Last week I had an epiphany. For real. Like a life changing revelation.
I was reading Badgers with Knives (a blog written by an Expat living in Liverpool) for the first time. She linked in her post to a post on another blog. That linked post was the source of my epiphany.
It seems ridiculous, but this post really opened my eyes to a problem that I'd never fully understood. I think it's going to change my life. Go read it now.
Did you read it? Is your mind blown?
Small talk is not the same in every country! It's very different in the US and the UK!
What?!?! Why didn't anyone ever tell me this? I'm a friendly, cheerful, chatty person with good social skills. I even have a masters degree in Counseling. That means I know how to listen and communicate with people.
Confession time: I haven't made any friends in the UK.
I've lived here for a year and three quarters. It doesn't help that I work with Ross in our business, so I don't really have an "in" to meet people. I've tried a couple of times to initiate small talk when out and about, but it's never quite worked. People (everywhere, not just here) are set in their routines and it takes a bit of doing to get them to veer from their normal course.
I'd heard that being pregnant/having a baby would be a great entrée into the sisterhood of women. I figured that had to be true. I've been attending a weekly aqua aerobics class. There are usually 20 or so women, all at different stages of pregnancy. I thought, "Awesome! Built-in things in common. Pregnant women love to talk about being pregnant... and stuff... right?"
I arrived early for the my first class, awkwardly standing around, not knowing where to go or what I was supposed to do. I stood around waiting for the midwife to arrive and offer me some guidance. Eventually the midwife showed up and had me fill in a sheet with my info and we stood waiting for other women to arrive. The women were all perfectly pleasant, but in a distant abstract way.
There's a period of time during our workout where we pair up and there's opportunity to chat. I've had the same conversation with each partner every week. "When are you due?" "Is this your first?" "Boy or girl?" "Where are you giving birth?" No names. No personal info of any kind.
I thought maybe after-swim chat would be where it was at. (Unintentional rhyme!) In every (American) group class or meeting I've ever been to/participated in/heard of there has been a period of lingering and chit chat after the fact. You know what I'm talking about. You leave a meeting and you linger in the parking lot talking about your upcoming week. You grab a coffee and talk about what you do for work. Something...
Every week, I've gotten out to the pool and headed to the changing rooms and immediately lost sight of every single woman. I don't know how it happens! There must be some sort of magic or David Copperfield illusion involved to make this feat physically possible. The place is semi-maze-like, but still. Not a single pregnant woman to be found!
So every week I change clothes and head out to the parking lot, slightly dejected. But now! Now! I know what part of the problem has been. It's me! Well sort of. My expectations of small talk. I keep expecting it to go somewhere. To follow the familiar patterns that I'm so used to. When it doesn't, I feel wrong-footed and awkward.
Since reading this article I have attended aqua aerobics once and prenatal yoga for the first time. Both times, I was able to feel new confidence and freedom in my epiphany. I changed my expectations and relaxed. I still haven't made any friends, but hey... at least I didn't feel awkward the whole time. I'm just accepting it for what it is.
By the way, wondering why Ross had never explained this cultural difference to me I read the article to him. He had the following reaction: "Huh. Yeah I guess that's probably true. It explains why I've never been good at small talk either. I'd rather have a conversation that matters."
British cultural liaison fail!
Have you ever found out a simple piece of information that totally blew your mind?