​What to Talk About

What to Talk About

We’ve all been at a loss as to what to say to another human at some juncture. Say, at a cocktail party as we silently, desperately will the floor beneath us to open and swallow us whole to spare us the agony of idle chitchat. At the grocery store as we stand, stranded, ahead of the kind-looking older gentleman in line behind us. With the hip barista chick who makes our latte each morning. And all manner of other situationsf. Feel awkward in those situations? Yeah, us too. These exchanges are what authors Chris Colin and Rob Baedeker​ refer to as drive-by conversations, and, bless them, they want to help us perfect the art of the passing exchange. They do just that with their book What to Talk About: On a Plane, At a Cocktail Party, In a Tiny Elevator with Your Boss’s Boss. Well, sorta. Is the purpose behind this primer well-intentioned? Undoubtedly. Is the advice offered in the book a blueprint for navigating conversations with grace and ease? Uuuuuuh, questionably. Perhaps you ought to peruse the everyday scenarios—and what the authors say in terms of drumming up conversations—and draw your own conclusions. If nothing else, at least the book capably reminds us that it’s not the end of the world if we attempt—and fail at—a little humorous banter.—Renee Schettler Rossi

Every day we intersect with strangers and semi-strangers for minutes or even seconds at a time. Bagel guy. Bank teller. Tollbooth girl. Bank teller again (left your bagel there).

If you’re like most people, you probably sleepwalk though these glancing exchanges, saving yourself for “real” conversations. But guess what? These are real conversations; this is your real life.

There are simply no words to describe how important talking has been since the beginning of time. Given this, you might think there was nothing left to say, but there is. And invariably, someone is waiting for you to say it.

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What to talk about with the vegan grocery checker
What’s the angriest or happiest you’ve ever seen anyone while paying for their groceries?
What’s the ratio of people who make eye contact versus those who won’t look at you?
What’s the most coveted job in the store (uh, besides checker)?
What’s the process for getting to play with the sprayer in produce?
Do you ever count how much cash passes through your hands in a single day?
When fantasies of stealing that cash pop into your head, what movie star do you imagine running away with?
How do you wash a conveyor belt?
Did you have any dreams last night?
Are all humans liars?

What to talk about with the butcher
What’s “tri tip”?
How is a meat saw different than a regular saw for sawing flesh?
What’s the strangest request you’ve ever had?
How often do you Google meat-related stuff?
How come no one’s made cows lift weights? Bigger steaks!
When you watch horror movies, do you ever think, I could do that better?
What meat is best for double entendres—beef, pork, or bone-in chicken breasts?

Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Chris Colin and Rob Baedeker

About Chris Colin and Rob Baedeker

Chris Colin is an author and journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Wired, and McSweeney's Quarterly. He lives in San Francisco, CA. Rob Baedeker is a writer, performer, and co-founder of the Kasper Hauser comedy group. He lives in Oakland, CA. What to Talk About is their first book together.

  1. Susan says:

    Cocktail parties are the worst! Strangers there all know the host so if your chatter isn’t somewhat interesting, your host might get an earful about you! Eeek!

    Situations where the chat is with someone who is doing something for you, say the butcher, as mentioned, or a barber or hairdresser can be uncomfortable. It’s not quite a drive-by exchange so the chit chat can go on longer than either of you might like…and they can take it out on you! Dread that!

    Don’t even get me started on children’s sporting events or playground chatter with the parents of kids you may not find as darling as their parents do! Hard to make enthused chatter if it’s the brat’s parent! Those were/are my most feared!

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