woman socializing

Small talk

I can not say whether it is my advancing years or my insufficiently powerful vocal cords, but I do not seem to enjoy making small talk anymore.

In fact, even the thought of starting a meaningless conversation fills me with sheer dread because most of the folks I converse with make me repeat my sentences by uttering “sorry, what?”

This phrase is actually a request from the listener to the speaker to, sort of, reprise whatever was said. Now, occasionally such entreaties are easy to grant, but if the people you interact with on a daily basis find you too soft-spoken to be understood when you, well, speak to them, then one starts disliking the entire exercise.

The result is that rather than raise your voice to a pitch that might potentially impair your own hearing, one considers it a better option to keep shut and hold one’s peace, so to speak.

However, too much of peaceful non-chatter means minimum social interaction. This can lead to an early death, according to a new study from the US, which suggests that social relationships should be considered an important aspect for extending lifespan and on par with other health and lifestyle factors.

The study stresses that low social interaction harms longevity as much as alcoholism and smoking. It also has more impact than lack of exercise, and is twice as harmful as obesity.

Right! So, having a network of good friends is more critical for helping the elderly live longer, scientists say. Another 10-year study of nearly 1,500 people in the US found that those with the most friends lived the longest. But they have to be real friends, mind you, not the ones on social networking sites, like Facebook or followers on Twitter.

Isolation is known to shorten lives – but experts are not sure if the real culprit was the pain and stress of loneliness, or a lack of social connectedness. Surprisingly, after the two factors were unentangled, it was discovered that even random interaction with other people might improve our health – can you believe it?

Even though making superficial contact is easier said than done, extending one’s lifespan is everyone’s birthright, one has to agree. Therefore, I decided to come out of my self-imposed non-chattering exile and make an attempt at small talk.

Next morning, while strolling in the park adjacent to our house, I came across a wonderful sight. A grandmother was spending time with her grandchild. Here is your chance, said the voice in my head, so I rushed up to the strangers to initiate a conversation before I could change my mind.

“What a beautiful baby,” I told the grey haired lady who was pushing the pram.

“Sorry, what?” she stopped instantly to face me.

I took a deep breath before trying again.

“Your grandchild is beautiful. Seu neto e muito lindo,” I repeated loudly in my freshly learned Portuguese.

“That’s my son, not grandson,” the lady snapped at me.

My smile froze on my lips as I attempted to make hasty amends.

“Sorry, what?” I exclaimed automatically in confusion.

Esse é meu filho, não meu neto,” she enunciated slowly as if speaking to a hearing impaired person.

“Forgive me, your son, sim, that’s what I meant, seu filho,” I muttered to her retreating back as all my efforts at achieving longevity were dashed immediately.

By Nickunj Malik
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Nickunj Malik’s journalistic career began when she walked into the office of Khaleej Times newspaper in Dubai thirty-one years ago and got the job. Since then, her articles have appeared in various newspapers all over the world. She now resides in Portugal and is married to a banker who loves numbers more than words.