Small talk

Karan Mahayana writes on My Struggle with American Small Talk:

“How’s it going?” I ask the barista. “How’s your day been?”

“Ah, not too busy. What are you up to?”

“Not much. Just reading.”

This, I have learned, is one of the key rituals of American life. It has taken me only a decade to master. …

American life is based on a reassurance that we like one another but won’t violate one another’s privacies. This makes it a land of small talk. Two people greet each other happily, with friendliness, but might know each other for years before venturing basic questions about each other’s backgrounds. The opposite is true of Indians. At least three people I’ve sat next to on planes to and from India have asked me, within minutes, how much I earn as a writer (only to turn away in disappointment when I tell them). In the East, I’ve heard it said, there’s intimacy without friendship; in the West, there’s friendship without intimacy.

When I spent time with someone, I want to spend real time with them. I want to speak meaningfully with them, at length. I want to hear things that make me understand or know them better, or think more richly about some subject than I did before, or simply share time in a way that isn’t the equivalent of killing time together.

This can make you seem brutal or unsentimental when you’re curt in a run of the mill commercial encounter. But if you’ve going to get wet, dive in. Count me in as an opponent of small talk.