Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Talking to Boys 1

In all fairness, I should confess that I spent much of Sunday Lunch asleep in front of the fire. There were men all around, all talking non-stop, but I completely zoned out and before I knew it--zzzzz. This was due in part to the exceedingly comfortable bean-bag in which I was reposing. Meanwhile, the hostess is a very kindly and broadminded woman, so eventually she brought me a pillow, two more large bean-bags, a quilt and a glass of cherry brandy. My goodness, I have rarely been so happy. It was like being six and grown-up all at once. I drank the brandy in perfect earthly bliss and then--zzzzzz.

Now this is considered VERY BAD MANNERS in most social circles, and the reason why I got away with it is that, ripped from the tender bosom of my birth family, I have made my parish friends my marriage family, and if you can't fall asleep in front of the fire surrounded by your marriage family, what did we fight the war for, eh?

Meanwhile the men were having their usual conversations, which go like this:


"...and you can tell he is Catholic from the themes of the novel although not so clearly as in Vinland. Have you got a copy of Vinland?"

"I have a first edition of Vinland that I got from Armchair Books that day I saw Richard Holloway in the Grassmarket. It cost £7"

"With the dust jacket?"

"Of course--although it is a little frayed I'm afraid." (He adopts Dame Clara Butt voice.) "I'm afffrrrrraid it's frrrrrayed, dear boy. I'm afffrrrrraid it's frrrrrayed."

"Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha! We should sing."


"...and he reminded me of Martin McCorquedale. What a nightmare he was. RUAIRIDH!"

"Yes, what?"

"What was it that Martin said about whadeyecallim at Saint Salvador's?"

"Oh no. Don't tell them that story. What rubbish."

"It's no'. It's interestin'. Anywee, ah said to him, ah said 'If yer that bothered about attractin' wifies to the choir you should go down to Tollcross.' And Richard said to me, he said, 'Young man, this is the bishop of Brechin.' And ah said, 'Then ah suppose he'll be needin' a map.'"

"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"

"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"

"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"



"Drink up. We should sing."


"And I said, 'Look, old boy, I am in complete sympathy with you and Cordelia but the fact remains that your wife is the innocent party. And he said, 'But Woggle, isn't there anything you can do?' And I said, 'Well, look, I'll call up Roger and maybe we can sort something out between us." So I called Roger--I had a bl**dy time getting past his secretary, too, the old bat--and I said, "Roger, if it's a question of the maintenance, my client is willing to pay. And Roger said, "Woggle, old chap, I am in complete sympathy with your client, but my client simply doesn't want to be divorced.' And I said, "Well, bl**dy hell, Roger, whether she wants to be divorced or not, she's going to be divorced, and to be frank with you I am as happy as the next chap to tot up the hours, but my client is not made of money, and I feel for the poor b*stard--pardon my French, Seraphic. What the devil are you doing at the piano there, Aodh? Oh, you're going to sing. Jolly good."

Unfortunately the purveyors of Conversation D ("The Latest Thing I Bought On E-Bay") and Conversation E ("Women are Evil") are currently in England. This makes me very sad, especially as "Women are Evil" likes to collect evidence for his worldview by asking me my thoughts on such sin-stained topics as the early films of Roman Polanski. And thus sometimes someone actually wants me to speak.

Anyway, as you can see, trying to get men to talk is not really a problem that I have. This has made me a trifle LAZY about jollying along shy boys to flights of eloquence. However, when you have a shy boy at your elbow, it is very rude not to say anything, especially if he looks terribly nervous, as young men sometimes do around me, and no wonder.

So what do you do? Well, first you must determine if he is the sort of man who likes to talk or the sort of man who likes to listen to women witter. You can do this by asking the shy boy the following question,

"Are you the sort of man who likes to talk or the sort who likes to listen to women witter?"

The great thing about this question is that it actively seeks information, which is what I am told men use talking for and completely believed before I moved to Scotland. I think perhaps it might be true of American men. That reminds me, "witter" is a very local expression meaning, in American "gas on", or in Canadian "chat about their day."

The other great thing is that it will reveal whether or not the shy boy has a sense of humour--for if so, he will smile--or is even shyer than you imagined, for if so, he will look terrified. But most of the time, by saying something vaguely self-deprecatory, you will disarm him. And if he actually says, "I like to listen to women witter", you can say your version of: "Good! Because I need a guys-eye view on something. I was in the MALL with my FRIEND JANICE and we saw this SKIRT and I said 'I like that skirt' but JANICE said 'Only a HO would wear that skirt' and I said 'Excuse me, we say HO now?' Do you think the word 'ho' is okay?"

Shy Boy (thinks very hard): There are nicer words.

You: That's so true.(If he's cute and you can see yourself having coffee with him one day, touch his arm at the word 'true'.) Well, I tried on the skirt, and Janet said it's too short, but I said, 'Brevity is the soul of wit and skirts.' Do you like Shakespeare?

Shy Boy: Sometimes.

You: I wonder what Shakespeare would make of modern fashions. Anyway...

