(The British Strain of the Disease)
Human beings have an unparalleled reputation for wasting energy on an epic scale. Our ministering to the environment sees the vast consumption of millions of tonnes of raw materials every year. (At this point, the reader should not turn away in disgust and label this author as a greenie hipster with personal issues concerning global warming; my therapist deals with those problems). This burning and destroying of the limited resources serves to release God-knows how many gazillions of tonnes of harmful gases into the environment to kill countless fluffy bunnies and burn holes in the ozone layer. This is only aggravated by the lungfuls of carbon dioxide that we emit when engaging another unfortunate human being in the tortuous affair we like to call ‘small talk’. Unnecessary and, frankly, unwanted, humans persist in being the perpetrators of a trait that very few other species use. How we came to be the dominant species is a mystery when all we seem to be concerned about is the weather, the tedious health (or lack of) of the recipient, and the change in weather since the conversation started.
This leads to the massive, stumbling, pale-coloured elephant in the room. The weather. A prelude to any conversation, the mention should send sane people running from the speaker with their hands over their auditory appendages. The need to constantly spew discourse on meteorological observations has always served to baffle me. If the conversation should take place outside, it should be assumed that participants are in at least partial receipt of their sight which removes the need to describe what is so obviously and blatantly apparent. Should the conversation occur indoors, unless you are a native in a primitive Amazonian mud-hut, we can safely take it that the building has windows that show the inexorably obstinate weather doing whatever it likes. Furthermore, the weather has even less impact indoors as buildings tend to protect against most every-day elements that nature throws up (disregarding the native of course). Either way, our obsession with the mundane weather ensues the wasteful nature of the conversation is established nice and early. Too late, you are now trapped.
Inevitably, the phrase “How are you” will be sprung soon after the vagaries of the weather have been exhaustively explored. Relating either to physical or mental aspects, both have foreseeable and therefore boring conclusions. The physical, outward health of the person will be evident should the ‘eyes’ just above the nose be utilised whilst, again, my therapist spends half an hour listening to how my mental state is progressing. I doubt a stranger or even close friend will want to hear that. They never do.
Not only does this phrase force the recipient to mutter the “I’m good, thanks” at the halfwit who asks, but ‘etiquette’ insists that the question is reciprocated. If this is a friend being addressed, odds are that I will be able to tell if they look ok, or via any gossip that is so assiduously spread, that they are not. If it is a stranger, I probably won’t care; if it is important enough it will come up later in the conversation.
It is not only words that drive the shameful humiliation of making small talk. The struggle to maintain eye contact as we pretend to be interested in the other person’s experience of the rain last Wednesday at 10am grows as the experience stretches past seconds into lengthening minutes. The fingers twitch, the heart races as we desperately try and think what to say when it is our turn to mumble some unimportant opinion on what tomorrow will be like. Does it have to be like this?
I know what you’re thinking; that the author is a small and rather weird mole-like creature who hates human contact and has no friends, preferring the darkness to the light etc etc. You would of course be right, but occasionally I venture out in public to be assaulted by dentist’s receptionists who ask me how I am, as though they know me. Furthermore, I know they don’t care. And that gets my weary goat.
And here is the crux of this rather miserable and moaning argument that reveals my dislike for everyone who tries to engage me in small talk. There seems little point in conducting a conversation from which you escape with absolutely no information that enhances or benefits your life. Arguments that contain the words ‘politeness’, ‘civility’ and ‘you are a very sad human being’ are frequently used against this propagated argument, but with little effect. Birds don’t engage in long tweets about the scarcity of rain or whether their feathers need trimming; they get on with surviving life. And we should take our lead from such common sense, and belt up. Women the world over will protest shrilly of course, but that is sadly unavoidable.
So I propose a simple near-solution to this complex and soul-destroying problem. Harking back to the days of cavemen and their simple ways provides the perfect way to spend the time we waste talking in other more fruitful activities. In the caveman’s communicative method lies therein the ‘grunt’. Using minimal effort yet acknowledging the presence of others, this is a sure-fire way to impart a greeting with no answer required. The pedantic among you may wish to force inflections upon such a ‘grunt’; that is your prerogative, although be aware that rude ‘grunts’ may get you clubbed to death. Not only will this encourage the meek out of their houses (although their inheritance will have to wait), but make the world a peaceful and hence happier place. Those with an IQ in double figures, as well as the inhabitants of the North (the two groups often seen as synonymous) will be happiest, as they can continue to communicate as before.
The perfect solution is some way off, but I feel confident that it will deal a swift blow to the iniquities of small talking. Telepathy cannot come too soon.