0222: "Small Talk"

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Postby thefiddler » Mon Feb 12, 2007 5:26 pm UTC

Sometimes I respond to "How are you?" with "Oh, you know, just kinda..." and kind of let my sentence drift off. They usually stare at me waiting for me to finish and when they realize I'm not, they inquire again. And I say "Oh, you know..." again. Depending on who the person is, I can keep this up for a while. But most people realize that I'm not going to answer and attempt to start a different conversation. :D

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Postby hiddenmaniac » Mon Feb 12, 2007 5:36 pm UTC

About half my conversations end up like the comic.

Most of the other half are something like this:

Other person: Hey, how are you?
Me: I'm fine, and you?
Other person: You don't really mean that, do you?
Me: Um
Other person: Why don't you tell me all about what's wrong?

Note the latter situation usually happens when I'm talking to someone I hardly know, or someone I'm trying to avoid.
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Postby Athelstan » Mon Feb 12, 2007 6:01 pm UTC

What's really sad is that I'll pause thinking about my response and my earnest thought out response is "Fine."

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Postby Doofulus Prime » Mon Feb 12, 2007 6:30 pm UTC

Does anyone else not acknowledge that type of conversation? I don't really understand the value of small talk since the only use I have seen for it is in order to pass someone without looking at them..

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Postby Benevolent Lion » Mon Feb 12, 2007 6:36 pm UTC

I think positive elaborate responses are best in "small talk."

Instead of that crap protocol just about everyone follows, we should say grandeur things, and say what's on our mind (even if it maybe negative).

"I feel like a King! How are you, this blindingly bright California morning?"

Just wrote that to a friend as I was typing this up.

Then she asked me why I felt like a king. I responded with Pau!'s post of "Life is a beautiful tapestry of one wonderful event after another, don't you think?" (Pau! that is a really great response, I'll be using that quite often now if you don't mind)

What makes me sad though is that she said, "I guess."

Woe to our pessimistic youth.
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Postby Mathmagic » Mon Feb 12, 2007 6:42 pm UTC

Gordon wrote:Usually it goes something like this:

Me: "hey whats new"

Them: "some generic answer"

Me: "That's not very exciting, next time just lie to me and tell me a story about that dragon you killed on the weekend or something"

Then I give them bonus points if the next time I ask them whats new if they remember to tell me some fantastical story.


Dane Cook reference FTW! :D :D :D

Unless you weren't actually referring to Dane Cook. Which would make me sad.
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Postby Quake » Mon Feb 12, 2007 7:00 pm UTC

Hi ALL! How're you doing? ; :D

- 'Hi' does not name a type

-- error: expected '=' ', ' ';' ...............

sh-t ! :x
Hi HAL ! How're you doing?
:)

--- :?:
---
---

ZZZZZZzzzzz

---
---
--- :idea:
--- 42
-------------
This is teh best one so far;
-----------------------
I really feel monogametous today.
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Postby beinsane » Mon Feb 12, 2007 7:09 pm UTC

When people ask me "how are things", I tend to say, "things are things."

I have also been known to ask, "how's the go going?" in the past. Most people go on and answer, not realizing that the question makes no sense.
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Postby Yakk » Mon Feb 12, 2007 7:14 pm UTC

"How are you doing?"
"Good enough."

True, somewhat positive, and doesn't match the pattern.

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Postby Regulus » Mon Feb 12, 2007 8:02 pm UTC

xkcd's capacity for stealing the thoughts in my head are exceptional. And yeah I know this is a cliché* response on these forums, but cliché != false.

I have often thought that small talk is useless. I should be more specific; meaningless small talk is useless -- when people just take cues from a preplanned script that they have memorized. That is a bastardization of the word "communication". It's so strange that humans have come up with such complex, useful, and specific language structures yet our day-to-day experience with oral communication (it might be irresponsible on my part to use such a collective word as "our", as I am merely speaking from my own experience) is often completely devoid of meaning. How many days of the week do people actually engage in passionate meaningful dialogue where they actually learn something new about the other person? For me, it almost never happens...

*Yes, I did look up "é" in Windows' Character Map. And yes, I am ashamed of myself for being such a perfectionist about a simple forum post (but that doesn't mean I have the will power or desire to stop it).
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Postby Aoeniac » Mon Feb 12, 2007 8:32 pm UTC

When people ask me "what's up?" it gets on my nerves. I'm thinking to myself, "Are you honestly greeting me with a question?"

