Parties can be tough. Especially for a mildly antisocial person like myself. Sure I like to talk. Or at least I can appreciate being listened to. And alcohol does improve one’s outlook. But I am getting quite upset by the lack of verbal intercourse. Risking a possibility of not being invited to an American home ever again, I am going to make a sweeping generalization: conversation is a quickly disappearing form of a social interaction. When you corner an American, or two, you can have a talk, exchange interesting ideas, trade arguments. More than that though and it quickly deteriorates into one way recital of baseball statistics or appearances of notable celebrities on reality shows.
I have bad luck of not being interested in either. I’d rather talk about politics or religion even if it meant offending some partygoers. Celebrities and sport stats strike me as things you google if you really have to, not the things you discuss in a polite company. Sometimes I make a feeble attempt at changing the subject, but more often than not it merely results in a raise of volume. Pretty soon everybody in the room is shouting the name of their favorite player or a talk show host.
There is some semblance of a dialog every now and then with the requisite What did you do for Thanksgiving?. And, on account of us travelling around recently, What’s your favorite state so far? Answers are politely listened to, but - when I try to elaborate - attention of the listener quickly switches back to the favorite national pastimes of TV and baseball.
Even Americans can’t go on passing inane sentences forever, so at some point of the evening party Games! make a face- and boredom-saving appearance. And games usually involve more yelling and noise making devices. Party transforms into a cheap imitation of television. Which is ironic since television recently transformed to even cheaper imitation of a so called real life. The situation is even worse when a game console is present. Suddenly the age of partiers drops to 12, which would be interesting, if only their appearance changed accordingly. Real 12 years olds, if present, usually at that point retire to the basement.
It seems that an art of conversation has never been Americans’ strong suit. Stephen Miller in his book quotes observations of 19th century travelers to America: Frances Trollope, Charles Dickens, Alexis de Tocqueville among others. All of them complain about the New World inhabitants’ lack of skill when it comes to social discourse. Since television had not been invented yet, they blame the sorry state of affairs on Puritan background, preoccupation with commerce and the habit of spitting. It’s somewhat rewarding to think that my complaining at least puts me in such a revered company. But it’s a company of people long dead, which of course does nothing to help with my conversational woes.
Allegedly Boston is a noble exception where art of conversation is at least known if not widely practiced. If that’s true I dread the desolate conversational desert which awaits me elsewhere.