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Saturday, 20 December 2014

Talk or baulk

Yesterday was the art group's Christmas lunch.

I chauffeured VR to the Bridge Inn, Kentchurch, beautifully located amid whaleback hills so typical of the Welsh Marches. Despite my reputation for unsociability I stayed for lunch as in past years. These are VR's friends and I've got to know them a little.

I sat opposite J, one of the members, and D, like me, husband of another. I knew J had lived in South America but she'd also done aqua-lung diving round the world. D had competed in Britain's premier rifle-shooting competition at Bisley. Subjects which provided me with a conversational foothold during the potentially awkward first few minutes.

The chat went well, lasting out the meal. Leaving me to reflect on the occasions when chat stumbles. How conversation gets going; how it is maintained. Facial expressions are important. I rely on asking questions, a journalistic habit. A mulish, dead look says this isn’t going to work. Short, dismissive answers are another bad sign. Worst of all, when the person opposite looks away.

VR says the old standby is: What do you do? I’m not so sure. Some women marry early and are coy about admitting to mother or housewife. A surprisingly large proportion of  people have jobs they regard as dull and are unable to call on self-mockery or whimsy to get over this barrier. As an ex-journalist I’m lucky; professing this can trigger a stunned look, as if I’d been public hangman. Shyness is often hard to distinguish from surliness.

A good tactic for keeping momentum going is via quotation: “You said you are a teacher. What’s your opinion about Ofsted?” Not that teachers need much encouragement. Journalists neither.

Flattery, even when gross, works well. “I’ve always admired teachers. So much commitment.”

Après moi, le déluge.

7 comments:

mike M said...

Shyness is also hard to distinguish from conceit. I've been judged conceited a number of times, discovering the fact years later when people express surprise that I can be interested and engaging.

Sir Hugh said...

Listen carefully and consciously understand your interlocutor's point and respond with relevance.

Often in writing this is woefully neglected. When I email a helpline, perhaps computer related for example, requesting answers to three different questions and get a reply that answers none it is frustrating. It isn't that the recipient hasn't read my email, he/she just hasn't bothered to analyse it from my viewpoint, and instead used their own take on the subject to reply with irrelevance.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

I like your new header photo, appropriately thoughtful and justifiably disgruntled with the world, or at least those aspects of it that are disgruntable/disgruntenable/disgruntish or just plain gruntable.

I too use the questions-technique in order to by-pass not knowing what to say to strangers. It works most of the time but unless the stranger responds with the same technique, giving one the option of answering their questions, a deadly silence sometimes ensues which can only be remedied by fabricating an excuse to move away from that spot.

My best wishes to you and yours for an enjoyable and stress-free holiday.

mike M said...

You looked a little winded in that last header pic...perhaps you'd been hiking with Sir Hugh. Much more gathered in this one...up on the desk! I don't think you look disgruntled...more like serious and ready.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Okay, forget disgruntled. Serious and ready fits perfectly.

Roderick Robinson said...

MikeM: Quite true. And shockingly unfair given the agonies the shy one is probably enduring.

Sir Hugh: Possibly, except that conversation is a leisure pursuit, not an A-level exam. Writing is quite different from conversation; deception is a key element and revision (so well served by the computer) is a key element of deception.

Natalie: The letter l has gone astray in disgruntled, etc, and it's surprising what the word loses without it. I'm perfectly pleased to be disgruntled, anything other than lovable.

Moving away from an unsatisfactory conversation. It's easy but there is the matter of social obligation; it's more commendable to mould (even manipulate) rather than simply reject. Otherwise, pre-calulating the odds, one would never stir away from the telly.

MikeM: In fact Sir Hugh took the pic. I wasn't winded, more likely I was disagreeing with him, I often do. Only others could say I look serious but I must confess I'm charmed by "ready".

Natalie: You caved in too quickly. You should have made a case for disgruntled (with the l, of course); I'd have helped you.

mike M said...

Step aside Explorer, Firefox and Recycle Bin...the ultimate desktop icon has arrived.