[OPINION] Americans are terrible at small talk

Image Credit/Nathaniel Russell

By Maeve Higgins | The New York Times

(Editor’s note: Opinion pieces are published for discussions purposes only.)

In the four years I’ve lived in the United States, I have grown used to excruciatingly sincere exchanges with people. Within minutes of meeting you, they’ll come up with the heavy goods, and expect to see yours in return. Recent specimens I’ve collected? I guess what I’m afraid of is that my husband is bored of me. Oh, and this one: Also, in case you’re wondering what that sound is, I have digestion issues.

Americans are good at a great many things: normalizing drone warfare, making cherry-flavored jellies taste more like cherries than cherries themselves, optimism. But they struggle with small talk. In Ireland, small talk is just that — I mean, it’s tiny.

At the beginning of a three-hour train trip to Cork from Dublin, I spend an average of 15 minutes comfortably discussing the merits of having a cafe car on the train with the middle-aged man beside me. I suppose, if you’re peckish, it’s ideal, really. A nice pause. But the tea costs more than my ticket. Eyes widen and head nods in agreement. But you can’t dip chocolate in your ticket. A chuckle.

What the seemingly meaningless exchange means is we can relax. The person we’re inches away from for the afternoon is not dangerous. At the end of the trip we’ll nod and smile, and I won’t be left wondering why his father said that one thing in 1994 that meant he never had the confidence to pursue a career in architecture.


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