Sunday, April 22, 2018

Small Talk


In this week's Strangerville episode I may have overreacted about a thing that has been driving me crazy for a while. That thing is poorly-executed elevator small talk between coworkers.

I work in a tall building that houses several companies. My firm used to be in a different building, and we shared the place with a hip ad agency so every time I got into the elevator with anyone who worked there I felt like I was in an HBO series about millenials trying to make it in New York and have it all.

The ad agency employees would recount their wild weekends for one another every Monday morning, explaining how they're lucky to be alive after getting chased down by an entire gang of warlords while hunting anaconda on the moon. And I would pretend not to listen while actually very listening, because I loved hearing these stories.


This was me every single day when I got off of the elevator after listening to their conversations about their wild weekends:


It was amazing. I was living vicariously through these people. I felt like I was in my prime. There was nothing missing in my life.

And then we moved.

We moved to a new building that did not have a hip ad agency. It just had boring work companies where everyone just jobs all day and then leaves their jobs and then goes home in their Nissans to their cats and mail and bills and they are definitely not getting arrested with their friends on the weekends for chaining themselves to zoo animals in Siberia.

And the reason this affects me is my elevator riding experience has changed entirely.

Because: the people of my new building are terrible at small talk.

Every freaking day I get into the elevator and whatever two people who are already in there will be all like "oh hi Bill. What's new" and then Bill sighs and he's all like "meetings, amiright?!" and she's all "haha, how do we even keep up with it all" and then he's all "well at least they keep me out of trouble" and she's all "you're so bad" and he's all "another day another dollar" and she's all "I TAKE PERCOCET TO KEEP MYSELF FROM SHOVING MY HEAD IN THE SHREDDER IN THE COPY ROOM" and he's all "I SLAM MY FINGERS IN DOORS SO I CAN FEEL THINGS" and she's all "HAHA" and he's all "HAHA" and then I get out of the elevator and I'm all


And you guys! I know this probably doesn't seem like something that should matter to me at all but OMG. I. Cannot. Take. Another. One. Of. These. Freaking. Conversations.

My anger over them has been building for a while and I knew that it was odd that this small talk, which most people (even those engaged in it) completely tune out, was making me so angry.

I talked in this week's Strangerville episode about the realization I came to as I finally figured out why this is bothering me so much, so I won't repeat that all here.

But you guys. Please. For the love of all that is holy. Help fight bad small talk. When someone in an elevator or at the bank or the Urologist's office or WHATEVER asks you how you are doing or what's new or any question at all, be better than 99% of the world population, pause for one second, and come up with at least one specific thing to say. Something unique enough that you couldn't be replaced with literally anyone else in the world for purposes of that conversation.

I've been making a conscious effort to do this over the past few days and I can't tell you how much better it is making me feel and how much more pleasant my interactions with other humans have become.

I want to make a pharmaceutical commercial about this:

Do you or someone you know suffer from Homogeneous Small Talk Syndrome (HSTS)? HSTS affects 300 million Americans every day. 

Man: For years I found myself making generic statements to acquaintances about the weather. Often I did it without even realizing that I didn't even know what the weather was that day.

[black and white reenactment where a man and a woman are sitting at a table waiting for another colleague to arrive for a work meeting. Woman says "can you believe all this weather?" Man responds, "you know what they say. If you don't like it, wait 5 minutes." Woman politely laughs without using any of the muscles in her face.]

Fortunately, there's a way to feel alive again. Ask your doctor about Effort. 

Man: I found out that Effort was right for me. Now I don't hate myself every time the barista hands me my coffee.

[reenactment in color: same man from before takes change from the barista while saying, "as a matter of fact, my entire family was eaten by bears."]

Effort has been clinically proven to stop countless Americans who struggle with HSTS. Side effects include having to listen to Becky say something specific back about her life.

Talk to your doctor today.

And please enjoy Meg's live story in this week's Strangerville.


