In Hollywood there is the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon. In Winnipeg it’s 1.5 degrees. Maybe 2 on a good day. Each person you meet does brunch with one of your friends and probably works with your cousin. It’s uncanny. Visiting key city locations like IKEA guarantees a impromptu reunion with a colleague, a former classmate, or your Starbucks barista. Whether or not you choose to acknowledge them or instead swan dive over a Stocksund couch to avoid conversation is your choice. I have to confess that my natural instinct is to do the latter. But don’t worry, it’s not you, it’s me. I hate small talk because I always cause it to go off the rails. It starts off normal like:
The Acquaintance: “Hey, what’s up? Why are you behind this couch?”
Me: “Oh HEY! Am I behind a couch? Uh, not much is up, how about you?”
The Acquaintance: “Just taking care of some errands”
Me: “Yep, me too, just picking up some maple flavoured candies as you do”
At this point The Acquaintance looks vaguely confused and suddenly I realize that I’m veering off script. In an attempt to salvage the situation, I launch into a lengthy yet incomplete story like a coked up chipmunk.
Me: “I play video games online, with Americans and you know they don’t get some of our foodstuffs so sometimes I send “Canadian” stuff down to them. You know, in St. Cloud.”
The Acquaintance: “…Right, that’s cool. So anyway…”
By now I can’t stop myself so I keep going.
Me: “Yeah last time I sent him some ketchup chips and he shared them with his niece and then he had to hide the last bag from her because she liked them so much. Isn’t it funny they don’t have ketchup chips down here? Like, all that money in the military but so little in chip flavours.”
At this point The Acquaintance is looking around wondering how they can possibly wrap up what was supposed to be a quick stop’n chat. I’m realizing that this situation is now wildly out of hand and I switch gears forcibly ending the conversation like a freight train slamming into a brick wall.
Me: “Well! These candies aren’t going to pay for themselves so nicetoseeyoubye” as I beeline it to the checkout. Whereupon I realize that I forgot other essential items so I head back out to the merchandise only to bump into The Acquaintance in Aisle 7.
Me: *shout talking* “Forgot to grab a coffee crisp and REAL smarties unlike those weird American rocket smarties!!! waving the items in question around. The Acquaintance just kind of wincing and nodding like “please let this weird social nightmare be over.” And then back in the car to cringe for a while as I relive the entire awkward ordeal.
At some point I realized that I need this skill. When I first moved to Winnipeg, this wasn’t a problem because I didn’t know that many people.I could walk down Corydon with patio season in full swing and not recognize a single soul. After 12 years here, some school, a few jobs, it’s hard not to recognize someone. So I’m trying to embrace the opportunity to reconnect. As I get older, it seems more difficult to carve out time to see everyone regularly. If a crazy, random happenstance is the only way I get to see people, I better learn to love it. If I can’t do regular small talk, maybe I can actually ask them how they are and listen to their response. Ironically, the more listening I do, the easier it is to find something to say.