Saturday, March 26, 2011

Small talk, big deal

There is a secret to surviving in every city. (Yes, coming up is a great piece of advice about global living from the girl who has lived in 4 cities all her life, including the current one.) In Bangalore, the mantra for content survival is compromise, referred to fondly by its citizens as "adjust maadi". A 2-hour traffic jam.. adjust maadi, some idiot's phone rings in the theatre.. adjust maadi, auto guy demands double rate.. adjust maadi, load shedding during a cricket match.. swalpa adjust maadi. You get the drift. Compromise is the name of the game. Once you learn to lower your expectations, forgive and forget, the city is actually pleasant to live in. Especially for a non-partying, nerdy person like me.

People mind their own business and except scary lechers, strangers don't even make eye contact. I spent 2 years going to work in a cab with the same bunch of my colleagues, but I barely knew them, except for some titbits like who read which part of the paper, how girls take longer to get ready on Fridays and things like that. But of course, that is more a result of my excellent skills of observation rather than any effort at socializing. In London though, the secret to survival lies in the opposite direction.

In just a few months into my foray of living in London, I have learnt that the art of small talk is terribly essential. People are unnecessarily polite, people look up and smile and expect conversation from you. It's not fine to keep to yourself. Go on and talk and people will be interested.

The three most common conversational pick-up lines are
1. Weather related. Eg. "Nice/gloomy weather, isn't it?"
2. Weekend related. Eg. "How was the weekend? / Anything exciting planned for the weekend?"
3. Welfare related. Eg. "How are you doing?/ You alright?"

I find the third one the toughest, because I just can't get away by replying "Not bad", which I usually do. It seems like people want to know why I don't feel any better. Is there anything wrong? How are you really feeling, girl? And on the other side of the dialogue, I have forcibly started asking people how they are and I find it extremely difficult to feign interest as they delve into a 5-minute soliloquy about their pleasant bus ride in the morning or their annoying co-passenger on the tube. Sometimes, it is just too much detail. "You alright?" is worse.. somehow. That question almost demands a justification to why I am not cheerful enough. Most of the times, the true reason is the weather, which gets us to the first line of questioning.

An average Londoner is stereotypically associated with an obsession with weather. And it's couldn't be more accurate. Unfortunately though, I'm getting there myself. Given that the temperature has a mind of it's own and the weathermen seem to have no clue how to go about their jobs, it is a topic on everyone's mind. You can almost sense the population turning out dark and brooding on a gloomy day. Lets just say that during winters, I look up to check if I can see any dementors hovering over the city. So I understand the obsession. And I'm mostly prepared for this line of discussion.

Of course, there are exceptions to this "small talk" rule. On the trains for example, no one acknowledge another's presence. I spend more time staring at the "Clearpill" ad than studying my fellow commuters, let alone meet their glance and feel awkward. It really is an odd anomaly to an otherwise talkative community. But it is just one of the very few. Grocery shops, beauty salons, bar counters, elevators, restrooms, gyms and the parks are full of people who want to talk. They want to know you better.

I found it very tiresome initially, but I'm getting into the groove these days. And I fell pretty proud of myself when I initiate small talk myself. If only more people spoke about cricket, I'd be doing much better. But that's a subject for another post.

My next focus on fitting in better is saying "Bless you!" when someone around me sneezes. That's a tricky one, trust me!


Krishna Chaitanya said...

Nice one Mus. Like the way you dabble so easily and effortlessly between the extremes. One q - music player / iPod would be considered rude?

Wendy said...

Thanks greatt blog