Thursday, November 24, 2011

Small Talk

The holiday season is upon us. But along with the tree in Rockefeller Center and the window displays in Fifth Avenue department stores, New York will become home to a number of small talk conventions. Small talk with its famed expressions like “we’re on the same page,” “it’s a plan” and the ne plus ultra of meaningless drivel, “I can’t complain,” is bad enough in English. But it reaches a pinnacle of mediocrity when two people who don’t share the same mother tongue engage in it. For example one of the city’s most popular small talk conventions recently occurred on a downtown 103 Third Avenue bus. Two of the registrants, an indigenous male American and a woman from an unidentified Spanish speaking country, who only spoke broken English, were attempting to exchange opinions on the foods they liked. The conversation had actually been smooth sailing, until the Spanish speaking woman developed a querulous look of panic when the American introduced the word “pilaf.” “You know pilaf,” the American explained. When the woman continued to shake her head, he finally relented from his insistence on the importance of the word and said “it’s like yellow rice.” The young Spanish woman’s face lit up with recognition. Indeed yellow rice was something she knew and liked and it was as if she had run into a high school friend from Barcelona who spoke Polish while touring a Crakow neighborhood whose unparsable billboards and street signs were creating feelings of alienation.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.