Established 1826 — Oldest College Newspaper West of the Alleghenies

A neglected skill: Encouraging the art of small talk on college campuses

By Graham von Carlowitz, For The Miami Student

Before I enter the kinds of conversations I expect will exceed more than just a few fake laughs - let's say two minutes' worth - I tell myself I need a few go-to comments or jokes to sustain the interaction.

In my conversational back pocket, I'll have handy thoughts like, "Isn't it funny how we say kneecap and not kneehat?" or an even more childish thought such as, "I like blowing my nose when someone is rambling so I don't hear them, don't you?"

If the discussion insists that I sound a little more intelligent, I revert to my well-rehearsed facts that often involve coffee. "Did you know that coffee beans are the bean babies of small coffee berries?" or "I get really energetic after seven cups of coffee, is that weird?" and my personal favorite, "The little saucers that hold coffee cups used to function as a means to drink cooled coffee, they aren't useless after all."

Okay, so some of the facts tend to border oddball comments, but they're better than nothing at all. Really, imagine engaging in a talk expected to run around 10 minutes with neither party willing to offer interesting tidbits. Personally, I'd start commenting on something like shoes.

"The soles of ours shoes tend to have intricate designs, yet we never see them. What's the point?"

And pretty soon, I'll have exhausted discussing the anatomy of the shoe. So, where do I go from there?

One way I've learned to steer simple talk is to point to facts learned in school. So, for those of us still roaming the halls of academic buildings (that might be used for hide-and-seek, if not for studies), one subject has been so strongly ignored, it falls in line with the neglected history of the bicycle - or the wheel - for that matter.

This subject could save the lives of countless, suffering talks, and learning material is literally at the doorstep of some Americans. Do I speak of railings? No. Who would discuss those? What about mailboxes? Again, I'm trying to revive conversations, not suffocate them.

The subject that need be explored, especially on college campuses (where, mind you, seminars on jogging are offered), is none other than the history of Canada! Eh?

Someone once asked me what the most interesting thing I heard all day was. Yes, only once was this asked, and it just so happened to fall on the same day of one professor's attempt at an epiphany. She was standing there, apparently channeling some extra-terrestrial inspiration, which led to the very terrestrial announcement that our university should offer a course on Canada.

The person who asked me the right question on the right day certainly got an earful of how brilliant Canada would be to study. My question is, where do I find this course?

I need to know more about the mystery of Canadian bacon, but how do I begin to understand? Cookbooks just won't cut it, only teachers and textbooks will satisfy me.

I don't mean to complain. I know university studies wield more usages than supplying people like me, the social equivalent of the tortoise (slow and humdrum), with things to talk about. I know they try their darndest to prepare us students for the real world.

I know a third thing, though, and so does virtually every other human life force. The ability to bullshit for a hot minute is a condition that must be met these days, and while not officially deemed as such, Canadian Facts 185 (arbitrarily numbered, of course) could be considered a critical communications class.