So I've made it a point to answer "what's up?" with "It's the opposite direction to the net forces of gravity upon your physical being."

It works really quickly because they get tired of hearing me say it and remember never to greet me with "what's up?".


And my response to most other small talk greetings is "too many things".
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Postby Fieari » Mon Feb 12, 2007 8:39 pm UTC

I'm so glad there are other people like me out there.

Eventually, I trained myself to give the "correct" response. I have to think about it in terms of communication protocols though, and mentally translate it as a simple ping request. The trouble is when there are people for which there are different protocols. It's a mental obstacle course every single damn time.

While I want to answer honestly, I also have the problem of this strip, where it takes so long to properly formulate exactly how things are going with my life. I inherently try to translate things into what I know of their social culture, and find the translation incredibly difficult.
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Postby Yakk » Mon Feb 12, 2007 8:57 pm UTC

Small-talk is not useless.

It is a set of ritualized actions that indicate familiarity, ability and willingness to follow ritual, and relatively simple cognative functioning.

"We are aquantaces. I still rub blue mud in my bellybutton. I am still alive and speaking."
"I agree, we are aquantances. I too rub blue mud in my bellybutton. I am still alive and speaking."

People who follow social ritual are predictable and easier to abstract. This reduces the load required to model them and lowers social stress.

Following such rituals is important to most people, and reduces the effort required to form social bonds. Because instead of having to invent a brand-new social interaction pattern for this person, you can simply use the already debugged standard social interaction pattern.

Which is, of course, why not rubbing blue mud in your bellybutton during the rituals of daily life makes people shy away from you. You are strange, and quite often not worth the bother. On the other hand, you are also strange and different, and this can lead to you being worth spending thought time on.

This post is, of course, complete balderdash. Interpersonal interaction cannot be reduced down to pithy little pop-psychological statements like the above. But it is still amusing to try. :)

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Postby SNAFU » Mon Feb 12, 2007 9:12 pm UTC

Today, inspired by this comic, I tried something new. When someone I was passing asked 'What's up?' I answered, "Slept well. How are you?" He said, "Fine" and kept on walking. I did a 180 degree pivot and started walking with him.

This really freaked him out. He asked, "Weren't you heading the other way?"

I replied, "Yeah, but I want to hear how your weekend was." All of a sudden, my acquaintance got really uncomfortable. He started mumbling and staring at the ground.

Conclusion: Small talk is the best vessel in which you can make someone uneasy.
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Postby Shadow » Mon Feb 12, 2007 9:43 pm UTC

When people ask me "How are you?"

I just say "Alive" or "Still existing" and tell them how i see daily survival as an accomplishment.

My chem teacher last year would get really worried about me. Thought i was depressed or something.

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small talk

Postby suzyholly » Mon Feb 12, 2007 9:56 pm UTC

When my friend Dave was dying, I would ask him how he was doing, and every time, he would say with as much energy as he could muster, "Terrific!" And he meant it! He would go on to tell me why he was terrific - the nurses, the weather, some idea he had - it's all terrific.

It was humbling. I could never complain around him! I had to think of reasons why I was terrific, too!

Lesson: there is no small talk - We don't have time for small talk - it's all important -

He died on my birthday. Really. But it was cool.

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Postby Peshmerga » Mon Feb 12, 2007 10:01 pm UTC

I suck at small talk. Especially when I'm talking to girls.
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Postby Benevolent Lion » Mon Feb 12, 2007 10:24 pm UTC

Boo, you don't make small talk with girls.

I should know, the ratio of female to male friends for me is 4:1. This is because I don't like making silly small talk and I go straight into the personal conversations. Most males friends I have(the very few that I have...), only make small talk so I have to ferret out a good conversation out of them, while my female friends talk about everything in their life, because I avoid the silly small talk.

To me, the weird thing my friend found on the sidewalk this morning, is definitely more interesting than "How he, or she is."
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Postby WhiteWizard42 » Mon Feb 12, 2007 10:37 pm UTC

[quote="skeptical scientist"]A good response is, “Why is life like hanging upside down with your head in a bucket of hyena-offal?â€
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Postby mikekearn » Mon Feb 12, 2007 11:49 pm UTC

riley wrote:
mikekearn wrote:My favorite way to respond to any sort of "Hi, how are you?" or "What's up?" greeting is to say something extremely negative, but in a perfectly cheery manner. For example, if a coworker walks by and says, "Hey, Mike, what's up?" I will respond, with a friendly smile, "Oh, I hate life and wish I was dead, plus I'm being audited, my dog died, and there is a warrant out for my arrest. How are you?" :)


The look on most people's faces the first time I hit them with something like that is absolutely priceless. It makes life wonderful.


