The artistry of small talk

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wing. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred – Ernest Hemingway

It felt like an overwhelmed young butterfly in a field of ripe, fragrant and sweet flowers. Uncertain where to fly to first, where to land first and where to dip in my innocent butterfly mouth into.

Small talk is not a craft I have a natural talent for. I am all talk with friends and family, though when I find myself in a new environment with new people, I jam. Lacking confidence, I tend to carry myself awkwardly, clumsily through social events and conversations, where I often remain quiet or mumble something incomprehensible that’s completely off topic. I am sure everyone has their moments of self-doubt and what I’m describing here is anything but new. It, however, was a recent issue I had to overcome, which I thought I had conquered years back.

Hospitality is an area where you constantly work and interact with people. There’s no escaping it unless you opt to dedicate yourself to a life of repetitive napkin folding (which I reckon isn’t too bad; it’s quite relaxing). Yet, either as a waitress, food runner or bartender, I had no choice but to engage in conversation once every 5 minutes; it completely unbalanced me. Even though I’ve been working in hospitality for almost 9 years now, this job required me to socialize more than I ever had to.

With a queer fondness, I think back on when I was just a small, hyperactive kid who one day got struck by the realisation of self-consciousness. I similarly remember the day and the actual situation when I felt shame for the first time, and I’m sure most people do. Anyway, I went from a constantly talking child to a nervously shy one, where I would turn purple any time someone talked to me. On many occasions, I even fled the site of confrontation. After a few years of social anxiety and loneliness, I decided this was not a living and I planned to throw myself into it all in order to gain friends. It worked, despite the occasional failure. I taught myself how to talk, even though it didn’t come naturally. Eventually, it was easy.

Coming into a new environment like I did last year with no one around me I knew well (besides my partner), made me recall those shy days and how I went through a lot of effort to conquer it. And even though it’s not great still, I did put myself out there. The most amazing thing I realised later, is that people generally don’t really care if you act in a reserved way or sometimes laugh awkwardly or remain quiet when you ought to have said something. Besides the fact that most people roughly remember 90% of what they said themselves in the social interaction, they also recognize their own social insecurities and look past them. In the end, everyone’s self-conscious in one way or another.

In addition, it’s beautiful when people do open up to you. I find it impressive and exciting when someone tells you their story. On how they travelled to Australia from Ireland after meeting her Dutch husband. How they’re happy to finally have the weekend so they can celebrate their 2 year anniversary with some champagne. In the end, it’s worth the effort to try to make small talk, for it can be so rewarding getting to know random strangers and making new friends.

The Elephant​ in the Room

Just now I watched the winner of short films, Rat Race by Steve Cutts. The rats, who are obviously symbolizing humans, go through a stressful city life where they’re looking for happiness, whilst continuously being crushed by masses of bodies and intrusive advertisements. It is clear from the moment you start watching the film, it is going to be about how every individual in the current society searches for happiness. The rat that is being followed in particular is trying to find happiness in all sorts of ways, such as purchasing expensive cars, drinking and taking medication. All fails, when he’s being trapped trying to catch a 100 dollar bill; doomed to an unhappy nine-to-five job.

A few days before, I watched a program on television where several famous folk gave their unsalted opinion on social media and its current ‘negative effects’. “Social media is disconnecting us from our true friends; we feel lonelier than ever,” said one artistic looking man who’s a singer-songwriter. “Depression and negative self-views are more common than before,” said another one. “Society is failing to make us happy,” is what they were trying to say.

Both examples are a way of criticizing society. Social media is dividing us. Education is not preparing us for ‘the real world’. How often do we hear similar phrases. It’s not something new, yet it keeps being said without any noticeable changes or probable solutions to the issue at hand.

If I’ve learned anything from art in high school is that everything needs an opposing view. Picasso, who in his younger years painted very naturalistically, later in life opposed to the realistic style of the Renaissance by creating the cubism movement. In addition, realism was a reaction to the extravagant style of romanticism. Similarly, it is necessary that there are people speaking against the current society, social media and education as a form of counter-balance.

However, the arguments are starting the become repetitive and hollow. Spreading negativity about the way we’re living is not going to increase our happiness (if there’s unhappiness at all). As a psychology graduate, I am aware of the large numbers of depression in the world, and although I am very much encouraging the increased awareness of this illness, I feel there can be too much of an emphasis on unhappiness.

