I read an extraordinary thing about the Finnish earlier this week. Apparently they’re not into small talk. This made me think whether I could be genetically Finnish.
On my most recent walk, I stopped to adjust my socks, something best done by removing the boots, taking the socks off, checking them for anything which might cause discomfort and blisters, and replacing them if damp (yes, carry a fresh, spare pair). In the middle of this, a couple passed by in the other direction. We exchanged hellos as we were the only people, we supposed, for miles, and they went on their way.
Later, at the pub, while eating my lunch, they arrived and sat down at the next table. The man went off to get drinks and left the woman reading a leaflet or something. I thought of asking her how the day was going but didn’t. She had said to the man how “exhausted” she felt. Maybe she didn’t need small talk with a stranger right then. Nor did I, in truth.
“Where do you work?” “Where do you live?” “Have you children?” “How are you finding the weather?”
Each question elicits a trivial piece of personal information which is of no use and is quickly forgotten. You cannot build an accurate picture of anyone with five or ten minutes of superficial exchange. The subject is way too large and too complex to condense into words.
Instead pick a narrower, easier subject, like Trump’s presidency, Brexit, climate change or the #me too sexual harassment issue. Or discuss a work of art, a movie, or the theory of everything. Sure, it’s unlikely you’ll reach a conclusion but any ideas can be gleaned and used further in subsequent conversations. Unlike those snippets of small talk.
The article on the Finnish went on to tell how they were being tutored in the art of small talk so they may fit in better with the rest of us.
I think we should all try to be more Finnish.
Inspired by and written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge – Week #60 – That which is unspoken becomes unspeakable
“Whatever is unnamed, undepicted in images, whatever is omitted from biography, censored in collections of letters, whatever is misnamed as something else, made difficult-to-come-by, whatever is buried in the memory by the collapse of meaning under an inadequate or lying language – this will become, not merely unspoken, but unspeakable.”
(Adrienne Rich, from Lies, Secrets and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978)
In quotations, context is important. I don’t know the precise point being made by Adrienne Rich but it seems to me to be in reference to a person’s life and identity, in a collection of letters, photographs, conversations and other expressions. If so, it’s a huge subject and lots of things will inevitably be omitted or perverted in the final reckoning. Though why these things would necessarily be unspeakable, I can’t see.
Small talk, though a recognised essential social skill, may actually be lost opportunities to know someone better intellectually.