‘When in Rome, do like the Romans do’ or so they say. As you have probably guessed by now, the Danes are a particular bunch, even among other Scandinavians. I will focus today on whether Danes are familiar with the concept of ‘small talk’.
Everyone knows what ‘small talk’ is. The Italians love it and call it chiacchiera(re – if it is a vb), although besides chatting, it might also mean gossiping. I would say that the best at gossiping are 70 year old rural grannies in Transylvania sitting in front of their porch. Here I only want to write about the type of chatting, when you bump into someone and stop for a couple of minutes to catch-up and exchange a couple of benign words. You know, small talk. I personally cannot stand gossip and gossipers.
Well, apparently Danes are not really familiar with ‘small talk’. For example, if I bump into an Italian friend or acquaintance I consider it rude not to ask that person, how he’s doing or what has he/she been up to. And this is how a small conversation of several minutes starts and becomes what we call ‘small talk’.
I noticed at work that Danes never stop for a two minute catch-up. You can work with the same guy on a corridor for over a year and when you pass him, the only thing you will get is a bleak ‘Hi’ which has to be followed by an equally bleak ‘Hi’. At the beginning you think that maybe they don’t like you, or you are awkward, weird, or maybe they don’t like immigrants? But then you realize that they do this among themselves as well.
So I decided to do a little experiment at one point. I was already working in the same place for over 6 months and to be honest was quite annoyed by this whole ‘Hi’-‘Hi’ thing. So at one point, when one of my colleagues said ‘Hi’, I stopped and asked him ‘Well, how are you on this fine morning?’ What followed reminded me off the typical weirdo guy in school, who sits in the back of the class and when you approach him, doesn’t know what to say. Or maybe, the 15 year old kid who gets to speak to the love of his life for the first time, but whatever comes out of his mouth is just wrong. I was amazed to see that grown-up people in their 40s suddenly could not find a word to say.
I could already see the scenario in his head ‘Oh Gosh! Oh Gosh! Should I say I am fine? Or amm, the weather is nice or amm….’ And this is how you end up with the most weird conversation of ‘well the weather was nice in the weekend and I was at a BBQ on Saturday’, skipping the part where you have to say ‘Fine, thank you. What about you?’ and after that I would ask ‘So what have you been up to this weekend?’
After this I did the same ‘empirical’ research with several other colleagues and got equally awkward answers. Danes simply don’t small talk for a couple of minutes. If you have something to say to them it has to relate to your work or they might come to your office to ask you a favor, about work of course. Or you might convince one of them to join you at the Friday Bar (it is a more rare occasion than spotting an extinct Dodo bird), although he/she will probably leave in 1 h, because many ‘important’ things need to be done, such as probably vacuuming on the wive’s orders.
So my dear Danes, I am trying to bridge this social gap but it doesn’t seem to work with ‘small talk’. Next time, we’ll look at how to become a ‘member of the group’.