Small and Medium-size Talk

For me, “small talk” is analogous to cola. People all over the world dig these fizzy, sweet drinks. It makes their day, sometimes repeatedly, all day long. Every now and then I will re-sample some Coca-cola or Pepsi. Yeup, I still hate cola. I am not fond of carbonation, it is too sweet, and the flavor I simply cannot enjoy. Why do people love this stuff? They even enjoy the caffeine-free or sugar-free sorts, so that cannot be it. I have no idea.

So there I am stuck in some social occasion, with my tea or water-no-ice-please, or the hard to find ginger ale, holding it with an occasional swirl, hoping it quickly goes flat. I have those dire mental questions about this conversational dance:

Is it my turn to contribute something?

What would be appropriate to say?

Am I talking too much or not enough?

Don’t forget to make a little eye contact.

Are they really done talking? Whoops no they weren’t, oh dear.

Okay, that IS a pause … now it is a very long pause; am I supposed to say something, and if so, what about?

Are we done with small talking?

Should we move apart?

What kind of transitional comment am I supposed to make then?

The very-small talk of passing and greeting in the hallway, or waiting for a turn at the microwave, or for the coffeepot to finish brewing, is not so hard. One acquires a battery of general phrases to adapt to the particular day.

The big talk — actual conversation as exchange-of-information with persons whom you know or with whom you have things in common — during lunch time or at a meeting is okay.

It is the middle-size talk, the chit-chat, that is difficult. This is the sort one finds at dreaded office parties, dinners with fellow convention attendees, mixers with guests visiting the department, weddings, and such. These people often have some thin connection to one’s self, but for a topic of discussion it is too meager, and if we are near the end of the day there is nothing new to add, and besides by then people want to chit-chat about something else.

If you are standing or seated next to the spouse or “significant other” of the actual attendee, then you have nothing in common, at least nothing than can be perceived in a couple of minutes. Now, it may be that both of you have visited the same place, or have a passing interest in some obscure topic, but without some kind of handy visual “Index Of Interests” pinned to the lapel like military ribbons, who is to know? Perhaps in an hour’s time you will have discovered that spider-thread of connection, but meanwhile, there are countless bits of the dreaded small-talk to pick one’s way through.

And of course, there is the trap of somebody accidentally mentioning something that is a special interest of mine, and unless I am being especially self-aware, I am likely to data-bomb them with more information than they wanted. And of course, I usually cannot tell when “enough is enough already”. ::sigh::

Of course, my additional problem is that I have super-acute hearing for all the accessory noises in the environment, yet sometimes have difficulty understanding what people are saying. Or near the end of the day I am so over-stimulated with sensory input that I am beginning to blank out. The edges of my brain have the sparkle and wit of a bowl of oatmeal; there is the nearly overwhelming urge to crawl under the table drapes, or find a solitary chair and stare out the window at the clouds, or just put on my headphones and rock. And yet, this is the part of the event when I am supposed to be both engaged and engaging.

Chit-chat is deadly!


  1. 1 July 2008 at 3:05

    […] end up when wandering through the awkward territory of small talk. As I have blogged on before (“Small and Medium-size Talk”), the big sorts of talk, those that are the exchange of real information on subjects of mutual […]

  2. Bug Girl said,

    21 December 2007 at 1:38

    chit chat chit chat thud.


  3. 19 August 2006 at 17:44

    Hi People. I just want to say that I don’t exactly have much to say but I like reading your comments.

  4. qw88nb88 said,

    11 August 2006 at 22:11

    HAHAHA! Love it!

  5. lisajeancollins said,

    11 August 2006 at 21:57

    I love a postcard on one of the cafepress stores that says “This awkward silence brought to you by Asperger’s syndrome.” That is so me.

