Sunday, June 10, 2012

The infamous stop and chat

Oh, how I hate the stop and chat.

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, it's time to watch some Curb Your Enthusiasm. For those who do, I guess you are enough of a Larry Davidite that you understand the weird colloquialisms of Curb language so that I no longer need to explain these things.

A few months ago, even I didn't quite catch on when a couple of my friends talked about the stop and chat. At the time we were walking around campus and my friend Dana stopped to have a conversation with someone we both knew moderately well. As she held a conversation, I took the opportunity to exchange pleasantries and then stare into space.

Because some people are stop-and-chatters and other people are not. Dana is. I am not.

I don't understand the point of chit chat. I don't enjoy small talk. Unless there's the possibility of cultivating a more than passing acquaintance with someone, I don't gain much enjoyment out of interacting with someone in this way. I'd much prefer to say 'hello' and then be on my way.

On the off chance that I would like to make conversation with someone briefly, it's out of boredom, necessity or the inherent awkwardness in ignoring the opportunity for a stop and chat.

Which is why it's always been hard for me to come home after several months away.

I'll be visiting a random store that I've frequented often in my time in Orange County, but because the community I live in is relatively small (the population of my city is around 50,000 which is no small number, but also not enormous) I will often encounter someone I used to know, however vaguely, in high school.

I'm fine with greeting people I used to know. A warm hello and perhaps a "how are you?" satisfies my need for re-acquaintance.

And today, that was fine. I saw at least three or four people I haven't spoken to since before high school graduation and with one or two I exchanged greetings. Done and done.

It's when I'm forced to ask someone I know nothing of about the weather or their life in the past few years that I feel my most uncomfortable. I guess, now that I think about it, this isn't so much a concern for me when I'm back home in Orange County. When I do see people, often we take so long to figure out if we actually know each other that we don't have enough time to make conversation.

In contrast, when you're walking around your college you tend to meet people you know left and right. And without that interim period of guessing whether you actually recognize each other, you have to hop straight into the pleasantries and inane conversation.

What classes are you taking this quarter? What have you been up to these days? How has so-and-so been? Did you hear about the Dillo Day line-up?

After those questions have been answered, I can no longer think of what to say.

So I'd much rather be like Larry David and run away - rather than try and make myself into a functioning conversationalist that I never claim to be.

All of this makes me sound very anti-social, and I won't claim to be otherwise. Other than with the people whom I've already cultivated valuable friendships with or whom I am in the process of becoming friends with, I see no purpose. What's the value in talking about the weather with someone when the most it might lead to is an "add" on Facebook?

I'm sure there are answers to this question - reasons to be social just for social's sake. If only to make connections. But I've never been much of a connection maker either. Tight knit friendships or nothing, I say.

Now that I'm letting this entry wind down, I really don't know what my point was. I don't necessarily think it's in everyone's best interest to be antisocial and avoid stop and chats with people they've spoken with once or twice. But I also don't think that this is a cultural tradition worth enforcing to the point of awkwardness.

I guess the most interesting topics to explore are the ones with no answers. And I have none. What I do have is a healthy mix of philanthropy and misanthropy. Call me a contradiction, if you like.

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