The significance of small talk

I acquired the little Greek language I know in slightly random ways, mostly informally. Some of it is very simple, some of it is quite formal. Years ago I remember being at dinner and I turned to speak to my friend at the exact moment all conversation fell suddenly quiet in that way it does sometimes. She’d jokingly taught me how to say most childishly the Greek equivalent of “I wanna go wee-wee”. This was unfortunately heard by the whole table and there was more frowning than amusement 😦 It definitely wasn’t the right register given the company I was in!

At the other end of the spectrum, one of the most well-used phrases in my personal Greek phrase book is “could you help me please?” which I’ve learned, in contrast, very correctly, using the full-on polite subjunctive form and everything! I deployed this phrase recently when I found a mobile phone on the pavement near our apartment late one night. I took it into the hairdresser across the street, the only shop open so late (hairdressers are clearly big business in Greece!). “Could you possibly help me please?” No, not a late-night blow-dry emergency! I explained as best I could that I’d found the phone and didn’t know what to do with it: I’m a foreigner here, I don’t speak much Greek, we’re leaving tomorrow and so on… The trio of hairdressers thought this was hilarious — such a polite girl explaining so grammatically correctly that she didn’t speak the language… But my language skills run out quickly, especially when conversation is rapid. Hairdressers the world over are good talkers, right?! They clearly loved me and thought my honesty was amazing… but I got that from faces and body language, I didn’t understand a word they said!

Now that we’re back home Hubby observes me enjoying small-talk with any person I come across. The girl who served us coffee in our favourite local place, the two women who jogged past us on our walk giggling as they soaked their feet in a puddle, the veg box delivery man and so on. These quick conversations about nothing much now feel like such a luxury to be relished. It’s so easy for me to explain how I feel or what I need with the appropriate nuances for the situation; I’m not constrained by limited vocabulary or grammatical structures. What a relief.

I went to yoga class this evening, walking over with one of my best yoga buddies, chatting and trying to catch up instantly on a month’s worth of news. At the studio a series of pleasantries with other students. So easy in my own language to pass a quick comment here, a joke there. Ah, how many ways there are to greet someone you’ve not seen in a while, a range of nuances depending on the closeness of the relationship. And I was so happy to be back in class. I joked with my teacher that it was fantastic just to do what I’m told without needing to think about it! It’ll never last, we both agreed 🙂

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