Every so often I run into someone that does something like that. I really effing hate it. To find such glee in others' discomfort is completely foreign to me, and it makes it impossible to even start to be friends with the speaker.

I think a cynical view on small talk is common amongst the nerd crowd, which is a real shame. It's the reason my CS class projects sucked and my Anthropology class projects were really fun and ended up in dinner parties. Small talk serves an important purpose in human relations, and I think a lot of people think that it's sort of beneath them or a waste of time or unnecessary in some other way.


Finding a witty response to a common piece of small talk is funny. If it perpetuates the small talk, though, it's still small talk... and that's fine (great!). If it ends the small talk and leaves a pause in which the other person is wishing they had never started talking to you, then my advice is to cut that particular witticism out of your set.


Finding glee in others' discomfort is my reason for living. I don't start out my day thinking, "Gee, how can I most offset anyone who attempts conversation with me today?" but by the end of the day, I am there by far. It's the hazards of working at Wal-Mart.

Besides, you seem to be under the assumption that I want people I barely know, or don't know at all, to talk to me. I really don't.
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Postby riley » Tue Feb 13, 2007 12:08 am UTC

I can imagine that working at Walmart would indeed take any social tendencies you might have had right out of you.

I think Yakk is right on, even if he denies it. Small talk isn't pointless in the same fashion that a handshake isn't pointless - it just makes us more comfortable with each other. Before we've even met, we've agreed on a protocol of interaction. If I have to worry that some new person is going to tell me to go fuck myself because I initiated an interaction, it's not just going to affect my relationship with that person, it's going to make me uncomfortable with everyone.


I mean, kissing is pointless too.

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Postby Fieari » Tue Feb 13, 2007 12:20 am UTC

Kissing is far more fun than small talk though.
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Postby Regulus » Tue Feb 13, 2007 12:21 am UTC

riley wrote:If I have to worry that some new person is going to tell me to go fuck myself because I initiated an interaction, it's not just going to affect my relationship with that person, it's going to make me uncomfortable with everyone.


Is it really imperative that you are able to feel completely comfortable with everyone?

I keep a healthy dose of suspicion and skepticism about the value of any person that I don't know very well... I mean I'm polite and all... probably one of the nicest people I know (enter bias! :)). But I am a realist and thus am aware that my personality is definitely not compatible with everyone.

I also have strong beliefs concerning free speech which means I think it's okay for someone to tell me to "fuck myself". It just red flags the person as someone that I would not like to converse with in the future.

If "small talk" functions only as an established protocol for conversation, why can't we just modify our social protocol to eliminate this waste of breath altogether? When someone says, "What's up?" and I answer with something complex or strange but still answer the query correctly, the asker should realize that the communication error is not at my end but at their own.
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Postby Wikey » Tue Feb 13, 2007 1:20 am UTC

Gordon wrote:Usually it goes something like this:

Me: "hey whats new"

Them: "some generic answer"

Me: "That's not very exciting, next time just lie to me and tell me a story about that dragon you killed on the weekend or something"

Then I give them bonus points if the next time I ask them whats new if they remember to tell me some fantastical story.


I am always upset when people have boring stories for why they have a cast/crutches.

In my Spanish III class sophomore year I repeatedly ordered a kid to tell everyone he hurt his arm in a bar fight instead of his lame "I tripped" story.

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Postby aisling » Tue Feb 13, 2007 1:54 am UTC

I really hate it when I'm on msn and I say to someone "What's up?" and they reply "nm, u?" and I'm like "...Not much. *Sigh*" but the sigh is reality, they don't get to see it. Msn conversations with people you're not really best friends with suck a whole bunch.

Sorry if someone already mentioned this, I just don't want to read full topics tonight.

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Postby Toeofdoom » Tue Feb 13, 2007 3:06 am UTC

Wikey wrote:
Gordon wrote:Usually it goes something like this:

Me: "hey whats new"

Them: "some generic answer"

Me: "That's not very exciting, next time just lie to me and tell me a story about that dragon you killed on the weekend or something"

Then I give them bonus points if the next time I ask them whats new if they remember to tell me some fantastical story.


I am always upset when people have boring stories for why they have a cast/crutches.

