I've encountered a handful of people in my life who are excellent at making small talk with strangers. Somehow, they know just how to say hello, how and when to pony up an anecdote, how to achieve a level of humor and intimacy that is appropriate. Alas, I am not one of these people. I've never wanted to be. Or so I thought.
It has occurred to me recently that there is something wonderful - and incomparable - about chatting with friendly strangers, about trading bits of bios, about indulging in random riffs of conversation.
And so. The other day I tried my hand at the art of small talk. I was in a salon chair. On the other side of the mirror another woman was having her hair done as well. I could only see her feet - a bit swollen in flats that appeared too small. And I heard her voice. It seemed young to me. But it was her words that captivated me. It turned out she was quite the talker. In no time, I learned that she was 39 weeks pregnant with her first child. A boy. I learned that her husband was traveling on business which made her nervous because she was having contractions. I learned that she felt huge and was ready to give birth. I also learned that she and her husband were just approved for a car loan even though they'd been rejected at first.
I smiled as I listened to her. I smiled because her words stirred up something familiar in me - that phase of giddy anticipation, of can't-sit-still excitement. I smiled because three kiddos later, I still get it. The profound precipice of parenthood on which a young woman stands only once.
As fate would have it, this girl and I ended up in a little waiting area of the salon at the same time. I flipped through fashion magazines and she was focused on her laptop. I didn't think much about it, but just did it.
I said something.
When are you due? I asked, making sure to smile. I asked this even though I knew the answer.
In a week, she said, and looked away quickly.
That's so exciting, I said. I just had my third girl two months ago.
She smiled. Said nothing. Retreated to her screen.
And that was that. There was no conversation, no sprinkling of stories. There were just a few strained words and half-glances and then silence. Pure silence marred only by the nearby buzz of hairdryers.
Oh well. I tried!
Are you good at striking up conversations with strangers? Do you think there is something important and instructive about chatting with people we do not know? Why do you think this girl was so willing to spill her life story to her hairdresser, but was almost unwilling to acknowledge me? Do you think blogging is in many ways akin to making small talk with strangers?