I’ve been thinking a lot (perhaps too much) about how to respond to The Daily Post’s prompt from last Friday about being stuck in a conversation. Here, I paraphrase what they posited:
“It turns out that your neighbor on the plane/bus/train (or the person sitting at the next table at the coffee shop) is a very, very chatty tourist, the type of person who’ll want to talk your ears off. Do you try to switch seats? Do you go for a non-committal brief small talk? Or do you make this person your new best friend?”
When reading this prompt, I thought less of how I would respond and more about what the “very chatty tourist” would say… or, to be precise, how they’d say it. Observe this non-stop delivery:
“So, you’re from around here, huh? Yeah, Harv and I just LOVE your city, don’t we Harv? Tell ’em about all we’ve seen, Harv. Yeah, Harv and I can’t believe all the things you have in this town, let me tell ya…”
Well, although I’m sure poor ol’ Harv is enjoying our fair city and might like to talk about it, the fact that his traveling companion is
taking up all the oxygen doing all the talking is forcing him to demur… while he and I do all the listening.
“We saw the State Capitol first and I told Harv, “You know, Harv, we don’t have anything like this back home,” because all we have is tall, glass buildings. And then we went to the Memorial Union and Harv and I were so stunned by the buildings and the view of the lake that we forgot what the memorial was for. And then Harv and I went up State Street and, you know, they have so many shops there that Harv and I don’t see back home, and I said to Harv, “You know, Harv, we should pick up something from here because this sure is different from the malls we have back at home…”
In a sense, Harv and I are one of the same, in that neither of us are brilliant conversationalists. Sure, there are times when we need to talk; for me, it’s whenever I visit my mom and she asks about how I’m doing and how life in Madison has been treating me. (That’s a mom for you, always wanting to know you’re holding up well.) And there are times when I myself tend to talk a lot, though unlike Harv’s companion, it’s not with an aim to take the wheel of the conversation, if not the whole moving car. (Perhaps it’s due to that little kid in me wanting to tell every little detail about my story.) But, really, I’m at my best just listening to someone, even if they’re like Harv’s companion and can’t stop talking.
I do value the power of quiet time, not having my ears bleed any more than I need to. So, if I were entering a coffee shop, train, or bus, I’ll be one to survey the location and head for a comfortable space in a nice, quiet corner. (You have to stay in your assigned seat on a plane, what with security these days and all.) If someone sidles into the seat next to me, I won’t initiate the conversation, but if they do, I’ll try to listen and not speak up too much.
Now, if the conversation goes nowhere, that’s no big deal for me. But if the other person begins talking up a storm, I will just nod accordingly and give an occasional “okay” and “absolutely,” but try to quietly and respectfully wind down the conversation. It’s my gentle way of telling the other person, “yes, I agree with you, but I’d like to have some quiet time.”
One thing’s for sure, though: I’ll hope the conversation suddenly turns to something controversial; if it does and the talkative person next to me throws gasoline onto the fire, then that’s time for me to head for the exit. Conversations (with strangers or otherwise) shouldn’t have to turn into talk radio-like spats, especially these days.