In Hamilton, New York the month of January marks the start of the five-month bout of frostbite known as spring semester. Warm greetings are in abundance as Colgate peers ask each other: How was your break? OMG, was abroad amazing? Do you love this stuff? Are you high right now? Do you ever get nervous? Are you single? I heard you kissed your girl, is it true?
Interlocutors offer hollow refrains of “my break was awesome, how about you?” “Honestly, such a great experience. Europe is the best. It’s so weird being back — good, though” and “HYFR.” And while we can all agree that Europe is pretty dope, exchanges like these tend to have as much meaning as a poorly translated fortune cookie.
Small talk thrives in sober social spaces, like the mailroom line and Heiber Café, particularly those in which people are pressed for time. Conversations scrape the surface of an individual’s thoughts and experiences, compressing their depth into charming chitchat. On the conversational scale, with 1 being “heyy what’s up? Nm u? nm jc” and 10 being Plato’s symposium, small talk pulls a 3. This, however, does not negate the importance of small talk as a marker of conversational prowess and a major key to social butterfly existence. Great small talk opens physical and metaphorical doors, proving crucial on a campus where the Coop doors always seem to be screaming “pull me” when the very opposite is true.
One truly learns the importance of great small talk after engaging in the polar
opposite. Bad small talk is awkward and boring, like an architecture river cruise. I know this from experience. Making polite small talk with an acquaintance over winter break, I introduced myself (Amy), answered questions about study abroad (Cape Town) and regaled my interlocutor with what I thought were some pretty charming anecdotes. He responded to my best efforts with: “You know, you’re really bad at making eye contact. And you snarl your lip when you get uncomfortable.” After patching the wounds to my ego and unfurling my lips to neutral, I started to think about who was at fault. Clearly, insulting the person you’re talking to by comparing them to an angry wolf is not laying the groundwork for great conversation. I was pretty offended and probably responded with an unintentional growl like a hungry Doberman. However, I was also not holding up my end of the conversational bargain.
By failing to make eye contact, I broke the number one rule of small talk and failed to treat our polite back-and-forth with appropriate respect. Even when the talk is small, the end result can be big. So next time you’re awaiting that 75-page reading at Case printer West, engage with that fellow classmate in a meaningful way. Talk about the weather, look them in the eye and if you feel the need to snarl try to keep it a subtle growl
inaudible to non-canine ears.