Good conversation is a dying art. When I enjoy an engrossing exchange, I realize how deeply discourse nourishes me, especially around a table.
Canadians in conversation: we could do better
Our character, famously that of moderation and restraint, does not generate sparkling raconteurs or compelling conversationalists. (Le Duc says this charge is more apt for anglophones than francophones.) One of the classic bits of Canadiana concerns a contest run by the CBC. The task: to submit an ending for the simile "As Canadian as..."; the winner was "As Canadian as possible, under the circumstances".
We qualify habitually: an art exhibit might be described as "quite lovely". We overuse bland adjectives: "I saw some nice plays at Stratford." Too often, we call anything not within our immediate ken different or interesting, substituting safe, meaningless generalities for assertive opinion.
And yet, I know plenty of great Canadian talkers. My friend Marla, who grew up between Manchester, England and Vancouver, BC, for example. One of the delights of dining with her every few weeks is hearing her deliver every shade of uncensored emotion with fluency and wit– never mind who overhears. She is an avid reader, which informs her verbal skills.
If I crave controversy, J-G wades in. He opposes conventional thinking, and as the articulate defender of countervailing perspectives, floats the boat at a party. But he doesn't attack the person, just the logic. He watches another guest's eyebrows recede into his hairline, grins, and claps him on the shoulder with genuine affection. (You guessed right, in Canada forty-five years, but originally a Spaniard.)
How do women conversationalists compare to men?
Robin Tolmach Lakoff, in her book "Talking Power" lists fourteen characteristics of womens' language (in North America) including
- Women won't commit themselves to an opinion
- Women are more indirect and polite than men, and
- In conversation, women are more likely to be interrupted, less likely to introduce successful topics.
My mother's friends said what they thought and launched into amplifying detail, whatever the topic. They were peppery, straight-talking broads who liked a highball as they chatted– which may have disinhibited them. They had something to say and said it, even if there were occasional phone calls the next day to apologize for their candour.
At one point, my father tried to ban my mother from discussing politics, but she would agree only if the deal were reciprocal. End of discussion.
Maybe that's a factor: in Canada, with diversity a fact of life, perhaps we're leery of offending. Our respect for difference might (oh yes, yet another Canuck qualifier) lead us to water down forthright opinion out of respect for "all kinds".
When a great conversation comes my way, I'm inspired and invigorated. Sometimes I scramble to hold up my end, which differs from monopolizing or scoring points. Real conversation is communion, not competition. Both parties feel alive.
The blogs I read regularly often resemble conversation in their provocative and fervent exchanges. I sometimes want to drop everything and just talk with the writer. Good thing there's not a phone number on some of your posts!