This time in Strangerville, Meg takes the Strangerville Live stage to help everyone feel a little better about their bad neighbors. Also, GMac is the world’s best friend.
Story:
Repulsive, by Meg Walter
Production by Eli McCann and Meg Walter

~It Just Gets Stranger

33 comments:

  1. What if we’re the kind of person who doesn’t say “how are you” to strangers? I like to lead with a strong “good morning” or “good afternoon” and then “have a nice day.” I mean those things. “How are you” to a stranger on an elevator wouldn’t really be meant by me. Is that even more rude? To not even pretend?

    Where I live now, the most common greeting is “├ža va?” It’s French. It literally means “it goes,” and the most common response is to repeat it. “It goes?” “It goes.” And then sometimes the other person will say it again as though your response wasn’t just saying how your life is but actually asking him/her the same question. I guess it’s like if our “how are you” were “how’s it going?”

    And elevators are interesting. When I lived in Mexico (Ciudad Juarez), I felt like it was considered rude to NOT talk to the strangers on the elevator. Then we moved back to the States (Virginia by DC), and I felt like it was considered rude TO talk to strangers on the elevator.

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    1. I am always so awkward answering “how are you” because people always say “I’m good” - but ever since learning in school that the proper response is “I am well” because blah blah blah proper English teacher rules whatever but it has made me uncomfortable and weird ever since. Much like my problem with “where are you from” and that’s why my husband didn’t ask me out on a date when we first met because my extreme awkwardness with small talk made him think I hated him. Poor fellow. It all worked out it the end, I suppose, but I am still just as weird answering those questions!

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    2. That's actually debatable, because "to be" is a special kind of verb. Is the good/well modifying the verb "am" or the subject "I"? Some say that "I am well," refers to your physical health, so you're saying you're not sick. Because you can use an adjective: "I am pretty." "I am funny." So you can also say "I am good." But there are those who think you shouldn't. Hot topic. Anyway, you can get around the debate by saying "I am doing well," and then no question it has to be an adverb. I feel awkward saying "I am well" AND "I am good." I can't win.

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  2. Omg maybe all of the other lawyers in your building work for A. Burr?? "Talk less.... smile more. Don't let them know what you're against or what you're for..." But look where that led. Probably best to get it all out there.

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  3. Now that I've listened to the podcast, please, Eli, learn where the stairs are in your building! Maybe you were just kidding, but legit find them.

    Meg, I love listening to you and Eli banter on the show. Even if you don't play D&D, you're great. I enjoy the perspective you bring to the show. Enjoying your conversation in no way diminishes how much I also enjoyed hearing Jolyn and Eli chat. Eli is a lucky person to have such great friends. He must be a great friend.

    Lastly, how many hours of sleep do you two get? I really can't fathom how there is enough time in both of your already busy lives to watch as many shows and movies that it sounds like you watch.

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  4. Last year, my family was placed in a second floor apartment in Arlington, Virginia (near Washington DC). I have four children, at that time, the oldest was eight years old. I was hopeful that my underneath neighbor would be some working person who left for work at 7:30 and didn't come home until 6:00. That would have been perfect. Alas, we had someone who was home all day every day. So I had to tell my children (a boy who turned two while we lived there and a girl who turned four while we lived there) to not run or jump or skip or do anything other than carefully walk, because that neighbor was not above banging our floor with, I assume, a broom stick when they were being too active. On nice days, this was fine. We'd get the energy out by going out, but on snowy or rainy days, it was pretty miserable. I hated feeling guilty that maybe I was giving someone headaches, but I also hated that my kids couldn't simply run from their bedroom to the family room, for example. She came up to our door twice to talk to us. She was clearly unhappy with us but wasn't nasty or scary. Your neighbor definitely was over the top. Calling the cops because a toddler popped a balloon??

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    1. I was scared of annoying my neighbors when we lived in a duplex with babies crying all night, but the guy we shared a wall with would play his guitar at all and any hour of the night, so I stopped caring. I don’t know what I would do though if someone actually banged a broom at me!!

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  5. Just great. Because of your last sentence, I have to listen to the episode now. Thanks a lot. Sheesh.

