I hate small talk. I’m also someone who has a higher than average tendency to choose pajamas over people, but think about it: If you had the choice, would you rather listen to me blather about the weather or watch an episode of Game of Thrones in your most comfortable pair of sweatpants? (Not that I’ve actually seen an episode of Game of Thrones, but I’ve been told it’s good.)
Despite my dislike for meaningless conversation, it’s a necessary skill, and over the past couple of years, I’ve gotten much better at it. I can avoid awkward silence for almost five minutes if I try really hard. My toolkit consists of questions like: “How are you?” “What’s your major?” “Does that mean you get to take this class? How do you like it?” “What year are you?” “Which house do you live?” etc. etc. etc.
Last week, I realized that there was a bit of an issue with my go-to list of questions. They’re great, except if you happend to have graduated college years ago and the memory of dorms now seems like a big blur. Long story short, I don’t think I really know how to talk to people older than me.
Of course, I know how to talk to my parents. I can do a job interview (sometimes really well too!). I’ve had twenty-second conversations with strangers at a bus stop, in line for a cash register, and other places where you usually bump into people. But if you threw me into a dinner party with people who aren’t really my age anymore, I’m not sure what I would do besides start off with a “How are liking this dinner party?” and hope they mention gardening or a tv show or their dog.
I learned recently that this might be a problem with our generation. In their May 30, 2013 issue, Time wrote a feature on the millennial generation. The tagline: “The New Greatest Generation…Why Millennial Will Save Us All.” I finally tracked down the issue with the full article (since only subscribers are allowed to read the whole piece online). The author quotes from Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory, who states, “Never before in history have people been able to grow up and reach age 23 so dominated by peers. To develop intellectually you’ve got to relate to older people, older things.”
Normally, articles that generalize the failings of the generation make me tired. It seems inevitable that older generations criticize the newer ones. I’m sure that people were definitely convinced that society would collapse with hippies running around in the 1960s. But perhaps Bauerlein has a point. Most of what I talk about at least 9 months out of the year revolves around things I know would be relevant to people close to my age.
Maybe by the end of this summer, I’ll figure it out. I’ll also see if I can get started on A Game of Thrones.