How to Conversate

by Joel Habush

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Ever find yourself with people you don’t know and who are sitting, standing, or sky diving right next to you? There is usually an extremely awkward silence that you would give anything to break. This happens a lot in everyday, ordinary situations, like the following:

Situation 1. You’re in a Turkish bath, in Turkey, and you perceive through the clouds of steam, what seems to be a disembodied head sporting a fez. Since you’re fluent in Turkish, you could start a conversation, but what to talk about? What to talk about?

Solution 1. Ask him where he got the fez and how much it cost. He’ll tell you where, and if it was on sale, and which fez stores to avoid. He might even say, “Wait, I’ve got a Groupon.” So you’re off to the races and will get along swimmingly, or in this case, sweatingly. Okay that one might have been a little out of the ordinary, but the principle remains. Remember people aren’t all that interested in you, their favorite subject is themselves.

Situation 2. You’re a single young guy at the laundromat; you’re two machines down from an attractive equally young woman, and you both have staring blankly at your respective clothes tumbling around—her unmentionables and your unsepeakables.

Solution 2. Search for a commanality—any one will do. “Hey look, we’re both on the spin cycle. That’s fitting for you. Obviously you’re in a spin class. You work out, right?

Situation 3. You’re standing in an interminable line anywhere— the DMV, the Post Office, or the supermarket at the wildly mislabled “Express Lane.” Solution 3. You turn to the person behind you, and you say to him, “Oh, great, now she’s writing a check—from scratch.” (Tip—First, make sure the person behind you isn’t also clutching a checkbook.)

Situation 4. You’ve just moved into suburban cul-du-sac country and don’t know any of your neighbors, except the couple whose 1/3rd acre homestead is next to your new casa, and who are the folks who invited you to this regular Saturday Night “Hi Neighbor” party. They suddenly take off, leaving you a stranger in a strange land, because they just got a phone call from their new baby sitter informing them that she’s quitting because she’s allergic to kids who have been spoiled rotten.

Solution 4 Easy Peasy. Here all you have to do is selectively drop a few phrases that are pure gold . You don’t even have to put them in a sentence. When there’s a lull (trust me, there will be plenty of them—that’s why the bar is open) just lean in and say, “crab grass.” And off they go. Next time you think it might be your turn, just say “sump pump.” You may not know where yours is located or even if you have one—it matters not—somebody already has taken the ball and is doing some fancy open field running with it.

Now, here’s a final tip for you.

You can’t go wrong with the old standby, “What’s your sign?”

When the other person responds with “Aquarius,” or “Leo,” or some such, and then they follow up with “What’s yours?” you answer smartly with, “Atlas,” and a fascinating conversation begins.

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