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  6. As a customer service worker I would like to clarify there should be limits on the specific things about your life you bring up to strangers... the people that tell me about the concert they went to are great, the guy that took 'how are you' as an invitation to spend 30 min explaining that he has outlived 4 wives and multiple other family members most of whom died of drug overdoses and someone else has 1 foot in the grave, that guy was mildly worrisome, dont be that guy

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    1. Which reminds me, will you look at this mole I have?

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    2. are we examining moles now too? Because I have one here and I don’t know when to start worrying about it...?

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  7. I want to call GMac. Please give me her number.

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  8. My husband is frequently in the hospital. I've learned that if you make small talk in the elevators at the hospital then it quickly becomes a game of whose patient they are visiting has
    a more deadly disease/injury. So in an effort not to be depressed in 10 seconds flat, I try to smile at my elevator companions and maybe say hi. Hospitals are the worst.

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  9. Hospital elevators are the worst. It very quickly turns into "Whose patient is going to die first". I've opted to greet people there with a smile and maybe a "hi" if I'm feeling lucky.

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  10. The only reason you bring up percocet and pharmacutical commercials is because those very boring people work for a certain healthcare system that currently has the lowest company morale in its history. I'm slightly to the east up the hill and my current response to "how are you today" is "I showed up".

    If I get moved to that downtown office, can I request a lunch with Eli once in awhile?

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  11. This is EXACTLY why I learned to take the stairs during my daughters' extended hospital stays. Because I walked out of the elevators either unreasonably angry about the woman sobbing because her child was in day surgery for a tonsillectomy while mine was in hour six of heart surgery OR feeling like a jerk because my kid was well enough to have heart surgery while theirs was too sick to get a much needed kidney transplant. There's only so much emotion you can take in an enclosed space.

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    1. Please don't discount that mom who is sobbing uncontrollably because their kid has been taken back for tonsillectomy. I have been that mom. That was the first big medical thing my first baby had been through, and I was terrified. Why would you be angry at a mother who is feeling that feeling that I'm sure you've shared, seeing that tiny little person wheeled away from you, looking so tiny on that big bed; it's terrifying for a mother, no matter the reason. If I saw another mom crying, my first instinct would be to reassure her, if I had already experienced it.

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    2. The first poster did say “unreasonably angry,” so it sounds like she understands what you mean. But her emotions are also already stretched thin from her own child’s health issues. I’d say her deciding to take the stairs was wise.

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    3. Hugs to both moms, to all moms.

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    4. KRo, I'm so very sorry to have made you feel that way! I have been on both ends of the spectrum, so I absolutely understand that any hurt your child experiences--big or small--is hard to witness. My heart truly goes out to anyone who is worried about a loved one. My intent was to illustrate that comparing experiences (hopefully silently) is part of the hospital experience. Families in the midst long term health challenges certainly can become jaded, but I think we are also eager to reach out and help where we can, as well as attempt to find humor in our situations. Sorry if my comment touched a nerve.

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    5. One of the best things about working at a children's hospital is that you are an angel when you offer a tired/stressed/sleepless parent a cup of coffee from the catered event you're wrapping up. Or helping a parent who's been up all night find a charge cord for their phone that's about to die.

      Dream job If I could get paid to just walk around and offer a helping hand like directions, sharing resources like the Ronald McDonald House for a much needed nap, walking over to the other hospital to just get a much desired Coke because we can only offer aspartame here, etc. ALL parents here are having the worst days of their life and every emotion is always warranted.

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  12. I am currently transitioning from a super dull job as a customer service rep to my dream job as a communications coordinator in a marketing department. In my old job, I spent lots of time contacting insurance adjusters to get updates on claims. There's always obligatory small talk while they look up the claim in question. An adjuster made my day recently when he serenaded me with the entire chorus of the Dawson's Creek theme song. Since I've already started my new job, I felt free to serenade him right back. Our lives would be exponentially better if awkward small talk could be turned into a song and dance number, like they do in movie musicals.

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    1. This does sound like a meet cute for a chick flick! My sister and I used to lament the lack of spontaneous singing and dancing as we grew up watching old classic musicals. Amy Rose

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    2. We tried to make up for the lack of it in our own lives. Ha. With varying success.

