8/30/2020
Talkin' talk is not just talk

These days making small talk is an important ability to have. I mean, if you'll be stuck in the same place for weeks on end, you will crave for some degree of interaction with other people, even if it means becoming a bit chattier to the people who deliver your food, or whatever you bought online.

Well, that's a horrific scenario if you fiercely insist that you're an introvert, and therefore, more special. But I digress.

I wouldn't call myself a small talk expert. Even I can find it a bit horrific, if that's the right word. Iris - how are things in Romania? - put it best when she described our accidental corporate event tag team as "I initiate the conversation, and you continue it". Maybe that counts for small talk, too, but I believe small talk requires being able to make something out of nothing. I pick up on a thread and make something out of it. That's not nothing. That's something.

Thus, most of my conversations with other people - little snippets of it - are based on what else is going on at the moment. I mean, I guess at that point we already have something in common. I'm the customer, and they're delivering business. So we'd talk about what else is going on. If all else fails, I'll try cracking a joke and instantly realize that it most likely flew over their heads. I cannot get myself in the same wavelength as others, and I don't think I ever will.

On my way to the drugstore yesterday, I found myself in the same elevator as two other residents - one of them from the mainland, so one of those tenants - and one of the security guards. The Chinese guy left first.

"Mabuti na lang natuto na silang mag-mask," the security guard told the other resident.

"Oo nga, eh," said the other guy, and they proceeded to have a quick conversation about how difficult it is for everyone in this building to communicate with their Chinese neighbors because of the language barrier.

I remember one incident during the height of the lockdowns - as if we're no longer in the height of it - when the building's staff decided to strictly implement the four-people-per-elevator rule. The fifth guy in the queue was a Chinese guy. (The sixth guy was yours truly.) The security guard - a different one - had a difficult time getting through to the Chinese guy. Something about knowing what his unit number is, and whether he has an ID he can show to prove that he's a resident. Maybe he snuck through the lobby without scanning his, I don't know.

And it wasn't the only instance when this happened. Before all this there was this Chinese guy who was arguing with the lobby staff - or maybe he wasn't angry; they do have a way of speaking forcefully - when he was asked for an ID he couldn't present and therefore had to be rejected entry. "Ask your broker!" the lobby staff said, repeatedly, to no avail.

At some point I thought to suggest to the administrators to put up signs in the building in Mandarin as well as in English so there's no excuse for the mainlanders to follow the rules. But then, I realized, if that happens, the local residents here will get angry. Something about the Chinese being prioritized over the actual citizens of this country. Slippery slopes. I have yet to fire that suggestion off. There are way more important things at hand. It did take a while for the Chinese tenants to respect the four-people-per-elevator rule.

Back to yesterday. The other resident left, so it's just me and the security guard. He was already feeling chatty, so he turned to me.

"Pero alam n'yo, ser, hindi galing sa China 'yung virus."

"Saan galing?" I asked, knowing exactly where this is going.

"Sa Amerika," he answered. "Dinala lang nila sa China para masisi sila."

"Saan mo narinig 'yan?"

"Sa bali-balita. Nabasa ko sa balita."

"Hindi ko naririnig 'yan kahit saan," I said, resignedly.

The elevator door opened, and the security guard stepped out.

What exactly do you do when someone is spouting an unverifiable conspiracy theory to you as if it's fact? I mean, it's easy for us to say that we'll fact-check them on the fly, but then, it's one thing to do it on television. It's another thing to do it in real life, when you're bound to crush someone's ego, and you might be hit with a baton for questioning authority. I mean, he's a security guard, and I am a mere resident.

No common threads on that one. See, I am not really good at small talk.

And your responses...

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