Not even the slowest checkout staff want to talk about anything more than the weather...

First published in Opinion The Westmorland Gazette: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

SMALL talk is one of those things that you’re either good at or you’re not.

There are those that remain cool as cucumbers when the conversational heat is on, and those who think ‘euthanasia’ is another word for hello.

Unfortunately, while not one of the worst offenders, I’m sadly familiar with the latter category.

“So, the economy, eh?” is something I actually said to a complete stranger before Christmas.

I cringed on the inside but my brain continued without my permission: “What do you think about that whole ‘situation’?”

I did jazz hands to illustrate my point.

‘This is not small talk’, is what I quickly realised, as I got a slightly scared: “No idea, love. Is your receipt okay in the bag?”

I think the problem is I can spot an awkward silence from a mile off and I end up blurting a panicked: “Religion! Yay or nay!?”

Apparently not even the slowest of checkout staff want to talk about anything more than the weather.

But I don’t think it’s just me that has this problem.

I went to the hairdressers on Saturday - a hotspot of stilted conversation - and could hear it happening all around me.

“Where do you stand on paparazzi livelihood versus the privacy of celebrities?” said one customer, as she was handed a copy of Hello magazine.

I could see a panicked look in her hairdresser’s eyes.

“ a trim is it??”

But the woman continued unperturbed: “And while we’re on the topic, what do you think about celebrity culture and the way it affects the mental image we create for our own appearances?”

I might be exaggerating the last bit, but the hairdresser’s confusion was genuine.

I think someone should publish a book on ‘things it’s socially acceptable to say to a stranger’.

“Hang on, just let me find the page,” we’d say, casually. “Ah here we are: are you going on any holidays this year?”

Nice, normal conversation - balance restored.

And there wouldn’t be a jazz hand in sight.

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