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Sunday, 20 December 2015

Drunken conversations

I feel often at gatherings like some kind of fish out of water. There's really no other way to explain it, this feeling of estrangement. It's got something to do with the kinds of thing that I find interesting, things that are of absolutely no interest to the majority of people. To illustrate, I'll refer to a social occasion at work that happened probably around 2008, at a time when I have been moved to a teaching role. My new boss was a woman, a tall, dark woman with a Dutch name who didn't like me. At one end-of-year do I was standing with her boss outside our building among all the other people and I said something like, "Do you know anything about utraquism?" It's not that I thought he did, but it was a way for me to tentatively introduce the conversation to things that mean something to me, in this case the Reformation. My boss, the dark woman who looked like a crow, hopped up quickly and in a loud voice, clearly aiming to belittle me, said, "Well he's going to tell you ALL about it!" I was stunned for a moment. I had never seen anyone behave as rudely as this at a convivial gathering, especially as I was being quite harmless. It wasn't as though I was about to bad-mouth somebody. But this is the way people are who are unashamed boors: they don't care about your feelings and they are committed to keeping the conversation at the same, low level they and their dreary mates are comfortable with.

Yesterday during a party at a friend's house I managed for a moment to get the conversation around the the Renaissance for approximately a millisecond by framing it as a rhetorical analogue to current times, times which are being changed to radically due to the introduction of a new technology: the internet. But it was basically hopeless. By the time we had finished with beers and had moved onto wine the conversation had reverted to cars, local club football, and bands. There was no hope for a dreamer such as I. I hoped that someone would want to talk about the new Joaqn Didion biography I was reading - with its lively impressions of the 60s in California - or else Jane Austen - a big interest of mine which can sometimes be a hit with women, as she is such a favourite among the fairer sex - but noone indulged me and I sat a bit glum for the last few hours nursing a glass of warm viognier.

It's sometimes like this. At gatherings you have to fit in with the predominating tenor of conversation. You might occasionally strike it lucky and find someone who wants to talk about utraquism - the early Renaissance Bohemian belief that you should share the wine with the congregation and not just with the clergy - but for the most part you get to groan about taxes or the government, or whinge about driving on Saturdays, or something equally dull and wasteful of time.

Scintillating conversations are rare but even so you should make yourself as good a conversationalist as you can possible manage. You never know when you'll come across that true gem of a party-goer: the one for whom deep and meaningfuls about the analogues between ISIS and northern-European protestants are something to savour forever. Or at least until next Christmas. Seasons greetings all.

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