone.

Deciding if the person was worth getting to know. Evaluating if the person’s net income would put them on equal footing with us.

And trying to size up if the person can be valuable to us in any way.

I hate this question and it’s kind of hard to avoid it when you are in most social situations.

“I don’t care what someone does for a living,” I told Mama one day. “I don’t care what their level of education is or if they have a big, important job. And if their opinion of me is only based on how I earn a living, they can stick it.”

Mama gently agreed. “Well, Kitten, you can tell a lot about a person by how they treat their wait staff in a restaurant. If they are rude to them, they will be rude to others, too. You weren’t raised to be that way so it is a bit hard for you to understand.”

It reminds me of how someone I knew once whined she was ashamed of her fiancé’s job and didn’t know if she could marry someone who “wore his name on his shirt.”

“Lots of people have their names on their uniforms,” I tried telling her.

“Like who?” she sniffed.
“Doctors, for one. Cops have name badges, too. There is nothing wrong with wearing your name on your uniform.”

She never saw my point, but I am sure she is the type that uses the small talk question of “what do you do” to decide if someone was worthy of her or not.

The good thing about small talk is people usually aren’t listening; they are waiting to respond with more stuff about themselves.

“What do you do for a living?” someone asked me recently.

“Whatever it takes,” I replied.

Thankfully, they didn’t even notice.

 

 

Advertisements

A modern-day impropriety

According to my dear, crazy redheaded Mama, the end of civility fell upon my generation.

Hers, she claims, had a sense of decency.

“We didn’t talk the way you and your friends do. It was unheard of,” she declared one day.

I was not sure what she was referring to; she thinks everything that I say is inappropriate, even when I am merely stating a fact.

“What are you talking about?” I asked her, not really wanting to know.

“The things you say in mixed company. It’s not proper.”

Mixed company was Mama’s definition of men and women. And based on her boundaries, saying pretty much other than “Hello,” was rude and improper.

“What did I say?” I asked.

“More like what didn’t you say. I can’t believe you talk that way around menfolk.”
I can’t believe my mother uses the phrase “menfolk.” How old was she exactly?

“Mother, just because your generation was so hung up on silly stuff does not mean mine is,” I said. “Generation X-ers are a little bit different.”

Mama sniffed. “It’s still is rude and just shouldn’t be done.”

What got her knickers in a knot on this particular day was my recounting of what I had said to the owner of the feed store about Doodle.

I had commented the parking lot pup was part pitbull, and while we weren’t sure what she was mixed with, we felt certain her southern hemisphere was pittie because she had a wiggly backside.

Except, I said the other b-word that meant backside.

Mama had a fit.

“I can’t believe you told a man that!” she cried.

“What?”

That! How could you?”

“Mama, they hear worse than that on the radio or the news. Trust me. Me saying that word is the least offensive thing that was said that day.”
“It’s not a matter of offending someone. It’s a matter of talking properly. A woman is not supposed to talk like that in front of a man,” she stated.

In Mama’s world, this should have been put in the Bill of Rights or engraved on stone and handed to Moses. She had a list of certain categories and words that she felt like should not be mentioned in front of or in discussion with members of the opposite sex. It would be easier to list the ones she found acceptable – food, weather, and only non-controversial books.

“I don’t know if you have jumped into the 21st century yet or not, Mama, but men and women have been having discussions on these topics for a while now. I am sure you have watched television; they talk about all kinds of things you deem improper on TV.”

She sighed. “And that’s probably why I prefer reruns of Perry Mason to some of these shows. Your uncle and I tried to watch an episode of Mom one night – I thought I would like it because the taller woman had been on West Wing with Mark Harmon. You know he’s Gibbs and I have always liked him. Anyway, it was the most atrocious thing I have ever seen. We turned it. It was embarrassing to sit there and hear that kind of language with my brother sitting three feet from me.”

“Mama, are you really this hypersensitive?”

I could hear her bristle on the other end of the phone. “I don’t consider myself hypersensitive. I just think that there is no decorum left in your generation and those that came after it. Nothing is sacred, and everything is up for discussion, and it does not matter who is present.”

Mama, bless her heart, would have a huge fit if she had ever heard some hardcore rap music.

I am not sure why she has been so unyielding in this area, but she has. She has always been mortified about me discussing anything she deemed the least bit delicate within earshot of any men I knew, unless I was married to them. And even then, she thought it may not need to be shared.

“I think you are being awfully silly. I think most women discuss these things in this day and age,” I said.

Good lord – I had been reduced to using the phrase ‘in this day and age’ – I was officially old.

