Small talk isn't about gathering facts. It's about getting the ruddy job done

The "job" being nine arduous minutes left with a joy-vacuum uncle at a barbecue

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The Independent Online

Whenever someone announces they detest small talk, invariably I think, "Oh bloody grow up", but of course I don't say that because small talk is indeed a delicate pirouette of semi-untruths and amicable nods. I might say, "Gosh, do you mean all small talk? Why is that do you think?"– while holding my head at a coy, yet fascinated angle. Because the art of making small talk – which I see dying a grim death in the age of Twitter and Instagram – revolves a lot around posing questions that one doesn't care if they are answered properly or not. Small talk isn't about gathering facts. It's about getting the ruddy job done.

The "job" being nine arduous minutes left with a joy-vacuum uncle at a neighbour's barbecue. Or that corporate drinks soiree filled with shiny foreheaded strangers quaffing tepid sauvignon blanc, which one was forced to attend on pain of a P45. Or that excruciating wedding where the gap between ring exchange and guests getting their chicken wrapped in prosciutto feels longer than Jesus's jaunt in the wilderness.

Because isn't the bride beautiful? And how far did you drive to get here? And do you think those are gerberas or hydrangeas? And will you drive back tomorrow or "make a weekend of things" by visiting the owl sanctuary which I hear has an eagle owl named Cedric? See? I'm talking small at you right now! And isn't the time passing more quickly? When I come to power, all school pupils will be armed with seven innocuous small-talky nuggets to say at weddings. These will be priceless social gems to be deployed in the grim eventuality that the 4G network goes down and the person is forced to stop posting selfies of themselves doing a tortured mallard expression on Instagram, with the caption "THIS happened #joolz&petesbigday".

It's worth noting that the modern bride tends to supply a hashtag for her wedding once she realises that her guests' small-talk skills are negligible and they will need distractions while she indulges in that other very modern wedding phenomenon: abandoning everyone for two hours post-church while she and the groom fanny about in a shrubbery, assiduously recreating Patrick Demarchelier's latest Vera Wang shoot.

Of course, the fact that many folk are now hiding behind their phones at cocktail parties and christenings – instead of making nice and chatting – can be somewhat of a blessing. Perhaps it's just the berks I bump into, but social media seems to make whole swathes of the human race mistake small talk for "exclaiming edited highlights of my Twitter feed to promote Brand Me #me #legend".

Gosh, years of never-ending affirmation via Facebook "likes" and Instagram red hearts and retweets has failed to do any favours to several people in the real world. I was stuck for 20 minutes in a hotel lobby with one such only last week. "Small talk" for people of this ilk means one human being – ie, me – standing quietly, cowed, pulling an emoji "flat-line mouth smiley" face, while another peppers the air with corporate brands they're "thrilled to be working with", clangy celeb names they were just direct-messaged by, parties they've "promised the PR they might swing by later", plus an inevitable moment when I am dragged into a selfie – angled so that they look skinny and I look like a sweaty malformed thumb.

"We should get together and catch up! I need to hear YOUR NEWS!" the person tends to shout breathlessly as they amble off. "But we were together, just then, catching up!" I want to say. "But you are so self-absorbed I could have actually set light to my fringe during that meeting, probably somewhere between the part where you explained that you're so in demand that an intern now runs your social media, and the bit where you heavily implied that you're best friends with Grimmy."

In the future it will be perfectly acceptable at drinks parties – when approached by one of these roaming self-promotion cyborgs – to simply tap the side of their face and say, "Unsubscribe". Or perhaps we'll start fitting ourselves with anti-spam devices before entering social situations, so that the braggarts can't approach us at all. What bliss!

Then all the happy small-talkers can move to one area of the after-christening buffet and exchange innocuous plesantries about the lusciousness of the wallpaper and the miraculous quietness of the traffic on the Hanger Lane gyratory, leaving the egos to roam about somewhere else, bang into each other, announce their last pay rise, and insinuate that they might be holidaying soon with Salman Rushdie.

There is a place in this world for meaningless platitudes and the gentle hubbub of verbal nothingness, and I shall fight for it. Come, join me – I'll meet you by the bar. I hear the weather is going to pick up this weekend. There's a risk of downpours come Monday, but the rain will be ever so good for the gerberas.

@gracedent

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