My ideal . . . party conversation

Sat, Dec 22, 2012, 00:00

I was in my bedroom the other day, charting the people I’m jealous of on a whiteboard. I had got to number three – young, good-looking men with confidence and warm, stylish clothes – when I became too furious to continue. I began instead to imagine my ideal conversation-starter at a party.

I’m led to believe you can’t go up to people and quiz them on their physical appearance. By all means admire a stranger’s shirt but you must not ask him what size it is and then playfully poke his tummy.

Knock yourself out complimenting a woman’s shoes. Take it from me, though, you’ll be accused of cultural insensitivity if you remark on how tiny her feet are and ask in a low voice, “Did your Amma bind them?”

Perhaps, instead, remark on some object you have seen in the house. “I noticed a lot of lubricant in the upstairs bathroom cabinet.” Bang! You’re straight into a discussion on who might use it most. Another classic way to get the chatball rolling is to ask how your new friend knows the host. Unfortunately, the answer is never interesting.

It used to be, in the olden days. “Can’t say I rightly know him, miss, but I do declare he’s the man who shot my Daddy stone dead. And presently, after I finish chowin’ down this here smoked salmon blini, I’m fixin’ to make things right for Momma and me . . . ” Then, taking off his hat, holding it over his heart and looking skyward, “And for you, Pa, and for you.”

But it’s Montenotte in 2012. I’m afraid you won’t get the thrill of potential violence. You’ll get this instead. “Oh, we both did commerce in UCC.” And that’s only the first step on a worn-out conversational road map. A map with stops along the way for “I was in Irish college with her, how funny” and “I’m sure he’s related to us – thinning brown hair, nervous tic?” A map that leads you both, mercilessly, to the exhausted destination that is “Small world”. You’ll be lost then, staring at the ground, taking big sips of your drink, wishing for a fire.

Take care how you break the ice, because you might fall through. And you don’t want to drown in the deep blue sea of conversation at a party.

Here is a life ring. It’s mine but I’ll share it with you. All you need to do is stand near one person and ask them where everybody else is. Like this: “Where did Fiona go?” “She went to the bathroom.” Follow that up immediately with an urgent “And Matthew?” “Ummm, he’s standing behind you.”

Keep going until you’ve discovered the whereabouts of everyone at the party. Begin the process again with the next person you meet. It’s a tedious exchange, yes, but if someone were to glance over at you, all they would see are two adults taking turns at talking. Comfortable. Normal. Above water. You’re welcome!

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