How To Avoid Rude Small Talk

Get it?

Get it?

Small talk! It’s weird and often uncomfortable, but we all have to do it otherwise we’d never make friends/would always be that person standing just outside of a conversation. You have to wade through the small talk to get to anything interesting! Or you can be like me this weekend and drunkenly start talking to strangers about their love lives before you get their names, but maybe you shouldn’t do that.

Here’s my theory: I don’t think you should open a conversation with a stranger/acquaintance with the most obvious thing about them. For example, if you meet a pregnant woman, don’t ask her about her pregnancy. Maybe she’ll bring up her pregnancy on her own, and then you can talk about it, but maybe she’ll want to talk about her job and her other interests because she’s sick of being asked about morning sickness. The same thing goes for someone getting married, on a job search, or applying to college. They may want to keep talking about it, but there’s also a good chance they’re completely talked out.

This doesn’t count for everyone. If you’re asking your own teenage son about how high school is going? Duh. Are you a Maid of Honor asking the bride how planning is going? Makes sense. But you have to make sure you’re close, which generally means friends-who-talk-constantly or close family (meaning you have a relationship outside seeing each other three times a year at whole-family gatherings). Below are a couple of suggestions as to questions/comments to avoid, and as always leave yours in the comments!

For an Engaged/Married Person

  • I’m so excited for the wedding!—Did you get an invitation yet/have the couple verbally confirmed you’re invited? If not, don’t assume anything, even if you’re close to them.

  • Are you dieting?—Usually followed by a weird stare if you say “no,” or a push for details if “yes.” Weird either way. Plus it comes off as you thinking the person in question should be dieting.

  • When are you having kids?—This is SUCH a personal question, and can often be painful to the person/couple in question. Maybe they have a medical condition that prevents them from having kids and don’t want to talk about it, or maybe they flat out don’t want kids. It should never be a question of “when.”

  • Unless you know for sure that one person in the couple is really into planning and the other is really not, ask both people the same questions and use plural pronouns. This is especially an issue with heterosexual couples, where everyone has a tendency to ask the bride-to-be about wedding planning and issues, and continues to ask the groom-to-be about his job, his hobbies, or anything else going on in his life.

For a Single Person

  • Any variation on “why are you still single?”—First off, single is not a “still.” Plenty of people are just fine with being single. And even if they’re not, this pretty much just blames them for their relationship status. Often this comes in the “But you’re so pretty/smart/interesting!” iteration, which both suggests that a) these are objective requirements to finding a partner and b) it’s somehow the person in question’s fault for not finding someone attracted to these things. Relationships aren’t science, and they take a heavy dose of luck.

For a Pregnant Person

  • Do you want a boy or a girl?—What is your expected answer here? “Oh man, I just want a boy so bad. If it’s a girl I’ll be so heartbroken. Nine months for nothing.”

  • When are you due?—True story: When I was in New Zealand I went shopping with another woman for sausage. This woman had a two-year-old daughter and still had some “baby weight” or whatever bullshit you want to call it. Anyway, the butcher gave me a slice of one sausage to try but hesitated giving it to her, joking that it was made with wine. She looked at him quizzically, and he gestured to her stomach in a “you know, because you’re pregnant” sort of way. She wasn’t pregnant. Do not assume anyone is pregnant.

For Kids

  • Where are you going to college?/Are you going to college?—This is specific to a certain class that assumes college is in the cards, but for the entirety of high school any adult talking to me only wanted to talk about SATs and college applications.

For Anyone

  • You look great! Have you lost weight?—Unless this person maybe lost 400 pounds and is super proud of it, no. Skinny does not necessarily equal healthy or beautiful.

  • You look tired today—I get this so much when I don’t wear makeup. It’s my normal face. My normal face looks bad to you? Ok.

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Are These Engagement Gifts Totally Weird?

You don't even have to invite them if they got you a crystal bathtub. [Via BornRich]

You don’t even have to invite them if they got you a crystal bathtub. [Via BornRich]

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

Help, engagement gifts are making me uncomfortable! My fiance and I just got engaged, and people keep sending us engagement gifts. If it were close family members or friends that would be one thing, but these are all coming from family friends of his that either a) he’s never met or b) met once or twice, most likely at least 5 years ago. Of course we’re thanking them, but is this weird?

Sincerely,

Weirded Out By All These Bowls

OFFICIAL ETIQUETTE

The short answer is that, traditionally, engagement gifts are not given. In the olden days, when you got engaged, you would tell your parents, and then they would host a dinner or something with close friends and announce your engagement at your engagement party. Since it was a surprise to all the guests, obviously they wouldn’t have brought gifts. And with engagements being far shorter in the past, by the time anyone sent you anything, it would clearly be considered a wedding present. However, with longer engagements these days and engagement parties celebrating the engagement instead of the announcement, engagement presents have started to crop up as a thing. Engagement gifts should really just be a token of your affection for the couple: a bottle of champagne, a pair of toasting flutes, or a nice picture frame. Still, you are absolutely not expected to send/bring anything at all.

OUR TAKE

Victoria: Obviously these rules about what the expectations regarding engagement presents are all well and good until someone completely ignores them and sends you a lavish gift anyway.

Jaya: Yeah, this is one of those situations where everyone says “oh, how thoughtful,” but actually it’s not that thoughtful of them! Ok, it’s a little thoughtful, but not in the way you’d like.

Victoria: I think the only thing you can really do in that instance is accept the gift in the spirit of generosity in which it was offered and send a nice thank you note immediately. And don’t feel any pressure to invite a random person to your wedding just because they sent you a gift!

Jaya: Right! I think a lot of people hear a couple got engaged,  get them an expensive crystal bowl or something because it’s expensive and “nice,” and then they think they’ve done this great job. Meanwhile, the couple is probably freaking out thinking that now they have to invite this person, or their parents are saying “they were nice enough to send you a gift, can’t you make room?”, and they have no idea how to use this gift and just feel guilty that someone spent upwards of $100 on something they didn’t even want.

Victoria: What a mess.

Jaya: Is there any way to stop the madness?

Victoria: I think the only thing you can really do to discourage it is to hold off on setting up a registry and if someone asks just say “oh, it’s all so new, we haven’t even begun to think about presents yet!”

Jaya: Yeah, and in general people need to consider their relationship to the couple. If you’re their best friend, go for it. If you went to high school with the groom’s mom and keep in touch with her but haven’t seen her son since he was in grade school? A gift is probably not necessary!

Victoria: Maybe as a safeguard you COULD revive the tradition of sending out wedding announcements AFTER the wedding, in which you have a nice card printed the basically just says so and so were married on such and such a date. It’s just a nice way to let people know that you did get married, and it has no expectation of gifts.

Jaya: But a pre-wedding announcement doesn’t have an expectation of gifts either!

Victoria: True, and there is the danger that people might feel compelled to send you ANOTHER gift. But, hopefully, these people are considering these “engagement” presents to be a wedding present too and are just getting it sent early?

Jaya: Yeah. But it’s so easy to read into it another way. Sending gifts is a wonderful thing, and it may come from a genuine place, but weddings are so fraught with tension and meaning, that sometimes a simple “We’re so happy for you” is more appreciated than anything.

Victoria: Absolutely.

Jaya: But yes, write them a thank you note, figure out a way to use/return the gift, and hope that it’s not a secret ploy for a wedding invitation.

Victoria: When in doubt, write a thank you note.