by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.
Whether it is the Canadian vernacular or merely the absence of intelligence, casual conversation among locals is generally considered to be sorrowfully insipid. At the root of it may be nothing more than a lack of genuine concern for the well-being of others, though I am inclined to doubt the proposition since the indisputable feature of the masses is an appetite for gossip, the introduction to which must always be made to appear disinterested.
It has been said of polite conversation that it should be confined to a discussion of one’s health and the weather. Both curiosities regrettably invite little more than glib answers, none of which enlarge particularly meaningfully upon the subject at hand; viz., “Fine!” or “Yeah, hot as Hell!” The further difficulty with such dead-end precursors is that they seldom lead to the development of more expansive thinking or discussion. I mean, unless you’ve recently undergone surgery or you’re a farmer, the matters of health and weather are fairly finite. As a result the introductory comments inevitably bring the encounter to a screeching and uncomfortable end; that is, unless you are learned in the art of trite conversation.
To label such conversation as “trite” is of course an enormous disservice to what is actually an art form of the most sophisticated genre. The gathering of intelligence through this seemingly bland device is akin to refined hunting methodologies. The first tactic, for example, is the distraction of the prey. It is in this respect that featureless opening enquiries (so often mistakenly construed as the indicia of lack of capacity) are de rigueur. For some, wishy-washy explorations of global weather patterns are more than off-putting; but be aware of the treacherous and clever employment of such characterless initiatives. The hardened gossip or socialite will know how to capitalize upon what is perceived as the innocuous apparatus of the dilettante. Just as you are about to quit this retreat of friendship and brotherly love, out of nowhere follows a pointed request for information. Having been disarmed already by the unexciting preliminaries, you are perfectly incapable of avoiding the stunning velocity of the deeper investigation. What ensues is likely to be a candid revelation by you, totally unexpected and unanticipated. This engagement naturally heightens the level of discourse. Almost at once the trivialities of common language are displaced by the pressing elements of immediate social concern. The conversation is catapulted from colourless chitchat to incisive biography, frequently animated and flavoured by the most delicate observations. So much for the weather!
To sustain the momentum of casual conversation one must be certain to balance the need to know with the appearance of light-heartedness. One is after all not at the board table. It is at this juncture that the elevation of communication transpires; and it is here frankly that one must indeed display one’s colours. No longer is it acceptable to dwell in the murky depths of hackneyed dialogue. It is, however, quite tolerable to deliver a quip borrowed from a mentor or a celebrated author, in either case as a means of establishing a literary threshold, itself a gateway to more dynamic parlance. Whatever the technique, the key is to transform idle remarks into forceful scrutiny. The idiom of colloquial speech commands succinctness if for no other reason than that the circumstances do not usually admit to wandering subjunctive phraseology. You are after all likely standing on the street, perhaps even in the rain. But like ships passing in the night, the thrust of the encounter is no less significant and the brevity of it should not in the least diminish its noteworthiness. As such it is imperative to impart as deftly as possible at least a tit-bit of intelligence which may perhaps be currently beyond the domain of your auditor, for it is the novelty of information which more than anything strikes the chord of success. All the while one must preserve the exterior of breeziness, for it wouldn’t do at all to obstruct the inertia of productivity with overwhelming news. These exchanges are meant to be untailored and ephemeral, imparting little more than the hint of the perfume that is one’s spirit.