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  13. I'm vindicated! I tend to be an over-sharer and super awkward, but in an "I'm uncomfortable so I'm going to keep talking and make it worse" way, so you get NO boring small talk from me. I usually walk away thinking that the person I just left thinks I'm crazy.
    For instance, my last hospital elevator conversation, I managed to go from the weather to the walk from the parking lot, to the crazy small parking spaces in the crazy small parking lot that I'm always afraid that I may get trapped in a space if people park too closely because did I mention how small the spaces are, and I stink at backing out... to the fact that, yes, I know there is valet parking, but my car is too messy and I'm always too embarrassed for the valet to see my car... I'm sure the guy I was talking to was thinking, "I just asked how she was enjoying the weather."

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    1. This is me in every conversation!

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  14. I got stuck in super boring small talk recently with someone about their bathroom remodel. I don’t know if I said this because I was super bored and wanted to end the conversation or because I didn’t have any interesting comments to respond with but I just blurted out, “Someone was murdered in my bathroom.” This is true by the way (but that’s a whole different story) but maybe not the best topic for small talk. Anyway, I didn’t have to hear about her bathroom remodel anymore and she probably won’t make much more small talk with me. Maybe I should pull this topic out more often!

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  15. I feel like I need to add, the murder happened before we lived here!

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    1. Story automatically became less interesting. Considering the level of interest in "murder bathroom", though, I think you still win in the conversation category.

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    2. TELL US THE DETAILS ABOUT MURDER BATHROOM OR DON'T BOTHER COMING HOME.

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  16. One of my weirdest elevator experiences was in my office building at work, where a random person I'd never talked to before got on the elevator after me and immediately asked, "So, how's the baby?"

    "Uh, what baby?"

    "You know, the baby you had a few years ago."

    "I've never had a baby."

    "But you were super pregnant a few years ago. Remember? What happened to the baby?"

    On the plus side, I guess I'd lost enough weight that I didn't look pregnant any more, even though I apparently looked "super pregnant" in the past. On the down side, I apparently now looked like someone with dementia, prone to forgetting the children she'd recently given birth to.

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  17. So I finally listened to this episode, I'm a little slow. I love Meg's story but I feel like she can't call me out for mine being depressing (although it kind of is) because there is no payback or vindication...because as funny as her story was, it too was a little depressing. My date only lasted 2 hours, Edith lasted several years. Just sayin'

    Eli be glad you only have to deal with small talk in the elevator. Be glad you don't sit 3 feet away from a person who ONLY does small talk (crock pots! cute babies! hypocritical people at church! how special their obscenely normal children/grandchildren are! extreme right wing politics are going to save the world because THOSE people just don't understand what it's like to live in the "real world"!). And they fake laugh at EVERYTHING with a really dead look in their eyes. They fake laugh especially hard at things that aren't funny and could never be considered funny and everyone does the uncomfortable courtesy laugh back and then sideeyes each other when that person isn't looking. And they like to say they don't judge people but then they passive aggressively judge everyone under the context of calling hypocrites out but then pretended that they were only citing facts and that it didn't matter to them what self-righteous people did because they were better than that (oh the irony). And a year in you can't handle any more vacuous small talk or them giving unsolicited condescending romantic advice (I have a mom, 3 sisters, 3 sisters in law, 6 nieces, friends, and about a million female cousins, your meddling is not helpful) or commenting on your personal life, so you go totally gray rock on them and they get pissed and offended that you don't want to be their bestie and/or think they are the most interesting person in the world and. Then you spend 3 years withstanding a constant barrage of passive aggressive shade made in a soto whisper by that person to another person who sits three feet away in another direction, or them having histrionics over NOTHING when your boss isn't there, or a flat out refusal to acknowledge verbal requests or written notes on their desk to complete projects (spoiler alert they would say "No one every told me that!" or just threw the notes away and claimed to never receive them), so you have to start emailing EVERY damn thing so that you have a papertrail when they go to management and complain that no one told them about a deadline or explained a project, etc, and then they COMPLAIN that you email them instead of just telling them. *deep breath*

    Um yeah, not that I know what that is like, just be glad that you don't have to live through that totally hypothetical scenario. I feel like I could teach the Abbott family a thing or two.

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