“I am not silly,” she insisted. “I just think, if you look back on the course of history and start looking at when things started going wrong in this world, you will notice it began with language. Our language helps set us apart and give us boundaries. People who may not have had much money still knew how to talk properly. Now, everyone talks so plainly, it makes them look unintelligent and uneducated. People just say anything now – and don’t care who hears it. And it brings us all down.”

There you have it.

The downfall of civilization was brought about by the impropriety of our language, at least according to Mama’s theory.

Rules for political engagement (4/6/2016)

I yearn for the election years of yesterday. Politics were just not discussed, not even among family.

Pop said it gave him indigestion if he had to listen to politics at the dinner table.

Granny snorted and said none of it was fit to repeat anyway.

And then there was Mama, keeping her opinions to herself as she hid behind her crossword puzzle or Harlequin.

Until one day, I had to go to the voting polls with her.

Mama had to take me to the doctor. Seeing as I was sick with some horrific form of an X-Files-related virus, Mama knew once she got me home, that’s where we were probably staying for a few days.

Into the rec department we went and Mama sat me down at the edge of the curtain of the voting booth.

“You keep your eyes closed and if you do happen to see anything, don’t you ever, under any circumstances, breathe a word about who I voted for.”

I don’t have a clue who she voted for and didn’t care then or now.

I was so sick I was seeing things in triplicate and may have spotted a unicorn in the parking lot, so which ballot she used, or who she voted for, was the least of my concern.

A few years later, my school was doing a fun mock campaign with people setting up booths for Mondale/Ferraro and Reagan/Bush to see who would win.

My grandfather was outraged.

“That is the biggest crock of nonsense I’ve ever heard! Have they no common decency? They are trying to find out how people are voting by seeing what you young’uns come back and report!” he bellowed, his rich, deep roar vibrating through the house.

I was nonplussed.

“So, which booth am I gonna go vote at? Reagan and Bush or Mondale and the car lady?”

I thought his head would explode. He was furious they would even ask us to do such a thing.

“Who a person votes for is private. It’s nobody’s business. Nobody!”

I still needed to know who to vote for.

“Tell ‘em you ain’t gotta worry about it because you ain’t old enough to vote,” was Granny’s response.

Mama leaned more towards her father’s opinion, but simply said, “Oh my,” when I told her about this project that was supposed to focus on our rights to vote and the privilege we were given.

“I still don’t know who to vote for,” I groaned days later.

“Don’t vote for who we tell you to, Kitten,” she said. “Do your own research and vote for the person you think would be the best. Pop’s right though; it’s not any one’s business and that does seem like they are trying to figure out how the parents are voting.”

“I don’t get it. Why is this such a big deal and so ‘top-secret?'”

It took a moment to gather her thoughts before she could respond.

Back then, your political yearnings were private and not to be discussed.

Who one supported – or disliked – could cause deep rifts in families, in business and because not everyone felt the same way, you kept your opinions to yourself to keep the peace.

She tried to explain all of this to me but I still didn’t understand why who we wanted to vote for was shrouded in such mystery.

And then, one day, that changed and it seemed like everyone was talking about politics.

Granny blamed a lot of it on Madonna, who she blamed pretty much everything for in the ‘90s.

In 1990, “Rock the Vote” came out and it made talking about politics not only more common place but acceptable.

“Gah!” Granny bellowed as she got up to turn off the TV.

“I am so stinkin’ glad Madonna is telling me how I need to vote. I reckon if she hadn’t told me that, I’d still be sitting here, not knowing I had any rights whatsoever.”

Granny cooled her ire for a moment.

“I can’t believe they wrapped the American flag around that woman. It’s shameless!”

She also said it was patriotic sacrilege and she hoped that wasn’t a real American flag.

“Granny, it’s to help make people my age get out and vote,” I explained.

Granny glared at me.

“Let me tell you something, all of them there celebrities is paid. Just ‘cause Ms. Material Girl gets up there and shakes her hiney all disgraceful-like in her drawers don’t mean I am gonna listen. And you, young’un, need to think about why she is telling you to vote. I ain’t buying what she’s a selling. Or any of ‘em.”

Suddenly, I was on the receiving end of Granny’s wrath all because I was excited about voting and made the mistake of saying Madonna made a video about it.

Maybe I should have left Madge out of it.

Or maybe it would be better if we brought her back now.

Who knows? It was easier then, and much more pleasant to endure election years when we didn’t feel compelled to talk about it all the time.

There was no ridiculing, no mudslinging and no low blows about morals and integrity – and that’s amongst friends discussing politics, not the politicians.

“Mama, who are you going to vote for?” Cole asked me recently.

“Sweetness,” I began. “Rule number one: We don’t discuss politics. Not even with family. It’s just wrong and shouldn’t be done.”

“What’s rule number two?”

“There’s not a number two – there is only one.”

And if we stick to that one, maybe we will still be talking come November.