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Small talk with strangers

Off the fence
Small talk, showers and men in white coats


Áine Ryan

RUSHIING along Shop Street in Westport last week I nearly collided with a man coming in the other direction. It was Tuesday morning and those squally deluges that cynically confirm winter and spring have an incestuous relationship were battering the streets. As we approached each other we studiously, and rather awkwardly tired to avoid each other, both veering to the right,  and then to the left, before I almost stabbed him with my rather dangerous umbrella when we merged for a moment. I smiled broadly to myself as he escaped. Undoubtedly, he was relieved he had not lost a body part courtesy of my flailing brolly.
Meeting strangers on the street, or the byways and boreens, can  be a complex affair. I often use my prescription shades (if there is even a scintilla of sunshine) or my mobile phone to avoid eye-contact. I bet I am not alone. Let’s be frank, none of us is always in the mood for small-talk.
“God, it’s awful weather today.”
“Terrible. It’s just terrible.”
“Those showers. Well, they’d clean the nose right off you.”
“Clean the nose right off you? They would skin a cat.”
On the other hand, the weather was really good – in the low 20s – when I spent some time in Dublin recently. The sun shone brightly and a balmy breeze tickled the ancient trees that line the Liffey along the walkway in Lucan demesne.
This area used to be home for me and so it was easy to exhume memories of those idyllic teenage and young adult years spent at Grade Ten Canoe Club and the County Bar, in the leafy grounds of the Spa Hotel.
However, I quickly copped though, during my recent jaunts, that smiling cheerily at fellow-walkers and offering a “Wow! What a beautiful day” was no longer culturally cochére in my one time home village.
Even for adults, the old adage: “Don’t talk to strangers” is a maxim for survival in suburbia. Well, not unless you want them to blank you. Give you a dirty look. Consider calling the men in white. Tighten their holds on their toddlers, their pooches, their grannies.
So naturally, after a couple of clear rebuffs, I pasted a blank look on my visage, and either focussed on the ground or the middle-distance (which, thankfully, was quite scenic and interesting, despite the hum from the motorway). Indeed, these silent and solitary meanders got me thinking about the wild west and the subject of meteorology.
Maybe small talk is better than no talk. Maybe idle chatter is healthier for society than the paranoid fear of friendly people. Maybe there is more to April showers than we think. Although I wouldn’t quite start singing about them…. not on the main street anyway.