Now that I think about it, though, you need almost an insane level of confidence to ask men what they think of women, so if you don't have it, I recommend asking him some other open-ended question that he absolutely must have an opinion on. Pick the most recent scandal that nobody can get enough of. "What do you make of this fuss about Miley Cyrus?" was good for at least three weeks, and gave the questioned the opportunity to denounce either the fuss or Miley Cyrus, as he chose. Do not silently despise the man for not knowing what you are talking about. Instead, praise him at once: "You are lucky not to know! Are you a television fan or have you slung yours out the window?"

As discussed yesterday's combox, "So what do you do?" is not an ideal question in this terrible economy. Also, as mentioned, it can be answered in one word. Never try to get a conversation started with questions that can be answered with one word.

We moan about boring men, but as a matter of fact, no man or woman can be truly boring because each one is a little universe of memories, feelings and facts. The Blessed Trinity willed him or her into being, and the Second Person took on flesh just like his or hers (and more like his, let's face it) and actually died for him or her. If you were shipwrecked on an island with a boring-seeming man and flock of baby kittens, it would be your job to help the boring-seeming man, not the baby kittens, stay alive, and probably by cooking the baby kittens for him to eat. Incidentally, that would be an entertaining thought to have the next time you are trying to talk to a boring-seeming man. Instead of laughing, though, ask him what he would do if he were stranded on a desert island with a flock of baby kittens; would he eat them or what? If he asks what prompted this strange thought, make up something about the meat dish on offer or the kebab shop you passed on the way and how cows get less sympathy than baby seals.

I hope this is helpful. I will think up more suggestions for tomorrow. My final thought for today is that men's minds sometimes actually go blank when they have to talk to women. Actually blank, like mine when I have to speak Polish to a Polish stranger. So you must help them out, the way the nice Polish strangers help me out, and feel flattered, as do the kindly Poles, that they are trying to speak your language at all.


Nzie said...

Very entertaining post! I'm a pretty good conversationalist but sometimes I'm just kind of done for the day - like at a very large party. I find it exhausting. So I go find some quiet spot for a while, or go dance where I can take people a few at a time and just enjoy moving to music.

I will say, however, that there are some men who are just rude or dismissive. There's a fellow in my year in law school, and we both showed up on time to a big party hosted a few days before classes start, but on time really meant "early" in the practical sense. So a few of us chatted a bit, and I tried to make small talk. Admittedly because I am short and he's tall and the music was loud, it was not the easiest way to converse, but at a certain point he just stopped talking to me. He didn't leave, excuse himself, etc. He actually just stopped. And I don't think he's said anything to me in the intervening 2 years. He also did this to my roommate later that year I think.

I'm always amazed to see him in group photos on Facebook... but it does show that it was rudeness to me and my roommate, because he clearly can talk to people.

Seraphic said...

In situations where it is difficult to talk--loud music or loud conversation or you're standing and he's too tall or whatever--just don't talk. I hereby liberate you all from talking when it is too noisy. You can sit or stand listening to the music, bobbing your head to the beat.

Seraphic said...

Oh, and I forget to add--sometimes people are a bit deaf. I think I am a bit deaf. Sometimes I have to fake my way through conversations with soft-voiced people, especially if they are driving and I am in the back, and when there is a lot of background noise.

Seraphic said...

In short, it's always better to assume the best than the worst when it comes to men and talking unless they are SAYING rude stuff. Man simply clamming up is a mystery, and the best possible hypothesis for all mysteries involving inexplicable male silence is, "Poor chap, he is so terribly in love with me but he can never be with me because of something I would think hideous if I knew, so thank goodness I don't, and this is why he isn't speaking to me. Poor chap. What good taste in women, though, eh?"

Sheila said...

"Gas on," an Americanism? I thought it must be a Britishism, because I've seen it in books but never heard it used in person. My favorite synonyms are "yammer," "natter," "gab," "yap," and, where applicable, "twitter." Usually yammer though.

I had a roommate whose idea of "drawing out strange men at parties" was the interview technique: "So what do you do? And how do you like it? And where did you go to college? How was it? What as your major?" Yawn, yawn, and the poor fellow would answer in monosyllables.

Your idea of mentioning the Question of the Day / Current Events is a good one. Weather is another, often derided, but there are plenty of interesting and original things to say about the weather. For instance, "You know, people complain about the rain, but I think it's just a perfect setting for a fireside cup of hot chocolate." Or, "This hot weather is really something, I'm tempted to believe in global warming after all." (This leaves room for both believers and skeptics to give their opinion without considering you The Enemy.)

Another good one is recent movies that have come out, elections, anything that pretty much everyone is likely to know about. Most men I have met have an opinion about pretty much anything, within minutes of having heard of it for the first time, so any controversy is a good bet provided you show that you aren't going to be awful to them about it.

Though mostly I just yammer on and wait for the man to interrupt me. It rarely takes long.

Nzie said...

I just don't think that's the case here, and I nearly always assume the best. I think we had met briefly before, and he ignored me and then talked over me to other people. He didn't even return acknowledgment in the hallway (I usually smile or nod at acquaintances) after that. It was basically like he decided he wasn't interested in knowing me and that was that.

