Today in our series on prepping for the holidays: The Art of Small Talk.

Many people consider “party manners” to be an oxymoron. Much like “too much coffee.” Or “bad sex.” However, at seasonal social events certain standards of behaviour are required that may not be necessary at other kinds of get-togethers, like, say, family gatherings. Among these is being prepared to speak pleasantly to people.

The ability to make small talk is the foundation of social success. That, and knowing that an open box of chocolates with the nougat ones missing does not make an acceptable hostess gift.


Loosely defined, “small talk” is the art of conversing with someone you don’t know, on a subject you don’t care about, and for reasons you can’t quite figure out. It is called “small” to indicate the amount of enjoyment you are likely to experience while doing it.

Small talk is such a vital human social skill that famed Polish anthropologist Kasper Malinowski Bronislaw (I’m not making this up) wrote many books on the art of polite conversation, but since these were largely full of observations about the weather, including, “My, isn’t it cold here in Gdansk in December?” and “Yes, it is,” these were not big sellers.

Later, Bronislaw studied small talk among the Kula tribe of the Trobiand Islands, expanding his repertoire to, “My, isn’t it hot here in July?” and “Yes, it is.”

Appropriate topics for “small talk” are easy to determine. Simply stick to topics that no one under any circumstance, in any universe, could possibly really care about and will take offence. This means, at all costs, avoiding themes such as politics, religion, any sport, whether Avatar was worth the $300 million, and dolphins.

Safe topics include: Lego sculptures, bobsledding and cheese. To be completely safe, restrict your remarks to, “Kittens are nice,” and “I am holding a glass of wine.” Tip: To improve your chances of being invited back, make sure you actually are holding wine as you say it. It is also OK to make critical comments about other people, though, as a general rule, it is best to wait until they are not actually present.

If, at the end of a conversation, you find you’ve managed to convey no information whatsoever about anything to anyone; congratulations. You’ve mastered the art of small talk.

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