In my Spanish III class sophomore year I repeatedly ordered a kid to tell everyone he hurt his arm in a bar fight instead of his lame "I tripped" story.


Dude... he wasnt at a bar... he was concoting illegal pressure cannons in his backyard and one fired at his arm. It also managed to kill the neighbors dog, which was bloody brilliant, as that dog had been keeping him up all night for the past month with its bloody yapping. Oh and the cast is made of marshmallows.
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Postby Yakk » Tue Feb 13, 2007 4:20 am UTC

Regulus wrote:
riley wrote:If I have to worry that some new person is going to tell me to go fuck myself because I initiated an interaction, it's not just going to affect my relationship with that person, it's going to make me uncomfortable with everyone.


Is it really imperative that you are able to feel completely comfortable with everyone?

I keep a healthy dose of suspicion and skepticism about the value of any person that I don't know very well... I mean I'm polite and all... probably one of the nicest people I know (enter bias! :)). But I am a realist and thus am aware that my personality is definitely not compatible with everyone.


The less nice you are, the fewer people you know. :)

I also have strong beliefs concerning free speech which means I think it's okay for someone to tell me to "fuck myself". It just red flags the person as someone that I would not like to converse with in the future.


If it was perfectly OK, then why wouldn't you like to converse with them in the future?

If "small talk" functions only as an established protocol for conversation, why can't we just modify our social protocol to eliminate this waste of breath altogether?


Because part of social protocol is the test to determine if you share a social protocol. So changing your response to a social ritual is a message that you don't share their social protocol. Doing so willingly is a message that you don't want to share their social protocol -- a rejection, if you will, of their choice of ritual.

When someone says, "What's up?" and I answer with something complex or strange but still answer the query correctly, the asker should realize that the communication error is not at my end but at their own.


They communicated "ritual greeting phrase".

You responded "reject ritual, pedantically answer surface-meaning".

This is a communication protocol mismatch, not an error. You are simply rejecting their attempt at ritual social interaction -- and, like any rejection, it carries with it a message of rejection.

Nonconformists make a point of pride in rejecting the majority arbitrary rituals, and usually conform to a small subculture arbitrary rituals to get the social interaction and existential irony most humans seem to crave.

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Postby TheTankengine » Tue Feb 13, 2007 4:23 am UTC

Yakk wrote:Small-talk is not useless.

It is a set of ritualized actions that indicate familiarity, ability and willingness to follow ritual, and relatively simple cognative functioning.

"We are aquantaces. I still rub blue mud in my bellybutton. I am still alive and speaking."
"I agree, we are aquantances. I too rub blue mud in my bellybutton. I am still alive and speaking."

People who follow social ritual are predictable and easier to abstract. This reduces the load required to model them and lowers social stress.

Following such rituals is important to most people, and reduces the effort required to form social bonds. Because instead of having to invent a brand-new social interaction pattern for this person, you can simply use the already debugged standard social interaction pattern.

Which is, of course, why not rubbing blue mud in your bellybutton during the rituals of daily life makes people shy away from you. You are strange, and quite often not worth the bother. On the other hand, you are also strange and different, and this can lead to you being worth spending thought time on.

This post is, of course, complete balderdash. Interpersonal interaction cannot be reduced down to pithy little pop-psychological statements like the above. But it is still amusing to try. :)


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Postby German Sausage » Tue Feb 13, 2007 6:40 am UTC

the best response i've heard to haw are you was "sleazy"
i usually answer 'sup? with "the nasdaq" or some stock thing (i dont follow them, so im often wrong.
how are you elicts an "x/10" response. so if im ok, 7/10, if im happy 8 or 9, and if im unhappy maybe 4/10
it throws people off the first few times, and is also useful if i dont want to talk about something.
"how was the meal?"
"6/10"
"oh."
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Postby Benevolent Lion » Tue Feb 13, 2007 6:41 am UTC

Now how about some high flying small talk?

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Postby FiddleMath » Tue Feb 13, 2007 8:38 am UTC

The next time a total stranger is uncomfortable sharing an elevator with me, I'm definitely going to ask "Ritual greeting signifying social protocol?"

I mean, Yakk is right. The question, then, is whether it is worthwhile to engage in mild social jamming in order to encourage other people to rethink standard protocols, even at the potential cost of alienating them. The protocols are a bit opaque to most folks, yes, but they're not that cumbersome, really. So unless you're already around too many people, or maybe you hate the smell of humans, the answer's probably no.