I agree with your counterpoints in theory, but as applied in this instance I don't think they hold. Even the best conversationalist can't do anything if someone won't answer.

Seraphic said...

Well, that's true. In which case, wander away and don't waste the pretty.

But my question now is, "Why do you remember this guy at all?" I mean, out of all the conversations with guys you remember, why this crashing failure/insult? I am absolutely sure guys have been bloody rude to me; in fact, now that I am thinking about it, I remember this nasty remark from a young male religious in 2005. But that memory does not help me get along with men, whereas the memory of the Bangladeshi Chef Who Tried to Chat Me Up on the Bus (have i mentioned...) makes me smile upon the whole local male half of human race.

This is a serious, therapeutic question, by the way, not that I am a professional shrink. (Just an M.Div.)

Nzie said...

In answer: 1. the subject matter reminded me of it; 2. I still see this person not infrequently; 3. Because we had all of two brief conversations, all I have to associate with him are that he's from a state near mine and that he doesn't talk to me; 4. my school has a well-deserved reputation for being very collegial, friendly, and welcoming, so even this small slight sticks out as abnormal (it is pretty amazing how lovely an atmosphere it is actually).

Part of what I've enjoyed of having more female friends is that I've learned things I thought must have been me or "my fault" were just oddities or the other person. As a teenager I'd have been crushed; as a college girl I'd probably have obsessed over it. At 25, I shrugged it off, went to another room, someone said hello and we started talking. I thought it might be good to tell the story just in case anyone, like I would have at 18, decided they'd messed up because they hadn't gotten the conversation going with a boy. :-)

Seraphic said...

Oh I see. Well, you are quite right. Young women do have a tendency to blame themselves men's bad or strange behaviour.

hard questions said...

Seraphic, you mentioned the other day that you briefly asked your husband about whether or not he viewed internet "..."

Can you say a tiny bit more about when and how to have a conversation about this(before/after engagement) and if you think it is necessary if you don't suspect the man. How does one ask without seeming accusatory? And if he says "yes," what must be done.

Apparently this sin is ruining marriages left and right.

Lauren said...

I definitely used the Miley Cyrus one recently.

Seraphic said...

Re: horrible questions. We started talking marriage so fast, we just sort of sat there firing the right sort of questions at each other. I don't remember exactly, but I am sure it was very funny. And it was before we got engaged. So it was in between "I love you" and "I wanna marry you."

I didn't suspect him at all, really. He was on a total Catholic Convert High. I just asked because I figured that's one of the questions my Marriage Tribunal friend would ask me when I mentioned I went on holiday and fell in love. And five years later, I haven't seen the shadow of a ghost of anything dodgy on our computers. And I don't think that's the kind of thing you could hide from your wife for this long.

Anamaria said...

Could you do a "how to talk to women you don't have much in common with" post? Maybe I'm the only one who needs this, but I find it hard to talk with women when there isn't much superficial in common and "Oh, that's a cute shirt!" has been used up.

Re: horrible questions: I found this stuff out from my husband when we were serious but not yet in engaged, too, but I didn't ask him directly since I didn't suspect him and I felt uncomfortable with that. I brought it up like, "I read this study, blah blah blah, isn't that terrible?" And he went on and on about how gross it is that so many guys look at that stuff, he's never looked at it on purpose and has left when other people have in his presence, etc, etc.

It seems the direct approach is good, too, if you are in a goofy "what should we know about each other before we get married convo," but if you're not, the indirect approach could work.

Julia said...

Australians say "waffle on", "carry on" or "cr*p on". I wouldn't recommend that last one though.

I really want to hear (I think I really want to hear) "What I Bought on eBay" and "Women are Evil".

Seraphic said...

Well, both those conversations involve so much variety that they are much harder to lampoon. Besides, those are my favourite conversations, and I don't want them to dry up, as they will as their purveyors get mad at me.

Conversation C, however, is so easy to parody, that B.A. thought I had reported Sunday's exact conversation word for word, and was the eensiest bit cross. I had to convince him this version is entirely fictional, which it is.

Urszula said...

I loved this post! So helpful, and I really like the conversation example you provided.

What I've found extremely useful are tips for introverts on how to hold conversations. I've been on a kick recently 'discovering' the overlooked benefits of being an introvert and one of those apparently is being able to sustain interesting, in-depth conversations. If you go into a social setting knowing you are capable of and indeed good at having substantive conversations, it's much easier to be confident.

The key here is I think knowing your limits and playing to your strengths. An introvert may not be as stellar starring in a crowd or flitting from person to person and drawing them out, but if they concentrate on a few people and actually listen to what they are saying - success is guaranteed.

Asking questions is good too as long as you don't make it sound like an interview. But if you say things like "I've always wondered whether the stereotype of the lonely genius computer programmer is true. what do you think?" you're much more likely to get someone to catch your bait.

Also, this might not work for everyone, but a bit of self-deprecation has never hurt me. Starting a sentence with "This may sound really awkward, but [identify cause of awkwardness, such as not remembering interlocutor's name]..." usually makes an awkward situation much less awkward.