Today we say good-bye to green English and hello to small talk. During the month of July, we’ll be exploring small talk in English, starting with an introduction by regular contributor Stan Carey, freelance writer, editor and blogger.
For many of us, small talk is a daily occurrence. We engage in it with family, friends, loved ones and strangers. It happens at home, at work, on the move, and wherever we encounter other people. It’s no surprise, then, that our attitudes to it are very mixed. Some people take pleasure in it; some resent or even detest it. Others engage in it without feeling strongly about it or paying it much heed.
When we meet a stranger, for example at a business meeting, on a social occasion, or in a casual encounter, small talk serves a useful phatic function. It helps us tune in to other people’s accents and dialects, and to get used to their presence and the ways they express themselves. Before moving on to more contentious topics, such as finance or politics, we will have spent time sharing images and idioms and agreeing light-heartedly about various uncontroversial matters.
If the context is business, talking about travel and accommodation is apt to be both interesting and potentially useful to the parties involved. We can share tips, learn about one another’s tastes and habits, and bond over common frustrations and experiences.
The weather is perhaps the star of small talk. Comments about the weather can even replace greetings, so instead of “hello” we might remark to someone, in passing: “Grand day out”, or “Lovely evening.” In Ireland, we are blessed with what I would euphemistically call “interesting weather”. Never mind four seasons in one day: some days we are blessed with eight seasons by mid-afternoon. It is predictably unpredictable, and this variability makes it ideal for idle chit-chat. We need never tire of the tendency to talk about it.
Weather talk is neutral, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the suitability of subjects and modes of address varies considerably from culture to culture. So it’s worth doing a bit of research before continuing your small-talk habits in an unfamiliar culture. Small talk might be “informal conversation about things that are not important”, but this does not imply that small talk itself is not important![email_post]