  6. Lori said,

    9 August 2006 at 22:31

    Great post! I can totally relate. I don’t know where to even begin understanding chit chat and all its many rules and complexities – or is it simplicities? One thing I do understand is the joy of cola :)

  7. qw88nb88 said,

    9 August 2006 at 21:46

    Jannalou said, “And then there are the times I don’t get – or don’t appear to get – jokes or sarcasm…”

    Thanks for mentioning that; it prompted me to remember some thoughts I had about humor…

  8. David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending) said,

    9 August 2006 at 17:48

    “Chit-chat is deadly!”

    And also bloody b-o-r-i-n-g!

  9. qw88nb88 said,

    9 August 2006 at 16:30

    Ms Clark,
    Meant to say earlier that you’re description of the “chit/chat/chit/chat thud” process is really funny!

    Reminds me of an old joke: What goes hippity-hoppity-thud? A rabbit having a heart attack!
    Guess that’s what happens when I “go after a wild hare” (go on a tangent).

    Pointy brackets are used in html coding, so they’re meant to become “invisible”. In situations like this, I resort to ::yawning::

    Blogroll is a listing of blogs, like the one I have here on the left. It’s modelled after roll call, not eggroll, spring roll or even sushi roll. (Dang, now I’m hungry!)

    A pingback is when you get a notification of some sort that someone is linking to one of your articles or blog postings. You even get a pingback if you put a hyperlink to one of your own (other) blog pages in a blog posting.

  10. lisajeancollins said,

    9 August 2006 at 15:16

    I added the word “yawn” inside of pointy brackets, but the blog fairies took it out. I wonder why. Then again, I’ve had to ask people lately “what is a blogroll” (any relation to eggroll?) and “what is a pingback?” My blog is still really visually…, monotonous?

  11. lisajeancollins said,

    9 August 2006 at 15:14

    Jannalou, ditto and ditto

    P.S. Ben joins the ranks of the ADHD crowd, just having received a dual diagnosis of PDD-NOS and ADHD today. He is “official” today.

  12. Jannalou said,

    9 August 2006 at 8:50

    I have this problem where I’ll tell a story and people will listen attentively… but they’re expecting a punch line and there isn’t one.


    (And then there are the times I don’t get – or don’t appear to get – jokes or sarcasm…)

    • Jonas said,

      31 January 2012 at 18:06

      I know what you mean. Even when biunyllg was acknowledged my son got in more trouble than the bully because he flipped out so spectacularly. Sometimes the teachers are cuing the children as well by punishing symptoms and expressing antagonism towards the child with autism. It’s very tough.

  13. qw88nb88 said,

    9 August 2006 at 8:47

    Indeed. This morning’s Cumulus humilis pose no hope of rain unless they organise into congestus clouds by mid-afternoon. Given the southwestern winds this is not likely. Which is a shame because my garden really need some rain or the Pentas and Solidago are not going to bloom well.

  14. autismvox said,

    9 August 2006 at 8:03

    I’ve been much more aware of my tendency toward chit-chat in the presence of Charlie. He can do without random verbalizings—I think it grates on his ears.

  15. lisajeancollins said,

    9 August 2006 at 6:58

    I can see this happening between an NT chit chatting about “nice weather” and an Aspie being a weather geek.

  16. Sharon said,

    9 August 2006 at 3:08

    I’ve just been to a wedding where I engaged in a little bit of chit-chat, but mostly it was people I know well enough to get stuck into proper conversation with. If it’s someone I don’t know so well, I can usually get them to talk about their children (if they have any) or their work to break the ice.
    I have to avoid my ‘specialist subjects’ too, though I don’t always succeed. I’m sure there are a few people around who heard more about autism and home-education last Saturday, than they really wanted!

    I like Ms Clark’s chit/chat/thud remark- very funny!

  17. Ms Clark said,

    9 August 2006 at 0:19

    It just doesn’t every get easy, does it. I still weird people out by saying the wrong thing maybe after a couple of successful volleys of chit/chat. Like chit/chat/chit/chat thud ……

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