I had a nice exchange with a stranger the other day. We were at the train station.
We chatted about how hot it was and laughed at ourselves for having brought jackets to work that day. His was green and fleece, mine was black and puffy. We were sitting under the station’s meager awning, seeking a little respite from the sun. After just a few minutes, the conversation trailed off.
As I sat there, I saw a woman walk by who I had talked to before. I had a nice conversation with her once, too. Now we ignore each other at the train station every day as though we’ve never met before. But we have.
I used to disparage small talk. I thought it was stupid. Why would I waste my time talking to a stranger—or even a friend—about the current weather all while feigning a happy mood to be courteous? Why should I participate? I always did, of course, because I didn’t want to be rude. But I still felt that casual chit chat was inferior to deep conversation. Now I’m not so sure.
I think when we do small talk we are secretly saying to the other person, You’re human, I’m human. For these few beats of conversation, let’s be human together.