Sunday, February 21, 2016

On the coming end of small talk :(

There was only one person working the sales register at the store, and she was experiencing technical problems.  The two young women ahead of me in the line were getting antsy--not anything unusual in a contemporary world of everything right now, right away. One of them took out her smartphone and checked something; maybe some earth-shattering post on Snapchat!

"I'll be with you women soon.  Thanks for waiting" the sales clerk at the register said.

I suppose I did not matter.  Well, she joined a long line of people who ignore me ;)

Finally, it was my turn.

"I'm sorry for the wait" she said.  She did not sound sorry at all.  She couldn't care, really.

"Hey, you can make up for it by giving me 25 percent off" I joked.

"A charm discount, eh."

"Oh no. In my case it will be a charm tax then. One look at me and people want to charge more" I replied.

As I walked to the car, I wondered whether the days of talking with a sales checkout clerk are numbered.  With all the online shopping, and self checkout at stores, this human interaction will become a part of history.

I was reminded of the discussions in a class a few days ago.  Most of the students were clear in their preference for less human interaction in commercial transactions.  "I don't like to make eye contact" said one.  And when I said I love small-talk, one shook her head expressing vehement negation.  It was clear that an old-fashioned humanist like me will become even more of a misfit!  A hermit I might be, but I love humanity.

It was a day to run errands.  I headed to another store. The winds made the raindrops come from the sides and not from above.  I parked and hurried into the store.  A crew of young employees was busily restocking the shelves.

A few minutes in the store and I was done.  No lines at the checkout.

"Your day going well?" asked the young woman.

"Yes, indeed."  And then added, "you are not missing anything by staying inside. The weather outside is crappy."

"I'm happy that this is is not my day off" she replied.

"That'll be a bummer, right?  To work when the days are gorgeous, and then when you get off work it is all horrible weather?"

She smiled.

Apparently the days of such small-talk are numbered.  Thankfully, so is my existence!


Anne in Salem said...

Small talk at the register? You've commented on this frequently, particularly with your favorite checker. Aren't you watching the prices of your items to make sure they ring up properly? How do you do both?

The younger generation definitely does not participate in small talk. They seem to dislike any face-to-face interactions, as was discussed here recently.

Mike Hoth said...

Now now, you two, MOST of my generation doesn't do small talk. There are a handful of us who enjoy a good chat still! I'll use a self checkout stand if I'm in a hurry but otherwise I try to find a cashier who could use a short conversation to break up the monotony. A couple of them recognize me largely because small talk is dead, but in my experience it's been six feet under for 20 years, maybe longer.

Some of your students (who will soon be part of the generation after mine) prefer not to talk to real people, but I can only remember two classes (one was comp sci, the other online) where students didn't chat before class. 8 AM or 6 PM, field work or graduate-level history, there were always some who loved to talk to their neighbor and some who may as well have been mute. The only modern difference is that we can easily spot the mutes because they have a smart phone and self checkout stations now.

Ramesh said...

Very cultural thingy, this one is. In many parts of Europe, such small talk is not a done thing. That doesn't make them any less warm. And of course in the "old country", such talk can easily progress to what your salary is, what is your mother in law's waist line, and the like. Enough said.

I can't let a longhop like "To work when the days are gorgeous, and then when you get off work it is all horrible weather", not be hit for a six (that's a cricketing metaphor ; clarification needed for all your readers who do not have a clue about the gentleman's game !!) There is little risk of the former happening in the great state of Oregon and absolute certainty of the latter happening :) Hahahahaha

Sriram Khé said...

It is all the more depressing to read Anne and Mike commenting that the younger generation seems to dislike face-to-face interactions, whether it is small-talk or otherwise. More on these in the next post.

Small-talk is not a uniquely American cultural thing. All my formative years, it was very much a part of life in India too. Life has changed in the old country too. Small-talk is not about witty remarks--it is one of the many ways in which we recognize the human in the other.