There is a need for positivity, contentedness and gratefulness. The world is not all sorrow, hostility and conflict. You’d be surprised how happy you can be (or already are) by having the right mindset. By being content with your day to day activities and accomplishments. If I’ve had a tough day, I always try to make a list in my head where I write down at least 10 things that happened that day I feel happy or grateful for. After a while, it becomes a habit and helps you perceive the world in a much sunnier light.

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions – Dalai Lama

When you stop thinking about yourself as an uninfluential gear in a massive factory, but instead believe you have control over your own life and when you try new, exciting things to look forward to and enjoy, you can make yourself find happiness quite easily. Go out into the world, explore, wonder, learn. Emerge yourself into a new culture, lose yourself into a book or a delicious dish. Allow yourself to fail sometimes, though let it not bring you down. Try again. In the end, you will find that there’s so much more to offer in the world that you won’t find any time for negativity and unhappiness.

A report on Australian hospitality

The Islanders are renown for their unconditional friendliness and genuine warmth, and I can vouch for that. Throughout my stay in Australia, I feel like their constant hospitality utterly astonished me. Besides the odd grumpy one, they have such a developed sense of empathy and an understanding of how the human mind likes to be treated.

Hospitality is the immediate environment where it can be noticed. ‘Instant gratification’ -the need for humans to feel acknowledged and praised-  is common sense in the world of beer pouring and cocktail making. An instant smile appears when I tell them that Hendriks Gin is also my favourite gin for a GT. I am still amazed by the laid-back way a bartender can ask ‘how their day’s going’ and how the lazily leaning-on-the-counter Australian would reply with a genuine report on their day’s activities. “Oh you know, I just finished a tough workday, got some bad news from my auntie in New Zealand, she might need to be hospitalized, – yes, the Panhead XPA would be great, thanks- but yeah, everything’s fine, just having an easy afternoon with my family-in-law. How’s your day going?”

In my head, I keep comparing to what I’ve been used to in my almost 9 years of experience in hospitality in the Netherlands. Hardly any words are exchanged in the transaction of a Dutch individual requesting a Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier at any bar and if I even have the nerves to ask them how their day’s been, I’d receive the bluntest reply possible. Not that I’m here to rain down on Dutch mannerisms, though there is something to learn from this massive difference in culture. Although I have to admit it was rather hard for me to get to understand their small talk, it now feels as if I’m building an emotional bond with every customer who lands at my bar for an Afternoon Delight. I absolutely love it.

There’s something to say for both parties. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood to discuss your reason to decide to drink a double bourbon-coke at 11am. Nevertheless, these brief conversations offer someone a brief peek into their personal life, which gives the general Australian a feel of vulnerability and neighbourliness.  Even if I tried really hard, I couldn’t find a way to not love this country and its inhabitants.

The man on the bus

A lovely sunny morning had made way for an ominously cloudy afternoon, and so I took the bus to work. While the drizzle softly ticked against the windows and streetlights flashed by like fireflies in the night, I noticed a man sitting in the corner. Now, since a bus is a public form of transport and since the evening was not so far advanced that everyone had retreated to their bedrooms, it was not particularly unusual to see a man on the bus. Neither was the fact that this man had his head rested against a yellow pole, snoring peacefully yet noticeably. To be fair, I reckon everyone’s had had their share of bus napping.

However, what caught my eye most was the way he was dressed. He was a man of advanced age; silvery streaks through his dark brown hair, prominent eyebrows (and a prominent under chin, I have to add) and a large belly, where his hands rested on. Yet while this man slept harmoniously, I observed that he was wearing a beautifully coloured jumper, which could’ve been handmade. Horizontal stripes in a vague orange, pink and blue, made me think of the type of jumper the Weasley’s would wear. I expected to see a wand tucked in the back of his trousers at any moment. In the same style, a woollen scarf, casually draped around his neck and shoulder and on his head, a tweed flat hat like the ones from Peaky Blinders. I absolutely loved his appearance. He was the perfect fusion of a slightly more sophisticated George R R Martin, Ron Weasley and a golden retriever.

I suppose he caught me examining him when the bus suddenly stopped and the man roughly awoke from his fine dreams, looked around startled and caught my eye. An awkward moment followed where he clearly felt embarrassed,  even after I’d smiled at him.  And in the gloom of the afternoon, he shuffeled out of the bus, adjusting his hat firmly to his head and taking his cool jumper with him.

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