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Avoiding small talk

BY KURT CUNNINGHAM | APRIL 10, 2009 7:30 AM

Small talk and I do not make a good fit. Furthermore, I’ve spent half of my life trying to avoid situations that involve talking to people just to kill time. As a general rule of thumb, I don’t talk with individuals in whom I do not have a vested interest or I have not talked with more than a dozen times (thanks to Chuck Klosterman for this bit of advice).

Questions such as “What’s your major?” and “Where are you from?” are not a means to start a real friendship. These questions are time killers, or, as I see them, time wasters.

Normally these questions are easy to spot because they are particularly vague and seek to place individuals’ personalities into categories.

But for some time now, I’ve been obsessed with reminiscing about the specific instances in which I’ve been forced to make small talk. One question that continually bothers me during my conversations is, “What kind music do you listen to?”

When I was a college freshman, I would say, “I like all things that rock, and I hate country.” However, most individuals who ask this question A) are not idiots and/or B) will bug me in order to find a more specific answer to deduce whether or not they could like my personality.

As a junior, I am still searching for an answer to this question that could end the conversation right from the get-go. For instance, “My musical taste is very distinct, it encompasses the vocal genius of Death Cab for Cutie’s frontman Ben Gibbard but also the electrical buzz of Silversun Pickups’ guitarist Brian Aubert.” Or maybe I’ll try this one: “The moving lyrics of the Beatles’ 12th album Let It Be intertwined with Conor Oberst’s emotional tongue lashing on Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground.” This, however, seems too narrow and almost creepy. Do you see small talk’s vicious cycle? It takes a conversation on an awkward journey to nowhere (you’ve been there).

Good news, I have some solutions to avoid small talk.

1) Break the wrist and walk away; it’s a good self-defense technique. Ladies, take note: This also works if being mugged.

If confronted with a conversation solely based on small talk, chances are the opportunity to walk away is present. This tactic takes a bit of skill, though, because if done too late, you will look a jackass. That is why, just like in the event of a fire, you plan an escape route early. Choose an alibi across the room, even if it’s empty.

2) Take that unexpected phone call (I should give credit to Arts Editor Meryn Fluker for this one).
We all have cell phones, and they are always close to our bodies. In my personal experience, using a cell phone to escape a conversation works wonderfully.

One time in particular, I was approached by a male individual — let’s call him Don — whom I had recently met in class. Now, I realize it is hard to make friends with this personal grudge I have against small talk, but at the time, Don was halfway to Drunksville and slurring his speech; we were not under the best circumstances for creating a bond, so give me a break. Anyway, as he approached me I looked across the room in hopes of “breaking the wrist and walking away.” But no one was there. I slowly grabbed my phone out of my pocket as the word “hello” splattered, slurred, and physically hit me in the face. “Hello,” I said with one finger in the air, lowering my head and walked away from what could have been an uncomfortable situation.

Maybe my musical taste would have fit into his cultural background and maybe we would have become friends. Who knows. That’s the chance you take if you are an avid avoider of small talk.

3) Steer clear of tweet tweeting.

Twitter has suddenly leapt into the spotlight of society’s most successful social-networking sites. The soul purpose of Twitter is to keep individuals consistently connected in 140 characters or less. Sound familiar? It should. Short, concise answers that keep a conversation moving from one question to the next. I am not sure if I need to make any more points as to how this site stands in for that annoying individual at a party.

Back to my original question, “What kind of music do I like?” I would say that I enjoy listening to the powerful, soul clinching, ax-wheeling sound produced by Kings of Leon on its latest album, Only by the Night, blended with the memorable lyrics that leukemia survivor Andrew McMahon moans during his proclamation of “Caves” or his idol Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen. Pick any of their albums. They’re all good.

I hope this classified my musical interest for you enough to avoid me at the next party we see each other at.


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