"it might warrant discussion from others."
December 21, 2014 7:04 PM   Subscribe

You know, they don't talk about the weather in the tropics. Too dependable. Weather is a higher latitude subject.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:16 PM on December 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Here in Minnesota, whenever we talk about the weather, it's usually commentary about how no one else in Minnesota seems to know how to drive safely in Minnesota weather.
posted by surazal at 7:28 PM on December 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Actually, having lived in Kenya for a bit, I can attest that they very much do talk about the weather, though mainly on its daily trek through its usual movements. Some people wear giant coats for the five degree (centigrade) difference between afternoon and night, and complain more than any Canadian. Others focus their small talk on a different kind of inevitability, like the rampant corruption of the political elite. But talking about the obvious is certainly still a thing, and living in the tropics makes the weather no less obvious.
posted by kaibutsu at 7:44 PM on December 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

One of the things Ford Prefect had always found hardest to understand about humans was their habit of continually stating and repeating the very very obvious, as in It's a nice day, or You're very tall, or Oh dear you seem to have fallen down a thirty-foot well, are you alright? At first Ford had formed a theory to account for this strange behaviour. If human beings don't keep exercising their lips, he thought, their mouths probably seize up. After a few months' consideration and observation he abandoned this theory in favour of a new one. If they don't keep on exercising their lips, he thought, their brains start working.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:47 PM on December 21, 2014 [11 favorites]

I've found having children make small talk much easier. There's always something to say about the little kids nearby, like, "I love her cute little shirt!" or "He's such a good listener!" or "Where did you find those adorable shoes?" or "Oh, is she totally into trains?" This is easier for me than any prior small talk has been. I don't know if it's because kids are such a rich subject, and so easy to be complimentary about, or if it's because I'm truly interested in little kids.

I do find I like talking about the weather more and more as I get older. It used to drive me MAD that people wanted to talk about the weather, and now I'm all like, "I KNOW! It's SO RAINY!" Is it just because I've seen more weather? Become more tolerant of small talk? Spend more time looking at the sky? CANNOT TELL.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:48 PM on December 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

“Politeness is organized indifference.” ― Paul Valéry
posted by oulipian at 8:06 PM on December 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Well, I lived in Ghana for a bit, and no one ever talked about the weather. What would be the point? It was either the rainy season or not, and you knew exactly what you would be getting.

When it rains every day at 3pm people look at you like you are crazy if you mention that it is raining, or will rain, or that there is a lot of it.

Noting that the current or upcoming season is upon us is one thing. But noting that it will be in the low to mid 20s at night and mid 30s during the day, again, with rain at 3pm, again, is not any sort of subject for small talk.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:37 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm half convinced that sports were invented to give people something to talk about.
posted by octothorpe at 10:27 PM on December 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

It's because you have seen more weather, Eyebrows McGee, and because now that you are encumbered with children, the weather you see matters more.

I know this because I have been around fisherpersons, and that's true of them, too; they've seen more weather that matters and the weather matters more.

posted by notyou at 11:12 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had a thought the other day that small talk among friends, which sometimes takes misogynist criticism as women's chit chat (if not about sports), is the human equivalent of pinging -- checking the communication lines to make sure they are working, in a non-pressured situation, so that when the real shit goes down, we know they can be relied on. It's a test of the emergency broadcast system.

But maybe that's a rationalization, I've always enjoyed the puzzle of finding an interesting way to engage with people I find myself with, friends or not. I'll even make jokes to strangers, if the moment is right.
posted by msalt at 11:52 PM on December 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

For a publication called The Point, it felt like the author took about four too many paragraphs to get to it. Either that, or I am feeling tired.

To give the article its dues, Zhang draws on some excellent sources, including Malinowski's observation that
...empty pleasantries are required “to get over the strange and unpleasant tension which men feel when facing each other in silence.” In this analysis, “beautiful day out” is just the evolved form of “look, I’m putting down my machete.”
I felt that very much reflected my experience encountering other male strangers in London. "Orrigh'?" with a smile and raised eyebrows returned by "Orrigh'?" and a similar look often diffused the anxiety of squeezing onto an over-crowded morning Tube car or passing someone while walking alone at night (which can be 3pm on an overcast winter day).

Small talk can effective with just a single word.
posted by Lesser Spotted Potoroo at 12:29 AM on December 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

The total irony here is that I worked with Barbara Walters for many years and she is a totally miserable human being, ill suited for anything resembling small talk.
posted by nevercalm at 3:31 AM on December 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

Sometime in the late 90s I was on a plane and a kid about 8 years old was seated next to me, and his parents were in the seats across the aisle. After a few moments of uncomfortable fidgeting and looking around, he turned to me and said "Hi, my names Jeremy. What's yours?" I told him, and after a moment of thought, he then asked in an oddly formal manner, as if he was interviewing me for a television interview or a new job, "What was the last thing you saw that was on fire?"

The question threw me for a loop, and I could see as I turned towards him one of his parents is shaking his head, and the other is trying to stifle a laugh. After a moment, told him about the night before where my family had got together and cooked hot dogs and roasted marshmallows over a campfire. This seemed to satisfy him, and about a minute later he asked "When was the last time you saw a fish? A real, live, fish, but not one in a tank?" he then started checking his pockets and pulled out a folded piece of paper with about a dozen questions on it.

This went on for a while, with him asking random questions about space, movies, landing gears, and air conditioning, and I had fun answering them. I offered to switch seats with him so he could watch the takeoff and flight through the window, and after we switched one of his parents leaned across the aisle and said "I hope he's not bothering you, last night he found out he'd be sitting next to someone he didn't know, and has been working on his small talk since then, but those weren't the questions we had talked about last night. He's just fascinated by the concept of small talk right now."

I told them it was fine, and it was perhaps the best airplane small talk session I could remember having.
posted by chambers at 9:12 AM on December 22, 2014 [19 favorites]

I don't know when I learned it, but at some point, I went from thinking that small talk was pointless and annoying, irrelevant to my interest and not worth the expenditure of energy, to making it often.

I think of it as a way to connect with a stranger in a specific moment; you know the two of you are sharing the same experience. It's a nice way to not feel alone in a large universe. It's also good for disarming someone who may feel uneasy or nervous about your presence.
posted by rubah at 10:31 AM on December 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Exactly. It's kind of an existentialist/zen/improv exercise, being present with no ulterior motive or purpose and going with it. Also good practice in seeing through other people's eyes.
posted by msalt at 4:40 PM on December 23, 2014

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