Which is a pity. Because riding 6 stories with a total stranger, while looking them meaningfully in the eyes and rubbing blue mud in my belly button, would be awesome. That guy would have a very strange day.

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Postby Nomic » Tue Feb 13, 2007 9:40 am UTC

Finnis people typically suck at small talk. Or so I've hear. If a stranger asks me something or somebody ask's how I am I usally grunt or mumble "fine". With my friends I'm far better at having a conversation, but I rather tell jokes thna small talk.

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Postby Mat » Tue Feb 13, 2007 1:25 pm UTC

I am terrible at small talk. I usually just mumble 'ok' and stuff until someone starts a real conversation. :? I definitely have to try some different answers now though. I like the rating out of ten idea. :)

what happens when I am forced to interact with strangers:

Mat: hi, who are you?
Someone: fine thanks
Mat: what?
Someone: what?

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Postby Tractor » Tue Feb 13, 2007 2:21 pm UTC

German Sausage wrote:how are you elicts an "x/10" response. so if im ok, 7/10, if im happy 8 or 9, and if im unhappy maybe 4/10

Using x/x makes things even more amusing/confusing.
"On a scale of 1 to happy, I'm about a 35."
"*confused look*"

What is happy? Is it 10? Is it 100? Is it 35? The world may never know...

This can also be applied to just about anything else.
"How was the movie?"
"On a scale of 1 to good, I give it a 13"
9 x 6 = 42

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Postby damaless » Tue Feb 13, 2007 5:10 pm UTC

I like "As well as can be expected."

It makes people think that there's something important about your current life cirumstances that they're missing, and that you assume they know already, and they worry that maybe they did know and forgot and it would be really awkward to ask about it again, and they might even pretend to know and respond with vague phrases about it. When really, things are totally normal.

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Postby Belial » Tue Feb 13, 2007 5:17 pm UTC

I like "As well as can be expected."

It makes people think that there's something important about your current life cirumstances that they're missing, and that you assume they know already, and they worry that maybe they did know and forgot and it would be really awkward to ask about it again, and they might even pretend to know and respond with vague phrases about it. When really, things are totally normal.


I like that. I will be shamelessly absorbing your conversational quirk into my own repertoire now.
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They/them

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Postby matts2 » Tue Feb 13, 2007 5:20 pm UTC

ly_yng wrote:I got bored with constantly answering "fine" so I've started using "still here." Throws people off a little the first time they hear it.


To "how are you" I frequently say "How the hell should I know?" That throws people off.

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Postby damaless » Tue Feb 13, 2007 5:21 pm UTC

Yeah but that just sounds like you're being angsty for the sake of being angsty. :(

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Postby matts2 » Tue Feb 13, 2007 5:22 pm UTC

Lethal Interjection wrote:It definitely throws people off when you answer negatively.


Then again, I had a girlfriend who would give a great big smile and respond with joy: "Just great!". That also throws people off.

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Postby Belial » Tue Feb 13, 2007 5:43 pm UTC

yakk wrote:They communicated "ritual greeting phrase".

You responded "reject ritual, pedantically answer surface-meaning".

This is a communication protocol mismatch, not an error. You are simply rejecting their attempt at ritual social interaction -- and, like any rejection, it carries with it a message of rejection.


Odd. It doesn't communicate that to me at all.

I'm incredibly guilty of over-using ritual greetings and social protocols. I consider it a bad habit I picked up from a combination of working retail, and having wish-they-were-rich parents that dragged me to social events at their country clubs and other such idiocy. As a consequence, I developed, in my formative years, a habit of making small-talk pretty much instinctively, at least up to a point.

That said, when someone responds to my ritual greeting with, as you put it "reject ritual, pedantically answer surface-meaning" or with any other suitably nonstandard response-type, my first thought is generally that this person is not rejecting *me*, or even rejecting a chance to socialize with me, but rather the opposite. They are rejecting my attempt to glaze over them with small talk, and instead forcing *real* social interaction, in which we talk about things outside the ritual structure. And I respond as such, generally, by aborting my "greet ritually and pass on by" attempt, and instead engaging conversation. It's actually a *positive* cue toward further social interaction.

If they'd just said "Fine Thanks" or whatever, there are even odds that I never would have spoken to them again.
Last edited by Belial on Tue Feb 13, 2007 8:12 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
addams wrote:A drunk neighbor is better than a sober Belial.


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